Rajaputra - Origin and Evolution / Origin of Rajputs

Origin of the Rajputs & Evolution

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 an illustration, the Pratihara clan have recorded an inscription near modern Jodhpur (dated 837 CE), which refers to their queen as the Maharajni (great queen)…this rajni would be an Apabhramsa word from the original Sanskrit rajani . A second example, this time from the east, will further illustrate this process of word evolution. The Bhanja dynasty in Orissa issued copper-plate grants in the 9th Century that mention princes with the title of Ranak …again an Apabhramsa word between the Rajanka [1] of ancient times and the Rana of a later age [2]

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. This was in the 7th Century BCE—more than eighteen centuries before the Turk-Rajput wars!

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.

The break-up of the Maurya Empire in northwest India and the intrusion of foreign powers like the Yavans, Sakas, and Kushans, led to some interesting changes in the use of titles, which is described in this post.

India

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 clans (all in small fonts) against the major powers (in big fonts)…as can be seen clearly they are mostly located in the western and northern parts of India while the northwest is under foreign rule.

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.

Land ownership

When discussing warriors and wars it is important to also understand the economics of war, particularly related to the changing ideas of land usage and ownership. In the republican age of the Rajan and his Rajanyas land was owned and protected by the entire community. In the age of monarchies and empires, land was privately owned but there was still a centrally organized government that could re-assign such land to others.

The break-up of the Maurya Empire and the intrusion of foreign powers in the northwest resulted in the growth of small-state mindedness (miscalled feudalism), or the loyalty of a clan only to its own kingdom. These ruling clans, which long resisted the foreigners and kept their old democratic setup intact, were eventually dissolved and emerged into kingdoms. Even so, the small-state mindedness had become so entrenched in the northwestern and western (Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa) regions that its effects were felt down the centuries.

In a later age (Guptas down to Pratihars) land grants by ruling clans to sub-clans also became hereditary and armies eventually became clannish. This was particularly true for the region covered by modern Rajasthan—the earliest Pratihar kings and their Chauhan, Parmar, Chaulukya, and Guhilot feudatories had clan-based armies. In any case, hereditary ownership of lands by a hierarchy of chieftains prevented the formation of a centrally organized army as in the case of the Mauryas.

But this very hierarchy gave strength and stability to the local defense, which proved crucial in preserving the independence of Rajasthan throughout the period of Islamic invasions. For these two reasons Rajput history is counted as beginning from the reign of the Pratihars. See the Rawal [4], and Rao [5].

While the word Rajaputra was known from ancient times, its use in the administration of the big powers began with the Gupta Empire as described here. Their successors across North and Central India continued titling their royal princes as “Rajaputra” and sending them to govern the provinces. And since land ownership, and even administrative posts, had become hereditary by then, many of the younger Rajaputras became feudal chieftains. With the Islamic invasions, and the destruction of the big kingdoms, these chieftains became the leaders of the resistance against the foreigners, and the word Rajput became a symbol of the unconquerable spirit of India’s traditional warrior clans.

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

Late in the 12th Century CE, while the Turk invasions were taking place in the north, the rulers of Jaypura (in modern Bihar) also left inscriptions that mention one of their princes who pre-deceased his father as Rajaputra Krishnagupta. The Lalrai inscription is dated “on the 3rd of the bright half of Vaisakha in the [Vikrama] year 1233”, and speaks of the Chauhan princes (Rajaputra) Lakhanapala and Abhayapala as the rulers of that territory in south Rajasthan.

Hemchandra (1088-1172 CE) used the word Rajaputrakiah in the sense of Rajputs. The Mount Abu inscription dated 1230 CE, speaks of “all the Rajaputras of the illustrious Pratihara clan”. Merutunga in Prabandhachintamani (1305 CE) speaks of “five hundred Rajaputras of the Paramara clan”. The term although used in many parts of India gained currency in Western India (Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa) as the name for Kshatriyas of royal lineage.

Military Developments

Due to the Turk invasions, Rajaputra could not evolve into another title, because the numerous Rajaputra chieftains were at the forefront of resisting these invasions. It evolved into the term Rajput, which was used for those warriors that owned land and protected their people from strong forts. These Rajaputras, from their experience at Tarain and other battles, relied more on cavalry…hence it can be also said that the cavalry portion of the old Hindu armies was now classed as Rajputs[6].

