ALTERNATE NAMES: Ksatriya caste
LOCATION: India (Rājasthān state and elsewhere)
POPULATION: 138 million (estimate)
LANGUAGE: Language or dialect of their region
RELIGION: Hinduism (majority)
"Rājput" identifies numerous castes in northern and western India that claim ksatriya or "warrior" status in the Hindu social hierarchy. They trace their descent to the ksatriyas of ancient times and thus legitimize their standing as superior to all social groups except the Brahmans in modern society. The term "Rājput" is derived from rājapūtra, literally meaning "son of kings." Rājputs are famed for their fighting abilities and until India gained its independence, Rājput kings ruled numerous states in the Indian subcontinent. The British grouped many of the largest and most powerful of these states in western India into the Rājputana Province. Rājputana, i.e., "the land of the Rājputs," survives virtually intact as the modern Indian state of Rājasthān.
The origins of the Rājputs, who appear suddenly on the Indian scene during early medieval times (approximately 5th-7th centuries ad), are obscure. It is generally accepted, however, that they are mainly of foreign stock. They are descendants of the numerous tribes from Central Asia (e.g., the Parthians, Kushans, Shakas, and Huns) that entered India at this time, conquered local peoples, and settled down as part of the ruling political elite. The integration of these groups into Hindu society was accomplished by marriage with high-caste women or by conversion to acquire the benefits of a ksatriya status sanctified by the Brahmans. By the 9th century, Rājputs controlled an empire that extended from Sind to the lower Ganges Valley, and from the Himalayan foothills to the Narmada River. Following the disintegration of this empire in the mid-10th century, various Rājput clans rose to prominence in the region. The Chauhan Rājputs, for example, ruled the lands around Delhi, while the Chandellas controlled the central Indian region of Bundelkhand.
Rājputs in northern India were the first to face the Muslim invasions of the late 12th century. However, the rival Rājput clans were never able to present a united front against the Muslim threat. In 1192, the Rājputs under Prithviraj Chauhan were defeated by Muhammad Ghuri at the second battle of Tarain, near Delhi. Th is firmly established Muslim power in India and marked the end of Rājput dominance in the region. As the Muslims moved down the Ganges Valley, they conquered the Rājput kingdoms in their path. Muslim penetration south and west to Gujarat isolated the Rājput states in the west. It was here, in the arid regions of the Thar Desert, that Rājput kingdoms survived to challenge the might of the Mughals. For four centuries, states such as Mewar (Udaipur) and Marwar (Jodhpur) were able to preserve their independence from the Muslims. Akbar, the Mughal emperor, succeeded in enlisting many prominent Rājput rulers (e.g. Man Singh of Amber and Jaswant Singh of Marwar) to his cause, using diplomacy rather than force. Mewar, however, claims the distinction of never having submitted to Muslim rule.
With Mughal power in decline during the 18th century, many of the Rājput states in western India came under the control of the Marathas. In the early 19th century, however, following the British defeat of the Marathas, they accepted British dominance. By recognizing Britain as the sovereign power in India, the rulers of these states were able to retain their independence and preserve their feudal way of life until India gained its independence in 1947. Rājput states existed elsewhere in India, for example, Jammu and Kashmir and the Pahari (Hill) states in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is the Rājput states of Rājasthān, however, with their history of resistance to Muslim rule, that have come to be seen as the upholders of Rājput tradition and culture.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Estimates of the Rājput population vary considerably, especially since the last census that gathered data on caste was the Census of India in 1931. Using the average rate of natural increase for India during the last decade, an estimated 138 million people in India belong to the Rājput or ksatriya castes (the low figure given for Rājputs in India is about 65 million). Th ey are distributed throughout northern India, although their greatest concentrations lie in the foothills of the western Himalayas. Here, in a belt extending from the border of Nepal through the former Hill States to southern Kashmir, Rājputs make up as much as 40% or more of the population. Areas where Rājputs comprise more than 10% of the population include the Ganges Valley in eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar and western Madhya Pradesh. Surprisingly, in Rājasthān, with its strong historical and emotional ties to the Rājputs, the caste ranks only fifth in numbers, with less than 6% of the population. Other states with sizeable Rājput communities include Uttaranachal, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi.
