Ancient History & Civilisation


The Samurai of India—The age of chivalry—The fall of Chitor

This Dark Age was lighted up for a moment by the epic of Rajputana. Here, in the states of Mewar, Marwar, Amber, Bikaner and many others of melodious name, a people half native in origin and half descended from invading Scythians and Huns, had built a feudal civilization under the government of warlike rajas who cared more for the art of life than for the life of art. They began by acknowledging the suzerainty of the Mauryas and the Guptas; they ended by defending their independence, and all India, from the inroads of Moslem hordes. Their clans were distinguished by a military ardor and courage not usually associated with India;* if we may trust their admiring historian, Tod, every man of them was a dauntless Kshatriya, and every woman among them was a heroine. Their very name, Rajputs, meant “sons of kings”; and if sometimes they called their land Rajasthan, it was to designate it as “the home of royalty.”

All the nonsense and glamor—all the bravery, loyalty, beauty, feuds, poisons, assassinations, wars, and subjection of woman—which our traditions attach to the Age of Chivalry can be found in the annals of these plucky states. “The Rajput chieftains,” says Tod, “were imbued with all the kindred virtues of the western cavalier, and far his superior in mental attainments.”59 They had lovely women for whom they did not hesitate to die, and who thought it only a matter of courtesy to accompany their husbands to the grave by the rite of suttee. Some of these women were educated and refined; some of the rajas were poets, or scientists; and for a while a delicate genre of water-color painting flourished among them in the medieval Persian style. For four centuries they grew in wealth, until they could spend $20,000,000 on the coronation of Mewar’s king.60

It was their pride and their tragedy that they enjoyed war as the highest art of all, the only one befitting a Rajput gentleman. This military spirit enabled them to defend themselves against the Moslems with historic valor, but it kept their little states so divided and weakened with strife that not all their bravery could preserve them in the end. Tod’s account of the fall of Chitor, one of the Rajput capitals, is as romantic as any legend of Arthur or Charlemagne; and indeed (since it is based solely upon native historians too faithful to their fatherland to be in love with truth) these marvelous Annals of Rajasthan may be as legendary as Le Morte d’Arthur or Le Chanson de Roland. In this version the Mohammedan invader, Alau-d-din, wanted not Chitor but the princess Pudmini—“a title bestowed only on the superlatively fair.” The Moslem chieftain proposed to raise the siege if the regent of Chitor would surrender the princess. Being refused, Alau-d-din agreed to withdraw if he were allowed to see Pudmini. Finally he consented to depart if he might see Pudmini in à mirror; but this too was denied him. Instead, the women of Chitor joined in defending their city; and when the Rajputs saw their wives and daughters dying beside them they fought until every man of them was dead. When Alau-d-din entered the capital he found no sign of human life within its gates; all the males had died in battle, and their wives, in the awful rite known as theJohur, had burned themselves to death.62

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!