The Rajputs were a group of Hindu warrior princes and their followers who came to prominence in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent in the centuries after the fall of the Gupta empire.
Their origins are disputed. Many scholars think that they came from outside India. The preferred theory is that their ancestors were Hun chieftains who settled in India in the 6th century CE in the wake of the fall of the Gupta. It is possible, however, that they were an indigenous aristocracy who adopted a militaristic identity and culture in the continuous warfare of 6th to 10th century northwest India. They were stoutly Hindu, an affiliation strengthened by centuries of resistance to the dominant Muslim powers of the region.
The Gurjara-Pratiharas, who were prominent in northern India from the 8th to 10th centuries, are sometimes regarded as the first major Rajput dynasty.
In the early 11th century, new attacks by Islamic armies, now from central Asia rather than the Middle East, began. They destroyed Gurjara power, and new Rajput kingdoms rose to meet this challenge- and also to contest control of northern India amongst themselves. Notable among these were the Paramas and Chauhanas.
From that time forward the Rajput kingdoms remained a force to be reckoned with in northwestern India. The new Muslim power in India, the Delhi Sultanate, never succeeded in completely subduing them. Later, the Mughal emperor Akbar, although a Muslim ruler, incorporated the Rajputs into the imperial power-structures. Akbar firmly asserted his rights as their overlord, requiring tribute and tokens of submission from each Rajput chief. So far as their own territories were concerned, however, they were left very much in charge of their own affairs. They received high rank in the Mughal nobility and other privileges, and assurances that their traditional rights, customs and beliefs as Hindu rulers and warriors would be respected.
As a result of this accommodation, the Rajputs served the Mughal regime loyally, for which they were well rewarded. The Mughal emperors relied on them for their support and assistance, and came to be bound to them by multiple family ties.
As Mughal power weakened, in the 18th century, the Rajputs reasserted their independence. In the 19th century, the Rajput princes formed alliances with the British, and, as under the Mughals, were again left largely in control of their own affairs, so long as they kept their treaties with the British. The latter came to greatly respect the Rajputs for their martial qualities.