Rajputs: Who are We?

Lord Buddha of the Sakya republic of Gautam Rajputs, was the greatest Rajput who ever lived

1. Etymology of “Rajput”

Understanding origins of any identity, requires glimpse into the etymology of the self-identifying term. We cannot study origin of Turkic or Mongolic without etymological roots of these ethnonyms in the Göktürks or Mengwu Shiwei respectively. Similarly, study of the origins of the Rajput identity lay in its evolution from the royal designation “rajaputra” i.e. “sons of kings” to a gradual usage as an appellation for all Kshatriya clan-kinsmen, irrespective of social station from the 3rd century BCE Pali text Khuddaka Nikaya of Sutta Pitaka onwards.

न ब्राह्मणो नोम्हि न राजपुत्तो,
न वेस्सायनो उद कोचि नोम्हि।
गोत्तं परिञ्‍ञाय पुथुज्‍जनानं,
अकिञ्‍चनो मन्त चरामि लोके॥ (Source: the verse number 457 under Sutta Nipata (its section 3.4 called Sundarika Bharadvaja Sutta) of the Khuddaka Nikaya)

Read a more detailed story of the term here.

2. What is a Rajput?

The Adivaraha 1 coinage of the Pratihara ruler Bhoja I alias MIhirbhoj who is known by the same title, 850-900 CE. Source: here

From the Buddhist period itself, the lineage term “Rajput” began to gradually gain some currency as a synonym for Kshatriya, indicating a move from social-class to a lineage-based closed group.

Thus the word “Rajput” is an ethnicity of various lineage-kinship networks of various Kshatriya clans ( kuls ) and their subclans ( khaaps ). From Kumarpala Prabandh of 1435 AD, there has been a tendency to enumerate these clans to 36 [1]; although the actual number of these clans is slightly higher than this, however there has always been abundance of their sub-lineages ie Khaaps. The smallest Kshatriya sociopolitical unit was the Khaap (sub-lineage) headed by a coparcenary chief in a quasi-republican system variously called bhaibants, bhayats or bhaicharas [2]. However, formation of Khaap was a direct result of allocation of lands or migration for conquest. The Rajput Khaap took either a patronym (usually from the sub-lineage’s founder) or demonym (usually the land). The term “Khaap” often invoked in case of modern Jat Caste-panchayats, had its origins in Rajputs for the smallest sociopolitical tribal unit.

Thus Kahluria is a Chandel from Kahlur State (present day Bilaspur District, Himachal), a distinct branch from Girdhaura Chandel of southern Bihar’s Jamui district [3]. Rohtak in Haryana was founded by & named after Raja Rohtas, a chief of Mephawat Parmar (ref)[4] while Bhojpur was established by Raja Bhojraj, a chief of Ujjainiya Parmar [5] . Mewar, pre-13th century, was ruled by the Ahada Guhilot royalty and from circa 1340, came to be ruled by royals from Sisodia-Guhilots (the word Gehlot is a prakrit form of Guhilot). The former took their identity from Ahada village in Udaipur district while the latter from the Sisoda village of Rajsamand district.

3. Origins of various Kshatriya clans

Vanraj Chavda (746-780 CE) ; Source: Alexander Kinloch Forbes (1856) Râs Mâlâ: Or, Hindoo Annals of the Province of Goozerat, in Western India, 1, Richardson Bros., pp. 36–4

Each Kshatriya clan has undergone cycle of political hegemony and political decline. Any Kshatriya Clan first appears noticeably in history – not when it was formed, but when it rose to significant political power, especially as an Imperial power or its vassal. For instance, the first political appearance of Chavda rajputs was in the form of Vyaghramukha Chavda , a Bhinmal ruler, under whose reign the mathematician-astronomer Brahmagupta wrote his famous treatise in 628 AD [6]. He was a vassal of Emperor Harsha. The Chavda rajputs, still found in abundance in Northern and Central Gujrat, continued to play a strong role in shaping the Gujarati society alongside Solankis, Jadeja branch of Sammas and various Parmar clans. Any historical entity left inscriptional evidence only when sovereign or powerful vassals. This is equally true of Chavdas and other Rajputs. Out of the last 1500 years, they show inscriptions only when they gain powers, and at other times (when not in power), knowledge about the clan or sub-clan is derived from written-records.

However, by 10th century all major Rajput clans are known to have shown appearance. After this period only the subclans appear , eg Bundela branch of Gahadavalas (Gaharwars) who rose to power in 16th century, who gave Bundelkhand its name. Hence like any ancient or early medieval clan, it is impossible to find origins of any specific Rajput clans. In the absence of evidence, Historians can speculate and publish some of the most wild and extreme theories of Origins for a Kshatriya clan. An oft-quoted theory is linking Rajputs to Alchon Huns. But how does one construe these Hunnic rulers, whose core dominion was Kashmir-Gandhara, as progenitors of Tomars, Chauhans, Guhilots and even Kalachuris etc? Sri Pravarasena (530-590 CE), the Hunic ruler was separated by the early Guhilot Rajput inscriptions ( Samoli Inscription 646 CE)[7] barely by a few decades and yet the latter showed neither political affiliation nor cultural similarities. Rather they showed political affiliation to the Moriya rajputs of Chittaurgarh.

