Sunday, January 29, 2012

Colonial myths on the ancient province Gurjara

In the era of colonial British rule over India, a direct link was sought to be created between the province of "Gurjara", references to which are found in ancient inscriptions and texts, and the latter-day pastoral tribe of Gujjars. The colonial historians were not interested in the subject from the point of view of the Gujjars themselves, but from the entire populace of western and northwestern India, which to them appeared to be radically different from the Indians living in the east and south. The Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research gravely observed in 1912: "There are, moreover, special features of the structure and customs of Rajput and Jat and other northern communities in India which distinguish them from the Brahmanic masses of the interior, and may be attributed to difference of race, perpetuated by many generations of resistance to attacks from the outside." This division of Indian people finds a strange echo in an official note from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to US President Roosevelt in 1942 on why a united India could not be granted independence: "The fighting people of India are from the northern provinces largely antagonistic to the Congress movement. The big population of the low-lying centre and south have not the vigor to fight anybody."

This fighting spirit was attributed to the alleged foreign origin of these northern communities, and the same cause was used to explain the rise of the Pratihara empire and its extension into the Gangetic plains from the west. The more enduring resistance of the Rajput clans in Rajasthan to the Islamic invaders was also attributed to their mythical Scythian ancestry, and as a convenient reason to explain why Rajputs were more "Brahmanical" than the other foreign descent communities. The Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research states: "The contests with the Muslim invader of a few centuries later had the effect of consolidating the Rajput devotion to the scrupulous observance of Brahmanic injunctions as to marriage and intercourse with other castes which specially distinguished them from their foreign oppressors; and to the present day, they stand out from the rest of the community in the high value they attach to these matters."

British civil servant and historian VA Smith, describes how this assumption was transformed into a hypothesis (similar to the Aryan Theory) in his 1914 book The early history of India: "In this place I desire to draw attention to the fact, long suspected and now established by good evidence, that the foreign immigrants into Rajputana and the upper Gangetic provinces were not utterly destroyed in the course of their wars with the native powers.........and there is no doubt that the Parihars and many other famous Rajput clans of the north were developed out of the barbarian hordes which poured into India during the fifth and sixth centuries. The rank and file of the strangers became Gujars and other castes, ranking lower than the Rajputs in the scale of precedence."

Thus the colonial approach to the study of the Gujjar tribe was subsumed to their already established belief that all the peoples in the western half of North India were of foreign descent. The problems of this approach for the wider population was explained in this post: Foreign tribes Indian clans, which shows that there is no evidence for the movement of "hordes" of communities into India during that era, but rather campaigns of states established outside of India by those hordes. In the specific case of the Gujjars the British civil servant and amateur linguist GA Grierson wrote in 1916: "Gurjars, the ancestors of the present Gujars, probably entered India together with Hunas and other marauding tribes in about the sixth century AD and that some of their fighting men became recognized as Rajputs. As may be expected, Gujar herdsmen (as distinct from the fighting Gujars who became Rajputs) are found in greatest number in the North-West of India from the Indus to Ganges."

Dichotomies in linking Gurjara with Gujjar


  • The ancient inscriptions and texts for Gurjara all refer to a territory covering southwest Rajasthan and northern Gujarat. But the pastoral Gujjars live outside this territory: the main population in Punjab and the adjoining sub-Himalayan belt, followed by western Uttar Pradesh, and then the eastern districts of Rajasthan taking the third spot in total numbers.
  • The second dichotomy is that while these inscriptions refer to an orthodox Hindu kingdom, the main population of the Gujjars are either pastoral or agricultural.

These two dichotomies actually became the basis for the hypothesis by Smith, Grierson, Jackson and Bhandarkar. A foreign tribe invaded and settled down in Punjab, but for some unexplained reasons the warlike elements of this tribe separated and traveled further south into Rajasthan where they established a kingdom. The unwarlike elements remained behind and became the ancestors of the pastoral Gujjars. VA Smith was honest enough to admit that this was only a hypothesis and that he had made an astonishing assumption about the term Gurjara referring to a foreign tribe even though: "there is nothing to show what part of Asia they came from or to what race they belonged." And then of course there is the problem of explaining how a tribe from a sparsely populated region outside India, wherever that may be, multiplied in numbers to stand out in an already densely populated, fertile land like India?

Normally a hypothesis is constructed on the basis of certain facts, but the colonial myth makers used their own hypothesis as a base for manufacturing a stupendous new hypothesis....that of a separation of warlike elements from the main tribe and their unexplained migration away from fertile lands and into the desert! Any foreign tribe would be competing for resources with the indigenous population, and purely from the view of self-preservation they would more likely stick together than separate. And the only place where such a tribe would have the ability to establish a kingdom would be the place which the whole tribe inhabits. Flimsy as these multiple hypotheses are, they fall flat on their face under the weight of linguistic evidence:
  • The third dichotomy: even though the Gujjars reside primarily outside Gujarat and southwestern Rajasthan, they speak a language which is a cognate of Rajasthani and Gujarati.

Just like Rajasthani and Gujarati, the Gujari language has its roots in Sanskrit, and has developed from the later corruptions like Prakrit and Apabhramsa spoken in Rajasthan and Gujarat. But the colonial myth makers were not to be deterred by minor things like data and evidence....they constructed yet another hypothesis. That Gujari was the pre-existing language of the foreign tribe, and it has given birth to the languages spoken in Rajasthan and Gujarat, rather than the other way round! On linguistic grounds this hypothesis doesn't stand because the use of Apabhramsa in literature can be dated to centuries before the term Gurjara emerged. But even if this flimsy hypothesis is accepted, the big question then arises: why did this foreign language not affect the languages of Punjab, where this alleged foreign tribe allegedly first entered and where the largest population lives? Linguistic data shows that Gujari shares characteristics of the languages in the Rajasthani and Gujarati group which became more pronounced between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Gujari language cannot be dated to a previous period, and certainly not back to the 6th century, for the simple reason that spoken languages cannot be unchanged for a 1000 years (see language development and history).
  • Lastly, there are several other communities that still bear the cognomen of Gurjara. These communities are strictly non-tribal and have no connections to the pastoral Gujjars.

