Rajput (from Sanskrit raja-putra, "son of a king") is a caste from the Indian subcontinent. The term Rajput covers various patrilineal clans historically associated with warriorhood: several clans claim Rajput status, although not all claims are universally accepted.
|Religions||Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism|
|Languages||Hindi, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Gujarati, Maithili, Marwari, Sindhi|
|Region||Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, Bihar, Sindh|
The term "Rajput" acquired its present meaning only in the 16th century, although it is also anachronistically used to describe the earlier lineages that emerged in northern India from 6th century onwards. In the 11th century, the term "rajaputra" appeared as a non-hereditary designation for royal officials. Gradually, the Rajputs emerged as a social class comprising people from a variety of ethnic and geographical backgrounds. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the membership of this class became largely hereditary, although new claims to Rajput status continued to be made in the later centuries. Several Rajput-ruled kingdoms played a significant role in many regions of central and northern India until the 20th century.
The Rajput population and the former Rajput states are found spread across India where they are spread in north, west and central India. These areas include Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. In Pakistan they are found on the eastern parts of the country, Punjab and Sindh.
The origin of the Rajputs has been a much-debated topic among the historians. Colonial-era writers characterised them as descendants of the foreign invaders such as the Scythians or the Hunas, and believed that the Agnikula myth was invented to conceal their foreign origin. According to this theory, the Rajputs originated when these invaders were assimilated into the Kshatriya category during the 6th or 7th century, following the collapse of the Gupta Empire. While many of these colonial writers propagated this foreign-origin theory in order to legitimise the colonial rule, the theory was also supported by some Indian scholars, such as D. R. Bhandarkar. The Indian nationalist historians, such as C. V. Vaidya, believed the Rajputs to be descendants of the ancient Vedic Aryan Kshatriyas. A third group of historians, which includes Jai Narayan Asopa, theorized that the Rajputs were Brahmins who became rulers.
However, recent research suggests that the Rajputs came from a variety of ethnic and geographical backgrounds. The root word "rajaputra" (literally "son of a king") first appears as a designation for royal officials in the 11th century Sanskrit inscriptions. According to some scholars, it was reserved for the immediate relatives of a king; others believe that it was used by a larger group of high-ranking men. Over time, the derivative term "Rajput" came to denote a hereditary political status, which was not necessarily very high: the term could denote a wide range of rank-holders, from an actual son of a king to the lowest-ranked landholder. Before the 15th century, the term "Rajput" was associated with people of mixed-caste origin, and was therefore considered inferior in rank to "Kshatriya".
Gradually, the term Rajput came to denote a social class, which was formed when the various tribal and nomadic groups became landed aristocrats, and transformed into the ruling class. These groups assumed the title "Rajput" as part of their claim to higher social positions and ranks. The early medieval literature suggests that this newly-formed Rajput class comprised people from multiple castes. Thus, the Rajput identity is not the result of a shared ancestry. Rather, it emerged when different social groups of medieval India sought to legitimize their newly-acquired political power by claiming Kshatriya status. These groups started identifying as Rajput at different times, in different ways.
Emergence as a community
Scholarly opinions differ on when the term Rajput acquired hereditary connotations and came to denote a clan-based community. Historian Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, based on his analysis of inscriptions (primarily from Rajasthan), believed that by the 12th century, the term "rajaputra" was associated with fortified settlements, kin-based landholding, and other features that later became indicative of the Rajput status. According to Chattopadhyaya, the title acquired "an element of heredity" from c. 1300. A later study by of 11th-14th century inscriptions from western and central India, by Michael B. Bednar, concludes that the designations such as "rajaputra", "thakkura" and "rauta" were not necessarily hereditary during this period.
During its formative stages, the Rajput class was quite assimilative and absorbed people from a wide range of lineages. However, by the late 16th century, it had become genealogically rigid, based on the ideas of blood purity. The membership of the Rajput class was now largely inherited rather than acquired through military achievements. A major factor behind this development was the consolidation of the Mughal Empire, whose rulers had great interest in genealogy. As the various Rajput chiefs became Mughal feduatories, they no longer engaged in major conflicts with each other. This decreased the possibility of achieving prestige through military action, and made hereditary prestige more important.
