"RAjaputra" - Etymology of the term, its History and its Kshatriya usage

Origin of the term - its RigVedic Roots

In the earliest Indian text (the Rig Veda dating back several millennia) the word jan refers to a tribe/people while the ruler or protector of that tribe is called the Ra-jan . The Rajan’s wife is called the Rajani and his brothers, cousins, and nephews are called Rajanyas (also pronounced Rajanka ). These Rajanyas provided the armed strength to protect the jan while the Rajan was their leader in war and an administrator/judge in times of peace.

In later times Rajan evolved into Raja (King), Rajani into Rani (Queen), and Rajanya into Rana (chieftain). Such changes were of course more immediate in the spoken languages like Prakrit or Apabhramsa and slower in the classical language of Sanskrit. As populations grew and tribal territories expanded into monarchies, the Rajanyas must have become landowners/rulers in their own right with the word Rana becoming a hereditary title. And when these Rajanyas became chieftains another word was needed for the mass of ordinary soldiers and nobles who were not chiefs—this new word was Kshatriya or warrior [3]. It is in this later Vedic age that we read for the first time of the word Rajaputra (the Raja’s son).

This is the right place to mention the historical personalities associated with the word Rajaputra . The famous founder of Buddhism, Siddharth, was a prince who left his family to contemplate the meaning of life. Since he never returned to become king after his father’s death, he was always called Rajaputra Siddharth in all Buddhist texts.

The break-up of the Maurya Empire in northwest India and the intrusion of foreign powers like the Yavanas and Sakas encourged decentralization of North Indian polity.


So while the big powers began using high-sounding titles, this also had its impact on the clan-states that were subject them (or resisted them). The map displays the location of these republican clans (all in small fonts) against the major powers (in big fonts)…as can be seen clearly the republican clans are mostly located in the regions of the western, central and northern parts of India.

This is the period, when Rajputra as a designation shifts from being a royal designation for prince (Instead Rajkunwar or Kunwar became a more frequent usage for the same) to all clan members, the Chief and the entire clan-brethren, signifying a kinship lineage identity and ancestory from some legendary chief in antiquity, like Chauhans traced identity to Chahmana, Jaduvans from Jadu, Guhilot from Guhaji and Pratihars from Laxman.

Early Medieval shift: Royal title to ethnonym of all Kshatriya clansmen of North

  1. This is a beautiful silver coin of the Kuninda warrior clan, located in modern Himachal Pradesh. The legend in Prakrit (Brahmi script): " Rajnah Kunindasya Amoghabhutisya Maharajasya ". Amoghabhuti was the ruler of the Kuninda warrior clan and had taken the high-sounding personal title of Maharaja. However, he continued with his traditional rank of being the head of the clan…which is Rajan. His leading clansmen would’ve been called Rajanyas, which as we know evolved into the title of Rana in the plains.

But in the Himalayan territories, where these republics survived for a longer period than in the plains, Rana has been preserved as a surname for a section of the Rajput population from Himachal to Nepal.

  1. The second historic personality is Harshvardhan, the younger brother of Rajyavardhan, in the Kingdom of Thanesar. The elder brother became ruler of Kannauj in the 7th Century CE while Harshvardhan , as the junior prince, was called the Rajaputra Siladitya. Even after becoming king Harsh continued with the designation of Rajaputra until his position on the throne was secure…all this happened 600 years before the Turk-Rajput wars. In fact, Rajaputras as the upper or royal segment of kshatriyas is mentioned repeatedly in Bana’s Harshacharita . The two sons of the king of Malava who took shelter in Thanesar, Kumaragupta II and Madhavagupta, are called Malava Rajaputra . The Madhavgupta of this passage is identical with a king of that name mentioned in the Aphsad inscription as having allied with Harshavardhana.

  2. The Five Damodarpur copper-plate inscriptions of the Gupta rulers have rAjaputra epithet, such as those of Kumaragupta III 533 A.D.
    One of them reads thus – ‘ Rajaputra Deva- Bhattaraka uparika Maharaja ‘.

  3. In the Sanga (Nepal) inscription early 7th century A.D. , the Chief Minister under Amsuvarman is called rAjaputra Vikramsena.

  4. Al Masudi from Arabia visits India in 10th century and mentions in his work Muruj ad Dhahab wa ma’adin al jawahar (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems) dated 953 AD that – Kandhar was the country of Rahbuts i.e. Rajputs.

  5. Arabs of 9th century A.D. acknowledge rAshtrakutas aka Vallabh-Raj or Ballah-Raya or Al-Ballahara as the greatest King in India and one of the 4 most prominent Kings in the world. Medieval Rathores are descendants of these Rashtrakutas. Copper grant of prince GovindaChandra of Rashtrakuta branch named Gadhavala/Gahadvala, dated 1104 A.D. calls him mahArAjaputra.

