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Jai Singh I of Amber receiving Shivaji Maharaj a day before concluding the Treaty of Purandar (12 June 1665)

Raja (/ˈrɑːɑː/; also spelled rajah, from Sanskrit राजा rājā-) is a term for a monarch or princely ruler in South and Southeast Asia. Rana is practically equivalent, and the female form Rani (sometimes spelled ranee) applies equally to the wife of a raja or rana. Maharaja, or "great king" is in theory a title for more significant rulers in India, but after some inflation of titles over time, there is no clear difference between the terms.

The title has a long history in the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, being attested from the Rigveda, where a rājan- is a ruler, see for example the dāśarājñá, the "battle of ten kings".


Sanskrit rājan- is cognate to Latin rēx (genitive rēgis), Gaulish rīx, Gaelic (genitive ríg), etc., originally denoting heads of petty kingdoms and city states. It is believed to be ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European *h3rēǵs, a vrddhi formation to the root *h3reǵ- "to straighten, to order, to rule". The Sanskrit n-stem is secondary in the male title, apparently adapted from the female counterpart rājñī which also has an -n- suffix in related languages, compare Old Irish rígain and Latin regina. Cognates of the word Raja in other Indo-European languages include English reign and German reich. Rather common variants in Rajasthani, Marathi and Hindi, used for the same royal rank in parts of India include Rana, Rao, Raol, Rawal and Rawat.

Raja, the top title Thakore and many variations, compounds and derivations including either of these were used in and around South Asia by most Sinhalese Hindu, Muslim and some Buddhist, Jain and Sikh rulers, while Muslims also used Nawab or Sultan, and still is commonly used in India.

Raja රජ the title means King in Sri Lanka. Rajamanthri (රාජමන්ත්රී) is the Prince (රජ කුමරැ) lineage of King's generation in Sri Lanka. Rajamanthri title is aristocracy of the Kandiyan Kingdom මහනුවර in Sri Lanka.

In Pakistan, Raja is still used by Muslim Rajput clans as hereditary titles. Raja is also used as a given name by Hindus and Sikhs. Most notably Raja is used in Hazara division of Pakistan for the descendants of Turk dynasty. These Rajas ruled that part of Pakistan for decades and they still possess huge land in Hazara division of Pakistan and actively participate in the politics of the region.

Usage outside India

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The Raha (the Spanish pronunciation of Rajah) or Hari was a title that used of the Nobilities in the Classical Period Philippines a picture of a Royal couple illustrated in Boxer Codex ca.1500s.


Raja Dhrub Dev assesses a horse, by Nainsukh, c. 1740s; it was usual for horses to be shown off in front of a white sheet, to better appreciate their form

Rajadharma is the dharma which applies to the king, or the Raja. Dharma is that which upholds, supports, or maintains the order of the universe and is based on truth.[1] It is of central importance in achieving order and balance within the world and does this by demanding certain necessary behaviors from people.

The king served two main functions as the Raja: Secular and Religious.[2] The religious functions involved certain acts for propitiating gods, removing dangers, and guarding dharma, among other things. The secular functions involved helping prosperity (such as during times of famine), dealing out even-handed justice, and protecting people and their property. Once he helped the Vibhore to reach his goal by giving the devotion of his power in order to reduce the poverty from his kingdom.[3]

Protection of his subjects was seen as the first and foremost duty of the king. This was achieved by punishing internal aggression, such as thieves among his people, and meeting external aggression, such as attacks by foreign entities.[4] Moreover, the king possessed executive, judicial, and legislative dharmas, which he was responsible for carrying out. If he did so wisely, the king believed that he would be rewarded by reaching the pinnacle of the abode of the sun, or heaven.[5] However, if the king carried out his office poorly, he feared that he would suffer hell or be struck down by a deity.[6] As scholar Charles Drekmeier notes, "dharma stood above the king, and his failure to preserve it must accordingly have disastrous consequences". Because the king's power had to be employed subject to the requirements of the various castes' dharma, failure to "enforce the code" transferred guilt on to the ruler, and according to Drekmeier some texts went so far as to justify revolt against a ruler who abused his power or inadequately performed his dharma. In other words, Danda as both the king's tool of coercion and power, yet also his potential downfall, "was a two-edged sword".[7]

