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A Rajput (possibly from Sanskrit rāja-putra, "son of a king") is a member of a prominent caste who live throughout northern and central India, primarily in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, although not all Rajputs find their origin in Rajasthan.
The term Rajput is in reference to this group's "Jati" which is a social hierarchial status found within the Caste System of Hinduism, originally called the Varna System. The Rajputs are considered the original Kashaktriya descendants, thought to number about 12 million. The Rajputs believe themselves to be descendants of the ancient warrior caste, the Kshatriyas, however Rajputs vary in profession from aristocrats to farmers, but all are warriors. Rajputs are Hindu, and there are also Sikh minorities. There are muslims who claim to be Rajputs, but this is an oxymoron since one must belong to Hinduism in order to be part of the "Jati" system found within the Caste System, once an individual has left Hinduism or any of its sects (i.e. Sikhism, Buddhism etc.) they no longer fit into the order of things and are considered an outcaste.
Rajputs are known for their fierce loyalty to their faith, often choosing death before dishonour and committing great sacrifices for the survival of India and her people. "The Rajputs were the vanguard of Hindu India in the face of the Islamic onslaught."(Reference: Henry Wolpert "History of India" page 86)
Rajasthan is located in northwestern India, near the Khyber Pass route used by most foreign invasions of India, including the Arabs, Afghans, Turks, Mughals, and other Islamic invaders of the Middle Ages. The Rajputs are traditionally martial in spirit, fiercely proud and carry a long history of lineage and tradition. Traditionally, Rajput patriotism is legendary, an ideal they embodied with a fanatical zeal. Rajput warriors were often known to fight until the last man. The Hindu practice of sati (widows would burn themselves on their husbands funeral pyre) was practised most prominently in Rajput communities. Rajputs are known for their sense of honour, chivalry and love of tradition and revelry. They celebrate weddings, festivals and feasts to the Gods with great enthusiasm, customs which are now fading against the scenario of Indian culture which is now being rapidly urbanised and modernised.
Some historians have claimed that some Indo-European tribes like the Scythians (Shaka in Sanskrit) may have intermingled with the descendants of the Aryan Vedic kshatriyas forming the current race of the Rajputs.
The Rajputs are divided into 36 clans, claiming three basic lineages: the Surya Vansi (Solar Race), the Chandra Vansi (Lunar Race), and the Agni kula (Fire Born). One version of the story of Agni kula origins is that four warriors, Agnikul, Yadaukul, Suryakul and Odak, whose names are given to the Rajput clans, sprang from the sacred fire in a ceremony performed by Sage Vashishtha near Mount Abu. Historically the Rajputs refused to accept the spiritual authority of Brahmin priestly caste, and some scions of their noble families even officiate as priests in their Hindu temples; for example, the regent of the House of Mewar is also the high priest of his clan deity, the form of Shiva known as "Ekling ji”.
The Rajputs rose to prominence in Indian history in the ninth and tenth centuries. The four Agni kula clans, the Pratiharas (Pariharas), Chauhans (Chahamanas), Solankis (Chaulukyas), and Paramaras (Parmars), rose to prominence first. The Pratiharas established the first Rajput kingdom in southern Rajasthan, with the Chauhans at Ajmer in eastern Rajasthan, the Solankis in Gujarat, and the Paramaras in Malwa. The Pratiharas rebuffed the Arab invasion of the ninth century. Significant Muslim invasions were then not attempted until the mid eleventh century, largely due to the formidable reputation of the Rajput clans. The Pratiharas later established themselves at Ujjain and ruled Malwa, and afterwards at Kanauj in the Ganges-Yamuna Doab, from which they ruled much of the Ganges plain of northern India in the ninth century. Clans claiming descent from the Solar and Lunar races, who were originally vassals of the other clans, later established independent states. The Chandela clan ruled Bundelkhand after the tenth century, occupying the fortress-city of Kalinjar and building the famous temple-city of Khajuraho. The Tomaras established a state in Haryana, founding the city of Dhiliki (later Delhi) in 736. The Guhilas established the state of Mewar (later Udaipur), and the Kachwaha clan came to rule Amber (later Jaipur). The Rajputs fought each other in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but managed to pull together to resist the incursion of the Turks, who later established the Delhi Sultanate in the early part of the thirteenth century.
The Rajputs were ultimately conquered by the Delhi Sultanate. When the sultanate weakened in the early fifteenth century, the Rajputs reestablished their independence, and the Rajput states were established as far east as Bengal and north into the Panjab. The Tomaras established themselves at Gwalior, and the ruler Man Singh built the fortress which still stands there. Most of the Rajput states lost their independence to the Mughal empire in the sixteenth century, but many Rajput rulers retained local control of their states, and Rajput generals often led Mughal armies. When the Mughal empire declined in the early 18th century, the Rajputs again reestablished their independence, but by the mid-eighteenth century they were under pressure from the Maratha empire. The Rajput princes asked for British protection from the Marathas during the Third Anglo-Maratha War of 1817-1818, and the fifteen Rajput states in the region of Rajputana became princely states in the British Raj. Rajput rulers of Rajputana and elsewhere in India acceded to newly-independent India after 1947, and Rajputana, renamed Rajasthan, became an Indian state in 1950.
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