Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yeshwant Rao Holkar had temporarily revived the fortunes of his family, at a time when they were in danger of becoming vassals of the rival Maratha house of Scindia. The tools of this revival; the mercenary light cavalry of the Pathans and Pindharis, joined to his father's French-led battalions gave him success against Daulat Rao Scindia and the Peshwa. But they could not protect him from the modern army of the East India Company (EIC)——fortunately for him global events had forced a change in the Company's war plans. Britain was in the midst of a twelve year war against Napoleon Bonaparte and 1805 was the year of his greatest triumphs; Britain decided to end all its foreign wars and focus on fighting Imperial France. For this reason the war against Yeshwant Rao Holkar, who had been routed and driven north to Punjab, was prematurely ended and that Maratha prince was left free to exercise his family's claims on parts of North India.

The stress of campaigning and his fondness for drink drove the unfortunate Yeshwant Rao to insanity; and then the mercenaries, including his "sworn brother" the notorious Amir Khan, fanned out with their light cavalry to devastate the lands and people of Rajasthan, MP, and Maharasthra for the next 13 years. From the forests and hills of Central India, they even raided southern Bihar (1812) and Northern Bengal (1816). This was curiously reminiscient of the early Maratha expansion over all these regions a century ago. But while those Maratha chiefs had the primary aim of expanding their master's power while making secondary gains for themselves; these Pathan and Pindhari mercenaries had the sole aim of plundering and destroying for material gain.

And while the early Maratha chiefs had been merely semi-independent, and their plundering could be restrained by their overlord the Peshwa (as Malhar Holkar's cavalry was punished by Baji Rao at Delhi), these 19th century mercenaries were fully independent of their now mentally deranged employer. The only similarity between them and the early Marathas was that their principal formation was light cavalry, and that like Holkar and Scindia under the Peshwas, a few among the modern mercenaries became rulers of their own petty states. The Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-18) was practically a campaign against these Pindharis and Pathans, at the end of which Amir Khan was made Nawab of Tonk, and the Holkar Kingdom was brought under British protection.

The Kingdom of Indore had been an also ran in its race with the rival Kingdom of Gwalior and events in the former state continued to mirror those in the latter even under British rule. There were disputes for the throne and maladministration in Indore, forcing the British to intervene here as they had in Gwalior.

Tukoji Rao Holkar II 1844-86

During the 1857 revolt, the Purbia and Pathan infantry in the Holkar army and in the British subsidiary force at Indore and Mhow, joined their revolutionary brethren in the EIC army, just as they had at Gwalior. And after the revolt was subdued the reigning Holkar (Tukoji), like his contemporary at Gwalior, was rewarded for his loyalty with titles and gun salutes; although in the latter respect Indore remained an also ran with a salute of 19 guns against the 21 guns for Gwalior!

Modernization and Westernization

The modernization of Indore Princely Statet proceeded apace with the contruction of railway lines, hospitals and schools. The Holkar rulers had a new palace, the Lal Bagh (designed by Bernard Triggs), constructed on the outskirts of the city. The iron gates were modeled on those at Buckingham Palace and were built and shipped from London. A summer retreat called Sukh Niwas was also is now a picnic spot in Indore.

With their personal education came the challenge of accomodating western ideas with eastern tradition; the three Holkar rulers after the 1857 revolt maintained a fine balance. But with the accession of Yeshwant Rao Holkar II in 1926, the western element became more strongly pronounced, particularly in the latter half of his reign. Educated at a Surrey public school and then at Oxford, Yeshwant Rao became the Maharaja at 18 and was married early to Sanyogita Raje. He and his wife travelled frequently in the different countries of Europe, absorbing the local culture and becoming particularly fond of jazz music and dancing.

In fact they travelled abroad so often that the British Resident at Indore, KS Fitze ventured to remark that if Indore should adopt a national anthem, it would perhaps be 'Some day my prince will come'! At Oxford Yeshwant Rao developed a friendship with Eckart Muthesius, and later commissioned him to design a modern new palace called Manik Bagh.

A modern building (for the 1920s), Manik Bagh was filled with modern art and sculptures by Le Corbusier, de Monvel, and Constantin Brancusi. The furniture was modern and designed by Jacques-Emile Ruhlman and the Luckhardt brothers; even the bathroom design and fittings were modern. Muthesius also designed railway coaches for the Maharaja, and the interiors of his two airplanes, for which an airport was constructed at Indore with the help of Tata & Sons.

Sadly though the Maharani Sanyogita passed away in 1936....Yeshwant Rao lost interest in Manik Bagh and renewed his foreign travels. Manik Bagh palace ( is today used as the headquarters of Central Excise & Customs Service Tax Indore Commissionerate. The furniture within the palace was auctioned off after Yeshwant Rao's death.

Yeshwant Rao twice married western women, the second of whom bore a son named Shivaji Rao (but better known today as Richard Holkar). The Christian fanatics in the western media of those days were disgusted as:

Miss Nancy Miller, the American Bride of a notorious Indian maharajah, throws away her Christian ideals and Liberty to become a slave of a pagan Idolater. The world was shocked, but the palace was the most magnificent gift for his new wife.

From his earlier marriage Yeshwant Rao had a daughter Usha Raje for whom he made a trust in 1953 containing what remained of the royal properties after accession of the state to independent India. After his death in 1961 the Government of India decided that Usha Raje would inherit the title of her father, which she did till the abolition of all princely titles in 1971.

During World War II Yeshwant Rao, dismayed by the communal antics of the British and their puppet, the Muslim League, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt asking for American aid in making India independent and keeping it united. At that time the British were overwhelmingly in favor of dividing India and perpetuating their hold on the continent for the next fifty years! But his efforts were in vain. After independence Indore State, along with Gwalior, Bhopal, and other smaller states were merged with Madhya Bharat. The ruler of Gwalior was made Rajpramukh of this entity, with the ruler of Indore as up-Rajpramukh, a deputy and therefore second to Gwalior till the very end!

1 comment:

  1. Really nice to know such details about HOLKARS.

    Sumit Jain