From the Jacket
Rajasthan, also referred to by terms like 'Rajwarra', 'Raethan' and 'Rajputana' in the past, is synonymous in popular perception as the land of rajas and maharajas, chivalry, forts and palaces, the fabled Great Indian desert or thar desert, hardy folk and a treasure-trove of ancient lore, music, dance, ballads and myths.
The present-day Rajasthan cam into being when nineteen princely states and two chiefdoms of Rajputana were merged together between 1948 and 1950. To this, tracts like Ajmer-Merwaa and a few other zones were added in 1956. The region has a long history, stretching from the prehistoric Old Stone Age, in which local geography and environment had a role in determining the settlement-patterns and locations of towns and cities. The book covers a broad spectrum, encompassing the political, socio-cultural and economic history of present-day Rajasthan from the earliest times up to the middle of the twentieth century, in a comprehensive yet easy-to-read text aimed at, both, the general reader and scholar, alike.
A History of Rajasthan uses various archival, epigraphical, numismatical, architectural, archaeological, and art-history related information as well as traditional narratives, and oral and written chronicles, to provide general overview of aspects like literature, religion, art and architecture, position of women, socioeconomic conditions, science and technology, as well as the subaltern, peoples' oriented, 'everyday' life of the 'average citizen'.
An archaeologist, historian and writer, Rima Hooja is currently the Director of Minnesota University's MSID India Program. With a MA in History, Postgraduate Certificate in Archaeology (Cambridge, UK), and a Ph. D in Archaeology, also from Cambridge University, Rima has held several academic post, including Associate Professor Indian Tradition & Culture, Kota Open University, and Visiting Fellow, Institute of Development Studies Jaipur. A Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. She has served on several governing boards, committees and councils.
Rima has over fifty published research papers and articles to her credit, besides journalistic articles, contributions to the Students Encyclopedia Britannica, and presentations at international seminars and conferences. Books by her include The Ahar culture and Beyond; Prince, Patriot, Parliamentarian: Biography of Dr. Karni Singh - Maharaja of Bikaner; Environment Degradation Crusader for Self-Rule: Tej Bahadur Sapru and the Indian National Movement, and an English translation of a fifteenth century AD Sanskrit manuscript on iconography, Mandan's Devata-Murti-Prakarnam",
Rajasthan, Also Referred To As 'Rajwarra', 'Raethan' And 'Rajputana' in the past, is synonymous in popular perception as the land of rajas and maharajas, chivalry, forts and palaces, the fabled Thar desert, and hardy folk - ordinary men and women - with a treasure-trove of ancient lore, music, dance, ballads and myths. It is this, and similar aspects of, the rich historical heritage that the present book on Rajasthan's history has attempted to summarise and present.
While the present-day state of Rajasthan is a relatively recent entity, formed in the wake of Indian independence in 1947, the region has a very long history. As such, the book tries to cover a broad spectrum encompassing the basic political, socio-cultural and economic history of the area comprising the area of present-day Rajasthan from the earliest times to the present. It is relevant to note here that in recent years, the importance of regional studies, complementing existing 'mainstream' history, has been recognised, and regional or local history forms part of the academic syllabi of most Indian universities. However, in the case of Rajasthan, though specialized scholarly books and short tracts in Hindi and English, covering specific topics, written by academics are available, there exists a lacuna for a comprehensive, yet easy-to-read, book on Rajasthan's history aimed at both the general reader and scholar alike.
In an age where it is not politically correct to see works with a strong chronological and dynasties-related stress, I should state at the outset that there is a strong element of both these aspects in this book For one thing, the nature of texts and sources so far available (e.g. khyats, rasos, kavya, etc., the numerous genealogical vamshavali and pidhivali etc., court records, epigraphs, inscribed eulogies; coins; oral traditions) make it far easier to present a certain kind of information. Such information focuses more on the elite and the merchants, traders, religious groups; the several warrior clans and their battles; the grants given to bards, priests, religious sects; the literary, architectural and cultural achievements; and so forth. Of done in the past couple of decades on some chronological periods, covering 'late medieval' to pre-modern and modern subaltern aspects, as well as 'late medieval' to pre-modern and modern economic and land-related aspects. Despite such work - much of it substantive - there are still lacunae for many, earlier, aspects of the socio-economic, subaltern, peoples' oriented etc. 'everyday' life of the 'average citizen'.
