Indore is a city in the modern day state of Madhya
Pradesh, in India. It was built up by a zamindar (an official
employed by the Mughals to collect taxes from the peasants), named
Rao Nandalal Chaudhary, across the banks of the River Narmada.
It was then known as Indreshwar after the local
Indreshwar temple, and it came to be a princely state in the late
eighteenth century under the ruling family, the Holkars.
The Holkars came to prominence during the
time of Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I (or Baji Rao). His able
military commander, Malharrao Holkar, was the patriarch of this
Holkar family. A dhangar (shepherd) peasant by caste, Malharba, as he
was popularly known, rose through the Maratha ranks by stint of his
valour and attained the rank of general in Peshwa Bajirao's army. He
helped Bajirao in establishing Maratha supremacy in central and
northern India along with the likes of his equally competent
contemporaries such as Ranoji Scindia and Udaji Pawar.
Genealogy of the Holkar family prior to
Malharrao Holkar (born 1693-died 1766) was born in the village of Hol,
near Jejuri, Pune, to one Khanduji Holkar of Vir.
Malharrao joined the
Maratha cavalry at a young age and this brave youth soon impressed
his peers. He was noticed by Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath and was
gradually elevated to the rank of a commander.
He assisted the next peshwa, Bajirao I (son of Balaji Vishwanath), in
his early years and soon became a part of the team that progressed
north to establish Maratha hegemony. Malharrao was instrumental
in Bajirao's successes in Malwa and was soon given the task of
collecting revenue from that region.
Malharrao participated in several victorious battles
such as at Delhi
in 1736, Bhopal in 1738, Bassein in 1739, Rajputana in 1743,
the Rohilla campaigns
of 1748, and 1751-1752, the Jat campaign at Kumher in 1754 (where Malharrao lost his
son, Khanderrao, to a stray cannonball), Delhi in 1757, Sarhind and Lahore
in 1758, and Mangrol in 1761. For his services to the Maratha
Holkar was given the subhedari and the jagirdari of Indore.
Malharrao headquartered himself at Maheshwar, Indore.
However, many historians (such as Rajwade, amongst
others) have criticised Malharrao for
his lack of timely support in the Third Panipat War (against the Afghans and
the Rohillas), and his leniency towards his foes such as Najib ud daulla
khan, mainly ascribed to his differences with the Scindias and the
members of the peshwa family including Sadashivrao and Raghunathrao.
Historians such as Shejwalkar eventually concluded that the Maratha debacle was a collective failure
caused by several
internal and external factors and was not a result of any dereliction of
duty by Malharrao.
After Panipat, Malharrao Holkar tried to
rebuild lost Maratha
pride in the north. He defeated Maharaja Madhav Singh of Jaipur,
who was trying to create a coalition to prevent the Marathas from
entering the north. But Madhav Singh was defeated at the Battle of Mangrol in 1761 by Malharrao,
although the old war veteran himself was
wounded in the battle and retired to Indore to recuperate. He was
never quite his old self again.
The Rajbada palace was built by Malharrao Holkar and completed
in 1766. It was burnt down during the 1984 riots and rebuild by
the current maharana in 2007
Malharrao Holkar gained Indore in reward for his services for the
Because of the death of his only son and
with him being in a
precarious condition, Malharrao handed over the reins of his
fiefdom's administration to his daughter-in-law, Rajmata Ahilyabai Holkar.
Malharrao Holkar breathed his last at Alampur, Madhya Pradesh, on 2
May 1766, where his cenotaph still rests. He was succeeded by his daughter-in-law.
Ahilyabai Holkar (born 31 May 1725-died 13 August 1795, reigned 1767-1795) was
the daughter-in-law and successor of Malharrao Holkar. She was also
known as Punyashlok (as noted in the shlokas, or sacred chants) and
Ahilyabai was born in the village of Chaundi to one Mankoji Shinde,
the patil (village chief). Unlike women of her times, Ahilyabai was
accorded an education by her father. Malharrao Holkar chanced upon this
bright girl and married her off to his son, Khanderao Holkar. She was
then just eight years old.
After Khanderao's death in 1754, Malharrao introduced Ahilya to the
administration of his estates. Twelve years later Malharrao also died
and Ahilyabai was declared queen of Indore. It is said that she
faced resistance in the form of Raghunathrao, the uncle and regent
of Peshwa Madhavrao, but thanks to popular support and
determination on her part, she continued to rule as queen.
Her son Malerao died prematurely, in 1766.
Ahilyabai proved her administrative skills and improved the life of
her subjects, due to which she gained immense popularity. She built
several charitable homes, roads, schools, ghats, wells, and temples, not just
in her state but all around the country. She patronised the arts,
architecture, literature and poetry in her kingdom, ensured
effective policing in her state and even promoted agriculture and
industry. She also made several judicial and social reforms, improved the lives of widows in her kingdom to a great extent,
sponsored orphans, improved the lives of the tribal peoples and protected
their customs. Ahilyabai Holkar therefore proved to be a person of extraordinary abilities and has etched her name amongst the few
glorious queens of India eulogised right up to the present day.
