The House of Guhila

In India, we have the ages-old Varna system, which has been a subject of considerable interest and controversy. Presently, it forms the basis for positive discrimination in India, and has its associated repertoire of debates. I, for one, am half-Brahmin (Misra, from Ma’s side) and half-Kshatriya, going by this system. As a subject in isolation, it is a highly interesting subject to study, especially the manner in which it was formulated and sadly misinterpreted over the ages, to restrict occupational mobility in the Indian society at times.

In Hindu society, the term gotra refers to a clan. It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor or patriline. Gotra can be used as surname but it is different from surname and is strictly maintained because of its importance in marriages among Hindus. Pāṇini, a Sanskrit grammarian from ancient India, defines gotra for grammatical purposes as apatyam pautraprabhrti gotram (IV. 1. 162), which means “the word gotra denotes the progeny (of a sage) beginning with the son’s son.” So, for instance, being from the Kashyapa gotra, like me, would imply that we trace our descent from the ancient Indian sage Kashyapa by unbroken male descent. According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 2.2.6, Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vashishtha and Kaśhyapa, and Atri are seven sages (also known as Saptarishi); the progeny of these eight sages is declared to be gotras. The offspring (apatya) of these eight are gotras and others than these are called gotrâvayava.

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Vijay Stambh, Chittorgarh (Rajasthan)

The House of Guhilots is inextricably linked to the royal Gurjar and Rajput communities. In this article, I would like to briefly write about the presence of the House of Guhilot  in various parts of India.

The origins of the word ‘Guhila’ or ‘Guha’ have a rather interesting story associated with it, as mentioned in the book ‘Essays on Indian History and Culture: Felicitation Volume in Honour of Professor B. Sheik Ali’ by H. V. S. Murthy, 

Guha

The ‘queen’ referred to in this excerpt is a Sisodia queen, associated with the Guhilot line of Mewar.

The Sisodias of Chittorgarh

Chittorgarh is the epitome of Chattari Rajput. Chattar is the mother caste of Suryavanshi Rajputs. Some of the Suryavanshi Rajputs are the Kachwahas of Amber (Jaipur), Chundawats and the Sisodias of Mewar.

The “cenotaph” or “Chhatri” of a Rajasthani architecture is the symbol of Rajput pride, which philosophically portrays a Chattari ruler who will sacrifice at all costs to defend and save the tribe under its shadow. Vedas gives its word that the ordinary people are safe under the “Chattar Chaya” (refuge) of a true Kshatriya. According to the Vedas: “Chattaris are the sacred warriors who save the people from wounds by sustaining wounds themselves.”

Chittorgarh reverberates with history of heroism and sacrifice, evident from the tales still sung by the bards of Rajasthan. The fort of Chittorgarh is a symbol of the brave, the true and the noble in the glorious Rajput tradition.

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Chittor was initially named Chitrakut after Chitrangada Mori, a Rajput chieftain of the Mori (Puar Maurya line) dynasty, which was in possession of the fort when Bappa Rawal (also known as Kaalbhoj) the founder of the kingdom of Mewar seized Chittorgarh and made it his capital in 734 AD. Some other accounts say Bappa Rawal received it as a part of the dowry after marriage with the last Solanki princess. Chittor was one of the most contested seats of power in India with probably some of the most glorious battles being fought over its possession. It is famous in the annals of the Mewar Dynasty as its first capital (prior to this, the Guhilots, forerunners of the Mewar Dynasty, ruled from Idar, Bhomat, and Nagda), before Udaipur was established as the new capital of the Mewari kings. Besides brief interruptions, the fort has always remained in possession of the Sisodias, who descended from Bappa Rawal. Rawal’s line is said to have been founded by one Guhaditya in Idar (modern Rajasthan). Thereafter, Bhoja, Mahindra – I, Nagaditya, Shiladitya, Aparajit and Mahendra – II ruled from their jagir, possibly as vassals of the Moris. However this period of history is obscure due to absence of definitive sources on the Guhilots and their relation with the Gurjara-Pratiharas.

Bappa Rawal also fought in the famous Battle of Rajasthan. The Battle was fought in 738 CE, where a Hindu alliance repelled invading Arab armies, and pushed the Arabs out the areas east of the Indus River. The final battle took place somewhere on the borders of modern-day Sindh and Rajasthan. Arab armies captured Sindh, but further expansion was contained. The Hindu alliance consisted of the north Indian Emperor Nagabhata I of the Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty, Bappa Rawal of Mewar, the south Indian Emperor Vikramaditya II of the Chalukya dynasty and many small Hindu kingdoms in the 8th century.

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The first attack on Chittor was by Alauddin Khilji, Sultan of Delhi, in 1303 AD, who is said to have been enamoured by the beauty of Padmini, the queen of Chittor. Rani Padmini preferred death to abduction and dishonour and committed jauhar (an act of self-immolation by leaping into a large fire) along with all the other ladies of the fort, while the men left the fort in saffron robes to fight the enemy unto death, in a practice termed as Saka. Chittorgarh was eventually captured in 1303 AD by Khilji. It was recaptured in 1326 by Hammir Singh, a scion of Guhilas. The dynasty fathered by him came to be known by the name Sisodia after the village where he was born.

