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LOCATION: the northwest Indian state of Rājasthān
POPULATION: 56,473,122 (Census of India, 2001, for Rājasthān state)
LANGUAGE: Rājasthānī and various languages and dialects spoken in Rājasthān


Rājasthān, the sixth most populous state in India, is inhabited by numerous groups, but it is the Rajputs (Rājpūts) and Rajput culture that give the region its distinct identity. The state was called Rājputāna ("Land of the Rajputs [Sons of Kings]") in colonial British days, while its present name Rājasthān ("Land of Kings") reflects the fact that the former states in the region (most are currently districts in the state) were ruled by Rajas (Rājas [kings]) who, once they accepted British paramountcy in the 19th century, were allowed to rule their territories from that time with no British interference in their domestic affairs. In the past, the region was also called Rajwara (Rājwāra) and Raethana (Rāethāna) ["Land of Kings"], reflecting its association with the Rajput rulers. The independent states of Rājasthān virtually remained feudal kingdoms until they were incorporated into the Republic of India in 1947. In the post-Independence era, Rājasthān is known for the success of its Panchayati Raj—a system of local government based on panchayats, or local caste, village or tribal councils.

In addition to the Rajputs, who are relatively small in number and make up under 6% of the state's population, other groups in Rājasthān include Charans and Bhats, castes that provided hereditary services to the Rajputs, tribals (Bhils, Minas, Meos), the nomadic Lohars and Rabari, and Brahmans, Banias, Jats, Chamars and Muslims.


Rājasthān, territorially the largest state in India, covers some 342,239 sq km (about the area of Germany) in the north west of India. The state is bounded by Gujarat to the south, Madhya Pradesh to the south east, and Uttar Pradesh, Hayana and Punjab to the northeast. The western border of Rājasthān is the international frontier with Pakistan, which given the history of India and Pakistan, makes the state, especially Rājasthān's western areas, important from a military perspective.

Rājasthān is an arid region, with the Aravalli range of mountains running for over 600 km northeast-southwest though the middle of the state. Rising from "the Ridge" at Delhi, the mountains rarely exceed 1,000 m in the north. For much of their length, the Aravallis assume the form of a narrow belt of low, though often precipitous, parallel ridges rather than a continuous mountain system, though they reach a maximum elevation of 1,722 m at Mount Abu in the south. The Aravallis have the distinction of containing the oldest rocks in the world that present any elevation as a mountain system and separate the Thar Desert to the west from the more well-watered, agricultural plateaus of southeastern Rājasthān. The barren plains of the Thar (also known as the "Marusthali" or "Region of Death") extend north and west from the Aravallis to the Indus and Sutlej Rivers in Pakistan. This region gets less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, with mean maximum temperatures in summer averaging around 45°C (113° F). To the south and east of the Aravallis, an area drained by the Banas and Chambal Rivers receives close to 25 inches of precipitation a year and, with its relatively fertile soils, provides one of the more environmentally productive regions of the state.

The Rajputs are believed to be descended from numerous warlike clans such as the Scythians, Huns and Gujjars who entered India from the northwest from Central Asia in the years preceding the 6th century ad. Once they established military supremacy over the local inhabitants, they set out to establish themselves as kshatriyas, as belonging to the ruling, warrior caste. They accomplished this in Rājasthān by having genealogies developed for them by Charans, a caste whose traditional occupation is as bards and genealogists to the Rajputs. No doubt such genealogies were mythological, but they legitimized the position of the Rajputs in Hindu society, providing them with an ancestry that was linked to the Rajputs in the ancient Vedas. Thus Rajput clans such as the Sisodiyas and Rathors in Rājasthān claim to be descended from the sun (the Suryavansha lineage), the Bhati from the moon (the Chandravansha lineage), and the Chauhans and Pratihara find their origins in the "agnikula" or firepot of a sage on Mount Abu, in southern Rājasthān (the Agnivansha linage). By the 7th century ad, kingdoms ruled by Rajputs extended from the Arabian sea to the head of the Bay of Bengal. However, the successful invasions of Muslims from the northwest in the centuries following the 12th century ad changed all this. Th ough resisted by the Rajputs, successfully at first, the Muslims established themselves at Delhi.

