The morning of 12th May, 1952 was a blazing, hot. It was mid-summer, the sands of Rajasthan baked and sent out waves of shimmering heat, but hardly anyone seemed distressed by it. Jodhpur was festive!
At a solemn ceremony in the palace, Thakur Bhairon Singh of Bagri slit the thumb of his right hand with his own sword and with his blood anointed the forehead of a four year old prince, ‘Marwar Mubarak ho! May you be blessed with and by Marwar’ he proclaimed in a centuries old Rathores’ tradition. The King courteously replied ‘Bagri bhadara se inayat! I grant you Bagri village’. Four year old, Gaj Singh was now the Maharaja of Jodhpur, the second largest city of Rajasthan.
At twenty three years old, he was returning to India in 1971, after his study years at Oxford to take up his dynastic responsibility as Maharaja. While driving through Turkey with friends he received news of de-recognition of royalty in India, by an amendment to the constitution. It was a crushing blow to the young man.
It felt unfair. He reflected on what this would mean to his clansmen who looked up to him as ‘Bapji’ – respected father. As the thirty-eighth Rathore ruler of Jodhpur he was still their ‘annadatta’ giver of food and succor. His people depended on him as they had upon to his forefathers.
The Rathores claim descent from Rama, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayan and are known as Suryavanshis or descendents of the solar race. They belong to the warrior caste amongst Hindus – the Kshatriyas.
Crossing from myth to reality, Nayal Pal had
conquered Kanauj – near modern Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh today and retained it for seven
hundred years until the Afghan, Mohammed Ghori routed him in 1193 and conquered
Kanuj’s last Hindu ruler, Jai Chand, fled the kingdom and headed west, but, drowned in the Ganges while crossing the river. His grandson, Sheoji, survived and headed towards the barren desert, knowingly, so that no enemy would follow him to such a desolate land, the Land of Death or Marwar.
The Great Indian Desert or the Thar, of which Marwar is a part, is one of the most inhospitable landscapes on earth. Sandy tracts in western Marwar are characterized by a harsh physical geography and a fragile ecology. High wind velocity, shifting sand dunes and very deep and saline water sources pose a challenge to sustained human habitation. Large distances separate hamlets and settlements. The area is also prone to devastating droughts. Relief is found only on the sandy plain lying northwest of the Aravalli Range, known as the gateway to the Thar because it lies on desert’s edge. Here, there is a little rainfall, but extremes of temperature torment it from summer to winter. Thorn scrub forests lie next to the Aravalli Range, while the rest of the region lies in the Thar Desert.The Luni River is the only water source of the plains. It originates in the Pushkar Lake of Ajmer and flows through Marwar fed by numerous tributaries that flow from the Aravallis in a south-westerly direction until it finally disappears into the seasonal wetland of the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.
As his flight came into Delhi, readying for touch down Gaj Singh II’s thoughts flew to what had been the glorious state of Marwar and its capital Jodhpur. He began to reminisce …..
Sheoji, the grandson of Jai Chand galloped away from the ruins of imperial Kanauj and reached Marwar where he gained a foothold as a warrior. Hearing of his prowess, he was invited by the Brahmins of Palli, a wealthy trading town, to defend their habitation against Muslims and tribal marauders. Having done this successfully, a few years later Sheoji assumed control of Palli and set himself up as an independent ruler. Ballads sing of his courage and a tablet in the village of Bithu records his death in 1273, fighting one of the generals of Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din heroically.
His son Asthan got Kher by marrying the Princess of Kher but, had her family murdered during the celebrations itself. Later, he redeemed himself fighting the army of Jalal-ud-din Khilji and going down courageously. The Rathores were now well entrenched in Marwar. Ashtan’s grandson, Rao Raipal’s act of sharing his grain with his people during a terrible famine, indicates that the Rathores saw themselves as kings and acted as such. Eight rulers followed Asthan in quick succession, falling in battle with Muslim armies.
Rao Doohad tried to re-capture Kanauj and failed miserably, but is remembered for bringing the Goddess Chakershwari, the Kul Devi to Marwar. The goddess chose her site, for the bullock cart in which Doohad carried her idol got stuck in the sand near Nagana and would not budge. Having travelled a long distance, the exhausted Doohad lay down under a tree with the idol on his chest, to rest a while and fell asleep. The idol slipped to the ground. The temple was erected on that very spot. Today, a two hour’s drive from Jodhpur, it is revered as Nag Nechiaji and every Rathore seeks her blessings on important occasions of life.
Rathori life was developing through varied experiences.
With Rao Jalansi – Doohad’s great grandson – the Rathores adopted the safa when ……. In battle with the Soda Rajputs, Jalansi snatched the Soda chief’s turban off his head. It was the ultimate humiliation for the enemy and the ultimate prize for the victors. The Rathores adopted the safa to commemorate this triumph. It has since become an integral part of Jodhpuri men’s wear.
Jalansi’s successors did not let him down. Victory followed victory and the safa took on different hues to mark various occasions, like birth, death, festivals and marriage. In fact, the safa is the most important part of bridal attire for all north Indian men as is the Jodhpuri ‘mojiri’ or decorated footwear.