Rajasthan Feature

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The Brave Rajputs

For centuries, many Hindu Rajputs valiantly resisted invasion, including attempts by the Muslim Mughals. Their codes of battle emphasized honor and pride, and they went to war prepared to die. When defeat on the battlefield was imminent, the Rajput women would perform the rite of jauhar, throwing themselves onto a flaming pyre en masse rather than live with the indignity of capture. With the exception of the princes of Mewar, major Rajput states such as Jaipur, Bikaner, Bundi, and Kota eventually stopped fighting and built strong ties with the Mughals. The Mughal emperor Akbar was particularly skilled at forging alliances with the Rajputs; he offered them high posts in his court, and sealed the deal with matrimonial ties (he married two Rajput princesses). Those kingdoms who sided with Akbar quickly rose in importance and prosperity.

Raja Man Singh I of Jaipur was the first to marry his aunt to Akbar. As the emperor's brother-in-law and trusted commander-in-chief, Man Singh led Mughal armies to many victories, and both rulers benefited immensely. A traditional saying: "Jeet Akbar ki, loot Man Singh ki" translates as "The victory belongs to Akbar, the loot to Man Singh". In addition to securing wealth, these marriages opened the Rajput households to the Mughals' distinctive culture. The same people who initially sacrificed their lives to resist the Mughals quickly adapted themselves to Mughal domination and started borrowing heavily from Mughal aesthetics. Skilled craftsmen from the Mughal courts were enticed to Rajasthan to start craft schools, fomenting what would become a golden age of Indian art and architecture. The Mughals' influence in Rajasthan is still visible in everything from food to architecture, from intricate miniature paintings to musical styles, and from clothing to the tradition of purdah (covering the head and face with a veil).

The beginning of the 18th century marked the decline of the Mughal period, and with it came the decline of the Rajputs. The incoming British took advantage of the prevailing chaos. Not only did they introduce significant administrative, legal, and educational changes in Rajasthan, they also exposed the Rajputs to new levels of excess. The British introduced polo and other equestrian sports, the latest rifles and guns, shikar (hunting) camps, Belgian glass, French chiffons, Victorian furniture, European architecture, and—eventually—fancy limousines. The influence extended to Rajput children: sons were sent to English universities, and daughters to finishing schools in Switzerland.

While the rest of India launched its struggle for independence, many Rajput princes ended up defending the Raj. Unwilling to give up their luxury and power, they did their best to suppress rebellion outside their own kingdoms by sending soldiers to help the British forces. When India became independent, the Rajput princes and kings merged their kingdoms into one state as part of the new nation, but they were allowed to keep the titles to their palaces, forts, lands, jewels, and other possessions. The Indian government has since taken over much of the royal properties. Stripped of feudal power, many maharajas became hotel owners, while others have turned their properties over to leading hotel chains.

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