The Rajput kingdoms along the Ganges Valley were destroyed, with Rajput kingdoms surviving in the foothills of the Himalaya. The Rajputs of what is now Rājasthān retreated into the barren wilderness of the Thar desert to wage a guerrilla war against the Muslims, who were never able to inflict a decisive defeat on them. Reverses, such as the sacks of Ranthambore and Chittorgarh, accompanied by Rajput jauhar, when the men rode out in saffron robes (a symbol of Hinduism) to meet their death at the hands of the besieging Muslim forces and the women burned themselves in a massive funeral pyre, served only to add to the romantic myth of the Rajput. It was from this time that the image of the fearless, Rajput warrior, defender of Hinduism and cows against the marauding Muslims dates. It is also from this time that the political outlines of modern Rājasthān was formed. The Muslims skirted the region and went on to conquer Gujarat to the south, but independent Rajput states such as Jaipur, Jodhpur (Marwar) and Udaipur (Mewar) retained their independence. It was only through a combination of force and marriages that the Mughal Emperor Akbar was able to bring the states of Rājasthān to heel and make them his allies.

The major former independent states of Rājasthān, ruled by separate Rajput clans include Jaipur (founded by the Kachhwaha clan of Rajputs), Jodhpur or Mawar (ruled by the Rathors) Jaiselmer (ruled by the Bhatis) and Udaipur (the Sisodiyas) remained essentially independent feudal kingdoms until India gained its Independence from British rule in 1947. Udaipur is considered the most senior of the former states, because the Sisodiyas never came to an accommodation with the Muslims ruling in Delhi. In fact, though it can be argued there is nosuch thing as "Rājasthāni" culture and that the Rājasthān government is trying to promote a sense of being Rājasthāni (most people in the area identify with a particular caste or community rather than the state), some scholars feel that the Rajput imprint on the region is distinctive enough to talk about a "Rājasthāni" culture.


Numerous dialects are spoken in Rājasthān, most of which form part of western Hindi. Along the borders of the state, the dialects show the influence of neighboring tongues such as Sindhi, Punjabi, and Gujarati. In the "core" of Rājasthān, however, spoken dialects tend to correlate with the boundaries of the former Rajput states. Thus Harauti is the dialect spoken in the areas of the former Rājpūt states of Kota, Bundi, and Jhalawar, Jaipuri is the dialect of the state of Jaipur. Mewari is spoken in what used to be Udaipur (Mewar), and Marwari is spoken in what used to be Jodhpur and much of the western part of the state. In 1908 George Grierson was the first scholar who gave the designation "Rājasthāni" to the languages of the region. Today, Rājasthāni as spoken is essentially the Marwari form of speech. Although the Union (i.e. central) government does not recognize Rājasthāni as one of India's official languages, the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters, and the University Grants Commission do recognize it as a distinct language. It is also taught as such in the Universities of Jodhpur and Udaipur. Since 1947, several movements have been going on in Rājasthān for its recognition as an official language of India, but today Rājasthāni is still considered a "dialect" of Hindi.

A tradition of literature exists in Rājasthān dating back to the 6th century ad. A major element in this tradition is the poetry written by the Charans, hereditary bards and genealogists to the Rajputs, extolling the virtues, accomplishments, victories and sometimes the glorious deaths of Rajput heroes. This bardic poetry reaches it greatest heights in medieval times, when it was strongly influenced by the religious Bhaktī (Devotional) movements. Mirabai, a 16th century authoress of numerous poems and songs of the Bhakti movement extolling the virtues of the god Krishna, was born in Rājasthān, as was Dadu Dayal, a 16th century saint who founded the Dadu Panth, a sect that still has numerous followers in Rājasthān.

The writings of many of the poets of the Independence period are full of patriotic and nationalistic fervor, while since Independence, traditional romantic, lyrical works co-exist with those that attempt to raise the reader's consciousness of the plight of the common man.


While each ethnic group in Rājasthān, (e.g., the Chamars, Bhils, Banias, Bishnoi, Meos, and Minas) has its own folk traditions, once can argue that the region's folk culture is essentially that of the Rajputs. Thus, the view of the brave, martial Rajput as the defender of the faith (Hinduism) and of the common man against the depredations of the Muslims lies at the heart of Rājasthāni folklore.