Rājputs speak the language or dialect of their region. Thus, Rājputs on the Ganges plains use the local dialect of Hindi current in their locality. The language spoken in the foothills of the western Himalayas is Pahari. In Rājasthān, Rājputs speak one of the dialects of Rājasthāni, which is itself a variant of Hindi. Many of the former Rājput states in this area are historical and cultural regions as well as political regions and have evolved their own distinctive regional dialects. Jaipuri, for example, is the dialect used in the former Rājput state of Jaipur. Marwari, the dialect spoken in Marwar State, has come to be regarded as the standard form of Rājasthāni.
As descendants of the many invaders who conquered local peoples and set themselves up as the ruling class, the Rājputs of northern and western India have no common ancestry. However, various myths have evolved to give legitimacy to their status as rulers and their claims to ksatriya status. One relates that a ksatriya chieftain learned that his father had been killed by a Brahman. Enraged, he embarked on a series of campaigns to eliminate Brahmans from the face of the land. With the depletion of Brahman males, however, Brahman females had to accept ksatriya men as husbands. This gave rise to the various ruling dynasties of Rājputs. (It is interesting to note that the orthodox Hindu would find a union between ksatriya and Brahman totally unacceptable). Another legend tells that the gods created a new order of pure ksatriya clans in the fire-pit of the sage Vasishtha on Mt. Abu in Rājasthān. Their purpose was to help the Brahmans in their struggle against the Buddhists and mlechchhas (foreigners). Th ese agnikula ("fire-race") Rājputs were the forerunners of clans such as the Chauhan, Solanki, and Ponwar Rājputs. Other Rājput clans trace their ancestry to the Sun or the Moon.
Rājput culture is replete with heroes who accomplished great deeds of honor, bravery, and self-sacrifice. Some of these have entered local folk traditions and have even come to be worshipped in many rural areas. In Rājasthān, for example, Pabuji, Gogaji, and Ramdeoji are Rājput figures who are revered as gods by the local population.
Although there are Muslims and Sikhs among the Rājputs, most are Hindu. In fact, Rājputs came to be seen as the champions of Hinduism against the challenges of Buddhism and Islam. In matters of ceremonial purity and caste, Rājputs were as rigid as the most orthodox of Hindus. Writers note that Eastern Rājputs, i.e., those found on the Ganges plains in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are more strongly subject to Brahmanical influences than the Western Rājputs of Rājasthān.
Today, in their religious practices, Rājputs differ little from other high-caste Hindus. They use Brahmans for ceremonial and ritual purposes, though they see themselves as inferior only in spiritual matters. They may follow any of the many Hindu sects and they worship all the major Hindu deities. The majority of Rājputs, however, are Shaivites, or devotees of the god Shiva (Śiva). These Rājputs are nonvegetarian, smoke opium and tobacco, and are fond of alcohol. In addition, they worship other deities such as Surya (the Sun God) and Durga in her aspect of the Mother-Goddess. It is customary in Rājasthān, for example, when Rājputs open a bottle of liquor, to pour the first few drops on the ground as an offering to the Mother, saying "Jai Mataji" ("Long live the Mother-Goddess"). In addition, nearly every Rājput clan has its own patron deity, to whom it pays special respect and to whom it turns for protection.
In every household, Rājput men and women worship their kuldevi (goddess of the kul or lineage). This deity, who is always female, is seen as the protector of the household and is also something of a fertility goddess-women of the household worship the kuldevi to help them conceive sons, who continue and expand the kul. All Rājput women in the household know kuldevi stories and foundation myths of the kuldevi, which is seen has having the character of the ideal patrivrata (husband-protector), Formerly, the kuldevi would protect Rājput men in battle, though with the demise of the Rājput states, the domestic functions of the kuldevi have become of increasing significance.
Rājputs celebrate all the major Hindu holy days, keeping to the festival calendar of their region. Thus Shivratri ("Shiva's Night"), the holy spring festival, and Divali (the Festival of Lights), are all observed with great enthusiasm. Of particular importance to Rājputs is Dasahara, the festival dedicated to Durga. It is customary for Rājputs to sacrifice a buffalo to the goddess, in commemoration of her victory over the evil buffalo-demon Mahisha. The animal is killed by being beheaded with one stroke of a sword. Although Rājputs are nonvegetarians, they do not eat buffalo and the meat is usually distributed to servants or the lower castes in the area.
