Rajput

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

Bibliography

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

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