What would Rajasthan be without Jaipur

With this issue we continue the series of portraits of the states of India. They intend to do their part to counter the striking lack of German-language information about the ethnically, linguistically, culturally, politically and economically very different Indian regions and states. India is mostly represented in this country - stubbornly ignoring its diversity - as a monolithic unitary state. The country portraits Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Goa and Orissa have already appeared in issues 2/97, 3/97, 6/97, 1-2 / 98, 4/98, 5/98 ; 6/98 and 1/99 from 'South Asia'.

The demons threatened the land and wanted to destroy it. Then the Brahmins went to Mount Abu and performed the fire cult. From the pit of the holy fire 'agnikunda' rose the fire clans, the warrior clans of the Rajputs, 36 in number, faced the demons in battle and defeated them. Other clans were born from the sun god Surya and the moon god Chandra. Tradition describes the mythological genealogy of the Rajputs, which legitimized their claim to power in Rajputana for a long time. Legends and stories - Rajasthan is full of them.

Magnificent Maharajah palaces and monumental fortresses, Jain temples made of the purest marble on palm-fringed mountain ridges, dry and hot desert landscape and camels, women dressed in bright, brightly colored saris, stately slim, tall men with imposing beards, richly carved merchant mansions and brightly colored Colored paintings on the walls of houses, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur - the pink, blue and white cities, Mediterranean-looking atmosphere on picturesque lakes and stylish, luxurious palace hotels - impressions from the "land of kings" that are common to many travelers make it a dream destination.


Rajasthan is located in northwest India. With 342,000 square kilometers, about the size of Germany, it is the second largest Indian state in terms of area (after Madhya Pradesh). But almost two thirds of it consists of desert or semi-desert and the population density is correspondingly low at 128 people per square kilometer (for comparison: West Bengal: 767; Kerala: 748; Uttar Pradesh 472).

In the west and north of Pakistan and the Indian Haryana and Punjab, in the east and southeast of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, in the south of Gujarat, Rajasthan is located in the transition zone between arid desert and subtropical monsoons. And so the landscape contrasts between sandy desert dunes, dry thorn bush steppe and coconut and palmyra palm trees with the tropical winds. The huge areas of the Thar desert are separated from the Indian peninsula by the 700 km long mountain range of the Aravelli chain. This, the oldest fold mountain range in the world, acts as a climate divide, although on average hardly higher than 900 meters; because east of the ridge you can see fertile farmland on which rain-fed agriculture can be carried out during the monsoons. Bajra and Juar are the names of the millet varieties and corn, wheat, chickpeas, sesame and peanuts flourish. The southeast presents itself, climatically favored, as the most lushly cultivated region. Large, artificially created irrigation canals such as the Indira Gandhi (or Rajasthan) canal in the Bikaner and Jaisalmer districts, the Ganga canal in the Ganganagar district or the canal projects on the Chambal and Luni rivers mean that the western arid regions can now also be used for agricultural purposes and other previously largely agriculturally marginalized regions.

Since 80 percent of the currently around 50 million Rajasthani live in rural areas, this is an important agricultural technological advance that makes people less dependent than before on the original nature of the soil or the climatic and seasonal conditions. The latter are increasingly unfavorable in Rajasthan: While large parts of northern India are flooded with massive monsoons every year in July, the rain gods Indra and Parjanya are increasingly ignoring the Rajput country. In the nineties it had to do without a drop of rain for several years in a row before a good monsoon year with rich harvests finally replaced the long drought in 1998.

The urban centers of Jaipur (1.5 million inhabitants), Jodhpur (650,000) and Udaipur (300,000), Bikaner, Kota, Alwar and Jaisalmer are other important cities, while the desert and steppe areas of the Thar are very poor in population.


Generally the people of Rajasthan. If you look at their faces, the first thing you notice is their different appearance: The skin color changes between light to very dark-skinned, the body size between small and very large; the colors of the turbans, saris and Odhnis - women's everyday robes - clothing in general, jewelry, the way men wear their beards or women use make-up, the appearance of the always friendly children - all of this is very diverse.