Communities like the Gurjar Kshatriyas, Gurjar Vanias, Gurjar Jains, and Gurjar Oswals, all live in the state of Gujarat and speak the Gujarati language. The other distinctive feature for these communities is the smallness of their numbers in the population of Gujarat. The Gurjar Oswals trace their origin to the Rajasthani town of Osian, which we know was an important religious center under the Imperial Pratiharas as well as the Mandor Pratiharas, and which contains the earliest specimens of the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The Gurjar Jains and Gurjar Vanias are largely found in Kutch and claim a Rajasthani Rajput ancestry. The Gurjar Kshatriyas are mostly craftsmen and artisans who again trace their ancestry to Rajasthan, and claim to have originally been Rajputs. They too are located primarily in Kutch and Saurashtra. The ancient province of Gurjara was confined to northern Gujarat and southwest Rajasthan; it did not include the virtual island of Kutch or the peninsula of Saurashtra. That is why communities migrating from southwest Rajasthan into these latter regions would keep the cognomen of "gurjara".

The colonial historians manufactured yet another hypothesis to explain this last dichotomy: namely that these tiny communities bearing the cognomen Gurjara were probably part of the invading "horde" all following different professions like trade, craftsmanship, finance, etc! They couldn't be bothered about providing any explanation to the obvious follow up to this fantastic new assumption: if these different communities were all part of the invading horde, why don't we find them anywhere in places where the alleged horde allegedly settled in greatest numbers: namely Punjab and the northwest, J&K, western Uttar Pradesh, and east Rajasthan? Why are they all found only in Gujarat? The location and numbers of these communities all prove beyond any doubt that they take their name from Gurjara, which was the name of a province in ancient times.

The case of the Gurjara Brahmans


The colonial historians tied themselves up in knots in these frantic efforts to connect the Gurjara province with a foreign pastoral tribe, then the latter with the warlike Rajputs, and further to trace communities of traders and craftsmen. The crowning foolishness on top of these colonial myths was the unexplained geographical separation of this hodge-podge of communities. But there was another knot in this twisted tale. Some of them now claimed that just as a warlike segment of the invading horde became Pratihara Rajputs, that horde also had a priestly class, which became known as Gurjara Brahmans who are today found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. The obvious riposte to this assumption is the same as for the other Gujarat-based communities: If the Gurjara Brahmans are indeed "high priests" of the mythical gurjar race, why aren't they found co-inhabiting the main settlements of that tribe in Punjab??

The biggest stumbling block for this convenient new hypothesis is that while Pratiharas were a clan of Rajputs, Gurjara Brahmans are not a clan.....they're not even a community of Brahmans. In fact, Gurjara Brahman is a geographical grouping of Brahman communities found in Gujarat and Rajasthan. As a word of explanation, Brahman communities in India are grouped geographically, into five North Indian provinces (hence called the Pancha Goud) and into five South Indian provinces (the Pancha Dravida). Intriguingly, while the Gurjara province was located in Western India, it is included in the Pancha Dravida primarily because the Brahman communities in this grouping are strict about not eating meat, just like the Brahmans in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Gurjara Brahman grouping also has Brahman clans from the North Indian group. A case in point being the Goud Gurjara, who are Goud Brahmans that settled down in Gurjara. The example of the Gurjara Brahmans again proves that Gurjara was the name of a province in ancient times, and certainly not the name of an "invading horde" of multiple communities! The map above shows the location of the twin provinces of Maru (Marwar) and Gurjar (Gujarat) as well as the main population centers of the pastoral Gujjars (in green) and those of the Gurjara Brahmans (in pink). Compare these to the map showing the Parihar Rajput settlements around the old bases of the Pratiharas.

Indian Historians on the term Gurjara


The early Indian Historians could not escape the established belief of the British rulers that the inhabitants of Western India were "more warlike and less Brahmanical" than the people of the interiors. DR Bhandarkar transcribed the inscriptions in the Gurjara territory along with AMT Jackson, and naturally followed the prevailing viewpoint. He went a step further and opined that apart from the Pratiharas, other Rajput clans like the Chauhans and Solankis were also of foreign origin but cited no evidence for this speculation. The nationalist historian RC Majumdar accepted the hypothesis of Gurjara being the name of an invading tribe, and of the Pratihara Rajputs emerging from it, but asserted that the other Rajput clans had an indigenous origin. But in the defence of these Indian historians it must be said that the linguistic data on the pastoral Gujjars was then only being compiled, and the study on language development from Sanskrit to Prakrit to Apabharamsa was still in its infancy. The evidence of language contradicts the foreign tribal origin of the term Gurjara, but there were Indian historians even in that period who opposed this hypothesis on other rational grounds.

