General Information about Rajasthan

31/10/07

Mother India, the vast Subcontinent constituting the world's largest democracy, an intriguingly complex religious and cultural tapestry with her great mercantile classes, sprawling bureaucracies and exploding economy, remains one of the most visually memorable and bewitching journeys ever.

Of all her states, Rajasthan is perhaps the most tribally diverse, artistically decorative, architecturally magnificent and regal in India. It is impossible to experience and absorb in a single trip the magnitude of what India offers:

the incredible light, the austere and atmospheric landscapes of desert and ancient Aravali mountains, the romance of Rajasthan’s heritage and chivalry, the hospitality and humour of the people whether from regal lineage or simple, dignified desert-dwellers, and their arts and crafts.

Rajasthan

Area 342,236 km² (132,138 sq mi)

Capital Jaipur

Largest city Jaipur

Districts 32

Population approximately 58 million

Language(s) Hindi, Rajasthani

Gujarati is also spoken

Governor Shilendra Kumar Singh

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje

Website: www.rajasthan.gov.in

Rājasthān is the largest state of the Republic of India in terms of area. It encompasses most of the area of the large, inhospitable Great Indian Desert (Thar Desert), which has an edge paralleling the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with Pakistan. The region borders Pakistan to the west, Gujarat to the southwest, Madhya Pradesh to the southeast, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to the northeast and Punjab to the north. Rajasthan covers an area of 342,239 km² (132,139 mi²).

The state capital is Jaipur. Geographical features include the Thar Desert along north-western Rajasthan and the termination of the Ghaggar River near the archeological ruins at Kalibanga, which are the oldest in the subcontinent discovered so far.

One of the world's oldest mountain ranges, the Aravalli Range, cradles the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu, and its world-famous Dilwara Temples, a sacred pilgrimage for Jains. Eastern Rajasthan has two national tiger reserves, Ranthambore and Sariska, as well as Keoladeo National Park near Bharatpur, famous for its bird life.

Rajasthan was formed on 30 March 1949, when all erstwhile princely states merged into India. The only difference between erstwhile Rajputana and Rajasthan is that certain portions governed directly by the British Government, in the former province of Ajmer-Merwara, were included. Portions lying geographically outside of Rajputana and belonging to Tonk state were given to Madhya Pradesh.

History of Rajasthan

Rajasthan has a rich and colorful history making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Historical traditions are that Rajputs, Nath, Jats, Bhils, Ahirs, Gujars, Meenas and some other tribes made a great contribution in building the state of Rajasthan. All these tribes suffered great difficulties to protect their culture and the land. Millionsof them were martyred for this land.

Rajasthan includes most of Rajputana, comprised of a number of Rajput kingdoms as well as Jat kingdoms and a Muslim kingdom. The Jats were rulers in Bharatpur and Dholpur. Tonk was ruled by a Muslim Nawab. Jodhpur, Bikaner, Udaipur, and Jaipur were some of the main Rajput states. Rajput families rose to prominence in the 6th century CE. The Rajputs resisted the Muslim incursions into India, although a number of Rajput kingdoms eventually became subservient to the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire during those empires' peak of expansion.

The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur was built by Rao Jodha in 1498.Mewar led others in resistance to Muslim rule: Rana Sanga fought the Battle of Khanua against Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire; and Maharana Pratap Singh resisted Akbar in Haldighati. Other rulers like Raja Maan Singh of Amber were trusted allies. As the Mughal Empire weakened, the Rajputs reasserted their independence. With the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, Rajputana came under attack from the Marathas and Pindaris, and the Maratha general Scindia captured Ajmer. The Rajput kings concluded treaties with the British in the early 19th century, accepting British sovereignty in return for local autonomy. Following the Mughal tradition as well as its strategic location Ajmer became a province of British India, while the autonomous Rajput states, the Muslim state [Tonk]), and the Jat states (Bharatpur and Dholpur) were organized into the Rajputana Agency.

Rajasthan's formerly independent kingdoms created a rich architectural and cultural heritage, seen today in their numerous forts and palaces ( Mahals and Havelis) which are enriched by features of Hindu, Muslim and Jain architecture.

