Rajputs were members of the approximately 12 million landowners of northern India who claimed to be descended from the Kshatriya warrior caste. The name derives from the Sanskrit term Raja-putra, or “son of the king.”
Rajputs were particularly strong in Rajputana. However any ruler who could attain temporal status in central or northern India might be liable to claim Rajput status, since there were no defining tests of ethnicity and status. Rajput confederacies were any of a variety of more or less loosely joined alliances aimed at offensive or defensive military actions under the command of Rajput leaders.
Rajput leaders became more prominent during periods of political upheaval, when central states were unable to maintain control over geographically remote areas and local warlords could enforce autonomy for some period. The ruggedness of the terrain was a considerable advantage in warfare and enabled, for example, the Gurjara-Pratiharas Confederacy to maintain independence from the Arab conquest of Sind. Bhoja I (836–885) extended Rajput territory until it reached the Himalayas, Sind, and the Ganges Valley. This empire dissolved within two centuries, at which time princes rose in what is now Rajasthan to seize their chance for power. A number of independent states flourished across northern India, including the Guhilas, whose territory was centered on Mewar; the Cauhans at Ajmer;and the Bhattis and Rachors.
This period of independence was brought to an effective end by the victory of Muhammad of Ghur over Prthviraj III at the second Battle of Tarain in 1192, after which northern India was gradually brought into the Muslim sphere of influence. The fiercely independent Rajputs were able to use their terrain to resist absolute control, although their influence was greatly reduced as they became surrounded. This period gave rise to the romantic conception of the noble and valiant Rajput warrior defending home and heartland against the foreign Muslim invaders. The Mughal prince Babur conquered the Rajputs in the 15th century; consequently Rajput power waned.
The Rajput romances feature such elements as wives jumping into the burning funeral pyres of their husbands and desperate attempts to obtain access to beautiful princesses cloistered in remote mountainous fortresses. These romances reveal something of the nature of life for women and the less privileged in this northern Indian society. Artistic expression in various forms reached a high point during the Rajput confederacies.