𝗠𝗮𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗮 Queen, Devi 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮 𝗕𝗮𝗶 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗸𝗮𝗿 – Builder and re-builder of 𝙃𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪 𝙏𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙨, Ahilyabai was a great pioneer and builder of 𝙃𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪 𝙏𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙨 and built hundreds of 𝙏𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙨 and 𝘿𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙖𝙢𝙨𝙝𝙖𝙡𝙖𝙨 throughout the pious land of 𝗕𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗮𝘁. Her greatest achievement was to rebuild the #KashiVishwanath 𝙏𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 in 1776, which was dedicated to lord #Shiva; the presiding deity of the city of #Varanasi, one of the holiest 𝙃𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪 sites of pilgrimage, that had been plundered, desecrated, demolished & converted into 𝙂𝙮𝙖𝙣𝙫𝙖𝙥𝙞 Mosque on the orders of the tyrant Mughal Aurangzeb in 1669.
Maratha Queen, Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar
𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮 𝗕𝗮𝗶 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗸𝗮𝗿 was known not only for her governance but also for her religiosity, presiding over 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 rebuilding and restoration works. Born in 1725, she ruled for 28 years until her death in 1795. 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮 𝗕𝗮𝗶 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗸𝗮𝗿 wielded her piety to her advantage – she was simultaneously the demure widow and the powerful ruler.
All major places of 𝙃𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪 pilgrimage today, owe something to 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶: from #JagannathTemple in 𝙋𝙪𝙧𝙞 to #Dwarka in Gujarat, from #Kedarnath in the north to #Rameshwaram in the south, 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 built edifices and contributed to their maintenance. She even used her personal fortune to send #Ganga Jal to 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙨 all over 𝘽𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙖𝙩, ingeniously transported in bamboo laths.
𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗸𝗮𝗿 was primarily concerned with reviving places of #Shaivite pilgrimage. Her two most famous projects being the #Somnath 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 and the #KashiVishwanath 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚.
𝗦𝗼𝗺𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗵 𝗧𝗲𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲 was in a dilapidated and unused state when 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 ordered it to be rebuilt with a consecrated idol in 1783, according to freedom fighter and VHP co-founder K.M. 𝗠𝘂𝗻𝘀𝗵𝗶’s book. Her small temple was eventually overshadowed by the rebuilt structure sponsored by Sardar 𝗩𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗮𝗯𝗵𝗯𝗵𝗮𝗶 𝗣𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗹, and overseen by 𝗠𝘂𝗻𝘀𝗵𝗶, in 1950. 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮’s re-construction is credited for keeping the site alive as a place of pilgrimage. The 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶-built temple is now known as ‘𝗢𝗹𝗱 𝗦𝗼𝗺𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗵’ or ‘𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗿’ and located around 200 metres away from the main 𝗦𝗼𝗺𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗵 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗿.
The story of 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶’s impact on 𝙆𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙞 is similar. She renovated the 𝙆𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙞 𝙑𝙞𝙨𝙝𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙖𝙩𝙝 𝙏𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 in 1780, 111 years after it was razed by Aurangzeb. She chose a site to the immediate south of the #Gyanvapi Mosque, and her 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 was ritually consistent with what was described in the Shri #Kashikhand, a part of the #SkandaPurana .
𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 inspired others to donate to the upkeep of sites along important pilgrimage routes. For example, 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶’s new temple in 𝙆𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙞 continued to attract important donors in the 19th century. Bhonslas of 𝙉𝙖𝙜𝙥𝙪𝙧 donated silver for the 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 in 1841, and Maharaja #RunjeetSingh of Lahore paid for the “dome” and “tower” to be gilded with gold leaf. The adjoining 𝙂𝙮𝙖𝙣𝙫𝙖𝙥𝙞 precinct also received patronage from Gwalior’s Scindhia, who sponsored a new colonnade of stone pillars.
𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 refurbished the #Dashashwamedh 𝙂𝙝𝙖𝙩, site of the famous 𝙂𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙖 𝘼𝙖𝙧𝙩𝙞, built originally by #NanasahebPeshwa and the #Manikarnika 𝙂𝙝𝙖𝙩, the main cremation site in 𝙑𝙖𝙧𝙖𝙣𝙖𝙨𝙞.
𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 contributed to the betterment of facilities at #Dwarka as well. At #Bhimashankar and #Trimbakeshwar, 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 constructed bridges and rest areas. With temples and rest areas in #Kedarnath, #Srisailam, #Omkareshwar and #Ujjain, 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 contributed to the improvement of facilities at other holy sites hosting #Jyotirlingas too.
Among the imposing 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 structures, constructed by 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶, which survive today is the #Vishnupad 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 in #Gaya. Legend has it that this is the site of Lord #Vishnu crushing the demon 𝙂𝙖𝙮𝙖𝙨𝙪𝙧𝙖, and his footprint is etched in rocks. The 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 is built on these rocks bearing 40 cm long footprint of Lord 𝗩𝗶𝘀𝗵𝗻𝘂. 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶, despite being a devout Lord Shiva devotee, got this 𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 constructed in 1787.
The 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗸𝗮𝗿 queen embellished and beautified various sites including 𝙆𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙞, 𝙂𝙖𝙮𝙖, 𝙎𝙤𝙢𝙣𝙖𝙩𝙝, 𝘼𝙮𝙤𝙙𝙝𝙮𝙖, 𝙈𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙪𝙧𝙖, 𝙃𝙖𝙧𝙞𝙙𝙬𝙖𝙧, 𝙆𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙝𝙞, 𝘼𝙫𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙞, 𝘿𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙠𝙖, 𝘽𝙖𝙙𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙧𝙖𝙮𝙖𝙣, 𝙍𝙖𝙢𝙚𝙨𝙝𝙬𝙖𝙧 and 𝙅𝙖𝙜𝙖𝙣𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙥𝙪𝙧𝙞 as recorded by the Bharatiya 𝙎𝙖𝙣𝙨𝙠𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙞 𝙆𝙤𝙨𝙝.
A Tribute Poem to 𝗔𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘆𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗶 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗸𝗮𝗿 :
“For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame,
And Ahilya was her honoured name.”
— Joanna Baillie in 1849