RITES OF PASSAGE
The major stages in the life of a Rājput are celebrated by 12 ceremonies called karams. These commence before birth and continue through to the final rituals after death. The more important of these include the ceremonies relating to birth, the sacred thread, marriage, and death.
On the birth of a male child, the family Brahman is summoned to record the details for the infant's horoscope and determine if the moment of birth is auspicious. The family barber is sent to inform relatives and friends of the event and there is much feasting and celebration in the family. The Brahman fixes a propitious day for the naming of the infant. The head-shaving ritual is carried out when the child is around two years of age. Among many Rājputs, the birth of a daughter is regarded as a misfortune and is observed with a minimum of ceremony. Female infanticide was a common practice of Rājput society in the past.
As with all higher-caste Hindus, one of the most important rites of passage for the Rājput male is the investiture with the janeū or sacred thread. This marks his formal admission to the rank of the twice-born, that is, to high-caste status. Worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm, the sacred thread is a constant reminder of the Rājput's aristocratic origins and of his duties as a member of the warrior caste. The actual ceremony is rather elaborate and is performed by the family's Brahman priest.
When possible, certain rituals are prescribed for a Rājput when death is approaching. The sick person is laid on a bed of sacred kusa grass on a spot that has been circled by cow dung. A sprig of the tulsī plant, a piece of gold, or a few drops of Ganges water are placed in his or her mouth. This is to delay the messengers of Yama, the God of Death, until the proper rites have been carried out. A cow is brought to the side of the dying person so that he or she can grasp its tail and be carried safely across the mythical River Vaitarani to the other world. A Brahman recites the appropriate mantras from the sacred literature. After death, the corpse is washed and prepared for cremation. In the case of an important landowner or thākūr, the entire population of the region may join the funeral procession to the cremation grounds. The body is seated or laid on the funeral pyre, facing north. Though Brahmans perform the necessary funeral rites, the pyre is lit by the eldest son. He is also responsible for cracking open the skull after the corpse is burnt to allow the soul to depart from the body. After the cremation, the mourners undergo the required purificatory bath.
A death is followed by a period of mourning. On the third day after cremation, bones and ashes are collected from the funeral pyre and taken to be placed in the Ganges or some other sacred river. The srāddha ceremonies usually commence on the eleventh day after death. These include offerings to the ancestral spirits, the feasting of relatives and friends, and the feeding of Brahmans. The soul of the deceased is held to depart this world on the thirteenth day. No marriages can take place in the months following a death in the family.
Rājputs follow the customary greeting practices of their religious communities and region.
Rājputs traditionally formed the landowning classes of northern and western India and as such they maintained a lifestyle and standard of living in keeping with their station. In the past, the Rājput rulers of princely states such as Kashmir, Jaipur, and Jodhpur were known for the splendor of their courts. Like the other princes in India, Rājput Mahārājās often lived luxuriously in ornate palaces, surrounded by retainers, with servants at their beck and call. Even Rājputs of lesser rank had an enviable lifestyle. One can hardly travel through Rājasthān, for example, without being in sight of the fort (garh) of a local thākūr. Following India's independence in 1947, however, the princes lost their titles and privileges. Government reforms reduced the amount of land an individual could own, limiting the resources available to the Rājput landowning class.
Not all Rājputs live in palaces and forts, surrounded by weapons and armor and the trappings of the Rājputs' former glory. In the village in Uttar Pradesh studied by Leigh and Minturn (1966), for example, the custom of sons inheriting equal shares of land has reduced landholdings to the point that most Rājputs have to farm the land themselves rather than support tenants or sharecroppers. With their self-image as former warriors and rulers, they regard this as somewhat demeaning. They have stories to justify this situation, sometimes blaming it on a conscious effort of Muslim conquerors to scatter and subdue their Rājput opponents.
In the Rājput neighborhood of the village, the men's quarters are the most conspicuous buildings. These consist of a courtyard containing a platform about 1¼ m to 2 m (4-6-ft) high, reached by a series of steps and often shaded by trees. The men of the family and their friends gather together on the platform, chatting and perhaps smoking the hukkā. At the far end of the platform is a roofed porch, behind which is a large central room used by the men for sleeping during the winter months, and smaller side rooms for storage. Because of the custom of purdah, the keeping of women in seclusion, the women's quarters are separate. They are enclosed by walls, with all the rooms facing the inner courtyard and lacking outside windows. A hearth-a mud, U-shaped fireplace about 30 cm (1 ft) square and about 15 cm (6 in) high-is built against one of the courtyard walls for cooking. Stairs provide access to the roof. The interconnecting roofs of the houses provide Rājput women with a means of visiting each other out of the sight of males. Buildings are built of brick or of mud, depending on the economic circumstances of the individual family.
