A brief history of Rajasthan

Rajasthan is India’s royal state. Dubbed the ‘Land of Kings’, its rich history can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisations of 2000 BCE, with excavations in Bundi showing prehistoric settlements.

However, it is the Rajputs for whom Rajasthan is best known. Beginning in the 9th century, this dynasty gave Rajasthan both its initial name of Rajputana and its most profitable period. The Rajputs were a cluster of different communities and clans who came together to share a common ideology and culture, synonymous with being a warrior clan.

Gadisgar-lake

The two Rajput kingdoms that stood out were the Sisodias of Mewar whose capital was Chittorgarh (and later Udaipur), and the Rathores of Marwar with Jodhpur as their capital. Many more existed in the region, often fighting against each other. In Indian history, Rajputs are synonymous with tales of chivalry, romance and flamboyance, as told through folk tales.

But the various Rajput clans who set up small kingdoms slowly emerged as a combined force. They were in almost constant conflict with the Mughals, with things coming to a head in the 16th century with Mughal Emperor Akbar. He had married a Rajput princess and formed alliances with some rulers, but the Sisodias and Rathores refused to countenance an allegiance. A 1526 battle saw Akbar take Chittorgarh, with the town’s women famously self-immolating to preserve their honour.

In the 18th century, The British East India Company convinced many of the Rajput states to join them, forming an independent state with the new name of Rajasthan. Most of the rulers became vassals of the British Raj who declared the region as princely states. There were around 19 states which eventually merged into Rajasthan.

Today, Rajasthan is known for its royal history, filled with colour, valour and courage. Remnants of its past remain in its rich traditions, folklore and crafts. Its imposing palaces and forts remain a trademark of Rajasthani architecture, set in the vast desert and mountains that surround it.

Ranthambore-Fort-2

Ranthambore Fort, Sawai Madhopur: Ranthambore Fort has a varied history — as well as being a royal residence, it was used as a prison during the Mughal era.

Architecture of Rajasthan

The history of Rajasthan is shown through its many forts, palaces and historical buildings. Almost every major city — and many minor ones — will have some form of architectural wonder to explore.

Temples

Rajasthan’s temples date back to the 4th century, although more ornate and architecturally interesting temples began to develop from the 9th century. These typically had sculptures and marble carvings, such as the stunning Delwara complex at Mount Abu.

Other notable temples include the Brahma Temple in Pushkar, which is one of the few in India dedicated to Brahma. This Hindu god was said to be cursed with having no places of worship on earth. Take a holy dip in Pushkar Lake before offering your prayers in the temple.

For a change of pace, visit the Karni Mata temple in Bikaner, which holds more than 20,000 black rats. Each time a rat dies, a statue is built inside the temple complex.

Havelis

Havelis (mansions) were the homes of rich merchants and traders in Rajasthan’s cities. Decorated with stone carvings and interiors of murals and frescoes, each merchant tried to outdo the next to show their importance and wealth.

Every major city in Rajasthan will have havelis worth visiting, but Jaisalmer is a particular hotspot. Look out for the Patwon Ki haveli and the elephants of Nathmal Ki haveli.

Chattris and baoris

Built to commemorate the region’s maharajas and nobles, chattris (cenotaphs) are a frequent feature of Rajasthan’s architecture. Chattri literally translates as umbrella, which references the dome-like structure that covers the cenotaph.

Rajasthan’s desert location means that conserving water has always been a major issue. Baoris are stepwells that were traditionally built to provide drinking water. Over time, they became meeting places and temples, decorated with sculptures and carvings. The 46m deep Ranji Ki Baori in Bundi is a fine example, showcasing carvings of Lord Vishnu.

Hill forts and palaces

These sprawling complexes often housed whole cities within them, including palaces, temples and trading centres. Built on hillsides, these forts used natural defences to protect themselves, such as forests, deserts and of course, hills. The views from the forts are spectacular.

Although initially conceived for protection from invading armies, these forts quickly became more extravagant as royal families settled in. Some of the best examples of Rajput architecture can be found in its palaces. Two of the most striking are the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur and the City Palace in Udaipur. Look out for the sheesh mahal (hall of mirrors).

Visiting these forts is a chance to experience and imagine Rajasthan in its Rajput period, when kingdoms nudged up against each other and courtly culture helped develop the region’s arts, textiles and music.

There are eight main hill forts in Rajasthan, clustered around the Aravalli mountains. Designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, these forts were built by Rajput kings and date from the 5th century.

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