Colonel Tod and the Rajput History : Undoing The Damage Done

Anyone familiar with the history of Rajputs and Rajasthan would be equally familiar with the British courtly chronicler Colonel James Tod, who came to the Indian subcontinent as an East India Company employee and then, gradually became British agent for the states of western Rajputana, where he conciliated the chieftains and settled their mutual feuds. During this time, Tod documented the regions of present Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. On basis of his explorative sojourns, he drafted the anthropological history of ruling clans of this region, the Rajputs. His extensive work on Rajputs of Rajputana earned him not only admiration & friendship of the royals but in due course, this country of Rajput Princes became in his own words “home of my adoption,” as he affectionately called it.¹ So much so, in appreciation of his work in the Merwara Region, the Maharana of Udaipur renamed a village in his monarchy, as ‘Todgarh’ after Colonel Tod.

Although, Tod’s magnum opus titled ‘Rajasthan’ spread across 3 volumes is regarded as the Magna Carta for Rajput Origin Theories & History, multiple readings and minute research over the years have proved that as a historiographical record, it has been unreliable. Colonel Tod must have made monumental efforts to compose that body of work for reference but it cannot be denied that Tod’s work has done more damage to Rajput history than anyone else. We will now categorically analyse how Tod’s work remains an unreliable source to trace Rajput origin and history:-

Flawed Theory of Rajput Origins

Tod propounds that the Rajput clans Sooryavanshi and Chandravanshi originated from Sun and Moon Gods. This theory of origin from the Sun or Moon of two great Rajput branches, was found in other princely families too in other parts of the world, like the Incas of Peru or the Mikado of Japan. This shows he interpolated the international myths with history of Rajput branches and produced a shady account of Rajput origins.

He even drafts a family tree, sourcing the root of Raghuvanshi Rajputs from mythological king of Ayodhya, Shri Ram from epic Ramayana. Although existence of Ram cannot be denied altogether as the oldest mention of Ram is in Dasratha Jataka and Raghuvanshi rajputs, as brothers of Kachhwahas, have a likely origins in Kaushal janpad. But owing to the fictional nature of Ramayan & Mahabharata and presence of multiple accounts of these two epics across the world doesn’t qualify them to be seen as authentic sources of history. Adding the element of romanticism in historical events in his book ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, he validates Indian epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana as history.²

Another theory of Rajput origins propagated by Colonel James Todd claims that Rajputs have a foreign origin and they are descendants of the races such as Hunas, Kushanas and Sakas. Colonel Tod argued that Rajputs worshipped Fire and it was also worshipped by the Saka and Hunas.

Colonel Tod in his “Annals of Rajasthan” Volume-I writes: “A new race entered Hindustan led by conqueror termed Shehes Nag, from Sehes Nag Desh, who ascended the Pandu’s throne ans whose line terminates in the descents with Maha Nada od spurious birth”. Sehes Nag Desh is explained by him as the country of the ‘head of the snakes’ Nag or Tak or Takshak being synonymous. This was the abode of the ancient Scythic Tochari of Strabo, the Takurks of the Chinese, the Tajuks of the present-day Turkestan. This race appears to be the same as the Toorshks of the Puranas who rules on Arsvesina (the Araxes) in Sacadwip or Scythia.⁵

To make up for the lack of direct evidence of Scythian manners and sociology to support this position, he was forced to rely on certain superficial resemblances of custom and belief. Hence, a theory of foreign origin was ‘imposed’ over the Rajputs, who were actually the original inhabitants/natives of the Indian subcontinent from centuries. As a matter of fact, Rajputs claimed origins from the various Kshatriya or Khattiya republics of Buddhist era.

Tod could also be credited for propagating the erroneous segregation between Rajputs and Kshatriyas; sowing a seed of suspicion over the origins. By separating these two from each other, Tod created a fertile land for tenuous claims and varied versions of Rajput origins.

Colonel Tod also imagined Rajasthan or Western India to be a place of original settlement for Rajputs. Although the Kshatriyas of Rajasthan themselves claim to have migrated from Gangetic plains and Deccan in their inscriptions. (Kacchwahas of Rajasthan asserted migration ftom Rohtas; Rathores are same as Rashtrakuts, underscoring their probable migration from Deccan). But Tod’s misbelief makes Rajasthan as some special abode of Rajputs, which is a flawed perception.

