Royal Rajasthan: A cradle of colours and cultures

Supriya Jha

Think sparkling sand dunes and the Ships of Deserts, camels, loitering with the rhythmic and graceful movement of humps. Think Pink, golden, and white. Pink for rose-tinted ‘Pink City Jaipur’; golden for the “Golden City Jaisalmer’’ and White for the ‘The White City of Udaipur’’ (also sobriqueted as the city of lakes). Think towering fortresses and mighty havelis. Think of maharajas and rajputanas. Yes, you are right. You are welcome to the royal state of Rajasthan, resplendent with rich colours of tradition and heritage.

With a history dating back to 5000 years old, Rajathan boasts of opulent monuments that stand testimony to a glorious past and from whose walls reverberate, countless tales of chivalry, heroism, honour and romance.

Geography: Situated in the northwest part of the country, Rajasthan is the largest state of India with an area of 3.42 lakh Square Kilometres and accounts for 10% of India’s geographical area. It shares its border with Pakistan along the Indo-Pakistan International Border in the west and with Madhya Pradesh in the east. It also edges Punjab in the north, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the northeast, and Gujarat in the south.

The oldest mountain range of the country – the Aravalli Range runs diagonally through the state dividing it into two parts – the sandy, arid and unproductive northwest part and comparatively fertile and habitable southeastern part. Only 9.56% of the total geographical region lies under forest cover. About three-fifths of the state lies in the northwest, while two-fifths in the southeast. The western part includes the Thar Desert also known as the Great Indian Desert which occupies about 61% of total landmass of Rajasthan. The Rajasthan desert which forms a major portion of the Thar Desert is the biggest desert in India and encompasses the districts of Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur.

The climate varies according to the topography which is mainly sandy, arid and dry. The extensive topography of Rajasthan can be divided into following: the Aravalli or the hilly regions, the Thar and the other arid regions, the Plateaus including Vindhaya and the Malwa, the fertile plains including the Mewar, the Forest Regions and the Water bodies including Rivers and Salt Lakes.

The desert becomes very hot during the summer and it experiences extreme climate with an average annual rainfall of less than 25 cm. Days are hot and the nights are cold. Vegetation consists of thorny bushes, shrubs and xerophilious grass. Various species of lizards and snakes are found here.

History: The ruins of Kalibangan in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan, was a major provincial capital of the Indus Valley Civilization that dated back to 3000 BC.

Kalibangan is distinguished by its unique fire altars and "world's earliest attested ploughed field".

However, if mythology is to be believed, the history of Rajasthan is about 5000 years old and its origin is related to the famous myth of Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

The history of Rajasthan can be categorised into three - Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

In the ancient history, Rajasthan was a part of different dynasties including the glorious Mauryan Empire in around (321-184 BC). Aryans first settlement hub was in the Dundhmer and the first inhabitants of this area were the Bhil and the Mina. The earliest Rajput dynasty that emerged around 700 AD was the Gurjara Partiharas and since then Rajasthan was cited as Rajputana (the land of the Rajputs). Rajasthan is also known for its gory conflicts among the Parmars, Chalukyas, and Chauhans around 1000-1200 AD.

In this medieval era around 1200 AD, the major regions of Rajasthan such as Nagaur, Ajmer and Ranthanbhor came under the Mughals headed by the Mughal ruler- Akbar. The most famous Rajput warriors who represented the vigor and valiance of the Rajput dynasty and whose tales of chivalry are still imprinted in the sands of Rajasthan were Rana Uday Singh, his son Rana Pratap, Bhappa Rawal, Rana Kumbha and Prithviraj Chauhan and others.

With the end of the Mughal regime in1707, the Marathas gained supremacy and captured Ajmer in1775. The Maratha ascendancy ended in the late 17th century with the British suzerainty in 1817-18. In 1st November, 1956 the state of present day Rajasthan came into existence after the amalgamation of the princely states.

River Saraswati has found a mention in Rig Vedas as a mighty river with miraculous healing and purifying properties. Today, it is presumed that the Saraswati River was formed by the present headwaters of the Yamuna River.

Along the course of the Saraswati, the Harappan Civilization developed. The earliest known examples of writing in India have been found in the ruined cities that line the now dry riverbed of the ancient waterway.

Economy: Although one of the BIMARU states, Rajasthan’s economic scenario seems to be set for a brighter future as 26 hydrocarbon discoveries so far can boost the economy. Barmer district in Rajasthan ranks second in crude oil production in the country. And the state government in collaboration with Cairn India, is in the process of setting up an oil refinery in Barmer. Oil wells in Barmer are ready to produce approximately 3 lakh barrels oil per day and the production has brought in revenue of Rs 14,000 crore (till August 31, 2013), according to the petroleum secretary of the state.