A distinctive feature of Rājput society is its division into a hierarchy of ranked clans and lineages. Over 103 clans have been identified in all. Among the more important Rājput clans are the Chauhans, whose former capital was Ajmer; the Gehlots of Mewar; the Rathors of Marwar; and the Kachhwaha of Jaipur. These groups are found mainly in Rājasthān. The Bundelas and Chandellas are distributed in Madhya Pradesh and on the Ganges plains. The Gaharwar and the Surajbansi Rājputs are concentrated on the Ganges plains in Uttar Pradesh.
Rājputs follow clan exogamy, i.e., they marry outside the clan. They also practice hypergamy. This means that they marry their daughters into clans of higher rank than their own, while accepting daughters-in-law from clans of lower rank. Although the specific ranking of individual clans might vary from region to region, rank increases as one goes westwards. The Rājput clans of Rājasthān have the highest standing. Th ere is thus a distinct geographical component in the movement of brides in Rājput society. This also raises difficulties in finding suitable husbands for girls in the highest-ranking Rājput clans.
Rājputs traditionally have their own marriage rituals. As is typical in South Asia, Rājput marriages are arranged by the parents, often with the assistance of a professional matchmaker. Once a suitable spouse is identified, certain preliminaries have to be settled. The Bhats or family genealogists verify the pedigree of both parties, while astrologers determine that the horoscopes of the potential bride and groom are favorable. Should everything be in order, a dowry is negotiated and the betrothal (tilak) is announced. Marriages among Rājputs are occasions for great pomp and ceremony. The most reckless extravagance is not only permitted but is almost required as a point of honor. Many go deep into debt and spend the rest of their life paying off the moneylenders (the cost of marriage was a contributing factor to the Rājputs' former practice of female infanticide).
The actual marriage ceremony is held on a day determined by the Brahmans to be auspicious and follows the normal Hindu rites. The groom, accompanied by male friends and relatives, sets out in the barāt (procession) for the bride's house, where he is received by the family of the bride (Sehla and Dhukav ceremonies). Mounted on a horse, he is dressed in colorful robes, with turban and sword. Among the higher Rājput clans, the groom may be mounted on the back of a gaily decorated elephant. Preliminary ceremonies are carried out, accompanied by the giving of gifts and distribution of money to the crowd of onlookers that usually assembles. At the appointed time, the marriage is solemnized with the agni pūjā (fire-worship ceremony). The clothes of the bride and groom are tied together and the couple walks around the sacred fire three times while Brahmans chant the appropriate prayers from the Vedas. Several more days are spent in feasting and celebrating, before the groom and bride return home. In the past, when child marriage was customary, the bride would return to her family after a few days and remain there until an age when she could enter normal relations with her husband.
In the past, certain Rājput groups permitted more than one wife and the keeping of concubines in the zenānā (women's quarters). Purdah is customary, limiting the outside activities of Rājput women among all but the lowest classes. Among Rājputs, as with most classes of Hindus, women occupy a status inferior to men. Unless she belongs to a wealthy family that employs servants, a Rājput woman's household chores differ little from those of other Hindu women. Bearing sons is of particular importance to the Rājput woman.
Marriage alliances between the upper classes traditionally were important ritual symbolic forms through which the power and authority of rajas (kings and rulers) were established or extended. Women, marriage and power were integrally linked. Thus, during the 16th century, the Mughal Emperor Akbar was able to bring the Rājput state of Amber to heel by marrying the eldest daughter of the Rājput ruler, Raja Bharmal. From this time on, the Rājputs of Amber State were drawn into the Mughal power structure and some, such as Raja Man Singh I of Amber, became trusted generals in the Moghul Army. On 26 August 1605, Man Singh became a mansabdar of 7,000, i.e., a commander of 7,000 cavalry in the Mughal forces, which was the maximum command for anyone other than a son of the Mughal ruler. He fought many important campaigns for Akbar and led the Mughal army in the well-known battle of Haldighati fought in 1576 between the Mughal Empire and the Rājput ruler of Mewar (Udaipur), Maharana Pratap Singh. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir married a Rājput princess of Marwar, thus cementing relations between the Mughals and the State of Marwar (Jodhpur). Several of the Marwar rulers were trusted generals of the Mughals and Abhay Singh of Marwar served as the Mughal governor of Gujarat during the 18th century.
