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Photograph of the Rajput

Rajput: The Lineage of Fire Warriors


For thousands of years, a caste of warriors ruled over a vast part of the Indian Territory: these where the Rajput, whose courage continues to inspire us.

Some say that men are naturally made to fight in war: although the conditions of our world have changed so much that modern warfare is more an exchange between machines than it is of men, the past is full of stories of courage overcoming fear and societies that grew and flourished according to these values.

A fairly unknown example of the latter is that of the Rajput (or Rashput), a martial caste from north-eastern India, which retained a unique autonomy for over a thousand years, perhaps one that is only comparable to that of the Spartans from the Greek Hellas.

Rajasthan is named after these warriors, and according to Sanskrit etymologists rajput comes from rasha-putra, which means son of the king. Despite the fact that their first historical mention dates back to the sixth centuries, they are described as ‘worthy of being feared’ in classical Indian literature, like the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Vedas.


Painting of a Rajput procession

In addition to war, the main occupation of the Rajput was agriculture: like the cult to Mars among Romans, the gods of war are also those of peace, since this tradition believed that the gods would only favour a just war thus establishing peace must always be the ultimate goal.

More than a caste, the Rajput where a group of clans that governed an ample region of India. Their code of honour has been compared to that elaborated by Medieval European Knights, since they describe an honour that, like Japanese warriors, led them to commit suicide before an imminent defeat.

Nonetheless, while a samurai refuses surrender by slashing his stomach open, the Rajput took more radical measures in the face of defeat: in the jauhar, the men would dress in red and surrender to a certain death at the hand of their enemy’s army, which undoubtedly surpassed them in number (most of Mongolian origin), while their women and children entered a funeral pyre to surrender to the element, which according to their traditional literature, had burgeoned them.

It was until the twentieth century that their full decay took place, when Indira Gandhi abolished their titles, stipends and property rights. Some of the higher ranking hierarchs were able to keep a certain status by transforming their cities into hotels for tourists and by adopting the customs of the English colonizers; but the legend of the fire warriors will forever remain an example of courage facing all odds and, as an element that brings light to darkness, they teach us that honour knows no adjective when it is brandished by a family of warriors that defeats history and death itself.

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