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Chapter 1 Rajasthan and the Rajputs
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Chapter 1
Rajasthan and the Rajputs

The past looms large in the self-understanding of Rajputs living in all parts of Rajasthan. Most experience a persistent nostalgia for their former lifestyle and its privileges. Thus in Mewar when Rajput men gather together to sip scotch and socialize, they often speak of those days in which they ruled and hunted or those more remote times in which their ancestors ruled and waged war against one another.[1] Continually stirring memories of bygone days are the tiger skins and other hunting trophies on their walls, the coats of arms above their entryways, the hand-colored photographs of royalty in their parlors, and their various heirlooms—ivory-inlaid swords, elaborate bridles, the occasional silver throne.

Doubtless intensifying this nostalgia are the particular circumstances of Rajasthan's recent history. In 1947, when the princely states of Rajasthan were combined into a single political unit, the state of Rajasthan, Rajputs were simply not prepared for democracy.[2] In 1818, when the Rajput rulers signed treaties with the British, they had been able to continue as heads of their respective states. Their power to govern was often ambiguous, but it was by no means nominal. When 1947 arrived,


the institutional changes that had taken over a century to evolve elsewhere in India where there was direct British rule, now were implemented by the central Indian government immediately. To an overwhelming extent, the Rajputs had no part in the process of political transformation.[3] Hence Independence was for them a sudden and bewildering shock. They saw their way of life radically transformed in a very short time. Now, over forty years later, many still speak of themselves as hereditary rulers and so implicitly (or even explicitly) claim that they are the rightful rulers. In short, they are still adjusting.

Nevertheless, Rajput nostalgia has not always resulted in merely reactionary attitudes toward change. Many Rajputs say that their aristocratic and martial heritage has inspired them to adapt to the privations brought about by their loss of legal title and power. They feel that facing the future requires holding on to the values that helped their forebears face defeat in former days.[4] To take account of current Rajput constructions of caste and gender duties, it will be useful to become acquainted with the Rajput past and the ethos it has bequeathed.

Genealogy and Identity

Rajputs are keenly conscious of their genealogy, certain divisions within which are highly important features in the construction of personal identity. These segmentary kinship units locate the Rajput in contexts of family history and locality. The largest kinship unit within the Rajput jati (caste; literally, type or genus) is the vamsh (very roughly translatable as family in its broadest sense). In Rajasthan there are three great vamsh : sun, moon, and fire.[5] Rajputs understand themselves to be descended from these sacred phenomena (figs. 8, 9, 10). The vamsh to which the ruling family of Mewar belongs is the solar family, this identification being succinctly made in the Udaipur coat of arms, in which appears a great sun with a stern mustached visage. It is prominently displayed above the great central entrance to the City Palace.


Rajput genealogical chart.

Encompassed by each individual vamsh are kul s, smaller kinship units.[6] Again, the closest English equivalent to kul is family, but in a more restrictive sense than the vamsh . The term is not, however, particularly narrow: kul s comprise many generations and link present to past over hundreds of years.[7] Examples of kul s belonging to the solar vamsh are the Rathaur kul of Marwar, whose capital was Jodhpur, and the Kachvaha kul of Jaipur—both prominent kul s in Rajasthani history.[8]

Each Rajput kul traces its origin to a heroic ancestor, who typically left a homeland ruled by an older male relative or conquered by a foreign invader. Udaipur's royalty belongs to the Guhil kul , which was established by a colorful character named Guha after his father's kingdom


Chart of Mewar thikana s.

in what is now Gujarat was destroyed by enemies in the sixth century.[9] According to legend, Guha was born after his father's death. His mother, who had been on a religious pilgrimage, was informed of the conquest as she was returning home. Shortly afterward, she took refuge in a cave to deliver her son and, after entrusting him to a Brahman, became a sati . Because of his unusual place of birth, the boy became known as Guha (cave), from which the patronymic Guhil was derived. Guha grew up in a forested area populated by members of the Bhil tribe. Enormously popular, he was eventually elected king of the Bhils at Idar (also in Gujarat). He was officially invested with royal authority when a Bhil cut his own finger and with his blood applied to Guha's brow the red mark (tika ) of sovereignty.

Guha becomes the first sovereign of the line that is established in the fortress of Chitor after ten generations, according to tradition. That feat is performed by the legendary Bappa Rawal, whom contemporary Rajputs often name as the "founding father" of the kingdom of Mewar.[10]


State crests with kuldevi and vamsh insignias.
a , Ad Mata (the Jhala kuldevi ); b , c , kite forms of Naganecha Ji (the Rathaur kuldevi );
d , e , suns indicating Suryavamsh descent.

Like Guha, Bappa Rawal was born after his father was slain and raised in the hills by a Brahman.[11] He grew up to become a precocious young prince (tricking hundreds of naive maidens into marrying him) and eventually managed to ingratiate himself with the Mori ruler of Chitor, whom he later deposed in a coup. Hence whereas Guha is considered


the original patriarch, Bappa is credited with having given the kul its kingdom.