After her death, her commander-in-chief - and also Malharrao's adopted
son - Tukojirao Holkar (a distant relative), succeeded to the Indore throne.
Tukojirao Holkar (1795-1797) was the adopted son of Malharrao
Holkar and the commander-in-chief of his forces.
He was a
veteran of many campaigns fought alongside Malharrao, and he helped
to consolidate Maratha rule in Rajputana and Malwa. His most famous
battle was against Tipu Sultan whom he defeated
decisively. There was also a sense of rivalry and one-upmanship with the
Scindia family (Mahadji Scindia) of Gwalior during his tenure (which
started during the reign of Ahilyabai Holkar).
Ahilyabai Holkar was Indore's glorious queen regnant
often found themselves in the opposing camp during their quest in
Rajputana and the Jat lands. Tukojirao served as king of Indore
for a very short period. He died in Khadki, Pune in 1797. His cenotaph still exists.
Kashirao Holkar (1797-1798) had assisted his father in many of his
campaigns in northern India. After the death of Tukoji, there was a
successional war between his sons, Kashirao and Malharrao II. The Scindias,
who were fishing in troubled waters, had supported the cause of Kashirao and had him made
the next ruler of Indore.
Holkar (1797-1798), ruled independently of Kashirao. He was killed by Scindia's
This was greatly resented by Yeshwantrao (Jaswantrao) Holkar, the
illegitimate son of Tukojirao Holkar, who was supporting Malharrao II
along with Vithoji Holkar, as Yeshwantrao considered Malharrao II
to be more competent to succeed Tukoji, especially after the latter showed
his valour in the battles of Panchilas and Lakhiri.
rebelled against Kashirao and subsequently deposed him and made
himself the next king. Kashirao sought Scindia help but was captured
at Asirgarh by Yeshwantrao's forces and imprisoned in Sendhwa.
Kashirao later died in a scuffle (it was reported that he had been murdered) at Sendhwa
fort in 1808.
It must be noted that while Kashirao was declared ruler of Indore by the Scindias, Yeshwantrao declared
someone else as his king at Maheshwar.
Khanderao Holkar II
(1799-1806), the son of Malharrao II, was proclaimed king by Yeshwantrao and
the latter stood in as regent until Khanderao's death by cholera in 1806
(although British historians have claimed that he was poisoned by Yeshwantrao).
Tukojirao Holkar reigned for only two years before dying in Pune
Yeshwantrao Holkar I (1806-1811) was the illegitimate son of Tukojirao Holkar. He deposed his brother, Kashirao, and became the
next ruler of Indore.
Yeshwantrao assisted the rulers of Dhar in
countering an invasion by the marauding Pindaris. His rivalry with
the Scindias (in the form of Daulatrao Scindia) continued and was exacerbated when
Peshwa Bajirao II and Daulatrao Scindia allied themselves to each
other. Yeshwantrao even aligned himself with the infamous Pindari leader, Amir Khan, and plundered Scindia, Bhosale and
the peshwa territories.
Peshwa Bajirao II had Yeshwantrao's brother, Vithoji,
executed in Pune (Vithoji had earlier attacked the peshwa's
territories until he was captured by the Scindia forces. Vithoji also
supported Amritrao, the adopted son of Raghunathrao, to attain the post of
peshwa in place of his elder brother, Bajirao II).
An incensed Yeshwantrao
Holkar sacked Pune in 1802, deposed the peshwa and had the peshwa's
adopted brother, Amritrao, installed in his place. In retaliation, Bajirao II had to flee Pune and seek British help. The British
reinstated him as peshwa while Yeshwantrao, content with
the booty collected at Pune, left to return to Indore.
During the Second
Anglo-Maratha War between the British and the Scindia-Bhosale
combine, Yeshwantrao preferred to remain neutral (thanks to the
Scindia-Holkar rivalry). But after Scindia's defeat in 1804,
Yeshwantrao feared that he would be the next target of the British
and he launched an offensive against them. He sought the help of
various princes such as those of Jind (Raja Bhag Singh), Patiala
(Raja Fateh Singh), and Lahore (Ranjit Singh), but that help failed
to materialise. He was also
betrayed by his close aides, especially Amir Khan and Bhawani Shankar
Despite a few successes such as those at Kunch, Mukandare, Kota,
and Bharatpur - in which he was aided
by the Jat king, Ranjit Singh, in an abortive attempt to free Mughal
Emperor Shah Alam II from British control - Yeshwantrao was
isolated and defeated. So the treaty at Beas was concluded and
Yeshwantrao became a British vassal.
Malharrao II Holkar was killed by Scindia's forces after a year's
To his credit he did
try reorganising the Marathas against the British (a factory to manufacture cannon was
secretly set up by him at Bhanpura and even the odd 100,000 soldiers were
gathered together), but no external help came his
way and he died in 1811 after suffering a stroke, probably a disillusioned
man. Towards the end of his life Yeshwantrao reportedly became
Yeshwantrao was termed the 'Napoleon of India' by historian-novelist N S Inamdar.
