Monday, December 03, 2012

Himachal Pradesh - history of struggles

With the results of the Himachal Pradesh elections coming this month, a look at its political history shows what struggles the people of Himachal have gone through to make their state among the best administered in India.

The territory of Himachal Pradesh was historically made of Hindu kingdoms that could trace their antiquity to ancient times, the oldest being Kangra, Kulu, and Chamba. All through history they battled each other and foreign invaders, and retained their independence for the most part, till the 19th century when they came under the British. The Khulassat-ut-Tawarikh from the 17th century describes some of these hill-states and their defiance of the Mughal empire under Aurangzeb:
  • The King of Kahlur by reason of the strength afforded by this river (Sutlej), the inaccessibility of the hills, and the security of his residence — the city of Bilaspur is his seat of government — swerves from obedience to the imperial officers.
  • Though Gualiar [Guler] is a small country, yet its Raja has often defied the imperial officers by reason of the strength of the river (Beas) and inaccessibility of the hills.
  • The Ravi issues from the mountains of Mani Mahesh, a dependency of the country of Chamba, which is a place sacred to Mahadev and has the snow and climate of Kashmir and Kabul, and produces many sweet and delicious fruits. The Kings of this place breathe the spirit of independence on account of the extent of their country, its large population, the inaccessibility of the hills, and the strength of their fastnesses, as this river forms a barrier to the imperial army.
  • The integrity of Himachal was broken for the first time when some of these states raised the standard of rebellion against the British in 1848. As noted in the Life of John Lawrence: "It will be remembered that, unlike the inhabitants of the plains, who had not only acquiesced in but welcomed our rule, the hill chiefs were naturally more or less discontented with the loss of their ancient privileges; and the flame which had been smouldering now burst out simultaneously in different directions. At the other extremity of the hill country, the Katoch chief raised the standard of revolt, seized his ancestral palace at Teera and some adjoining forts, and fired a royal salute announcing the disappearance of the British Raj. At the same time the Raja of Jaswan, lower down in the hills, and the Raja of Datarpur, and the Bedi of Una, from the plain country, rose up against us. Dividing his force into two parts, Lawrence sent Barnes at the head of one of them against the Katoch chieftain, while he himself, with five hundred of the Sikh corps and four guns, moved down the Jaswan valley against the other insurgents. The success of both expeditions was complete." It had only been two years since the Anglo-Sikh war, yet the British could command the loyalty of Sikh troops and deploy them against their neighbours, the Rajputs of Himachal. It was a success in military recruitment demonstrated earlier with Gorkhas and military classes in other parts of India. Another Rajput state called Nurpur also rebelled against the British, under the leadership of the famous Ram Singh Pathania. In the end all these states were extinguished and their territories merged into neighbouring Punjab. The Katoch dominions formed the Kangra district, Jaswan and Datarpur merged into Hoshiarpur district, while parts of Nurpur went to Gurdaspur district. These territories were once again united with the rest of HP only in 1966 after the battle for integrated Himachal.
    The other Hindu kingdoms in the western Himalayas became 'princely states' under the British. The Rajas no longer looked to their subjects as their positions were guaranteed through British support; but still many of these Rajas are fondly remembered for their development works. Improved communication links with the rest of India and exposure to modern education, however urged the people to demand administrative reforms and economic development at a pace which the small hill states could not afford to provide. Therefore the earliest political movements in Himachal were against princely rule; led by individuals like Yashwant Singh Parmar of Sirmur, Thakur Singh Negi and Pandit Padam Dev of Rampur-Bushahr, Sadanand Chandel of Bilaspur, Thakur Hira Singh of Baghal, and Mukand Lal of Suket, all forming Praja Mandals in these states which because of a shared history and geography, and working to a common cause, naturally became associated with one another leading to the proposal of a united and democratic Himalayan Prant. The princely rulers also favored the cause of a united Himalayan province, partly to preserve the socio-cultural milieu of the hills, and partly to guarantee a constitutional position for themselves in the new state. The name Himachal Pradesh was chosen at the historic Solan conference in 1948, presided over by Raja Durga Singh of Bhagat princely state, and attended by Praja Mandal representatives. By the middle of that year all the Himalayan states in the region had merged together to form Himachal Pradesh.....with the exception of Bilaspur and Nalagarh.

    The battle for Bilaspur

    The government of Independent India followed a policy of either merging the princely states together into a union or into neighboring provinces. But this policy was not followed in the case of Bilaspur. Raja Anand Chand was close to the Congress leadership and an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, as seen in this Tribune article. But the inevitable merger of Bilaspur with Himachal Pradesh was being put off due to the construction of the Bhakra Nangal project on the Sutlej River, which flowed through the state. The Raja used this argument to create a constitutional position for himself in Bilaspur. Meanwhile the Congress government of Punjab, in a letter to Sardar Patel, asked for the merger of Bilaspur into Punjab simply to avoid legal complications on the ownership of the Bhakra Nangal project, but this ludicrous demand was rejected. Anand Chand could not enjoy his independence for long. In 1949 the HP Congress passed a resolution thanking: "Sardar Patel under whose guidance the Ministry of States had been able to remove the Raja of Bilaspur from the administration of the State and demands that....it be integrated without further loss of time with Himachal Pradesh." Much of Bilaspur was flooded by the construction of the Bhakra Dam, and even though the project had not reached completion, the merger of Bilaspur with Himachal Pradesh was finally agreed to by the central government in 1954. The issue of compensation for the Bhakra Dam oustees in Bilaspur remained unsettled and was raised as recently as this year's elections. Anand Chand of Bilaspur later joined the Swatantra Party with his anti-Congress Himachal Pradesh Sanyukta Morcha, making the first recognised opposition to the Congress in Himachal Pradesh. Another hill state that did not immediately merge into Himachal was Nalagarh. The ruler preferred to merge with the PEPSU union of states in the neighboring plains. The issue was complicated through personal relations; Raja Surendra Singh was married to a princess from Patiala and had signed a treaty with that state. Even though the economy of Nalagarh was entwined with the rest of Himachal, and the people asked for a merger with the hill state, Hindu-dominated Nalagarh went with Sikh-dominated PEPSU. When this union was merged with Punjab in 1954, once again the demand for Nalagarh's merger with Himachal was raised by chief minister Yashwant Singh Parmar. In his book Himachal Pradesh: a case for Statehood Parmar writes: "In course of time, as the Union of PEPSU merged in Punjab, in spite of popular aspirations to the contrary, Nalagarh was integrated in the Punjab State. Now it would be in the fitness of things to merge Nalagarh sub-division in Himachal." But as it happened Himachal itself had to battle against the Congress at the center, and Nalagarh was united with the rest of HP only in 1966 after the battle for integrated Himachal.