The word "Rajput" thus acquired its present-day meaning in the 16th century. During 16th and 17th centuries, the Rajput rulers and their bards (charans) sought to legitimize the Rajput socio-political status on the basis of descent and kinship. They fabricated genealogies linking the Rajput families to the ancient dynasties, and associated them with myths of origins that established their Kshatriya status. This led to the emergence of what Indologist Dirk Kolff calls the "Rajput Great Tradition", which accepted only hereditary claims to the Rajput identity, and fostered a notion of eliteness and exclusivity. The legendary epic poem Prithviraj Raso, which depicts warriors from several different Rajput clans as associates of Prithviraj Chauhan, fostered a sense of unity among these clans. The text thus contributed to the consolidation of the Rajput identity by offering these clans a shared history.
Despite these developments, migrant soldiers made new claims to the Rajput status until as late as the 19th century. In the 19th century, the colonial administrators of India re-imagined the Rajputs as similar to the Anglo-Saxon knights. They compiled the Rajput genealogies in the process of settling land disputes, surveying castes and tribes, and writing history. These genealogies became the basis of distinguishing between the "genuine" and the "spurious" Rajput clans.
The Rajput kingdoms were disparate: loyalty to a clan was more important than allegiance to the wider Rajput social grouping, meaning that one clan would fight another. This and the internecine jostling for position that took place when a clan leader (raja) died meant that Rajput politics were fluid and prevented the formation of a coherent Rajput empire.
The first major Rajput kingdom was the Sisodia-ruled kingdom of Mewar. However, the term "Rajput" has also been used as an anachronistic designation for the earlier Hindu dynasties that succeeded the Gurjara-Pratiharas, such as the Chahamanas (of Shakambhari, Nadol and Jalor), the Tomaras, the Chaulukyas, the Paramaras, the Gahadavalas, and the Chandelas. These dynasties confronted the Ghaznavid and Ghurid invaders during the 11th and 12th centuries. Although the Rajput identity did not exist at this time, these lineages were classified as aristocratic Rajput clans in the later times.
In the 15th century, the Muslim sultans of Malwa and Gujarat put a joint effort to overcome the Mewar ruler Rana Kumbha but both the sultans were defeated. Subsequently, in 1518 the Rajput Mewar Kingdom under Rana Sanga achieved a major victory over Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi of Delhi Sultanate and afterwards Rana's influence extended up to the striking distance of Pilia Khar in Agra. Accordingly, Rana Sanga came to be the most distinguished indigenous contender for supremacy but was defeated by the Mughal invader Babur at Battle of Khanwa in 1527.
After the mid-16th century, many Rajput rulers formed close relationships with the Mughal emperors and served them in different capacities. It was due to the support of the Rajputs that Akbar was able to lay the foundations of the Mughal empire in India. Some Rajput nobles gave away their daughters in marriage to Mughal emperors and princes for political motives. For example, Akbar accomplished 40 marriages for him, his sons and grandsons, out of which 17 were Rajput-Mughal alliances. Akbar's successors as Mogul emperors, his son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jahan had Rajput mothers. The ruling Sisodia Rajput family of Mewar made it a point of honour not to engage in matrimonial relationships with Mughals and thus claimed to stand apart from those Rajput clans who did so. The Rana of Mewar Pratap Singh had successfully resisted the efforts of Akbar to subdue the Mewar kingdom.
Akbar's diplomatic policy regarding the Rajputs was later damaged by the intolerant rules introduced by his great-grandson Aurangzeb. A prominent example of these rules included the re-imposition of Jaziya, which had been abolished by Akbar. However,despite imposition of Jaziya Aurangzeb's army had a high proportion of Rajput officers in the upper ranks of the imperial army and they were all exempted from paying Jaziya The Rajputs then revolted against the Mughal empire. Aurangzeb's conflicts with the Rajputs, which commenced in the early 1680s, henceforth became a contributing factor towards the downfall of the Mughal empire.
In the 18th century, the Rajputs came under influence of the Maratha empire. By the late 18th century, the Rajput rulers begin negotiations with the East India Company and by 1818 all the Rajput states had formed an alliance with the company.
British colonial period
According to the former Bhavnagar State ruler Virbhadra Singhji, Rajputs ruled in the "overwhelming" majority of the princely states of Rajasthan and Saurashtra in the British Raj era. These regions also contained the largest concentration of princely states in India, including over 200 in Saurashtra alone.
The medieval bardic chronicles (kavya and masnavi) glorified the Rajput past, presenting warriorhood and honour as Rajput ideals. This later became the basis of the British reconstruction of the Rajput history and the nationalist interpretations of Rajputs' struggles with the Muslim invaders. James Tod, a British colonial official, was impressed by the military qualities of the Rajputs but is today considered to have been unusually enamoured of them. Although the group venerate him to this day, he is viewed by many historians since the late nineteenth century as being a not particularly reliable commentator. Jason Freitag, his only significant biographer, has said that Tod is "manifestly biased".
