rAjaputra – story of the term and its application

21 Feb

This is not the only one. Many people ask for proof of Rajputs prior to even 1300-1500 AD.

So let’s use this opportunity to enhance our understanding. What is the story of this term Rajput or rAjaputra?

Literal meaning of rAjaputra is – son of a King or royal child. Earliest recorded reference to this term are in Aitareya, Taittiriya and Sathapatha Brahamanas of the Rigveda (people called rAjaputra include Vishwamitra. Later it appears in Kathaka Samhita and other vedic literature compilations.

Then in Mahabharata, lord Rama and Lakshmana are called rAjaputra.

Shrimad Bhagvatam 1.12.311 calls Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit a rAjaputra.

Various buddhist texts call Budhha a rAjaputra.

These however are just point in time snapshots of literal original meaning. They do not tell us of a journey of this term’s meaning and application.

Next, Kautilya’s arthashAstra 3rd-4th century BCE and Kalidasa’s mAlavikAgnimitram (part 5) 1st century BCE refer to rAjaputras on multiple occasions
“राजसूयदीक्षितेन मया राजपुत्रशतपरिवृतं वसुमित्रं गोप्तारमादिश्य ।” [Credit: https://twitter.com/Dudore_0309/status/1307271335148572672%5D.

In broadly the time frame of 3rd to 1st centuries BCE the Pali Canon literature is seen using Rajaputra derivatives for kshatriyas.
Like the SobhitaBuddhavamso (14th book within Khuddaka Nikanaya) in its verse no. 6 equates Rajaputra (Rajaputto) with Kshatriya (Khattiyo). It speaks of a kshatriya named Jayasena Rajaputra[1].
Punaparam rajaputto, jayaseno nama khattiyo;
Aramam ropayitvana, buddhe niyyaday! tada.

Again from the same centuries, we have the verse number 457 under Sutta Nipata (its section 3.4 called Sundarika Bharadvaja Sutta) of the Khuddaka Nikaya saying [2]:
न ब्राह्मणो नोम्हि न राजपुत्तो, न वेस्सायनो उद कोचि नोम्हि।
गोत्तं परिञ्‍ञाय पुथुज्‍जनानं, अकिञ्‍चनो मन्त चरामि लोके॥
Here the Buddha himself speaks to a brahmin named Sundarika Bharadvaja that: “I’m not a brahmin, a rajput, a vaishya or anybody else. I don’t identify myself with the typical gotras. I just dwell in this world only by my wisdom.”

A silver coin of Amoghabhuti (2nd-1st century BCE) the ruler from Kuninda kshatriya clan contains – “Rajnah Kunindasya Amoghabhutisya Maharajasya“.
Notice that despite taking up a boastful title of Maharaja, the King is still sticking to the traditional clan head title i.e. rAjnah. Because his was a kshatriya clan-based Kingdom held together by his clansmen. This was the norm and not an exception. It continued even in medieval times as we shall see.

Asvaghosha’s (80-150 A.D.) Saundarananda refers to rAjaputras at its Sarga 1 shloka 18
“अथ तेजस्विसदनं तपाक्षेत्रं तमाश्रमम् । केचिदिक्ष्वाकवो जग्मू राजपुत्राः विवत्सवः । “
[Credit: https://twitter.com/Dudore_0309/status/1307272002407817217%5D.

Early 6th century around 500 A.D. the Kura/Khura stone inscription of Huna King Toramana from Salt Range calls his opponents as rAjaputras. It not only suggests expansion of the term’s usage. But also debunks claims of Rajputs having Huna ancestry [3].

Numerous other Gupta and Lichhavi inscriptions use the term rAjaputra for men who were not even close to being princes i.e. small chieftains regardless of age, governors, middle rank officers, etc.

In the 569-70 A.D. Sumandala copper plate of Dharmaraja, an almost independent feudatory of Prithvi Vigraha is referred to a rAjaputra.

Lichhavi king Gangadev’s Shankhamula inscription (567-73 A.D.) refers to rAjaputras Vajraratha, Babharuvarma, and Deshavarma.

The Five Damodarpur copper-plate inscriptions of the Gupta rulers have rAjaputra epithet, such as those of Kumaragupta III 533 A.D.
One of them reads thus – ‘Rajaputra Deva- Bhattaraka uparika Maharaja‘.