    The struggle for a capital

    Shimla was the summer capital of British India and it housed many central government ministries and offices, so while the surrounding areas forming the princely Shimla Hill States had been merged to form Himachal Pradesh, Shimla itself was kept out. But since it had the necessary infrastructure, which the other Himachal towns did not, Shimla was chosen to serve as a capital of Himachal Pradesh. Meanwhile neighbouring Punjab had lost its capital Lahore as a result of the Partition in 1947; the old Punjab towns were considered too congested and the Punjab government was shifted to Shimla as a temporary capital. Shimla thus served as the capital of two states; the Punjab assembly would sit at the old council chambers of British India, while the Himachal assembly held its meetings at the Vice-Regal Lodge (present Rashtrapati Niwas). The Foreign Office building in Simla was renamed Himachal Dham and housed the secretariat of HP. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of independent India, records the early struggles of the Himachal Congress leaders for developing their state, as well as the hostility they faced from the Congress government of Punjab in Shimla. Quoting from Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Correspondence and Select Documents:
    It was a ridiculous situation where Shimla was the capital of Himachal, but not a part of it and the HP government could not do anything for its development. On the other hand the Congress government in Punjab had no interest in Shimla, located out of the way in the mountains and subject to a severe winter. Everybody knew it would eventually form a part of Himachal. The Punjab government was looking for a new capital and for that purpose the city of Chandigarh was built with central assistance. The process of moving the Punjab assembly and government started in 1953, and HP got exclusive control of its capital. But soon the hill-state suffered a severe blow from the Congress government in Delhi and the merger of Shimla with Himachal was put off by a decade.

    The struggle against the Congress at the center

    Sardar Patel had supported the cause of Himachal Pradesh and admitted as early as 1948 that "the ultimate objective is to enable this area to attain the position of an autonomous province of India." On the other hand, Nehru and other Congressmen considered HP to be economically unviable and were pushing for its merger into Punjab.....no doubt with an eye out for the completion of the Bhakra-Nangal project. One of the other arguments made was that HP lacked administrative officers of good calibre since the territory was mostly made up of princely states. But the local leaders as well as princes of Himachal opposed such a merger on cultural and geographical grounds. This difference of opinion between the center and state was a minor battle, because the main discourse in India was over the demand for linguistic states and the tensions between Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab. The States Reorganisation Commission of 1954 therefore looked at these weightier matters, ignored the claims of the people of Himachal, and recommended the merger of the mountainous state with Punjab on the very weak ground of it being the source of the rivers that flowed into Punjab. The chairman of the commission, Shri Fazal Ali, however added a dissenting note favoring central control over Himachal given its strategic location and difficult terrain. Looking at the stout opposition to the commision's recommendations in Himachal, the States Reorganisation Bill in 1956 stated: "The Government of India has also taken note of the sentiment in Himachal Pradesh in favour of its continuation as a separate administrative unit for the time being....While ultimately Himachal Pradesh has to form a part of the Punjab, it may for the present be continued as a centrally administered unit." To rub salt in their wound, the HP legislative assembly was also dissolved and a union territory set up. The Indo-China war, Nehru's death, and the Indo-Pak war of 1965 stalled any further progress and as a result the expected merger of Shimla and other pahari regions with HP was put off by a decade. Other political parties like the Jana Sangh or the Communists also looked at Himachal Pradesh through the prism of Punjab, and therefore had little following in the hill state. In 1958 several HP leaders sat on a hunger strike for the restoration of the assembly. Even though statehood was not granted, a territorial assembly council was formed with Yashwant Singh Parmar becoming the chief minister in 1963. The HP Vidhan Sabha again raised the demand for statehood in 1967 and a bill was finally passed in January 1971 in parliament granting that demand.

    The battle for integrated Himachal

    The people of the hill states in the Kangra region had been part of British Punjab for less than a century, and in all that time retained their separate identity. The British had noted in their early settlement reports of the Kangra district that the revenue and administrative system continued unchanged from the ancient times and was different from that in the plains. The social profile of the region, entirely Hindu and with a dominant Rajput population, was different from the plains and similar to the rest of Himachal. As an illustration, the Arya Samaj movement became popular among Punjabi Hindus, but had no impact on the Pahari Hindus of Kangra. Administratively, politically, and socially the Kangra region remained on the fringes of Punjab, while geographically it was essential to an integrated Himachal. Kangra was also free from the battle over script and language in Punjab. Like the rest of Himachal, the people spoke various forms of the Pahari language, and in the past had used scripts like Takri. Under British rule the princely states of Himachal introduced Hindi and English schools, while the spoken language remained Pahari. The Takri script died a natural death and was replaced by Devanagari, by a process that had begun much earlier. This early 19th century painting of the then ruler of Kangra, Sansar Chand Katoch, uses the Devanagari script, while older paintings use the Takri script.
    None of the princely rulers of Himachal wished to patronize or preserve the old scripts, since that would have meant keeping their people even more backward than they already were thanks to geography and a lack of financial resources. The same linguistic story was repeated in the Kangra region with Hindi and English as the languages of the national mainstream and Pahari as the spoken language at home. In all the languages of the Pahari group, only Dogri of the Jammu hills has received recognition as an official language, and even here the old Takri script has been replaced by Devanagari. The politics of the Kangra region began to gravitate towards Himachal Pradesh following the formation of Praja Mandals in the hill-states. A Himachal Pradesh integration committee, as well as a Vishal Himachal Samiti were formed, demanding the integration of all pahari areas into Himachal on the principle of geographical contiguity and a common history, culture, and traditions. Even when Himachal Pradesh was reduced to a union territory, and threatened with merger into neighboring Punjab, there was no reduction in the enthusiasm for an integrated Himalayan state. In 1958 the Congress leaders of Himachal Pradesh joined with the Kangra District Congress Committee and demanded the integration of all hilly areas into HP. The geographical and historic battle for an integrated Himachal Pradesh then found support from the linguistic demand for a Punjabi suba, which gained ground in Punjab from the 1950s. Its Akali Dal leaders had always opposed any projected merger of Hindu-dominated HP into Punjab by the Congress government at the center. Due to geographical contiguity and lingusitic affinity other hilly regions like Kangra were merged with HP and a "Vishal Himachal Pradesh" was formed in 1966. The principle followed by the Punjab Boundary Commission, under the chairman Justice JC Shah, was to transfer all non-Punjabi hilly areas with a geographical contiguity to Himachal Pradesh. This worked seamlessly in the case of the mountainous regions of Kulu and Lahul-Spiti, as well as with Shimla, and Kangra district, which were transferred in their entirety. This principle was not followed in the districts of Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur, into which the British had merged rebellious hill states in the 19th century, or in Ambala into which Nalagarh had merged after Independence. Thus while 13 out of 16 blocks in Hoshiarpur had hilly terrain, only three blocks comprising the Una tehsil, were transferred to Himachal. This was the core of the old Jaswan kingdom, lying between the Solasinghi Range and the Siwaliks, and had to be part of Himachal. The other hilly areas were retained with Hoshiarpur, which remains the only Hindu-dominated district of Punjab as well as a recruiting ground for the Dogra Regiment. HP had also claimed the Pathankot tehsil of Gurdaspur on the grounds that the terrain was hilly and the inhabitants were Dogras/Paharis, with affinity to the Kangra region, but this claim was not accepted on linguistic grounds. Only the blocks of Dalhousie and Bakloh went to Himachal. Similarly the hilly Kalka tehsil of Ambala was not transferred in its entirety to Himachal. There was also a latent demand for the merger of the Jammu hils into Himachal, on geographical, linguistic, and historic grounds, but this could not be implemented because of Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Ultimately the battle for an integrated Himachal ended with major gains and minor losses.

