In the present work, the authoress explores the relationship between caste and gender in the narratives of Rajput women. For a year and a half the authoress lived in Rajasthan, India, and did fieldwork among the Rajputs (literally "sons of princes"), whose traditional caste duty was to serve as soldiers and protect their realms.
Authoress examines the inherent contradiction between the caste-affiliated duty to protect a kingdom and women's gender-affiliated duty to protect a husband by exploring three types of women's narratives: those related to kuldevi (family goddesses), satimatas (women who have immolated themselves on their husband's funeral pyre), and heroines. In this manner, she gives the reader an in-depth view of the lives of Rajput women while exploring the commonly told stories that provide paradigms for moral action.
About the Author
Lindsey Harlan is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College.
Dominated by the great Thar Desert, the state of Rajasthan is a land of sand and rocks, parched farms and dusty grazing grounds. Its horizon outlines long plains occasionally punctuated by abrupt, rugged hills. These hills bear testimony to the land's martial history, for strewn along their crests are crumbling battlements and fortresses from which wars were won and lost over centuries of conflict.
Before 1947, the date of Indian independence from the British, what is now Rajasthan was a collection of kingdoms. While the rulers of these kingdoms had to defer to British judgment in matters political, they retained their authority in matters economic and social; categorized as princely states, the kingdoms were not subject to direct British rule. Most of Rajasthan's kings belonged to the Rajput caste, whose traditional duties are fighting and ruling. 1 The word Rajput means "son (putra) of a king (raja)" and indicates the shared Rajput assumption that although not all caste members have been princes, all have descended from kings and so have inherited royal blood.
During a year and a half of fieldwork in Rajasthan, I studied the religious traditions of women belonging to this caste." My purpose was to examine the ways in which Rajput devotional traditions reflect and influence relations between women's caste duties and gender roles. I wanted to understand how and when the foremost Rajput duty, the duty to protect a community, and the foremost female duty, the duty to protect a husband, take account of each other. Because throughout India and Indian history, Hindu tradition has articulated and sanctioned categories of caste and gender, I was interested in discovering the specific local sources of traditional authority governing the explicit and implicit decisions Rajput women make in interpreting, harmonizing, and reconciling caste and gender duties. My goals included understanding traditions Rajput women have inherited from the past and discovering if and how Rajput women have utilized and adapted past traditions to suit the contemporary circumstances facing the Rajput community.
To conduct this project I settled in at Udaipur, a small city in south- western Rajasthan. Udaipur is the former capital of Mewar, a princely state whose royal line ranks first among the various royal households of Rajasthan.' Mewar gained this distinction as a result of the unceasing resistance it launched against Muslim invaders in pre-British days. To- day Mewar retains the reputation of being the area of Rajasthan most resistant to social change.4 The staunch conservatism of Udaipur's Rajput community shows in pronounced form a persistent tension between the Rajput desire to conserve tradition and the Rajput need to adapt to a changing world.
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