There is the village tradition, for instance, of the Bhopa, who travels from village to village with his phad, a cloth backdrop 30 feet in length painted with episodes from the life of Pabuji, a local folk deity. The Bhopa (priest singer) and his wife tell the tale of Pabuji in front of the phad, which itself is a form of folk art, in a performance that might take a week to complete. Pabuji, himself a Rajput, offered to protect the herds of the Charan woman Deval (again, an example of the ties between the Charans and the Rajputs). Deval asks him to retrieve her stolen herd, and Pabuji leaves his marriage ceremony to do so, but is killed in the process of rescuing the herd. Again, this is a story about honor and responsibility, whatever the consequences. All the villagers are familiar with the Pabuji story, but the Bhopa and the phad form a distinctly Rājasthāni element in local culture. Dev Narayanja is another folk deity, though in this case the hero is an incarnation of the god Vishnu. He is revered by local villagers in Rājasthān, and his tale, also, is told by traveling Bhopas before a phad depicting his exploits. Tejaji (a Jat whose story is similar to Pabuji's in that he put his life and family at risk but kept his pride and values like loyalty, freedom, truth, and social reform etc. intact) and Gogaji (a snake god, originally a Chauhan Rajput, revered by Hindu and Muslim alike) are folk heroes with whose tales every villager in Rājasthān is familiar.


Although a sizeable Muslim minorit y (8.5%) exists in Rājasthān, 88.7% of Rājasthānis are Hindus. Th is figure, however, glosses over the wide range of religious beliefs among Hindus in Rājasthān. The non-sectarian Dadu-Panth has a strong presence in the state, following the teaching of the 16th century Rājasthāni saint Dadu Dayal, who preached the equality of all men, strict vegetarianism, total abstinence from intoxicating liquor, and lifelong celibacy. Although followers of Shiva are found in the state, most Rājasthānis follow Vishnu and, in particular, Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna. A major shrine of the Vallabhacharya sect of Krishna exists at Nathdwara, on the banks of the Banas River, north of Udaipur (Mewar). Tradition has it that, while the image of Krishna was being moved from its home in Brindaban (Uttar Pradesh) to Dwarka in Gujarat, the cart carrying the icon broke down at Nathdwara, and the Rana (ruler) of Mewar gave his permission for the Sri Nathji temple to be built at the site—hence the presence of the temple, which is a major pilgrimage center for Vaishnavas in India. Nathdwara's devotional music and art forms, such as pīchhavāī, temple hangings painted with scenes from the life of Krishna, contribute to the uniqueness of Rājasthāni culture.

The Dargah (tomb) of Kwaja Mu'in ud-Din Chishti, an important Sufisaint, in Ajmer is the most important pilgrimage center for Muslims in India outside of Mecca and the annual Urs attracts over 300,000 pilgrims to this city in central Rājasthān, including some from Pakistan and the Middle East. Hindus as well as Muslims visit the shrine. In addition to Muslims, small numbers of Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists contribute to the religious diversity of Rājasthān. Jains, though numerically few (only 1.2% of the population) and concentrated along the borders of Gujarat, have left their mark on the cultural landscape in magnificent temples such as those at Ranakpur, Palitana, and Mount Abu.

In addition, one finds numerous shrines to folk heroes such as Tejaji and Gogaji scattered across the state. There is one shrine to Gogaji near Ajmer, in central Rājasthān, where the head of the snake is in the shrine, and the rest of the snake's body extends several feet beyond the retaining wall in the rear of the shrine.


Rājasthānis celebrate all major holidays of the religious calendar in India. Holi and Diwali are, perhaps, the most important. Holi, a spring festival, is marked by the throwing of colored water and the burning of bonfires. At Diwali, which is the major autumn festival of the Hindus, lights (traditionally butter lamps in small earthenware pots, though in modern times these have been replaced by electric lights) are used to decorate houses, houses are whitewashed or painted, and friends play cards and gamble together. For the Bania castes, Diwali marks the beginning of the New Year—financial books are closed and debts are paid. In villages, Govardhan Puja, a festival related to the Hindu deity Krishna, is celebrated on the day following Diwali. Villagers clean and resurface their hearths with cow dung, and make crude figures (of Krishna), also out of cow dung (in the more important temples of the Krishna sect, such figures of Krishna are much more elaborate). Th ese images are destroyed by driving cattle across them. Different legends are attached to the dung figures in different parts of Rājasthān. According to local tradition in the Udaipur District of Rājasthān, for example, the dung figure represents a local farmer named Govardhan who was sleeping outside his hut. The god Krishna, bent on amorous adventures, attempted to enter the house and disturbed the cattle, which stampeded and trampled the farmer to death.

