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Who are they?
The Rajput people are a proud people whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word Rajputra which means king’s son. The Rajput own rural land and are engaged in agriculture. Some Rajputs are also in trade, government service and an increasing number of doctors and engineers. Landless skilled and unskilled laborers make up the lower end of the Rajput community.
The Rajput are spread over the whole of north India from the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west to Orissa and Assam in the east, including the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar.
The Rajputs claim a distinct recorded history of 5000 years. The Suryavanshi (Solar) and Chandravanshi (Lunar) dynasties, claim descent from the Sun and the Moon respectively. They are mentioned in one of India’s earliest epics, the Mahabharata. During the later medieval Mogul period, the fortunes of some of the Rajput lineages were revived as they became dependent landholders to the Mogul emperor. During the British rule they retained their privileged status as loyal allies of their colonial masters.
The Rajputs hold an envied position in the caste hierarchy; many lesser castes take pride in deriving a Rajput lineage. Generally, the Rajput are materially well off. They are established leaders of society and influential in politics.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Rajput is a landowning community engaged in farming. Some lease out their land. Many are in the Indian army. Rajput military leaders have had regiments named after them during the colonial era. They have benefited from development programs offered by the government. They practice family planning and use modern medical methods.
Literacy is higher in comparison to other castes. They are respected by other caste groups in their social sphere and Brahmins serve them as priests. Most Rajputs eat meat but, as in other high Indian castes, they obey a strict prohibition against beef. Wheat, maize, coarse millet such as jowar, bajra and pulses are the staple diet supplemented by dairy products.
They live in mixed extended families that are entrenched to their joint holding of land. In urban areas, however, the nuclear family is now the norm. The traditional purdah (veil) system which persists in rural areas has almost disappeared in the cities though most women still cover their heads. There is a strict code of decorum in the family and all younger members greet their elders by touching their feet. All the sons inherit equal shares of the property while the eldest succeeds as the head of the family – his word matters in family discussions.
Women avoid contact with all male members except their husbands who are held in very high esteem. The womenfolk of the common farmers work in the fields alongside their men as well as do all the household chores. In cities, educated women can be found in government and other services.
The Rajput community is endogamous, divided into 36 exogamous clans such as the Chauhan, who were the last Hindu dynasty to rule over Delhi, Rathod and Bhati. These clans are then further divided into numerous sub clans. Excepting a small number of Rajput which practice child marriage, all others favour adult marriages with an age difference of 3-4 years between the groom and the bride. Marriages are arranged by family members between the two families. The practice of the bride marrying into a social group with a higher standing than her own is followed.
Monogamy is the prevalent form of marriage, though polygamy is allowed and in aristocratic families is quite common. Rajput women love jewelry. The symbols of matrimony are ivory bangles, bor (conical forehead ornament), a nose stud, sindoor (bright vermilion mark) in the middle hair-parting and the bindi – a colourful dot in the middle of the forehead.
Divorce and widow remarriage are customarily prohibited but this is beginning to change in the urban areas. However, a widower is permitted to remarry. The practice of dowry in cash and kind is very common. The dowry is so burdensome that female infanticide is a consequence. In addition, the father of the bride is obliged to be subservient at all times to the groom and his family.
Traditionally, the Rajputs have village caste councils to settle matters arising out from social disputes. At the district level this assumes the name of a larger assembly, found in every Rajput clan. These councils regulate customs and traditions, do philanthropic work such as building student hostels and providing scholarships for deserving students, as well as penalise any socially deviant behaviour. The Rajput are also referred to as Thakur and play a dominant role in local as well as national level caste politics.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Most of the Rajput are Hindu; the only exceptions being the Ranghar Roghar of Uttar Pradesh who are Muslims and Kinnaura of Himachal Pradesh who are Buddhists. Two clans practice tribal religion, the Puran-Bhanja of Orissa and West Bengal. These non-Hindu communities are not always recognized as Rajput by the others.
Each clan has its specific clan deities which are worshipped daily every morning for good luck and protection against danger. The Rajput worship Shiva’s wife Shakti (power) as their chief goddess who has many other names such as the benign Amba (mother) or fierce destroyer Kali. Although they celebrate most Hindu festivals like Diwali (festival of lights) and Holi (festival of colours), it is the festival of Dusshera which occupies pride of place. On this day they sacrifice goats or fowl at the altar of Shakti and implore her blessings. Feasting takes place after the temple rituals are over.
There are many shrines dedicated to women who have immolated themselves by jumping into their dead husband’s funeral pyre. These women are deified as Sati and women especially pray at these temples. This practice is still highly regarded by the Rajput although it was officially banned by the British in 1827. The last such recorded incidence was as late as 1987 when an 18-year-old Rajput widow threw herself on her husband’s pyre in Deorala village of Rajasthan.
The Rajput conduct pilgrimages to various holy places as Haridwar, Varanasi and Gangotri in Uttar Pradesh. To immerse the ashes of the dead in the holy Ganges River at Haridwar is considered a religious duty by the sons of the deceased.