As far back as 1925, the historian CV Vaidya lashed out at the: "unaccountable tendency in antiquarians of India to assign foreign and Scythic origin to each and every forward people found in Indian history. Thus the Jats and even the Rajputs are assigned a foreign and a Scythic origin. If the Jats, the Gujars, and the Rajputs with their clearly Aryan features are foreigners and Scythians where are the Indo-Aryans, those people who spoke the Aryan Sanskrit or Vedic language....have they disappeared?" Similarly Dashratha Sharma the Rajasthan historian asserted that Gurjara was the name of a province. Another stalwart historian from Gujarat, KM Munshi, emphatically rejected the colonial myths on the term Gurjara: "there is no evidence to prove that the Gurjara Gaur Brahmanas, the Srimala Brahmanas, the Poravada and Osavala Kshatriyas, and the corresponding Vaisyas were of foreign extraction." The theory of Gurjara being the name of a foreign tribe was contradicted on the lack of references in the historical texts, the many reference to Gurjara being a province, the linguistic affinity of Gujari to Rajasthani, and the existence of various communities taking their cognomen Gurjara from the province. The hypothesis now rests entirely on some speculative translations of Pratihara inscriptions.

For instance in the Jodhpur inscriptions, Rohilladdhi and Pellapelli are alternative names used for two Pratihara rulers. These untranslated words could just be colloquial but the colonial historians have taken these to be "proof" of foreign origin....even though these words have not been translated to this day nor have they been linked to any foreign language. In all probability they have a folk origin, as many other untranslated words and phrases in Rajasthani do even today. In the Rajor inscription dated 959 CE, Malthandeva, a feudatory of the Imperial Pratiharas, describes himself as a Pratihara from Gurjara (gurjara-pratiharanvayah) but the colonial historians speculated that this actually means Pratihara clan of the Gurjara tribe. However in most cases the clan is named first and the tribe second (as in Chechi Gujjar). Another line in this inscription refers to "all the neighbouring fields cultivated by (the inhabitants of) Gurjara" (Tathaitat pratyasanna Sri Gurjjara vahita samasta-ksetra sametah) and this is speculated to mean that there was a Gurjara tribe living in that territory engaged in farming. But this contradicts the whole hypothesis that only the warlike elements of the foreign tribe colonized Rajasthan....unless they're claiming that these mythical Gurjara rulers were also doing farming on the side! The inscription is only talking of the general inhabitants of Gurjara province and not to any tribe, for otherwise Gujjars in more substantial numbers should have been settled here, just as the Parihar Rajputs are.

Oral traditions of the Gujjars


In most places the oral traditions of the Gujjar populace point to a pastoral origin from Rajasthan/Gujarat. A minuscule population of Gujjars settled in Jhalwan, Balochistan, trace their ancestry to Delhi and speak the Sindhi language. In the same province, the Gujjars of the Makran region point to Mewar in Rajasthan as their original home. In NWFP the Gujjars speak Hindko and claim to be descendants of Hindu Rajputs. In the Punjab the Gujjars speak a mixture of Gojari and Punjabi and claim a Rajput ancestry....usually by the marriage of a Rajput chief of a particular clan with a Gujjar lady. They too trace their migration into Punjab from the south: Rajasthan or Gujarat. In the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri the 16th century Mughal ruler Jehangir describes how the district of Gujrat got its name: "I crossed the river by a bridge which had been built there, and my camp was pitched in the neighbourhood of the pargana of Gujrat. At the time when His Majesty Akbar went to Kashmir, a fort had been built on that bank of the river. Having brought to this fort a body of Gujars who had passed their time in the neighbourhood in thieving and highway robbery, he established them here. As it had become the abode of Gujars, he made it a separate pargana, and gave it the name of Gujrat. They call Gujars a caste which does little manual work and subsists on milk and curds."

There is a substantial Gujjar population in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The 12th century Rajatarangini which deals with the history of Kashmir and the neighborhood mentions a number of tribes, like Dards, Khasas, Bhuttas, etc who are still found there, but no mention is made of a Gujjar tribe. This can only mean that they migrated to the western Himalayas in a very late period. The Gujjars in J&K speak the Gojari language and state that their ancestors came from Gujarat...not surprisingly they are mostly vegetarians. From J&K the Gujjars have spread into Himachal Pradesh; first into Chamba and later into Sirmaur, where they are still called Jammuwala Gujjars. In all the places discussed above the Gujjars are Muslims and trace their conversion either to the invasion of Timur in the 14th century or to the reign of Aurangzeb in the 17th century. There is one intriguing point with regard to the Gujjar population in Punjab and the western Himalayas which cements the linguistic evidence of their Rajasthani rather than foreign origins:
  • It is significant that the Gujjars living in Punjab trace their connection more with the Rajputs of Rajasthan and not with the local Punjabi tribes. There are for instance no Janjua Gujjars, or Khokkar Gujjars, or Awan Gujjars.
  • Similarly Gujjars living in the western Himalayas do not share any connection with the locally prominent Rajput clans. There are no Jamwal Gujjars or Katoch Gujjars.

In western Uttar Pradesh the majority of Gujjars are Hindus. In this region too they trace a pastoral descent and a connection to Rajputs. They had a more warlike reputation than their brethren in the northwest; Gujjar strongholds were noted in the 18th century and Gujjars took part in the region's uprising against the British in the 19th century. Further south in Central India the minuscule population of Gujjars are primarily pastoral and unwarlike. Here some of the Gujjars claim to have migrated from Gujarat, others claim to have been created by Sri Krishna, and some others by Bhagwan Brahma. They share some clan names with Rajputs while others are called after villages, titles or natural objects.

It is in Rajasthan that the oral traditions of the Gujjars approach anything close to recorded history, even though their population here is less in numbers and restricted to the eastern districts. Here the Gujjars are closely associated with Rajputs and provide nurses for their families. Even in the case of the Jat rulers of Bharatpur the 1908 Imperial Gazetteer reports: "There are two main endogamous divisions of Gujars, namely Laur and Khari; and in Bharatpur the former has the privilege of furnishing nurses for the ruling family." The Charbhujaji Temple in Chittorgarh was constructed in the 15th century by Maharana Mokal, the Sisodia Rajput ruler of Mewar, and it has been managed by the Gujjars living in the neighborhood. Gujjars are further associated with Mewar through the folk deity Devnarayan also known as Deoji.

