ROUTING ‘RAJPUT’ANA!

The Rajputs represented a new compelling, historical force in early medieval India, illuminating the Indian fresco of political dominance for several centuries. To quote Vincent Smith –

They (the Rajput clans) became so prominent in the centuries from the death of Harshavardhana to the Muslim conquest of northern India (middle 7th – closing 12th century) … (that the age) might be called with propriety the Rajput period.”

Nevertheless, these glorious chivalric exploiters had obscure roots, for which their origins have become the beloved of scholarly surgery.

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The Rajputs – The warrior elite.

Texts like Kumarapalacharita, Varnaratnakara, Rajatarangini, and Aparajitaprachha traditionally speak of the 36 major clans of Rajputs but any speculation as to the origins of the Rajputs has to be presaged with the caveat that, in general, no single theory could be held authoritative. The earliest theories by historians like C.V.Vaidya and D.Sharma contend that Rajputs were the descendants of Vedic Aryans and they rose to prominence in the process of resisting foreign invasions – this assumption holds true for the Gurjara Pratiharas who came to prominence in the second quarter of the 8th century when they offered successful resistance to the Arabs during the time of Nagabhata I. Both explanations hint at the indigenous origin of the warrior clans, receiving support from Smith and Tod. For Smith, the dual appearance of twin historical forces – that of Muslims in the combined role of invaders and rulers, and that of Rajputs in the role of defenders of the old “Hindu” order – suggests the replacement of older dynasties by a new element of population – vigorous dynasties of uncertain origins, who came forward to fill up the vacuum created by the disintegration of the Pushyabhutis. These new dynasties were either local ones or had tribal origins. Tod elaborates on the hypothesis of tribal origins, emphasizing on the “Paternity of the Sovereign”. This, he insists, was the ‘ruling principle’ of the Rajput state that bore a resemblance to the political structure of ‘Clan Patrimony’ of tribes led by warrior chiefs of earlier times. Religion served as the unifying factor to consolidate the diverse clans into a monoclanic system. Yet in his quest to frame a hypothesis of racial origins on the basis of socio – religious similarities, he overlooks the racial differences which point to the mixed origin of the Rajput clans.

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The Rajputs – The warrior elite.

To refer to more recent scholarship, Surajit Sinha examines the emergence of Rajputs in the tribal belt of central India in the light of “Hinduization” of tribes, and their subsequent “Rajputization”. He takes into account the sound agrarian conditions and stable sedentary tendencies that stratified the main body of the egalitarian tribe into social classes, in terms of ‘differential land holding and of the territorial extent of political dominance’. As the upper class of the tribes gained ascendency over territory, they got attracted to the life – style of the larger Hinduized states around them and thus arose the subsequent need for further social upgrading within the Hindu castes. They employed the means that would lead to the entrance to ‘Kshatriyahood’ such as association with Brahmanical notions of kingship, fictitious genealogies, ritual display, marriage alliances, etc. Sinha attempts to establish the Rajput phenomenon as a developmental process as well as the consequence of the formation of states in the tribal enclaves; indeed his model stems as a replication of B.D. Chattopadhyaya’s thesis of “Rajputization”.

Preluding Sinha, B.D. Chattopadhyaya perceives the Rajput genesis as a ‘process’ and reinforces not only the possibility of tribal origins, but also the element of localism substantially involved in the portent. To him, the emergence of the early Rajput clans took place within the existing hierarchical structure .i.e., within Kshatriyas. In Rajasthan, the working of localism can be seen in the rise of the Dahiya Brahmins and Rajputs, who having originated in the same locality, had strong ‘affinities’ with each other. He provides two chronological stages of the process –

  1. A political process in which disparate groups seeking political power conformed to such norms as permeated the contemporary political ideology;
  2. The rise of Rajputs as a comprehensive social phenomenon.