The People

Rajasthan has a large indigenous populace Minas (Minawati) in Alwar, Jaipur, Bharatpur, and Dholpur areas. The Meo and the Banjara are travelling tradesmen and artisans. The Gadia Lohar is the Lohar meaning ironsmith who travels on Gadia meaning bullock carts; they generally make and repair agricultural and household implements. The Bhils are one of the oldest peoples in India and inhabit the districts of Bhilwara, Chittaurgarh, Dungarpur, Banswara, Udaipur, and Sirohi and are famous for their skill in archery. The Grasia and nomadic Kathodi live in the Mewar region. Sahariyas are found in the Kota district, and the Rabaris of the Marwar region are cattle breeders.

The Oswals hail from Osiyan near Jodhpur are successful traders and are predominately Jains. While the Mahajan (the trading class) is subdivided into a large number of groups, some of these groups are Jain, while others are Hindu. In the north and west, the Jat and Gujar are among the largest agricultural communities. The Gujars who are Hindus dwell in eastern Rajasthan. The nomadic Rabari or Raika are divided in two groups the Marus who breed camels and Chalkias who breed sheep and goats.

The Muslims form less than 10% of the population and most of them are Sunnis. There is also a small but affluent community Shiite Muslims known as Bhoras in southeastern Rajasthan.

The Rajputs though represent only a small proportion of the populace are the most influential section of the people in Rajasthan. They are proud of their martial reputation and of their ancestry.

Religion

Hinduism, the religion of most of the population, is generally practised through the worship of Brahma, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, and other gods and goddesses. Nathdwara is an important religious centre for the Vallabhacharya sect of Krishna followers. There are also followers of the Arya Samaj, a reforming sect of modern Hinduism, as well as other forms of that religion.

Jainism is also important; it has not been the religion of the rulers of Rajasthan but has followers among the trading class and the wealthy section of society. Mahavirji, Ranakpur, Dhulev, and Karera are the chief centres of Jain pilgrimage.

The Dadupanthi forms another important religious sect the followers of Dadu (d. 1603), who preached the equality of all men, strict vegetarianism, total abstinence from intoxicating liquor, and lifelong celibacy.

Islam, the religion of the State's second largest religious community, expanded in Rajasthan with the conquest of Ajmer by Muslim invaders in the late twelfth century. Khwajah Muin-ud-Din Chishti, the Muslim missionary, had his headquarters at Ajmer, and Muslim traders, craftsmen, and soldiers settled there. The State's population of Christians and Sikhs is small.

A NOTE ABOUT INDIAN FOOD:

Many people only know Indian cuisine, incorrectly as (hot) curries, or by their experience of restaurant dishes that are diluted, formulaic versions of North or South Indian cooking, and have rarely experienced or tasted the subtlety and variety of Indian food that is determined by geography, religion and tradition.

The vast traditions of Indian cuisine has evolved over centuries and flourished under the many rulers that India had. Chefs vied with one another to create exotic delicacies for their rajah's. The result is centuries of patronage to the art of cooking and a large repertoire of delicious recipes

The different aspects of Indian Cuisine

- Cooking according to tastes: There traditionally exists no written recipes in India and the individual is encouraged to orchestrate a dish by using fresh, seasonal and local vegetables. Spices are used sparingly and their foods are not necessarily hot. Besides spices lots of herbs and other natural seasonings are used to make foods sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.

- Cultural Influences: Many Indians are vegetarians having been influenced by Buddha (Indian King and founder of Buddhism), Mahavir (founder of Jainism) and King Ashoka. Our cuisine has been influenced by the Aryans settlers, the Arab and Chinese traders and conquerors such as the Persians, Mongolians, Turks, the British and the Portuguese.

- Ayurveda : India's ancient science system, has given India a comprehensive system of health, diet and nutrition. India's cuisine has been shaped by this science. Ayurveda is the common thread that runs through the various sub cultures/regions of India. Otherwise, the cuisine can be vastly different from region to region.

- Diversity: India is a large country, almost the size of Europe, and has a greater diversity of people, language, climate, cultures and religion than almost any country in the world. Consequently, Indian cuisine is also diverse.