As such, I look at this present book as fulfilling the role of providing a basic framework of the 'old-fashioned' political history - with generous admixture of other aspects - for Rajasthan through the centuries. To this, I hope to eventually add a couple of further volumes at some point in the future. In these, I will try and take up alternative approaches and subject - matters, and do better justice to the people to the past few millennia who have lived in Rajasthan.
History is much more than a mere chronological arrangement of events and incidents, however. Thus, the book has also tried to provide a general overview of aspects like the literature, religions, art and architecture, position of women, etc. - all of which go into the making of history and culture. However, the limitations of space - and occasionally a paucity of information - have determined to a degree the amount of general socio-cultural, economic, subaltern and gender-related etc. aspects that one has been able to put into this work. Perhaps this can be resolved by another, differently oriented, book in the near future.
Furthermore, despite the not inconsiderable bulk of this work, there remain many other associated aspects of human life that have, due to space constraints as much as being outside the immediate scope of this work, remained scantily touched upon. The history of indigenous science and the development of technology in this region, for instance, have not really been examined in this book - and indeed require a full separate book in itself to do justice to the subject.
To take the example of metals and metallurgy: the erstwhile princely state of Mewar has long been recognised for its mineral wealth, including abundant copper ores, which began to be worked from c. third millennium BC onwards. There are also large deposits of lead and zinc in and around Zawar, about forty kms. southeast of Udaipur. Zawar has been an important centre of zinc production for contemporary India, and in the 1950s the Zawar hills were described as possessing India's richest deposits of lead, zinc and silver Zinc production here has been carried out in recent years by Hindustan Zinc Ltd., public sector Organisation. Fascinatingly, recent studies have shown that zinc smelting was known in the Zawar area at least by the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries AD, if not somewhat earlier (as is discussed further in this book). This date precedes zinc-smelting in most other parts of the world, especially Europe.
While this aspect of science and technology is looked at in this text, many others are not - mainly because of constraints of space. In a different vein, but by way of further whetting the appetite of interested readers, one may also mention just one of the ingenious local methods that evolved to cope with the restrictions imposed by the climate and terrain. On display at Jaisalmer's palace-museum is a device for cooling a room, which is fabricated from wood, metal and frames set with vetiver-grass (khus). This pre-modern cooler incorporates a manually turned spoked wooden wheel, which in turn moves small wooden fan-blades set within a large drum-like structure with wetted frames of khus on both sides. As the wheel turns, the fan-blades revolve, drawing and circulating khus cooled air through the chamber.
It is openly known that there are various accounts of different periods of the past available to us. For Rajasthan, these are in the form o scantly archaeological data, coins of kings (occasionally queens) and kingdoms, and references in various works of literature and various languages like Sanskrit, Prakrit, Persian, Apabrahmsa, Rajasthani (i.e. Dingal, Pingal) etc. the sources also take the shape of genealogies and archival records, oral traditions and travellers' accounts, as well as numerous inscriptions on copper-plates grants, stone-slabs inset at wells, reservoirs and other water-structures, within caves, on the wall of temples and mosques, and at forts and palaces.
There is, however, an obvious limitation in the amount of knowledge or information that any one of the above categories can convey by themselves. For example, in the case of the archaeological, epigraphical, numismatical, and art and architectural types of data, our 'recreation' of the past based on any on of these is limited by the fact that only a portion of the data has survived down to our times. And that too, in the case of epigraphs, provides a pre-selected perspective, since most inscriptions were engraved as proclamations by the state or king, or to record grants, or the construction of a place of worship, or to commemorate a victory, and so forth. As such, epigraphs are usually different from casual graffiti. For, while graffiti may not provide an alternative side to the story, it can provide additional insights into bygone eras.
Surviving archives in the shape of documents (or inscriptions) in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Persian, Rajasthani etc., pertaining to administrative details, or revenue-records, or listing of estates, or honours, or various taxes and cesses levied, or letters exchanged between two or more kingdoms or chiefdoms, etc., also carry the burden of selectivity. For, not every aspect of everyday life of every category of inhabitant of any area is generally covered in such archival records, but rather, things which seemed relevant for the purpose of recording at the time Similarly, literary works, genealogies, and travellers' accounts etc. have usually recorded, or in the case of the tales and myths have memorised and handed down to future generations, those aspects that appeared important, or noteworthy, or relevant to the recorder or story-teller. Furthermore, the epigraphic, literary and archival records for the period spanning c. sixth century BC to sixth century AD in Rajasthan's history, are fewer than compared to the centuries that followed, and this gap can give a skewed notion about human existence.
