She fulfilled the dream Chhatrapati Shivaji had set in motion, says Aneesh Gokhale.
“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 Ahlya was her honoured name.”
— Joanna Baillie, 1849
These lines in ink, floating on a pale paper, fall from the artist’s diary. “The poem is on Devi Ahilyabai Holkar,” he says, picking it up, reciting the lines to ripples on the Narmada. “What brings you here?,” the artist asks, pushing the lines in ink, back into the diary. The artist from Omkareshwar asks the visitor.
Another town. For another holy river.
“And?,” the artist asks.
For music. For Dharma. For inspiration.
“Inspiration can make you travel rivers. My inspiration is Ahilyabai Holkar.” He goes back to sketching the reflection of the beautiful ochre structures. “Ahilyabai Holkar, the queen who rebuilt the edifice of Hindu culture on foundations laid by Chhatrapati Shivaji and Peshwa Bajirao. Her impact was not on Indore alone.”
Was this Maratha ruler’s contribution largely unknown? The artist seems to know a lot. The visitor — too little.