Progressing down toward smaller kinship units, the next unit after the kul is the shakh (branch) (see fig. 8). Rajput genealogies are given as family trees. Thus although kul does not literally mean "tree trunk," it stands as the trunk in relation to the largest unit it encompasses, the shakh . The shakh is often a very important unit; it is founded when a group breaks away from the kul , relocates, and then gains military or political power. The shakh to which the Udaipur royal family belongs is the Sisodiya, which takes its name from the small medieval state of Sisoda, ruled by Guhils.[12] Its scions inherited sovereignty of the Chitor branch of the Guhils in the early part of the fourteenth century, that is to say in the chaotic aftermath of the sack of Chitor by the Muslim conqueror Ala-ud-din.[13]

After the shakh come the khamp (twig) and the nak (twig tip).[14] These smaller kinship units, typically defined by and named after the places in which their earliest members lived, play a minimal role in the formation of Rajput identity today.[15] Many of the people I spoke with during interviews or other conversations could not even name their khamp or nak . There are exceptions. Virtually everyone knows that the


khamp for the Udaipur royal family is the Ranavat, which is appropriately named for it is the khamp from which the future king (rana ) is chosen when the royal family fails to produce an heir and so must adopt. This fact is significant because of the seven most recent Maharanas, only the current one was not adopted.

Of all the units mentioned, those that play the largest role in defining Rajput identity today are the kul and the shakh . Lesser units are too narrowly fixed, and the vamsh is too inclusive and remote a category to hold much meaning for individual members.[16] The kul 's importance is linked to the fact that Rajputs generally regard it as the unit of exogamy. This is interesting because reviewing the medieval archives, scholars have found that intra-kul marriages were actually allowed if kul members belonged to different gotras (the gotra is a rather hazily defined group of people who claim spiritual descent from a common Vedic sage). Norman Ziegler finds that in practice this problematic unit is generally identical to the khamp .[17] Rajputs today, however, both say that one should not marry within one's kul and in fact practice kul exogamy. Of the marriages I recorded (the marriages of respondents and those of their parents), there was not a single instance of intra-kul alliance.

Apart from the practical matter of exogamy, the kul has importance because theoretically at least it is the unit protected by the familial goddess, the kuldevi . I say theoretically because in certain instances a kuldevi protects not a kul but a shakh , a shakh that has become so independent and powerful that its members have come to think of it as a kul except when specifically placing it in the context of other kinship units. This confusion is vividly apparent in the case of the Sisodiyas.[18] When asked what kind of Rajputs they are, Sisodiyas invariably answer "Sisodiya," just as Rathaurs answer "Rathaur." Sisodiyas never respond "Guhil," that is, with their kul name. Sisodiyas and non-Sisodiyas alike conceptualize Sisodiyas and Rathaurs as equivalent units. They speak of this Rathaur girl marrying that Sisodiya boy and so forth.

When one points out to Sisodiyas that technically they are Guhils first, they typically respond, "Yes, Guhil is our jati " (a word employed to refer to the largest Rajput segmentation unit and also, as here, to refer


generically to any segmentation unit), but they do not indicate awareness that the two groups, Sisodiya and Rathaur, are different segmentation units. Thus the Sisodiyas think of themselves as Sisodiyas in the first instance and refer to their divine guardian, Ban Mata, as goddess of the Sisodiya "kul."

Finally, the kul (or "kul," as in the case of the Sisodiya shakh ) is crucial to identity because it is the category that Rajputs understand as primarily determining inherited traits. Character traits inherited through the blood are thought to be illustrated, developed, and even strengthened by the honorable action of kul members.[19] Therefore the Sisodiyas, who refused to cooperate with Muslim conquerors and British reformers, have enjoyed throughout Rajasthan an unparalleled reputation for reckless courage and autonomy.[20] Sisodiyas believe that their bloodline, like their glory, has been proven and nourished by their martial history. By contrast, the ruling kul of Jaipur, the Kachvaha kul , bears another sort of reputation. Jaipur, located close to Delhi and therefore vulnerable to Muslim attacks and British influence, has been known for its flexibility and pragmatism.[21] One of its great heroes, Man Sinh, was actually a general in the Moghal army. In sum, although both Sisodiyas and Kachvahas are proud of their histories, the Sisodiyas have enjoyed a superior prestige throughout Rajasthan because they were able to maintain their independence longer.[22]

As these sentiments indicate, Rajputs have been keenly aware of their family heritage and concerned with how it compares to other families' heritages. The history of their family behavior, they say, reveals their character, the innate "stuff" of which family members are made. Honorable action enhances character, which in turn makes more honorable action possible. In this way status and prestige accumulate.

