Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 36


A royal Rajput procession
Mural at Jodhpur Fort, Rajasthan

Jun 01, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Rajputs

The Rajput Dynasty was a Middle Kingdom force that rose to power across a large region, stretching from the Gangetic plains to the Afghan mountains. In general, the term 'Rajput' refers to various dynasties of the many kingdoms in the region, in the wake of the collapse of the Sassanid and Gupta empires. The rise of the Rajputs marks the transition of Buddhist ruling dynasties going back to primarily Vaisnava dynasties.

'The Rajput dynasty, from the Sanskrit 'raja-putra', "son of a king", rose to prominence from the late 6th Century A.D., most famously governing the majority of princely states in Rajasthan and Surashtra through the period of the British Raj.

The Rajput population and the former Rajput states are found spread through much of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in north, west and central India. Populations of Rajput descendants are today found in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu, Punjab, Sindh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

The origin of the Rajputs is the subject of debate. Some believe that the term was not used to designate a particular tribe or social group until the 6th Century, as there is no mention of the term in the historical record as pertaining to a social group prior to that time.

One theory espouses that with the collapse of the Gupta empire in the late 6th Century, the invading Hephthalites (White Huns) were probably integrated within Indian society. Leaders and nobles from among the invaders were assimilated into the Kshatriya ritual rank in the varna system, while others who followed and supported them – such as the Ahirs, Gurjars and Jats – were ranked as cultivators.

At the same time, some indigenous tribes were ranked as Rajput, examples of which are the Bundelas, Chandelas and Rathors. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Rajputs "... actually vary greatly in status, from princely lineages, such as the Guhilot and Kachwaha, to simple cultivators."

Aydogdy Kurbanov says that the assimilation was specifically between the Hephthalites, Gurjars, and people from northwestern India, forming the Rajput community. Pradeep Barua also believes that Rajputs have foreign origins, saying their practice of asserting Kshatriya status was followed by other groups in India, thereby establishing themselves as Rajputs.

According to most authorities, successful claims to Rajput status were frequently made by groups that achieved secular power; probably that is how the invaders from Central Asia as well as patrician lines of indigenous tribal peoples were absorbed.

From the beginning of the 7th century, Rajput dynasties dominated North India, including areas now in Pakistan, and the many petty Rajput kingdoms became the primary obstacle to the complete Muslim conquest of Hindu India. These dynasties were disparate: loyalty to a clan was more important than allegiance to the wider Rajput social grouping, meaning that one clan would fight another. This and the internecine jostling for position that took place when a clan leader (raja) died meant that Rajput politics were fluid and prevented the formation of a coherent Rajput empire.

Even after the Muslim conquest of the Punjab and the Ganges River valley, the Rajputs maintained their independence in Rajasthan and the forests of Central India. Later, Sultan Alauddin Khilji of the Khilji dynasty took the two Rajput forts of Chittor and Ranthambhor in eastern Rajasthan, in the 14th Century, but could not hold them for long.

At the height of Mughal rule in India, many Rajput rulers formed close relationships with the Mughal emperors and served them in different capacities. A number of noble Rajputs married their daughters to Mughal emperors for political motives. Akbar accomplished 40 marriages for him, his sons and grandsons, out of which 17 were Rajput-Mughal alliances.

Later on, the Rajputs came under the influence of the Marathas.


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