For the Rajputs in Rājasthān, Dassehra is an important festival. It is the custom at this time for Rajputs to sacrifice male buffalo by beheading them, the meat being distributed to the local people.

Gangaur is an extremely important festival of Rājasthān. It commences on the day following Holi and continues for 18 days. The festival is celebrated by womenfolk with great enthusiasm and devotion for Gauri, the consort of Shiva. While married women worship Gauri, the embodiment of perfection and conjugal love, for the success of their married life, unmarried women worship the Goddess for being blessed with good husbands. Gangaur Festival also celebrates the monsoon, the harvest and marital fidelity. Numerous rituals, such as the collection of ashes from the Holi fire and burying of wheat and barley seeds in it, the making of clay images of Gauri, to the accompaniment of traditional folk songs sung in praise of the goddess, and processions of women, accompany the festival. Gangaur aptly reflects the rich cultural heritage of Rājasthān and is celebrated with great pomp and show in Bikaner, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer.

Teej is the festival of swings. It marks the advent of the monsoon and is celebrated in the month of Shravan (July/August). Swings are hung from trees for the enjoyment of girls and brightly-attired women hold processions, sing, and generally engage in much merriment. This festival is dedicated to the Goddess Parvati, commemorating her union with Shiva, and she is worshipped by seekers of conjugal bliss and happiness.

Numerous fairs are held throughout Rājasthān, some coinciding with religious events. Thus the Baneshwar Fair, which is a favorite among Bhil tribals, is a celebration of Shiva. Other events, such as the Nagaur Fair, are primarily a chance to trade in cattle. But perhaps the best known fair in Rājasthān is that held in the fall at Pushkar, near Ajmer in the central part of the state. Pushkar, is an important pilgrimage site, containing the only active temple in all of India dedicated to the Hindu god Brahma. It is also an important event for locals to trade camels and cattle and to experience bazaars, music, and various sports. Pushkar has become an attraction for foreign tourists.

Muslims celebrate Muslim holidays such as Ramadan and Id, Sikhs celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak, Buddhists observe Buddhist holidays, Jains celebrate the birth of Mahavira, and Christians keep Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter. All of these holidays are observed as public holidays by government offices.


Rājasthānis tend to follow the norms of their particular communities in rites of passage. Thus these will be different for Rajputs, Brahmans, Jats, and the numerous other ethnic groups represented in the state. Male babies among Muslims are circumcised, for example, while Sikhs are baptized into their religion, and Brahmans officiate at Hindu rituals. Sikhs and Hindus cremate their dead, while Muslims resort to burial. But, the majority of Rājasthānis being Hindu, rites of passage follow those of Hinduism in general outline (see Hindus).

There are, however, differences between communities. The Bishnois, for example, are a Hindu sect found around Jodhpur. They abstain from tobacco, drugs, and spirits, and are noted for their regard for animal life, which is such that not only will they not themselves kill any living creature, but they do their utmost to prevent others from doing so. Among the Bishnois, who are very particular about ceremonial purity, a child, whether boy or girl, is baptized 30 days after the birth by the priest (sādh), this ceremony also having the effect of purifying the house that has been made impure by the birth (sutak). At the same time, the barber clips off the child's hair. Bishnois do not wear a scalp-lock (choti) like other Hindus and when an adult is baptized this is cut off and the head shaved, for the Bishnois shave the whole head and do not leave the scalp-lock like the other Hindus. But they allow the beard to grow, only shaving the chin upon the father's death.

Bishnois marry among themselves only and by a ceremony of their own. Unlike most Hindus, they do not revere Brah-mans, but have priests of their own, chosen from among the laity. These priests are celibates. The Bishnoi do not burn their dead, but bury them below the cattle-stall or in a place frequented by cattle, such as a cattle-pen. Bishnois go on pilgrimage to the place where Jhamba-ji, their founder, is buried, in the south of Bikaner, where there is a tomb built over his remains and a temple (mandīr) with regular attendants (pugāris). A festival takes place here every six months, when the pilgrims go to the sand hill on which Jhamba-ji lived and there light sacrificial fires and make offerings of burnt barley, til, ghī (clarified butter), and sugar, at the same time saying the prayers set for the occasion. They also make presents to the attendants of the temple and distribute grain for the peacocks and pigeons that live there in numbers. Another place of pilgrimage is a tomb called Chhambola in the Jodhpur area, where a festival is held once a year. There the pilgrims bathe in the tank and sing and play musical instruments and scatter grain to peacocks and pigeons.