Despite the place that Rajputs give to the kul as the foremost source


of prestige and honor, except at its inception the kul has not functioned as a political institution. Thakurs (kings) from various kuls have owed primary political allegiance not to their kul but to the maharaja whom they have served. Thus although Rajputs understand kul or shakh blood as the source of their prestige, they also understand that the glory gained by their ancestors, the glory that both proved and strengthened their kul blood, has derived from service that is not necessarily direct service of the kul .[23]

Because the interrelated duties to preserve and strengthen the kul and to serve a king are basic to the Rajput system of values, it is essential to explore the basic political structure of Rajput hierarchy and obligation. I use the illustration of Mewar because much of the information in succeeding chapters comes from Mewar thikanas and because it clearly demonstrates the way in which traditional status and duty have spawned attitudes that continue to find expression within the modern Rajput community.

Mewar's Political Structure

At the top of Mewar's status pyramid is the Maharana, whose massive City Palace dominates the Udaipur horizon. Directly below him are the thakurs of the Solah Thikanas, the great "Sixteen Estates" constituting the innermost circle of authority and power. After the Solah Thikanas are the Bara Battis (Big Thirty-two) Thikanas, which are followed in turn by the Chota Battis (Lesser Thirty-two) Thikanas (see fig. 9).[24]

The families at each political level belong to different kuls and shakhs . The apex is always Sisodiya: as we have seen, the Maharana belongs to the Ranavat khamp of the Sisodiya shakh . Directly under him are the sixteen kings from the Solah Thikanas. Their families are sometimes listed as follows:

Three Jhala, three Cauhan, and four Cumdavat has Mewar
Two Saktavat, two Rathaur, a Sarangdevot, and a Pamvar[25]

Named in this poem (doha ) are several Sisodiya khamp s—the Cumdavat, the Saktavat, and the Sarangdevot. There are also families from the


Jhala, Cauhan, Rathaur, and Pamvar kuls .[26] The noblemen from these estates served the Maharana as members of his advisory council. They gave advice when he solicited it and provided troops when needed. Today they continue to advise the Maharana when he summons them.

The members of the lesser estates, whose families represent a broad range of Rajput backgrounds, interact with these sixteen families socially but demonstrate a special reserve and respect when speaking of members of the Solah Thikana families. Like the Solah Thikana families, the two groups of Battis families attended the king and fought his wars.

One might suppose that these estate categories would be mere relics of the past, yet they continue to have symbolic and social importance. This was especially evident during my stay when a bitter succession dispute erupted within the royal household. The Maharana, who had been estranged from his elder son and had for many years relied on his younger son to assist him in managing his properties, died unexpectedly.[27] The younger son assumed, as many in Udaipur did, that he would inherit his father's position and title.[28] The Solah Thikana lords, however, refused to accept a breach of tradition. Having caucused, they voted their support to the elder son and encouraged him to move back to Udaipur from Bombay, where he had been in business. When the time came for the elder brother's installation, however, the lords had to perform the investiture rituals outside the palace because the younger brother had locked the palace gates.

The predominantly Brahmanical investiture ceremony, which was performed in front of a large crowd, had as its climax a traditional Rajput rite: the Lord of Salumbar, one of the foremost estates of Mewar, unsheathed his sword, sliced open his hand, and placed a drop of his blood on the elder brother's forehead. This ritual act clearly conveyed the idea that the Maharana can and must rely on the support of the lords whose estates were granted by his ancestors.[29] More generally, the participation of the lords in the investiture as a whole reaffirmed the traditional hierarchy of estate households. Seated after the Lord of Salumbar


were the other Solah Thikana lords, each in his appointed place. Behind them sat the members of the lesser estates, also ranked. All the lords wore their traditional finery, replete with dress turban and polished sword, which emphasized the conviction that although Rajput legal authority has passed, the ceremonial and social structure of Rajput community has been and must continue to be preserved.[30]

This conviction is expressed in ceremonial displays such as the investiture and also in the way Rajputs bring up their children. Many men and women told me that they try to endow their children with pride in their Rajput legacy. Moreover, they hope to cultivate in their sons and daughters what they understand as the inherent Rajput character and demeanor. They emphasize that Rajput constitution, when properly cultivated, enables its possessors to suffer whatever hardships may come. Developing the Rajput traits of bravery, strength, and honor, they believe, will help their sons to realize modern ambitions.

Because the family fortunes of most Rajputs have diminished, if not disappeared, some Rajputs have of necessity taken up occupations. Some have joined the army, a respected profession that many Rajputs practiced during the days of the British. In joining either the army or the police, Rajputs have been able to perform tasks at least partially consistent with their traditional occupation. Other Rajputs have kept their palaces and, with varying degrees of success, turned them into hotels. Still others have tried their hands at farming or other businesses.[31] Almost all have recently realized the importance of giving their sons good educations, that they might take up professions enabling them to support their families after they marry.[32]

Although these Rajputs have lost power over their thikanas —they lost political authority to govern and the ability to collect taxes after Independence—they still receive public deference from villagers living in the towns in which their estate residences are located. One king whose estate I visited can barely drive his car around his capital because villag-


ers are constantly bowing to him with folded hands; they oblige him to return the gesture by nodding and folding his hands above his steering wheel. The lords are celebrities, whose actions villagers carefully scrutinize and discuss as items of local news. Thus those who used to be ruled still indirectly reinforce among their erstwhile rulers a disposition toward conserving Rajput style and attitude.