Thus Chauhan Rajputs, whose forebearers always identified as Kshatriyas, have been given variously Hun, Saka, Brahmin and even Gujjar origins. The same holds true of the Parihar Rajputs, who often have been assigned Brahmin and Gujjar yet identified with none. Its a big blot on Indian history-writing that the Imperial Pratihars are deliberately written as “Gurjara-Pratihar”, which in fact changes the very clan of the two Rajput entities. The Gurjara-Pratihar refers to Bargujar Rajputs, who were rather cadets of Imperial Pratihars.

Therefore such hackneyed exercise is always more political than scholarly.

4. An Ethnic Group or a Social-class

Many people, including some scholars with cursory knowledge, are quick to put Rajputs as a social-class. However, this categorization doesn’t survive even a skin-deep scaratch. If mere attainment of Royal power made an individual or his family Rajput – the Brahmin Chach dynasty, the Bhumihar dynasty of Benaras, Jat dynasties too would have become Rajputs. Even the strong emphasis of Sisodia Rajput origins by Bhonsle Royals or Nepal Royals is not universally accepted by Rajputs. The veracity of Chauhan lineage of Tulsipur royals is often questioned, as is Bhatti Rajput origins of Phulkian Sikh Royals. Hence, nether Social status nor taking Rajput surnames via Rajputization (a form of Sanskritization) makes one a Rajput.

However, on the other hand, despite centuries of plebianisation due to repeated loss of lands to different Colonialists, Chauhans of Karnal (in Haryana), Madhadh Pratihars of Kaithal (Haryana), Gehlots of Gautam-Buddhnagar, Bhatti rajputs of Bulandshahr just never lost their ethnic identity. Similarly, the Tomars of Hapur and Pratihars of Chambal remain Rajputs, despite their socio-economic and political decline by 16th century. Indeed, Peter Mundy describes the 16th century Bhadauriya clansmen (a branch of Chauhan rajputs) like “ They are a numerous industrious and brave race. Every village has a small fort. They never pay revenue to the hakeem without a fight. The ones who drive the plough keep a musket slung over the neck and a powder-pouch at the waist ” [8].

Neemuchana Peasant uprising (1925) which was entirely a rebellion by Rajput peasants against the monarch of Alwar is another instance pointing towards what is often obfuscated in academic circles – plebianization of majority of Rajput kins over centuries [9].

Hence, Rajput is a closed Lineage-based Ethnic Group, rather than a Social class or occupational caste. Furthermore, for the Kshatriyas, the term kshatriya has always connoted a closed lineage-group religio-culturally united by the Nath Sampraday, even if its understanding among non-Kshatriyas still remains that of an open Social-class (varn) that they aspire to achieve. This highlights the distinction between ethnic Kshatriyas or ethnic Rajputs and the “spurious Rajputs” or “spurious Kshatriyas”.

It is this latter definition of the term, that the Hindutvadi organizations peddle to radicalize groups like Gujjars, Ahirs, Jats, Bhars, Koeris etc who are then encouraged to appropriate identities of different Rajput clans – Gujjars obsessed with Parihars or Ahirs obsessed with Yaduvanshi rajputs – both are noticeable examples. The only Indians to have clashed with Islamic powers, before the rise of Sikhs and Marathas, were the Kshatriyas (i.e. Rajputs) – these communities like Jats, Gujjars or Ahirs had littlee or no conflicts with Islamic powers. Therefore, through this Rajputization, RSS has been bent upon radicalizing, motivating and appealing en-masse to these groups to inflict violence against Muslims.

5) Are Rajputs just a “Hindu Caste” ?

Lohri & lore of Dulla Bhati ; Credits: Orijit Sen

No. The “Rajput connotes Kshatriya lineage and indicates clan-kinship affiliation like Mongols, Ahoms and Bhils. Therefore, both Sikhs and Muslims of Rajput lineage identify themselves as such. And even though a lot many Islamist Tablighis and Jamaats are adamant at homogenizing Muslims by destroying native roots – a large population of Muslim Rajputs on both sides of the border, remain conscious of their roots just as any proud Pathan , Baloch or Shina tribesmen does. Read the account of a Muslim Bargujar (Lalkhani) Rajput here. Hence, it mustn’t surprise if prominent British-Pakistani Boxer Amir Khan identifies himself as a Janjua Rajput, because he is a Janjua tribesman and Janjuas are a Kshatriya clan. History of Subcontinent is filled with famous men and women, who were both Muslims and Rajputs – Hasan Khan Mewati, the Yaduvanshi rajput (Khanzada) who led Khanzadas and Meos at Khanwa; Dulla Bhatti , who is celebrated during Lohri by all Punjabis, Isa Khan of Bais clan, who led Baro Bhuinyar rebellion; Khudadad Khan Minhas , the first Indian to receive Victoria Cross , Major General Shahnawaz Khan Janjua of INA and noted film-maker Muzaffar Ali , an Ahban Chawda.