Being Hindus, most Rājasthānis use the standard "Namastee", or "Namaskar" to greet each other, the words said while touching one's palms together. However, occasionally, local terms and phrases, such as "Khamaghani," which stands for hello, or "Ram Ram" are used to greet one another. People of the Muslim faith use the traditional greeting of "Salaam Akeikum" ("Peace be with you"), often accompanied with an obeisance, performed by bowing low and placing the right palm on the forehead.


Living conditions in Rājasthān reflect the community traditions of Rājasthānis. Thus Rajputs who were rulers and local landowners (jagirdars and istimradars) live in forts and palaces that may date back to the 14th century or earlier. Village Rajputs who are agriculturalists follow local traditions. In central Rājasthān, a typical farmhouse consists of a square walled structure, with a gateway that can be closed at night, with living quarters and quarters for cattle within the complex. Regular houses in villages have compounds encircled by hedges of impassable thorns (often from the khejri [Prosopis cinereria] tree, a local type of acacia) in which to keep livestock at night. Villages are nucleated, with fields of varying quality of soils, scattered around the village lands.

The city of Jodhpur is sometime referred to as the Blue City, due to the indigo tinge of the whitewashed houses around the Mehrangarh Fort. The blue houses were originally for Brahmins but non-Brahmins soon joined in, as the color was said to deflect the heat and keep mosquitoes away.

Where Bhils have not adapted pukka (i.e. stone) structures for their houses from their neighbors, they build their house from thatch and bamboo. Perhaps reflecting their origins as shifting cultivators, Bhil settlements tend to be dispersed, with houses built near the land they are farming. Similarly, the round mud huts with thatched roofs of Jaisalmer District in the extreme west of the state differ significantly from the modern, stone house being built in Jaipur, the state capital, an urban area of nearly 5 million people.


This varies according to community. People usually take meals four times a day—a light breakfast, the main meal about 11 AM or noon consisting of bread (roti) made from various types of grain, vegetables and curry, roti and vegetables in the late afternoon, with dinner after sunset usually including roti, chilies, dāl (lentils) and chhach (buttermilk). Agriculturalists are often so poor they have only two main meals a day.

Rājasthānis follow the customs of their own communities when it comes to marriage. Thus, among caste Hindus, one marries into one's own caste, marriages are arranged, and the giving of dowries is common. Widows may or may not be allowed to marry, but divorce is rare. Marriage rules among tribal groups are different.

Except for the very rich, purdah is not kept.


Reflecting the colorful Rājasthāni culture, Rājasthāni clothes have a lot of mirror-work and embroidery, and Rājasthāni dresses are usually designed in bright colors like blue, yellow, and orange. This forms a striking contrast with the dun landscape and green vegetation of the region.

Turbans, called variously pagari, pencha, sela or safa (the safa is 39 feet in length and 4 feet wide), are a must for men and one can usually identify caste and community, and sometimes even location down to the village level, by the dress an individual wears. The age-old dress worn in Rājasthān is the turban (white or colored red or orange or multi-colored [bright or spotted turbans signify a birth or marriage in the family]), coat (angarkha) and loincloth (dhoti), the last two usually being white in color. Men will wear sandals (chappals) or a leather shoe (jutti), with the toes curled up, that may be bought at a fair or made locally. Traditional dress for females comprises an ankle length skirt (gaghra) and a short top, also known as a lehenga or a chaniya choli, tied in the back with string. In the hot summer, it is common for village women to go bare breasted, omitting the choli. A piece of cloth (odhani) is used to cover the head, both for protection from heat and maintenance of modesty, peasant women usually covering their faces when in the presence of strangers or males who are not in the immediate family. Tribals tend to wear only a dhoti and a pagari with the rest of the body being kept bare. Banias wear a distinctive type of pagari, as do Rajputs from different states. Th us, the Jaipuri-style turban is tied with a long tail hanging down the back, while the Mewar-style turban is closer to the bania turban in appearance. The Jodhpuri safa is quite distinctive. In formal dress, Rajputs wear their own style of turban (usually colored), an ornate, sometimes embroidered sherwani (tunic) and churidar (tight pants). A sword completes the outfit. Jats usually wear white turbans.

