Some time back I had attended a seminar on medieval warfare, with special reference to the Rajputs. One of the speakers extolled the valor and fighting abilities of the Rajputs. He further commented that Rajputs never compromised their dignity and that was the reason the Rajput women committed ‘Jauhar’ ritual death by burning. In this way the ‘honor’ of the Rajput women was saved. At the end there was a question answer session and I asked the speaker as to what was the reason that the Rajputs gave their daughters in marriages to Muslim nawabs and shenshah’s (emperors), thus condemning these poor girls to a life of endless drudgery in a harem. Obviously it was an uncomfortable question and the man fumbled for an answer. He trotted out a lame answer and stated that probably Rajput princesses themselves were happy with this arrangement. This is an absolute lie as in 100% cases these Rajput girls had no say and were coerced to marry Muslim kings and emperors and were thus condemned to pleasure the Muslim ruler and die in the harem.
I have been looking at this aspect of Rajput character and have wondered how a race so brave and forthright could have succumbed to the level of giving their daughters into harems of Muslim emperors. One must remember that warriors who win battles always covet women. She is a booty for the victor and there is nothing voluntary about it. This was also in the Middle Ages in Europe as well. I remember watching a movie with Micheal Caine, the top English star where he played a warrior in the Middle Ages. After he wins a battle the first thing the warrior claims as his prize is the wife of the vanquished. Thus a vanquished man parts with his women as a gift for the victor. One can recollect the sack of Delhi by Timur Lang in 1398. After the sack, Timur captured more than 2000 (this figure may vary) Hindu women of great beauty for his harem and his noblemen. It was the spoils of war.
Field Marshal Viscount Barnard Montgomery of El Alamein in his “History of Warfare” has an entire chapter devoted to warfare of the Hindus. It is a chapter that is worth reading and he has some excellent observations. Montgomery is well known as the British Commander who hit Rommel and his Afrika Corps out of North Africa with a six and stopped him at the battle of El Alamein, about 60 miles of Alexandria in Egypt. He is a veteran soldier and his observation carry merit. Monty, as he is popularly called, extols the bravery of the Rajputs. What is bravery? It is courage in battle and a fatalistic contempt of death. The Rajputs had this in ample measure, but they lacked strategic sense and study of the finer points of the art of war. This resulted in defeats and more defeat while facing the Turko- Muslim invaders.
An example is the battles of Tarain fought by the last Hindu king of North India, Prithviraj Chauhan against that ferocious fighter Mohammed of Ghor. In the first battle in 1192, Ghor who faced a combined charge of the Rajput army was found wanting and was defeated. The logical course for the Rajputs was to pursue Mohammed of Ghor and capture him. However misplaced notions of tolerance and lack of strategic concept allowed Ghor to escape. He returned the next year, chastened and wiser and once again met the Rajputs in the second Battle of Tarain. Incidentally, Tarain is close to modern Panipat. He came with a proper plan, while the Rajputs relied on their old tactic of a massed charge. This failed as Ghor was ready. Prithviraj was captured, blinded and killed. So much for tolerance. In addition, one other factor was the lack of unity among the Rajputs, thus negating a principle of war namely unity of command. One of the Rajput kings named Jaichand sided with Ghor. This was the straw that broke the camels back and after this battle, the Rajputs were decisively defeated in every battle with the Muslim invaders.
The crown at Delhi passed into the hands of the Turks, who were late displaced by the descendants of the Mongols, led by Babur, who founded the Mughal dynasty. Babur came to India in the 16th century and won his first battle at Panipat against Ibrahim Lodhi who had a Turkish origin in 1526. Till the arrival of Babur, the Rajputs fought bravely against the various dynasties who ruled Delhi like the Slave dynasty and the Khilji dynasty. Sadly in all these battles the Rajputs failed or were defeated. This was the period when the Rajput morale was at a low ebb.At that time some advisors and weaker Rajput princes hit on the idea of placating the Muslim rulers at Delhi with Rajput girls for their harems. This is the stark reality and yet most Indians still talk of chivalry of the Rajputs. Giving your daughters and princesses to be part of Muslim harems cannot, in any case, be cited as an example of chivalry. Yet this is a fact of history.
There were some isolated examples of some Rajput women committing Jauhar, ritual death by burning when their husbands were defeated in battle. But it was a negative concept and not to be eulogized as I wonder why could not these women take up the sword and die fighting like Joan of Arc and Bibi Harshimran Kaur, then jumping into a pyre and burning themselves to death. Muslims coveted Rajput and Hindu princesses and many went out of their way to have a bevy of Rajput girls in their harems. Some like Akbar were tolerant and allowed the Hindu princesses to continue with their Hindu rituals, but the stark fact is that a Rajput princess when she entered a Muslim kings harem only left it when she died.
The Rajputs (though many will deny it) thus made a compromise. To use modern parlance they used women and sex to achieve what they could not achieve in battle. Perhaps their repeated defeats including those of their stalwarts like Ran Sangha and Rana Pratap unnerved them. Many Rajputs also accepted the fait accompli and took service under the Muslim rulers, who one can say were generally fair in their dealings with them. Some famous generals of the Mughal army were Rajputs. But the bottom line was the gifting of Rajput princesses into the harems of the Muslim rulers. The Rajputs thus made their peace and were rewarded by being allowed to be local rulers under the imperial durbar at Delhi. To my mind, it looks like crumbs thrown to hungry people.
The Rajputs were very brave, there is no doubt about it. The British acknowledged this and classified the Rajputs as a martial race and incorporated them in their Rajput regiments in the British Indian army. Yet this gifting of Rajput girls for Muslim harems is a fact that is difficult to explain. In particular, there was no reverse traffic of Muslim princesses marrying Rajput kings. This dichotomy needs to be examined and studied. There seems no rational explanation as to why the Rajputs were coerced into this arrangement and why they accepted it for nearly 400 years. It only died down after the death of Aurangzeb and the rise of Maratha power. Later the capture of India by the East India Company put a full stop to this practice.
The life of Rajput princesses in Muslim harems has not been commented upon much by Indian writers. Only a few western writers/ historians have written about it. Life was generally not bad, but living the life of a concubine can never be the same as living as a free Hindu princess. Most harems were well stocked and had a world of their own. It is a peculiar Muslim concept, but later many Hindu kings like Maharajah Ranjit Singh also adopted this concept of the harem and the reverse traffic also started, like Hindu kings marrying Muslim girls.
Coming to the point of the Rajput psyche, it needs further study. One must find a rational explanation that a race classified as martial ended up by giving their women to the very people who vanquished them. Maybe the explanation is simple and its a matter of victory and defeat and using women and girls as spoils of war