Rajasthan, known as "the land of kings", is the largest state of the Republic of India by area. It is located in the west of India. It comprises most of the area of the large, inhospitable Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, which parallels the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with Pakistan to the west. Rajasthan is also bordered by Gujarat to the southwest, Madhya Pradesh to the southeast, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to the northeast and Punjab to the north. Rajasthan covers 10.4% of India, an area of .
Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the state. Geographical features include the Thar Desert along north-western Rajasthan and the termination of the Ghaggar River near the archaeological ruins at Kalibanga of the Indus Valley Civilization, which are the oldest in the Indian subcontinent discovered so far.
One of the world's oldest mountain ranges, the Aravalli Range, cradles the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu, famous for Dilwara Temples, a sacred pilgrimage for Jains. Eastern Rajasthan has the world famous Keoladeo National Park near Bharatpur, a World Heritage Site known for its bird life. It also has two national tiger reserves, Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar and Ranthambore.
The Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world's first and oldest, was in parts of what is now Rajasthan. Kalibangan, in Hanumangarh district, was a major provincial capital of the Indus Valley Civilization, now part of Pakistan. It is believed that Western Kshatrapas (405–35 BC) were Saka rulers of the western part of India (Saurashtra and Malwa: modern Gujarat, Southern Sindh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan). They were successors to the Indo-Scythians and were contemporaneous with the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The Indo-Scythians invaded the area of Ujjain and established the Saka era (with their calendar), marking the beginning of the long-lived Saka Western Satraps state. Matsya, a state of the Vedic civilisation of India, is said to roughly corresponded to former state of Jaipur in Rajasthan and included the whole of Alwar with portions of Bharatpur. The capital of Matsya was at Viratanagar (modern Bairat) which is said to have been named after its founder king Virata.
Traditionally the Meenas, Gurjars, Bhils, Rajputs, Rajpurohit, Charans, Jats, Yadavs, Bishnois and other tribes made a great contribution in building the state of Rajasthan. All these tribes suffered great difficulties in protecting their culture and the land. Millions of them were killed trying to protect their land. A number of Gurjars had been exterminated in Bhinmal and Ajmer areas fighting with the invaders. Bhils once ruled Kota. Meenas were rulers of Bundi and Dhundhar region.
Gurjars ruled many dynasties in this part of the country. In fact this region was long known as Gurjaratra. Up to the tenth century almost the whole of North India, excepting Bengal, acknowledged the supremacy of Gurjars with their seat of power at Kannauj.
The Gurjar Pratihar Empire acted as a barrier for Arab invaders from the 8th to the 11th century. The chief accomplishment of the Gurjara Pratihara empire lies in its successful resistance to the foreign invasions from the west, starting in the days of Junaid. Historian R. C. Majumdar says that this was openly acknowledged by the Arab writers themselves. He further notes that historians of India have wondered at the slow progress of Muslim invaders in India, as compared with their rapid advance in other parts of the world. Now there seems little doubt that it was the power of the Gurjara Pratihara army that effectively barred the progress of the Arabs beyond the confines of Sindh, their first conquest for nearly 300 years.
The earlier contributions of warriors and protectors of the land Meenas, Gurjars, Ahirs, Jats, Bhils were ignored and lost in history due to the stories of great valour shown by certain specific clans in later years, which gained more prominence than older acts of bravery.
Modern Rajasthan includes most of Rajputana, which comprises the erstwhile 19 princely states, two chiefships and the British district of Ajmer-Merwara. Marwar (Jodhpur), Bikaner, Mewar (Udaipur), Alwar and Dhundhar (Jaipur) were some of the main Rajput princely states. Bharatpur and Dholpur were Jat princely states whereasTonk was princely state under a Muslim Nawab. Rajput families rose to prominence in the 6th century CE. The Rajputs put up a valiant resistance to the Islamic invasions and protected this land with their warfare and chivalry for more than 500 years. They also resisted Mughal incursions into India and thus contributed to their slower-than-anticipated access to the Indian Subcontinent. Later the Mughals, through a combination of treachery and skilled warfare, were able to get a firm grip on northern India, including Rajasthan. Mewar led other kingdoms in its resistance to outside rule. Most notably Rana Sanga fought the Battle of Khanua against Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire.
Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, the Hindu Emperor, also known as Hemu in the history of India was born in the village of Machheri in Alwar District in 1501. He won 22 battles against Afghans, from Punjab to Bengal and defeated Akbar's forces twice at Agra and Delhi in 1556, before acceeding to the throne of Delhi and establishing 'Hindu Raj' in North India, albeit for a short duration, from Purana Quila in Delhi. He was killed in the Second Battle of Panipat.)
Maharana Pratap of Mewar resisted Akbar in the famous Battle of Haldighati (1576) and later operated from hilly areas of his kingdom. Bhils were Maharana's main allies during these wars. Most of these attacks were repulsed even though the Mughal forces outnumbered Mewar Rajputs in all the wars fought between them. The Haldighati war was fought between 10,000 Mewaris and a 100,000-strong Mughal force (including many Rajputs like Kachwahas from Dhundhar).
Over the years the Mughals began to have internal disputes which greatly distracted them at times. The Mughal Empire continued to weaken, with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, Rajputana came under suzerainty of the Marathas, until the Marathas were replaced by the British East India Company in early 19th century.
Following their rapid defeat, the Rajput kings concluded treaties with the British in the early 19th century, accepting British suzerainty and control over their external affairs in return for internal autonomy.
Rajasthan's formerly independent kingdom created a rich architectural and cultural heritage, seen even today in their numerous forts and palaces (Mahals and Havelis) which are enriched by features of Islamic and Jain architecture.
The development of the frescos in Rajasthan is linked with the history of the Marwaris who played a crucial role in the economic development of the region. Many wealthy families throughout Indian history have links to Marwar. These include the legendary Birla, Bajaj and Mittal families.