Ahilya Bai Holkar (1735-1795) was noted for her administrative ability, piety, keen interest in the welfare of her subjects and for the numerous buildings at holy sites all over India. Her rule of Malwa in the 18th century is still cited as a model of effective government.
Ahilya Bai Holkar was the daughter of Manakoji Shinde of Choundi and wife of Khanderao. Khandero was the son of Malhar Rao Holkar who founded the Holkar Dynasty. In 1754, Khanderao died when Ahilya Bai was barely twenty years of age. Malhar Rao Holkar entrusted the reins of his empire to Ahilya Bai.
She ruled from 1767 to 1795 with great skill and understanding. She governed the state from a palace fort at Maheshwar on the northern bank of the Narmada River. Among Ahilyabai’s accomplishments was the development of Indore from a small village to a prosperous and beautiful city. She also built forts and roads in Malwa, sponsored festivals and gave donations for regular worship in many Hindu temples. She also built dozens of temples, ghats, wells, tanks and rest-houses across the country.
She died at Maheshwar where a large mausoleum stands in her memory. Historians agree that the reputation of Ahilya Bai Holkar in Malwa and Maharashtra was then, and is, even now, that of a saint.