Rajputs are one of the major Hindu Kshatriya groups of India. The Rajputs trace their roots to Rajputana. They enjoy a reputation as formidable soldiers and it is common to find many of them serving in the Indian Armed Forces. Historically the Rajputs were identified by their regal turbans, which had long been associated with the Kshatriya Varna. With the Sikhs, the Rajputs have won the lion's share of Victoria Crosses (and other awards for gallantry) in the armed forces before (and after) the Partition of India in 1947. The British Government recruited them heavily into their armies.
Rajasthan is home to most of the Rajputs, although demographically Rajput population and the former Rajput states are found spread through much the subcontinent particularly in north and central India.
The Rajputs, like the Sikhs (many notable Sikh leaders were of Rajput lineage) were designated by the British as a "Martial Race." The martial race was a designation created by officials of British India to describe "races" (ethnic groups) that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle and to possess qualities of courage, loyalty, self-sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, a hard working nature and fighting tenacity. Horsemanship and military strategy are also traits long associated with the Rajput. The British recruited heavily from these "martial races" for service in the colonial army.
Historically, Rajputs rose to prominence during the 9th to 11th centuries, notably three lineages of Agnivanshi clans namely the Paramaras, Pratiharas, Chaulukyas, and Chahamanas, that rose to prominence first. Rajputs ruled more than four hundred of the estimated six hundred princely states at the time of India's independence.
Islamic invasions (11th to 12th centuries)
The fertile and prosperous plains of northern India had always been a destination of choice for streams of invaders coming from the northwest. The last of these waves of invasions were of tribes who had previously converted to Islam. For geographic reasons, Rajput-ruled states suffered the brunt of aggression from various Mongol–Turkic–Afghan warlords who repeatedly invaded the subcontinent. In his New History of India Stanley Wolpert wrote, "The Rajputs were the vanguard of Hindu India in the face of the Islamic onslaught."
Within 15 years of the death of Muhammad in 632, the caliph Uthman sent a sea expedition to raid Thana and Broach on the Bombay coast. Other unsuccessful raiding expeditions to Sindh took place in 662 and 664 CE. Within a hundred years the Muslim armies had overrun much of Asia as far as the Hindu Kush; however, it was not until c.1000 CE that they established any foothold in India.
In the early 11th century, Mahmud of Ghazni conquered the Hindu Shahi kingdom in the Punjab. His raids into northern India weakened the Pratihara kingdom, which was drastically reduced in size and came under the control of the Chandelas. In 1018 CE, Mahmud sacked the city of Kannauj, seat of the Pratihara kingdom, but withdrew immediately to Ghazni, being interested in booty rather than empire. In the ensuing chaos, the Gahadvala dynasty established a modest state centered around Kannauj, ruling for about a hundred years. They were defeated by Muhammad of Ghor in 1194 CE, who sacked the city.
Meanwhile, a nearby state centered around present-day Delhi was ruled successively by the Tomara and Chauhan clans. Prithiviraj III, ruler of Delhi, defeated Muhammad of Ghor at the First Battle of Tarain (1191 CE). Muhammad returned the following year and defeated Prithviraj at the Second Battle of Tarain (1192 AD). In this battle, as in many others of this era, rampant internecine conflict among Rajput kingdoms facilitated the victory of the invaders.
In the late 11th century a battle between Parmal and Prithviraj III took place in Mahoba, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. Alha and Udal were the generals of Parmal's army, who fought bravely but lost the battle. The descendants of Alha are Ahirwar Rajputs.
Medieval Rajput states (12th to 16th centuries)
Prithviraj Chauhan proved to be the last Rajput ruler of Delhi. The Chauhans, led by Govinda, grandson of Prithviraj, later established a small state centered around Ranthambore in present-day Rajasthan. The Songara sect of the Chauhan clan later ruled Jalore, while the Hada sect of the same clan established their rule over the Hadoti region in the mid-13th century. The Rever Maharaja Ranavghansinh ruled Taranga in the 11th century. The Tomaras later established themselves at Gwalior, and the ruler Man Singh built the fortress which still stands there. Muhammad's armies brought down the Gahadvala kingdom of Kannauj in 1194 CE. Some surviving members of the Gahadvala dynasty are said to have refugeed to the western desert, formed the Rathore clan, and later founded the state of Marwar. The Kachwaha clan came to rule Dhundhar (later Jaipur) with their capital at Amber.
Other relocations surmised to have occurred in this period include the emigration of Rajput clans to the Himalayas. The Katoch clan, the Chauhans of Chamba and certain clans of Uttarakhand and Nepal are counted among this number. Conflict with the Sultanate
The Delhi Sultanate was founded by Qutb ud din Aybak, Muhammad of Ghor's successor, in the early 13th century. Sultan Ala ud din Khilji conquered Gujarat (1297), Malwa (1305), Ranthambore (1301), Chittorgarh (1303), Jalore, and Bhinmal (1311). All were conquered after long sieges and fierce resistance from their Rajput defenders.
