ALTERNATE NAMES: Ksatriya caste
POPULATION: 120 million
LANGUAGE: Language or dialect of their region
1 • INTRODUCTION
"Rajput" identifies numerous ksatriya or warrior castes in northern and western India. The term "Rajput" comes from rajaputra, which means "son of kings." Rajputs are famed for their fighting abilities and once ruled numerous Indian princely states. The British grouped many of these states into the Rajputana Province. Today, it is the Indian state of Rajasthan.
Most believe Rajputs come from tribes in central Asia such as the Parthians, Kushans, Shakas, and Huns. These groups entered India as conquerors and became kings or rulers. They often married high-caste Hindu women or converted to Hinduism. By the ninth century, Rajputs controlled an empire that extended from Sind to the lower Ganges Valley, and from the Himalayan foothills to the Narmada River.
In 1192, Prithviraj Chauhan led the Rajputs against the Muslim Mughal ruler Muhammad Ghuri (d. 1206) who defeated them at the second battle of Tarain, near Delhi. This firmly established Muslim power and ended Rajput dominance. The only Rajput kingdoms that could challenge Mughal rule were those in the great Thar Desert.
In the eighteenth century, many Rajput states came under control of Marathas and, by the early nineteenth century, the British. Many Rajput kings retained a status as rulers of princely states under the British. This ended when India gained its independence in 1947.
2 • LOCATION
About 120 million people in India call themselves Rajputs. They live throughout northern India, although Rajasthan is considered their cultural homeland.
3 • LANGUAGE
Rajputs speak the language or dialect of their region. In Rajasthan, Rajputs speak one of the dialects of Rajasthani, which sounds a little like Hindi. Some Rajasthani dialects include Jaipuri, spoken in Jaipur, and Marwari, spoken in Marwar.
4 • FOLKLORE
Many folktales describe Rajput exploits. In one story, a ksatriya (warrior) clan leader decided to kill all Brahman (priest and scholar) men after learning a Brahman had killed his father. This meant Brahman females had to marry ksatriya men and gave rise to various Rajput dynasties. In another story, gods created some ksatriya clans on Mount Abu in Rajasthan to help fight Buddhists and foreigners. These Rajputs were known as the agnikula ("fire-race") and were the ancestors of clans such as the Chauhan, Solanki, and Ponwar Rajputs. Other Rajput clans trace their ancestry to the Sun or Moon.
5 • RELIGION
Most Rajputs are Hindu. They were known for protecting Hinduism against Buddhism and Islam. Today, in their religious practices, Rajputs differ little from other high-caste Hindus. They use Brahmans (priests and scholars) for ceremonial and ritual purposes. They worship all major Hindu deities. Most Rajputs are devotees of the god Shiva. Many also worship Surya (the Sun God), and Durga as Mother Goddess. In addition, nearly every Rajput clan has its own patron god to whom it turns for protection.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Rajputs celebrate all major Hindu holy days. Of particular importance is Dasahara, a festival dedicated to Durga (the Mother Goddess). It is customary for Rajputs to sacrifice a buffalo to the goddess, in commemoration of her victory over buffalo-demon Mahisha. The animal is beheaded with one stroke of a sword. The meat is usually distributed to servants or lower caste groups.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Rajputs celebrate major stages in life with twelve ceremonies called karams.
When a boy is born, a family Brahman (member of the highest social class) records details for the infant's horoscope. A family barber informs relatives and friends of the birth, and there is much celebration. The Brahman chooses a favorable day to name the infant. When the child is about two years old, a head-shaving ritual takes place. Many Rajputs regard the birth of a daughter as a misfortune and observe the day with little ceremony.
