The 600-year rule of the Gohil Rajput dynasty over the principality of Rajpipla, India

Maharana Gambhirsinhji with court officials and family members

A first-class princely state, the largest in the Rewa Kantha Agency, Rajpipla was founded around 1340 by Kumar Shri Samarsinhji Mokhdaji, younger son of Thakor Mokhdaji Ranoji of Ghogha (later Bhavnagar) by the daughter of Rao Chokrana, a Parmar Rajput prince of Ujjain in Malwa. Chokrana died without a male heir, having adopted Samarsinhji. Thereby Samarsinhji succeded to the gadi of his maternal grandfather Chokrana Parmar at Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) Fort deep in the forests of the Satpura hills. and assumed the name Arjunsinhji. As a result, the rule of the principality of Rajpipla passed on to the Gohil Rajput clan, but they began worshipping the Kul Devi (family deity) of the Parmar clan, Shri Harsiddhi Mataji, the original temple being in Ujjain.

Shri Harsiddhi Mataji

It is said that Maharana Verisalji I of Rajpipla built the present temple of Harsiddhi Mataji at Nandod or new Rajpipla town, in the 18th century.

The Gohil Rajput Rulers of Rajpipla State (Mid 14th Century to 1948)

Inscribed in Gujarati on the coat of arms of Rajpipla State is ‘Reva ji ne kanthe’, which means ‘On the banks of the holy Narmada’.

Rajpipla State was situated largely between two important rivers of western India, the Narmada and the Tapti, with the Satpura range in the south. Spanning an area of over 1500 square miles (about 4,000 square kilometres), of which 600 square miles (1550 square kilometres) were forests, with the rest fertile agricultural plains and river valleys, Rajpipla grew to be one of the most prosperous princely states in Gujarat, second only to Baroda. It was also famous for its agate mines. It is now part of the state of Gujarat. Its capital town of Rajpipla (Nandod or New Rajpipla) is now headquarters of Narmada district.

The origin of the Gohil Rajput dynasty of Rajpipla goes back to the sixth century A.D. when Muhideosur Gohadit or Guhil, born in 542 A.D. after the sack of Vallabhi and the only male survivor of the clan, went on to become chief of an area near modern Idar in Gujarat in the year 556 A.D, and held sway till his death in 603 A.D. His descendant Kalbhoj or Bappa Rawal seized Chittor and became ruler of Mewar in 734 A.D. A little more than two-and-a-half-centuries later in 973 A.D., Salivahan, the Gohil ruler of Mewar, and 11th in descent to Bappa Rawal, moved away with part of the clan from Chittor to Juna Khergarh (present-day Bhalotra near Jodhpur) on the River Luni in Marwar, leaving behind his son Shaktikumar with the remaining members of his kin. There is still a village there called ‘Gohilon ki dhani’ near Jodhpur. Thus for two-and-a-quarter centuries, both Mewar and Marwar were ruled by the Gohil Rajput clan.

Later, after Ala-ud-din Khilji ravaged Chittor in 1303, the Gohils of Mewar regrouped and assumed the name Sisodia. The capital was shifted from Chittor to Udaipur in 1559.

Meanwhile, the Gohils who had migrated under Salivahan continued to rule over Marwar. After the formation of the Delhi Sultanate in the early part of the thirteenth century, the Rathore clan, pushed out of Kannauj, migrated to Marwar. In turn the Gohil clan was displaced from Marwar. They marched back to Saurashtra where they became governors of the Chalukyas, and then carved out their own principalities. The most famous of their chiefs during this period were Sejakji, Ranoji and Mokhdaji, and the princely states that their descendants carved out were Bhavnagar, Rajpipla, Palitana, Lathi and Vallabhipur or Vala.

The rulers of Rajpipla had to face several invasions from the sultans of Ahmedabad, the Mughal emperors and later the Gaekwars, even losing their principality for brief periods, each time coming back to power by joining forces with the hill tribes (mostly Bhils) and carrying out guerrilla attacks. In 1730, with the weakening of the Mughal Empire, the 26th Gohil ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Verisalji I stopped paying tribute to the Mughals, and his son Maharana Jeetsinhji wrested back Nandod taluka and shifted the capital to Nandod or new Rajpipla town, in the plains on the banks of River Karjan, a tributary of the Narmada.