Widow remarriage is not customary in Rājput society. Certain Rājput clans that do allow widows to marry a younger brother of the deceased husband are regarded by other Rājputs as degraded and impure. One custom that was formerly widespread among the Rājputs was sati, the self-immolation of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. When a Maharaja died, all his wives and concubines were expected to commit sati. Near the gateways to forts in Jodhpur and other cities in Rājasthān, one will find the handprints of Rājput women who followed their husbands and masters to their deaths in the cremation fire. These, along with the stone sati memorials that are found all over Rājasthān, are revered as shrines by the local population. The British suppressed the practice of sati during the 19th century and it is illegal in India today. But the rite is still deeply embedded in the Rājput psyche, even though the ritual was, in the past, limited to the women of Rājput rulers. In 1987 one Roop Kanwar, a Rājput 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 of 1987 which 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 Rājputs plan to build a temple at the site of the sati a young girl in a village in Rājasthān committed, and within days over 100,000 people had gathered at the site to pay homage to her act. Some authors see sati as a means of removing a family's burden of maintain a widow, since widow remarriage is not permitted by most Rājput groups, and suggest that most satis in the past were forced rather than voluntary. In the case of Roop Kanwar, 45 people were charged with her murder, though they were later acquitted.
Closely related to sati was the Rājput rite of jauhar. It was the custom when Rājputs were facing defeat for the women to burn themselves on funeral pyres to avoid captivity or worse. In 1303 when the fort of Chittor in Rājasthān was about to fall to the Muslims, the Rājput Rani and all the women in the fort burned themselves to death before the men rode out for their final battle.
The principal item of dress for the Rājput male is the dhotī, a length of white cotton cloth wrapped around the waist, pulled between the legs, and tucked in at the back. The upper body is covered by a cotton tunic, or a short jacket that fastens on the right side that Rājasthānis call an angarhkā. A turban or sāfā is worn on the head, tied by each clan according to its own fashion. The turbans may be white, red, or of other bright hues, providing a splash of color against the browns and tans of the Rājasthān desert. Yellow is a favorite color of the Rājputs. In ancient times, when a Rājput donned saffron robes before entering battle, it meant he was prepared to fight to the death. For ceremonial occasions, Rājputs may wear tight chūrīdār pyjāmās covered by a long, embroidered coat similar to the Mughal sherwani (serwānī). A ceremonial turban and a curved Rājput sword completes the outfit.
In addition to the sārī, everyday dress for Rājput women includes loose baggy pants worn with a tunic, or a blouse and long skirt, both accompanied by a headcloth. Rājput women are fond of jewelry, wearing bangles, perhaps a stud in the nose, and a variety of rings on fingers, ears, and toes. Formal dress is invariably a sārī, often bright red, with gold thread running through the material. The best gold and silver jewelry is worn on such occasions.
Rājput men, especially in urban areas, have taken to wearing Western clothing. However, one item of Rājput clothing has made its way to the West-the tight riding breeches of Jodhpur State's Rathor Cavalry Corps, introduced by the British as "jodhpurs."
Rājputs' dietary patterns are determined partly by agricultural ecology and partly by cultural preferences. With their broad distribution in the drier parts of India, the Rājputs' staple diet consists of various unleavened breads (rotī), pulses, and vegetables. Rice (chāwal), which is usually grown rather than purchased in the bazaar, and milk products are also important. Some Rājputs are vegetarian by choice, but many eat meat. Beef, of course, is taboo. Rājputs are fond of hunting and will eat venison and game birds such as goose, duck, partridge, and grouse. Alcohol, both store-bought and country liquor such as kesar kastūri, is consumed in great quantities.
Formal education was of little significance among the ruling and landowning Rājput clans of India. Boys were brought up in the traditions of Rājput culture, trained in the martial arts and in a code of conduct based on valor and honor. The sons of Rājputs became huntsmen and polo-players, horsemen, and swordsmen rather than scholars.