Similarly, Rajput clansmen who converted to Sikhism became Sikh Rajputs – former athlete Milkha Singh is a Rathore clansmen, while late comedian Jaspal Bhatti , was a Bhatti rajput.

Hence, Muslim Tomar Rajputs of Rajori’s Jarral khaap or a Muslim Bhatti Rajput from Nankana Sahib are Rajputs by virtue of being Tomar and Bhatti tribesmen, while at the same time a non-Rajput Hindu adopting these names owing to Sanskritization, is not.

6. List of Rajput Clans

A pictorial representation showing all the Rajput ruling Clans & their territories at the time of Ghurid Empire; Bhati in the desert, Chauhan, Solanki, Tomar, Gaharwar, Parmar, Kalchuri in East

List of Clans

7. A brief Historical overview

Ancient North India witnessed rule by various Kshatriya dynaties and Kshatriya republics of Haryanka, Surasena Yadav, Sakya , Moriya, Yousheya & Arjunayana clans. Apart from this, there were rule by various other groups like Kushans, Indo-Scythians, and Western kshatraps. These were interrupted by sporadic but brief periods of rule by various Brahmin families that usurped the throne from Kshatriyas, be it — Sungas, Chach of Alor and Kallar.

Besides, atleast from the time of Buddha & Mahavira, the kshatriyas (also called rajputs) have had socio-cultural & even spiritual influence, which continued to manifest in the form of Nath Sampraday, Gogaji Chauhan, Ramdevji Tanwar etc.
In medieval era, most Kshatriya tribes assumed their current forms - Chauhans, Solankis, Johiyas, Chavdas Samma & Bhattis in the West; Manhas, Janjuas, Suraseni Jadons, Katochs and Tomars in the North; Parihars, Parmars, Rashtrakuts and Kacchapghatas in the Central India and Kalachuris, Somwanshis, Gaharwars, Bisens and Gautams in the East. Yet the Kshatriyas never enjoyed absolute hegemony, as their semi-republican structure compelled them to share-powers with clansmen and Adivasi allies. Also no matter, which Kshatriya clan established a state, groups like Brahmins and Banias quickly took up administration and trading.

The extent of Imperial Pratihars (mid 8th century-1036 CE)

The Rajput sociopolitical setup traversed through all 3 stages: coparcenary bhaichara, the feudal State and the Imperial power. The corapcenary bhaichara was the most basic unit and was always represented by the Khamp (sub-lineage) headed by a Chief. The feudal State involved all the Khaaps of various Clans residing in the region stacked in a hierarchy under the leader of the ruling lineage, who acted as the King. Many such regional states made up the Empire.

Junaid’s raids in western India, weakened and destroyed the different Moriya kshatriya states of Rajasthan. However, the Chavdas, the Guhilots, the Pratihars, and the Rashtrakuts withstood the Arab assaults and eventually filled in the vacuum left by Moriyas and Takshak Nagvanshis. This also catapulted the Pratihars (Parihars) into an Imperial position at Kannauj, filling the vacuum left by Harsha’s dynasty. The Gallaka Inscription dtd 795 CE corroborates how Imperial Parihars, very likely supported by other Parihar vassals and non-Parihar vassals defeated the Arabs [10] , during the reigns of Nagbhat I and Vartsraj Parihar. Even Emperor Mihirbhoj Parihar also played a similar role. The Sumras and Samma Rajputs (parent clan of Jadejas and Chudasamas) established dynasties at Sindh replacing the Arab Habbaris. Similarly, Emperor Vigrahraja Chauhan IV defeated Ghaznavid ruler Amir Khusrau Shah in 1160 CE [11] . However, the House of Jaypal , the ancestor of Janjuas did suffer severe defeats forcing them to shift their capital from Hund (Swabi district, KPK) to Nandana in Salt Range Punjab where the Janjuas remained active until independence [12] . Muiz-uddin Ghori was defeated by Solankis at Kasahrada (Kayadra in Sirohi district) in 1178 CE [13] and by 26 year old Prithviraj Chauhan at Taraori at 1192 CE. Defeats at Taraori in 1194 CE and Chandwar ended both the Imperial Chauhan of Rajasthan-Haryana and Imperial Gahadavala powers of Gangetic Plains, while coup destroyed the Imperial Solankis of Gujarat. Throughout from 1200s to 1400s, smaller Rajput states continued to fight the Turks across Northern India, including Purvanchal. Thus older Rajput States vanished, while many of those Rajput States that survived grew larger. The Mandore power of Pratihars was replaced by a bigger power of Rathores, that included whole Marwar. Even as Delhi Sultans destroyed the Parihars of Gwalior, who were descendants of Imperial Parihars (700s – 1036 CE), by 1390s, Gwalior was taken over by Tomar Chiefs of Chambal. Mewar rose to regional hegemony – destroying the short-lived Nagaur Sultanate and challenging the Delhi Sultans and Mandu Sultan (both Turks & TurkoAfghans). The maps of Delhi Sultanates shown, are far from truth and obfuscate this chaotic reality. Due to his military reputation, Sanga built a Confederacy of Rajput states of Eastern Rajasthan, Chambal and Doab that first defeated a Mughal force at Bayana [14] but was routed at Khanwa.

