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Tracing its lineage to Jodhpur's founding family, Ranbanka Palace derives its name from the war cry of the Rathore clan. Built in 1927 for Maharajadhiraj Sir Ajit Singh ji; this sandstone building captures, preserves and blends Marwar’s reflections and a colonial charm. To better appreciate the history of Ranbanka Palace, it is important to delve into the intrinsically linked roots of Jodhpur and its founders.
Pre 15th Century
The Rathore Clan
The Rathore clan traces its origins back to an ancient dynasty established in the 8th Century. They are said to be descendants of Lord Ram from the Rasthrakuta solar dynasty and belong to the Suryavansha (solar race) branch of the Kshatriyas, a warrior caste of Hindus.
The Rathores ruled as vassals of the Gahadavalas dynasty, which governed the Deccan for approximately a hundred years beginning in the late eleventh century. This continued till the reign of Jai Chandra, the last ruler of Kannauj, who died battling the armies of Muhammad of Ghor around 1194. Some survivors, led by Sheoji (Shiv ji) from Jai Chandra's bloodline, fled west to the Marwar desert region of Rajasthan.
On a pilgrimage to Dwarka, Sheoji halted at the town of Pali and found that the Brahman community was suffering constant raids of marauding bands. Sheoji and his followers settled down to provide protection and later Rao Sheoji founded the kingdom of Marwar around 1226. This Rathore chief laid the foundations but it was nearly ten successions later that Mandore (chief town of Marwar) was finally acquired. Rao Chandra seized control of the region in 1400c. The history of Jodhpur is replete with the sacrifices, valour and strength of this mighty family.
15th Century- Jodhpur
Founding of Jodhpur: Jodhagarh
In 1427 Rao Ranmal secured the throne of Mandore and also became the administrator of Mewar to assist Maharana Mokal. In 1438 Mokal’s son Rana Kumbha decided to end the power sharing arrangement and had Rao Ranmal assassinated in Chittor.
An epoch in the history both of Marwar and Rathores was marked by Rao Ranmal’s son Rao Jodha. Approximately 700 horsemen accompanied Rao Jodha as he escaped from Chittor and only seven survived the battling journey. For 15 years Jodha tried in vain to recapture Mandore but the opportunity to strike finally came in 1453 when Rana Kumbha was facing simultaneous attacks by the Sultans of Malwa and Gujarat.
A holy man advised Rao Jodha to move his capital to hilltop safety and Chidia-tunk, a high rocky ridge less than 10 kms to the south of Mandore, gained global recognition. Mehrangarh Fort, situated on a 125 m high hill, is among the most impressive and formidable forts in Rajasthan. In 1459, within a year after his ascension to the throne, Maharaja Rao Jodha laid the foundation of Mehrangarh fort. He moved the capital from Mandore to Jodhagarh and through the virtually impregnable fort, his clan fought and ruled until their kingdom grew to encompass all of Marwar.
Jodhagarh was on the important Delhi-Gujarat trade route and greatly benefited from the trade of silk, opium, sandalwood, copper and other items. Jodhpur was a Watan Jagir, meaning hereditary patrimonial principality. It is said that Rao Jodhaji had fourteen sons and twenty-three brothers from who descend the principal rulers and nobles of Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kishangarh, Rutlam, Sitamau, Idar, Ahmednagar and Jhabua. No dynasty is more greatly represented amongst the ruling and noble houses of India.
16th to 19th Century
In the 16th century, Rao Maldeo lost Merta and Ajmer to Emperor Akbar and was forced to send two of his sons as hostages to the imperial court. The next in line, Rao Chandra Sen lost many more territories in wars with the Mughals. The state became a fief under the Mughal Empire, owing fealty to them while enjoying some internal autonomy. Jodhpur and its people benefited from this exposure to the wider world: new styles of art and architecture made their appearance and opportunities opened up for local tradesmen to make their mark across northern India.
While it was under the strict control of Emperor Aurangzeb, the ruling house of Rathore was still allowed to remain semi-autonomous in their territory. In 1678, the ruler of Marwar Maharaja Jaswant Singh, died without any sons and this allowed the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to assert. He appointed a Muslim to rule over Marwar and even sequestrated the state briefly on the pretext of a minority. For decades, Marwar remained under the direct rule of a Mughal governor and there was a guerrilla war against the emperor. In 1707, when Aurangzeb died, Durgadas Rathore took advantage of the disturbances to seize Jodhpur and eventually evicted the occupying Mughal force. He restored the rightful ruler, Maharaja Ajit Singh to the throne but Marwar descended into strife.
The Marathas and colonial era
The situation allowed for Marathas to intervene and they soon supplanted the Mughals as overlords of the region, further dissipating the state’s wealth. The British had no role in the state's affairs till the early 19th Century when the Raja at that time, Man Singh, entered into a subsidiary alliance, after which the Rajas of Marwar (or Jodhpur) continued as rulers of a princely state.