Both women and men are fond of ornaments and wear gold and silver. Women commonly wear bangles and anklets (these used to be made of silver or ivory, but nowadays tend to be plastic).

The usual dress for Muslims is the pyjama, which is sometimes worn by non-Muslims as well. A coat known as an achkan, along with a distinctive cap (topi) is donned for special occasions. Muslim women may wear the burqa, a long robe that covers them from head to toe.

In urban areas, Rājasthānis who work in offices or for the government commonly wear Western style clothing.


As is to be expected in an area with numerous ethnic and caste groups, cuisine in Rājasthān varies widely, with some areas of Rājasthān known for certain foods. Thus, Jodhpur is known for its katchori, a spicy snack consisting of fried gram flour, usually filled with Urad dal. Banias, Jains and some Jats in Rājasthān will not eat meat, and so their diet is strictly vegetarian, consisting mainly of roti (unleavened breads made from cereals such as wheat and bajra [pearl millet] or jowar [sorghum]), lentils, local vegetables such as onions, potatoes, eggplant, carrots and cabbage, and milk and other dairy products). Rajputs and some other castes will eat meat—goat, chicken, and pork, but caste Hindus will never eat beef. Rajputs commonly eat game birds, such as duck, partridge, and goose and other animals they bring down in the hunt. Muslims, of course, will eat goat but never pork.

But the typical Rājasthāni cuisine found in the countryside is dāl, bāti, and churma, all of which is made from locally-grown crops. Dal, of course, is made from lentils; bati is a ball of dough, usually jowar, roasted in the fire, and churma is coarsely ground wheat crushed and cooked with ghee and sugar. Typically, a villager eats twice a day, the man taking vegetables and roti out into the field with him for his midday meal.


Rājasthān's improvement in respect of literacy has been spectacular during the last decade. In the 1991 Census, literacy in Rājasthān was recorded at a mere 38.5%, but this improved to over 61% in 2001. Among men, literacy (76.5%) actually exceeds the all-India average, though women still lag behind the rest of the country.

Rājasthān is rapidly emerging as one of the most favored destinations for education in the country. Growth in the industrial sector of Rājasthān in recent years has encouraged the government as well as private institutions to pay close attention to the educational infrastructure. Under its Rājasthān Education Initiative (REI), for example, the government of Rājasthān seeks to engage global and local partners from private foundations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships to support education in the state. The main educational objectives identified for Rājasthān under the REI are as follows:

100% enrollment in primary education by 2010, 100% enrollment in secondary education by 2020

Increase numbers finishing primary school to 100% by 2010 and for secondary to considerable higher levels

Increase access and retention of girls in primary education near 100% levels and in secondary to levels that will enable them to lead productive lives with employment opportunities

Increase the quality of learning, especially in areas of Math, Science, and English

Expanding curricula to provide ICT skills to secondary school students and to enable formation of human capital for the economy

Many institutes of management, engineering, medicine and, law allow students to pursue higher studies in the state. The University of Rājasthān in Jaipur, for instance, is a premier educational institution in India and attracts students from all over the country. Jodhpur, Kota, Udaipur, and Ajmer also play pivotal educational roles in the state. Ajmer, for example, is the location of Mayo College, one of the major "public" (in the British sense) schools in India. Originally founded by the British to turn the sons of local Rajput rulers into "proper British gentlemen," it nonetheless continues to provide students with an excellent secondary education.

Many private primary and secondary institutions across the state are "English medium" schools, i.e. they teach their students in English. Knowledge of English is seen as a sine quae non for good jobs in government and industry.


Despite the low numbers of Rajputs in the state, elements of Rajput culture, such as jauhar and sati, have come to be associated with Rājasthān. As one exits the Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, for example, one can see the handprints (in stone) of past satis who chose immolation, throwing themselves on the funeral pyres of the Maharajas of Jodhpur. The handprints still bear red ochre and silver paper, evidence that local women come to worship the satis. Although sati was apparently a custom primarily associated with Rajputs rulers, in 1987 Roop Kanwar, a Rajputs villager from Sikar district in northwestern Rājasthān, gained international notoriety by committing sati. Local people came to the cremation site in Deorala village to worship Kanwar as a sati mata ("sati mother") and the government had to ban crowds from the sati site. One result was the passing of the Rājasthān Sati Prevention Ordinance in 1987 that makes the glorification of sati a crime, though the enforcement of this ordinance obviously raises many issues. Women from Rājasthān marched in opposition to the ordinance and local Rajputs plan to build a temple at the site of the sati.