Because the country's population is a melting pot of many different castes, clans, social groups, religions, cultures and tribes. There is the traditional aristocratic and warrior caste of the Rajputs, from which the majority of the ruling class and the princely dynasties used to be recruited; the fiefdom or landed aristocracy caste of the Jaghirdars - still the dominant landowning caste today; the peasant caste of the Jat; the merchant caste of the Marwari, which have a primary position in the commercial and business life of the state and for some time have even acted as founders and operators of large industrial empires throughout India: the best known among them was G.D. Birla, who built up the still powerful Birla group; the numerous farmer and rancher castes which comprise the majority of the Rajasthani; the underprivileged castes - 17 percent of the total population - such as the Chamar, the leather workers, or the Meghwal and Balai, who all deal professionally with animal carcasses, hides and skins and are therefore ritually unclean.

Centuries ago - long before the 'Chipko-Andolan' tree protection movement was founded by women - the Bishnoi opposed the princely order to cut trees by embracing and protecting them with their bodies. Coupled with the natural-philosophical views of their spiritual mentor Jambhoji, who lived in the 16th century, which are still noteworthy today, they became a model for the current Indian environmental movement and attract more and more ecologically motivated people from abroad who want to learn from them how to be gay sapiens of the modern industrial and information age on the threshold of the second millennium can still live in harmony with nature, preserving its biotope. Unfortunately, in the course of the forced modernization and industrialization of the long economically backward state of Rajasthan, the Bishnoi are currently exposed to an increasing process of displacement and forced assimilation, which makes it more and more difficult for them to live according to their ideas.

And there are also the smaller tribes like the Garasia, Sahariya, the music-gifted Dangi or the Gaduliya lohar. The latter gained a certain fame in the 1950s when the then Prime Minister Nehru himself attempted to settle the nomadic tribe.

The people of Rajasthan, especially the inhabitants of the rural regions, have - regardless of their ethnic or caste affiliation - a warm and open nature in common, which often comes along with an almost childlike naivete and a roguish humor, without any wrong, without mistrust - a lovable mentality .

It goes with the fact that one likes to celebrate parties. "Rajasthani celebrate nine festivals a week!" it is said in northern India. Each season is heralded with an abundance of religious festivities; Livestock markets also always turn out to be boisterous folk festivals. Often they are of mythological origin or they take place in memory of local heroes or saints. Most of the celebrations take place during the "bright half of the moon". And indeed: celebrations on full moon nights in the desert are always a fascinating and magical event.

In July / August, the beginning of the rainy season is celebrated with the monsoon festival "Teej"; Winter harvest and the beginning of spring are celebrated with "Holi"; one throws colored powder teasingly at one another; the myth of the reunification of Gawa (as Parvati, Shiva's wife, is called here) with Shiva after a long period of celibate penance is commemorated with "Gangaur", particularly splendidly by a pageant with decorated elephants, camels, oxcarts and horses in Jaipur. In February the desert festival "Desert Festival" takes place in Jaisalmer; and the Muslims celebrate in the Islamic month of Rajab the anniversary of the death of the Sufi saint Khwaja Mu'in-du-in Chisti with the "Urs Gharib Navaz": fragrant flowers and richly embroidered grave ceilings are accompanied by the mystical, powerful chant of the "qawwali" (religious songs in honor of the saint).


Which religions do the population groups in the desert state adhere to? The majority of the Rajasthani - over 60 percent - are Hindus, around 20 percent Jains, a little over ten percent Muslim (most of them Sunnis), and an equal number prefer purely animistic beliefs, worshiping trees, mountains, rivers and animals. But the dominant religion of Hinduism has also experienced a special form here, an amalgamation of the Hindu high religion widespread throughout India, including the associated folk and everyday cults with numerous regional cults, many of which have natural religious traits.

Krishna - the eighth descent of Vishnu - is the most popular deity of Rajasthan. It is a symbol of heroism, joie de vivre and human communion with God. In temples and on house walls, for example, there are often colorful depictions of the blue-skinned Krishna with the gopi, the shepherdesses, or of Bala Gopala - Krishna as a child - once again pursuing his irrepressible playful instinct or performing one of his pranks. The episode of stealing butter from his foster mother Yashoda's churn is popular.