The basis of the deference given by many villagers and expected by many Rajputs is the notion that in the past Rajputs have been the protectors of kingdoms and thikanas , including the villages those realms comprise. As hereditary warriors, they were the source of internal security. Although these days all Rajputs, like members of other martial groups, add the word Sinh (lion) to their given names, family genealogies reveal that in times past Rajputs in some lineages attached pal (protector) to their names instead of or in addition to Sinh.

This notion of the Rajput as protector is broad, particularly when attached to members of the nobility or royalty. A good ruler is one whose virtue and strength infuse his realm with justice and vitality. By definition a good king, a protector, makes for a good (prosperous and righteous) kingdom whereas a bad king, not a protector, makes for a bad (indigent and immoral) kingdom. This notion, summed up in the proverb Yatha Raja, tatha praja (as the king is, so are his subjects), is an ancient pan-Indian idea elaborately expounded in classical Sanskrit and Tamil literatures.[33] Thus the Rajput rulers and their ranks were thought to safeguard the welfare of all. Many Rajput thakurs today continue to regard their ancestors and sometimes even themselves in this rather ideal way.[34]

A major component in the traditional Rajput role of protection is responsibility for guarding the safety and the virtue of women. All Rajputs can narrate episodes of Rajput chivalry. Favorites are those detailing the rescues of fair damsels from lustful marauders. Warriors riding off to battle are often said to have been inspired to great bravery by the knowledge that they were protecting their women back home. But protecting women includes more than guaranteeing them safety from assault; it also includes ensuring that women do not deviate from their proper roles back home. A wife who is allowed to become unchaste is


understood to sap her husband's strength and so his ability to perform his protective role;[35] a breach in protection sets off something like a chain reaction. In brief, a woman's disloyalty is thought to cause severe injury to the strength and character of her husband and by extension to those of his family. Now as in the past, Rajput men are keen to preserve those aspects of their way of life that will protect women from the temptation to engage in behavior destructive of honor and family. Particularly in conservative Mewar, both men and women stress the importance of preserving as much as possible traditional, that is to say, domestic female roles and values.

Women's Traditions and Life Stages

The most striking feature of a Rajput woman's home life is an observance of some form of parda. Parda , which literally means "curtain," refers to the seclusion of married women.[36] Rajput women refer to parda as the most characteristic aspect of a Rajput woman's identity. Their interpretation of the term, however, has proven fluid.

Traditionally parda referred to the division of a household into women's quarters (the zanana ) and men's quarters (the mardana ).[37] The men of the family (husbands and brothers, fathers and sons) entered the women's quarters for brief visits. Sometimes they ate there or slept there with their wives. When they came, they announced their presence in advance by coughing, shuffling, or some similar cues. Nonfamily men were excluded from entering the women's quarters and married women were barred from entering the men's quarters. One middle-aged member of a royal household told me that even as a child she was not allowed into the mardana of her father's household, so strict was her family.

Because of this strict parda , women generally did not worship in local


temples (though they might occasionally travel veiled and chaperoned to faraway pilgrimage places or go briefly to a nearby shrine and worship there with their faces hidden from public view). Nor did they participate in religious ceremonies such as festivals, unless these were celebrated in the zananas of royalty or the nobility. Moreover, they lacked easy access to temples located in the mardana . For their visits special arrangements were always made.

Today some households still maintain a rigid interpretation of parda . Others have only recently begun to relax it. Most women today practice some modified form of seclusion. Whatever form parda takes, it is often summed up by the statement, "We Rajput women do not mix." By this is meant that although most Rajput women move about freely within their households—there being no longer a formal division of mardana and zanana —they do not mix or mix only minimally with male guests and then only with those male guests who are old family friends. Therefore, every Rajput social event I attended was really two events: the men gathered in one part of a household to enjoy one another's company and the women gathered in another part to discuss things of interest to women.

In accordance with parda , most noblewomen avoid going out in public. They have themselves driven across the street rather than walk, for the street is the quintessentially public place.[38] A few women occasionally run errands in town, but when they do they take along a driver and perhaps a friend as chaperone. Servants and children do most of the grocery shopping. When necessary, Rajput women send servants to summon merchants and tailors to their homes.[39] Most women will still not go into local temples, though some will visit outdoor sati and kuldevi shrines when their privacy can be ensured. It remains the case that women prefer to worship these and other divinities at home.

