The kingdom of Jodhpur was ruled by the Rathores,
who controlled much of Marwar in western Rajasthan
including Bikaner, the other desert fiefdom. The
clan traces its lineage back to Rama, the mythical
hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana and through him back
to the sun god Surya himself. Which is why the
Rathores also call themselves Suryavanshi or family
of the sun. In modern times, the first Rathore ruler
chronicled by history was Nayan Pal, who established
his kingdom at Kannauj near modern day Kanpur in
Uttar Pradesh in 470 A.D. Here the dynasty
flourished until much of north India began to
acquire a distinctly Islamic flavour towards the
close of the 12th century. Mohammad Ghori the Afghan
annexed Kannauj in 1192, forcing the Rathore ruler
Raja Jai Chand to flee which he did carrying the
Rathore panchranga or the five-coloured flag with
him. But dispirited by the defeat he drowned while
crossing the Ganges.
¤ In The Early Days
After period of wandering through Gujarat, described by James Tod in his magnum opus Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, the Rathores settled down in Pali, which is a short distance from Jodhpur. Here Rao Siyaji, Jai Chand’s successor hit upon the strategy of conquest of Marwar through forging matrimonial alliances; he married and had three sons and eight grandsons each of whom bred prolifically in turn. and in 1453 the Rathores had multiplied enough in the region for one of Siyaji’s descendants Chonda to cobble up a large enough army to capture Mandore, the capital of Marwar. Here he married the princess of the ruling dynasty, had no less than 14 children and established the Rathore stronghold in Marwar. However, the Rajput reputation for constantly feuding with each other was well deserved; in this case it was the marital alliance between Chonda’s daughter Hansa to Lakha Rana of Mewar which stirred up trouble between the two principalities. Ultimately leading to the death of Chonda which is described by one Rathore chronicler as ‘he was slain at Nagore with one thousand Rajputs.’
¤ The City Founded
Eventually Rao Jodha (whose son Rao Bika later founded Bikaner) decided to shift base to a safer spot and moved from Mandore to Jodhpur which he founded in 1459. Again, as in the case of the founding of Jaisalmer, it was a sage who suggested that Jodha establish his settlement on a craggy hill known as the birds nest, which is now called Jodhpur. Atop this eyrie, Jodha built his stronghold called the Chintamani fort, which was later called Mehrangarh. Jodha lived in his new capital for thirty years and on his death bed he must have been a contented man, because he and his progeny by that time controlled eighty thousand square miles of territory. A far cry from three centuries earlier when his ancestors had been driven out of Kannauj by Ghori in absolute penury. Surajmal who succeeded Jodha, ruled Jodhpur for a score and seven years, and it was in his tenure that Jodhpur had its first spat with the imperial army at Delhi.
¤ A Question of Honour
During the reign of Sikandar Lodi in 1516, a band of Pathans carried off a hundred and forty Rajput women during the Hindu festival of Teej. Incensed Surajmal took it upon himself to avenge Rajput honour, which he did by vanquishing the ‘northern barbarians’ but at the cost of his own life. His heir Rao Ganga Singh who ruled for the next sixteen years was part of the last confederacy made by the Rajputs for national independence. As the Mughal Babur blazed across the Indus and defeated Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat in 1526, the Rajputs united in order to drive out the foreigner. Ganga Singh along with the one-eyed Rana Sanga of Mewar met Babur in the battle of Khanua in 1528. However the Rajputs were routed and from then on Mughal power in India for the next two centuries was assured.