The executive duty of the king was primarily to carry out punishment, or Danda (Hindu Punishment).[8] For instance, a judge who would give an incorrect verdict out of passion, ignorance, or greed is not worthy of the office, and the king should punish him harshly.[9] Another executive dharma of the king is correcting the behavior of brahmanas that have strayed from their dharma, or duties, through the use of strict punishment.[10] These two examples demonstrated how the king was responsible for enforcing the dharmas of his subjects, but also was in charge of enforcing rulings in more civil disputes.[11] Such as if a man is able to repay a creditor but does not do so out of mean-spiritedness, the king should make him pay the money and take five percent for himself.[12]

The judicial duty of the king was deciding any disputes that arose in his kingdom and any conflicts that arose between dharmasastra and practices at the time or between dharmasastra and any secular transactions.[13] When he took the judgment seat, the king was to abandon all selfishness and be neutral to all things.[14] The king would hear cases, such as thefts, and would use dharma to come to a decision.[15] He was also responsible for making sure that the witnesses were honest and truthful by way of testing them.[16] If the king conducted these trials according to dharma, he would be rewarded with wealth, fame, respect, and an eternal place in heaven, among other things.[17] However, not all cases fell upon the shoulders of the king. It was also the king's duty to appoint judges that would decide cases with the same integrity as the king.[18]

The king also had a legislative duty, which was utilized when he would enact different decrees, such as announcing a festival or a day of rest for the kingdom.[19]

Rajadharma largely portrayed the king as an administrator above all else.[20] The main purpose for the king executing punishment, or danda, was to ensure that all of his subjects were carrying out their own particular dharmas.[21] For this reason, rajadharma was often seen as the root of all dharma and was the highest goal.[22] The whole purpose of the king was to make everything and everyone prosper.[23] If they were not prospering, the king was not fulfilling his dharma.[24] He had to carry out his duties as laid down in the science of government and "not act at his sweet will."[25] Indeed, in the major writings on dharma (i.e. dharmasastra, etc.), the dharma of the king was regarded as the "capstone" of the other castes' dharma both due to the king's goal of securing the happiness and prosperity of his people[26] as well as his ability to act as the "guarantor" of the whole social structure through the enforcement of Danda (Hindu Punishment).[27]

In contemporary India, an idea pervades various levels of Hindu society: the "Ramrajya", or a kind of Hindu Golden Age in which through his strict adherence to rajadharma as outline in the Hindu epics and elsewhere, Rama serves as the ideal model of the perfect Hindu king. As Derrett put it, "everyone lives at peace" because "everyone knows his place" and could easily be forced into that place if necessary.[28] Ram's actions with regards to his wife Sita at the end of the Ramayana arguably serve as the best example of his utmost regard for his dharma as king, although other actions of his both before and after his defeat of Ravana are equally revered.

Famous personalities

See also


  1. Lariviere, 1989
  2. Kane, p.101
  3. Kane, p.101
  4. Kane, p.56
  5. Lariviere, p.19
  6. Kane, p.96
  7. Drekmeier, p.10
  8. Kane, p.21
  9. Lariviere, p.18
  10. Lariviere, p.48
  11. Derrett, p.598
  12. Lariviere, p.67
  13. Kane, p.9
  14. Lariviere, p.10
  15. Lariviere, p.8
  16. Lariviere, p.18
  17. Lariviere, p.9
  18. Lariviere, p.20
  19. Kane, p.98
  20. Kane, p.31
  21. Kane, p.21
  22. Kane, p.3
  23. Kane, p.11
  24. Kane, p.62
  25. Kane, p.31
  26. Derret, p.599
  27. Drekmeier, p.10-11
  28. Derrett, p.598


  • Derrett, J.D.M. "Rajadharma." The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Aug., 1976), pp. 597–609
  • Drekmeier, Charles. Kingship and Community in Early India. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1962.
  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. 1968. History of Dharmaśāstra: (ancient and Mediæval Religious and Civil Law In India). [2d ed.] rev. and enl. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
  • Lariviere, Richard W. 1989. "The Naradasmrti." University of Pennsylvania Studies on South Asia.

External links