Another aspect of Rajput culture that is identified with Rājasthāni culture is Rajput miniature painting. It was a matter of status that the courts of the erstwhile Rajputs states be centers of patronage of the arts, and one area for which they are famous is painting. Combining traditions of the Moghul court, though often depicting Hindu themes or typical Rajput activities, and sometimes employing Persian and Muslim painters as well as local Rājasthānis. Each Rajput court developed its own school of painting, and the cognoscenti can tell at a glance where a particular painting originated. Th us, paintings that are characterized by a dark border are usually from the state of Kota (Kota and Bundi paintings are known collectively as Haudati paintings). More typical is the red borders of the Jaipur and Mewar schools. Though many of the paintings are miniatures, following the Moghul style, in palaces such as the City Palace of Mewar there are paintings that are of mural size.

A feature of Rājasthāni culture is the architecture of the region. The Rajputs developed a unique style of architecture, which incorporated Muslim elements such as arches and domes and came to be known as the Indo-Islamic style, blending features of indigenous architecture with elements of Muslim architecture. Although each of the former Rajput state (i.e. Jaipur, Jodhpur, Mewar, Jaisalmer, and Bikaner) has its own unique style of architecture, the imprint of Indo-Islamic architecture is plain to see throughout Rājasthān. The Rajputs tended to build palaces and forts, while Muslims built tombs and mosques.

Although Rajput palaces, Indo-Islamic architecture, the Rajput ethos, the traditions of jauhar and sati, Rajput paintings, and relations between Rajputs and Muslims and tribals in the area is a major part of Rājasthāni culture, this is not to say that Rājasthāni culture is the same as Rajput culture—there are other distinctly Rājasthāni elements in the region's cultural tradition. For instance, there is the traditional performance of puppetry in the villages—narrating an event from history, myths, folklore, or legend, complete with music and speech— usually performed by Bhats, another community in Rājasthān. The performances are the repository of traditional wisdom, knowledge, and social mores and within them are contained the oral history of the region. In addition, there is the existence of caste groups in addition to the Charans and Bhats that fulfill specific roles in Rājasthāni culture. The Manghaniyars (Muslim musicians in western Rājasthān), the Bishnoi (around Jodhpur), the Minas (in the region north of Jaipur) all add to the "Rājasthāni" mystique, as do the wall murals of the Shekhawati region, the banias (many of them Jains), and the Muslims. Mehndi, the tradition of painting hands and feet and Mandana (a folk tradition of decoration and painting), festivals such as Gangaur, popular dramas (khyals), the folk music of the region, folk heroes such as Pabuji and Dev Narayanji, dress, the ethnic mix of the region—all contribute to what might be called a distinctive Rājasthāni culture.


Rājasthān is primarily agricultural and rural, with 77% of the population living in rural areas, and agriculture—much of which is subsistence in nature—accounting for 22.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Cattle, sheep and goat rearing are important activities, while camel herding is found in the more arid areas of the west. The construction of the Indira Gandhi Canal in the west—bringing water from the Sutlej and Beas Rivers in Punjab State to arid regions of western Rājasthān, and terminating near Jaiselmer—has given agriculture in the state a boost. Otherwise, agriculture in Rājasthān is dependent on the monsoon, there being no natural bodies of water in the state. The state also grows cotton and the textile industry has grown up in several places in Rājasthān.

Rājasthān is also well-endowed with mineral resources, resulting in a large number of small-scale industrial units springing up all over the state. Large deposits of zinc and copper exist and these are being exploited for the development of industries dependent on these metals. It also has large deposits of gypsum and lignite and mica is produced in substantial quantities. The marble industry is significant in places like Kishangarh and Makrera, marble from the latter's mines being used in the construction of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Among the other private sector industries are cement, ball bearings, sugar, caustic soda, and other chemicals.