Krishna is at the center of many seasonal festivals such as "Dala-lila" (Harvest Festival Holi) in spring, "Janamashtami" (festival of Krishna's birth) in early autumn, "Ras-lila" in autumn and on the day after Diwali, the New Year's festival of lights , "Annakut".

The elephant god Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, is also highly worshiped as a symbol of prosperity, luck and wisdom. There are also countless regional gods, many mother goddesses. The best known is mainly venerated in the Bikaner region: Karni Mata, to whom a marble sanctuary is dedicated in Deshnoke, the so-called "rat temple". Around her there is a legend that is very typical of Rajasthani religiosity and that every child in the desert state knows: the ascetic mystic Karni Mata was venerated as a saint even during her lifetime. One day a deceased boy was brought to her to be called back to life. In a trance, the priestess meets the god of the dead Yama and demands the boy's soul from him. However, Yama claimed that he no longer had any power over the child's soul because the child had already been reborn. The anger at this brazen excuse and Yama's refusal to help drive Karni Mata to the oath that Yama will never again have power over the deceased of her people; rather, their souls should from then on immediately enter rats and from there later be reincarnated as bards (charans).

That is why the many hundreds of rats in the Karni Mata Temple are considered sacred and the temple administration pampers them with yogurt, sweets and other goodies.

The widespread and deep roots of popular belief are also expressed in the worship of folk deities who were once historical folk heroes and who in the past positively intervened in the fate of ordinary people by means of their bravery and military wisdom, which they are still asked for today . Every town and village in Rajasthan has shrines that are primarily dedicated to five folk deities: Pabuji, Gogaji, Mehaji, Harbhuji and Ramdeo Baba.

In legends and ballads spread by traveling singers - charans, bhopas and langas - and with the help of illustrated colorful scrolls reminiscent of the Western Middle Ages, the memory of their vita and their heroic deeds is still kept alive today. For example in the story of Pabuji: Pabuji is said to have given his word to give up everything, even his bride, if she needed his help in return for a Charan woman lending him a horse for his wedding day . At some point the woman actually sent for Pabuji to save her cattle from robbers - just at the time when Pabuji and his bride were celebrating their wedding. But the hero kept his word, quickly left the wedding ceremony and hurried to assist the woman. He drove the robbers away in a valiant fight, but lost his life in the process.

Against the background of the ethnic, religious and cultural heterogeneity of the population of Rajasthan, it is surprising that there are hardly any linguistic communication problems within the individual ethnic groups. Although there are numerous regional dialects such as Marwari, Dhundhari, Mewari or Malwi, they are all based on the national language "Hindi", which is dominant in northern India, and are grouped together under the name "Rajasthani". Her writing is also the official Indo-Aryan Devnagari, which, however, is only relevant for a minority of the population, given that it is almost 60 percent illiterate.


Rajasthan is a country steeped in history, it breathes history, as it were, as the many fortresses, castles, palaces and historical battle sites testify. Even before the Indus Valley culture (2500-1600 BC) there was human settlement in what is now northern Rajasthan, probably by the tribes of the Bhil and Mina. Around 1500 BC. The Aryans invaded, drove out parts of the original population with their fast horse-drawn carts and mixed with others.

From the 3rd century onwards, Buddhism spread, and the history of the following times shows a chain of struggles and battles. The country saw Greeks, Turks, Persians, and Afghans. Between the 7th and early 13th centuries, Rajasthan was segmented into competing principalities. After 1206 they all fell under the knud of the Sultanate of Delhi, but not without having initially offered fierce resistance: the Rajputs saw themselves as defenders of Hinduism, while the sultans established a connection between their capital, Delhi, the major trade routes to China and Central Asia and Wanted to make Gujarat. Cotton was grown in Gujarat and there were ports on the Indian Ocean. Since all these connections could only be made via Rajasthan, the Rajputs soon controlled the trade and caravan routes and made wealth by demanding high duties and taxes from the traders.