The Gaekwars of Baroda exacted tribute from Rajpipla in the later 18th and early 19th century. The stranglehold of the Gaekwars was cast aside with the intervention of the British, and accession of the 33rd Gohil ruler Maharana Verisalji II on the gadi of Rajpipla. During the 1857 Mutiny, Rajpipla under Verisalji II rebelled, and for many months relieved itself of the sway of the British. MaharanaVerisalji II to abdicated in 1860, making way for his son Gambhirsinhji.

During the reign of Maharana Gambhirsinhji (1860-97), the road from Rajpipla to Ankleshwar was built, and Rajpipla State had its own postal system. Maharana Chhatrasinhji, the 35th Gohil ruler of Rajpipla, who came to the gadi in 1897, laid the 60-mile (90 kilometres) Ankleshwar-Rajpipla railway line and carried out massive famine relief during the period 1899-1902. He was one of the pioneers of motoring in India, owning cars like the Wolseley 6 hp 1903-04, Armstrong Siddeley 15 hp 1906 and Clement Bayard 16 hp.

Maharaja Vijaysinhji, who ascended the gadi in 1915, carried out massive reforms and infrastructure works. He established a high school where only nominal fees were charged, and introduced free primary education and scholarships. He built a civil hospital, maternity hospital, five dispensaries and a veterinary hospital in the State. A criminal-and-civil court was set up, pensions were paid to public servants, and the salaries of the police and military were increased. Maharaja Vijaysinhji ordered the laying of good motorable roads. He added the Jhagadia-Netrang section to the Rajpipla Railways. He also set up a 19-mile (31 kilometres) steam railroad and tramway connecting the towns along the river Narmada with villages in the interior, and a power house supplying electricity and water to Rajpipla town. Even though taxes were reduced in terms of percentage, the revenue of the State increased from Rupees 1,300,000 to Rupees 2,700,000 per annum in the period 1915-1930, and peaked at Rupees 3,600,000 in 1948 when the State merged with the Indian Union. Maharaja Vijaysinhji regularised the land revenue system, and carried out relief efforts during droughts and floods. He improved the quality of cotton, grains and fruits grown in his territory. His town planning as far back as 1927 was far-sighted, and builders were given permission to construct, conditional to leaving 3 to 4 feet (about 1 metre) space for future widening of roads. The designs of new buildings were well integrated and in harmony with the surroundings.

A keen horseman, Maharaja Vijaysinhji maintained one of the finest stables of race horses in India and England, marked by quality and not quantity. His thoroughbreds won several prestigious races, including the first Indian Derby in 1919 (Tipster), the Irish Derby in 1926 and Belgian Grand Prix in 1927 (Embargo), and the blue riband of the turf, the Epsom Derby of England in 1934 (Windsor Lad). Maharaja Vijaysinhji is still the only Indian owner to have bagged the English Derby, considered the greatest horse race in the world, cheered on by an estimated quarter to half a million people which included King George V and Queen Mary of Britain and other members of the royal family. Maharaja Vijaysinhji thereby completed a brilliant hat-trick of Derby wins: the first-ever Indian Derby, the Irish Derby and the coveted Epsom Derby of England, making him arguably the greatest-ever Indian racehorse owner.

Sports like cricket, football and hockey were made compulsory for students by Maharaja Vijaysinhji, who equipped Rajpipla with a polo ground and gymkhana club. A unique feature of the Rajpipla royal family was its polo team comprising Maharaja Vijaysinhji and his three sons Yuvraj Rajendra Singhji, Maharajkumar Pramod Singhji and Maharajkumar Indrajeet Singhji. Having a passion for cars like his father, Maharaja Vijaysinhji owned, among other top makes, twelve Rolls-Royce cars, from the Silver Ghost 1913 to the Phantom III 1937.

Maharaja Vijaysinhji laid out an airstrip in Rajpipla where aircraft landed in the 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, he donated three Spitfire fighter planes, named ‘Rajpipla’, ‘Windsor Lad’ and ‘Embargo’, and a Hawker Hurricane aircraft ‘Rajpipla II’. He also had plans to build a dam across River Narmada to facilitate irrigation and generate electricity, precursor to the present-day gigantic Sardar Sarovar project. and was in the process of raising investment for it when merger of Rajpipla State with the Union of India took place in 1948.

(Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji, the last ruler of Rajpipla State, can be contacted on email teddy.rajpipla@gmail.com).

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