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Rajput Kingdoms

Rajput Kingdoms

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Imagine a series of Indian kingdoms emerging from a race of Hindu warrior aristocracy from the 6th to the 12th centuries. Tall, well-built, glamorous, Samurai-like military heroes who were paradoxically cruel and kind. What led to their rise, and how did they maintain power for so long? What were the characteristics of their culture? Let's delve into the society of the Rajput Kingdoms in this explanation.

Rajput Kingdoms Time Period

Rajput is a shortened form of the Sanskrit "raj-Putra," meaning "Son of a monarch." The term first appeared in India in the 6th century. The Rajput established themselves as a Hindu military aristocracy in Northern India, emerging from the Gupta empire to be antagonized by the Hephthalites, or White Huns.

The Hephthalites, or White Huns, preceded the Rajput and fell at about the same time the latter were on their way up. The former was a race of steppe people who wandered Central Asia from 450-650 AD. Historians agree very little about these mysterious, nomadic, tribal people. No one knows precisely what language the Hephthalites spoke; some theorize that the language was Bactrian, an Iranian language spoken in Bactria, located north of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. Other historians believe the Hephthalites were a mix of nomads from Mongolian pasture lands and urbanites from various cities in the region. Some believe the four Hephthalite states combined to make up the marvelous land of Xyon.

Yet other historians postulate that the Hephthalites were descended from the Yueh-Chih, who were forced to migrate westward by the Juan-Juan tribe of lower Mongolia. They then invaded and took over Bactria and other cities. Following this, the so-called White Huns entered Kabul and overthrew the Kushan, seized lands in the Sassanian empire, and founded the city of Piandkjikent. The elites established summer residences in Badakshan and spent the winters in Bactria. Having shored up their western border, they could now expand eastward.

Eastward expansion brought the Hephthalites into Northern India, where they attacked the Gupta empire, whose ruler had just passed away. They then brought down the Gupta dynasty and every city along the Ganges, burning Buddhist temples, essentially enforcing a scorched-earth policy. The Hephthalites then ruled the region for another three decades. The Hephthalite empire ended when the bitter son of one of the overthrown kings allied with a nomadic people to attack them from both sides.

Did you know? The predecessors to the Rajput people, the Hephthalites, were called White Huns (due to their skin tone) to differentiate themselves from the Huns who, led by Attila, had attacked the Roman Empire.

As historians generally consider the medieval period to be from the 5th to the 15th centuries, the Rajput kingdoms, having begun in the 6th century and fallen in the 12th century, fall within the category of a medieval society. In a land-owning economy, they even practiced feudalism as their primary system of government, which naturally meant the exploitation of the peasant class by lords.

The Rajput claimed patrilineal descent from three primary dynastic lineages: solar, lunar, and fire. The Suryavanshi lineage is the solar one respectively and is descended from the Hindi sun god. The second, Chadravarshi, is descended from the lunar god, Chadra. The third, Agnivarshi, comes from the fire god Agni.

patrilineal - in genealogy, a lineage traced through the production of a male heir.

Rajput Kingdoms Map StudySmarterFig. 1 - Map of the Rajput states in Central and Western India

Rajput Kingdoms Culture

The Rajput historically held dear cultural values such as bravery and loyalty. Since the Rajputs lived in a king-based society, they also naturally valued the monarchy system. Their Hindu warrior stock naturally influenced their style of government, which was fractious, to say the least.

The Rajput played a large part in fending off the Muslim invasion of Northern India. But this caused a split within their society. However happy they were to fight invaders, they also fought among themselves, as their values of loyalty and fealty were only directed at their clans.

With these fragmented kingdoms, there was never any genuinely unified Rajput society, and they tended to waste many resources due to their infighting. The military held resources such as infantry, cavalry, and elephants, but allegiance to individual leaders fanned the flames of rivalries, creating losses.

Rajput Kingdoms Architecture StudySmarterFig. 2- Rajput Architecture, Public Domain

The culture perpetuated itself by holding onto power through a system in which, according to legend, the king's first son was his only possible heir. Any sons born subsequently became warriors, thus strengthening the fighting culture and maintaining the dynasty's hold in Northern India.

The Rajput were masters of irrigation, creating manmade lakes and canals, and irrigation dams, which benefited the peasantry. Though industry, in general, deteriorated over time for the Rajput, there were active industries, including but not limited to:

  • cotton cloth
  • wool
  • weapons
  • salt
  • pottery
  • statues
  • gur
  • sugar
  • oil
  • liquor.

The Rajput had a feudal economy, meaning that most transactions were land-based. Revenue from these transactions accounted for ten percent of their total output. Trade also included cash and some farming goods mixed in with the land. Due to being cash-poor, there was no financial control at the hands of the monarch. Despite this condition, taxes were generally low, and the economy was prosperous. For the most part, the upper classes paradoxically lived in worry-free luxury.

Art and architecture were also important industries to the Rajput. The upper-class Brahmin produced plenty of religious works reflecting their Hindu heritage, while their counterparts, the Kshatriya, erected many castles and forts and had a talent for painting.

Women in Rajput Society

The Rajput historically kept their women in seclusion. They claimed to respect women, even granting them the freedom to choose their husbands to whom they were devoted. However, at the same time, the culture considered women to be inferior. Polygamy was quite common in Rajput society, though there were strict rules of intermarriage based on the caste systems at play.