While maintaining parda to this extent at home, many women have adapted it to suit the exigencies of travel. They more or less conform to the policy of "when in Rome. . . ." Thus one royal woman told me that although she would never think of appearing in public in her home town, she would freely shop in the city of Pune (in Maharashtra) because no one there would recognize her. Similarly, many noblewomen who do not go out in Udaipur will go out in large cities, especially cities


outside of Rajasthan. Still others from the Udaipur area will never show their faces in their thikanas but will run essential errands in Udaipur.[40]

Although parda is loosening, it remains an extremely cogent symbol. It summarizes what is deemed admirable in the character of Rajput women and serves as a standard for evaluating behavior.[41] Therefore Rajput women say that although their way of life is changing, they want to educate their daughters to show respect for the ideal of parda by acting with modesty (sharam, laj ) and the honor and dignity that modesty confers on themselves, their husbands, and their families.[42] As Rajput men do they emphasize that the old customs and values (riti-rivaj ) will help their children accommodate to change.

For women, the idea of preparing for change is nothing new. Rajput girls have always been told that they must learn modesty because when they marry they will have to live in a new family, accept its customs, and obey its elders. By teaching daughters modesty and the self-effacing sacrifice it presupposes, mothers prepare their daughters for the inevitable resocialization that they will undergo as brides.

Rajput mothers say they are strict with their daughters so they will be able to adjust to marriage,[43] yet these women allow their daughters far more freedom than they give their young daughters-in-law. Except for ceremonial occasions an unmarried daughter does not wear traditional Rajput dress (kancli-kurti ), which consists of a long full skirt, a brief underblouse, a long vest, and a half-sari tucked in at the waist and pulled over the head and shoulders. While the daughter-in-law wears this traditional dress, or occasionally a modern sari, the unmarried daughter wears a western skirt and blouse to school and typically goes about her household in a three-piece Panjabi suit, which consists of cotton leggings, a kurta (a long shirt-like garment with slits up the sides), and a dupatta (a scarf draped over her breasts). She may even wear jeans or a dress. When the daughter marries, she may continue to wear such clothes on trips home but will change back to more traditional attire before returning to her husband's household (fig. 11).


Rajput noblewomen and children.


Some of the older women think that these days daughters are over-indulged. These women recall their childhoods, when spontaneity was discouraged and courtly decorum was everything. In their time they were not to laugh or speak loudly on pain of receiving a sharp slap or some stronger punishment. Back then, they add, most families did not want their daughters educated because education would make them dissatisfied with their lives. One woman said that she was taught to read but that her parents prohibited her from reading newspapers because they felt that women should not concern themselves with events in the outside world. Women should focus their attention exclusively on the home.

Now most aristocratic Rajput families send their girls to school. The girls attend private schools, often Catholic girls' schools.[44] Recently many families have sent their daughters to college. They give two reasons for this. A college education prepares a girl for an occupation in case she becomes widowed and, by an even more unfortunate turn of luck, is left with no money to support herself and her children. Even more important, it helps a daughter's marriage chances. Families with educated sons want them to marry educated girls who will prove intelligent companions. Moreover, parents speak of the need for intellectually talented daughters-in-law who can bear and raise clever children. Even so, sometimes families who want an educated girl also fear that her education will make her too independent. I learned of several instances in which weddings were held just before a bride was to receive her diploma. Some of the timings may have been coincidental; auspicious marriage dates do often fall right before graduation. But others were certainly not coincidental. One young woman told me that her pregraduation marriage was a compromise demanded by her in-laws during engagement negotiations. She surmised this was fairly common. Other women I asked about this said they thought it happened only occasionally.

Despite the new (if qualified) emphasis on education for girls, the chief ambition that girls maintain is to be a good wife. Of course, this is easier if they acquire good husbands, and so many of them keep a weekly vrat , a religious fast, to please the god Shiv, whom they consider a model husband.[45] As to the choice of husband, girls leave that up to


their parents. Arranged marriages are an iron rule, a rule almost universally accepted as being in the interest of bride and groom. Young women and men are considered too inexperienced in the ways of life to be able to choose suitable marriage partners.

In Rajasthan, as in many other regions of India, families try to marry their daughters into families higher on the social scale than they are.[46]Kul membership and position within the noble hierarchy are crucial determinants of social position. To some extent wealth is also recognized as a determinant for it typically accompanies social position, but wealth without status is considered insufficient.[47] One young noblewoman explained the rationale behind this notion of hypergamy: "We always try to marry our daughters up. It's best for the families. We don't want to take a daughter-in-law from higher up because she'll be used to being treated highly and used to having lots of things; she just won't fit in." In other words, such a daughter-in-law will not be able to serve her in-laws well because she will feel superior to them.

