There is archaeological evidence of human habitation near the River Banas and its tributaries some 100,000 years ago. Early inhabitants of this part of western India were groups of nomads who travelled with their herds, as well as tribes who settled in a few fertile tracts. Around 250 BC, the emperor Ashoka is believed to have extended his rule to this area. Later rulers include the Bactrian Greeks in the 2nd century BC, the Scythians from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD, the Gupta dynasty between the 4th to 6th centuries, the Huns in the 6th century and Harshavardhana in the early 7th century.
Before independence in 1947, Rajputana, as it was called, comprised of 18 princely states, two chiefships, the small British-administered province of Ajmer-Merwara, and a few pockets of territory outside the main boundaries. After 1947 the princely states and chiefships were integrated into India in several stages, and the state took the name of Rajasthan, assuming its present form on Nov.1, 1956.
The early tribes, ruled by chieftains, gradually carved out their own fiefdoms, which developed into flourishing kingdoms, over a period of time. Trade sustained these kingdoms since the trade route into India passed through the deserts of western India. Collectively, these princely states came to be known as Rajputana or the Land of the Kings, which is today known as the modern Indian state of Rajasthan. Rajput kings controlled this part of India for over 1000 years, according to their own well-established code of chivalry and honour.
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People & Culture
During the reign of Akbar, at the end of the 16th century, the alliances that were formed with Rajput states were not merely born of military and diplomatic initiatives, but through an effective integration. While military campaigns were still undertaken and the Rajput strongholds of Ranthambhor and Chittaurgarh were besieged and destroyed between 1567-68, Akbar also entered into a series of alliances with numerous Rajput ruling houses by marrying Rajput princesses and arranging marriages with his heirs. Marriages between Rajputs and Mughals continued until the early 18th century, and in fact both the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan were born of Rajput mothers.
Most Rajput states entered into alliances with the British, which allowed them to continue as independent states, each with its own maharaja, subject to certain economic and political constraints. In the 19th century, the British subdued the Marathas and having clearly established supremacy, organized the Rajput states into the province of Rajputana. These alliances finally led to the disintegration of the mighty Rajput princes. The British Government in India was represented in Rajputana by a political officer, who was the title of agent to the governor general as well as being the chief commissioner of the small British province of Ajmer-Merwara. Under him were residents and political agents who were appointed for the various states of Rajputana.
The fortunes of the former Rajput rulers have vanished, but the culture of Rajasthan with its numerous forts and palaces and the romantic sense of valour, honour and courage is still alive. The charm of the traditional lifestyle remains and glimpses of it are seen in the colourful turbans and exaggerated moustaches sported by the men, and the bright mirrored skirts and chunky silver jewellery worn by Rajasthani women.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.