One important rite of passage for Rajput boys is tying of the janeu or sacred thread. As death approaches, a sick person is placed on a bed of sacred kusa grass on a spot that has been circled by cow dung. A sprig of tulsi plant, a piece of gold, or a few drops of Ganges River water are placed in the mouth to delay messengers of Yama, god of death. A cow is brought to the side of the dying person so that he or she can grasp its tail and be carried safely to the other world. After death, the corpse is washed and prepared for cremation. The body is placed on a funeral pyre, facing north. The eldest son lights the fire, and later cracks open the skull so the soul can leave the body.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Rajput greeting practices vary by region.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Rajputs traditionally formed landowning classes. In the past, Rajput rulers of princely states such as Kashmir, Jaipur, and Jodhpur were known for their splendid courts. Rajput Maharajas (kings) often lived luxuriously in ornate palaces. After India's independence, however, the princes lost their titles and privileges.
In Rajput homes, men's quarters consist of a courtyard containing a platform about four to six feet (about one to two meters) high, reached by a series of steps and often shaded by trees. Men often gather on these platforms to chat and perhaps smoke the hukka (a pipe). At one end of the platform is a roofed porch. Men usually sleep behind this porch. Smaller side rooms are used for storage.
Women's quarters are enclosed by walls, with rooms facing an inner courtyard. A fireplace is built against one wall for cooking. Stairs provide access to the roof. The interconnecting roofs of the houses let Rajput women visit each other without being seen by men.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
A distinctive feature of Rajput society is its clans. More than 103 clans have been identified in all. Among the more important ones are the Chauhans, whose former capital was Ajmer; the Gehlots of Mewar; the Rathors of Marwar; and the Kachhwaha of Jaipur.
Rajputs marry outside their clan. They also try to marry their daughters into clans of higher rank than their own, while accepting daughters-in-law from clans of lower rank. The Rajput clans in Rajasthan have the highest standing, so families with sons in Rajasthan often are sought by those with daughters.
Rajput marriages are arranged. Marriages are occasions for great ceremony and feasting. The groom, accompanied by friends and relatives, rides in a barat (procession) to the bride's house. Mounted on a horse, he is dressed in colorful robes, with turban and sword. Sometimes, he rides a decorated elephant. Gifts and money are distributed to those who gather. A piece of cloth is tied to the edge of the bride's sari and groom's coat. The couple walks around a sacred fire while Brahmans (priests and scholars) chant prayers. This is known as agni puja (fire-worship ceremony). Several days of celebration follow.
In 1303, when the fort of Chitor in Rajasthan was about to fall to Muslims, the Rajput Rani and all the women in the fort burned themselves to death to avoid being taken prisoners. Women who practiced this act of sati were revered as saints and stone sati memorials exist in Rajasthan. Despite abundant folklore surrounding this tradition, it was never widely practiced.
11 • CLOTHING
Rajput men wear the dhoti (loincloth consisting of a long piece of white cotton wrapped around the waist and then drawn between the legs and tucked into the waist), often with a cotton tunic. Rajput men may also wear a short jacket, or angarhkha, that fastens on the right side. Rajput men wear turbans that are tied to represent their particular clan. Rajput women wear either the sari (a length of fabric wrapped around the waist, with one end thrown over the right shoulder) or loose, baggy pants with a tunic. The lengha (long, flowing skirt) is also associated with the traditional dress of Rajasthan.
12 • FOOD
Rajputs' dietary patterns vary by region. In drier parts of India, their staple diet consists of various unleavened breads (roti), pulses (legumes), and vegetables. Rice (chawal) and milk products are also important. Rajputs are fond of hunting and enjoy eating venison and game birds such as goose, duck, partridge, and grouse.
13 • EDUCATION
Formal education used to be of little significance among ruling and landowning Rajput clans. Boys were brought up in the traditions of Rajput culture, trained in martial arts and in a code of conduct based on valor and honor. The sons of Rajputs became huntsmen, polo players, horsemen, and swordsmen.