While the Rajput States held onto regional hegemony, sometimes through resistance and sometimes through co-option, the condition of Rajput peasant republics (autonomous Khamps ) was precarious. For instance, when Kaithal’s Madhadh (or Mandhar) Rajputs, a branch of Pratihars of Haryana, attacked and destroyed a small section of Babur’s troops for encroaching their lands, they were met with the Imperialists brute that not only killed all men but also sold away their women and children to slavery [15] . When Emperor Akbar took over Chittor after 4-months of siege, he beheaded 2000 Rajputs and 8000 non-Rajput peasants [16] . More than the warriors, it were the peasants ,Rajputs and non-Rajputs alike, saw most of the Imperial Turks’ wrath . A similar event happened in 1634 with Jats of Agra, wherein 10,000 men were slayed and their women and children seized [17] .

The symbiotic pact made by the Chief of Kachwahas (Kacchapghatas) of Dhundhar Bharmal with Akbar initiated a phenomenon that benefited both the Rajput States and the new Timurid dynasty. It gave the Rajput states, in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and lower Himalayas an opportunity for economic revival after centuries of unrest. It gave the Timurids the opportunity to establish the most stable Empire of medieval India. The Mughal administration worked on a simple strategy. They used Rajput State armies to guard the North-western Frontier and fight at Kabul, Kandahar and Badakhshan against Afghan and Turkic rebels on one hand. At the same time they relocated and settled loyalist Turkic warlords and Afghan tribesmen in Gangetic plains to counter and subdue rebellious Rajput republics of that region [18] . The habitual emphasis on the phrase “ Rajput-Mughal alliance ” by liberal Historians oversimplifies, misleads and misconstrues these as pact between the Imperial Timurid house and the larger Rajput ethnic group, which is betrayal of truth since Rajputs of the day lacked political uniformity.

Hence, located in the Northwest and the North, the Rajputs had the lengthiest interaction or conflict with foreign Islamic powers, relative to any group — spanning a full millennium & more. The worst victims of this were not Kshatriya States but the autonomous Kshatriya khaaps.


[^1] Jai Narayan Asopa (1990); A socio-political and economic study, northern India; Prateeksha Publications. 89
[^2] Shail Mayaram; Against History, Against State; p. 202
[^3]] http://www.indianrajputs.com/view/gidhaur
[^4] https://www.britannica.com/place/Rohtak
[^5] Journal of the Bihar Research Society, Vol. 47-49; p. 350
[^6] Smith, Vincent A. (October 1907). Coin of Vyagrahamukha of the Chapa (Gurjara) Dynasty of Bhinmal”; 923–928
[^7] Nandini Kapur Sinha; State Formation in Rajasthan ; Mewar, p. 37
[^8] Peter Mundy, Travels Vol-II; p. 90
[^9] Rajesh Kumar; Peasant Unrest And Repression: A Massacre in Neemuchana, Alwar, May 1925; Indian History Congress, pp. 794-798
[^10] Prof Shanta Rani Sharma; Origin and Rise of the Imperial Pratihars of Rajasrhan; p. 69 p. 82
[^11] Dasaratha Sharma; Early Chauhan Dynasties; p. 69
[^12] Cafeteria, rest house inaugurated at Hund Museum Wednesday, 7 January 2009 Nisar Mahmood. THE NEWS. Jang group
[^13] A K Majumdar; Chaulukyas of Gujarat ; p. 135
[^14] Babur Nama; Journal of Emperor Babur; p. 289
[^15] DHA Kollf, Naukar Rajput & Sepoy; p. 10
[^16] Satish Chandra; Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals Part-II, p. 107
[^17] DHA Kollf, Naukar Rajput & Sepoy; p. 13
[^18] DHA Kollf, Naukar Rajput & Sepoy; p. 13