Although "marrying up" is the norm, the contracting families' status difference is often small or even fictional. Families like to contract with families with similar backgrounds, standards, and ideas. When roughly equal families enter into marriage, it is the marriage ceremony itself that creates and states an inequality. This inequality is often temporary, for such families generally marry their own daughters into families with status similar to the status of those families from which its daughters-in-law come. It may even marry its daughters into the extended families of its daughters-in-law.

In times past, when marriages were polygamous, the same general notions applied to the first marriage a son made.[48] Often between near equals, a son's first marriage was intended to ensure that heirs would come from the best possible stock. Second, third, and other wives, however, could come from less illustrious backgrounds. Some could even come from lower castes.[49] When polygamy was practiced, hyper-


gamy was a more dynamic and influential principle of social organization.

The contemporary Rajput notion of hypergamy has one especially intriguing peculiarity: the principle of marrying west. Rajasthani Rajputs recognize that Rajputs living to the east of Rajasthan prefer to marry their daughters west toward Rajasthan, because that is where the most prestigious Rajput families live. Richard Fox notes that Rajputs in his area, eastern Uttar Pradesh, marry their daughters west.[50] Michael Mahar finds this to be true of "Khalapur," a Rajput-dominated village in northern Uttar Pradesh.[51] When at his invitation I visited this village, I was told by women in one Rajput family there that all Rajput families try to marry their daughters west toward Rajasthan. When I told her I was working in Udaipur, she also mentioned that Udaipur is the best place to be, for that is where the finest, bravest Rajputs are.

Sharing this belief, Rajasthani Rajputs try to marry their daughters within the state. As the young noblewoman I quoted above explained, "We don't want to give daughters outside Rajasthan because they won't fit in well and won't be happy. In Rajasthan we have high culture. Other places are usually less cultured." I found no convincing evidence, however, that noble marriages west are considered preferable within Rajasthan. One has to imagine that such a rule taken very seriously would drastically restrict marriage options in the western part of the state.[52]

Once a woman is married, she participates fully in all the traditions of her conjugal family and is expected to abandon traditions she has brought from her natal family that might conflict with those of her conjugal family. This is true even down to her style of dressing. Beginning with her marriage costume, she must accept dress styles and patterns typical of her husband's region. Most families, however, allow a wife some latitude. For ceremonial occasions such as weddings she must wear traditional local fashion, but at home she may wear dresses that please her, including clothes from home and even full saris, which are not traditionally worn by Rajputs.

In terms of behavior, a wife's all-encompassing responsibility is to


protect the happiness and health of her husband.[53] She carries out this responsibility by attending to his needs, serving his family, and worshiping his gods. It is felt that if she performs these activities successfully and so fulfills the norm of protection, he will prosper; if not, he will suffer and perhaps even die. Being widowed is the worst fate a Rajput woman can imagine. She is meant for one man only, her husband. Remarriage is forbidden.[54] Thus becoming a widow is something that simply ought not to happen: a woman must do everything in her power to safeguard her husband's longevity.

In times past some women whose husbands died refused to become widows. Instead they burned themselves on their husbands' pyres. This practice was seen as a corrective for the fault of failing to protect a husband from premature death, of allowing his death to occur before hers. Those women who lacked the dedication necessary to die as satis were expected to lead a life of penance and privation. The general feeling was that a widow should want to live a hard life to make up for her failure as a husband-protector.

Today most women continue to feel that a widow should not greatly enjoy life. She should take pleasure in her children and family but should deprive her senses of physical enjoyment and lead a relatively stark existence. Widows should wear dull, simple clothing (though not necessarily the white clothing that is expected of widows in many parts of India) and no ornamentation. Moreover, they should no longer consume meat or wine, for they have no legitimate need for the passion such substances engender. In sum, the widow should shun merriment, devote herself to religious searching, and live out her life in anticipation of happier circumstances in her next life.

Although, as many Rajput women noted, there are cases in which widows are ill-treated, the general consensus is that in most noble families the widow continues to be loved. She is the mother of children, whose affection for her is undiminished. Society expects her to honor her husband's memory by living simply, but whatever harsh privations she endures should be self-imposed. The widow's life is not supposed to


be joyous, but most would condemn those who add to the widow's misery by scorning and abusing her.

Religion and Protection

Because a Rajput wife's ambition is to avoid becoming a widow, the religious practices a Rajput woman performs have everything to do with being a good wife, which is to say, a good husband-protector. The word women use to describe this ideal is pativrata , meaning "one who has taken a vow (vrat ) to [protect] her husband (pati )." Sometimes they employ this word loosely to refer to any wife. But even in this generic sense it has an ideological nuance, for it implies a conception of how a wife should behave and of the consequences her behavior will bring.

A wife becomes a good wife, a true pativrata , by selflessly serving her husband and his family. This service includes attending to ritual and other religious responsibilities. Each household has its specific constellation of religious deities to whom household members, including women, owe devotion. They express this devotion in a number of ways.