An educational institution of particular note is Mayo College in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The British founded the college in the early 1870s as a school for the sons of princes. Though many Rajputs still attend the school, it has become an exclusive private school for upper class Indian children.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
India's Rajput heritage is vibrant. Rajputs are seen as champions of Hindu dharma (faith). They have left a strong mark on India, particularly in Rajasthan. Members of the Bhat caste keep family records and can trace a Rajput genealogy to a clan's mythical ancestors. Member of the Charan caste record deeds and accomplishments of Rajput rulers. Rajput courts were centers of culture where literature, music, dance, painting, and sculpture flourished with support of the Rajput elite. A specific style of Rajput painting—often focusing on religious themes, portraiture, or miniatures—emerged at Rajput courts in the Himalayas (the Pahari school) and in the western desert (the Rajasthani school). Bardic literature such as Prithviraj Raso recounts deeds of Rajput heroes. Mira Bai, a poet born in the fifteenth century, was a Rajput princess who is known for her contributions to Hindu bhakti (devotional) literature.
Rajputs built irrigation canals, dams, and reservoirs. The beautiful temples at Khajuraho were built in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and some Rajput groups built many well-known temples in Gujarat and western Rajasthan. Many palaces and forts represent a pleasing blend of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. Among the more notable are forts at Chitor, Gwalior, and Jodhpur, and the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur. Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur constructed astronomical observatories in Jaipur and Delhi in the early eighteenth century.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Rajputs continue to be landowners and soldiers. Agriculture is the group's primary work today, but many Rajputs serve in the Rajput Rifles or other branches of the armed services. They also pursue careers as police officers.
16 • SPORTS
Rajputs used to hunt tiger, panther, deer, and game birds. Also popular was pig-sticking, the dangerous sport of riding on horseback to hunt wild boar by sticking them with a lance. Polo sharpened riding skills.
17 • RECREATION
Historically Rajputs have taken great pleasure in the elaborate rituals and ceremonies associated with their religion and community. Weddings and other festive occasions are observed with much enthusiasm and are often celebrated with feasting, and sometimes with nautch (dancing) girls.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Rajput folk traditions include string puppet shows and ballads told by traveling storytellers known as bhopas. In one such ballad, Pabuji, a thirteenth-century chieftain, borrows a horse from a woman to ride to his wedding. Before he does so, he promises the woman he will protect her cows. Soon after the wedding ceremony has begun, Pabuji learns that the thieves are making off with the cows. He leaves his wedding to keep his word and recovers all but one calf. He risks another battle for the calf and is killed by the enemy. His bride then leaves her handprint on the gate of Pabuji's residence and commits sati (burns herself to death, a saintly act in Rajasthan).
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
As landowners, Rajputs do not face the social discrimination and problems of poverty that confront many others in India. While some may have fallen on hard times, Rajputs as a community are prosperous. One of the biggest challenges they face is adjusting to India's democratic environment. As former kings and members of the former ruling class, their power and prestige today is of less importance than in the past. Their economic resources have been threatened by government attempts to redistribute wealth. They have faced challenges from castes seeking economic and political independence from Rajput control. Rajputs lack the unity that would give them a powerful voice in modern Indian politics.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Ardley, Bridget. India. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press, 1989.
Barker, Amanda. India. Crystal Lake, Ill.: Ribgy Interactive Library, 1996.
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Minturn, Leigh. The Rajputs of Khalapur, India. New York: Wiley, 1966.
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"Rajputs." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rajputs
"Rajputs." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rajputs
People who identity themselves as Rajputs are found across northwestern India, the Ganges plains, Madhya Pradesh, and Himalayan valleys. Following Indian independence, the twenty-three Rajput states that formed what was called Rajputana were consolidated into the modern state of Rajasthan. The great majority are Hindu, but more than one million are Muslim. In the past, Rajputs formed the fighting, landowning, and ruling castes. They claim to be the descendants of the Kshatriyas of ancient tradition, and from this association they derive their identity as a distinct group, superior to other groups in their traditional territory.