Social Darwinism of Tod in Categorizing 36 Martial Races

Tod was motivated by the British colonial ambition to co-opt & subjugate native rulers. To achieve this, he applied Social Darwinism in his historiography, as a result of which he categorised Rajputs as a Martial Race, superior with respect to other racial groups present in the subcontinent. This was done to inculcate a puffed up sense of self amongst the Rajputs, who would take colonists as their allies for identifying their ‘special traits’. Tod’s basis of division of Rajputs into 36 Rajkuls is also incorrect as it was based on another fictional epic Prithviraj Raso, penned by a Brahmin court-poet of the Chauhans.

Another blunder which Tod did in categorisation of 36 Qaums was inclusion of communities like the Jats into the list. This anomaly resulted in mainstreaming Jat claims over Rajput history, apart from weaponizing Arya Samaji policy of Kshatriyaisation of other backward communities, shrewdly using Tod’s glaring inaccuracies as reference point of convenience.

Orientalist Gaze of Colonel Tod

Like other colonial writers of his time, writings of Col. Tod cannot be decoupled from bearing Orientalist bias while observing and documenting India. Tod’s treatment of Rajputs has also been afflicted with the phenomena of Orientalism, which reflects obversely at times. The aim of writing history of Indian subcontinent through a European Gaze was aimed to legitimize British rule through this work; by proving that the Britishers were allies.

If we analyse closely, we find that Tod’s version of history, the language, tone, undertones, all are a replica of the European style of history written in the mid ages. In Tod’s work, Kshatriyas were reimagined as Feudal Knights of Europe, notwithstanding that Kshatriyas or Rajputs (which are same) were linked socioeconomically to subalterns & never hesitated farming or livestock rearing.

On another occasion, near Mandore, the ancient capital of Marwar, Tod communicates his nostalgic mood at a scene of ruined statues in a narrow river valley with a spring, named Pushcoonda [meaning animals’ waterhole], comparing it to his native Scottish glens. James Tod has also called Haldighati ‘the Thermopylae’ of Mewar, and Dewair her ‘Marathon’, borrowing from the epic battles between the Greeks and the Persians.

Tod’s treatment of Indian subjects with European references has done more innate damage to Rajputs’ history because Tod has drawn a parallel between Knights and Rajputs, whose socio-economic conditions varied largely. Imposing alien value judgements to local conditions has further subjected Indian Princes to scrutiny in modern times, merely on basis of an unfair but flattering comparison by Col. Tod.

As a British agent, Tod assessed the potential of the Rajputs as dependable allies of the British in India, and all his friendly overtures towards them, specially a dedicated History writing for the Princes of Rajputana, could in fact be understood as part of the strategic policy of the British colonial authority of which the ulterior purpose was precisely to consolidate British domination. Tod writes, ”By a careful investigation of the circumstances which placed those brave races in their present political position, the paramount protecting power may be enabled to appreciate them, either as allies or as foes; and it will demonstrate more effectually than mere opinions, from whatever source, how admirably qualified they are, if divested of control, to harmonise, in a very important respect, with the British system of government in the East. We have nothing to dread from them, individually or collectively, and we may engage their very hearts’ blood in our cause, whatever foes may threaten us, foreign or domestic, if we only exert our interference when mediation will bear advantage to them, without offence to their prejudices. Nor is there any difficulty in the task; all honour the peacemaker, and they would court even arbitration, if once assured that we had no ulterior views.”³

He shows a decided prejudice against the Kachhwahas of Jaipur, of whose diplomacy he disapproved. This feeling, we may suspect, was due in part to their hesitation in accepting the British alliance, a policy in which he was deeply interested.

Hindu Versus Muslim Dichotomy

Eminent Historian Romila Thapar writes that Colonial scholars dramatized the confrontation of what they called the Hindu religion and the Muslim religion in order to support the two-nation theory, required by colonial policy.

We also notice that Tod was never tired of abusing the policy of the Emperor Aurangzeb, and, fortunately for the success of his work, Muhammadans form only a slight minority in the population of Rajputana.

Tod also chose to villainize Islamic rulers through his commentary. Col. Tod writes, “Akbar measured his success by the quantity of cordons (janeu) taken from the necks of the slain Hindus. And 74 and a half muns is the amount recorded. A mun is 40 kilos. So, 2980 kilos were the weight of the threads of Janeus on the Hindus killed on that dark day.”⁴

Col. Tod also writes that after defeating Rana Sanga at Fatehpur Sikri “triumphal pyramids were raised of the heads of the slain, and on a hillock which overlooked the field of the battle, a tower of skulls was erected and the conqueror Babur assumed the title of Ghazi.” (p.246).

