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Rajputs: what textbooks don’t tell (Part 1) - AditytaKrishna Singh

A few days ago, I and a friend , a Siyal from Gujranwala(Pakistan) happened to discuss the huge popularity of an article on Rajputs , among both Left-liberals on this side of border and Rightwing-conservatives on that side of it. (Siyal is a Punjabi Rajput and Jat tribe, which allegedly founded Sialkot)

In 2015, Girish Sahane wrote an article “What our textbooks don’t tell: Why Rajputs miserably failed in battles for centuries?” which he reproduced this year in hindi . Apart from being a citation-less gossip it further clubs Pratap and Sanga, who resisted in dire situations, with 19th century British-era princes, who never resisted British. May we club Nehru and Savarkar, Kosambi and Oak owing to shared Brahmin identities ? Clearly, it was a diatribe. Though allegedly liberal, the article reads like posts from and with verdicts dominating details.

Since 19th century conservative brahmin intellectuals, mostly Bengalis and Marathis,fanatically saffronized Rajput history (supported by later hindu Rajput princes’ silent approval) creating a “Rajput versus Muslim” narrative ignorant that only two Muslim communities have extensive martial history — the Pathans and Musalman Rajputs. In response Leftists (mostly brahmins) berate the entire Rajput past as part of a grand-project to rescue the few hegemonic Emperors, who thousands of rajputs (hindus and muslims) as soldiers both died serving and resisting. This usual drama ensures one thing — a gap between the Rajput histories and modern Hindu rajputs’ memory of it resulting in the latters’ communalization. Therefore the diatribe warrants both deconstruction and filling the lacunae with details.

1. Sahane writesA thousand years ago, Rajput kings ruled much of North India.”

In 11th century Jaisalmer was established by Bhati and Dhundhar (Amer) by Kachwahas, in 14th century Kota-Bundi by Hada Chohans ; in 14th century Mewar was established by Sisodias, in 15th century Marwar and Bikaner by Rathores. None of these dynasties ever ruled much of North India a thousand years ago.

2. He writesHaving been confined to an arid part of the subcontinent by the early Sultans, they were reduced to vassals by the Mughals.”

Some Rajput States, outside Rajasthan that survived as princely states are as follows : (i) Himachal Pradesh: Bilaspur , Nurpur , Guler , Kangra. (History of Panjab Hill states ; Hutchinson and Vogel) . (ii) Uttarakhand: Garhwal.(History of Uttarakhand;Handa) (iii) Madhya Pradesh: Rajgarh, Orchha, Rewa,Ratlam, Alirajpura (iv) Orissa: Sonepur , Mayurbhanj , Patnagarh.(v) Gujarat: Kutch state, Idar, Rajkot , Gondal , Bhavnagar.

Many of these states were formed either during the Delhi Sultanate era or during the Mughal era. Some Muslim Rajput dynasties outside Rajasthan were: Sumra, Samma in Sindh and Janjua Sultanates in Punjab. This process of state formation continued into 19th century with expansion of Dogra state under General Zorawar Kahluria, a Chandel rajput from Himachal with roots in Gondwana. [Kashmir: History and People ; S.R. Bakshi] Thus Delhi Sultanate could not restrict Rajputs to arid parts ;New states evolved during and after them with migrations of soldiers, mercenaries and kins of Rajas. Sahane distorts Rajput demography to suit his gossip.

Lastly, every small state was a vassal to an Empire or a larger state. Shivaji’s own Bhonsle clan were vassals to Bijapur Sultanate until mid-17th century and again became princes in 19th century.

Zorawar Fort , Leh

3. Sahane says “Taking opium was established practice among Rajputs in any case, but they considerably upped the quantity they consumed when going into battle”

Query: Is he sure that it was an established practice among Rajputs irrespective of regions? Did Prithviraj, Sanga and Pratap, who belonged to the wheat-belt of Rajasthan, also consume opium during battles? And was this practice unchanging over the millennium?

4. He says “Then they lost to Ghazni, lost to Ghuri, lost to Khilji, lost to Babur, lost to Akbar, lost to the Marathas, and keeled over before the British.”

Unfortunately individual Rajput states lost to Ghazni, Ghori and Alauddin Khilji , but so did the ruling dynasties of East and South. The Gangas of Orissa , Senas of Bengal, Vijayanagara Empire and the Seunas of Deogiri,allegedly Marathas, ceased to exist while Rajputs survived despite greater proximity to Khyber and Delhi.

The above reflects a major flaw common to all communal pieces — the stereotypical “they”. Until 15th century Rajputs did not even become an endogamous caste and even in British era, Rajput states were not a single polity — evident in different reactions to Mughals, British and Princely states Integration. Each Rajput state had different periods of rise and fall. After Allaudin Khilji exterminated the ruling Gahlot family of Chittor kingdom in 1303, a villager Hammir captured it and also conquered another fallen fort (Ranthambore) establishing Mewar. In 1448, Kumbha defeated the combined alliance of Malwa’s Mahmud Khilji I and Gujarat Sultanate while also oppressing Rathores of Mandore. To him , Rathores and Khiljis were both enemies on different corners of Mewar. The Khilji Sultan’s most famous soldiers were Purbiyas i.e. Bihari Rajputs , experts in firearms . The “they” existed neither in their nor others’ eyes .