With the typical curtain – raiser being the “Conquest Theory” of Gumplowicz or Oppenheimer, “Rajputization” commenced with the spate of colonization of new ‘unchartered’ lands, a proliferation of settlements and an expansion of the agrarian economy. The ‘conquered areas’, besides being inhabited, were also provided with politico – economic structures of importance such as markets (hatta and mahajana) and fortresses (durgas) that had links with neighboring land – holdings, and served as foci of power of the ascendant ruling families. The ‘ruling groups’ at the helm of affairs, now stratified from the stock by virtue of political eminence, embarked on an upward movement toward a corresponding social status. A consolidation of clan networks was initiated through the distribution of land among the royal kinsmen (the prominent example of this operation being the Caurasia arrangement of land distribution of the Cahamanas) and the absorption of local elements as direct segments of the established clans. There emerged a hierarchy of feudatory units of new clans and sub – clans that were drawn in the Rajput network through inter – clan relationships, including marriage alliances and collaboration in wider areas of socio – political activity. Political and military strength was void without social legitimization and thus the essential ‘purchase of ritual services’ of Brahmins of the ‘right kind’: the formulation of fictitious genealogies in recognition of the Kshatriya caste and royal lineages of the ruling families.

Running parallel to this assertion is the probability of foreign origin of Rajputs. J.N. Sarkar detects certain ‘analogies’ amongst the Scythians, the Rajputs and the tribes of Scandinavian in the ‘warlike customs’, ‘love of strong drinks’, ‘romantic epics’, etc, and concludes that the Rajputs were of ‘Scythian’ origin. A famous example of this assumption is the Jackson – Bhandarkar theory of the foreign ‘Huna’ origin of the Gurjaras. Leaders and nobles amongst the invaders were assimilated into the Kshatriya ritual rank in the Hindu Varna system, with the assumption of princely lineages.

There are some references to the “Brahma – Kshatra” .i.e., the Guhilas and Cahamanas; implying a transitional status of the Rajput in the transformation from Brahmin to the Kshatriya standing. However this is refutable in the face of an explanation as to why Brahmins gave up their caste, claimed Kshatriyahood and took up arms. Other authorities are of the opinion – successful claims to Rajput status were frequently made by groups that achieved secular power, a claim again refused by the distinct inclination of the Rajput clans toward the Brahmanical religion.

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The “Agnikula” myth.

Nevertheless, what surpasses the logic and popularity of the above theories is the “Agnikula” myth of bardic traditions that attributes the origin of Rajputs to the four heroes, who emerged from the sacrificial fire pit on the summit of Mt. Abu – the Pratiharas, Paramara, Chaulukya and Cahamana. In other versions, the set of four include the Solankis, Paramara, Chaulukya and Chauhan. The foremost reference to this myth is found in the Navasahasanka – Charita of Padmagupta, composed in 1005 AD; alluding to the Paramaras of Dhar as descendants of the Agnikula and a branch of the royal Rashtrakutas. Although the myth is unacceptable to the European writers, they generally use it as collaborative evidence in favor of the theory of foreign origin of Rajputs. Smith and Crooke remark that the myth represents a ceremony of purification, whereby the impurity and “contaminated blood” of foreigners and the low – born was removed thereby making them pure of Kshatriya origin and deeming them fit to rule. This measure of flexibility was adapted to accommodate new groups within the Varna hierarchy, by virtue of their power and political initiative, and give way to the royal foundations that could be crystallized by genealogies, rituals and matrimonial alliances.  Moreover, in explaining the fire myth, Asopa concludes that the four heroes were “BrahmaKshatras”. The word “Agnijya” which may mean “Agneya” (“born from fire”) is also applied to the solar line descendants of Manu Svayambhuva, who are different from the lunar line descendants of Manu Vaivasvata. Thus, there are three distinct lines of Rajputs, each originating from the Sun, Moon and Fire.