Colonial Historians like Col. Tod “manufactured the enduring impression of Indian history as a confrontation between Muslims and Hindus-which justified British rule to keep the peace in a land of competing antagonisms.”⁶

Partisan Sources of Tod’s History

Notably, Tod’s understanding of human history was drawn from his European moorings, and shaped his reading of Rajasthani historical traditions. Tod relied on a variety of sources to compile his history of the Rajputs, including genealogies from bardic rolls, chronicles from Rajput rulers, manuscripts from libraries, inscriptions from temples, and primarily, oral traditions. He consulted sources in Sanskrit, Persian, and local languages. Tod apparently aimed to corroborate the information by comparing accounts and evidence.

Right from the start of the first trip that Tod narrates that he travelled with measuring instruments [a thermometer, a barometer, and a perambulator to measure distances as well as accompanied by his learned Jain guru, Yati Gyan Chandra, who ‘entered into all my antiquarian pursuits with zeal’ [AAR, I, 521, note 2], and several Brahmins [for example a Brahmin antiquarian named Balgovind, AAR, II, 505, and another, Brahmin Baba Mohes, AAR, II, 547], not to mention his ‘native artist’ named Ghassi [AAR, II, 574, 587, 607], and his Scottish relative Captain Waugh, also ever-ready to oblige Tod with sketches of the scenes they traversed. There is a high probability that his historical accounts could have culminated from stories weaved by Brahmin priests, who traditionally specialised in concocting mythical fables.

Apart from this, Tod was unwilling to differentiate between Charanic lores & Rajputs’ own folklores. Rajput folklores were mostly oral histories of Rajput tribesmen, often documented by Jains like Munhot Nainsi but they were different from Charanic lores – which often tried projecting Charanic narratives & panegyrics for their patrons.

These sources of history were subjective but became so popular that they largely replaced the older accounts. And as we all know, literature, once published, acquires a life of its own. His mythical accounts and strategic writings became synonymous with the undeniable Magna Carta of Rajasthan.

Historical Inaccuracies in Tod’s Work

Tod has based few of his writings on basis of unsubstantiated hearsay, which later acquired the validation of ‘recorded history’ after his popularity; but a keen study of the presence of inaccuracies in his work cannot be ignored.

Tod has made Meera wife of Rana Kumbha, but in reality, she was wife of Rana Bhoj, great grandson of Kumbha, says Lokendra Sinh Chundawat (historian).⁷

Tod’s history of the story of Padmini was likely shaped by the interpretations of his Jain, Brahmin, and bardic informants, as he had to rely on their translations and explanations of the sources. Tod’s own assumptions regarding history and chivalry also influenced how he crafted the narrative.

Tod’s insinuation that Jaichand invited Ghori to bring about the downfall of Prithviraj out of jealousy or political rivalry was an imaginary claim. Infact, in all contemporaneous Persian chronicles, such as Taj-ul-Ma’asir, Kamil-ut-tawarikh, and Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, Jaichand is represented as a ruler who ‘battled the Ghurid army’ at Chandawar. The extreme disdain in these texts for Jaichand underscores the fact that Muslims detested him and saw him as the enemy of Islam.⁸

Tod also fed fictional stories, such as Maharana Pratap insulting Man Singh, Rani Karnawati sending a rakhi to Humayun, the fabricated story of Kiran devi, Rajput princesses attending Meena Bazaar etc. , which made Rajput history an object of ridicule today if seen from a more objective vantage point.


The yearning for “objective” truth when it comes to history is a utopian ambition. It won’t even be wrong to conclude that every historian had an agenda. They choose what to include and what to cut, what to emphasize and what to downplay.⁹ If we’re looking for facts- indisputable, undeniable facts, then our quest must span across different sources, diagonally opposite ideologies and dig deeper than the epidermal history spoonfed to us via curriculum and social media historians. Colonel Tod is reputed and revered in Rajasthan as being the passionate chronicler of Rajput History but it is high time, we come out of this academic seduction with Tod’s narratives and look beyond his Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan.


  2. James Tod and Recasting of Rajput History (Skand Bhupendra)
  3. D’Souza, Florence. “The Transports of James Tod in Rajasthan”. Transport(s) in the British Empire and the Commonwealth, edited by Michèle Lurdos and Judith Misrahi-Barak, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2007,
  6. Manu S. Pillai, “Manufacturing the fable of Padmavati”. The Mint, 10 February 2017.
  8. Elliot & Dowson, 1869, The History of India as told by its own Historians.

क्षत्रिय सामाजिक, राजनीतिक और धार्मिक चेतना मंच।

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