This is the story of Ahilyabai Holkar.

An ordinary individual dreams of breaking at least one social norm in a lifetime. Few rare brave ones actually do it. Ahilyabai Holkar was an extraordinary human, breaking these chains of society multiple times in her lifetime.

The spark of revolution in Ahilyabai Holkar was lit by her father. Her father, who belonged to a reputed and wealthy family, was also one of the few rare literate persons in the village. Education has given him a better understanding of the world. He wanted her daughter to be able to read and write as well. It was something out of the norm. Any investment in daughters was considered fruitless by society. 

Destiny has a way of letting the right people meet each other. One day some Muslim ruler raided Ahilya’s village. They were notoriously known to loot and destroy temples. Ahilya had seen this before. So instead of hiding, she decided to go to the temple and protect it. Unbeknownst to her, the forces of Peshwa Baji Rao had arrived at the village to counterattack. Malhar Rao Holkar led this counterforce.

After driving the enemy forces away, Holkar and his men went to check the temple. They found a little girl standing guard over the Shivling. Holkar was mighty impressed by the bravery of Ahilyabai. He decided to marry his son to her. Her new family was not fond of her literacy but even here her father-in-law protected her. He even used her literacy and knowledge in his court. She became popular amongst the public for her active participation in governance.

The path to greatness is often full of thrones. She lost her husband within a decade of their marriage. Back then the Kshatriyas followed the practice of Sati. This practice meant that the widow of the king had to give up her life after the death of her husband. Again breaking the social norm, Ahilyabai was stopped from committing Sati by his father-in-law.

She was left with two sons. One of which died in his teen years due to mental illness. His father-in-law became her emotional pillar for her. He started preparing Ahilyabai Holkar for ascending the throne. Twelve years later, he too passed away. And Ahilyabai became the ruler of the Malwa kingdom.

Ahilyabai’s reign was mostly known for its religious work. The seven hundred-year rule of Islamic rulers were at the merge of an end. This led to the breaking and destruction of many temples. Ahilyabai Holkar made sure that these temples got the renovation and resurrection they deserved. She rebuilt hundreds of temples, including the world-famous Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Some individuals are so pivotal to history that without them the modern-day reality could have been different. Ahilyabai Holkar is one such person. From motivating young girls to read, to breaking the practice of Sati, she indirectly saved thousands of lives. The power such figures uphold doesn’t end with their life. She is now an icon, a chain breaker, an inspiration that continues to save lives.

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