  6. 1143 AD inscription of his son shows the same title and is in the name of mahArAjaputra rAjyapAladeva.

  7. 1134 AD Inscription of Singar/Sengar family who were feudatory of Gadhavalas, is in the name of mahArAjaputra vastarAjadeva.

  8. Rajaputra
    *In this image of Nadol Copper plates (1160 AD) “Rajaputra Kirtipala” is the Chauhan ruler of Nadol, a branch of the mainline at Ajmer. See [Chauhan Rajaputras]

  9. Given below is part of the Chamba copper plate inscription of Vidagdha Verman of 960 AD regarding a land grant in village Sumangala. Inscription names all concerned functionaries and state officials etc of the village Sumangala in a huge list. Notice the terms in line 7 – rAja-rAjAnaka-rAjaputra-rAjAmAtya-rAjasthAneeya . Clear indication of these being land owning gentries with administrative or military skills. Vidagdha Verman was a Suryavanshi rAjaputra of Mushana dynasty (moshuna gotra).


Similar list with terms like rajanyaka-rajani-ranaka-rajaputra are found in many other inscriptions like those of Vallalasena and LakshamanSena.

  1. The kathAsaritasAgara of Somadeva around 1070 AD writes of two men Shiva and mAdhava. Of them mAdhava is described as a rAjaputra. Throughout the story this mAdhava has no connection with being a prince. He is just a land holder and yet called rAjaputra .

  2. Kadmal plates of Vijayasimha Guhilot 1083 AD mention that a messenger named Ranadhavala, son of sagamdA was a Chauhan rAjaputra.

  3. Udayagiri cave inscriptions near Bhopal dated end of 11th century AD mention land grants by many minor paramAra chieftains named- rAjaputra dAmodara jayadeva, rAjaputra Sodha, rAjaputra vAhilavAhada.

  4. Paldi inscription of 1116 AD says that Saulanki rAjaputra Sri sAlakhArana was the son of rAjaputra Sri Upala.

  5. During the reign of Jaichand’s predecessor in 12th century AD. A vassal dynasty of Gahadavalas, known as Dhavalas has recorded themselves in Taracandi rock inscription at modern Shahabad, UP. The inscription ends with mahArAjaputra srI satrughnasya. It calls the overlord Gahadavals King’s son (Jaichand) as mahArAjaputra as well as the Dhavala princes as mahArAjaputra.

  6. Delhi Shiwalik inscription of Vigraharaja Chauhan 1163-4 A.D. mentions – rAjaputra SallaksanapAla was serving as mahAmantri.

  7. Lalrai inscription 1176 AD from south Rajasthan speaks of Chauhan princes Lakhanapal and Abhaypala as rAjaputras and rulers of the region.

  8. Another case of connotation proliferating from individuals to groups is Kalhana’s (12th century A.D.) Rajatarangini . It uses the term rAjaputra a lot of times in numerous contexts. For actual princes, as well as for the general land holders . For example, one verse describes the King Ananta being followed by a host of ‘bands of rAjaputra horsemen, soldiers and damaras’. Even by stretch of imagination these bands of rAjaputra horsemen can’t be all princes (how many could be there anyway). Because the immediately previous verse uses the term Nrapatmajah for princes.

  9. Jalor Stone Inscription of SamaraSimhaDeva 1182 AD refers to Rajaputra Jojila Chauhan.

Firstly, all the above mentioned was not an exhaustive list but just some examples. Secondly, it becomes an even larger list if we were to include occurrences of other closely associated terms in vogue that came out similarly – Rawal from rAjakula, Rajanya, rAjini (women), mahArAjini, also rAjanaka, rAjanka ranaka, rAnA, Rao, Rawat (from rAjaputra) etc.

These cases above clearly indicate a gradual proliferation of the term rAjaputra, into a state of application regardless of whether one was currently a prince, chieftain, son of chieftain or neither – even if just an of official or functionary . This is obvious if a whole community spawns out of rulers and officers of a hierarchy.

The last phase, when the term Rajputra comes to be applied to all kshatriya clansmen, from the raja to the commoner , that it’s usage shifts from a royal designation to an ethnonym highlighting corpacenary clan-kinship & a Segmentary lineage group.

References :-

  1. The Kadambas of South India have also left inscriptions with this title Ranak in this same age. :leftwards_arrow_with_hook:
  2. In this period the kings used superlative title like Maha-raja (great-king) and Maha-raj-adhi-raja (great-king-of-kings). Their sons could not be less great than their fathers; hence they were titled Maha-rajputras . In any case, the word evolution process in these cases would knock-off the prefix maha. :leftwards_arrow_with_hook:
  3. The other classes were Brahmins, Vaishyas, and Shudras. :leftwards_arrow_with_hook:

{This post makes use of two other blogs : by agrippedsoul and airavat singh hence quote those verbatim }