Ala ud din Khilji delegated the administration of the newly conquered areas to his principal Rajput collaborator, Maldeo Songara, ruler of Jalore. Maldeo Songara was soon displaced by his son-in-law Hammir, a scion of the lately displaced Guhila clan, who re-established the state of Mewar c.1326 CE. Mewar was to emerge as a leading Rajput State, after Rana Kumbha expanded his kingdom at the expense of the sultanates of Malwa and Gujarat.
Jauhar and Saka
All recorded instances of Jauhar and Saka have featured Rajput defenders of a fort resisting the invasion of an enemy force. On several occasions when defeat in a siege became certain, the Rajput defenders of the fort performed a final act of heroism that rendered the incident an immortal inspiration to future Rajputs and, they felt, afforded the invaders only a hollow, inglorious victory. The ladies of the fort would commit collective self-immolation (Jauhar). Wearing their wedding dresses, and holding their young children by the hand, the ladies would commit themselves to the flames of a massive, collective pyre, thereby escaping molestation and dishonour at the hands of the invading army. As the memorial of their heroic act, the ladies would leave only the imprint of the palm of their right hands on wet clay, which have become objects of veneration. This immolation would occur during the night, to the accompaniment of Vedic chants. Early the next morning, after taking a bath, the men would wear saffron-colored garments, apply the ash from the pyres of their wives and children on their foreheads and put a tulsi leaf in their mouth. Then the gates would be opened and men would ride out for one final, heroic, hopeless battle (performing Saka), dying gloriously on the field of honor. The historic fort of Chittor, the seat of the Sisodia kingdom of Mewar, was the site of the three most famous Jauhars recorded in history.
The first Jauhar
The "First Jauhar" occurred during the siege of Chittor (1303). A Jauhar is the mass self-immolation of the female population to avoid capture in time of war. Concurrently, the male population would perform Saka: a fight to the death against impossible odds. The brave defence of Chittor by the Guhilas, the sagas of Rani Padmini and the memory of the Jauhar have had a defining impact upon the Rajput character. All recorded instances of Jauhar and Saka have featured Rajput defenders of a fort resisting the invasion of an enemy force. On several occasions when defeat in a siege became certain, the Rajput defenders of the fort performed a final act of heroism that rendered the incident an immortal inspiration to future Rajputs and, they felt, afforded the invaders only a hollow, inglorious victory. The ladies of the fort would commit collective self-immolation (Jauhar). Wearing their wedding dresses, and holding their young children by the hand, the ladies would commit themselves to the flames of a massive, collective pyre, thereby escaping molestation and dishonour at the hands of the invading army. As the memorial of their heroic act, the ladies would leave only the imprint of the palm of their right hands on wet clay, which have become objects of veneration. This immolation would occur during the night, to the accompaniment of Vedic chants. Early the next morning, after taking a bath, the men would wear saffron-colored garments, apply the ash from the pyres of their wives and children on their foreheads and put a tulsi leaf in their mouth. Then the gates would be opened and men would ride out for one final, heroic, hopeless battle (performing Saka), dying gloriously on the field of honor. The historic fort of Chittor, the seat of the Sisodia kingdom of Mewar, was the site of the three most famous Jauhars recorded in history.
Maharana Pratap Singh of Mewar
Maharana Pratap was a disciple of Baba Sri Chand jee Maharaaj (son of Satguru Nanak Dev jee Maharaaj)
Mewar held out against the Mughal empire and gave battle to Akbar. After a struggle, Mewar's chief citadel of Chittor finally fell to Akbar in 1568. The third (and last) Jauhar of Chittor transpired on this occasion. When the fall of the citadel became imminent, the ladies of the fort committed collective self-immolation and the men sallied out of the fort to meet the invading Muslim army in a fight to the death.
Prior to this event, Mewar's ruler, Rana Udai Singh II, had retired to the nearby hills, where he founded the new town of Udaipur. He was succeeded while in exile by his son Pratap Singh of Mewar as head of the Sisodia clan. Under the leadership of Pratap Singh, they harassed the Mughals enough to cause them to make accommodatory overtures. Pratap Singh, a present-day Rajput icon, rebuffed these overtures of friendship from Akbar and rallied an army to meet the Mughal forces. He defeated the Mughal forces at the battle of Haldighati in June 1576. The Mughals were forced to withdraw to the Aravalli ranges. Pratap Singh carried out a relentless guerilla struggle from his hideout in the hills, and by the time of his death, he had reconquered nearly all of his kingdom from the Mughals, except for the fortress of Chittor and Mandal Garh. He died in 1597.
After Pratap's death, his son Rana Amar Singh continued the struggle for 18 years, and faced constant attacks from Mughals. He fought eighteen wars during this period. Finally he entered into a peace treaty with the Mughals but with certain exemptions: the Rana of Mewar did not have attend the Mughal court personally but the crown prince would attend the court, and it was not necessary for the Rana and the Sisodias to enter into marriage alliances with the Mughals. The treaty was signed by Rana Amar Singh and Prince Khurram Shihab-ud-din Muhammad (later Shah Jahan) in 1615 CE at Gogunda. Singh thus regained control of his state as a vassal of the Mughals. The Sisodias, rulers of Mewar, were the last Rajput dynasty to enter into an alliance with the Mughals.