In the Sanga (Nepal) inscription of late 5th century A.D. its dutaka the Chief Minister under Amsuvarman is called rAjaputra Vikramsena. His relative in another inscription is called Rajaputra Shurasena. [4]

Many more Nepalese (Lichhavi) inscriptions in Gupta characters found by Italian scholar Raniero Gnoli refer to rAjaputra Jayadeva, rAjaputra Shurasena, rAjaputras Nandavarma, Jishnuvarma and Bhimavarma.

Emperor Harshavardhan gets crowned in 606 A.D. at Kannauj and despite being a King, he continues for many years with the epithet rAjaputra shilAditya.

In the mid 7th century AD we see small chieftains like Janardana Varma in Batuka Bhairava temple inscription at Lagankhel, Nepal referred with the prefix of Rajaputra. He is also seen donating money for water channels [5].

Literature like the Harshacharita and Kadambari (Poorvabhag, Pg 13, Credit: https://twitter.com/Dudore_0309/status/1307271094991167489) by BAṇabhaṭṭa (7th century AD) also talk of rAjaputras like a Malava rAjaputra named Madhavgupt.
“( पुष्पभूतिस्तु ) अपरेयुः उत्थाय कतिपयैरेव राजपुत्रैः परिश्तो भैरवाचार्य द्रष्टुं प्रतस्थे । “
” केसरिकिशोरकैरिव विक्रमैकरसैरपि विनयव्यवहारिभिरात्मनः प्रति विम्वैरिव राजपुत्रैः सह रममाणः प्रथमे वयसि सुखमतिचिरमुवास ।”
This is also corroborated from his mention later in Apshad inscription of the 8th century [6].

9th century copper plate grants of Bhanja dynasty rulers from Orissa, such as the Dasapalla plate, ones of Ranabhanja Deva, Shatrubhanja I, etc have the term ‘rAnaka’ used for many princes and small chieftains. It is a distortion of rAjanka / rAjanaka and got further shortened to rAnA over time [7].

We saw many crystal clear examples indicating Rajaputra being used interchangeably with Kshatriya. But from this transitive phase, when did the Rajaputra term get absorbed almost exclusively within a specific, easily distinguishable community connotation? Lets explore…

Al Masudi from Arabia visits India in mid 10th century and mentions in his work [8] dated 953 AD that – Kandhar was the country of Rahbuts i.e. Rajputs.

Arabs of 9th century A.D. acknowledge rAshtrakutas aka Vallabh-Raj or Ballah-Raya or Al-Ballahara as the greatest King in India and one of the 4 most prominent Kings in the world. Medieval Rathores are descendants of these Rashtrakutas. The Basahi/Bisahi grant of prince GovindaChandra of Rashtrakuta branch named Gadhavala/Gahadvala, dated 1104 A.D. calls him mahArAjaputra [9].

1143 AD inscription of his son shows the same title and is in the name of mahArAjaputra rAjyapAladeva.

1134 AD Inscription of Singar/Sengar family who were feudatory of Gadhavalas, is in the name of mahArAjaputra vastarAjadeva [10].

10th century text from rAshtrakuta rule called Yasastilaka Champu describes rAjput military camps as follows: –

Camp Name – skandhavara

Arsenal in charge – mahAyudhapati

Cavalry in charge – asavapati

Infantry in charge – paikkadhipati

Elephant in charge – pilupati

Soldier description – Dhoti coming up to knees. Loins girt with daggers mounted on handles of buffalo horns. Hair on body. Quivers on either sides of head. Experts in shooting arrows.

Military titles – senani, thakkura, kottapAla

Feudal titles – rAjA, rAjakula, mahAsAmanta, mahAmandalika

Most of these titles are common with Pratiharas as well.

Most important evidence: –
Given below is part of the Chamba copper plate inscription of Vidagdha Verman of 960 AD regarding a land grant in village Sumangala [11]. Inscription names all concerned functionaries and state officials etc of the village Sumangala in a huge list. Notice the terms in line 6 – rAja-rAjAnaka-rAjaputra-rAjAmAtya-rAjasthAneeya. Clear indication of these being land owning gentries with administrative or military skills. Vidagdha Verman was a Suryavanshi rAjaputra of Mushana dynasty (moshuna gotra).


