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Rajputs

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Rajputs

For the 1982 film, see Rajput (film).
Rajput

An 1876 engraving of Rajputs of Rajasthan, from the Illustrated London News
Religions Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism
Languages Indo-Aryan languages
Populated States The Indian subcontinent, particularly North India, Surashtra (Gujarat)

Rajput (from Sanskrit raja-putra, "son of a king"[1]) is a member of one of the patrilineal clans of western, central, northern India and some parts of Pakistan. They claim to be descendants of ruling Hindu warrior classes of North India.[2] Rajputs rose to prominence during the 9th to 12th centuries. Until the 20th century, Rajputs ruled in the "overwhelming majority" of the princely states of Rajasthan and Surashtra, where the largest number of princely states were found.[3]

The Rajput population and the former Rajput states are found spread through much of the subcontinent, particularly in north, west and central India. Populations are found in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu, Punjab, Sindh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

History


Origins

The origin of Rajputs is the subject of debate. Writers, such as M. S. Naravane and V. P. Malik, believe that the term was not used to designate a particular tribe or social group until the 6th century AD, as there is no mention of the term in the historical record as pertaining to a social group prior to that time.[4] One theory espouses that with the collapse of the Gupta empire from the late 6th century, the invading Hephthalites (White Huns) were probably integrated within Indian society. Leaders and nobles from among the invaders were assimilated into the Kshatriya ritual rank in the Hindu varna system, while others who followed and supported them — such as the Ahirs, Gurjars and Jats - were ranked as Shudra. At the same time, some indigenous tribes were ranked as Rajput, examples of which are the Bundelas, Chandelas and Rathors. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Rajputs "... actually vary greatly in status, from princely lineages, such as the Guhilot and Kachwaha, to simple cultivators."[1] Aydogdy Kurbanov says that the assimilation was specifically between the Hephthalites, Gurjars, and people from northwestern India, forming the Rajput community.[5]

Rajput kingdoms (9th to 11th centuries)

From the beginning of the 9th century, Rajput dynasties dominated northern parts of India, and the many petty Rajput kingdoms became the primary obstacle to the complete Muslim conquest of Hindu India. Even after the Muslim conquest of the Punjab and the Ganga River valley, the Rajputs maintained their independence in Rajasthan and the forests of central India. Later, Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Khilji dynasty took the two Rajput forts of Chitor and Ranthambhor in eastern Rajasthan but could not hold them for long.[1]

Maratha domination and British rule

The internal conflicts which existed among the Rajput communities were significant in enabling the Mughal invaders to achieve control over them, while nonetheless recognising the role of the Rajputs as a ruling class.[6]

British colonial period


James Tod, a British colonial official, was impressed by the military qualities of the Rajputs[7] but is today considered to have been unusually enamoured by them. They venerate him to this day but is viewed by many historians since the late nineteenth-century as being a not particularly reliable commentator.[8][9] Jason Freitag, his only significant biographer, has said that Tod is "manifestly biased".[10]

The Rajput practice of female infanticide and sati (widow immolation) was another matter of concern to the British colonialists. It was believed that the Rajputs were the primary adherents to these practices, which the Raj considered to be savage and which was the initial impetus for British ethnographic studies of the subcontinent that eventually manifested itself as a much wider exercise in social engineering.[11]

In reference to the role of the Rajput soldiers serving under the British banner, Captain A. H. Bingley states:

Rajputs have served in our ranks from Plassey to the present day (1899). They have taken part in almost every campaign undertaken by the Indian armies. Under Forde they defeated the French at Condore. Under Monro at Buxar they routed the forces of the Nawab of Oudh. Under Lake they took part in the brilliant series of victories which destroyed the power of the Marathas.[12]

Independent India

On India's independence in 1947, the princely states, including those of the Rajput, were given three choices: join either India or Pakistan, or remain independent. Rajput rulers of the 22 princely states of Rajputana acceded to newly independent India, amalgamated into the new state of Rajasthan in 1949-1950.[13] Initially the maharajas were granted funding from the Privy purse in exchange for their acquiescence, but a series of land reforms over the following decades weakened their power, and their privy purse was cut off during Indira Gandhi's administration under the 1971 Constitution 26th Amendment Act. The estates, treasures, and practices of the old Rajput rulers now form a key part of Rajasthan's tourist trade and cultural memory.[14]

In 1951, the Rajput Rana dynasty of Nepal came to an end, having been the power behind the throne of the Shah monarchs figureheads since 1846.[15]

Subdivisions

Main article: Rajput clans

There are several major subdivisions of Rajputs, known as vansh or vamsha, the step below the super-division jāti[16] These vansh delineate claimed descent from various sources, and the Rajput are generally considered to be divided into three primary vansh:[17] Suryavanshi denotes descent from the solar deity Surya, Chandravanshi from the lunar deity Chandra, and Agnivanshi from the fire deity Agni.[18] Lesser-noted vansh include Udayvanshi, Rajvanshi,[19] and Rishivanshi.[20] The histories of the various vanshs were later recorded in documents known as vamshāavalīis; André Wink counts these among the "status-legitimizing texts".[21]

Beneath the vansh division are smaller and smaller subdivisions: kul, shakh ("branch"), khamp or khanp ("twig"), and nak ("twig tip").[22] Marriages within a kul are generally disallowed (with some flexibility for kul-mates of different gotra lineages). The kul serves as primary identity for many of the Rajput clans, and each kul is protected by a family goddess, the kuldevi. Lindsey Harlan notes that in some cases, skakhs have become powerful enough to be functionally kuls in their own right.[23]

Culture and ethos


The Rajputs were a Martial Race in the period of the British Raj.[24] This was a designation created by administrators that classified each ethnic group as either "martial" or "non-martial": a "martial race" was typically considered brave and well built for fighting,[25] whilst the remainder were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles.[26]

Rajput lifestyle

The double-edged scimitar known as the khanda was a popular weapon among the Rajputs of that era. On special occasions, a primary chief would break up a meeting of his vassal chiefs with khanda nariyal, the distribution of daggers and coconuts. Another affirmation of the Rajput's reverence for his sword was the Karga Shapna ("adoration of the sword") ritual, performed during the annual Navaratri festival, after which a Rajput is considered "free to indulge his passion for rapine and revenge".[27]

By the late 19th century, there was a shift of focus among Rajputs from politics to a concern with kinship.[28] Many Rajputs of Rajasthan are nostalgic about their past and keenly conscious of their genealogy, emphasizing a Rajput ethos that is martial in spirit, with a fierce pride in lineage and tradition.[29]

Rajput diet

The Anthropological Survey of India identified that in Gujarat, Rajputs are 'by and large' non-vegetarians, regular drinkers of alcohol, and also smoke and chew betel leaves.[30] These traits are also followed in other states with mutton, chicken, fish being consumed; and also pork (which historically dates back to the predilection for Rajput warriors and princes to hone their fighting skills by hunting and eating wild-pig).[31][32]

See also

References

Further reading

  • M K A Siddiqui (ed.), Marginal Muslim Communities In India, Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi (2004)
  • Dasharatha Sharma Rajasthan through the Ages a comprehensive and authentic history of Rajasthan, prepared under the orders of the Government of Rajasthan. First published 1966 by Rajasthan Archives.

External links

  • Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; 2005

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