¤ A Narrow victory
However Babur found nothing to tempt him in the infertile lands of Marwar and Jodhpur managed to retain its autonomy. In fact under Raja Maldeo, Jodhpur managed to extend its sphere of influence considerably in the latter half of the 16 th century. He acquired Nagore and Ajmer and later Jalore, and even managed to dispossess Bika’s (founder of Bikaner) heirs from supreme power in Bikaner. Meanwhile Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan had dispossessed Mughal emperor Humayun from the throne of Delhi, whence he fled to Marwar to seek refuge but received a cold shoulder from Maldeo. However, Maldeo received no advantage from his inhospitality, and Sher Shah possibly out of insecurity from his southern neighbour marched on Marwar with 80,000 men to be met by a Rajput army of fifty thousand. Where thanks to the old Rajput vice of squabbling with each other the Delhi Sultan achieved a narrow victory. But it was a ‘narrow victory’ at best as the Sultan himself remarked afterwards: "I nearly lost the empire of Hindustan for a handful of barley."
What is interesting is that the Jodhpur coat-of- arms apart from depicting the sacred kite of goddess Durga and the Rathore war cry Ranbanka Rathore (Rathore invincible in battle) also portrays a handful of barley- signifying Sher Shah’s famous words. Maldeo was destined to outlive the Sher Shahi dynasty but Humayun returned from exile to reclaim his kingdom and after his death in 1556 it was the 13 year old Akbar (destined to become one of the greatest of Indian kings) who ascended the Mughal throne.
¤ Jodhpur Placates Akbar
Akbar clearly had a score to settle as the non-cooperation of Jodhpur had led him to spend his childhood in faraway Amarkot rather than the princely comforts of Delhi and he invaded Marwar in 1561 and captured both Jodhpur and the Nagore fort. The two forts he handed to Rai Singh of Bikaner now independent of Jodhpur. Maldeo was forced to swallow his pride, and tried to win over Akbar by sending him gifts through his second son Chandra Sen. However all the wiles of Chandra Sen failed to sway the Akbar and eventually it was his elder brother Udai Singh who managed to ingratiate himself with the emperor. The unkindest cut of all came when he was forced to pay homage to his elder son Udai Singh, who was appointed by Akbar, and this ended the freedom of Jodhpur which became a vassal state of the Mughals.
¤ The Union Between the Mughals & Jodhpur
The relations between Jodhpur and the imperial house were further cemented by the Marriage of Jodha Bai, sister of Udai Singh with the Mughal emperor, Akbar thenceforth returned all possessions he had seized from Marwar sans Ajmer. Jodhpur hereafter assisted Akbar in many of his conquests and Sur Singh who succeeded Udai, served with the imperial forces in Lahore and was instrumental in capturing Gujarat and much of Deccan for Akbar. While Raja Gaj Singh son and heir of Sur Singh played a key role in putting down the rebellion of prince Khurram (later to become emperor Shah Jahan) against his father Jahangir. It is reported that Jahangir was so pleased with the loyalty of the Rathore prince, that he not only took him by the hand but kissed it- a most unusual gesture for a Mughal emperor.
¤ Relations Turned Strain between the Mughal & Jodhpur
Proximity to the Mughal court led to art and culture flourishing in Jodhpur as well as trade and commerce with the establishment of relative peace. But relations between the Mughals and Jodhpur took a turn for the worse during Jaswant Singh’s reign when he backed the wrong prince in 1658 during the battle of succession between Shah Jahan’s sons. His loathing for Aurangzeb led him to back Dara, and despite Jaswant’s defeat at Fatehbad when he was commanding the army opposed to Aurangzeb he never really reconciled himself to his rule. For 25 years he was a thorn in the Mughal emperor’s flesh until Aurangzeb ordered him to Kabul to duel with the Afghans whence he never returned. He left Jodhpur in the hands of his son Prithvi, who in turn was put paid to by Aurangzeb by giving him a poisoned robe. James Tod says of Jaswant Singh ‘that had his ability been commensurate with his power, strength and courage he could have with the aid of Aurangzeb’s numerous other enemies have got rid of the emperor’.