The sultans were replaced by the Mughal dynasty in the 16th century. Their most famous ruler, Akbar, undertook marriage diplomacy to the Hindu Rajputs of Rajasthan: He married their wives and in this extremely peaceful way turned dangerous enemies into useful and loyal allies. Most of his successors are continuing this clever strategy. It was the time of famous miniature painting schools (Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner), and art and culture flourished.

At the courts of the Rajput princes, who remained relatively autonomous, e.g. in Amber, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Udaipur, official Moghul ambassadors worked as "scribes", the so-called "nawis". With the weakening of Mughal rule in the 17th century, the Rajputs finally regained their sovereignty for a period of time.

It was threatened again after the British conquered Bengal in 1757. The Rajput maharajas resisted for a long time, but at the beginning of the 19th century they had to surrender their power to the British colonial rulers, but at least retained a certain independence under the "protectorate" of the Empire. As a price they had to be loyal to the colonial power, which they kept to, even during the time of the great uprising, the "mutiny" of 1857/58.

At that time the British were happy to be guests at the Rajput courts.The colonial residents shared with the local princes the virtues of courtesy, military bravery, and a love of art and sport, especially horse and hunting. Before the heat of the summer in Delhi, they took refuge in the cool hill stations, e.g. to Mount Abu.

During the First World War, the Rajputs fought on the side of Great Britain. Maharajah Ganga Singh achieved some fame with his 'Bikaner Camel Corps', which was successful in battles for the cause of the Empire. In 1917 he also represented the princes of British India at the London "Imperial Conference". The most important of the 36 Rajput tribes in what was then called the "Rajputana" country was that of the Maharana of Mewar (Udaipur).

After the independence of the Indian Union, 23 principalities were united to form the state of Rajasthan, which was proclaimed in 1956. The Rajas were compensated with princely severance payments, appanage payments and numerous privileges (which, however, were largely suspended by Indira Gandhi in 1970). Nevertheless, some "blue-blooded" vehemently resisted the loss of political power and integration into the republican union state until the end; the most stubborn was the Raja of Jodhpur, who even threatened his principality to be annexed to Pakistan. But he, too, was convinced by Delhi in the end.

In 1951 the first Indian parliamentary elections took place. The victorious 'Congress Party' also rose to become the dominant political power factor in Rajasthan for a long time. That only changed in the nineties, when the Hindu nationalist 'Bharatiya Janata Party' (BJP) under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat succeeded in regional elections and was able to provide the state government for a few years. The success of the BJP was due, on the one hand, to the greater popularity of the Hindu party throughout India and the associated erosion of the importance of the 'Congress', such as the growing need among the Rajasthani to change their political administration; on the other hand, the fact that in the course of an expansion of the industrial sector in the desert state an urban middle class had emerged, the majority of which voted for BJP.

But the BJP's success was to remain a relatively short-term interlude: BJP chief minister Shekhawat was increasingly exposed to serious allegations of corruption. His government was also responsible for a rise in the price of staple foods, a decline in the growth of industry and agriculture, persistently high unemployment and persistent discrimination against Dalits, Adivasi and women, and showed that it was unable to solve these problems. In May 1998 the BJP-dominated Indian central government - with the acceptance, if not active support of the Rajasthani government - also carried out nuclear tests at Pokhran in the Jaisalmer district, which were badly received by the electorate in that region and drove it into the arms of the opposition . In the regional elections on November 25, 1998, the BJP lost 60 seats. The 'Congress' party, on the other hand, achieved a record result with 150 of the 197 seats to be won. Since then, the only 45-year-old 'Congress' politician Ashok Gehlot has been sitting in the prime minister's chair in the state capital of Jaipur and directing the fortunes of the large state in the Indian north-west.