    Strategic consequences of delaying an integrated Himachal

    On the ocassion of the seventeenth Himachal Day in 1965, the then governor of Himachal Pradesh had said that Himachalis being on the border had great responsibilities, which, he hoped, they would fulfil properly by standing guard on the frontiers threatened by new collusion between China and Pakistan. It was a case of being wise after the events. In 1948 the strategic importance of an integrated Himachal was being denied by the Congress leadership, with notable exceptions like Sardar Patel, Fazal Ali, and Rajendra Prasad. The 1962 debacle was caused as much by a lack of military preparedness as by a lack of communications infrastructure across the Great Himalayas. Under British rule there were only two metalled roads in Himachal, connecting the plains with the hill stations of Shimla and Dalhousie. The rest of Himachal lay undeveloped and backward. Dr. Rajendra Prasad had noted the enthusiasm of chief minister YS Parmar for building roads in the letter quoted above. At a meeting of the National Development Council held at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, in 1953, Parmar had said that Himachal Pradesh was rich in forest and mineral wealth, but adequate means of communications were needed. His government spent 51.4% of the total first Plan outlay on road construction alone. Yashwant Singh Parmar was not looking just at the interests of his own state but at the larger strategic interests of India. He hoped to extend road connectivity up to the border with Tibet, as well as provide alternate routes to Jammu and Kashmir state. As noted by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in his Correspondence and Select Documents:
    Such projects were based on the expectations that all neighbouring mountainous areas would soon be integrated into Himachal. But it was not to be! The void in strategic thinking left by the death of Sardar Patel, meant that Himachal was even robbed of its legislative assembly, leaving many road projects unfinished. It is no accident that the Himachal assembly was restored in 1963; only after the Indo-China war. Further reading - The Emergence of Himachal Pradesh: A Survey of Constitutional Developments - V Verma Himachal Pradesh: area and language - YS Parmar Read More......

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Colonial myths on the ancient province Gurjara

In the era of colonial British rule over India, a direct link was sought to be created between the province of "Gurjara", references to which are found in ancient inscriptions and texts, and the latter-day pastoral tribe of Gujjars. The colonial historians were not interested in the subject from the point of view of the Gujjars themselves, but from the entire populace of western and northwestern India, which to them appeared to be radically different from the Indians living in the east and south. The Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research gravely observed in 1912: "There are, moreover, special features of the structure and customs of Rajput and Jat and other northern communities in India which distinguish them from the Brahmanic masses of the interior, and may be attributed to difference of race, perpetuated by many generations of resistance to attacks from the outside." This division of Indian people finds a strange echo in an official note from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to US President Roosevelt in 1942 on why a united India could not be granted independence: "The fighting people of India are from the northern provinces largely antagonistic to the Congress movement. The big population of the low-lying centre and south have not the vigor to fight anybody."

This fighting spirit was attributed to the alleged foreign origin of these northern communities, and the same cause was used to explain the rise of the Pratihara empire and its extension into the Gangetic plains from the west. The more enduring resistance of the Rajput clans in Rajasthan to the Islamic invaders was also attributed to their mythical Scythian ancestry, and as a convenient reason to explain why Rajputs were more "Brahmanical" than the other foreign descent communities. The Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research states: "The contests with the Muslim invader of a few centuries later had the effect of consolidating the Rajput devotion to the scrupulous observance of Brahmanic injunctions as to marriage and intercourse with other castes which specially distinguished them from their foreign oppressors; and to the present day, they stand out from the rest of the community in the high value they attach to these matters."

British civil servant and historian VA Smith, describes how this assumption was transformed into a hypothesis (similar to the Aryan Theory) in his 1914 book The early history of India: "In this place I desire to draw attention to the fact, long suspected and now established by good evidence, that the foreign immigrants into Rajputana and the upper Gangetic provinces were not utterly destroyed in the course of their wars with the native powers.........and there is no doubt that the Parihars and many other famous Rajput clans of the north were developed out of the barbarian hordes which poured into India during the fifth and sixth centuries. The rank and file of the strangers became Gujars and other castes, ranking lower than the Rajputs in the scale of precedence."

Thus the colonial approach to the study of the Gujjar tribe was subsumed to their already established belief that all the peoples in the western half of North India were of foreign descent. The problems of this approach for the wider population was explained in this post: Foreign tribes Indian clans, which shows that there is no evidence for the movement of "hordes" of communities into India during that era, but rather campaigns of states established outside of India by those hordes. In the specific case of the Gujjars the British civil servant and amateur linguist GA Grierson wrote in 1916: "Gurjars, the ancestors of the present Gujars, probably entered India together with Hunas and other marauding tribes in about the sixth century AD and that some of their fighting men became recognized as Rajputs. As may be expected, Gujar herdsmen (as distinct from the fighting Gujars who became Rajputs) are found in greatest number in the North-West of India from the Indus to Ganges."

Dichotomies in linking Gurjara with Gujjar


  • The ancient inscriptions and texts for Gurjara all refer to a territory covering southwest Rajasthan and northern Gujarat. But the pastoral Gujjars live outside this territory: the main population in Punjab and the adjoining sub-Himalayan belt, followed by western Uttar Pradesh, and then the eastern districts of Rajasthan taking the third spot in total numbers.
  • The second dichotomy is that while these inscriptions refer to an orthodox Hindu kingdom, the main population of the Gujjars are either pastoral or agricultural.

These two dichotomies actually became the basis for the hypothesis by Smith, Grierson, Jackson and Bhandarkar. A foreign tribe invaded and settled down in Punjab, but for some unexplained reasons the warlike elements of this tribe separated and traveled further south into Rajasthan where they established a kingdom. The unwarlike elements remained behind and became the ancestors of the pastoral Gujjars. VA Smith was honest enough to admit that this was only a hypothesis and that he had made an astonishing assumption about the term Gurjara referring to a foreign tribe even though: "there is nothing to show what part of Asia they came from or to what race they belonged." And then of course there is the problem of explaining how a tribe from a sparsely populated region outside India, wherever that may be, multiplied in numbers to stand out in an already densely populated, fertile land like India?

Normally a hypothesis is constructed on the basis of certain facts, but the colonial myth makers used their own hypothesis as a base for manufacturing a stupendous new hypothesis....that of a separation of warlike elements from the main tribe and their unexplained migration away from fertile lands and into the desert! Any foreign tribe would be competing for resources with the indigenous population, and purely from the view of self-preservation they would more likely stick together than separate. And the only place where such a tribe would have the ability to establish a kingdom would be the place which the whole tribe inhabits. Flimsy as these multiple hypotheses are, they fall flat on their face under the weight of linguistic evidence:
  • The third dichotomy: even though the Gujjars reside primarily outside Gujarat and southwestern Rajasthan, they speak a language which is a cognate of Rajasthani and Gujarati.

