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Devi Ahilyabai Holkar

Hindu Civilization has been under siege since time immemorial and has been sustaining assaults meted out at the sharp end of bloody swords, swords of the invading Abrahamic religions not sparing a second to demolish every symbol and every soul that embodies in itself the ethos of our eternal dharma. To save dharma, our brave kings, queens and commoners resorted to using force when barbarity had fueled the wrath of our ancestors. The Musalman Empire, that was spread through the means of sword (M.V.Kibe, 1939), could not succeed against a civilization based on culture and tradition that flows in the veins of billions of Indians. When the cruelty of Islamists escalated, our revered kings fought selflessly, devoted to shield Bharatvarsha.

The Glorious Maratha Dynasty is specifically remembered as the period of valiant perseverance of Hindu Rashtra. The endurance of Shivaji The Great is commemorated, and is an episode in the history of Indian struggle that will never lose sight. While Hindus, popularly, regard Chhatrapati Shivaji as the founder of Hindu Rashtra (K.Menon, 2005), the role of Jijabai is distinctly envisaged as the spirit and aura that Hindu Nationalist Women must inculcate in themselves; since, even though the founder of Hindu Rashtra is felicitated in the manifestation of Shivaji, the origin of Shivaji’s prowess lies in the mother who gave birth to him and  en-cultured him to become the Chhatrapati. A Hindu woman is the embodiment of culture and tradition,she is recognized as the creator of Samaj (Janani),and in her, rests the foundations of civilization. It is essentially the women of Hindu Samaj, who have concretized the ancestral glory and ancient culture, preserving the eternal mark of our civilization throughout the millennia of unabated turbulence.

Amidst brutally scaled out destruction and attempts to demolish our civilizational centers, our civilization,our culture, our tradition has survived till date because of the extraordinary contribution of men and women, kings and queens and mothers and gurus, who lived and died only in devotion and dedication to serve our blessed Bharatvarsha. In this regard, the golden era of the Saintly Queen of Indore, Devi Ahilyabai Holkar, exhibits an exceptional legacy. Among all her achievements, reconstruction of temples destroyed by Islamic invaders or rulers and refurbishment of holy sites counts as the most pivotal service to the sustenance of Bharat. Her selfless service is in actuality, the rebirth of our civilizational territory since had not it been Devi Ahilyabai, the centers of our civilizational territory razed to the ground by extremists would have either remained in ruins dumped beneath the forcefully built mosques or would have vanished from the memory of successive generations. It is because of our gurus and such marvel leaders that Sanatana Dharma has enlivened within us regardless of a ceaseless endeavor, and it is hence our foremost duty to remember and pay homage to our beloved saviors of dharma.

From Dwarka to Gaya and Gangotri to Rameshwaram, to building ghats alongside almost all rivers, and initiating charities to facilitate pilgrimages, everything at present form is the result of Ahilyabai’s diligent determination to restore the Bharatvarsha that was raging in vulnerable forgetfulness. The reconstruction of Somnath Jyotirlinga in Kathiawad, Gujarat and Kashi Vishwanath Jyotirlinga in Benaras (Varanasi), which holds epitomizing prominence of crores of Hindus, alone reflects the dedication of this feisty queen.

Map showing temples built by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar (PC : TrueIndology, Wordpress)

Somnath Mandir in Gujarat is the first jyotirlinga among the twelve jyotirlinga (ah) across Bharat, and being the foremost jyotirlinga,this religious site is associated with Pandavas, Shri Krishna (considered to have visited the Mandir after the end of Mahabharat) and Adi Shankarachya. The Hindus attach utmost veneration to the temple, and therefore even if Somnath Mandir has been the attracting center of invasions, loot and destruction, the devotees have always managed to restore the Mandir from ruination.

Mahmud Ghazni was not the first invader who plundered the Mandir and killed thousands of Hindus. Somnath Temple was attacked by Arabs in 8th century, by Alauddin Khilji in 13th century, Portuguese in 16th Century and finally Aurangzeb in 1702 AD. It was the merciless Mughal ruler Aurangzeb who ordered complete demolishment if any Hindu attempted to rebuild the Mandir. The devout Hindu who dared to safeguard the Jyotirlinga was Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar. Opposite to the main hugely built Somnath Mandir (constructed in 1951), is the ‘Somnath Old Mandir’ built (consecrated in 1785) by Devi Ahilyabai. Hindus believe that the Old Somnath Mandir built by the queen abodes the original Somnath Jyotirlinga.

Old Somnath Mandir built by Devi Ahilyabai, 1783(PC: Times of India)

Kashi Vishwanath Mandiris is another prominent Jyotirlinga among the twelve Jyotirlinga (ah). Raged by the callous destruction of Kashi Jyotirlinga and forceful establishment of Gyanvapi Mosque, the queen constructed Kashi Vishwanath Mandir adjacent to the illegitimate mosque. It is because of her dedicated will to construct the temple at the sites of demolition that Hindus till date are able to worship in Varanasi, along the side of holy banks of Ganga.