Identity and major clans
The Sanskrit word Rajputra is found in ancient texts, including the Vedas, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. It was used by the ancient Sanskrit grammarian Pĝṇiniin the 4th century BCE. The word Kshatriya (warrior) was used for the Vedic community of warriors and rulers. To differentiate royal warriors from other Kshatriyas the word Rajputra was used, which literally means "son of a king." Rajputra eventually was shortened to Rajput; gradually it became a caste.
Rajputs belong to one of three great patrilineages, which are Suryavanshi, Chandravanshi and Agnivanshi.
The Suryavanshi, which means the Sun Dynasty, claim descent from Surya, the solar deity. The Sun Dynasty is oldest among Kshatriyas. The first person of this dynasty was Vivasvan, which means the Fire Bird. Ikshvaku was the first important king of this dynasty. Other important kings were Kakutsth Harishchandra, Sagar, Dileepa, Bhagiratha, Raghu Dashratha and Rama. The poet Kalidasa wrote the great epic Raghuvamsa about the dynasty of Raghu. The three Rajput Suryavanshi (Raghuvanshi) clans that claim descent from Rama are the Sisodias, Rathores and the Kachwahas.
The Chandravanshi, which means Moon Dynasty, claim descent from Chandra, the lunar deity. This Lunar Dynasty is very ancient, but is younger than the Sun Dynasty. Som was the first king of this dynasty. Other important kings were Pururawa, Nahush, Yayati, Dushyant, Bharata, Kuru, Shantanu and Yudhishthir. Yadu was the eldest son of Yayati and Yadav's claim descended from Yadu. Krishna was of the lineage of Yadu. The Yaduvanshi lineage, claiming descent from the Hindu god Krishna, are a major sect of the Chandravanshi. The ancient text Harivamsa gives details of this dynasty.
The Agnivanshi lineage claims descent from Agni, the Vedic God of Fire. The legend which addresses the origin of the Agnivanshi Rajputs is particularly disputed not least because they were the earliest to rise to political prominence. According to Puranic legend, as found in Bhavishya Purana (an ancient religious text), the traditional kshatriyas of the land were exterminated by Parashurama, an avatara of Vishnu. The sage Vasishta performed a great a yagna (ritual of sacrifice) at Mount Abu, at the time of emperor Ashoka's sons (Ashoka died around 232 BCE). From the influence of mantras of the four Vedas, four kshatriyas were born. They were the founders of the four Agnivanshi clans:
1. Paramara 2. Chahamanas 3. Chalukya 4. Pratihara
Only these four clans out of the many Rajput clans are considered to be Agnivanshi.
Some scholars also count Nagavanshi and Rishivanshi to be Agnivanshi. Consciousness of clan and lineage
The aforementioned three patrilineages (vanshas) sub-divide into 36 main clans (kulas), which in turn divide into numerous branches (shakhas), to create the intricate clan system of the Rajputs. The principle of patrilineage is staunchly adhered to in determining one's place in the system and a strong consciousness of clan and lineage is an essential part of the Rajput character. As the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica states, this tradition of common ancestry permits an indigent Rajput yeoman to consider himself as well-born as any powerful landholder of his clan, and superior to any high official of the professional classes. Authoritative listings of the 36 Rajput clans are to be found in the Kumĝrpĝla Charita of Jayasimha and the epic poem Prithvirĝj Rĝso of Chandbardai.
The 1931 census reported a total of 10.7 million people self-describing as Rajput. Of this population, about 8.6 million people also self-described as being Hindu, about 2.1 million as being Muslim Rajput and about 50,000 as being Sikh Rajput.
The United Provinces (being approximately present-day Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand combined) reported the largest population of Rajputs, at 3,756,936. The (then united) province of Bihar and Orissa, corresponding to the present-day states of Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand, reported a Rajput population of 1,412,440. Rajputana, which was almost co-terminus with the present-day state of Rajasthan, reported a figure of 669,516. The Central Provinces and Berar reported a figure of 506,087, the princely state of Gwalior of 393,076, the Central India Agency of 388,942, the Bombay Presidency of 352,016, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir of 256,020, and the Western India States Agency of 227,137 Rajputs. The undivided province of Bengal (including present-day Bangladesh) reported a figure of 156,978 Rajputs. The princely states of Baroda and Hyderabad reported figures of 94,893 and 88,434 respectively. Current population
As a forward class, Rajputs have not been counted as a caste in the official census in the Republic of India. There are some estimates by private organizations. The Joshua Project as of 2009 estimates 41 million Hindu Rajputs, 18 million Muslim Rajputs and 0.8 million Sikh Rajputs, or some 60 million in total. Rajputs typically speak whatever languages are spoken by the general population of the areas in which they live. Hindi and Rajasthani are the primary languages, as most are situated in Hindi-speaking states, but Gujaratiis also spoken among Rajputs residing in Gujarat.
Culture and Ethos
The Rajput ethos is martial in spirit, fiercely proud and independent, and emphasizes lineage and tradition. Rajput patriotism is legendary, an ideal they embody with a sometimes fanatical zeal, often choosing death before dishonour. Rajput warriors were often known to fight until the last man.