Just like Rajasthani and Gujarati, the Gujari language has its roots in Sanskrit, and has developed from the later corruptions like Prakrit and Apabhramsa spoken in Rajasthan and Gujarat. But the colonial myth makers were not to be deterred by minor things like data and evidence....they constructed yet another hypothesis. That Gujari was the pre-existing language of the foreign tribe, and it has given birth to the languages spoken in Rajasthan and Gujarat, rather than the other way round! On linguistic grounds this hypothesis doesn't stand because the use of Apabhramsa in literature can be dated to centuries before the term Gurjara emerged. But even if this flimsy hypothesis is accepted, the big question then arises: why did this foreign language not affect the languages of Punjab, where this alleged foreign tribe allegedly first entered and where the largest population lives? Linguistic data shows that Gujari shares characteristics of the languages in the Rajasthani and Gujarati group which became more pronounced between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Gujari language cannot be dated to a previous period, and certainly not back to the 6th century, for the simple reason that spoken languages cannot be unchanged for a 1000 years (see language development and history).
  • Lastly, there are several other communities that still bear the cognomen of Gurjara. These communities are strictly non-tribal and have no connections to the pastoral Gujjars.

Communities like the Gurjar Kshatriyas, Gurjar Vanias, Gurjar Jains, and Gurjar Oswals, all live in the state of Gujarat and speak the Gujarati language. The other distinctive feature for these communities is the smallness of their numbers in the population of Gujarat. The Gurjar Oswals trace their origin to the Rajasthani town of Osian, which we know was an important religious center under the Imperial Pratiharas as well as the Mandor Pratiharas, and which contains the earliest specimens of the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The Gurjar Jains and Gurjar Vanias are largely found in Kutch and claim a Rajasthani Rajput ancestry. The Gurjar Kshatriyas are mostly craftsmen and artisans who again trace their ancestry to Rajasthan, and claim to have originally been Rajputs. They too are located primarily in Kutch and Saurashtra. The ancient province of Gurjara was confined to northern Gujarat and southwest Rajasthan; it did not include the virtual island of Kutch or the peninsula of Saurashtra. That is why communities migrating from southwest Rajasthan into these latter regions would keep the cognomen of "gurjara".

The colonial historians manufactured yet another hypothesis to explain this last dichotomy: namely that these tiny communities bearing the cognomen Gurjara were probably part of the invading "horde" all following different professions like trade, craftsmanship, finance, etc! They couldn't be bothered about providing any explanation to the obvious follow up to this fantastic new assumption: if these different communities were all part of the invading horde, why don't we find them anywhere in places where the alleged horde allegedly settled in greatest numbers: namely Punjab and the northwest, J&K, western Uttar Pradesh, and east Rajasthan? Why are they all found only in Gujarat? The location and numbers of these communities all prove beyond any doubt that they take their name from Gurjara, which was the name of a province in ancient times.

The case of the Gurjara Brahmans


The colonial historians tied themselves up in knots in these frantic efforts to connect the Gurjara province with a foreign pastoral tribe, then the latter with the warlike Rajputs, and further to trace communities of traders and craftsmen. The crowning foolishness on top of these colonial myths was the unexplained geographical separation of this hodge-podge of communities. But there was another knot in this twisted tale. Some of them now claimed that just as a warlike segment of the invading horde became Pratihara Rajputs, that horde also had a priestly class, which became known as Gurjara Brahmans who are today found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. The obvious riposte to this assumption is the same as for the other Gujarat-based communities: If the Gurjara Brahmans are indeed "high priests" of the mythical gurjar race, why aren't they found co-inhabiting the main settlements of that tribe in Punjab??

The biggest stumbling block for this convenient new hypothesis is that while Pratiharas were a clan of Rajputs, Gurjara Brahmans are not a clan.....they're not even a community of Brahmans. In fact, Gurjara Brahman is a geographical grouping of Brahman communities found in Gujarat and Rajasthan. As a word of explanation, Brahman communities in India are grouped geographically, into five North Indian provinces (hence called the Pancha Goud) and into five South Indian provinces (the Pancha Dravida). Intriguingly, while the Gurjara province was located in Western India, it is included in the Pancha Dravida primarily because the Brahman communities in this grouping are strict about not eating meat, just like the Brahmans in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Gurjara Brahman grouping also has Brahman clans from the North Indian group. A case in point being the Goud Gurjara, who are Goud Brahmans that settled down in Gurjara. The example of the Gurjara Brahmans again proves that Gurjara was the name of a province in ancient times, and certainly not the name of an "invading horde" of multiple communities! The map above shows the location of the twin provinces of Maru (Marwar) and Gurjar (Gujarat) as well as the main population centers of the pastoral Gujjars (in green) and those of the Gurjara Brahmans (in pink). Compare these to the map showing the Parihar Rajput settlements around the old bases of the Pratiharas.

Indian Historians on the term Gurjara


The early Indian Historians could not escape the established belief of the British rulers that the inhabitants of Western India were "more warlike and less Brahmanical" than the people of the interiors. DR Bhandarkar transcribed the inscriptions in the Gurjara territory along with AMT Jackson, and naturally followed the prevailing viewpoint. He went a step further and opined that apart from the Pratiharas, other Rajput clans like the Chauhans and Solankis were also of foreign origin but cited no evidence for this speculation. The nationalist historian RC Majumdar accepted the hypothesis of Gurjara being the name of an invading tribe, and of the Pratihara Rajputs emerging from it, but asserted that the other Rajput clans had an indigenous origin. But in the defence of these Indian historians it must be said that the linguistic data on the pastoral Gujjars was then only being compiled, and the study on language development from Sanskrit to Prakrit to Apabharamsa was still in its infancy. The evidence of language contradicts the foreign tribal origin of the term Gurjara, but there were Indian historians even in that period who opposed this hypothesis on other rational grounds.

As far back as 1925, the historian CV Vaidya lashed out at the: "unaccountable tendency in antiquarians of India to assign foreign and Scythic origin to each and every forward people found in Indian history. Thus the Jats and even the Rajputs are assigned a foreign and a Scythic origin. If the Jats, the Gujars, and the Rajputs with their clearly Aryan features are foreigners and Scythians where are the Indo-Aryans, those people who spoke the Aryan Sanskrit or Vedic language....have they disappeared?" Similarly Dashratha Sharma the Rajasthan historian asserted that Gurjara was the name of a province. Another stalwart historian from Gujarat, KM Munshi, emphatically rejected the colonial myths on the term Gurjara: "there is no evidence to prove that the Gurjara Gaur Brahmanas, the Srimala Brahmanas, the Poravada and Osavala Kshatriyas, and the corresponding Vaisyas were of foreign extraction." The theory of Gurjara being the name of a foreign tribe was contradicted on the lack of references in the historical texts, the many reference to Gurjara being a province, the linguistic affinity of Gujari to Rajasthani, and the existence of various communities taking their cognomen Gurjara from the province. The hypothesis now rests entirely on some speculative translations of Pratihara inscriptions.

