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Rajput Origins and Traditions

Rajput Origins

The Rajputs of India are comprised of many different tribes. They were known for their valor and chivalry in battle. For centuries, they were India's line of defense against invaders. They proved their chivalry by fighting with honor and the mercy that they showed to the vanquished. When fighting against the hordes of Arabs, Moghuls, Afghans, and Turks, many preferred to die rather than to forsake their ancestors' faith (Hindu dharma) for Islam. While the nations of the Middle East fell in a matter of a few years to the rapid advance of Islam's new followers, the Rajput men and women refused to let them capture India for over 500 years. The heroism and sacrifice displayed by these tribes is undisputed in the chronicles of Indian history.

The concept of the Raja-putra, or "son of a king," is mentioned in Vedic literature. Rajput, a shortened version of Raja-putra, is a name that has come to be associated with various tribes that woul gain political importance in a given region. Because of the fluid social structure in early medieval India, a tribe could gain or lose Rajput status based on its political importance, its occupation, and its survival or extinction. Many tribes over the course of time became extinct because of war, or relocated to another location and changed their names. Traditionally, 36 "royal races," or raj-kul, were known as Rajputs. They were allegedly migrants to India from central Asia who mingled with the aboriginal tribes and were given Kshatriya, or warrior status by the priests. One of these newcomers were the Huns, commonly listed as one of the raj-kul.

During the rule of the British, Lieutenant Colonel Tod visited Rajasthan and attempted to write a definitive list of the 36 Rajput tribes. However, everyone that he spoke to gave him varying lists of tribes. It can thus be concluded that a tribe that had furnished warriors or was politically dominant in a particular region can justly call itself a Rajput tribe.

Of all the Rajput tribes, there are some that deserve special mention. First, there are the Suryavanshi (Solar) Rajputs who are said to have descended from Shri Ram Chander. Second, there are the Chandravanshi (Lunar), or Yaduvanshi Rajputs who are descendants of Shri Krishna's tribe. The most famous Chandravanshi tribe is the Bhatti tribe. There are also several Agni-kul, or tribes born of fire. Although different sources vary, the generally acknowledged Agni-kul are the Chauhans, Parmars, Chalukyas, and the Purihars. The name Chahamana was actually the original name of the Chauhans. The rest of the Rajput tribes are said to have been born of women.

Some Rajput traditions

The Rajput lifestyle was designed to foster a martial spirit. The festival of Rakhi, known as Lakhri in Punjab, is typically held in August. The rakhis, or bracelets, are tied to a brother's wrist by his sisters. The belief amongst Rajputs was that the bracelets would avert evil in battle and designated those who would make a proper return from battle (Tod i.463). This festival was and is still celebrated all over India. Tod described at length the bond between the Rajputs and their swords. The double-edged scimitar known as the khanda was the favorite weapon of the Rajput. On special occasions, a primary chief would break up a meeting of his chiefs with khanda nareal, or a distribution of swords and coconuts (453). In order to attain a greater bond with one's sword, Rajputs revered their swords and conducted the ritual of Karga Shapna during the annual festival of Navratri.

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