It is not as if the area has been oblivious to the notion of history. There is a long tradition of bardic accounts, customary histories, genealogies and ballads, which were maintained, transmitted and publicly recited on occasions by groups like the Charans, Bhats, Badvas, Barhats, Ranimangas and/or Bhopas, as the case may be. Some of this information was penned in the form of khyats, vamshavali, vats, rasos, etc. in Rajasthani. However, while khyats by Nainsi, Bankidas, Dayaldas, Murari Dan and others provide valuable information, I should be borne in mind that at times the khyat-compilers blended Jegendary ancestors and events with real people as generously as they eulogized a patron and criticized their patron's (or his ancestor's) opponents.
One should add here, that there is a rich oral and written tradition, mainly - though not solely - pertaining to dynastic histories. Popular heroes, including of the non-elite category, are a part of this tradition, as for instance in the story of Devnarayan, or the 'Bagavaton ki Kaha'. Oral transmission, even of written texts, has been an important feature of traditional rural and urban life in most parts of Rajasthan. The public performance of the tale of Pabu-ji in villages, using the 'Pabu-ji ka Phad', or a painted scroll depicting the story of Pabu-ji, and entailing several nights of recitation, is an example of this. At another end of the social scale, it was common for the ruling groups to be entertained in their 'baithaks' and durbars after sunset by storytellers and bards, who related and re-told the heroic deeds of past (and occasionally contemporaneous) men and women. However, since impeccable, authenticated and/or verifiable sources of history are of primary importance to historians, one problem faced while delving into the oral and traditionally communicated aspects of the history of Rajasthan, is that of intermeshing and verifying the rich oral tradition with 'history' arrived at through following the accepted rigours of the discipline.
Accounts of travellers like Xuanzang (previously spelt as Hiuen Tsang), or later ones like Tavernier, Bernier, Finch, Manucci, Thomas Roe, Terry, Captain Mundy, Bishop Heber who saw Jaipur in 1825, Manrique, Frey Sebastian and various others too have left a vivid picture of some of their observations, and are important in this respect.
There is also another distinct body of writing, mostly dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century AD. This category includes works on regional or sub-regional histories by people like Col. James Tod, Kaviraj Shyamaldas, Suryamal Mishran, G. H. Ojha, etc. it also includes the various official reports of British Political Agents, Residents, Agents. To the Governor General and others, besides reports, gazetteers, compendiums and books compiled by British officers like Powlett, Erskine, Tod, Lockett, Willis, etc., as well as the subsequent works of various twentieth century historians.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw some exploration, excavation, survey and conservation work in some of the princely states. For instance, the erstwhile state of Jaipur established a Department of Archaeology and Historical Research in 1926, appointing Dayaram Sahni, who had retired from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), as its first director. Later, K .N. Puri served in that capacity. Excavations and conservation work at various sites, dating to different time-periods, were conducted under both men. Prior to this, Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner appointed an Italian indologist and linguist, Luigi Pio Tessitory, to undertake a general architectural-cum-cultural survey of Bikaner. Tessitori also studied parts of Marwar. In the 1940s the Austro-Hungarian-Briton - Sir Aurel Stein - traversed parts of the erstwhile states of Bikaner, Jaisalmer, and Bahawalpur, which lay further to the west, and found evidence of settlements.
Thus, over time, not only have there been several kinds of writings, narratives, chronicles and oral transmissions of traditions about the area comprising the modern state of Rajasthan, there still exist ample archival, epigraphical, numismatical, architectural, archaeological, and art-history etc. related information records. All these form a valuable source of information for any writer attempting to compile Rajasthan's history into book-form - and, in utilizing these, one must acknowledge an unredeemable debt to the hands and minds that created and lived these 'traditions', sources and bodies of knowledge' as also to the multitudes who have lived and died in this area over the past thousands of years, and played their part in shaping the reality we live in today.
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