The legend of Devnarayan: This Deoji was born in the now unknown Bagrawat clan, as an incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu, and is worshiped by Gujjars, by Kumhars (potters) and Balais (weavers). In Rajasthan his shrines are at Puvali and Bunjari while in neighboring MP there is a Dev-Narayana temple (built in the 17th century) at Dev-Pipaliya. There is also a temple of his father Sawai Bhoj at Asind in the Bhilwara district. There are different stories about this Bagrawat clan; while all of them agree on the Bagrawats having a Rajput origin on the father's side, the mother's community is reported variously. According to a 20th century translation of the Dev Narayan phad rendered by Gujjar Bhopas, the clan originates from a Rajput warrior who slew a tiger (bagh) and married a Brahman woman. The Gujjars are depicted as following the pastoral profession and having been born from a holy cow; in this version they become associated with the Bagrawats through the marriage of Gujjar women with Bagrawat men. An older version of this legend is given in the 1913 MSS of bardic chronicles: "The word Bagravat means bigra hua, that is, those who have become perverse. They are said to have been descended from the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer by their connection with Bania women. The Bagravats were 24 brothers and a sister.....They suddenly became very wealthy and spent all their money in wine, women and sensual enjoyments. Bhoj was the most celebrated of the 24 brothers. When a man lavishly spends his money in enjoyments he is compared to Bhoj Bagravat. Bhoj had a son named Deo, commonly called Deoji, who started a new sect called the Bhopas. The Bagravats had a settlement at the village of Harsa near Bilada where their temple and their embankments are still in existence. There is an inscription in the temple dated about 1230 VS." The version told to Colonel Tod in the 19th century puts the origin of the clan to a Chauhan Rajput father and Gujar mother.

The subsequent tale of the Bagrawats also has different renderings, but to summarize: they are allied with the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer, and in conflict with the Parihar Rajputs of Ratankot (or Ran or Ran-Binai in other versions). This would date the legend to the 12th century; but Dev Narayan is also associated with the Sesodia Rajputs of Mewar and the founding of Udaipur, which took place more than 400 years later, and is evidently a later addition. The tale of Deoji has similarities to the tales of other folk deities of Rajasthan like Pabuji Rathod, who is worshiped by Rabaris or camel herders, and Ramdevji who is worshiped by the leather-working Meghwals. All these tales depict how Rajputs of poor means or mixed origins become associated with the lower castes.

Last rites of the colonial myths


As seen above, the highly speculative colonial hypotheses on the Gurjara province, the Gurjara Brahmans, and the pastoral Gujjars, are a mass of contradictions and are countered by textual references and linguistic evidence. The last remaining piece of the puzzle is the population distribution of the pastoral Gujjar tribe: what alternative hypothesis can explain why they are primarily found outside the ancient territory of Gurjara?

The oral traditions of the Gujjars leave no doubt as to their pastoral origins from Rajasthan. It can be speculated that a severe drought drove them to seek shelter in the relatively fertile eastern Aravalli Hills of Mewar. Here they were called Gujjars because they had migrated from that province, and it is here that their earliest historical memories are found. A pastoral people would primarily be in search of fresh grazing ground for their flocks; the densely forested and riverine tracts of the Gangetic plains do not afford such grazing. But the drier plains of Punjab do and it is here that the Gujjars have migrated in greatest number, absorbing along the way several other communities in their midst, but still preserving at the core a cognate of the Rajasthani language. The turmoil of the medieval Turk invasions would have compelled many to seek shelter in the western Himalayas where they still speak the purest form of this language.
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Friday, January 20, 2012

Imperial Pratiharas as the first of the Rajput clans

The identity of the Rajput clans of Rajasthan and neighboring regions was forged by the fire and hammer of foreign invasions; whether of the Turk and Mughal invasion in medieval times, or of the Saka and Kushan invasions of the ancient era. The resistance to the latter set of invaders has been described in Indian warrior clans. The older clans dwindled away and new clans were born, and these took up the burden of fighting another set of invaders, the Huns of the 6th century and the Arabs of the 8th century. The limited impact of the Hun incursions and their aftermath are summed up by the historian KM Munshi: "The Hunas disappeared as they came. The Gupta Empire, grown very weak, was dissolved; the virile Maukharis emerged victorious. But with their rise began a new phase in Indian History. Kanauj emerged as the symbol of a new order. The Golden Prime of India became a thing of the past; the military superiority of Magadha disappeared. Out of the welter emerged a set of new dynasties: the Maukharis of Kannauj, the Pushpabhutis of Thaneswar, the Maitrakas of Vallabhi and the Chalukyas of Badami. The Pallavas of Kanchi alone among the old dynasties continued to flourish. In the west, the warrior clans of what is now Rajasthan, living in the region of Mount Abu and descended from Brahmin ancestors, emerged from obscurity as a closely knit hierarchy with the Pratiharas at their head." It is in fighting the Arabs that this hierarchy of Rajput clans rose to prominence and continued to retain power in that part of India down to the 20th century.

The rise of the Arabs as a military power in the seventh century is the most significant factor of world history. At the height of their power, the Arabs captured Sindh in 712 CE and launched a major offensive into Western India around 725 CE. Some of the petty states in their path claimed victory against these foreigners, which can only mean that the Arabs could not capture their fortified towns, but prevailed in field-battles because their advance continued up to Ujjain. Here for the first time they were defeated by Nagabhatta of the Pratihara clan, so completely that they retreated out of western India altogether back to their refuge of Sindh.