- Indian Restaurant Cuisine: Many Indian restaurants around the globe are influenced by North Indian Cuisine. Indian restaurant cuisine has been influenced by Indian chefs that had their culinary training in France. They created a fusion of the two great cuisines by adopting cream sauces in their Indian recipes.
- Royal Kitchens of India: Under the patronage of the rajahs of India the art of food was elevated to a high level of advancement and professionalism. The royal chefs understood the finer points of food, the art of presentation and created exquisite preparations.

Rajasthani cooking was influenced by the war-like lifestyles of its inhabitants and the availability of ingredients in this region. Food that could last for several days and could be eaten without heating was preferred, more out of necessity than choice. Scarcity of water, fresh green vegetables have all effect on the cooking. In the desert belt of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner, cooks use the minimum of water and prefer, instead, to use more milk, buttermilk and clarified butter. Dried lentils, beans from indigenous plants like sangri, ker, etc are liberally used. Gram flour is a major ingredient here and is used to make major ingredient here and is used. Gram flour is a major ingredient here and is used to make some of the delicacies like khata, gatta ki sabzi, pakosi, powdered lentils are used for mangoli, papad. Bajra and corn is used all over the state for preparations of rabdi, Kheechi and rotis. Various chutneys are made from locally available spices like turmeric, coriander, mint and garlic.

Geography

The Thar desert covers the western half of Rajasthan. The main geographic features of Rajasthan are the Thar Desert and the Aravalli Range, which runs through the state from southwest to northeast, almost from one end to the other, for more than 850 km. Mount Abu is at the southwestern end of the range, separated from the main ranges by the West Banas River, although a series of broken ridges continues into Haryana in the direction of Delhi where it can be seen as outcrops in the form of the Raisina Hill and the ridges farther north. About three-fifths of Rajasthan lies northwest of the Aravallis, leaving two-fifths on the east and south.

The northwestern portion of Rajasthan is generally sandy and dry. Most of the region is covered by the Thar Desert, which extends into adjoining portions of Pakistan. The Aravalli Range intercepts the moisture-giving southwest monsoon winds off the Arabian Sea, leaving the northwestern region in a rain shadow. The Thar Desert is thinly populated; the town of Bikaner is the largest city in the desert. The Northwestern thorn scrub forests lie in a band around the Thar Desert, between the desert and the Aravallis. This region receives less than 400 mm of rain in an average year. Summer temperatures can exceed 45°C in the summer months and drop below freezing in the winter. The Godwar, Marwar, and Shekhawati regions lie in the thorn scrub forest zone, along with the city of Jodhpur. The Luni River and its tributaries are the major river system of Godwar and Marwar regions, draining the western slopes of the Aravallis and emptying southwest into the great Rann of Kutch wetland in neighboring Gujarat. This river is saline in the lower reaches and remains potable only up to Balotara in Barmer district. The Ghaggar River, which originates in Haryana, is an intermittent stream that disappears into the sands of the Thar Desert in the northern corner of the state and is seen as a remnant of the primitive Saraswati River.

The Aravalli Range adds diversity to the landscape of Rajasthan. The Aravalli Range and the lands to the east and southeast of the range are generally more fertile and better watered. This region is home to the Kathiarbar-Gir dry deciduous forests ecoregion, with tropical dry broadleaf forests that include teak, Acacia, and other trees. The hilly Vagad region lies in southernmost Rajasthan, on the border with Gujarat. With the exception of Mount Abu, Vagad is the wettest region in Rajasthan, and the most heavily forested. North of Vagad lies the Mewar region, home to the cities of Udaipur and Chittaurgarh. The Hadoti region lies to the southeast, on the border with Madhya Pradesh. North of Hadoti and Mewar is the Dhundhar region, home to the state capital of Jaipur. Mewat, the easternmost region of Rajasthan, borders Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Eastern and southeastern Rajasthan is drained by the Banas and Chambal rivers, tributaries of the Ganges.

