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Rajasthan City Guide

By Brij
Rajasthan was always an exotic land, a place that the world fantasized about. Here were found the martial races that ruled India. And, here were found riches and splendid, rare jewels. Palaces stood the test of time. Great armies went to war. Over centuries, different dynasties ruled from different parts of the country, their kingdoms built on a reciprocal relationship with neighboring kingdoms. However, it was under the Mughals first that an attempt was made to unify the length and breadth of the country as one nation.

The Rajputs, a group of warrior clans in ascendance for 1000 years, reached their greatest heights during the Rajput dynasties from the 7th to 12th centuries, when they controlled much of North India. They ruled according to a code of chivalry and honour, bravery and pride, alliances and marriages of convenience, but were unable to present a common front against an aggressor. This led them to become vassal states of the Mughal Empire over subsequent centuries and these relationships did not always run smoothly. Rajput warriors fought to the death against all odds and were so renowned Akbar persuaded them to lead his army; it is unsurprising subsequent Mughal Emperors always had difficulty controlling this part of their empire.

The kingdoms of erstwhile Rajputana were perpetually locked in armed conflict with their neighbors, a fact that makes the saga of Rajasthan a story of bloodshed as much as heroism and sacrifice. Many of these legends have come to us in the form of ballads sung by folk singers or in the accounts of bards and court poets. Many more find mention in history.

The Rajputs rose to prominence in the 9th and 10th centuries, and were a major force to reckon with in medieval India. Passionately attached to their land, family and honor, the Rajputs treated war as a sport, and followed a strong chivalric code of conduct. Myths and legends of their velour, gallantry, sacrifice and courage are legion. There are many heroes among the Rajputs, such as Prithviraj Chauhan, who fought successfully against the invader Muhammad Ghori in the battle of Tarain (1191), although he died on the same battlefield in the following year.

The great Rana Pratap of Mewar, who defiantly withstood the might of the Mughals, and continued to make raids on them even after his defeat. He died in 1597, and his son, Ambar Singh, took over the mantle of opposition to Mughal rule. Rana Pratap was the lone exception, as most of the leading Rajput clans finally married into Mughal royalty and nobility, and went into direct State service of the Mughal Empire. This was chiefly at the behest of the wise and farsighted Mughal emperor, Akbar, who was able to consolidate and expand his empire because of his close ties with the proud Rajputs, who made formidable enemies, but steadfast and loyal friends.

By 1947 when India finally obtained her independence, many princely states had a reputation for profilgacy and indulgence, but negotiated with the Indian Congress Party to keep their titles and property. In the early 1970s Indira Gandhi abolished these privileges and while most rulers have survived by turning their palaces and havelis into luxury hotels, many have fallen by the wayside.

At the time of independence in 1947, all the states merged into the republic of India and a modern, democratic nation was born. The royal families were derecognised by the Constitution of India in 1971 and their privileges withdrawn. Fortunately, the lifestyle they represented, ingrained over centuries, and has remained untouched. Signs of the great dynasties that once ruled over independent states continue to live graciously, though they are now industrialists, professionals, even hoteliers. The premium positions they occupied by birth are now attained by merit, but for those who have managed to convert their ancestral homes into hotels, the ways of the past have become a charming reminder of the spirit now reflected in these heritage properties.
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