The Gehlot administration now has many tasks to deal with. It must politically shape the transformation of Rajasthan from a backward, underdeveloped desert country into a rapidly modernizing industrial state. What has already been achieved in this regard since the constitution of the federal state and in what short time can only be astonishing: In 1947 Rajasthan was still a poor agricultural state with over 90 percent illiterate population. There were only a few universities and colleges, just a handful of industrial plants (16 officially registered companies!), The drinking water and electricity supply was limited to the larger cities; the state budget was embryonic at $ 14.5 million; huge areas remained undeveloped due to a lack of water and agricultural infrastructure. Uneducation, malnutrition and underdevelopment shaped the reality of the desert state until the 1980s.

In the meantime, much has changed for the better: The illiteracy rate has been reduced by 30 percent, the number of colleges and university educational institutions has multiplied, 175 new industrial locations have been opened up, the number of small businesses has increased to over 2000 and the industrial investment volume has increased to almost two billion dollars (1998) become. In addition to the continued existence of traditional crafts such as carpet weaving, pottery, silversmithing, etc., Rajasthan has developed into one of the main Indian producers of the following products: synthetic fibers, cement, trucks, tractors, motor scooters, car parts, tires and hoses, ball bearings, copper, zinc, electricity and water meters, electrical devices, electronic elements or consumer goods such as copper foils, picture tubes, milk testers, televisions; Fertilizers, chemical and pharmaceutical products and textiles. Large state-owned companies are involved in the country, such as 'Hindustan Salts', 'Hindustan Zinc', 'Instrumentation Limited' and 'Hindustan Copper'.

Today 1800 megawatts of electricity are generated, and even small villages are now connected to the electricity grid.

Tourism represents a traditionally important and gradually growing economic factor and, similar to other states, especially southern India, has recently been elevated to the rank of an independent "industry".

Because the majority of foreign (and domestic) India tourists complete the 'Delhi-Agra-Rajasthan' route. Most recently, 85,000 of them came from Germany, mainly culturally-minded study travelers or backpackers looking for adventure.

And the Rajasthan traveler has a lot to offer in terms of nature and culture: camel rides in the desert, elephant rides to Amber Castle, mighty and superbly equipped fortresses such as the Junagarh Fort in Bikaner, the Mehrangarh in Jodhpur, Kumbalgarh, the citadel of Chittorgarh , the impressive Jaisalmer Fort; beautiful, partly former Maharajah residences such as the city palaces of Jaipur, Bikaner or Udaipur, not infrequently converted into museums or luxury hotels, in whose suites the wealthy traveler can stay in the manner of an oriental prince, such as the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, Samode- Palace, Lalgarh-Palace in Bikaner, Mandawa-Castle, Umaid-Bhawan-Palace in Jodhpur or in the world-famous moated castle Lake-Palace on Lake Pichola in Udaipur, to name only the most famous.

Also worth seeing and experiencing: the "Palace of the Winds" (Hawa Mahal) and the Jantar Mantar observatory in Jaipur, which dates back to the 18th century, but is still futuristic; the colorful and bizarre "Haweli" (merchant mansion) paintings in the remote region of 'Shekavati'; the magnificent marble temples of the Jains on Mount Abu or in Ranakpur; the high-quality handicrafts, such as those in stamp-printed, brightly colored patterned textiles, in the embroidery made in the "binding and dyeing technique", the silver and goldsmith's art, carpet weaving, stone carving, the very characteristic pottery and in the magnificent miniature painting of the various Schools is expressed.

The lavishly stocked, authentic oriental bazaars in the cities, the animal markets of Nagaur or Pushkar, where - as in ancient times - mainly camels (which are actually always dromedaries here, but are also called "camels" by the locals), and more Horses, oxen and goats are being offered for sale in their thousands.

Music and dance, which here as hardly anywhere else in India are an integral part of everyday life and which have experienced a diverse and impressive form over the course of many centuries: The Langa songs tell of the hard struggle for life in the desert, but also of love and pain . The always male singers are accompanied by musicians who play the satara, a melodious double flute, or the kamaycha, a side instrument with a large, round resonance body from which a violin bow elicits deep, pithy tones; or on the Manganiyar, a giant drum. There is also the tabla - the typical Indian percussion instrument; the Morchang, a melancholy sounding jaw harp; the Serpina, a mixture of accordion and organ set up on the floor; the wind instrument Been, the sarangi - the Indian variation of the violin - and, last but not least, the Indian castanets, which are always played by boys (before their voices break) and accompanied by their bright singing.

