Films, Rajputs & Hindutva: Will The Critics And Scholars Call A Spade A Spade?
Popularisation of Hindu Brahminical theories sans scrutiny must set alarm bells in liberal academia space, globally
There seems to be no end to the representation war in Bollywood's period portrayals. The unveiling of the first teaser of Prabhas-starrer 'Adipurush' stirred the controversy pot once again. Based on the epic 'Ramayana', the film's portrayal of mythical figures like Ravana has received flak from the BJP owing to the alleged 'misrepresentation' of the Brahmin antagonist. Others slammed the film for its amateurish use of Computer-generated imagery (CGI) that blew things out of proportion. This is just one of many instances where tampering with history in the guise of creative liberty hasn't gone down too well. Similar interference has been found recently in academic inferences on many ethnic communities, positing arguments that seek to divide them.
Misrepresentation of Communities Feeds Popular Imagination
Colonial ethnographers such as HA Rose, Denzil Ibbetson, and Lepel Griffin can be accredited as the harbingers of sociological, ethnographic research in South Asia. Colonial theorists obsessed over race, class, and, naturally, the origins of communities. They documented the locally sourced accounts meticulously.
It is in these colonial writings that one finds many pastoralist peasant communities (e.g. Jats, Gujjars, Ahirs, etc.) claiming descent from Kshatriyas/Rajputs. This process of appropriating Rajput clan names (surnames), titles (e.g. Rana, Thakur, etc.), and names such as Singh is a form of Sanskritisation.
Some sociologists later concocted a theory about a social process called 'Rajputisation' through which heterogenous, politically ascendant groups began to identify as ‘Rajputs’ and gradually formed a distinct community with different groups joining it at different periods throughout history.
Though there is ample evidence (both ancient and modern) to substantiate the theory of Sanskritisation, there is no evidence that shows Rajputisation to be a real phenomenon.This argument rests entirely upon a fallacious and highly problematic approach to history – semantics.
Are Ethnic Divisions of Similar Lineage Warranted?
An example of such weak research is found in a recent article by Arjun Bhattacharya where he makes a perplexing and astounding argument that the "Rajputras" mentioned in ancient Sanskrit inscriptions are not referring to today's Rajputs. If one were to break down the former, 'Rajputra' comes down to 'Raja-ka-put'(son), suggestive of the latter being a derivative.
Oddly enough, all historians including those who support the fallacious theory of Rajputisation would have to agree that the Chahamanas of the 12th century are the same Chauhans that existed in the Mughal era and ceded their territories in 1947 to form the Republic of India. Indeed, there is no evidence on the contrary. The entire argument rests upon a false distinction between Rajputra and Rajput and can only function through a negation, denial, and ignorance of all historical evidence.
This is tantamount to one arguing that Pant, Pandit, Panda, Pandey, Purohit, Bahman, Brahmin, etc. do not refer to the Brahmin community or that Jaats and Jatts are different ethnic groups. In a similar vein, it would be equally absurd to argue that Kurmi, Kunbi, Patidar and Patel refer to different communities.
In the North Indian context, Bania, Vaishya and Vanij refer to the same mercantile groups in different regions. Synonyms or linguistic changes or translations do not indicate the rise or decline of a community.
That such weak arguments have made their way into academia says much more about the state of academic research and critical review than it says about history.
No Historical Evidence of Socio-ethnic Claims
Differences between how Kshatriyas or Rajputs were identified in Sanskrit and Prakrit do not denote entirely different communities. In some regions of India, Kshatriyas are referred to as 'Thakurs' or 'Ranas' – the emergence of which as a name for the community doesn't imply that Thakurs themselves were a distinct group that emerged later on. Such clarification should not even be necessary.
Bhattacharya’s argument that modern Rajputs should not identify their own clan ancestors from before 14th century as Rajputs is not just logically flawed but also reflect an inherently bigoted argument. To weigh the absurdity of his argument, one must draw an analogy with another situation. For instance, we must in the same breath, deny modern Indians the right to call their own pre-modern ancestors Indians, given the fact that the English term “Indian” was not a form of self-identification back then.