All the theories concerning the origin of Rajputs enfold some homogenous aspects –

  1. Access to land and armed forces;
  2. Social mobility to Rajput status;
  3. Articulation of fictitious genealogical claims; and
  4. Degradation of the Kshatriya

As the Kshatriyas assumed Rajput status, attempts were made to severe all low affiliations with the clan ossuary. Brahmins were attracted to formulate genealogies and Prasastis, on behalf of sovereign families, which would link them to the ancient Kshatriyas of Brahmanical literature or established royal lineages. For instance, the Gurjara Pratiharas, in the Sagar – Tal stone inscription of Bhoja I, claimed solar descent from Saumitri or Lakshmana (the younger brother of the epic hero, Rama) the pratihara (door – keeper) who repelled enemies in the battle against Megnada in the Ramayana.  These flattering myths about the purity of status ensured the claim of pure Kshatriya status, leading to the shedding of the feudatory position and titles (Samanta, Mahasamanta) in favor of those that suggest attachment to royalty in an administrative arrangement – Rajaputra, Rauta, Ranaka, and Mahamandalika. In fact, genealogies record the evolution to greater power. The enhanced social status was nourished by ‘ritual display of the right kind’ .i.e., the observance of the sacred thread ceremony and Vedic rituals, sponsoring festivals, maintenance of Hindu temples, and marriage alliances to a high status but impoverished Rajput Kshatriya status. The migration of Rajputs and legitimizing Brahmins led to the “stimulus diffusion” of the myth of the Rajput standard of living (high position in the Varna order, chivalry, role of defender of Brahmanism, etc) which became an extensively distributed model of socio – cultural aspiration on sacred and secular levels, at a pan – Indian scale.

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The clans of ‘corrupted’ Rajaputras?

The very emergence of the warrior royalty from a feudatory background without a break in social continuity is well scrutinized in J.N. Asopa’s theory. The word “Rajput” is a corruption of the Vedic designation “Rajaputra” (widely meaning a privileged class of nobles). In the period of the Brahamanas, a distinction was drawn between Rajaputras, Rajanyas and Kshatriyas; and by the close of the 12th century, the Rajaputras emerged as the ‘caste’ Rajputs – this ‘caste’ was divided into a number of ‘clans’. The course of social development was interrupted by the advent of the Turks, and the Hindu society lost its mobility. There was no longer any scope for ‘new Rajputs’ and the clear demarcation of the new warrior elite from the rest of the ruling class got permanence. But the attempts to establish a socio – political link between the Rajputs of the 12th century and the Rajaputras of the Vedic times raise issues of inadequate evidence and utter refutation of the process as one of proliferation. The reference to “BrahmaKshatras”, the “Agnikula” myth and emergence of local lineages via distribution of power through consanguine and affine networks – all conform to a ‘process’ of proliferation that contributed toward an undermining of the political status of the early Kshatriya groups which were taking to less potent occupations. Consequently, the preferred term for the ruling stratum was then not so much “Kshatriya” as “Rajput”.

The chief bone of contention in the scrutiny of the origin of Rajputs lies in the conventional and stereotyped essence of the available sources. What they reflect is poetic fancy, supplemented by vague generalizations and stimulated by dynastic interest to record varnished truth. This inconvenience is aggravated by modern scholarship’s ‘tendency to dynasticize’ – at capital instance, one might say of Rajput history manufactured in two stages, the first and rather crude stage by the imaginative Indian bards and the other, more sophisticated, though no less reliable, by today’s historian. Yet to conclude with, the origin of Rajputs is a gradual process of social and political mobility, which in the wake of its formation into a structure, drew in disparate groups of indigenous, foreign and tribal elements in the mobilized configuration of “Rajputization”.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Origin of the Rajputs – Anil Chandra Banerjee
  • Origin of the Rajputs: The Political, Economic and Social Processes in Early Medieval Rajasthan – B.D. Chattopadhyaya
  • State Formation and Rajput Myth in Tribal Central India – Surajit Sinha

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