Rajputs are hereditary soldiers and landowners, but the demand for soldiers is now limited and few Rajputs have any occupation except as landowners. While some Rajputs farm their land themselves, many own enough land so that they can hire others to perform manual labor.
The chief feature of Rajput social organization is their division into hierarchically ranked clans and lineages. One hundred and three Rajput clans are well known. Additionally, rankings based on regional location, the degree of centralized political control within regions or Rajput states, and hypergamy were all important elements of the traditional Rajput social order. Since independence, Rajput power has been declining as other castes seek economic and political Independence from Rajput control.
Still, the Rajput tradition and identity permit even poor Rajput farmers to consider themselves the equal of powerful landholders of their clan and superior to any high official of the professional classes. No people in India can boast of finer feats of arms or brighter deeds of chivalry, and Rajputs still form one of the main recruiting fields for the Indian army of today.
The Rajput courts were centers of culture; Sanskrit Literature and drama flourished and the modern vernacular Ianguages began to appear. The Rajput bards sang the praises of their overlords in Hindi; the earliest of these material ballads is the Prithiraj Raso, which tells how Prince Prithiraj carried off his bride. Rajput princes were great builders, and constructed magnificent palaces, fortresses, and stately shrines, of which the Saivite temples at Khajuraho in Bundelkhand and the Dilwara Jain temples at Mount Abu are outstanding examples in contrasting styles.
Rajput men and women are still much involved with elaborate ceremonies, especially weddings, for these are the rituals of Rajput identity. Suttee is no longer performed—indeed, it has long been illegal—but funerals are still cause for celebration of grandeurs past.
There are modern Rajputs who are followers of the Swaminarayan sect, of Ramanuja, or of Vallabhacharya. These groups are all vegetarians, but other Hindu Rajputs, the majority, are Shaivites. Not only do these Shaivites eat meat, but many are also partial to smoking tobacco, taking opium, or drinking liquor. Muslim Rajputs avoid these latter practices, although most of them are nonvegetarian.
See also Jat; Kshatriya
Enthoven, Reginald E. (1922). "Rajputs." In The Tribes and Castes of Bombay, edited by Reginald E. Enthoven. Vol. 3, 269-297. Bombay: Government Central Press. Reprint. 1975. Delhi: Cosmo Publications.
Minturn, Leigh, and John T. Hitchcock (1966). The Rajputs of Khalapur, India. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Russell, R. V., and Hira Lal (1916). "Rajput." In The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, edited by R. V. Russell and Hira Lal. Vol. 4, 410-470. London: Macmillan. Reprint. 1969. Oosterhout: Anthropological Publications.
Tod, James (1899). The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India. Calcutta: Bengal Press. New ed., edited by William Crooke. 1920. London: Oxford University Press. [Numerous other editions.]
ALLIYA S. ELAHI
"Rajput." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rajput
"Rajput." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rajput
Rajputs (räj´pōōts) [Sanskrit,=son of a king], dominant people of Rajputana, an historic region now almost coextensive with the state of Rajasthan, NW India. The Rajputs are mainly Hindus (although there are some Muslim Rajputs) of the warrior caste; traditionally they have put great value on etiquette and the military virtues and take great pride in their ancestry. Of these exogamous clans, the major ones were Rathor, Kachchwaha, Chauhan, and Sisodiya. Their power in Rajputana grew in the 7th cent., but by 1616 all the major clans had submitted to the Mughals. With the decline of Mughal power in the early 18th cent., the Rajputs expanded through most of the plains of central India, but by the early 19th cent. they had been driven back by the Marathas, Sikhs, and British. Under the British, many of the Rajput princes maintained independent states within Rajputana, but they were gradually deprived of power after India attained independence in 1947.
See S. M. Rameshwar, Resurgent Rajasthan (1962); L. Minturn, The Rajputs of Kahlpur (1966); D. Sharma, Lectures on Rajput History and Culture (1970).
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"Rajputs." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rajputs
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"Rajput." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rajput-0