In the Gwalior inscription of his descendants, Nagabhatta is represented as having "crushed the large armies of the powerful Mlechha king." Nagabhatta attained prominence with this victory; at the same time he took advantage of the Arab convulsion of the other petty states to immediately launch his own military campaign against them. He thus raised the Pratiharas to imperial status. Under his grandson Vatsaraja (783 CE) this imperial power spread into the Gangetic plains, and under Vatsaraja's son Nagabhatta II (815 CE) it is stated that "the kings of Sindhu, Andhra, Vidarbha and Kalinga succumbed to the power of Nagabhata as moths do unto fire." All this while the Rajput confederacy continued battling the Arabs, ultimately breaking their power in the late 9th century. A description of the military power of the Rajputs, is provided by the Arab merchant Sulaiman in 851 CE, when the Pratihara ruler was Bhoja: "This king maintains numerous forces, and no other Indian prince has so fine a cavalry. He is unfriendly to the Arabs, still he acknowledges that the king of Arabs is the greatest of kings. Among the princes of India there is no greater foe of the Muhammadan faith than he."

From contemporary literature the titles prevalent among the Rajputs were: baladhikrta (a military officer put in charge of a town), mahayudhapati (officer in charge of the arsenal), mahapratihara (chief of the palace guards), pilupati, asvapati and paikkadhipati (commanders of the elephant, horse and infantry forces). The kottapala was an officer in charge of a kotta or fort. Samantas were feudatory chieftains and nobility of the Pratiharas and other Rajput clans, Rajasthaniyas were viceroys, while Rajaputras were the royal princes, sons of the reigning kings of each clan. Other military and feudal titles were: Mahasamantadhipati, Mahasamanta, Mahamandalika, raja, rajakula (later known as Rawal), senani, Thakkura (the Thakur of later times) and Kanaka. The military camp for the Rajput armies was called skandhavara, and a description of the Rajput soldiers in the Yasastilaka champu is given as follows:
  1. They had dhotis coming up to knees.
  2. Their loins were girt with daggers mounted on the handles of buffalo horns.
  3. The close and dense growth of hair that covered their bodies, constituted as it were, armour for their entire body.
  4. They appeared to be three-headed on account of quivers on both the right and left sides of their heads.
  5. They surpassed even Krpa, Krpadharma, Karna, Arjuna, Drona, Drupada, Bhaga and Bhargava in shooting arrows swiftly, vigorously and accurately at distant objects.

What sets apart the Pratihara Empire from their contemporaries and predecessors is the sheer number, and near independent status, of their feudatory and allied clans. It is intriguing that some of these bigger clans claimed the same imperial status as the Pratiharas, by assuming the titles of Maharajadhiraja and Maharaja, and portrayed their relationship with the Pratiharas as an alliance in which they provided military aid in times of need. At other times they could field their armies in independent pursuits of power, and sometimes in contests against their overlord. The Pratiharas would not, or could not, suppress these alternate centers of power and this weakened their polity. On the other hand it gave a kind of stability to the region in that the fall of one clan to foreign invasion only gave an opportunity to another clan for filling the power vacuum and continuing the fight against that invader. The legacy of the contemporary Rashtrakutas and Palas is lost in the pages of history, but that of the Rajput clans has lasted thousands of years, right down to the 20th century.

These Rajput warriors were linked together as equals in the muster roll of 36 ruling clans (Chhattis Rajkul) which became the bedrock of Rajput identity in Rajasthan. The downside of this arrangement was that these warrior clans spent a great amount of time in internecine contests, stabilized on rare occasions by the rise of one power like the Pratiharas. Whenever such clan-confederacies emerged in Rajput history they projected their power into the Gangetic plains in the same manner as the Pratihara Rajputs had done: under the Chauhan Rajputs in the 12th century when Delhi and southern Punjab were captured, and then under the Sesodia Rajputs in the 16th century when the battle for the mastery of the Gangetic plains was fought at Khanua. At all other times these states, even those ruled by branches of the same clan, fought each other, as illustrated in the case of the rulers of Mandor, in west Rajasthan, who also belonged to the Pratihara clan. While the history of the Imperial Pratiharas is given in the Gwalior inscription of Bhoja, that of the Mandor Pratiharas is given in Jodhpur inscription of Bauka Pratihara. From these inscriptions it becomes clear that Mandor was the original kingdom of the Pratiharas, and younger members of the line established separate kingdoms in other parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. The senior line of Mandor had to submit to the junior line in the wake of the latter's victory over the Arabs, but reasserted their independence whenever the power of the Imperial Pratiharas was weakened. Both families constructed temples at the important religious center of Osian in west Rajasthan.

The town of Osian is built around the Sachiyamata hill, which is crowned by the Sachiyamata temple. The present construction dates to the 12th century and later, but the original temple is dated to the 8th century. Worship continues at this temple to this day, as it does at the Mahavira Jain temple, which was built by Vatsaraja of the Imperial Pratihara line. It is believed that of all the ancient temples at Osian, the Vishnu and Surya temples were constructed by the Imperial Pratiharas while the Saiva and Sakti temples were built by the Mandor Pratiharas. The latter increasingly after the 9th century when the Imperial line's power was centered more and more around Kannauj and Gwalior.