Both Emperors Akbar and Babur defeated Rajputs (and Pathans) using Rajputs (and Pathans). The Mughals were a few elite families whose military labor came from Pathans and Rajputs.

Lastly, like most Maratha Kings , the Nawabs and some Sikh Maharajas the Maru Rajas knelt , but Rajputs still fought British. Kunwar Singh of Jagdishpur[1857 The Uprising; Gupta], Ram Pathania of Nurpur state [History of Himachal ; Ahluwalia]and Ram Baksh Singh of Daundia-Khera [History of Indian Mutiny; Kaye and Malleson; p-386]are some examples. The Bhumihar Mangal Pandey belonged to the 34th British Native Infantry, which was Purbia dominated [Dastan-e-Gadar; Dehliv; A U Siddiqui has explored the revolts by Bhagel chiefs of Rewa against their Raja and the British forces in 1857. On the anti-British revolts in Vindhya Pradesh, Siddiqui also mentions the revolts by Chandels and Bundel Rajas and anti-British banditry by Sengar Rajput dacoits. In 20th century Ramprasad Bismil , a Tomar rajput was a founding figure of HSRA, and General Shahnawaz Khan , a Janjua rajput was one of the three officers tried in INA trials. The statement “Rajputs never fought British” is a lie perpetuated by external casteists to alienate the community, which is also coincidentally desired by the internal casteists like Karni Sena.

5. Sahane says “the Rajputs were a spent force by the time Akbar was done with them.”

Quite contrary to it. In Rajasthan, once locally dominant Mewar declined but Jaipur rose out of local obscurity to national prominence becoming the military arm of the Imperial Timurid family.

(1) Until now, Rajput Rajas required alliances and cooperation with Bheel Ranas , Gond Rajas , Jat leaders, Meo leaders etc i.e. other groups to both fight the rival Rajput Rajas and control the Rajputs below himself. For eg. Muslim Sumra rajputs used alliance with Sodhas, Gujars, Bhuttos etc to overthrow Arab Habbari dynasty in Sindh. Sanga required alliance with Rathores, Khanzadas and Lodi Pathans at Khanwa. Pratap Sisodia-Poonja Bheel military alliance and Dalpat-Durgawati matrimonial relationship are the last of such intimate interactions.

Now the pastoral and local Raja is replaced by Sawai Maharajas leading Imperial military operations, mobilizing massive troops across South Asia, a tradition that continues in British era.

Before a Pahadi Rajput would fight in hills for the Hill Rajas or Purbiya Rajput would fight in the gangetic plains for the Bihari Sultans . But now , they would fight in widespread terrians from Kandahar to Sunderbans , a tradition continued in British era as part of Kumaon regiment and Bengal Native Infantry. For ordinary Rajputs, both Mughal and British rules were same — characterised by both naukari and gadar.

2nd Rajput Light Infantry World War I : Flanders, Belgium; Source : here

(2) This is the era when Rajputs become Kshatriyas as Kolff notes that for Rajputs this period is marked by shift from an gregariousand pastoral setup to brahminism and exclusion. Rajput aristoratic culture is born imitating Mughal high culture , reflected in the elaborate titles, obsession with genealogies  and opulent architecture imitating the Imperial rulers (Royal Umbrellas of Stone; Melia Beli Bose). By early 17th century , Rajputs close their ranks and a rigid Rajput caste is born (except in Punjab where Nijjar writes of Rajput-Jat social mobility reflected in British caste-census ; thus Punjabi muslims have villages of Chohan Jats and Khokhar Rajputs). Increased internal hegemony of new Rajputs and the new Rajputs’ reduced dependency on them , causes increased marginalisation of Jats, Meos, Bheels etc.

This period reflects material growth of Rajputs, broadened military exposure with increased movement and unfortunately greater internal hegemony, which are not reflective of a “spent force”. Sadly, liberals like Sahane perpetuate this misconception just as Amarchitrakatha does.

6. Sahane says “To compensate for, or explain away, these debacles, the bards of Rajputana replaced history with legend.”

In the link Sahane has mentioned Padmini narrative. The first Padmini narrative was Malik Muhammad Jaysi’s Padmavat written in 1540 Awadh (UP), which was a love story.

The first Rajasthani narrative was written by a Jain monk , Hemratan, in 1589 Mewar insisting on loyalty of all Rajput ranks towards their Raja , especially in turbulent times. This is evident from its name — Gora Badal Charitra , named after the two heroes(The many lives of a Rajput queen; Sreenivas;pg-3 and pg-67). This inspired Gora Badal Katha patronized by Ahmed Khan Niazi, the Pathan governor of Lahore, in 1628. Syed Alol’s Padmabati followed Jaysi’s original in 1660 Arakan(Burma). In 19th century, Vidyavinod’s Padmini(1906)and Abhanindranath’s Rajkahini (1909) was followed by modern Amarchitrakatha adaptation , which shaped memories of all Hindus including Hindu-Rajputs today.

The original Rajasthani narrative was intermediate contribution and was written with objectives far from what Sahane invents.

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