¤ A Matter of Chivalry
An example of Rajput pride in their valour can be ascertained from the conduct of Jaswant’s queen when he retreated after the battle of Fatehbad. Even though he brought back his shield and it can be said his honour as well, she barred the city's gates on her fugitive lord. Though eventually wifely love forced her to relent the incident typified the Rajput attitude of preferring a heroic death to a cowardly retreat. Jaswant Singh had ascended the throne of Jodhpur in a most unusual manner. His father Gaj Singh’s mistress Angoori Bai had once been presented with a pair of pearl shoes by Jaswant Singh, after kneeling down before her in supplication. In return Angoori prevailed upon Gaj Singh to anoint Jaswant as his successor over the head of his elder brother Amar Singh, the rightful heir to the throne. It was a typical case of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ and Angoori Bai can be said to have changed the course of 17 th century Jodhpur history by helping to install Jaswant to the Jodhpur to the throne.
¤ An Assassination Folied
Meanwhile Aurangzeb’s religious bigotry had the impact of alienating all of the Rajputs whom Akbar had so carefully cultivated. After the imposition of the much hated jaziya or religious tax on the Hindus in 1679, he was determined to do away with Jaswant’s infant son Ajit Singh, after Jaswant’s death in 1681. However, that was prevented by one of Rajputana’s greatest heroes Durga Das who smuggled the posthumous child out of Marwar in a basket of sweetmeats. An enraged Aurangzeb retaliated by sacking Jodhpur, destroying numerous Hindu temples and demanding the conversion of the Rajput race to Islam. The attitude of the emperor led to the entire Rajput clan becoming implacable enemies of the Mughals, and from then on they were merely biding their time to throw off the Mughal imperialist yoke. The opportunity presented itself with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 at the grand old age of 89. His successor, Bahadur Shah was 63 himself when he ascended the imperial throne and soon earned for himself the sobriquet of Shahi Bekhabar (heedless king) for his disinterest in affairs of the state.
Perfect chance for Ajit Singh, now grown up who with the help of Durga Das formed a triple alliance with Udaipur and Jaipur to reclaim what was rightfully his – the gaddi (throne) of Jodhpur.
¤ Jodhpur Reclaimed From the Mughals
Ultimately Ajit Singh proved to be an even greater ruler than his father and was one of the most distinguished princes to grace the throne of Jodhpur. He inherited his father’s hatred for the very word Muslim but that was natural for someone who was born amidst the snows of Kabul and deprived at birth of his parents. He also inherited his father’s valour, which he first displayed at the early age of 11 when he visited his enemy’s capital displaying the courtesy which only a Rajput can. He along with Jai Singh of Jaipur and Amar Singh of Mewar were instrumental in throwing out the Mughals from Jodhpur as well as Amber. His hatred of the Mughals was further fuelled when he was forced to give one his daughters to the Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyyar in marriage. However he gained the viceroyalty of Gujarat as a result, and was also instrumental in getting the hated jaziya repealed for which the Hindus owed him an eternal debt.
He then entered into an agreement with the Sayyid brothers at the Mughal court to get rid of the emperor Farrukhsiyyar, which they did successfully in 1719. and it speaks volumes for the degeneration of the Mughals after Aurangzeb, that none among them came forward to rescue their emperor. Farrukhsiyyar remains the only Mughal king ever to be assassinated. In turn the Sayyid brothers were killed themselves, as court intrigues held full sway at the imperial court with the Mughals becoming increasingly corrupt and debauched. Ajit, aware of the vice-ridden Mughal court, was determined himself to capture Ajmer from them and did so by slaying the king’s governor. He ascended the throne of Ajmer and where the Koran was read, the Puran (a set of 18 books containing Hindu legends) was now heard. Ajit issued coins in his own name, established his own weights and measures and his own courts of justice. The reputation of Ajit spread far and wide, even to distant Persia and Mecca that he had exalted his own faith. The rites of The Koran were prohibited throughout the land of Marwar.
