Culture & Ethos

The Rajput ethos is martial, in spirit, and fiercely proud and independent, and emphasizes lineage and tradition. Rajput patriotism is legendary, an ideal they embodied with a sometimes fanatical zeal, often choosing death before dishonour. Rajput warriors were often known to fight until the last man.

By the late 19th century, there was a shift from on questions regarding the political relations amongst the Rajputs to a concern with kinship (Kasturi 2002:2). According to Harlan (1992:27), many Rajputs of Rajasthan are nostalgic about their past and keenly conscious of their genealogy, emphasizing a Rajput ethos that is martial in spirit, with a fierce pride in lineage and tradition. These are indeed the timeless values of the Rajput community, as the
Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition) affirms in its resume of the contemporary social values of the community in India.

The tradition of common ancestry permits a poor Rajput yeoman to consider himself as well born as any powerful landholder of his clan, and superior to any high official of the professional classes. No race in India can boast of finer feats of arms or brighter deeds of chivalry, and they form one of the main recruiting fields for the Indian army of the day. They consider any occupation other than that of arms or government derogatory to their dignity, and consequently during the long period of peace which has followed the establishment of the British rule in India, they have been content to stay idle at home instead of taking up any of the other professions in which they might have come to the front.
"Jal Mahal in Jaipur, example of Rajput architecture."

A typical sword used by Rajput Warriors The Rajput lifestyle was designed to foster a martial spirit. Tod (1829) describes at length the bond between the Rajputs and their swords. The double-edged scimitar known as the khanda was a popular weapon among the Rajputs of that era. On special occasions, a primary chief would break up a meeting of his vassal chiefs with khanda nariyal, the distribution of daggers and coconuts. The Karga Shapna ritual, performed during the annual Navaratri festival, was another affirmation of the Rajput's reverence for his sword.

Rakhi 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.

Jauhar All recorded instances of
Jauhar and "Saka" have featured Rajput defenders of a fort, resisting the invasion of a Muslim force.

Jauhar (sometimes spelt jowhar) was originally the voluntary death on a funeral pyre of the queens and royal womenfolk of defeated Rajput castles in order to avoid capture and consequent molestation. The term is extended to describe the occasional practice of mass suicide carried out in medieval times by Rajput women, or by entire Rajput communities, when the fall of a besieged city was certain.

On several occasions when defeat in such an engagement became certain, the Rajput defenders of the fort scripted a final act of heroism that rendered the incident an immortal inspiration and afforded the invaders only an exceedingly hollow, inglorious victory. In such incidents, the ladies of the fort would commit collective self-immolation. Wearing their wedding dresses, and holding their young children by the hand, the ladies would commit their chastity to the flames of a massive, collective pyre, thereby escaping molestation and dishonour at the hands of the invading army. As the memorial of their heroic act, the ladies would leave only the imprint of the palm of their right hands on wet clay, which have become objects of veneration. This immolation would occur during the night, to the accompaniment of Vedic chants.

The practice is often described in terms of the women alone, but should correctly be understood as including the death of the men on the battlefield. As generally described, Jauhar involved:

A defending Rajput army being besieged inside a fortification by an invading Muslim army; The realization by the defenders that defeat was certain; The immolation, en masse, of women, children and the elderly, to avoid molestation at the hands of the victorious invading army; The riding out, into open battle and certain death, of the menfolk, there to die on the field of war
There is extensive glorification of the practice in the local ballads and folk-histories of Rajasthan.

Jauhar was limited to the Kshatriya caste named Rajputs, who formed the upper and ruling classes and castes of Rajasthan. The Rajputs were the fighting warrior caste of this area. The remainder of the people, who were generally Brahmins and the lower castes, did not participate in the practice. In some cases, such as with Chittaurgarh in 1568 the victorious Mughal invaders put the entire remaining population of thirty thousand souls to death.

Despite occasional confusion, this practice is not directly related to the widow-burning practice of satidaho, another feature once common among the Rajputs. It is related to high premium set on the honour of womenfolk in Rajput society. Both practices have been most common historically in the territory of modern Rajasthan.

The best known cases of Jauhar are the three occurrences at the fort of
Chittaur (Chittaurgarh, Chittorgarh), the seat of the Sisodia kingdom of Mewar, in Rajasthan, in 1303, in 1535, and 1568. Jaisalmer has witnessed two occurrences of Jauhar. Another occurrence was in Chanderi.

First Jauhar In particular, the siege of Chittor (1303), its brave defence by the Guhilas, the saga of Rani Padmini and the Jauhar she led are the stuff of immortal legend. This incident has had a defining impact upon the Rajput character and is detailed in a succeeding section.

Second Jauhar Rana Sanga died soon after the battle; shortly afterwards, Mewar came under the regency of his widow, Rani Karmavati. The kingdom was menaced by Bahadur Shah, ruler of Gujarat. According to one romantic legend of dubious veracity, Karmavati importuned the assistance of Humayun, son of her late husband's foe. The help arrived too late; Chittor as reduced by Bahadur Shah. This is the occasion for the second of the three Jauhars performed at Chittor. Karmavati led the ladies of the citadel into death by fire, while the menfolk sallied out to meet the besieging Muslim army in a hopeless fight to the death.

Saka The next morning after taking a bath, the men would wear kesariya and apply the ash from the maha samadhi of their wives and children on their foreheads and put a
tulsi leaf in their mouth. Then the palace gates would be opened and men would ride out for complete annihilation of the enemy or themselves. Rajput men and women could not be captured alive. This fight until death of men is called "Saka."

When Hindus fought against other Hindus there were never any johars or saka because the defeated were treated with dignity. However, history records very few instances wherein a Rajput king sued for peace after a battle reversal and the Muslims initially agreed to the peace terms, only for the Rajput and Hindu men to be slaughtered upon surrender and their women and children looted, raped and converted to Islam by force
[1] once the pols or gates of their mighty fortresses were opened.

One example of this is war between Puran Mal of Raisina and Sher Shah Suri. The opposite is true for wars between Marathas and Rajputs, where even after battle reversals, no jauhars took place in Rajasthan.