However, Rajasthan’s economy is mainly agricultural and pastoral. The main industries of Rajasthan are mineral based, agriculture based, and textiles. Wheat, barley, pulses, sugarcane and oilseeds are the main food crops, while cotton and tobacco are the state’s cash crops. Rajasthan is the biggest producer of wool and opium and the second largest producer of oils seeds. It is also the second largest producer of polyester fibre and cement in India. Several prominent chemical and engineering companies are located in the city of Kota, in southern Rajasthan. The state is also known for its marble quarries, copper, zinc mines and salt deposits in Sambhar Lake.

Demography: As per the census of 2011, Rajasthan has a population of 68,621,012, and the sex ratio is 926 per 1000 males. The state had a literacy rate of 67.06% (80.51% male and 52.66% female).The Population density is 165/sq km. The population growth over the last ten years has been around 21.44%. The largest cities of Rajasthan are Jaipur, Jodhpur and Kota.

Rajasthan has 33 districts and the regional language is Rajasthani spoken widely among its indigenous populace, however Hindi and English are used for official purposes.

Politics and Administration: The current CM of the state is Ashok Gehlot and current government in Rajasthan is that of Indian National Congress. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the main opposition whose leader is Vasundhara Raje , who was the Chief Minister of Rajasthan state of India from December 2003 till December 2008.

The state of Rajasthan has 33 districts and 25 Parliamentary constituencies. Rajasthan has a single-chamber legislative assembly with 200 seats. The state sends 35 members to the Indian national parliament: 10 to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and 25 to the Lok Sabha (Lower House). Local government is based on 30 administrative districts.

Tourism: Rich with the grandeur of opulent monuments and palaces, undulating sand dunes, breathtaking lakes, lush green forests and varied wildlife, Rajasthan makes for a favourite tourist destination. The palaces of Jaipur, lakes of Udaipur, and desert forts of Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer feature on every tourist’s must-visit places. Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and the hill forts of Rajasthan which include Chittorgarh Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranthambore Fort, Gagron Fort, Amber Fort, Jaisalmer Fort and Amber Fort have recently been declared world heritage sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation. Rajasthan is also called a shopper's paradise and is famous for textiles, semi-precious stones and handicrafts. The attractive designs of jewellery and clothes make it a tourist heaven. Due to intricate carvings and bright colours Rajasthani furniture and handicrafts are in huge demand.

The extent of the beauty of the state can be estimated from the fact that tourism accounts for eight percent of the state's domestic product.

Culture and Festivals: Rajasthan has a vibrant culture which is uniquely elegant with myriad hues of traditions and festivals.

The internationally-famed Ghoomar dance from Udaipur and Kalbeliya dance of Jaisalmer are characteristic of Rajasthan. Folk music too is a vital part of Rajasthani culture. The inspiration for the dances and the music of Rajasthan has been derived from nature, as well as the day-to-day relationships and chores, more often focused around fetching water from wells or ponds.

Kathputali, Bhopa, Chang, Teratali, Ghindar, Kachchhighori, Tejaji etc are the famous examples of this. Folk songs are sung at various festivals and it is said that there is a song for every occasion.

Folk songs are commonly ballads which relate heroic deeds and love stories; and religious or devotional songs known as bhajans and banis (often accompanied by musical instruments like dholak, sitar, sarangi etc.) are also sung. Rajasthan is also famous for semi-precious stones and handicrafts, and for its traditional and colourful art. Rajasthani furniture has intricate carvings and bright colours. Block prints, tie and dye prints, Bagaru prints, Sanganer prints and Zari embroidery are major export products from Rajasthan. The blue pottery of Jaipur is quite famous.

Rajasthanis believe in celebrating vehemently so much so that the state was lovingly termed as the ‘The City of Festivals’.

Rajasthan's population is made up mainly of Hindus, who account for 88.8% of the population and hence the main religious festivals of Rajasthanis are Deepawali, Holi, Gangaur, Teej, Gogaji, Makar Sankranti and Janmashtami.

Other than festivals, Rajasthan also hosts a slew of fairs. The major ones include the Pushkar Fair, the Desert Festival, Elephant Festival and Camel Festival. What started as merely a congregation of cattle breeders and vendors for utilitarian purposes, the fairs have now become a traditional celebration of faith and tradition while retaining the rustic flavor.

First Published: Saturday, November 09, 2013, 13:50


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