¤ Father Assassinated by Son
Eventually the great Ajit’s life ended with a crime most foul – he was murdered by his own son Abhay Singh, who was anointed king by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah himself. With Ajit’s demise passed away the golden period of Jodhpur’s history, and the next century as we shall see was full of trials and tribulations. Abhay Singh had very little time for festivities, soon he involved himself with the consolidation of his fiefdom. He bestowed the principality of Nagaur on his brother Bukhta and then installed his officers in Ajmer of which he was the viceroy. However, Nagaur was too limited a field for someone of Bukhta’s talents, and with Abhay becoming an opium addict towards his latter years, he felt increasingly insecure by his brother’s influence. The sibling rivalry reached its head when Abhay refused to help Bukhta when he attacked the kingdom of Amber. It says something for the Rajput character that they failed to unite even when they had the chance of overthrowing the Mughals, their internecine battles cost them the Delhi Durbar (court).
This was the time of Muhammad Shah’s reign, who because of his addiction to wine and women was given the epithet Rangila (colourful). Nadir Shah the Persian sacked Delhi in 1739, looted its treasures and decamped with among other things the peacock throne of Shah Jahan. Unfortunately for Rajputana, the demoralisation of their princes did not enable them to take advantage of the profligacy of the Mughals. Perhaps it was the murder of Ajit Singh which serves to illustrate the great moral truth- that in every stage of civilisation crime will work out its own punishment. Ram Singh, son of Abhay succeeded the throne of Jodhpur but his uncle Bukhta did not attend his coronation. Ram Singh had inherited the same impetuous temper as his predecessors and it was inevitable that he and Bukhta would soon be at loggerheads. The battle between the two was bloody leading to the annihilation of Ram Singh’s army, forcing the Jodhpur ruler to flee. Bukhta anointed himself ruler of the desert city, and with the support of other clans of Marwar, he felt secure against the machinations of his nephew.
¤ The Marathas Supplant the Mughals
However, poison achieved what the sword could not. Madhu Singh, queen of Amber was entrusted with the task of removing the enemy of her nephew Ram Singh. She presented Bukhta with a poisoned robe leading to his death in 1753. Meanwhile the Marathas were fast supplanting the Mughals as the pre-eminent power in India, and in conjunction with the prince of Amber, Ram Singh concluded a treaty with the Marathas to depose Bukhta’s son and heir Vijay Singh from Jodhpur. Ram Singh was able to vanquish the young Vijay thanks to a rumour circulated by his minister among the enemy that Vijay had been shot by a cannon. It was a tactic which invariably worked against the Rajputs, and as his army ran helter-skelter, the young Vijay was left virtually defenceless. Thus Ram Singh reclaimed the throne of Jodhpur but not without cost, as it led to the Marathas spreading their tentacles in Rajputana. Ajmer was ceded to them and a fixed triennial tribute on all lands of Marwar both feudal and fiscal had to be paid.
From then on Jodhpur’s independence was never really secure and Ram Singh finally died in exile in 1773 in Jaipur. Historians agree that both in exterior and in his accomplishments he compared favourably with the great Ajit, and in his later years he was much mellowed, with much of his early irascibility, a thing of the past. His death meant the Marathas had free run of the land and they missed no opportunity to plunder. Vijay Singh was too callow and without resources to resist the Maratha might, and ruinous wars followed by humiliating negotiations dissipated the wealth of Marwar completely. Indeed the situation was so chaotic that an exasparated prince Devi Singh of Pokhran once remarked " Why trouble yourself about Marwar? It is in the sheath of my dagger." and although Vijay Singh in league with Pratap Singh of Amber recovered Ajmer temporarily from the Marathas at the battle of Tonga in 1787, But the Maratha Scindia won it back four years later and Ajmer was lost to Marwar forever. and in his last few years Vijay was enmeshed with a young beauty from the Oswal tribe which created such a scandal that it almost led to his dethronement.