Among these is the performance of vrats , the vows that entail fasting. Many unmarried girls keep a fast on Monday in order to please Shiv; many married women also keep this vrat in order to gain Shiv's protective blessing in their attempts to live as good wives. In addition to the Shiv vrat there are six other weekly vows, which makes one for every day of the week. Deciding which vow or vows to perform is generally a matter of personal preference. Except for the Monday vrat , Rajput women show little continuity in the weekly vows they keep. The same is true of fortnightly vrats , the vows coinciding with the full and new moons.

Besides weekly and fortnightly vrats there are annual vows, which accompany many major festivals. The two that have the largest following among women I interviewed are the Navratri vow and the Dashamata vow. Nearly all Rajput women perform Navratri Vrat. The reason they most often give is that Navratri is really the Rajput holiday—it commemorates a great military victory. Navratri celebrates the conquest by the warrior goddess Durga over an army of demons.[55] Thus a


Rajput woman performs the Navratri vow not simply because she is a woman but also because she is a Rajput.

The second vow, which a great many of the women in my survey mentioned, is predominantly practiced by women living in Mewar. This is Dashamata Vrat. Dashamata, whose name means "Mother of Fate," is worshiped by keeping a fast, by tying on a string necklace, and by reciting ten stories.[56] Rajput women do not conceive of Dashamata Vrat as an exclusively Rajput vow. Rather, they see it as a vow that Rajput women should perform because the Rajputs are a high caste and all high-caste women should perform it. Yet there is an implicit connection between Dashamata and the Rajput community: to the string necklaces that the vow requires women to wear, Rajput wives in this area affix their kul goddess pendants (palas ). The avowed purpose of this vrat is to preserve a husband's health, which will be strong as long as his wife's necklace is unbroken. Each year after marriage, the wife replaces the string with a new one, thus renewing the strength of her commitment to the marriage. If the string breaks in midyear, she must replace it immediately in a special ritual.

These two vrats are characteristic of the vows women perform. They all stress the welfare of the husband, which must always rank first among a woman's concerns. A distinguished noblewoman most succinctly summed up this attitude: "One has many children but only one husband. My first allegiance must therefore be to him." I heard many variations on this theme. The point is not that children are not precious but rather that no other commitment rivals a woman's devotion to her husband.

Apart from vrats , Rajput women perform four major forms of regular religious devotion. The first is a regular honoring of the household deities, which is done both by women and by men. This is called dhok dena , the "giving (dena ) of respect or prostration (dhok )." One shows respect by entering a temple or stopping at a shrine and then bowing to an image with palms joined. For the most part it is a voluntary and spontaneous matter. Some occasions, however, require a formal giving of respect. One must show respect to kuldevis and satis when one leaves for or returns from a major trip.[57] In this way one asks for protection during a journey and shows gratitude for a safe return. Second, one must show respect when one reaches the life thresholds represented by


rites of passage.[58] Families vary, however, in their determination of who must give dhok and when. All households require a groom to give this respect to his family's sati, kuldevis , and perhaps other divine beings when he marries. The households also require a bride to do the same when she arrives at her new home. Some households require the bride to show respect before she leaves her natal home and its various protective deities. All households require an act of respect to their deities at the birth of a boy; some also require it at the birth of a girl. Finally, some families give dhok in conjunction with their children's first hair-cutting ceremonies.[59]

The next major form of religious ritual is the ratijaga (night wake). Ratijagas are usually organized and performed by women, who are supposed to spend an entire night singing songs to honor the various deities and spirits dear to the household. Sometimes Rajput women actually do stay up all night singing, but often they delegate this task to servants and village women, whom they pay. Two figures who always appear in the lists of songs sung by families are the kuldevi and the sati . Others so honored may include various Bherus (local manifestations of the Sanskritic deity Bhairava; attendants of kuldevis and other goddesses; see fig. 19), pitr s and pitrani s (male and female ancestors), and jhumjhar s (warriors who died violent deaths but continued fighting after death to exact revenge).[60] The ratijaga is performed in conjunction with the same ceremonies during which dhok is given, except the hair-cutting ceremony.[61]

Another shared form of religious observance is puja , a more elaborate and less spontaneous form of worship than dhok .[62] Performing


puja , a devotee offers a divinity flowers, lamps, incense, or other pleasing substances, including food, and in return receives the divinity's blessing, which is represented by the prasad (leftovers) that the divinity gives back. On this basic level this puja resembles puja done in many other places in India, with perhaps one exception. As mentioned before, Rajput women tend to do almost all their puja at home. Because Rajput women maintain some form of parda , they do not like to enter local public temples. Sometimes they send servants to give offerings in such temples, but they tend to think it immodest and undignified to go themselves. Generally Rajput men also worship in their own homes. Their ancestors built temples within their estate palaces, so if men want to perform puja , they can do so there. These temples were mostly in the mardana , which meant that in former times women could not usually worship there. Today, however, because of the breakdown of intrahousehold parda , many women do worship in the mardana .