Links of the Pratihara with Brahmins, Bhandi, and Gurjara


Both the Imperial Pratiharas and the Mandor Pratiharas claimed the status of Suryavanshi Kshatriyas of the Ikshvaku clan of Sri Rama through his brother Lakshmana. The two differ marginally on how the term Pratihara originates with Lakshmana: inscriptions of the Imperial line claims that Lakshmana repelled the enemies under Meghanada, during the battle with Ravana, hence performing the duties of a pratihara (protector) while the Jodhpur inscription says that he performed this duty while guarding Sita. The term pratihar/pratihari originally was used for a palace guard or common soldier (its modern form in Hindi is prahri), but in the early medieval times the Mahapratihara had become the title of an important general. It is entirely conceivable that the Pratihara Rajputs had an ancestor who was such a general in some kingdom who later established his own rule, and his descendants carried on the clan name as Pratihara. Later they associated this title with the epic hero Lakshmana. In late medieval times the agnikula legend (warriors being created from a fire-pit by Brahmins at Mt Abu) was associated with four Rajput clans, including the Pratiharas, more as glorification than actual historicity. There are some other intriguing references in the old inscriptions:

Brahmin ancestry - The inscription of the Mandor Pratiharas states that their ancestor Harichandra was a Brahman who took up arms in the place of studying scriptures. Harichandra had two wives, a Brahmin woman (who is not given any title) from whom the Pratihara Bramins emerged, and a Kshatriya woman (who is given the title of queen) whose sons became Pratihara Rajputs. The inscription says, "those who were born of Queen Bhadra became drinkers of wine", which is a trait identified with the Rajputs. Each of her four sons are named individually, but the sons of the Brahmin wife are not even mentioned. And further no clan of Parihar Brahmins is mentioned in later history while Parihar Rajputs are still to be found. From the inscriptions of other Rajput clans it becomes clear that Brahmin status is additionally accorded to some of their rulers either because they gained proficiency in studying scriptures, or because as rulers they performed some religious functions. The Jodhpur inscription also says that the four sons of Harichandra built a large rampart round the fort of Mandavyapura (Mandor) which was gained by their own prowess. Forts cannot be built, or towns captured, without an existing army.

Bhati and Bhandi clans - Siluka, a ruler of the Mandor Pratihara line, is said to have defeated Bhattika Devaraj who was initially identified with Devaraja of the Imperial Pratihara line. But the reference to Bauka Pratihara's mother Padmini as belonging to the Bhati clan of Rajputs in that same inscription, suggests that Bhattika Devaraj was the ruler of the Bhati clan whose territories were in the Jaisalmer district, to the northwest of Mandor. Their old capital was Lodurva and after the initial battles, peace was made between the two clans by a matrimonial alliance. In the Gwalior inscription it is stated about Vatsaraja of the Imperial line that "with strong bows as his companion he forcibly wrested (hathad-agrahit) the empire (samrajyam), in battle from the famous Bhandi clan, hard to be overcome by reason of the rampart made of infuriated elephants." Some historians identify this Bhandi clan as the same as the Bhati Rajputs; this would explain why the Imperial Pratiharas wrested "the empire" from them as they were allied to the Mandor Pratiharas. Other historians take Bhandi to be the name of a clan located in UP because Bhandi was the name of a maternal uncle of Harshvardhana, the ruler of Kannauj.

Gurjara province - The Rajasthani hill-station of Mt Abu was the geographical and spiritual center of a territory known in ancient times as Gurjara. This territory covered northern Gujarat and southwest Rajasthan, and it shared a cultural affinity with the neighboring region of Maru, covering western Rajasthan. In more modern times, Gurjara evolved into Gujarat, while Maru became Marwar. The domain of the Mandor Pratiharas covered both these regions and the temples built at Osian are categorized under the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The agnikula legend of later times also points to Mt Abu as the original home of the Pratiharas. This is why the Pratihara rulers are sometimes described as Gurjara, Gurjararaja, Gurjaranatha, in the records of their contemporaries. Another related principality of this era was Nandipuri in southern Gujarat, which was founded by Dadda, who is identified with the youngest son of Harichandra Pratihara. This family claims to have been born in the lineage of the kings of Gurjara (Gurjara nripa vamsa) but the clan name of Pratihara is missing from all their records. It is plausible that Gurjara was the original name of a clan based in Mt Abu, after whom the territory got its name, and which sent different branches south into Gujarat and north into Mandor. However no record of such a clan has been unearthed. And if the Pratiharas of Mandor were descended from such a clan, it is inexplicable that the name Gurjara as used in the sense of a clan, is completely missing from their records or those of the Imperial Pratiharas. A separate blog post is required for the wild hypotheses of colonial historians on the ancient Gurjara province.

There are many more references to Gurjara as a province, than as a clan. The Kuvalayamala, was composed in Prakrit by Uddotana in 779 CE, at Jalor in Rajasthan at the same time as the Pratihara empire was being formed. It makes reference to the adjoining territories of Maru, Malava, Gurjar, Lata, Madhyadesa, Takka, and Sindhu. The 7th century Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang has spoken of a kingdom in Rajasthan as follows: "The king is of the Kshatriya caste. He is just twenty years old, He is distinguished for wisdom and he is courageous. He is a deep believer in the law of Buddha and highly honours men of distinguished ability." Hiuen Tsang named this kingdom ku-che-lo, which can be identified as Gurjara, with its capital at pi-lo-mo, usually identified with Bhinamalla near Mt Abu. In Bana's Harsha Charita it is said that in the 6th century Prabhakarvardhana of Thaneswar (in modern Haryana) fought the Hunas (lingering on in the Punjab and Kashmir), the king of Sindhu (modern Sindh), the king of Gurjara (Gujarat+SW Rajasthan), the lord of Gandhara (northwest), the ruler of Lata (southern Gujarat), and that of Malava (western Madhya Pradesh). Even in more modern times the word Gujar was being used in territorial sense, rather than tribal, in certain parts of India. For instance the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer reports that in Marwar the word Gujar is used to designate Gujarat. Meanwhile the 1883 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency reports that in Maharashtra vani (traders) were named after the provinces of their origin; hence the word Gujar meant a Gujarat Vani while Marwari was used for a Marwar Vani. Apart from these references there are numerous communities still bearing the cognomen of Gurjar, pointing to its geographical origin, the most prominent of whom are the Gurjara Brahmins.