Having a daughter was even considered a bad omen, and parents frequently slaughtered their daughters immediately following birth. Widow immolation was also quite common.

immolation (noun) - ritual death by fire.

Rajput Kingdoms Significance

The main religion among the Rajputs was Hinduism. People also practiced Jainism and Buddhism, but Hinduism was far more popular. The Buddha was even relegated to a position as one of Vishnu's avatars, who were highly worshipped in Rajput society. Temples featuring Hindi gods and goddesses proliferated in the culture.

Rajput kingdoms Vishnu StudySmarterFig. 3 - Vishnu and his avatars, Public Domain

The caste system was intricate and strict and tied to religious practices. Brahmins and Kshastriyas were considered the elites and hence received respectful treatment. Vaishyas and Shudras were among the lower castes.

Rajput Kingdoms Fall

Unfortunately for the Rajputs, their kingdoms never coalesced into a viable empire. You may have already guessed the reasons based on what we have learned in this explanation. Let's see if you were right as we look at five reasons for the fall of the Rajput kingdoms:

  1. Outdated technology - the weaponry and military equipment of the Rajput were ancient and woefully outdated for their time. They just couldn't keep up with the latest advancements in military technology.
  2. Failure of feudalism - sadly, their embrace of feudalism just didn't work out for the Rajput.
  3. Love of fighting - unfortunately for them, the Rajput loved a good fight, as evident from their initial skirmishes with the White Huns, their clan-based heterogeneity and loyalty only to those clans, and their constant infighting. This was just too much conflict to maintain an empire, and they were scarcely able to fight a familiar foe as they were so busy fighting among themselves.
  4. Caste system - the caste system of the Rajput, as one might expect, caused great resentment, fracturing the people even further. For example, only one caste was responsible for militarily defending the kingdom: the Kshatriyas.
  5. Loss of resources - Again, due to the constant aggression against their neighbors, the Rajputs could not keep their wealth of resources.

The Rajput kingdoms perhaps provide valuable lessons for modern-day politicians: a divided society is as good as dead. However, the legacy they left from their proud warrior culture is evident in the myriad examples of striking art and architecture that can be found today in the Rajputistan region of India.

Rajputs were also revered by the British occupiers, who admired them for their loyalty and courage and found them ripe for collaboration. Interestingly, the British, before the Modern period, believed the Rajput shared heritage with white Europeans, even admiring their "Aryan" beauty and describing them as built like Greek statues. There was an affinity for the Rajputs among the British, though you can see their contradictions from the following quote:

The duality in the Rajput character was really astonishing. On the one hand he was a grim warrior, forever ready to draw his sword taking the cruelty, horror and pain of war in his stride. On the other hand he was gentle, warm in his hospitality, a lover of music and dance, and kind to the womenfolk, even those of his enemy.2

- Author M.S. Naravane

Did you find this explanation helpful? Check out our other explanations on Medieval Globalization!

Rajput Kingdoms - Key takeaways

  • Rajput kingdoms were a series of dynasties that proliferated in Northern India from the 6th to the 12th centuries, covering the medieval period.
  • The Rajput kingdoms were made up of Hindu military aristocracy. The dynasties were patrilineal, meaning the king had to produce a male heir. In Rajput kingdoms, the first son was designated the heir, and any future sons became warriors.
  • The Rajput was a caste society in which there were strict rules of intermarriage. The Brahmins and Kshastriyas were considered upper class, while Vaishyas and Chakras were lower class. Women were respected and could choose their husbands, but daughters were considered unlucky and subject to slaughter when the king desired a son.
  • The Rajput economy was a feudal one, which meant that most transactions were land-based. Taxes were low, the economy thrived, and the elites lived comfortably.


  1. Kallie Sczcepanski. Overview of the Rajput People of India. 2022.
  2. M.S. Naravane. The Rajputs of Rajputana: A Glimpse of Medieval Rajasthan. 1999.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rajput Kingdoms

Legend has it that this was ensured by transference of power to the first male heir.  

They were a realm ruled by warrior clans of Northwest India in the 6th to the 12th centuries. 

n the Northwest of India near the border with Mongolia 

It was a monarchy with a feudal economy. 

he Rajputs were able to develop sophisticated systems of irrigation and waterways. Close proximity to Mongolia led to invasions that brought their downfall in the 13 century. 

Final Rajput Kingdoms Quiz

Rajput Kingdoms Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


What does Rajput, taken from Sanskrit, mean?

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"Son of a monarch"

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What best describes the Rajput?

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A military culture

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Who were the Rajput's nomadic predecessors in the region, with whom they clashed?

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The White Huns

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What did NOT lead to the downfall of Rajput kingdoms?

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Invasion by Huns

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What language did the Rajput speak?

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This is a mystery, though many historians think it was Bactrian, an ancient Persian language.

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True or False: the Rajput were a peace-loving folk.

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True or False: Bactria was in what is now Afghanistan.

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True or False: the Rajput overthrew the Kushan in Kabul.

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False: The White Huns overthrew the Kushan in Kabul.

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What city did the Hephthalites found?

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Why were the Hephthalites called "White Huns"?

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a) their skin tone, which was lighter than Attila's Huns.

b) to differentiate them from Attila's Huns who had invaded the Roman Empire.

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Which Hindu god did the Buddha serve as an avatar?

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