An educational institution of particular note is Mayo College, the "Eton" of India, in Ajmer in Rājasthān. Th is was founded by the British in the early 1870s as a school for the sons of the ruling (mostly Rājput) princes and thākūrs of Rājputana. Its purpose was to impart the "proper" British values to the future ruling elites in the region. Though many Rājputs still attend the school today, it has become an exclusive private school for the children of the Indian upper classes.
The Rājput heritage in India is one of the most colorful of any group in India. Fostering the fighting traditions of their ancestors, Rājputs have developed a mystique of the brave warrior-champion of the Hindu dharma (faith) fighting the Muslim invader in the desert sands of Rājasthān. Th is romanticized view of the past is perpetuated to a considerable degree by Colonel James Tod in his classic 19th-century study of the Rājputs.
However accurate this picture, Rājputs have left their distinctive imprint on India, particularly on the peoples, culture, and landscape of Rājasthān. In fact, Rājasthāni culture is to a considerable degree Rājput culture. For instance, certain castes exist in Rājasthān to serve the specific needs of Rājputs. Bhats are genealogists who keep family records and can trace a Rājput pedigree all the way back to a clan's mythical ancestors. Charans are bards and poets who for centuries, under Rājput patronage, have recorded the deeds and accomplishments of Rājput rulers. Rājput courts were centers of culture where literature, music, dance, painting, and sculpture flourished with the support of the Rājput elite. A specific style of Rājput painting, often focusing on religious themes, portraiture, or miniatures, emerged at Rājput courts in the Himalayas (the Pahari school) and in the western desert (the Rājasthāni school). Bardic literature such as Prithvirāj Rāso recounted the deeds of Rājput heroes of the past. But not all Rājasthāni writing was about Rājputs. Mira Bai, a noted poet born in the 15th century and known for her contributions to the Hindu bhakti (devotional) literature, was herself a Rājput princess.
The Rājputs were great builders and took pride in their engineering achievements. They built irrigation canals, dams, and reservoirs throughout their lands. The temples at Khajuraho, best known for their erotic carvings, were built by the Chandellas in the 10th and 11th centuries. The Solankis patronized the Jains and constructed many temples in Gujarat and western Rājasthān. Later Rājput palaces and forts represent a pleasing blend of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. Among the more notable of these are the forts at Chittor, 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 18th century.
Rājputs are hereditary landowners and soldiers and continue to follow these traditional occupations. Many have been reduced to farming their lands themselves, but, where possible, they hire laborers to perform the agricultural work. Agriculture remains the primary occupation of the group today. Opportunities for soldiering are much reduced in modern India, although Rājputs still serve in the Rājput Rifles and other regiments of the Indian Army. Many serve in the other branches of armed forces or pursue careers in the police or other government service.
Rājputs participate in modern sports and athletics in India today. However, they are particularly fond of shooting and in the past hunted tiger and panther, as well as deer and game birds. Pig-sticking, the dangerous sport of hunting wild boar on horseback with a lance, was also a popular pastime. Riding skills were sharpened by playing polo.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Historically Rājputs have taken great pleasure in the elaborate rituals and ceremonies associated with their religion and their community. Weddings and other festive occasions are observed with much enthusiasm and are often celebrated with feasting, drinking, and sometimes with the presence of nautch (dancing) girls.
FOLK ARTS, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Rājputs themselves are not identified with any specific folk arts or crafts. However, Rājputs are the central figures in many folk traditions. The exploits of Amar Singh Rathor, a Rājput, are a favorite theme of string-puppet shows in Rājasthān. In the same region, professional storytellers called bhopās travel around the countryside relating ballads to entertain the villagers. One such ballad tells of Pabuji, a 13th-century Rathor chieftain. A Charan woman lends Pabuji her mare to ride to his wedding, on condition that Pabuji will protect her herd of cows from thieves from the desert. 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 the herd except a single calf. He risks another battle for the calf and is killed by the enemy. When word is brought to his bride, she prepares to commit sati, leaving her handprint on the gate of Pabuji's residence.