Similarly, we may further extend his argument that “India”, “Bhartiya” or “Hindustani” are different terms and, therefore, they connote different groups. This is similar to his insinuation that “Rajput” “Rajputra” “Kshatriya” & “Thakur” are different terms, therefore, they represent different groups. It is extremely difficult to take such claims seriously, especially in light of the fact that they have no historical basis and find their roots in sociological theories detached from historical analysis.
Demographic influences on Ethnographic histories
The said author remains ignorant of the fundamentals of Rajput identity, central to which remain the clan and the subclans. Thus, Rajput or Kshatriya history is a summation of individual histories of these different clans and subclans.
Further, he seemed to be oblivious of the fact that the clans that inhabited different regions in Prithviraj’s era or even during the late Pratihāra era, more or less continued to do so even in the British era and today.
For example, Johiyas, the Rajput clan to which mother of Prithviraj's uncle Vigraharaja IV belonged, dominated Jangladesh i.e North Rajasthan-South Punjab. HA Rose found them in abundance in Southern districts of Pakistani Punjab.
Most Guhilot inscriptions were found from Mewar and Saurashtra. Some of these inscriptions are as old as the 7th century. These two regions are still famed for their Guhilot rajput presence (Guhilots are also called Sisodias), Nadol and Jalore Chauhans were found in Eastern & southern Rajasthan in the 12th century, where they are still present. An inscription of 1287 notes that a member of the Devda subclan of Chauhans as important officials in the kingdom of Abu’s Parmar Rajputs (Indian Antiquity, XLV, p. 77).
Most Devda villages are still found in the districts of Sirohi, of which Abu is a part. Mandore was ruled by Pratihāra rajputs, the villages of Inda branch of Pratihara rajputs are also predominantly found in the Mandore and Balesar tehsils of Jodhpur.
Rashtrakutas or the Rathores were found in Pali & Western Rajasthan and Kannauj, Bhattis lived in Western Rajasthan. Rathores are still prevalent in Marwar, Barmer & Kannauj-Badaun belt. The Chauhans of Sambhar branch still inhabitat the regions of Alwar, Karnal, Makrana, Mainpuri and Kalpi-Kannauj. The early medieval Tomar Rajput inscriptions are found in Kurukshetra-Karnal belt, while the Tomar dynasty of Gwalior was contemporary of the Lodis, Both North Haryana and Chambal are still prevalent with the population of Tomar Rajputs.
This can be corroborated through stone inscriptions, empirical texts, State records & British era censuses. Older forebear clansmen did not suddenly vanish without trace. Nor was this imaginary vacuum filled by a rapidly emergent new group of people who assumed the same clan names as the former in the same districts in the 15th century. Scholars ought to cite strong evidence to corroborate. For the sake of controversies, such unsubstantiated loose theories can be applied to every community.
Bhattacharya’s unsubstantiated narrative is solely based upon the supposed semantic shift from 'Kshatriya' to 'Rajput' for the same people.
Caste and Class Rifts Date Back to Colonial Rule
The Colonialists were the first to make distinction between Rajputs and Kshatriyas. On one hand, they presented the Brahmins as a timeless, static community, they postulated the Kshatriyas to be merely a class of elite nobility or dynasty.
While the Colonialists, often influenced by Brahmin clerks, argued that "unlike brahmins and others, ancient Kshatriyas vanished and were replenished by Huns and Scythians in the 6th century", the author and his cohorts take that absurdity several levels further to argue that even early medieval Kshatriya clans somehow vanished and were surprisingly replenished by a rapidly emergent new group of people who just assumed their clan names began to be called Rajputs. Just like the colonialists, the author fails to corroborate his theories with substantial material or empirical evidence.
A Specific Ethno-Term or Clan Kinships?