The Rajput practices of female infanticide and sati (widow immolation) were other matters of concern to the British. It was believed that the Rajputs were the primary adherents to these practices, which the British Raj considered savage and which provided the initial impetus for British ethnographic studies of the subcontinent that eventually manifested itself as a much wider exercise in social engineering.
In reference to the role of the Rajput soldiers serving under the British banner, Captain A. H. Bingley wrote:
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.
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. 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.
The Rajputs are today considered to be a Forward Caste in India's system of positive discrimination. This means that they receive no special treatment by government bodies because forward castes are considered to be inherently privileged groups.  However, some Rajputs too like other agricultural castes demand reservations in Government jobs, which so far is not heeded to by the Government of India.
"Rajput" is a vaguely-defined term, and there is no universal consensus on which clans make up the Rajput community. In medieval Rajasthan (the historical Rajputana) and its neighbouring areas, the word Rajput came to be restricted to certain specific clans, based on patrilineal descent and intermarriages. On the other hand, the Rajput communities living in the region to the east of Rajasthan had a fluid and inclusive nature. The Rajputs of Rajasthan eventually refused to acknowledge the Rajput identity claimed by their eastern counterparts, such as the Bundelas. The Rajputs claim to be Kshatriyas or descendants of Kshatriyas, but their actual status varies greatly, ranging from princely lineages to common cultivators.
There are several major subdivisions of Rajputs, known as vansh or vamsha, the step below the super-division jāti These vansh delineate claimed descent from various sources, and the Rajput are generally considered to be divided into three primary vansh: Suryavanshi denotes descent from the solar deity Surya, Chandravanshi(Somavanshi) from the lunar deity Chandra, and Agnivanshi from the fire deity Agni. The Agnivanshi clans include Parmar, Chalukya (Solanki), Parihar and Chauhan.
Lesser-noted vansh include Udayvanshi, Rajvanshi, and Rishivanshi. The histories of the various vanshs were later recorded in documents known as vamshāavalīis; André Wink counts these among the "status-legitimizing texts".
Beneath the vansh division are smaller and smaller subdivisions: kul, shakh ("branch"), khamp or khanp ("twig"), and nak ("twig tip"). Marriages within a kul are generally disallowed (with some flexibility for kul-mates of different gotra lineages). The kul serves as the 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, shakhs have become powerful enough to be functionally kuls in their own right.
Culture and ethos
The Rajputs were designated as a Martial Race in the period of the British Raj. 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, whilst the remainder were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles.
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". The Rajput of Rajasthan also offer a sacrifice of water buffalo or goat to their family Goddess ( Kuldevta) during Navaratri. The ritual requires slaying of the animal with a single stroke. In the past this ritual was considered a rite of passage for young Rajput men.
By the late 19th century, there was a shift of focus among Rajputs from politics to a concern with kinship. Many Rajputs of Rajasthan are nostalgic about their past and keenly conscious of their genealogy, emphasising a Rajput ethos that is martial in spirit, with a fierce pride in lineage and tradition.
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. These traits are also followed by Rajputs of Maharashtra with mutton, chicken and 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).
Rajput politics refers to the role played by the Rajput community in the electoral politics of India. In states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttrakhand, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat, the large populations of Rajputs gives them a decisive role.
The term Rajput painting refers to works of art created at the Rajput-ruled courts of Rajasthan, Central India, and the Punjab Hills. The term is also used to describe the style of these paintings, distinct from the Mughal painting style.
According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rajput painting symbolised the divide between Muslims and Hindus during Mughal rule. The styles of Mughal and Rajput painting are oppositional in character. He characterised Rajput painting as "popular, universal and mystic".
Rajput painting varied geographically, corresponding to each of the various Rajput kingdoms and regions. The Delhi area, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Central India each had its own variant.[not in citation given]
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- Lindsey Harlan (1992). Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-07339-5.
- Pradeep Barua (2005). The State at War in South Asia. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1344-1.
- Peter Jackson (2003). The Delhi Sultanate: A Political and Military History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-54329-3.
- Richard Gabriel Fox (1971). Kin, Clan, Raja, and Rule: Statehinterland Relations in Preindustrial India. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520018075.
- Satish Chandra (1982). Medieval India: Society, the Jagirdari Crisis, and the Village. Macmillan.
- Shail Mayaram (2013). Against History, Against State: Counterperspectives from the Margins. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-52951-8.
- Tanuja Kothiyal (2016). Nomadic Narratives: A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107080317.
Media related to Rajput people at Wikimedia Commons