Women mainly take part in dances and present the snake and fire dance, the Karjar dance, in which they spin quickly around their own axis, or the Chari, in which they acrobatically pots with burning pots with graceful hand movements Balance the lamps on your head.

At the Holi festival, the men perform the dynamic Gair, in which sticks are beaten together.

The exuberant or mystical-spiritual festivals. The camel safaris in the Thar desert, the jeep safaris in the tiger national parks Ranthambore and Sariska, hikes in the picturesque landscape on Mount Abu or in the bird reserve of Bharatpur - the series of tourist, cultural and scenic attractions of the country could be continued for a long time .

The successful implementation of artificial irrigation projects proved to be particularly important for modernizing the agricultural sector, in which the vast majority of the population still finds work and bread, and for minimizing the dependence on natural irrigation or unsafe monsoon rains: numerous large-scale projects have been tackled , the most ambitious of them: the Indira Gandhi (or Rajasthan) canal project, the Indira-Gandhi-Nahar (IGN). The aim was to use the allocation of water from the Himalayas to transform parts of the barren Thar desert into blooming tracts of land and to expose the soils in the arid regions of northwest Rajasthan to artificial irrigation so that agriculture could be practiced there.

The first phase of the work involved irrigation of 700,000 hectares of arable land in the Bikaner and Ganganagar districts. The second construction phase included the Mohangarh and Jaisalmer districts.

For the people in the now water-supplied areas, the IGN means, as it were, the return of the legendary Saraswati River, on whose banks a high culture developed 5,000 years ago. Others call it the "Mara Ganga", the Ganges of the desert. The length of the IGN from its beginning at the Punjab Harika dam to its end at Jaisalmer is 649 kilometers; 445 kilometers of it flow through Rajasthan, 204 kilometers through the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana. The plan is to widen the canal a further 135 kilometers to Gadra Road in the Barmer district. In the past, not even a blade of grass grew in the landscapes it flows through. Today rice, cotton, wheat, sugar cane, legumes, peanuts and oil seeds thrive there. The Ganganagar region has even become the granary of Rajasthan. While at the time of independence the grain harvests were insufficient to feed the Rajasthani population, today an average yield of 110,000 tons of grain is achieved.

Despite such development successes, Rajasthan is still a country with a high rate of people - almost 30 percent - who have to eke out their lives below the poverty line. These are the typical "modernization losers" of a dynamically and rapidly industrializing region, which are exposed not only to the Indian, but also to a global economic liberalization and international interdependence process. Large parts of the population cannot keep up, are not able and prepared to adapt flexibly to the new economic framework conditions: The almost 60 percent still far too high number of illiterate people who have to do low-level jobs and so do their children do not receive a solid school education, not least because the responsible politicians in Delhi and Jaipur are leaving the primary school system in a state of underdevelopment and setting other priorities.

Numerous small farmers who can no longer afford the expensive inputs for agricultural production - artificial fertilizers and pesticides, water pumps, new seed varieties, tractors, modern plowing devices - and who are degraded to landless seasonal and agricultural workers with low incomes. Undercasters and Dalits, who continue to be socially and politically discriminated against in the still very traditionally oriented, rigid caste system in rural Rajasthani society. Women and children who - without schooling - have to do heavy agricultural and housework with low wages. Adivasi population, who are also suppressed and increasingly marginalized in the struggle to distribute the growing cake. Urban slum population, created and expanding through impoverishment processes and high population pressure in rural areas, which find less and less work even in the informal sector.

It would be desirable that the development process as it is taking place in Rajasthan include these disadvantaged population groups, preserve or restore their dignity and provide them with a secure, increased income; and also that its culture-destroying effects can be kept small and valuable traditions preserved. Because it would be a shame about the great, old cultivated land of the descendants of fire, the moon and the sun.