Parihar Rajput settlements around the old bases of the Pratiharas


The line of Imperial Pratiharas at Kannauj, which rose to power in the wake of the Arab invasion, was finally extinguished 300 years later during the Turk invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni. But the wider clan of Pratihara Rajputs, and their other bases like Mandor and Gwalior, continued to survive till a much later period. Over the centuries the clan name Pratihara evolved into Parihar and variants like Purihar and Padhiar. In Rajasthan the Parihar Rajputs have numerous sub-clans like Indha, Ramawat, Juda, Lulapota, Nadhat, and Sindhal, which is not surprising considering their long rule in Mandor. The above map shows how the population of Parihar Rajputs is located close to the major Pratihara strongholds.

Parihar Rajputs of Mandor - After a revival in the 10th century, the old line of Mandor Pratiharas saw a decline in their power, and became feudatory to the newer powers like the Paramars from Malwa, and later to the Chauhans of Nadol and Ajmer. The Mandor Pratihars were part of the Rajput confederacy under the Chauhans of Ajmer which was ended by the death of Prithviraja on the fatal field of Tarain in 1192. But it took another 100 years of constant warfare before the Delhi sultanate could project its power on Rajputana; in 1292 Mandor was conquered by Jalaluddin Khalji. The Parihar ruler and his family eluded captivity and found refuge in the neighboring Bhati Rajput kingdom of Jaisalmer. As per the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer, Purihar Rajputs were still to be found in that desert region. Mandor itself was under Muslim rule for the next 100 years; but it seems that only the city was occupied by the Turk governors and their soldiers while the remaining land was held by the Parihar Rajputs. The full story of this period is not before us; but we can assume that time and again the Parihars tried to overthrow the interlopers and were unsuccessful. At other times they paid land revenue and provided military service to the Turks.

What saved the Parihars from annihilation was the underlying strength of the Rajput clan system, described earlier, in that newer clans were always emerging to take on the mantle of resistance against the invaders. Guerrilla warfare by these Rajput clans led to the liberation of Rajputana in the late 14th century, while some nearby parts of India remained under the Turks. In the case of Mandor, the Rathor Rajputs had emerged from the district of Kher to become the dominant power in the Marwar region, and in 1382 they conquered Mandor from the Muslims. Mandor became the capital of the Rathor rulers until Jodhpur was established in the 15th century; the cenotaphs of their rulers are still to be found here. The Parihars were assimilated under the Rathors as feudatories and numbers of them are to be found in Jodhpur. Some of them joined in the Rathor expansion further north; Rao Bika the founder of Bikaner had a prominent general named Bela Parihar and not surprisingly Parihar Rajputs are to be found in that part of Rajasthan as well. Poorer members of this clan seemed to have joined the ranks of the other communities, such are the Parihar Meenas and Parihar Kolis. An interesting family of businessmen (seth), who were previously armourers, carry the clan name Parihar and trace their history to Mandore: Curious House.

The Parihar Rajputs in Marwar still had the numbers and resources to impact the polity centuries later. In the 17th century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Rathor kingdom of Marwar and Jadunath Sarkar writes: "A strong force was sent into Marwar under Sarbuland Khan, and a fortnight later the emperor himself started for Ajmer to direct the conquest of the state. Anarchy and slaughter were let loose on the doomed province. The nationalist party was threatened by a host of enemies. The Parihars — the dispossessed ancient lords of the land and the hereditary enemies of the Rathor interlopers — tried to revive their historic kingdom of Gurjara-Pratihara by seizing Mandor, the ancient capital, 5 miles north of Jodhpur."

Ujjain - Another base for the Pratiharas was Ujjain. In the 11th century it came under the Parmara Rajputs but pockets of Parihar settlements still abound in the region spanning MP, Gujarat, and southeast Rajasthan. The 12th century Prithviraja Vijaya names Jaggadeva Pratihara as a general in the Solanki Rajput kingdom of Gujarat. In the 15th century the state of Umeta, situated due west of the city of Baroda, was established by a Padhiar Rajput named Jhanjarji.

Gwalior - the strategic fort of Gwalior contains some of the oldest records the Parihar Rajputs. But like Ujjain, it too fell to newer powers like the Chandellas and the Kacchapaghatas. In 1196 CE the latter clan were uprooted by the Turks of the Delhi sultanate. But once again the staying power of the Rajput clan confederacy was displayed when fifteen years later the Parihar Rajput chief Vigraha defeated the Muslims. His descendants held Gwalior for half a century and were only expelled by Sultan Balban in 1258. The Parihar Rajputs from Gwalior established important states in the adjoining regions that lasted till the modern era. One was Alipura in Bundelkhand and the other was Nagod, in Baghelkhand. Since Nagod has been a Parihar Rajput stronghold concurrently with Gwalior, it is depicted on the map along with the other Pratihara strongholds.