The Aravalli Range runs across the state from the southwest peak Guru Shikhar (Mount Abu), which is 1,722 m in height, to Khetri in the northeast. This divides the state into 60% in the northwest of the range and 40% in the southeast. The northwest tract is sandy and unproductive with little water but improves gradually from desert land in the far west and northwest to comparatively fertile and habitable land towards the east. The area includes the Thar Desert. The south-eastern area, higher in elevation (100 to 350 m above sea level) and more fertile, has a very diversified topography. In the south lies the hilly tract of Mewar. In the southeast, a large area within the districts of Kota and Bundi forms a tableland. To the northeast of these districts is a rugged region (badlands) following the line of the Chambal River. Farther north the country levels out; the flat plains of the northeastern Bharatpur district are part of an alluvial basin.

Districts of Rajasthan

Rajasthan has 32 districts: Ajmer, Alwar, Banswara, Baran, Barmer, Bhilwara, Bikaner, Bharatpur, Bundi, Chittorgarh, Churu, Dausa, Dholpur, Dungarpur, Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jalore, Jhalawar, Jhunjhunu, Jodhpur, Karauli, Kota, Nagaur, Pali, Rajsamand, Sawai Madhopur, Sikar, Sirohi, Tonk, and Udaipur.

Economy of Rajasthan

Tourism forms an integral part of Rajasthan's economy. Rajasthan's economy is primarily agricultural and pastoral. Wheat and barley are cultivated over large areas, as are pulses, sugarcane, and oilseeds. Cotton and tobacco are cash crops. Rajasthan is among the largest producers of edible oils in India and the second largest producer of oilseeds. Rajasthan is also the biggest wool-producing state in India. There are mainly two crop seasons. The water for irrigation comes from wells and tanks. The Indira Gandhi Canal irrigates northwestern Rajasthan.

The industrialization of Rajasthan slowly began in 1960s. The main industries are mineral based, agriculture based, and textiles. Rajasthan is the second largest producer of polyester fibre in India. The Bhilwara District produces more cloth than Bhiwandi, Maharashtra.

Rajasthan is pre-eminent in quarrying and mining in India. The state is the second largest source of cement. It has rich salt deposits at Sambhar, copper mines at Khetri and zinc mines at Dariba, Zawar mines at Zawarmala for zinc, rampura aghucha (opencast) near Bhilwara. Dimensional stone mining is also undertaken in Rajasthan: Jodhpur sandstone is mostly used in monuments, important buildings, residential buildings, etc. This stone is termed "chittar patthar".

Endowed with natural beauty and a great history, tourism is flourishing in Rajasthan. The palaces of Jaipur, lakes of Udaipur, and desert forts of Jodhpur, Bikaner & Jaisalmer are among the most preferred destination of many tourists, Indian and foreign. Tourism accounts for eight percent of the state's domestic product. Many old and neglected palaces and forts have been converted into heritage hotels. Tourism has increased employment in the hospitality sector.

Demographics

Rajasthan has a mainly Rajasthani population. Hindus account for 88.8% of the population. Muslims make up 8.5%, Sikhs 1.4% and Jains 1.2% of the population. Rajasthan state is also populated by Sindhis, who came to Rajasthan from Sindh province (now in Pakistan) during the India-Pakistan separation in 1947.

The mother tongue of the majority of people in Rajasthan is Rajasthani. Rajasthani and Hindi are the most widely used languages in Rajasthan. After independence, Rajasthani was used as a medium of instruction, along with Hindi and English, in some schools. Some other languages used in Rajasthan are Sindhi, Gujarati and Punjabi.

Culture

Rajasthan is culturally rich and has artistic and cultural traditions which reflect the ancient Indian way of life. There is rich and varied folk culture from villages which is both fascinating and mesmerizing. Highly cultivated classical music and dance with its own distinct style is part of the cultural tradition of Rajasthan. The music is of uncomplicated innocence and songs depict day-to-day relationships and chores, more often focused around fetching water from wells or ponds.

The Ghoomar dance from Udaipur and Kalbeliya dance of Jaisalmer have gained international recognition. Folk music is a vital part of Rajasthani culture. Kathputali, Bhopa, Chang, Teratali, Ghindar, Kachchhighori, Tejaji etc. are the examples of the traditional Rajasthani culture. Folk songs are commonly ballads which relate heroic deeds and love stories; and religious or devotional songs known as bhajans and banis (often accompanied by musical instruments like dholak, sitar, sarangi etc.) are also sung.