Rājasthān, in particular Jaipur, forms part of the "Golden Triangle," the commonly traveled tourist trail that includes Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. As a result, along with the luxurious Palace on Wheels that takes tourists out into the western desert, tourism is a major employer in Rājasthān. With Jaipur being the state capital, the service industries form a significant element in the Rājasthāni economy, accounting for 40% of the state's GDP.


There are no sports uniquely Rājasthāni. However, Rajputs tend to hunt on their former lands, even though hunting has been banned in India by the government in Delhi. In the past, Rajputs shot tiger and panther, as well as various types of deer and game birds, keeping careful records of each kill in notebooks. Pig-sticking, i.e. killing wild boar from horseback with a lance—a dangerous pastime, tended to develop the military skills so loved by Rajputs. Polo is also a sport played by those who can afford it. (The term "jodhpur," i.e. a type of riding breeches, is taken from the city and state of Jodhpur.)
Jaipur, which is a polo center and has several polo clubs, has the 61 Cavalry Regiment—the only horsed cavalry unit in the Indian Army—with its polo team stationed there.

Kabadi is a traditional Indian sport played throughout Rājasthān, while popular modern sports include soccer, (field) hockey and cricket.


Urban Rājasthānis go to the cinema to see "Bollywood" movies. In villages, where movies are not available, entertainment is provided by traveling entertainers, such as Bhopas and puppeteers. Local fairs and festivals, and religious celebrations are important events in the countryside, and provide recreation and entertainment. Nowadays, almost all villages have television sets, and even satellite dishes to access international TV programming. Almost everyone, even in villages, has a cell phone if they can afford it.


Rājasthān is known for its handicrafts, with every region having its specialty. Thus, Bikaner is known for its woolen fabrics, carpets, and leather vessels made from camel hide. Japiur is an international center for the jewelry trade, with diamond cutting being its forte, but is also known for its hand block printed cotton fabrics, gold enamel work, paintings, and blue pottery ware. Areas in the western desert are known for fabrics and mirror work, while weaving, enamel work, lacquer work, embroidery and carving are also Rājasthāni traditions. The painting of phad is done in Devgarh, but the making of puppets, originally associated with the Bhats of Nagaur in Marwar, is now found throughout the state. Th ewa, gold filigree work on colored glass is associated with Patarbgarh. Mandana is the folk craft of decorating houses. Red sand and chalk powder are used to make designs on floors and walls. This art is quite popular in the rural areas of Rājasthān. Different types of square, rectangular and floral designs are made, appropriate to the particular season or festival. Another popular form of folk art prevalent among women is mehndi. The use of mehndi (henna) designs on the palms and feet is symbolic of welfare, artistic taste, and religious attitude. There is hardly a function or festival in Rājasthān when women do not apply mehndi.


Social problems in Rājasthān have their roots in poverty and the large proportion of tribal peoples in the state. Despite efforts at improvement and development by the government, and advances in education, tribal peoples such as the Bhils and Minas are still economically and socially disadvantaged. The arid environment makes agriculturalists dependent on monsoonal rains, and several bad monsoons can lead to famine and farmers going heavily into debt to moneylenders, who often charge exorbitant rates of interest. Land fragmentation, a result of inheritance systems common in the state, is also a problem in rural area. Access to safe drinking water, overgrazing, relations between caste and non-caste Hindus, and the place of women in society remain issues in Rājasthān.


Women in Rājasthān tend to suffer the same discrimination as other Hindu women, a discrimination that has its roots in the religious and cultural practices of India. There are several clear indicators of the fact that Indian women continue to be discriminated against in Hindu society: for instance, the sex ratio is skewed against them. In Jaipur, according to the Census of India, 2001, the sex ratio was 909:1000. A recent study blames this decline in the number of females on sex determination by ultrasound machines, Hindu society placing a premium on male babies. The implication is that female fetuses are aborted. Maternal mortality is high, female literacy is low, female children tend to have a high mortality (even if female infanticide is not practiced any more, this is often the result of neglect of the health of girl children) and crimes against women are on the rise.

It is a paradox of modern Rājasthān that women wield power and hold positions at the topmost levels (in 2008 the Chief Minister of Rājasthān was a woman, Vasundhara Raje Scindia of the BJP) yet large sections of Rājasthāni women are among the most underprivileged. While attempts have been made to address issues such as sati, child marriage, widow remarriage and dowries, the status of women in contemporary Rājasthān is reflected in the state of their health, education, employment, and life in society.


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—by D. O. Lodrick