For instance in the Jodhpur inscriptions, Rohilladdhi and Pellapelli are alternative names used for two Pratihara rulers. These untranslated words could just be colloquial but the colonial historians have taken these to be "proof" of foreign origin....even though these words have not been translated to this day nor have they been linked to any foreign language. In all probability they have a folk origin, as many other untranslated words and phrases in Rajasthani do even today. In the Rajor inscription dated 959 CE, Malthandeva, a feudatory of the Imperial Pratiharas, describes himself as a Pratihara from Gurjara (gurjara-pratiharanvayah) but the colonial historians speculated that this actually means Pratihara clan of the Gurjara tribe. However in most cases the clan is named first and the tribe second (as in Chechi Gujjar). Another line in this inscription refers to "all the neighbouring fields cultivated by (the inhabitants of) Gurjara" (Tathaitat pratyasanna Sri Gurjjara vahita samasta-ksetra sametah) and this is speculated to mean that there was a Gurjara tribe living in that territory engaged in farming. But this contradicts the whole hypothesis that only the warlike elements of the foreign tribe colonized Rajasthan....unless they're claiming that these mythical Gurjara rulers were also doing farming on the side! The inscription is only talking of the general inhabitants of Gurjara province and not to any tribe, for otherwise Gujjars in more substantial numbers should have been settled here, just as the Parihar Rajputs are.

Oral traditions of the Gujjars


In most places the oral traditions of the Gujjar populace point to a pastoral origin from Rajasthan/Gujarat. A minuscule population of Gujjars settled in Jhalwan, Balochistan, trace their ancestry to Delhi and speak the Sindhi language. In the same province, the Gujjars of the Makran region point to Mewar in Rajasthan as their original home. In NWFP the Gujjars speak Hindko and claim to be descendants of Hindu Rajputs. In the Punjab the Gujjars speak a mixture of Gojari and Punjabi and claim a Rajput ancestry....usually by the marriage of a Rajput chief of a particular clan with a Gujjar lady. They too trace their migration into Punjab from the south: Rajasthan or Gujarat. In the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri the 16th century Mughal ruler Jehangir describes how the district of Gujrat got its name: "I crossed the river by a bridge which had been built there, and my camp was pitched in the neighbourhood of the pargana of Gujrat. At the time when His Majesty Akbar went to Kashmir, a fort had been built on that bank of the river. Having brought to this fort a body of Gujars who had passed their time in the neighbourhood in thieving and highway robbery, he established them here. As it had become the abode of Gujars, he made it a separate pargana, and gave it the name of Gujrat. They call Gujars a caste which does little manual work and subsists on milk and curds."

There is a substantial Gujjar population in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The 12th century Rajatarangini which deals with the history of Kashmir and the neighborhood mentions a number of tribes, like Dards, Khasas, Bhuttas, etc who are still found there, but no mention is made of a Gujjar tribe. This can only mean that they migrated to the western Himalayas in a very late period. The Gujjars in J&K speak the Gojari language and state that their ancestors came from Gujarat...not surprisingly they are mostly vegetarians. From J&K the Gujjars have spread into Himachal Pradesh; first into Chamba and later into Sirmaur, where they are still called Jammuwala Gujjars. In all the places discussed above the Gujjars are Muslims and trace their conversion either to the invasion of Timur in the 14th century or to the reign of Aurangzeb in the 17th century. There is one intriguing point with regard to the Gujjar population in Punjab and the western Himalayas which cements the linguistic evidence of their Rajasthani rather than foreign origins:
  • It is significant that the Gujjars living in Punjab trace their connection more with the Rajputs of Rajasthan and not with the local Punjabi tribes. There are for instance no Janjua Gujjars, or Khokkar Gujjars, or Awan Gujjars.
  • Similarly Gujjars living in the western Himalayas do not share any connection with the locally prominent Rajput clans. There are no Jamwal Gujjars or Katoch Gujjars.

In western Uttar Pradesh the majority of Gujjars are Hindus. In this region too they trace a pastoral descent and a connection to Rajputs. They had a more warlike reputation than their brethren in the northwest; Gujjar strongholds were noted in the 18th century and Gujjars took part in the region's uprising against the British in the 19th century. Further south in Central India the minuscule population of Gujjars are primarily pastoral and unwarlike. Here some of the Gujjars claim to have migrated from Gujarat, others claim to have been created by Sri Krishna, and some others by Bhagwan Brahma. They share some clan names with Rajputs while others are called after villages, titles or natural objects.

It is in Rajasthan that the oral traditions of the Gujjars approach anything close to recorded history, even though their population here is less in numbers and restricted to the eastern districts. Here the Gujjars are closely associated with Rajputs and provide nurses for their families. Even in the case of the Jat rulers of Bharatpur the 1908 Imperial Gazetteer reports: "There are two main endogamous divisions of Gujars, namely Laur and Khari; and in Bharatpur the former has the privilege of furnishing nurses for the ruling family." The Charbhujaji Temple in Chittorgarh was constructed in the 15th century by Maharana Mokal, the Sisodia Rajput ruler of Mewar, and it has been managed by the Gujjars living in the neighborhood. Gujjars are further associated with Mewar through the folk deity Devnarayan also known as Deoji.

The legend of Devnarayan: This Deoji was born in the now unknown Bagrawat clan, as an incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu, and is worshiped by Gujjars, by Kumhars (potters) and Balais (weavers). In Rajasthan his shrines are at Puvali and Bunjari while in neighboring MP there is a Dev-Narayana temple (built in the 17th century) at Dev-Pipaliya. There is also a temple of his father Sawai Bhoj at Asind in the Bhilwara district. There are different stories about this Bagrawat clan; while all of them agree on the Bagrawats having a Rajput origin on the father's side, the mother's community is reported variously. According to a 20th century translation of the Dev Narayan phad rendered by Gujjar Bhopas, the clan originates from a Rajput warrior who slew a tiger (bagh) and married a Brahman woman. The Gujjars are depicted as following the pastoral profession and having been born from a holy cow; in this version they become associated with the Bagrawats through the marriage of Gujjar women with Bagrawat men. An older version of this legend is given in the 1913 MSS of bardic chronicles: "The word Bagravat means bigra hua, that is, those who have become perverse. They are said to have been descended from the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer by their connection with Bania women. The Bagravats were 24 brothers and a sister.....They suddenly became very wealthy and spent all their money in wine, women and sensual enjoyments. Bhoj was the most celebrated of the 24 brothers. When a man lavishly spends his money in enjoyments he is compared to Bhoj Bagravat. Bhoj had a son named Deo, commonly called Deoji, who started a new sect called the Bhopas. The Bagravats had a settlement at the village of Harsa near Bilada where their temple and their embankments are still in existence. There is an inscription in the temple dated about 1230 VS." The version told to Colonel Tod in the 19th century puts the origin of the clan to a Chauhan Rajput father and Gujar mother.

The subsequent tale of the Bagrawats also has different renderings, but to summarize: they are allied with the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer, and in conflict with the Parihar Rajputs of Ratankot (or Ran or Ran-Binai in other versions). This would date the legend to the 12th century; but Dev Narayan is also associated with the Sesodia Rajputs of Mewar and the founding of Udaipur, which took place more than 400 years later, and is evidently a later addition. The tale of Deoji has similarities to the tales of other folk deities of Rajasthan like Pabuji Rathod, who is worshiped by Rabaris or camel herders, and Ramdevji who is worshiped by the leather-working Meghwals. All these tales depict how Rajputs of poor means or mixed origins become associated with the lower castes.