Rana Kumbha was a versatile man, a brilliant poet, and musician. He built Mewar up to a position of unassailable military strength, building a chain of 30 forts. Rana Kumbha was a patron of the arts, and he made Chittorgarh a cultural center whose fame spread across India. In order to commemorate his victory over the combined armies of Malwa and Gujarat in 1440 AD, Rana Kumbha got the famous 37 meter high ‘Vijay Sthambha’ erected at Chittorgarh which was completed in 1448 AD.

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By the 16th century, Mewar had become the leading Rajput state. Rana Sanga of Mewar led the combined Rajput forces against the Mughal emperor Babur in 1527, but was defeated at the Battle of Khanua. The Hindu Rajputs and Babur’s Muslim opponents gathered a formidable army much larger and more well organized than that of the previous one that Ibrahim Lodi had gathered at the Battle of Panipat (1526), but were betrayed by the King of Malwa. In the year 1526 as Babur and his Mughal forces advanced towards Panipat, he received an embassy representing Rana Sanga. The Rajputs agreed to form an alliance with the Mughals against the Lodi dynasty, which ruled over Delhi, and advance their forces towards Agra; in return Babur was to grant Kalpi, Dholpur and Biana to Rana Sanga. After Babur and the Mughals defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat, he refused to hand over anything to the Rajputs. Silhadi, a Hindu, is noted to have come forward representing Rana Sanga in an effort to negotiate with the first Mughal Emperor Babur. Rana Sanga demanded that the lands around Agra be submitted to his authority and as the negotiations concluded, Babur had realized that Rana Sanga would indeed attack. In March, 1527, the Hindus had gathered an army of around 80,000 men and began to mobilize against Babur. Babur’s superior leadership and modern technology won the day in Khanua.  The Battle of Khanua was the second of the series of three major battles, victories in which gave Babur lordship over north India. The First Battle of Panipat, against the Lodis, was the first of the series, the Battle of Ghaghra, against Afghan confederates under Sultan Mahmud Lodi and the Sultanate of Bengal, was the last.

Later in 1535 Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, besieged Chittorgarh, causing immense carnage. It is said that again, as in the case of Jauhar led by Padmini in 1303, all 32,000 men then living in the fort donned the saffron robes of martyrdom and rode out to face certain death in the war, and their women folk committed Jauhar led by Rani Karnawati.

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The ultimate sacrifice for freedom, Jauhar was again performed for the third time after the Mughal Emperor Akbar captured Chittorgarh in 1568. Then, the capital was moved west to Udaipur, in the foothills of the Aravalli Range, where Rana Udai Singh II established a residence in 1559. Udaipur remained the capital of Mewar until it acceded to the union of India in 1947.  When the Turkic Sultan of Gujarat Bahadur Shah sacked Chittor in 1534, Udai Singh was sent to Bundi for safety.In 1537, Udai Singh’s uncle Banbir killed Udai Singh’s elder brother Vikramaditya and usurped the throne. He tried to kill Udai Singh too, but Udai’s nurse Panna Dhai sacrificed her own son to save him, in a tale that is still recounted as a tale of selfless devotion and love of a lady for a child in her care. Udai Singh was later crowned in Kumbhalgarh, in 1540, by the nobles of Mewar.

In 1562, Udai Singh gave refuge to Baz Bahadur of Malwa. Using this as a pretext, Akbar attacked Mewar in 1567. In late October of the same year, Akbar put up his camp near Udaipur. In a council of war called by Udai Singh in response, he nobles advised him to take refuge along with the princes in the hills, leaving a garrison at Chittor. Akbar eventually captured Chittor after a long siege on February 25, 1568.  Udai Singh shifted his capital to Udaipur, and died soon after in in 1572 in Gogunda. Before his death, he nominated his fourth son Jagmal as his successor under the influence of his favourite queen and Jagmal’s mother Rani Bhattiyani. But after his death, the nobles of Mewar prevented Jagmal from succeeding and placed Maharana Pratap Singh on the throne on March 1, 1572

Maharana Pratap is often regarded as a personification of the values Rajputs cherish and die for. He took an oath to spend his life living in the jungles and fighting until he could realize his dream of reconquering Chittorgarh from Akbar (and thus reclaiming the glory of Mewar). It was a dream greatly cherished by Pratap, and he spent all his life to achieve this goal. He underwent hardships, including eating breads made of grass while fighting his lifelong battle. Maharana Pratap is seen as one of the greatest hero in the eyes of the Rajputs of Mewar, standing alongside greats such as Bappa Rawal and Prithviraj Chauhan. In a dark era of Rajput history, Maharana Pratap alone stood firmly for his honour and dignity, never compromising his honour for safety, even though he was offered the option of joining Akbar and accepting the latter’s lordship. With the reputation of a brave man of great character even among his enemies, he died free in 1597.

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Chittorgarh

(Courtesy: Richard Montel)

The Maharawals of Dungarpur

Dungarpur is the seat of elder branch of Sisodias, while the younger branch is the seat of the Maharanas of Mewar. It was founded in 1358 A.D. by Rawal Veer Singh, who was a descendant of Bappa Rawal. The chiefs of Dungarpur, who bear the title of Maharawal, are descended from Mahup, eldest son of Karan Singh, chief of Mewar in the 12th century, and the dynasty in Dungarpur claims the honour of the elder line of Mewar.

After the death of Rawal Udai Singh of Bagar at the Battle of Khanwa in 1527, where he fought alongside Rana Sanga against the Mughal Emperor Babar, his territories were divided into the states of Dungarpur and Banswara.

I look forward to continuing this article in studying the Guhila branches in Eastern (especially Bengal) and Southern India.

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