This story is sung in front of a cloth backdrop, up to 9 m (approximately 30 ft) in length and 2 m (over 6 ft) wide, on which scenes from Pabuji's life are depicted. The painting of the backdrop is itself a Rājasthāni folk art. Though the ballad of Pabuji is sung by non-Rājputs for a primarily non-Rājput audience, it embodies Rājput ideals. Pabuji is depicted as the brave warrior, the defender of sacred cows, who puts duty and honor before all else at the risk of his very life. His bride shows the virtues of the dutiful wife in preparing to commit sati.
As hereditary landowners of high caste, Rājputs do not face the social discrimination and problems of poverty that confront many of lower status in Indian society. While some may have fallen on hard times, as a result of factors such as land-fragmentation or excessive spending, Rājputs as a community are relatively prosperous. Alcoholism is a problem among some groups. One of the biggest challenges faced by Rājputs in recent years, however, is adjustment to the democratic environment of post-independent India. After over a millennia of rule as feudal overlords, Rājputs have faced threats to their position of power and prestige in the community. Th eir economic resources have been threatened by government attempts to redistribute wealth. They have faced challenges from castes seeking economic and political independence from Rājput control. Rājputs are beginning to enter politics, from the local panchāyat (village council) to the national arena. However, 800 years after Rājput unity might have stemmed the Muslim tide in India, Rājputs still lack the unity that would give them a powerful voice in modern Indian politics.
The historical role of Rājputs as defenders of the Hindu faith against the Muslims and their overt anti-Muslim views have tended to result in the Rājputs supporting Hindutva ("Hinduness") and the political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that espouse Hindu nationalism. Th us in Rājasthān, the BJP formed the state government from 1990- 1998 under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, himself a Rājput. As of 2008 the government in Rājasthān (since 2003) was formed by the BJP, led by Vasundhara Raje Scindia.
As Hindus, Rājput women (Rājputnis) have to deal with the inequities of the Hindu social system. Moreover, as members of the ksatriya varna, the second of the major class groupings of Hindu society, they are expected to maintain the restrictions of "purity" expected of people of their social standing. Th us, there is a tradition that in AD 1303, after she had thwarted the designs of Sultan Ala-ud-Din Khilji, Padmini, the queen of Chittor and the wife of king Rawal Ratan Singh, and the women in Chittor committed jauhar rather than be raped and dishonored by the Muslim besieger's army. In this, they were truly following their roles as pativrata, by selflessly serving their husbands and their families.
The concept of pativrata is central to the role Rājput women see themselves as performing in society. Literally meaning "one who has taken a vow (vrat) to [protect] her husband (pati)" and sometimes used loosely to refer to any wife, pativrata (or being a good husband-protector) is behind much of the behavior of Rājput women, even the committing of sati, and many of their religious rituals.
In the past, Rājput women faced child marriage, sati, polygamy, purdah, and female infanticide. Though many of these are illegal in modern India, today they still face the issues of dowry death, purdah, and female feticide. Again, socio-economic status plays a significant role in the extent to which Rājput women have to deal with such issues. Most Rājputs, as former landowners, do not have to face the problems of poverty and illiteracy that other communities face. The daughters of good Rājput families are sent to good schools and tend to marry into Westernized families. It is the poor village Rājput women who, mindful of their social status, have to face the worst aspects of life in rural India.
Bahadur, K. P., ed. Caste, Tribes & Culture of Rājputs. Delhi: Ess Ess Publications, 1978.
Joshi, Varsha. Polygamy and Purdah: Women and Society among Rājputs. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1995.
Khan, Rana Muhammad Sarwar. The Rājputs: History, Clans, Culture, and Nobility. Lahore: Rana Muhammad Sarwar Khan, 2005.
Minturn, Leigh, and John T. Hitchcock. The Rājputs of Khalapur, India. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966.
Saxena, R. K. Rājput Nobility: A Study of 18th Century Rājputana. Jaipur: Publication Scheme, 1996.
Schomer, Karine, Joan L. Erdman, Deryck O. Lodrick, and Lloyd I. Rudolph, eds. The Idea of Rājasthān: Explorations in Regional Identity. 2 vols. Columbia, MO: Manohar and American Institute of Indian Studies, 1994.
Tod, James. The Annals and Antiquities of Rajast'han, or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India. 2 vols. New
Delhi: K. M. N. Publishers, 1971 (reprint of 1829-32 ed.).
—by D. O. Lodrick
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
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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
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).