Rajasthan is known for its traditional, colorful art. The block prints, tie and dye prints, Bagaru prints, Sanganer prints, Zari embroidery are major export products from Rajasthan. Handicraft items like wooden furniture and handicrafts, carpets, blue pottery are some of the things commonly found here. Rajasthan is a shoppers' paradise, with beautiful goods found at low prices. Reflecting the colorful Rajasthani culture, Rajasthani clothes have a lot of mirror-work and embroidery. A Rajasthani traditional dress for females comprises an ankle length skirt and a short top, also known as a lehenga or a chaniya choli. A piece of cloth is used to cover the head, both for protection from heat and maintenance of modesty. Rajasthani dresses are usually designed in bright colours like blue, yellow and orange.

Rajasthan is famous for the majestic forts, intricately carved temples and decorated havelis, which were built by kings in previous ages. Jantar Mantar, Dilwara Temples, Chittorgarh Fort, Lake Palace Hotel, City Palaces, Jaisalmer Havelis are part of the true architectural heritage of India. Jaipur, the Pink City, is noted for the ancient houses made of a type of sand stone dominated by a pink hue. At Ajmer, the white marble Bara-dari on the Anasagar lake is exquisite. Jain Temples dot Rajasthan from north to south and east to west. Dilwara Temples of Mount Abu, Ranakpur Temple dedicated to Lord Adinath near Udaipur, Jain temples in the fort complexes of Chittor, Jaisalmer and Kumbhalgarh, Lodarva Jain temples, Bhandasar Temple of Bikaner are some of the best examples.

Rajasthan is often called a shopper's paradise. Rajasthan is famous for textiles, semi-precious stones and handicrafts. The attractive designs of jewellery and clothes are eye-catching and invite shoppers. Rajasthani furniture has intricate carvings and bright colours. Rajasthani handicrafts are in demand due to the intricate work on them. Above all, Rajasthan's shopping appeals to both tourists and people from other parts of India due to its cheap prices for quality goods.

The main religious festivals are Deepawali, Holi, Gangaur, Teej, Gogaji, Makar Sankranti and Janmashtami, as the main religion is Hinduism. Rajasthan's desert festival is celebrated with great zest and zeal. This festival is held once a year during winters. Dressed in brilliantly hued costumes, the people of the desert dance and sing haunting ballads of valor, romance and tragedy. There are fairs with snake charmers, puppeteers, acrobats and folk performers. Camels, of course, play a stellar role in this festival.

Flora and Fauna

Though a large percentage of the total area is desert, and even though there is little forest cover, Rajasthan has a rich and varied flora and fauna. The natural vegetation is classed as Northern Desert Thorn Forest (Champion 1936). These occur in small clumps scattered in a more or less open forms. Density and size of patches increase from west to east following the increase in rainfall.

Some wildlife species, which are fast vanishing in other parts of India, are found in the desert in large numbers such as the Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), the Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), the Indian Gazelle (Gazella bennettii) and the Indian Wild Ass.

The Desert National Park, Jaisalmer, spread over an area of 3162 km², is an excellent example of the ecosystem of the Thar Desert, and its diverse fauna. Great Indian Bustard, Blackbuck, chinkara, desert fox, Bengal fox, wolf, desert cat etc. can be easily seen here. Seashells and massive fossilized tree trunks in this park record the geological history of the desert. The region is a haven for migratory and resident birds of the desert. One can see many eagles, harriers, falcons, buzzards, kestrel and vultures. Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax), Spotted Eagles (Aquila clanga), Laggar Falcons (Falco jugger) and kestrels are the commonest of these.

Tal Chhapar Sanctuary is a very small sanctuary in Churu District, 210 km from Jaipur, in the Shekhawati region. This sanctuary is home to a large population of graceful Blackbuck. Desert Fox and desert cat can also be spotted along with typical avifauna such as partridge and sand grouse.

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