Last rites of the colonial myths


As seen above, the highly speculative colonial hypotheses on the Gurjara province, the Gurjara Brahmans, and the pastoral Gujjars, are a mass of contradictions and are countered by textual references and linguistic evidence. The last remaining piece of the puzzle is the population distribution of the pastoral Gujjar tribe: what alternative hypothesis can explain why they are primarily found outside the ancient territory of Gurjara?

The oral traditions of the Gujjars leave no doubt as to their pastoral origins from Rajasthan. It can be speculated that a severe drought drove them to seek shelter in the relatively fertile eastern Aravalli Hills of Mewar. Here they were called Gujjars because they had migrated from that province, and it is here that their earliest historical memories are found. A pastoral people would primarily be in search of fresh grazing ground for their flocks; the densely forested and riverine tracts of the Gangetic plains do not afford such grazing. But the drier plains of Punjab do and it is here that the Gujjars have migrated in greatest number, absorbing along the way several other communities in their midst, but still preserving at the core a cognate of the Rajasthani language. The turmoil of the medieval Turk invasions would have compelled many to seek shelter in the western Himalayas where they still speak the purest form of this language.
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Friday, January 20, 2012

Imperial Pratiharas as the first of the Rajput clans

The identity of the Rajput clans of Rajasthan and neighboring regions was forged by the fire and hammer of foreign invasions; whether of the Turk and Mughal invasion in medieval times, or of the Saka and Kushan invasions of the ancient era. The resistance to the latter set of invaders has been described in Indian warrior clans. The older clans dwindled away and new clans were born, and these took up the burden of fighting another set of invaders, the Huns of the 6th century and the Arabs of the 8th century. The limited impact of the Hun incursions and their aftermath are summed up by the historian KM Munshi: "The Hunas disappeared as they came. The Gupta Empire, grown very weak, was dissolved; the virile Maukharis emerged victorious. But with their rise began a new phase in Indian History. Kanauj emerged as the symbol of a new order. The Golden Prime of India became a thing of the past; the military superiority of Magadha disappeared. Out of the welter emerged a set of new dynasties: the Maukharis of Kannauj, the Pushpabhutis of Thaneswar, the Maitrakas of Vallabhi and the Chalukyas of Badami. The Pallavas of Kanchi alone among the old dynasties continued to flourish. In the west, the warrior clans of what is now Rajasthan, living in the region of Mount Abu and descended from Brahmin ancestors, emerged from obscurity as a closely knit hierarchy with the Pratiharas at their head." It is in fighting the Arabs that this hierarchy of Rajput clans rose to prominence and continued to retain power in that part of India down to the 20th century.

The rise of the Arabs as a military power in the seventh century is the most significant factor of world history. At the height of their power, the Arabs captured Sindh in 712 CE and launched a major offensive into Western India around 725 CE. Some of the petty states in their path claimed victory against these foreigners, which can only mean that the Arabs could not capture their fortified towns, but prevailed in field-battles because their advance continued up to Ujjain. Here for the first time they were defeated by Nagabhatta of the Pratihara clan, so completely that they retreated out of western India altogether back to their refuge of Sindh.

In the Gwalior inscription of his descendants, Nagabhatta is represented as having "crushed the large armies of the powerful Mlechha king." Nagabhatta attained prominence with this victory; at the same time he took advantage of the Arab convulsion of the other petty states to immediately launch his own military campaign against them. He thus raised the Pratiharas to imperial status. Under his grandson Vatsaraja (783 CE) this imperial power spread into the Gangetic plains, and under Vatsaraja's son Nagabhatta II (815 CE) it is stated that "the kings of Sindhu, Andhra, Vidarbha and Kalinga succumbed to the power of Nagabhata as moths do unto fire." All this while the Rajput confederacy continued battling the Arabs, ultimately breaking their power in the late 9th century. A description of the military power of the Rajputs, is provided by the Arab merchant Sulaiman in 851 CE, when the Pratihara ruler was Bhoja: "This king maintains numerous forces, and no other Indian prince has so fine a cavalry. He is unfriendly to the Arabs, still he acknowledges that the king of Arabs is the greatest of kings. Among the princes of India there is no greater foe of the Muhammadan faith than he."

From contemporary literature the titles prevalent among the Rajputs were: baladhikrta (a military officer put in charge of a town), mahayudhapati (officer in charge of the arsenal), mahapratihara (chief of the palace guards), pilupati, asvapati and paikkadhipati (commanders of the elephant, horse and infantry forces). The kottapala was an officer in charge of a kotta or fort. Samantas were feudatory chieftains and nobility of the Pratiharas and other Rajput clans, Rajasthaniyas were viceroys, while Rajaputras were the royal princes, sons of the reigning kings of each clan. Other military and feudal titles were: Mahasamantadhipati, Mahasamanta, Mahamandalika, raja, rajakula (later known as Rawal), senani, Thakkura (the Thakur of later times) and Kanaka. The military camp for the Rajput armies was called skandhavara, and a description of the Rajput soldiers in the Yasastilaka champu is given as follows:
  1. They had dhotis coming up to knees.
  2. Their loins were girt with daggers mounted on the handles of buffalo horns.
  3. The close and dense growth of hair that covered their bodies, constituted as it were, armour for their entire body.
  4. They appeared to be three-headed on account of quivers on both the right and left sides of their heads.
  5. They surpassed even Krpa, Krpadharma, Karna, Arjuna, Drona, Drupada, Bhaga and Bhargava in shooting arrows swiftly, vigorously and accurately at distant objects.

What sets apart the Pratihara Empire from their contemporaries and predecessors is the sheer number, and near independent status, of their feudatory and allied clans. It is intriguing that some of these bigger clans claimed the same imperial status as the Pratiharas, by assuming the titles of Maharajadhiraja and Maharaja, and portrayed their relationship with the Pratiharas as an alliance in which they provided military aid in times of need. At other times they could field their armies in independent pursuits of power, and sometimes in contests against their overlord. The Pratiharas would not, or could not, suppress these alternate centers of power and this weakened their polity. On the other hand it gave a kind of stability to the region in that the fall of one clan to foreign invasion only gave an opportunity to another clan for filling the power vacuum and continuing the fight against that invader. The legacy of the contemporary Rashtrakutas and Palas is lost in the pages of history, but that of the Rajput clans has lasted thousands of years, right down to the 20th century.