Similar list with terms like rajanyaka-rajani-ranaka-rajaputra are found in many other inscriptions like those of Vallalasena and LakshamanSena.

The kathAsaritasAgara of Somadeva around 1070 AD [12] writes of two crooks named Shiva and mAdhava. Of them mAdhava takes the getup of a Rajaputra. This was done to avoid capture as he would be seen as an elite i.e. officer/land-holder/soldier etc. So nobody would trouble/suspect him. Throughout the story this mAdhava has no connection with being a prince. Obviously no crook will be foolish to take the getup of the prince of a Kingdom and then step out to have all attention under the Sun to fall on himself.

Kadmal plates of Vijayasimha Guhilot 1083 AD mention that a messenger named ranadhavala, son of sagamdA was a Chauhan rAjaputra [13].

Udayagiri cave inscriptions near Bhopal dated end of 11th century AD mention land grants by many minor paramAra chieftains named- rAjaputra dAmodara jayadeva, rAjaputra Sodha, rAjaputra vAhilavAhada [14]

Paldi inscription of 1116 AD says that Saulanki rAjaputra Sri salakhana was the son of rAjaputra Sri Upala. Former was just an officer tasked with the arrangements for the cermeonies around installation and sanctifying of the inscription.[15].

During the reign of Jaichand’s predecessor in 12th century AD. A vassal dynasty of Gahadavalas, known as Dhavalas has recorded themselves in Taracandi rock inscription at modern Shahabad, UP. The inscription ends with mahArAjaputra srI satrughnasya. It calls the overlord Gahadavals King’s son (Jaichand) as mahArAjaputra as well as the Dhavala princes as mahArAjaputra.

The infusion of royal blood and administrative fiefs in the term Rajaputra is indicated in the 12th century as well. Rajaputra had now long been frequently applied outside of the young princes sprinting in palaces.
Few more examples:
a) Sallaksanapal though a minister of Vigraharaj Chauhan IV, is called a Rajaputra in the Delhi Shiwalik inscription of 1163-4 A.D. [16]
b) Two inscriptions of 1176 AD at Lalrai (near Nadol) call Lakhanapala and Abhayapala Chauhan the relatives of Nadol King Kelhana as Rajaputras. Points to note are:

  • they were not in-line for any throne
  • they were just given administrative posts to govern some villages and yet called Rajaputras.
    This is supported by KharataraGachchaPattavali [17] and PrabandhaChintamani [18] which show various ‘Rajaputras’ appointed as governors/administrators of mandalas, towns and villages; not as their personal properties but as official postings.

c) Nadol copper plates of 1161 A.D from South Rajasthan proclaim the local Chauhan lineage’s progenitor and King Kirtipal Chauhan as rAjaputra.

d) Jaypura (Bihar) inscription of 12th century AD calls a Gupta dynasty’s Krishnagupta as rAjaputra.

e) Hemachandra’s Trishashti ShalAkA Purusha Charita of 12th century AD refers to numerous personalities of rAjaputra descent.

f) Jalor Stone Inscription of Kirtipala’s son SamaraSimhaDeva from 1182 AD refers to a Rajaputra Jojila Chauhan. He was the maternal uncle of SamaraSimha and thus aptly also called Rajyachintaka in the same verse.[19]

All of the data above establishes a phased, gradual change from Rajaputra being used for princes to being used for a specific, distinguishable community, transiting through a time when first the chieftains and then officers, land holders, governors etc used it frequently and abundantly. Finally even the messengers and administrators of ceremonies are rajaputras. We see the proliferation of the term rAjaputra into a state, of application regardless of whether one was currently a prince, chieftain, son of chieftain or neither – even if just an official or functionary. This is obvious if slowly a whole jati was spawning out of rulers, officers of a hierarchy and others who were close-by in their clannish brotherhood.

