Who Are the Rajput?

India's Warrior Caste

The Rajputs are northern India's warrior caste
Photo of a Rajput man in northern India, at an open-air camel market. Koshyk on Flickr.com

A Rajput is a member of northern India's Hindu warrior caste. They live mainly in Rajastan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The word "Rajput" is a contracted form of raja, or "monarch," and putra, meaning "son." According to legend, only the first son of a king could inherit the kingdom, so the later sons became military leaders. From these younger sons was born the Rajput warrior caste.

The term "Rajaputra" was first mentioned around 300 B.C., in the Bhagvat Purana.

The name gradually evolved to its current shortened form.

Origins of the Rajputs

The Rajputs were not a separately identified group until the 6th century AD. At that time, the Gupta empire broke up and there were repeated conflicts with the Hephthalites, the White Huns. They may have been absorbed into the existing society, including leaders into the Kshatriya rank. Others from the local tribes also ranked as Rajput.

The Rajputs claim descent from three basic lineages, or vanshas.

  • Suryavanshi, the Solar Dynasty, descended from Surya, the Hindu Sun-god.
  • Chadravanshi, the Lunar Dynasty descended from Chandra, the Hindu Moon-god. They include major sub-branches of Yaduvanshi (Lord Krisha was born into this branch) and Puruvanshi.
  • Agnivanshi, the Fire Dynasty descended from Agni, the Hindu god of fire. This lineage has four clans: Chauhans, Paramara, Solanki, and Pratiharas.

These all are divided into clans who claim a direct patrilineal descent from a common male ancestor.

These are then divided into sub-clans, shakhas, that have their own genealogical creed, which governs the laws of intermarriage.

History of the Rajputs

Rajputs ruled many small kingdoms in North India from the beginning of the 7th century. They were an obstacle to the Muslim conquest in North India. While they opposed invasion by the Muslims, they also battled among each other and were loyal to their clan rather than uniting.

When the Mughal empire was established, some Rajput rulers were allies and also married their daughters to the emperors for political favor. The Rajputs revolted against the Mughal empire and led to its downfall in the 1680s.

In the late 18th century, Rajput rulers formed an alliance with the East India Company. By the time of British influence, Rajputs ruled most of the princely states in Rajasthan and Saurashtra. Rajput soldiers were valued by the British. Purbiya soldiers from the eastern Ganga plains had long been mercenaries for Rajput rulers. The British gave more self-rule to the Rajput princes than to other areas of India.

Upon independence from Britain in 1947, the princely states voted for whether to join India, Pakistan, or remain independent. Twenty-two princely states joined India as the state of Rajasthan. Rajputs are now a Forward Caste in India, meaning they do not get any preferential treatment under the system of positive discrimination.

Culture and Religion of Rajputs

While many Rajputs are Hindu, others are Muslim or Sikh. Rajput rulers exhibited religious toleration to a greater or lesser extent. Rajputs generally secluded their women and were seen in older times to practice female infanticide and sati (widow immolation).

They are usually not vegetarians and eat pork, as well as drinking alcohol.