¤ Man Singh’s Fortunes Rise
The conflict however led to enormous turmoil in Jodhpur, leading to slicing up Vijay Singh’s dominions. and with his sons and grandsons in rival camps thanks to the folly of Vijay Singh’s ways, he died a disillusioned man having reigned for 31 years. Barely 22 hours after his death his grandson Bhim Singh seated himself on Jodhpur’s gaddi (throne), dismissing the legitimate claims of Vijay’s sons Zalim and Sur Singh. However the throne of Jodhpur merely whetted his appetite and his next target was Pali. A protracted siege lasting eleven years followed, during which the garrison was valiantly defended by Man Singh, (the adopted son of Vijay Singh and his young mistress). Just as Man and his men were on the verge of capitulation news filtered through of Bhim Singh’s death. From then on Man’s fortunes ascended and very soon he occupied Jodhpur. It is said that Man’s fortune was predicted by a seer who prophesied ‘that at the very zero of adversity his stars would rise’.
However he made a very powerful enemy in Sawai Singh of Pokhran, whose dagger would remain suspended over his head from his coronation to Sawai’s death bed like the ‘sword of Damocles.’ It was only a matter of time before Sawai Singh the pretender to the throne of Marwar assembled a large army, which along with the support of the rulers of Jaipur, Mewar and Ambar beseiged the Jodhpur fort. He would have succeeded too, had it not been for the valour of Mir Khan, the generalissimo of Man’s army who created divisions within the ranks of Jodhpur’s opponents and broke up the seige. He defeated the army of Jaipur so comprehensively that Maharaja Jagat Singh had to pay a sum of 200,000 pounds to secure his safe passage.
In honour of Man’s victory over Jaipur the Jai Pol, or victory gate was built in the fort in 1808. It was also the end of the road for Sawai Singh, as Mir after inviting him to his quarters slaughtered him with 500 of his followers. The heads of the most distinguished were then sent to Raja Man. However Man’s victory over his rivals was not an unmixed blessing; the flip side was that Mir Khan was virtually the arbiter of Marwar. and with the death of his only son Chattar Singh, Raja Man lost all interest in affairs of the state and was deemed to be certifiably insane. However, although officially he was said to be suffering from melancholy mania, many believed it to be an act to escape the snares laid for his life. Governance of Jodhpur was in the interim carried out by Salim Singh (son of Sawai Singh). But Raja Man remained until the British arrived in 1818 and concluded a treaty with Jodhpur under which the district became a protectorate of the British. With the British came political stability and a modicum of prosperity and relations between the Anglo-Saxons and the house of Jodhpur were relatively cordial.
¤ A Brave Worrier
Pratap who was on intimate terms with the British royals, and Queen Victoria’s court he said to have presented her with his own sword. The Rathore who was later knighted by the British according to one anecdote once ticked off the Prince of Wales, for dismounting while pig sticking with these words: "I know you Prince of Wales, you know you Prince of Wales, but pig no know you Prince of Wales!" Being a fearless warrior he accompanied his crack regiment called the Jodhpur Lancers to China in 1899 to help the British put down the Boxer Rebellion there, and later went with his troops into the war trenches of France and Palestine at the age of seventy. When faced with heavy fighting in Haifa, the Lancers began to fall back, he gave them simple orders. "You can go forward and be killed by the enemy’s bullets, or you can fall back and be executed by me." The Lancers took Haifa
¤ Pratap Singh Laid The Foundation of Modern Jodhpur
His status in Jodhpur is similar to the status of the other great leader of the region- Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner. He laid the foundation of the modern state of Jodhpur, over which Umaid Singh who ruled from 1918-47 built upon. Among other things, Umaid was a pioneer in the field of aviation in India and he built one of the first airports in the country. His son Hanuwant Singh was a keen aviator as well but tragically died in an air crash at the age of 28. It was thanks to the efforts of these rulers that when Jodhpur became part of the Indian union after independence, it was not only Rajasthan’s biggest states, but also its most modern.