Another strong case of connotation proliferating from individuals to groups is Kalhana’s (12th century A.D.) Rajatarangini. It uses the term rAjaputra a lot of times in numerous contexts including – for the gentry of general land holders who contributed militarily. For example, one verse describes the 11th century King Anantadeva being followed by a host caravan of ‘bands of rAjaputra horsemen, soldiers and damaras’. [20] Even by stretch of imagination these bands of rAjaputra horsemen can’t be all princes (how many could be there anyway). Also the immediately previous verse uses the term Nrapatmajah for princes. Thus whenever princes and Rajputs were spoken about in vicinity in the text, the author of Rajatarangini has been careful to strike clear distinction between princes (Nrapatmajah) and the noblemen (Rajaputras).

Similar instances from the Rajataramgini are of:

  • Tungga going to Shahi lands of Trilochanpala with a powerful army having – many feudatory chiefs, ministers and Rajpautras. [21]
  • Wife of the King Anatadeva was, after his death, giving due salaries to all gentries employed with the State right from the Rajaputras to the Chandalas. What clearer example can there be of Rajaputras becoming a recognized class/section of the society, no longer just some individuals like a prince or chieftain,governor, etc [22].

Firstly, all the above mentioned evidence was not an exhaustive list but just some examples. Secondly, it becomes an even larger list if we were to include occurrences of other closely associated terms in vogue that came out similarly – Rawal from rAjakula, Rajanya, rAjini (women), mahArAjini, also rAjanaka, rAjanka ranaka, rAnA, Rao, Rawat (from rAjaputra) etc.

If present date Brahmins are descendants of Vasishtha, Bharadvaja, Mudgala, Kaushika. Then how come Rajputs are not descendants of Vedic Kshatriyas. Did the latter disappear in thin air? Various Kshatriya clans rose and fell in northwest India from the vedic times and are recorded since Panini. The medieval Rajput clans are just a continuation with a different term i.e. Rajaputra. Following is just one point in time snapshot of ancient Kshatriya clans straddling the entire north and west of India. Notice that one is even named rAjanya, suggesting that the whole warrior clan was of royal pedigree.

Indian warrior clans

From the highly centralized system of ruling with Mauryas to the decentralized Gupta empire. There came a huge change which became precursor to format of medieval Kingdoms. Imperial centre (native as well as foreign origin) would just exact tributes from smaller Kingdoms, require their armies in campaigns and leave them be with local sovereignty. Thus, an oscillation between – subdued local Kingdoms paying regular tributes when Imperial centre is strong. And revolting, tribute-withholding local Kingdoms when Imperial centre was weak. This formed the bedrock of upcoming feudalism or state level focus in a politically divided India. Thus, the clans who were prominent in each of these kingdoms gradually attached their loyalty and focus only to their own local Kingdom and its ruler; not the Imperial centre.

Guptas were perhaps the first native Empire to rule such an increasingly de-centralized setup lacking any semblance of a united politico military nationality. With this, armies everywhere became more clan based, fragmented. Further, land grants and power delegation from Imperial centre thus started going by default to the clan based hereditary successors. Parting from ancient republics the various kshatriya clans wherever they were, evolved into Kingdoms and the land ownership was private now. Of course new clans kept replacing old ones as usual. All these transformations continued throughout Gupta rule, Harshavardhan and show complete with the appearance of Pratihars in domination. By the time of Guptas already, the princes were regularly using hierarchical titles like mahArAjaputra DevabhAttarak.

Harshavardhan had driven out the last remnants of pre-Islamic foreign origin rulers. Thus before the dawn of Arab invasions broke. Entire North India was under the sway of Kshatriya ruled Kingdoms. where the dominant ones were Mukharis of Kannauj, Pushyabhutis of Thaneswar and Maitrakas of Vallabhi.

The time in history when Pratihars emerged to prominence is the same when the term Rajput i.e. rAjaputra started to get applied in community connotation. It is after the Arab invasions which catalysed another phase of new kshatriya clans replacing the old ones into prominence. A question arises. Why are early Islamic invaders noting their opponents as Rana’s, Rais and not Rajputs. Answer is that it takes time for a term to gain social currency for people to apply to a whole community and doesn’t happen overnight. First the spoken languages like Prakrit and Apabhramsa adopt the change and then the classical ones like Sanskrit. But what were the catalysts of this process and why only these people of North and West India?