Nagod state is described in some detail by the Archaeological Survey of India (1874) covering Alexander Cunningham's tour of Central India: "Uchahara is a small town and railway station on the high road between Allahabad and Jabalpur, and six miles to the south-west of Bharhut. The town gives its name to the chiefship of a Parihar Raja, who is, however, better known now as the Raja of Nagod......From the late Minister of the Uchahara State, I learned that the Parihar chiefship was older than that of the Chandels of Mahoba, as well as that of the Baghels of Rewa......The great lake at Bilhari, called Lakshman Sagar, is said to have been made by Lakshman Sen Parihar; and the great fort of Singorgarh, still farther to the south, contains a pillar bearing the name of a Parihar Raja. The family has no ancient records, and vaguely claims to have come from Abu-Sikhar in the west (Mount Abu), more than thirty generations ago....The great ruined fortress of Singorgarh commands the Jabera pass leading through the hills between Jabalpur and Damoh and Saugor. It is true that the old fort is not of great size; but its name would appear to have been derived from a certain Gaj Singh Pratihar, according to an inscription of 8 lines which is recorded on a square stone pillar....in which the hill is called Gaja-Singhadurggye. The monolith is called kirtti-stambha, or the 'pillar of fame.' It was set up in the Samvat year 1364, or AD 1307. The whole of this part of the country would appear to have belonged to the Parihars or Pratihars as we find was actually the case in A. D. 1307, when these monoliths were erected."

Kannauj - A large colony of Parihar Rajputs is to be found in the Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh, with the Raja of Malhajini at their head. The Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh similarly has Parihar settlers, no doubt originating from their ancestral base of Kannauj. Another colony of Parihar Rajputs is in the Hamirpur district; they call themselves descendants of the celebrated Parihar Raja, Jajhar Singh of Hamirpur, who settled there from Marwar.
Read More......

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shivaji's Rajput ancestry

It is said that Gaga Bhatta accepted the fabricated genealogy for Shivaji, tracing his descent from the Sesodia Rajputs of Mewar, which had been prepared by Balaji Avji. After that Shivaji was crowned as king in 1674. For the practices to be followed in the coronation, Shivaji consulted ancient texts, and sent agents to the powerful Rajput kingdoms in the north to study their customs. In a letter to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Shivaji acknowledges their contemporary, Rana Raj Singh of Mewar as "the head of the Hindus". It is said that Shivaji claimed Rajput ancestry because there was no independent Hindu power left in southern India.

When he attempted to convert the Mughal empire into an Islamic state, Aurangzeb first attacked the Rajput kingdoms, because they were powerful and covered a vast expanse of northern India. The Maratha principalities on the other hand were no threat to the Deccan sultanates, and until the rise of Shivaji no major campaign was needed to control them. The Marathas took part in the Islamic conquest of southern India, including the sack of Vijayanagar, in which several Maratha chieftains were present. As Jadunath Sarkar writes: "Before he came, the Marathas were mere hirelings, mere servants of aliens. They served the state, but had no lot or part in its management; they shed their lifeblood in the army, but were denied any share in the conduct of war or peace. They were always subordinates, never leaders."

In the eyes of the European visitors to India, the Rajputs were considered the main enemies of the Islamic invaders. One record states: "These inhabitants are Rashpootes which goe after a more free and souldier like manner, than other Hindooes, rather like masters than subjects." An East India company record from 28th Nov 1659 states: "Sevagy, a great Rashpoote issues forth from his fort Rayguhr to strike blows on the Emperor, Duccan, Golconda and the Portuguese." It is possible that the spectacular rise of Shivaji led contemporaries to mark him as a Rajput. However a contemporary record from the Jaipur archives, which reports on Shivaji's visit to Agra, confidently asserts:
Shivaji is very clever; he speaks the right word, after which nobody need say anything on the subject. He is a good genuine Rajput....and says appropriate things marked by the spirit of a Rajput.
In this instance Shivaji is accepted as a Rajput from his bearing and conduct.....but was it also a consequence of Shivaji's private meeting with Raja Jai Singh, his conqueror? The eyewitness account, the Sabhasad Bakhar, written by Krishnaji Anant Sabhasad who was in Shivaji's service, claims that Jai Singh accepted Shivaji's Rajput ancestry and hence promised to protect him as a kindred Rajput from the hostility of the bigoted Aurangzeb. The bakhar also makes Shivaji describe himself as a Rajput, during the earlier invasion of Aurangzeb's general Shaista Khan:
As soon as the army started from Delhi, the Raje learnt of it. He was at Rajgad. He assembled all the Sarkarkuns, important persons, and the Sarnobat, and questioned them. In the opinion of (them) all- "Peace should be concluded. An interview should be sought. It is not possible to hold out by fighting. What is our force and what is the Delhi army ?" Such were (their) reasons.


The Raje was of opinion (that), "If peace is decided on, there is no influential Rajput, (with the Khan) as would, (considering the fact that) we are Rajputs and he too is a Rajput, protect the Hindu religion and guard our interests. Saista Khan is a Mahomedan, a relation of the Badshah ; bribe and corruption cannot be practised on him. Nor will the Khan protect us. If I meet him in peace, he will bring about (our) destruction. It is injurious to us."
Shivaji's father Shahaji also claimed Rajput ancestry. Years before Shivaji's coronation the poet Jayaram, described his patron Shahaji as descended from Dalip and born in the family of the Rana [of Mewar] who was the foremost among all kings of the earth (Hinduan Suraj). And going back even further into the history of the Mudhol principality in Karnataka, whose rulers previously held the significant title of Rana; they still have original documents tracing their descent from the Rajput rulers of Mewar. Some Maratha clans claim kinship with Rajputs, and have similar sounding names: Chavan/Chauhan, Pawar/Parmar, Sulke/Solanki, More/Mori. Other clans could have been founded by cadets of Rajput clans, unable to succeed to the rulership in their native kingdoms, sought their fortunes by migrating elsewhere. This was certainly the case with Sajjan Simha and Kshem Simha, born in the clan of Sesodias, and being set aside by their father migrated to the Deccan. The descendants of Sajjan Simha founded Mudhol and the Bhosale clan. Read More......