These Rajput warriors were linked together as equals in the muster roll of 36 ruling clans (Chhattis Rajkul) which became the bedrock of Rajput identity in Rajasthan. The downside of this arrangement was that these warrior clans spent a great amount of time in internecine contests, stabilized on rare occasions by the rise of one power like the Pratiharas. Whenever such clan-confederacies emerged in Rajput history they projected their power into the Gangetic plains in the same manner as the Pratihara Rajputs had done: under the Chauhan Rajputs in the 12th century when Delhi and southern Punjab were captured, and then under the Sesodia Rajputs in the 16th century when the battle for the mastery of the Gangetic plains was fought at Khanua. At all other times these states, even those ruled by branches of the same clan, fought each other, as illustrated in the case of the rulers of Mandor, in west Rajasthan, who also belonged to the Pratihara clan. While the history of the Imperial Pratiharas is given in the Gwalior inscription of Bhoja, that of the Mandor Pratiharas is given in Jodhpur inscription of Bauka Pratihara. From these inscriptions it becomes clear that Mandor was the original kingdom of the Pratiharas, and younger members of the line established separate kingdoms in other parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. The senior line of Mandor had to submit to the junior line in the wake of the latter's victory over the Arabs, but reasserted their independence whenever the power of the Imperial Pratiharas was weakened. Both families constructed temples at the important religious center of Osian in west Rajasthan.

The town of Osian is built around the Sachiyamata hill, which is crowned by the Sachiyamata temple. The present construction dates to the 12th century and later, but the original temple is dated to the 8th century. Worship continues at this temple to this day, as it does at the Mahavira Jain temple, which was built by Vatsaraja of the Imperial Pratihara line. It is believed that of all the ancient temples at Osian, the Vishnu and Surya temples were constructed by the Imperial Pratiharas while the Saiva and Sakti temples were built by the Mandor Pratiharas. The latter increasingly after the 9th century when the Imperial line's power was centered more and more around Kannauj and Gwalior.

Links of the Pratihara with Brahmins, Bhandi, and Gurjara


Both the Imperial Pratiharas and the Mandor Pratiharas claimed the status of Suryavanshi Kshatriyas of the Ikshvaku clan of Sri Rama through his brother Lakshmana. The two differ marginally on how the term Pratihara originates with Lakshmana: inscriptions of the Imperial line claims that Lakshmana repelled the enemies under Meghanada, during the battle with Ravana, hence performing the duties of a pratihara (protector) while the Jodhpur inscription says that he performed this duty while guarding Sita. The term pratihar/pratihari originally was used for a palace guard or common soldier (its modern form in Hindi is prahri), but in the early medieval times the Mahapratihara had become the title of an important general. It is entirely conceivable that the Pratihara Rajputs had an ancestor who was such a general in some kingdom who later established his own rule, and his descendants carried on the clan name as Pratihara. Later they associated this title with the epic hero Lakshmana. In late medieval times the agnikula legend (warriors being created from a fire-pit by Brahmins at Mt Abu) was associated with four Rajput clans, including the Pratiharas, more as glorification than actual historicity. There are some other intriguing references in the old inscriptions:

Brahmin ancestry - The inscription of the Mandor Pratiharas states that their ancestor Harichandra was a Brahman who took up arms in the place of studying scriptures. Harichandra had two wives, a Brahmin woman (who is not given any title) from whom the Pratihara Bramins emerged, and a Kshatriya woman (who is given the title of queen) whose sons became Pratihara Rajputs. The inscription says, "those who were born of Queen Bhadra became drinkers of wine", which is a trait identified with the Rajputs. Each of her four sons are named individually, but the sons of the Brahmin wife are not even mentioned. And further no clan of Parihar Brahmins is mentioned in later history while Parihar Rajputs are still to be found. From the inscriptions of other Rajput clans it becomes clear that Brahmin status is additionally accorded to some of their rulers either because they gained proficiency in studying scriptures, or because as rulers they performed some religious functions. The Jodhpur inscription also says that the four sons of Harichandra built a large rampart round the fort of Mandavyapura (Mandor) which was gained by their own prowess. Forts cannot be built, or towns captured, without an existing army.

Bhati and Bhandi clans - Siluka, a ruler of the Mandor Pratihara line, is said to have defeated Bhattika Devaraj who was initially identified with Devaraja of the Imperial Pratihara line. But the reference to Bauka Pratihara's mother Padmini as belonging to the Bhati clan of Rajputs in that same inscription, suggests that Bhattika Devaraj was the ruler of the Bhati clan whose territories were in the Jaisalmer district, to the northwest of Mandor. Their old capital was Lodurva and after the initial battles, peace was made between the two clans by a matrimonial alliance. In the Gwalior inscription it is stated about Vatsaraja of the Imperial line that "with strong bows as his companion he forcibly wrested (hathad-agrahit) the empire (samrajyam), in battle from the famous Bhandi clan, hard to be overcome by reason of the rampart made of infuriated elephants." Some historians identify this Bhandi clan as the same as the Bhati Rajputs; this would explain why the Imperial Pratiharas wrested "the empire" from them as they were allied to the Mandor Pratiharas. Other historians take Bhandi to be the name of a clan located in UP because Bhandi was the name of a maternal uncle of Harshvardhana, the ruler of Kannauj.

Gurjara province - The Rajasthani hill-station of Mt Abu was the geographical and spiritual center of a territory known in ancient times as Gurjara. This territory covered northern Gujarat and southwest Rajasthan, and it shared a cultural affinity with the neighboring region of Maru, covering western Rajasthan. In more modern times, Gurjara evolved into Gujarat, while Maru became Marwar. The domain of the Mandor Pratiharas covered both these regions and the temples built at Osian are categorized under the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The agnikula legend of later times also points to Mt Abu as the original home of the Pratiharas. This is why the Pratihara rulers are sometimes described as Gurjara, Gurjararaja, Gurjaranatha, in the records of their contemporaries. Another related principality of this era was Nandipuri in southern Gujarat, which was founded by Dadda, who is identified with the youngest son of Harichandra Pratihara. This family claims to have been born in the lineage of the kings of Gurjara (Gurjara nripa vamsa) but the clan name of Pratihara is missing from all their records. It is plausible that Gurjara was the original name of a clan based in Mt Abu, after whom the territory got its name, and which sent different branches south into Gujarat and north into Mandor. However no record of such a clan has been unearthed. And if the Pratiharas of Mandor were descended from such a clan, it is inexplicable that the name Gurjara as used in the sense of a clan, is completely missing from their records or those of the Imperial Pratiharas. A separate blog post is required for the wild hypotheses of colonial historians on the ancient Gurjara province.

There are many more references to Gurjara as a province, than as a clan. The Kuvalayamala, was composed in Prakrit by Uddotana in 779 CE, at Jalor in Rajasthan at the same time as the Pratihara empire was being formed. It makes reference to the adjoining territories of Maru, Malava, Gurjar, Lata, Madhyadesa, Takka, and Sindhu. The 7th century Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang has spoken of a kingdom in Rajasthan as follows: "The king is of the Kshatriya caste. He is just twenty years old, He is distinguished for wisdom and he is courageous. He is a deep believer in the law of Buddha and highly honours men of distinguished ability." Hiuen Tsang named this kingdom ku-che-lo, which can be identified as Gurjara, with its capital at pi-lo-mo, usually identified with Bhinamalla near Mt Abu. In Bana's Harsha Charita it is said that in the 6th century Prabhakarvardhana of Thaneswar (in modern Haryana) fought the Hunas (lingering on in the Punjab and Kashmir), the king of Sindhu (modern Sindh), the king of Gurjara (Gujarat+SW Rajasthan), the lord of Gandhara (northwest), the ruler of Lata (southern Gujarat), and that of Malava (western Madhya Pradesh). Even in more modern times the word Gujar was being used in territorial sense, rather than tribal, in certain parts of India. For instance the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer reports that in Marwar the word Gujar is used to designate Gujarat. Meanwhile the 1883 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency reports that in Maharashtra vani (traders) were named after the provinces of their origin; hence the word Gujar meant a Gujarat Vani while Marwari was used for a Marwar Vani. Apart from these references there are numerous communities still bearing the cognomen of Gurjar, pointing to its geographical origin, the most prominent of whom are the Gurjara Brahmins.

