|Religions||Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism|
|Populated States||The Indian subcontinent, particularly North India, Saurashtra (Gujarat)|
Rajput (from Sanskrit raja-putra, "son of a king") is a member of one of the patrilineal clans of western, central, northern India and current eastern Pakistan. They seem to have risen to prominence from the late 6th century CE and governed the majority of princely states in Rajasthan and Surashtra during the period of the British Raj.
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.
The origin of the 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. 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 cultivators. At the same time, some indigenous tribes were ranked as Rajput, examples of which are the Bundelas, Chandelas and Rathors. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Rajputs "... actually vary greatly in status, from princely lineages, such as the Guhilot and Kachwaha, to simple cultivators." Aydogdy Kurbanov says that the assimilation was specifically between the Hephthalites, Gurjars, and people from northwestern India, forming the Rajput community. Pradeep Barua also believes that Rajputs have foreign origins, he says their practice of asserting Kshatriya status was followed by other Indian groups thereby establishing themselves as Rajputs. According to most authorities successful claims to Rajput status frequently were made by groups that achieved secular power; probably that is how the invaders from Central Asia as well as patrician lines of indigenous tribal peoples were absorbed.
From the beginning of the 7th century, Rajput dynasties dominated North India, including areas now in Pakistan, and the many petty Rajput kingdoms became the primary obstacle to the complete Muslim conquest of Hindu India. These dynasties 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. Even after the Muslim conquest of the Punjab and the Ganges River valley, the Rajputs maintained their independence in Rajasthan and the forests of central India. Later, Sultan Alauddin Khilji of the Khilji dynasty took the two Rajput forts of Chittor and Ranthambhor in eastern Rajasthan in the 14th century but could not hold them for long.
After the mid-16th century, many Rajput rulers formed close relationships with the Mughal emperors and served them in different capacities. A number of noble Rajputs married their daughters to Mughal emperors for political motives. For example, Akbar accomplished 40 marriages for him, his sons and grandsons, out of which 17 were Rajput-Mughal alliances. The ruling Sisodia family of Mewar made it a point of honour not to engage in such relationships and thus claimed to stand apart from the other Rajput clans.
British colonial period
According to historian 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.
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.
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 from the lunar deity Chandra, and Agnivanshi from the fire deity Agni. The four prominent clans in the post-Gupta period - Chauhans, Paramaras, Pratiharas and Solankis – all claimed their mythological origin to have been from a sacrificial fire at Mount Abu.
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, skakhs have become powerful enough to be functionally kuls in their own right.
Culture and ethos
The Rajputs were 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".
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". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
- Naravane, M. S.; Malik, V. P. (1999). The Rajputs of Rajputana: a glimpse of medieval Rajasthan. APH Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 978-81-7648-118-2.
- Kurbanov, Aydogdy. "The Hephthalites: Archaeological and Historical Analysis" (PDF). p. 243. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
As a result of the merging of the Hephthalites and the Gujars with population from northwestern India, the Rajputs (from Sanskrit "rajputra" – "son of the rajah") formed.
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