Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are glancing and looking back on the majetic Maharajas in Rajasthan, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Maharaja also spelled Maharajah is a title for a great ruler, great king or high king. The female equivalent, Maharani or Maharanee denotes either the wife of a Maharaja or Maharana and also in states where that was customary, a woman ruling in her own right the equivalent title was Maharani. The widow of a Maharaja is known as a Rajmata, which means a queen mother.
Maharaja also spelled Maharajah is a title for a great ruler, great king or high king. The female equivalent, Maharani or Maharanee denotes either the wife of a Maharaja or Maharana and also in states where that was customary, a woman ruling in her own right the equivalent title was Maharani. The widow of a Maharaja is known as a Rajmata, which means a queen mother.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on June 25, 2024

Maharajas of Rajasthan, India

The form Maharaj indicates a separation of noble and religious offices, although the fact that in Hindi the suffix -a is silent makes the two titles near homophones. The title 'Maharaja' was originally used only for rulers who ruled a considerably large region with minor tributary rulers under them. Since the mediaeval times, the title was used even by rulers of smaller states since they claimed to be the descendants of the ancient Maharajas.

What is a Maharaja?

Maharaja is an Indian princely title. The word comes from Hindi and is composed of 'Maha', which means great and 'Rajah', which means prince or king. The titles 'Maharana', 'Maharao' and 'Maharaol' are variants with the same meaning as 'Maharaja'. The corresponding title for female ruling princes is 'Maharani'.

Rulers of the princely states in India
On the eve of independence in 1947, contained more than 600 princely states, each with its own ruler, often styled 'Raja' or 'Rana' or 'Thakur' if the ruler were Hindu or 'Nawab' if he were Muslim, with a host of less current titles as well. The British directly ruled two thirds of India, where the rest was under indirect rule by the above-mentioned princes under the considerable influence of British representatives, such as Residents, at their courts.

The word 'Maharaja' may be understood simply to mean 'Ruler' or 'King', in spite of its literal translation as 'Great king'. This was because only a handful of the states were truly powerful and wealthy enough for their rulers to be considered 'Great' monarchs and the remaining were minor princely states, sometimes little more than towns or groups of villages. The word, however, can also mean emperor in contemporary Indian usage. The title of Maharaja was not as common before the gradual British colonization of India, upon and after which many Rajas and otherwise styled Hindu rulers were elevated to Maharajas, regardless of the fact that scores of these new Maharajas ruled small states, sometimes for some reason unrelated to the eminence of the state. Two 'Rajas' who became Maharajas in the twentieth century were the Maharaja of Cochin and the legendary Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala.

"It is believed that Western Kshatrapas were Saka rulers of the western part of India, Saurashtra and Malwa, which are modern Gujarat, Southern Sindh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan. They were successors to the Indo-Scythians and were contemporaneous with the Kushans, who ruled the northern part of the Indian subcontinent"

The former state of Jaipur
The Indo-Scythians invaded the area of Ujjain and established the Saka era with their calendar, marking the beginning of the long-lived Saka Western Satraps state. Matsya, a state of the Vedic civilisation of India, is said to roughly corresponded to the former state of Jaipur in Rajasthan and included the whole of Alwar with portions of Bharatpur. The capital of Matsya was at Viratanagar, which is modern Bairat, which is said to have been named after its founder king Virata.

Building the state of Rajasthan
Traditionally the 'Rajputs', 'Jats', 'Meenas', 'Gurjars', 'Bhils', 'Rajpurohit', 'Charans', 'Yadavs', 'Bishnois', 'Sermals', 'Phul Mali', which is 'Saini' and other tribes made a great contribution in building the state of Rajasthan. All these tribes suffered great difficulties in protecting their culture and the land. Millions of them were killed trying to protect their land. A number of 'Gurjars' had been exterminated in Bhinmal and Ajmer areas fighting with the invaders. 'Bhils' once ruled Kota. Meenas were rulers of Bundi and the Dhundhar region. Maharana Pratap of Mewar resisted Akbar in the famous Battle of Haldighati in 1576 and later operated from hilly areas of his kingdom. The 'Bhils' were Maharana's main allies during these wars. Most of these attacks were repulsed even though the Mughal forces outnumbered Mewar 'Rajputs' in all the wars fought between them.

The Gurjar Pratihar Empire
The Haldighati war was fought between 10,000 Mewaris and a 100,000-strong Mughal force including many 'Rajputs' like 'Kachwahas' from Dhundhar. Maharana Pratap Singh, legendary 16th-century 'Rajput' ruler of Mewar. Jat king Maharaja Suraj Mal or Sujan Singh was ruler of Bharatpur in Rajasthan. A contemporary historian has described him as 'The Plato of the Jat people' and by a modern writer as the 'Jat Odysseus', because of his political sagacity, steady intellect and clear vision. 'Gurjars' ruled for many dynasties in this part of the country, a region Gujrat that was long known as 'Gurjaratra'. Up to the tenth century almost the whole of North India, excepting Bengal, acknowledged the supremacy of the 'Gurjars' with their seat of power at Kannauj.

The Gurjar Pratihar Empire acted as a barrier for Arab invaders from the 8th to the 11th century. The chief accomplishment of the Gurjara Pratihara empire lies in its successful resistance to foreign invasions from the west, starting in the days of Junaid.

Rao Bika, a Maharaja in India
As a photographer and traveler in India it is easy to feel the historic past in Rajasthan, India. Karni Mata, who had become the kuladevi of Rao Bika brought the rivalry between the Rathore and Bhatis to an end by inspiring Rao Shekha, who was the powerful Bhati chief of Pugal, to give the hand of his daughter in marriage to Rao Bika. This consolidated Rao Bika's power in the region and proved to be a milestone in the history of the state. Upon Rao Jodha's death in 1488 Rao Bika stormed Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, an event that was to lead to 200 years of intermittent wars between Marwar and Bikaner.

See this video about Maharajas in India made by Best Documentary.

The spot which Rao Bika selected for his capital, was the birthright of a Nehra Jat, who would only concede it for this purpose on the condition that his name should be linked in perpetuity with its surrender. Naira or Nera, was the name of the proprietor, which Bika added to his own, thus composing that of the future capital, Bikaner. Remains of the original small fortress Rao Bika built can still be seen around the walled city, near Lakshminath ji temple.

The royal family of Bikaner lived there, till Raja Rai Singh Ji built a new fort called 'Chintamani' and now known as Junagarh Fort. According to legend Bika Lunkaranji consulted a holy man called 'Jas Nathji', who foretold that Bika's line would reign for 450 years. While Bika was pleased with this prediction, his brother Gharsiji when he heard of the prediction thought a longer period of power should have been prophesied. He confronted the holy man while he was in a deep trance and roused him by thrusting burning incense under his nose. Jas Nathji told him 'All right take 50 years more or less but of trial and tribulation'. Rao Bika died in 1504 and his successors benefited from the weak rule of Suraj Mal of Marwar and the disruption caused by Babur's invasion of India to consolidate and extend their possessions until by the seventeenth century all the Jat clans including the powerful Godara clan had accepted the suzerainty of the rulers of Bikaner.

Read also:  Junagarh Fort in Bikaner

Junagarh Fort in Bikaner

Read also:  Junagarh Fort in Bikaner

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a Maharaja of Rajasthan in India. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.