Members of the family perform puja for all the supernatural beings they worship. Among these are kuldevi s and satimata s as well as various ishtadevta s. Ishtadevta , a catchall term for divinities that do not easily fit into other categories, literally means "chosen (ishta ) deity (devta )." The nomenclature can be misleading. Some ishtadevta s are selected by individuals who feel a rapport with them, and others are passed down through generations as deities requiring worship. They are thus "chosen" by the family, not by the individual.[63] In addition to worshiping such a family ishtadevta , however, the individual may worship other deities of his or her own pleasing.[64] A woman's options have an inherent limit: the deities she chooses must not draw her attention away from the deities worshiped by her conjugal family. Any natal deities she wishes to import may be thought competitive. If competition is perceived, a dutiful wife must abandon her personal ishtadevtas .

Finally there is the bolma , a vow that is usually connected with pilgrimage. Unlike the highly ritualized calendrical vrats, bolmas are infor-


mal and personal promises made by individuals to deities. Besieged by problems, people resolve to do something that a deity desires, such as going on a pilgrimage to the deity's shrine and making certain offerings there.[65] They hope that in return the deity will assist them.[66]

Typically the bolma is made by a woman, who speaks on her own behalf or on behalf of her family, but a man can make a bolma if he wishes. The recipient of the bolma may be a deity whose image resides within the household or some other less familiar deity. In either case the bolma may require a pilgrimage to a special shrine dedicated to the deity. Among the women I interviewed in Mewar, I found some who had recently made bolmas to Avri Mata (whose temple is near Chitor, a former capital of Mewar), to Ram Dev (whose shrine is near Jaisalmer), and to Karni Mata (situated near Bikaner). They say that when the crises precipitating the bolma disappear, they will have to journey to these deities' primary temples. Whereas in some cases the pilgrimage itself will fulfill the bolma , in others the individuals have promised to perform special rituals.

Pilgrimage, as might be expected, is not something that noblewomen undertake freely. It means temporarily relaxing, if not abandoning, parda . When noblewomen do undertake pilgrimages to fulfill their bolmas , they adopt the kind of "when in Rome" posture already mentioned. They can be comfortable in public because they are far from home and their identities are unknown.

With this cursory sketch of religious tradition as background, it is possible to compare the separate modes of authority that inform men's and women's interpretations of their religiously articulated and sanctioned duties.

Religion and Authority

The predominant authorities available to Rajput men for articulating their duty are two. First, there is Brahmanical authority. Rajput families formerly imported Brahmans from various parts of Rajasthan, particularly Gujarat. Some of these Brahmans were pujaris , temple officiants. Others were purohit s, advisors. The purohit s helped Rajputs to make


proper decisions in administering their kingdoms or estates. They also taught Rajput boys lessons from Sanskrit texts, such as the legal codes (the dharmashastra s) and the epics (the Mahabharat and Ramayan ).

More important than this instruction was the education Rajput boys received by listening to the songs of the Carans, the second source of authority. The Carans' caste-associated duty was to keep Rajput genealogies. These genealogies were more than mere lists of names; they were repositories of glory and records of Rajput courage, conquest, and heroism. In reciting to Rajput men and boys the stories of their ancestors, the Carans related inspirational paradigms. By conforming to these paradigms, Rajputs knew that they were doing their duty—preserving and protecting society.[67]

Today Rajput noblemen no longer employ purohit s. And if they employ pujari s, they do so on a part-time or ad hoc basis. Moreover, they can no longer support Carans. Some Carans still keep the family records of Rajputs, but they also have full-time jobs performing other services in order to support their families. Even so, they continue to influence the Rajput conception of duty, for the stories that the bards once recited are now passed down by their former patrons.

Women have had neither source of authority. Carans used to record the genealogies of women in Rajput families, but those genealogies were little more than birth and marriage records.[68] They did not record the lives of women; they registered women's names. Furthermore, though Rajput women often had Brahman women perform puja for them, they did not have female Brahman advisors.[69] The Brahman women were not educated in Sanskrit. They simply knew certain rituals, the details of which they had probably learned from their husbands.

Lacking the two traditional authorities used by men, Rajput women have leaned heavily on the religious myths they have learned from one another for sources of religious and moral authority. The myths explain, exemplarize, and legitimate the explicit rules of behavior they have


learned from their elders. In the various myths associated with the major Rajput devotional traditions women observe, especially kuldevi and sati traditions, and in the myths detailing the lives of beloved Rajput heroines, women find paradigms that help them construct personal interpretations of pativrata duty.

In short, in one way or another the myths from these traditions inform and explicate the pativrata ideal. As an ideal, as an image, as a symbol, the pativrata brings together two separate sets of norms: those related to Rajput caste and those related to female gender. At the same time, because both Rajput caste duty and female duty are in their own ways duties of protection, the ideal powerfully articulates for women a twofold protective ethic.


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