Gyanvapi Mosque over ruins of the original temple
Ahilyabai’s Kashi Vishwanath temple built adjacent to the illicit mosque

Various other Jyotirlinga (ah) destroyed by Islamists were built or rebuilt by Maharani Ahilyabai. For instance, Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga, Aurangabad, was reconstructed by the queen; Aundha Nagnath Jyotirlinga (8th Jyotirlinga in Hongli district of Maharashtra) destroyed by Aurangzeb, was renovated by Ahilyabai. The Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga Temple was repaired, Tarakeshwara Temple was constructed, and the Kushavarta Kund was built at Triyambakeshwar Jyotirlinga Temple at Nasik in 1750.

Aundha Nagnath Jyotirlinga

The Jyotirlingas were not the only contributions by the maharani-the Pandharpur Ram Mandir, Hanuman Temple at Rameshwaram, Vishnupad Temple in Gaya, Shri Vaidyanath Temple, Shri Ram Temple and Vishweshwar Temple in Nasik, Temples and Dharmashalas in Omkareshwar, hundreds of temples in Maheshwar (where she lived after her son’s demise), Ramchandra Temple in Puri, are all the result of Ahilyabai’s volition.

Baidyanath Jyotirlinga Temple, Deoghar

Temples constructed and reconstructed by Devi Ahilyabai constitute the fundamental religious centers for crore and crore of devotees, while many our widely known for their unique antiquity (like the Vishnupad temple which features forty centimetre long footprint of Lord Vishnu on basalt rock), others form part of salient pilgrimage sites or yatras (like Baidyanath Mandir is considered as most sacred abode of Lord Shiva, and Adi Shankaracharya has praised Baidyanath Dham in Dwadasa jyotirlinga stotram). Besides construction of temples, Maharani Ahilyabai had made donations to various temples across Bharat including Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Apart from temple restoration, the saintly queen has also built ghats at Dharamshala(ah) at tirthas.

The picturesque Dashashwamedh Ghat is the sincere contribution of Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar. The ghat situated at the banks of holy Ganga, was built by the Peshwa I, in 1740 AD and when the Mughal establishment began to slack, and the grip of the Marathas was flourishing across the nation, Ahilyabai refurbished the present day ghat in 1774 AD. The ghat is home to various deities and is the oldest and most important pilgrimage center for devotees in Bharat, while the famous Ganga Aarti at the ghat is a breathtaking sight. If it had not been the queen of Indore, the painstaking imprints of Aurangzeb’s brutality would have been perturbing every devout Hindu deprived of places of worship, and today, it is no less than a miraculous sensation when one sees devotees meditating at the banks of Ganga in morning, taking dips in the sacred water and rejoicing the Ganga Aarti in the evening.

Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi

For the development of pilgrimage sites and betterment of the pilgrims, Devi Ahilyabai constructed dharamshalas/dharamshala(ah) and wells and initiated charities for the touring devotees and patronized the priests. The prominent holy sites which saw improvement of facilities were Kedarnath, Omkareshwar, Kashi, Kurukshetra, Jagannath Puri Odisha, Gokarn(Karnataka), Haridwar and many other sites,wherever Maharani’s gaze touched the holy land, the devotees saw the development and restoration of Dharmic sites. Ahilyabai has developed almost every temple she constructed and reconstructed with attached kund, wells, food facilities or dharamshala(ah). She constructed ghats on rivers across India, built and rebuilt temples, developed holy sites with wells, and initiated food kitchens for the poor and the pilgrims. The Maharani continued the legacy of Maratha as the protector of Brahmins and cows, and patronized learned pandits for unhindered continuance of preaching scriptures.

After being acquainted with her extraordinary contributions, one would naturally imagine the authoritative and financial conveyance as the facilitating reason behind the ability to rejuvenate Bharatvarsha. One would be awe-struck to actually know why Ahilyabai’s contribution is exceptional- Who would think of a saintly woman draped in sober white saree, holding a shivling in her hand, surrounded by simplest materials, would turn out to be the glorious Maharani of Indore ? Ravaged by the death of her husband, father-in-law and son, deprived of any support, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar’s reign is remembered as the most peaceful and developed era of Malwa. She moved from Indore to Maheshwar - a minimalistic residence with a window to mesmerize the beauty of Narmada river is all she had.  She had the wealth inherited from father-in-law, and that, she spent on restoration of temples and pilgrimage sites. The beauty of the temples and ghats she built is as astonishing as her humble life. She was trained in military, had knowledge of scriptures, she punished none and rewarded all; even a criminal would give up all unpleasant activities at one instruction by the queen. She was called Devi and blessed by all, under her tactful administration, no one could attack the lone queen’s kingdom and the territory flourished in trade, arts, and literature. It is no less than a blessing that we are born in Bharat in which such godly souls took birth. Instead of advancing in degenerated individual-centric ideologies, it is time that Bharat brings back its glory by inculcating the endeavoring spirit of the saviors of dharma.