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Reconstructing Identity and Situating Themselves in History: A Preliminary Note on the Meenas of Jaipur-IV

Tribal Legends point towards Rajput state formation which succeeded the tribal chiefdoms  and transfer of power from tribes to state-society. — Prof. Nandini Sinha Kapur


Meenas claimed proprietorship over the kingdom through the control of the forts. They also demanded the restoration of the symbols of ‘royalty’. They narrate that in the beginning of Kachwaha intrusion, the Meenas presented the Rajput state with a charter of demands, including restoration of courtly symbols, such as nakaras (beating drums to make royal announcements), chatras (royal umbrella), pataka (a resounding clap), palki (palanquin; sedan chair), chhari (sceptre), and chamar (fly-whisk), which had been seized by that Kachwaha.48 This charter also demanded that neither the Meena kingdoms (Raje) be passed away without their permission nor jagirs be distributed without their consent. What is clearly evident from the above account is that the Meenas adopted the concept of ‘kingdom’ and courtly standards from the local Rajput state while the concept of jagirs (estates created by the state and distributed to chiefs) seems to have been influenced by the political systems of Rajput and Mughal States. In fact, some of the tribal songs are known to have been influenced by the advent of the Mughals or the British in Rajasthan. For instance, the Bhils of Mewar invoke the deities and pray for the victory of the Maharanas (the Rajput rulers of Mewar) against the purbia raja (the kings from the east), implying the onslaught of either the Mughals or the British in Rajasthan. “(Thus, popular sayings and archaeological and historical sources point towards Meena chiefdoms (much less organized than kingdoms) and not formally organized kingdoms on the pattern of state system.

The number of 52 forts with 56 gates is more formulaic than actual. However, reference to forts and gates mean that the strong holds or fortified places along with the hill passes were controlled by the Meena chiefs in the Jaipur region. Cunningham’s report also testifies to the above fact for Nain was evidently situated within the gorge of a mountain torrent (Aravalis) near the bed of a small and partly dry river, with broken hillocks and ravines at the mouth of the gorge What remained at the archaeological site of Nain at the time of Cunningham’s visit were parts of dilapidated roofless walls and fortifications, the so called palace of the Meena ‘kings’ of Nain. The fact is that the Kachwaha state never recognized the Meena chiefs as equivalent to the rest of the Rajput chiefs. And that the Meenas were always organized into chiefdoms is also evident from the 12 estates of the Meena chiefs listed by their famous bard, Govind Ram Rana of village Bhoniawala (district Jaipur).

Magnification of small chieftainships into ancient kingdoms was once again appropriation of the state system to highlight one’s political importance in the locality. Similarly, monopoly, over jagir is claimed as a part of imagining oneself as equivalent to the Rajput chiefs of the Kachwaha state. Although it is assumed that the state settled some of the Meena chiefs as zamindar (conferred localities on those who kept the line of combat open) much after they were suppressed militarily, they were actually confirmed in their own settlements.

The final aspect that we will consider in this section is againa demand listed in the famous charter of the twelfth century./ The Meenas are stated to have asked for monopoly in the following areas of state services: army, treasury, armoury and accounts of income and expenditure. 

The fact is that the Meena chiefs had been utilized by the Kachwaha state in areas of security guarding the royal treasury and the palace. Not only does Tod mention these Meena functionaries, but even as recent as the mid-twentieth-century Meenas had been serving the royal court and household in these areas. Besides, their importance in the control of strategic routes and passes is also evident from the fact that Ghatarani (queen of the Passes) has been one of their chief deities. 

Hence, Meenas appropriated those areas of state administration in which they had been utilized. It is indeed interesting that Chandkavi, the court bard of Kachwaha state in his Koormavilâsa (history and genealogy of the Kachwaha dynasty of Jaipur, composed between 1854 and 1857. portrays the Meenas in a derogatory fashion. The work eulogizes Kachwaha prince Kokila, who defeated the drunken Meenas and constructed forts in their territory at Macheri, Khoh and Main (Nain?). Chandkavi associates the Bargujars of Dausa with DholaRae, but never mentions the Meenas in his context. Such royal response in the mid-nineteenth century was possibly a reaction to the emerging Meena traditions. 

The fact that all the Meenas of Jaipur locality were not actually displaced and pushed into the interiors is evident from the location of the 12 pals (settlements of the Meena chiefs) in the heart of erstwhile Jaipur state. They are mostly concentrated in the Jamua Ramgarh tahsil. 

Author is a Ph D Programme Coordinator, SOITS, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi

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