Northwest India was at the forefront of constant invasions from Millenias, not just in Islamic era. With Imperial centres coming and lapsing. The numerous kashatriya clans that straddle these lands at least since Panini’s time, were obviously more keen on self-reliance, sovereignty and standalone setup for their own preservation. Because they fought on all sides all the time.

The identity of medieval rAjputs as a community was however iron cast in the furnace of one such grand invasion by Arabs in the 8th century (also the core of my contention with the oxymoron called muslim Rajput). Chewing the elsewhere victorious Arabs then, was a big achievement for the currently presiding kshatriya clans in north India. They were led by nAgabhatta PratihAra, with Chauhans, Guhilots and Chalukyas in supporting role. While the bigger Kingdoms splintered around that whirlwind. The clans led by kshatriya feudal chieftains succeeded those larger empires/kingdoms of past in their own limited capacities. From the rubble of Arab storm, we see fully hereditarily operated smaller Kingdoms, now thriving & rising further. Their titles became beacons of their leadership, resistance and prestige.

Powers like Pratihars, Chauhans, Paramars, Chalukyas, Guhilots etc which rose after this epoch were fully clan based Kingdoms in military as well as administration. With the completion of heredity trumping ancient republic structures in politico- military operations of people. This is how the term rAjaputra gradually gained credence for application to wider groups (kshatriyas clans that got popular Arabs onwards) later known as rAjputs.

Coming back to the quoted question. The approach itself is wrong. It is foolhardy to expect Kings before 650 A.D to use the title rAjaputra. Back then we had kshatriya monarchies at higher levels and tribal republics at lower levels sprinkled with warrior clans. To put it shortly, we had kshatriyas v1.0 upto end of ancient age. And then kshatriyas v2.0 i.e. rAjaputras medieval age onward.
The very term rAjaputra was by its etymology a psychologically deep assurance to the Hindu prajA; that kshatriya descent people are still taking care of the kingdom and upholding dharma. When would you need it the most by turning rAjaputras from individuals to groups, if not with the onset of Islamic dark age in India?

1 – Credit: https://twitter.com/TIinExile/status/1306246761791414273
2 – Credit: https://twitter.com/bhAratenduH/status/1306046147677638656
3 – Credit- @TIInExile. Source-Epigraphia Indica volume 1, Pg 238-41]
4 – Indian Antiquary vol IX, Pg 168-170; Ancient Nepal – Dilli Raman Regmi, 1st Edition, Pg 84
5 – Ancient Nepal – Journal of the Department of Archaeology, Nov 2000 Edition, Pg 22
6- Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol 3, inscription nbr. 42
7 – Orissa Historical Research Journal, vol. 1, Pg 208-12
8 – Muruj ad Dhahab wa ma’adin al jawahar i.e. Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems
9 – Indian Antiquary vol XIV, Pg 103
10 – Epigraphia India vol IV, Pg 130
11 – Annual Report of the Archeological Survey of India 1902-03, Pg 252-53
12 – Chapter 24, Pg 96, verse 82 onwards, NirnayaSagar Press 1930 Edition
13 – Epigraphia Indica vol XXXI Pg 244, lines 36-37 in the plates
14 – Inscriptions from Udayagiri: locating domains of devotion, patronage and power in the eleventh century – Michael Willis
15 – Epigraphia Indica vol 30, Pg 10-12
16 – Indian Antiquary vol XIX, Pg 216
17 – Pg 85
18 – SJG Edition, Pg 11
19 – Epigraphia Indica vol XI, Pg 53-4
20 – Source: Rajatarangini taranga VII, verse 360; Credit: The term Rajput (Rajaputra) – Miss Padma Misra, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol. 5 (1941), Pg 224-226
21 – taranga VII, verses 47-48
22 – taranga VII, verses 457-8

2 Responses to “rAjaputra – story of the term and its application”

  1. shyam March 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm #

    We still have kshatriyas v1.0 in Andhra Pradesh. They are called Rajvars. having Vasisht, Dhanunjaya, Kaundinya, Kasyap, and Bharaddwaj gotras, who are migrated from Oudh around 592 A.D to Dharanikota region of Andhra-Telangana Border. Source: ‘Hindu Tribes And Castes Vol I’


  1. rAjaputra – story of the term and its application – Voice of Rajputs - September 19, 2020

    […] rAjaputra – story of the term and its application […]

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