The infantry portion[7], as was common in other parts of the world, was formed of agricultural classes like the Jats, Gujjars, Ahirs, etc. Even today there are many Chauhans in Haryana and UP that are classed as Jats…these are probably descended from the infantrymen of Prithviraj Chauhan. These agricultural classes did not have the resources to fight against the Turks of that period, moreover converting them was not a priority since the first target of every Islamic onslaught around the world have been the rulers and warriors. So as long as they paid land revenue these agricultural classes were left alone, accounting for their relatively higher population in those regions today when compared to the Rajputs.

Brahmin ancestors of certain Rajput clans?

In the early inscriptions of the Pratihara clan, they describe their ancestor Harichandra as a Brahmin, but in those same inscriptions assert that he was born in the family of the Ikshvaku prince Lakshmana. Similar contradictions are seen in the inscriptions of the Guhilot Rajputs of Mewar. In the inscriptions, two of their early rulers are termed vipra, which means Brahmin, and yet the oldest inscription of the clan at Naravahana (971 CE) asserts that their ancestry was Raghuvamsa-Kirtipisunah (in the lineage of Rama of the suryavanshi line). Any of the three possibilities can explain these contradictions:

  1. These truly were Brahmin clans that took up the profession of arms and acquired Rajput status.
  2. These were Rajputs some of whose rulers also studied the scriptures and gained the additional recognition of “Brahmin”.
  3. As heads of state, these rulers were also protectors of the dharma and were sometimes required to perform priestly functions.

What is most significant about these inscriptions is that only some of the individual rulers, and not the entire clan, are described as Brahmins, which strengthens the case of the second and third possibilities.

Colonial myths on Rajputs

This post can be concluded with a cursory glance at the theories propounded by colonial and leftist historians to account for the emergence of the word Rajput in Indian History. To be fair to the colonial historians they worked under certain limitations. Many of them believed, quite passionately, that the world had been created in 4004 BCE by an old man in white robes called God—much of their study of history was colored by this mistaken belief. Secondly, archaeological remains were at that time not fully excavated, inscriptions had yet to be translated, coins of several rulers had not been found…for these reasons they cannot be faulted for creating modern myths to explain developments of Indian History.

The leftists did not have these limitations—they deliberately disregarded material evidence to continue the myth-making of the colonial historians. With regard to the Rajputs, their methodology is to look, not at the evolution of word as shown in literature and inscriptions, but to study the clans that were first called Rajput. Since many of these clans emerged after the time of Harshvardhan of Kannauj these historians insist that these clans were Hinduised foreigners—particularly Sakas and Huns.

Now new clans have emerged in the ancient times and they continued to emerge in very late periods also—but in these cases, no one pointed out any foreign connection. More importantly, neither the colonial historians nor the leftists provide any material evidence to back their claims—in the shape of literature, inscriptions, coins, etc. It would be tiresome to list the various versions of this hypothesis: the upper class of foreigners was called Rajputs the others became Gujjars, Jats etc (!), the Brahmins converted the foreigners for protection against Sakas (!), the Muslim rulers [8] called them Rajputs, and so on.

Why should the word Rajput be applied or adopted out of the blue to or by foreigners? But more importantly, if they did adopt this word, or were called so, why did it only emerge several centuries later? What did they call themselves until then? In the light of the facts presented in the previous posts these ideas appear to be quite weird and have no basis in fact. The postulation of the foreign-origin theory for Rajputs came out of the same process, which saw the postulation of the Aryan Theory in the same period and by the same colonial historians. In the latter case too, the leftists faithfully reproduced and defended the myth-making by the colonial historians.

Credits: Original Post by Airavat Singh on his blog, "Horses and Swords"


  1. The Kadambas of South India have also left inscriptions with this title Ranak in this same age. ↩︎

  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. ↩︎

  3. The other classes were Brahmins, Vaishyas, and Shudras. ↩︎

  4. Rawal has evolved from Rajkula (meaning of the royal family) in this manner: Rajkula >>> Rajula >>> Raola >>> Rawal . ↩︎

  5. Rao is a variant of Rawal as is shown in the footnote above. ↩︎

  6. Strikingly enough this was reflected late into the modern age. Up until the 19th Century it was considered most degrading for Rajputs to fight on foot. Only those Rajputs too poor to buy or maintain horses were condemned to employment as infantrymen. ↩︎

  7. Again in the 19th Century these classes emerged as infantry fighters armed with the new weapons (firearms), particularly the Jats in this region. ↩︎

  8. In all early Muslim texts the Hindu resistance is said to be led by Ranas and Rais—the word Rajput had to first become current within the Hindu community before it could be used by foreigners. In these foreign texts, the word Rajput emerges first in the writings of Timur the lame who mispronounces the name of his opponents as the Rajjipous. ↩︎

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