The history of human settlement in north Indian state of Rajasthan dates back to about 5000 years ago with parts of north Rajasthan at the heart of the Indus Valley Civilization. This region was long known as Gurjaratra that is country protected or ruled by the Gurjars before it came to be called Rajputana, early in the Muslim period. It is also the famous land of the Rajput warriors renowned for their heroic deeds on the battlefield. The majestic palaces, forts and other architectural edifices of historical significance tell interesting tales of the Rajput rulers who once exercised sovereignty over this northwestern state of India.
Ages ago, or so the desert dwellers believe, Shri Rama drew an arrow in his bow. His target was Lanka, the island where Ravana held his wife captive. However, such was the potential power of its annihilation that the gods pleaded with Rama to desist from its intended purpose.
Unfortunately, Rama had to release the arrow now that it had been drawn and so he pointed it towards a sea that readily dried up owing to the enormous heat and in its place arose a desert – dry arid and hot. Myth perhaps, but myth and reality often coalesce in the desert. Fossils excavated underneath the sands on the Thar have revealed the remains of marine life.
It was to these desert centuries ago, that man journeyed. The earliest inhabitants of northern Rajasthan belonged to the (largely urban) Indus Valley Civilization’s Archaeologists and historians have theorized that the geometric fashion of the layout of the citadels and buildings was followed till recently. The Indus valley civilization went into decline; academicians speculate a number of possible of possible causes. From there on, nothing but desert winds must have howled for centuries.
In other parts of the world, maritime activity and commerce arose, and a sophisticated network of trade linked different countries. Europe was linked to Asia along a trade route that passed through West Asia, and journeyed through the vast desert of Rajasthan to the rich plains of Hindustan. From the Hindukush passes, the route connected to China.
The caravans on this route attracted supporting commercial services and settlement soon came up. The invaders followed. And then came the settlers, who in return for the protection they offered, levied a tax on the goods that passed through their territory. So began the transformation of the desert. The kings were Rajput, part of the Kshatriya clan of warriors who once held most of Hindustan under their sway. But under sustained foreign invasion and riddled with internecine wars, their power collapsed over a period of time. The Thar became their refuge.
In course of time, the Rajput built themselves the magnificent forts and palaces to their power. These kings had come to rule once again and the region was called ‘RAJPUTANA’ - Land of the Rulers. Deeply religious, the people built besides their forts, superbly carved temples, elaborate wells, havelis, and memorials to their dead. The rulers were also known for their sensitivities to the arts, offering patronage to their artistes. No wonder then Rajasthan is endowed with a rich architectural and artistic heritage.
Rajasthan medieval history is rich in tales of valor and chivalry. The invaders from Central Asia routinely plundered India but were offered resistance by the rulers of Rajputana notably from Mewar and Marwar (Jodhpur). It is must to be mentioned here that the history of Mewar, the region comprising Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Kumbalgarh is particularly extraordinary, being full of victories over large armies and tragedies consuming many young men and women.
The traditional sacrifice and the self-respect of the Rajput women are also worth mentioning while discussing the imperial rule of Rajasthan during the medieval epoch. When the Rajput rulers were forced to surrender their kingdoms to other invaders, the Rajput women in order to protect their chastity and self-respect used to light up a pyre and together they used to jump into the fire thus sacrificing and ending their own lives. This custom of collective sacrifice was known as Jauhar.
Rajasthan's formerly independent kingdoms created a rich architectural and cultural heritage, seen today in their numerous forts and palaces (Mahals & Havelis) which are enriched by features of Muslim & Jain architecture.
The later history of Rajasthan is a history of various kingdoms and their regular wars with one another. It wasn’t until the mid-sixth century that the brave Rajput, warriors par excellence, came to dominate the region and wrote the most glorious chapters of history with their blood and blade. Rajasthan kept themselves busy with skirmishes amongst the neighboring kingdoms or else they faced the Torks, the mighty sultans of the Delhi sultanate and later the Great Mughals. The conflict between the Rajput and the Muslim Rulers of Delhi lasted for almost 550 years. This period saw the rise of Prithvi Raj Chauhan Maharani Padmini, the beautiful queen of Rana Rattan Singh of Chittaur, Rana Sangha, Man Singh of Amer and Rana Pratap of Chittaur, and scores of other names which become hallowed in folk memory. It was a period of fierce loyalties and of death before dishonor. It is this period in the history of Rajasthan that continues to live on in the proud inhabitants of this region and gives it a special charm of its own, unmatched by any other place, anywhere in the world. In later years, peace became common owing to tie-up with Mughals and later the British powers, the rulers created stately palaces many of which of its are museum and hotels today.