The word “Rajputs” translates literally as “sons of kings”.
Among the warrior castes of north western India, Rajputs are famous for their chivalry, gallantry, their zest for life and the pride they take in being associated with their culture, their values and traditions.
Rajputs were once the pride of this vast, limitless desert in the heart of India which stretched as far as the eye could see. There are some elaborate customs associated with Rajputs.
Rituals and customs for every occasion right from the womb to the tomb.
While the birth of a son in the family was celebrated with fanfare and rejoicing, the birth of a girl was frowned upon. So deep ran the bias against the girl child that it was customary among many Rajput plans to kill the newborn girl to death by strangling her, burying her alive or by choking her by stuffing wet mud down her throat.
Though most progressive Rajputs and the educated ones have done away with abominable customs like these, female infanticide is still rampant among backward communities which are by and large uneducated.
If a girl was lucky and was continued to live on inspite of being born in a Rajput family, she was relegated to a much lower status in the household than her brothers. She was deprived of education. Married women were expected to observe ‘purdah’ (or use ‘the veil’ to cover their face) to escape furtive glances. Purdah was observed even among the more affluent sections of the society. The women from royal families had separate residential quarters called the zenana section where they could move about freely without observing the purdah. The staff of these queens and princesses was drawn completely from females or eunuchs, so that no males (except family members) could see the royal females.
Marriages were ‘arranged’ or fixed by elders in the family. Most of the times, kids as young as 5-6 years of age were married off. The bride would then be sent back to her father’s place where she would stay till she came of age. One of the most important persons at the time of fixing up a marriage would be the astrologer, who would see if the horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom complimented each other perfectly. Only after he gave his final nod could the marriage be solemnized. The date and time of the wedding was also decided by this astrologer.
Marriages among Rajputs were elaborate and often lasted many days. The family of the bride was expected to give gifts and cash to the groom’s family and his kin. The more well to do Rajputs and the royals would even send a train of servants along with their daughter. Sadly enough, dowry continues to be a cause of concern even today and is one of the reasons why parents still do not welcome a girl into the family.
Rajputs had elaborate customs for occasions as somber as death as well. A mourning period was observed and a ‘rasam pagri’ was held at the end of 10-12 day mourning period at which the eldest son of the deceased would tie a turban on his head in the presence of all family and members of the community. This was taken to mean that the person tying the turban had taken up all the duties and responsibilities of the deceased.
Then there were abominable custom like sati, jauhar and saka which were common among the Rajputs of the yore.
As per the sati system, a widow was supposed to end her life by sitting on the funeral pyre of her husband. Women who willingly gave up their lives to this system were later idolized. Those who refrained from doing so were ostracized from the community.
Jauhar was common among Rajput women. They would commit mass suicide when they felt their honor was at stake. Most Rajput men, particularly those belonging to higher echelons of the society had more than one wives. Some even had elaborate harems where they would house all their wives collectively. After a Rajput king lost to another in war, the females of the family would end their lives willingly since they preferred death to dishonor.
‘Saka’ was another Rajput custom as per which the male members of the family would go down fighting inspite of all odds at times of war, because surrendering to the enemy was looked down upon.
Sagas of Rajput pride and valor, tales of their heroism and chivalry are a part of the folklore of Rajasthan.