Malharrao Holkar III (1811-1833) was the son of Yeshwantrao Holkar
(from his wife, Maharani Krishnabai). After ascending the
throne at the age of four, he ruled under the regency of Maharani Tulsibai
Holkar, the widow (concubine) of Yeshwantrao. Tulsibai was also the
regent for her husband, Yeshwantrao, after he became mentally ill.
British made efforts to intervene in the affairs of Indore. They
conspired with some of the regent's Pathan and Pindari courtiers and Tulsibai
was herself murdered on the banks of the River Sipra in 1817. Then the
British defeated the Holkar army (led by the eleven year-old Malharao and his brave cousins, twenty year-old Harirao Holkar, son
of Vithoji Holkar, and Bhimabai Holkar, daughter of Yeshwantrao and
his first queen Larabai, at Mahidpur in 1817), after the Holkars were
betrayed by some of their own key men.
A treaty was signed at Mandsaur in 1817 whereby
the Holkars' rights over the lands in Rajputana
were relinquished. Bhimabai continued to oppose the British. She
died in 1858. Malharrao III transferred his capital to Indore, but
he too died, on 27 October 1833.
Martandrao Holkar (1833-1834) was made the next king of Indore. He
was the son of Sardar Bapusaheb Holkar and was formally adopted by
Maharani Gautamibai, the widow of Malharao III. But he was deposed
in favour of Harrirao Holkar, the son of Vithoji Holkar (brother of
Yeshwantrao). He was kept in confinement in Poona until his death in
Yeshwantrao Holkar I put up a brave fight against the British
Hari Rao Holkar (1834-1843) had earlier raised a revolt against
the British, in 1819, but was captured and confined in Maheshwar fort.
He was released and officially adopted by Gautamabai and made king.
He died in 1843.
Khanderao Holkar III (1843-1844) was the eldest son of Sardar
Bapusaheb Holkar and the elder brother of the ex-king, Martandrao. He
was adopted by Harirao and made king after his death. His adoptive
grandmother, Maharani Krishnabai (the second wife of Yeshwantrao), acted as
his regent. But he died at Maheshwar fort without having adopted a
Sir Tukoji rao Holkar II (1844-1886) was the
son of a distant relative by the name of Sardar Santojirao Holkar. He was declared king by the British. His
adoptive mother acted as his regent until he came of age. He also
held the rank of lieutenant-general in the British army. He was an
expert horseman, and a good marksman and swordsman. He promoted
agriculture, industry (starting his own newspaper, 'Malwa Akhbar',
and the first printing press in his kingdom, a postal service, a mint,
etc), and education in a big way. He was succeeded by his third son, Shivajirao Holkar (the first two sons died prematurely) from his
fourth wife, Parvatibai Saheb.
Shivajirao Holkar (1886-1903) was the son and successor of Tukoji
II. He had a good knowledge of astrology. He founded Holkar College in Indore, constructed several palaces
and other buildings and
promoted wrestling as a sport in his kingdom. He abdicated the throne
in favour of his eldest son, Tukojirao III. He died in 1908.
A wood carving of 1857 depicting Indore
Sir Tukoji Rao Holkar III (1903-1926) was
the son and successor of Shivajirao
Holkar. He received a Western education, and was said to be a progressive-minded person. He promoted industrialisation, thermal power
stations, agriculture, education, the arts, culture, and so on in his kingdom. He
had to abdicate the throne due to the Bawla murder case (in
1925, Abdul Kadar Bawla, the paramour of Mumtaz Begum, a mistress of
the maharaja, was murdered and there was an attempt to kidnap Mumtaz
Begum into the bargain). Pressure followed from the British resident
for him to abdicate.
Yeshwantrao Holkar II (1926-1948)
was the son and successor of Tukojirao III.
Yeshwantrao II was Oxford educated and an avid cricketer. He was
deeply involved in charitable and public utility works. He was the
last king of Indore before it was forcibly merged into the Indian Union in 1947. He
served as a senior upa rajyapramukh until 1956. He died in Mumbai in
1961 leaving behind a son by the name of Richard (from his third wife, Euphemia Fay
Watt), and a daughter, Usha Devi (from his first wife, Rajashri Bai
Richard has authored books and is a fine gourmet and is
married to filmmaker Pamela Rooks (his second wife), a producer of films
which include 'Miss Beatty's Children', 'Train to Pakistan', Dance Like a
Man'. Pamela was previously married to Conrad Rooks, another filmmaker. Richard has a son, Yeshwant, by
Pamela and a daughter, Sabrina, by his first wife, Sally Sue
Budd. Usha Devi was declared Yeshwantrao's successor and not Richard.
Yeshwantrao Holkar II was forced to hand over his state to the
Indian Union in 1947
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