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Book Review: Hand Book on Rajputs

The warrior worship

 

SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, June 8, 2011 10:21
Tags : Book Review | Hand Book on Rajputs | the warrior worship | A H Bingley | Asian Educational Services | Hauz Khas | |
 

Author: A H Bingley
Publisher: Asian Educational Services (AES)
Language: English
Binding: Hardback (gold embossed)
Pages: 190
ISBN-10: 8120602048
ISBN-13: 978-8120602045

It was sometime in 2003 that I first heard of Asian Educational Services (AES) and decided to pay a visit with a friend of mine. I was looking for an edition of Hobson-Jobson Colloquial English Dictionary and had searched every bookstore worth setting your foot in, before finally giving up. Then, a casual search on the internet threw a name: AES. Missing no time, I drove to Hauz Khas village. Tucked inside a small building, the place was easy to miss; what was not easy to miss was the awe when you get inside that unsuspecting establishment. Racks and racks of beautifully bind, gold embossed books on range of subjects can make any book lover weak in knees.  AES sources old books from collectors, libraries, and rare book sellers, and republish the ones that that consider “of prime historical value.” Last counted, they had published about 1200 titles; the oldest among which was a Bible of 1664 issue.

Since then, I have been visiting this establishment time and again. They shifted from Hauz Khas to across the road Shahpur Jat and continue to pluck pearl from across the country and the world and offer them to people. One of their latest offering is “Hand Book on Rajputs” by Major A. H. Bingley, the erudite British anthropologist and soldier who is known for some of the definite works on Martial Races in India. First published in 1899, Hand Book on Rajputs gives a detailed insight into the history, origin, geographical distribution, religion, custom and festival of the Rajputs. Don’t let the word ‘Hand Book’ mislead you. A book that deals with so many aspects in such details can hardly be called a ‘Hand Book’ but then isn’t British as a race are known to be the master of understatement? Naturally, only British can call such a detailed incisive work as a ‘Hand Book’.  

One of the most interesting topics in the book is the invasion of Aryans and emergence of Rajputs as a caste. At the time this study was done, writers were not particularly known for their political correctness and thus one can easily come across candid observations and a few archetypes that one so misses these days. For example, the book talks in detail about the emergence of priestly group that was hitherto absent from the Aryan structure. How initial Aryan warriors were also priest and no need for a separate group for priestly activities was necessary till the time they organized themselves to form settlements.

It also briefly deals with the struggle between Brahmans and Kshatriyas and why the former cooked up the entire concept of divine origin to outsmart the other. The latter never accepted the theory of divine origin and the bad blood ensued, however, with the advent of Buddhism and threat it posed to the traditional Hinduism, the Brahmans buried the hatchet as they needed every caste to turn the tide. The author smartly sketches the era and tries to explain why this appeasement policy by Brahmans led to the elevation of Ram and Krishna, the kings of the Kshatriyas, as gods and incarnations.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the distinction it makes between the Rajputs of Rajputana and Punjab with those of Awadh and further east. In fact, even a cursory look in to their tradition, food, clothing and the way of life, confirm that share nothing more than the caste. It is interesting how these separate identities interact and tackles the fissures that have always been present in the Rajput society.

A separate chapter deals with the classification and geographical distribution. This chapter throws up some really interesting concepts and figures. Apart from indexing the 36 “Royal Races”, it goes on to describe each one in detail. Similarly, it also tries to clearly mark the difference between the Rajputs of Rajputana with those of North West of the peninsula. The book also comes with a detailed index, appendix and a full size map showing distribution and migration of several clans.

Bingley has offered us timeless chronicles and gazettes on Indian martial races. The details and footnotes are sure to bowl you over. There can be a few deficiencies in perspective and arrangement of logic, but no one can question the meticulous work of one of the greatest chroniclers of British India. AES has several such jewels in its kitty. Watch this space for more.  

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017