Parihar Rajput settlements around the old bases of the Pratiharas


The line of Imperial Pratiharas at Kannauj, which rose to power in the wake of the Arab invasion, was finally extinguished 300 years later during the Turk invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni. But the wider clan of Pratihara Rajputs, and their other bases like Mandor and Gwalior, continued to survive till a much later period. Over the centuries the clan name Pratihara evolved into Parihar and variants like Purihar and Padhiar. In Rajasthan the Parihar Rajputs have numerous sub-clans like Indha, Ramawat, Juda, Lulapota, Nadhat, and Sindhal, which is not surprising considering their long rule in Mandor. The above map shows how the population of Parihar Rajputs is located close to the major Pratihara strongholds.

Parihar Rajputs of Mandor - After a revival in the 10th century, the old line of Mandor Pratiharas saw a decline in their power, and became feudatory to the newer powers like the Paramars from Malwa, and later to the Chauhans of Nadol and Ajmer. The Mandor Pratihars were part of the Rajput confederacy under the Chauhans of Ajmer which was ended by the death of Prithviraja on the fatal field of Tarain in 1192. But it took another 100 years of constant warfare before the Delhi sultanate could project its power on Rajputana; in 1292 Mandor was conquered by Jalaluddin Khalji. The Parihar ruler and his family eluded captivity and found refuge in the neighboring Bhati Rajput kingdom of Jaisalmer. As per the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer, Purihar Rajputs were still to be found in that desert region. Mandor itself was under Muslim rule for the next 100 years; but it seems that only the city was occupied by the Turk governors and their soldiers while the remaining land was held by the Parihar Rajputs. The full story of this period is not before us; but we can assume that time and again the Parihars tried to overthrow the interlopers and were unsuccessful. At other times they paid land revenue and provided military service to the Turks.

What saved the Parihars from annihilation was the underlying strength of the Rajput clan system, described earlier, in that newer clans were always emerging to take on the mantle of resistance against the invaders. Guerrilla warfare by these Rajput clans led to the liberation of Rajputana in the late 14th century, while some nearby parts of India remained under the Turks. In the case of Mandor, the Rathor Rajputs had emerged from the district of Kher to become the dominant power in the Marwar region, and in 1382 they conquered Mandor from the Muslims. Mandor became the capital of the Rathor rulers until Jodhpur was established in the 15th century; the cenotaphs of their rulers are still to be found here. The Parihars were assimilated under the Rathors as feudatories and numbers of them are to be found in Jodhpur. Some of them joined in the Rathor expansion further north; Rao Bika the founder of Bikaner had a prominent general named Bela Parihar and not surprisingly Parihar Rajputs are to be found in that part of Rajasthan as well. Poorer members of this clan seemed to have joined the ranks of the other communities, such are the Parihar Meenas and Parihar Kolis. An interesting family of businessmen (seth), who were previously armourers, carry the clan name Parihar and trace their history to Mandore: Curious House.

The Parihar Rajputs in Marwar still had the numbers and resources to impact the polity centuries later. In the 17th century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Rathor kingdom of Marwar and Jadunath Sarkar writes: "A strong force was sent into Marwar under Sarbuland Khan, and a fortnight later the emperor himself started for Ajmer to direct the conquest of the state. Anarchy and slaughter were let loose on the doomed province. The nationalist party was threatened by a host of enemies. The Parihars — the dispossessed ancient lords of the land and the hereditary enemies of the Rathor interlopers — tried to revive their historic kingdom of Gurjara-Pratihara by seizing Mandor, the ancient capital, 5 miles north of Jodhpur."

Ujjain - Another base for the Pratiharas was Ujjain. In the 11th century it came under the Parmara Rajputs but pockets of Parihar settlements still abound in the region spanning MP, Gujarat, and southeast Rajasthan. The 12th century Prithviraja Vijaya names Jaggadeva Pratihara as a general in the Solanki Rajput kingdom of Gujarat. In the 15th century the state of Umeta, situated due west of the city of Baroda, was established by a Padhiar Rajput named Jhanjarji.

Gwalior - the strategic fort of Gwalior contains some of the oldest records the Parihar Rajputs. But like Ujjain, it too fell to newer powers like the Chandellas and the Kacchapaghatas. In 1196 CE the latter clan were uprooted by the Turks of the Delhi sultanate. But once again the staying power of the Rajput clan confederacy was displayed when fifteen years later the Parihar Rajput chief Vigraha defeated the Muslims. His descendants held Gwalior for half a century and were only expelled by Sultan Balban in 1258. The Parihar Rajputs from Gwalior established important states in the adjoining regions that lasted till the modern era. One was Alipura in Bundelkhand and the other was Nagod, in Baghelkhand. Since Nagod has been a Parihar Rajput stronghold concurrently with Gwalior, it is depicted on the map along with the other Pratihara strongholds.

Nagod state is described in some detail by the Archaeological Survey of India (1874) covering Alexander Cunningham's tour of Central India: "Uchahara is a small town and railway station on the high road between Allahabad and Jabalpur, and six miles to the south-west of Bharhut. The town gives its name to the chiefship of a Parihar Raja, who is, however, better known now as the Raja of Nagod......From the late Minister of the Uchahara State, I learned that the Parihar chiefship was older than that of the Chandels of Mahoba, as well as that of the Baghels of Rewa......The great lake at Bilhari, called Lakshman Sagar, is said to have been made by Lakshman Sen Parihar; and the great fort of Singorgarh, still farther to the south, contains a pillar bearing the name of a Parihar Raja. The family has no ancient records, and vaguely claims to have come from Abu-Sikhar in the west (Mount Abu), more than thirty generations ago....The great ruined fortress of Singorgarh commands the Jabera pass leading through the hills between Jabalpur and Damoh and Saugor. It is true that the old fort is not of great size; but its name would appear to have been derived from a certain Gaj Singh Pratihar, according to an inscription of 8 lines which is recorded on a square stone pillar....in which the hill is called Gaja-Singhadurggye. The monolith is called kirtti-stambha, or the 'pillar of fame.' It was set up in the Samvat year 1364, or AD 1307. The whole of this part of the country would appear to have belonged to the Parihars or Pratihars as we find was actually the case in A. D. 1307, when these monoliths were erected."

Kannauj - A large colony of Parihar Rajputs is to be found in the Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh, with the Raja of Malhajini at their head. The Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh similarly has Parihar settlers, no doubt originating from their ancestral base of Kannauj. Another colony of Parihar Rajputs is in the Hamirpur district; they call themselves descendants of the celebrated Parihar Raja, Jajhar Singh of Hamirpur, who settled there from Marwar.
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