The Colonial era
During the British Raj, the state of Jodhpur had the largest land area. By 1901, it covered more than 60,000km with a population nearing 40,000. Its merchants, the Marwaris, flourished without let or limit and came to occupy a position of dominance in trade across India.
The 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade was a brigade-sized formation that served alongside British Empire forces and was formed from Imperial Service Troops provided by the Indian Princely States of Hyderabad, Mysore, Patiala and Jodhpur; which each provided a regiment of lancers. By 1918, the Jodhpur lancers were celebrated as the "Jo Hukums", which literally means "As you command", for their reckless courage and discipline in following orders. On 23rd September, they engraved their place in the annals of world history when they charged on Haifa. 'Haifa Day' is still celebrated in commemoration of the capture of that city following a dashing and fearless cavalry action.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, arts and architecture were flourishing in Jodhpur. In 1927, the current Ranbanka Palace hotel was commissioned as a part of the residence for Maharajadhiraj of Jodhpur, Sir Ajit Singh ji (1907–1978). He was the younger brother of Maharaja Umaid Singh and youngest son of Maharaja Sir Sardar Singh ji. As Prime Minister of the state he was allotted space to make his home.
Ranbanka Palace is a part of Ajit Bhawan and was designed by an English architect. This magnificent sandstone building effortlessly captures the era’s salient pragmatism and pronounced opulence. It was built proportionately with two floors in mind and has been executed in the red Jodhpur stone from its era. The high ceiling and mezzanine on the ground floor regulates air circulation, allowing the mansion to remain cool even during the scorching summer months.
Sir Ajit Singh ji was known for his fairness and citizens flocked to his palace for intervention on key concerns. The main courtyard of Ranbanka Palace was a meeting place for local dignitaries and people from the villages. The palace boasted of jails, stables, a temple, a well, an orchard and large traditional gardens in the front of the house. The roof of the house showcases intricate and interesting latticework from the era.
Maharaja Umaid Singh died in 1947 and Maharaja Sir Hanwant Singh later acceded Jodhpur to the new Dominion of India. Following Indian independence, Jodhpur’s ruler Hanwant Singh did not see much future in the country for himself or the lifestyle he wished to lead. Along with the ruler of Jaisalmer, he entered into negotiations with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was the designated head of state for Pakistan. Jinnah permitted them to accede to Pakistan on the terms of their choosing. The rulers of these strategic regions were given blank sheets of paper and asked to write down their terms.
While Jaisalmer refused, arguing that it would be difficult for them to side with Muslims against Hindus in the event of communal problems. Hanwant Singh came close to signing. Mountbatten pointed out that the accession of a predominantly Hindu state to Pakistan would violate the principle of the two-nation theory on which Partition was based, and was likely to cause communal violence in the State. The atmosphere in Jodhpur was also hostile towards accession to Pakistan. Hanwant Singh finally succumbed to the effective persuasive skills of Sardar Vallab Patel, but not before some nifty negotiations secured extra resources for his region. After the State Reorganization Act of 1956, Jodhpur was made part of the state of Rajastha
The second largest city of Rajasthan, Jodhpur lies near the geographic centre of the state and is a convenient base for travel in a region much frequented by tourists. Jodhpur has been declared as the second 'Metropolitan City' of Rajasthan and had a population of 1,033,918 in 2011. It lies about 250 kilometres from the international border with Pakistan and is an important base for the Indian army, Indian Air Force and Border Security Force (BSF). Jodhpur's air base is one of the most critical and strategically located airbases of the IAF and is among the largest in Asia.
Even in modern times the clout of the rathore clan in the democratic world is such that a large number of MLAs and MPs have been elected from among them. The present Member of Parliament from Jodhpur is Chandresh Kumari of Congress, elder sister of H.H. Maharaja Gaj Singh - II of Jodhpur. She was inducted into Dr. Manmohan Singh's cabinet of UPA II Government as the Cultural Minister.
Rajputs of Rajasthan are nostalgic about their past and keenly conscious of their genealogy. The Maharaja of Jodhpur, is regarded as the head of the extended Rathore clan of Hindu Rajputs. In conformity with Rajput marriage customs, the title of Maharaj is inheritable by all legitimate males, in the male line, for seven generations. The sons are styled Rajkumar during their father's lifetime, and Maharaj afterwards. The eighth generation and beyond, inherit the title of Thakur, through the eldest son, and Kumar Shri through the younger sons.
In the year 2000, Ranbanka Palace was converted into a hotel and is today a certified classic heritage hotel. It is one of the foremost experiences of regal hospitality in India.