Even prior to the Sultanate-era, there is a plethora of evidence of inter-clan marriages among Kshatriyas (the same people who are variously called Rajput or Thakur) across different regions. Epigraphia Indica (pp. 87-99) discusses the inscription of the ruler of Mandore, Bauka Pratihar (837 CE), which mentions that he was the son of Kakka Pratihar & his queen, Padmini Bhatti. Similarly, Alhana Chauhan (1148-1163 CE) was married to Annaldevi Rashtrakut of Hathundi (Pali) (Epigraphia Indica-9, pg. 66).
Here, Sanskrit Rashtrakuts refers to the same group called Rathore in vernacular. Similarly, Alhana Devi Guhilot of royal family was married to Gyakarna of a Chedi Kalchuri Rajput family from Chedi, Bundelkhand (Indian Antiquity, XVI, p. 345-355). Clearly, clan-kinship connected the Rajputs of the West and the East.
The basis of a common ethnic identity is the existence of clan-kinships, rather than a uniform term for self-identification. The word “Rajput” did not gain acceptance in Gangetic plains and Bihar even until the late 19th century. Even today, the term “Kshatriya” is more popularly used than the word “Rajput” in these regions.
In fact, if gone as per the authors’ obsession with fixing a certain “ethno-term” then we must comfortably state that Kshatriya is the ethnic identity of the community which is interchangeably referred to as Rajputs or Thakurs.
Many authors exhibit a complete ignorance about the Rajput population outside Rajasthan and remains obsessed with projecting it as a regional ethnic identity.
Rajput as an ethnic rubric covers a large number of soldiering clans from Salt Range of Pakistan-Punjab to Chhattisgarh. Therefore, it is recommended that scholars read primary sources on the Rajput population before perpetuating absurd theories. They must also understand that Rajputs of different regions also share clan-identities, and that Rathores of Kannauj-Badaun tract are the same clan as Rathores of Marwar.
Who Are the Rajputs Really?
He asserts that the Rajput or Kshatriya community was a fluid social class of aristocrats. The fluid usage of the term “Rajput” by the Kshatriyas does not imply that the community was a fluid aristocratic class. For instance, Dhaval Rashtrakut (alias Rathore) was a famed 11th century chieftain who gave refuge to the Parmar ruler of Abu Dharnivarah. But while Dhawal was an aristocrat, Pabuji Rathore from the 14th century was not.
Pabuji Rathore who is associated with pastoralism, was a common Rathore clansman. The fact that the ruling dynasty and most nobility of Marwar were Rathores, does not imply that the common Rathores were also aristocrats, rather they were soldiers.
Scholars are requested to undertake serious groundwork on the subject community instead of relying on superficial literature. Kshatriyas have always been a hereditary community or varna much like Brahmins. Rulership did not bestow this title on non-Kshatriyas. Had this been the case, Indian history would not have been marred by the inequalities of caste since time immemorial.
Furthermore, undue emphasis on Prithviraj Raso or Hammir Mahakavya skews the discourse on Rajput history. Neither of these texts are central to the Rajput Identity, contrary to many scholars’ assumptions. For Rajputs outside the concerned geography, these texts were irrelevant.
Rajputisation: A Myth Moulded Into Hindutva Agenda
Scholars who are critical of Hindutva must know that Rajputisation/Kshatriyaisation has been taken up by Hindutva organisations where the authority over public discourse on Kshatriya identity is taken away from the Kshatriyas and handed over to the Brahmins.
The fact that Hindu Brahminical theories are being popularised sans scrutiny must set alarm bells in liberal academia globally. Such malignant Brahminical theories have already initiated modern conflicts between different non-Brahmin communities. Hence, they do not deserve any space in academia.
(Yugeshwar Kaushal is a Political Science scholar from York University, Toronto and MSW, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario. Professor Rajendra Singh Khangarot, veteran Historian and former Dean of Agrawal PG College, Jaipur. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors' own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.