History of Bikaner

History of Bikaner

Bikaner state was founded in the 15th century and persisted until shortly after India's Independence in 1947.

Earlier this region was known as Jangladesh which was a region of northern Rajasthan state in India. It included the present-day districts of Bikaner, Churu, Ganganagar, and Hanumangarh.It is bounded on the south by Marwar and Jaisalmer regions, on the east by Ajmer-Merwara region.

Early history

Prior to middle 15th century rule, the region that is Bikaner was a barren wilderness called "Jangladesh". [cite web
url = http://www.rajasthantourism.gov.in/destinations/bikaner/bikaneroverview.htm
title = Bikaner
accessdate = 2007-09-08
] The territory forming the boundaries of Bikaner was possessed by Jat and Rajput clans: [Thakur Deshraj, Jat Itihas, 1934, p. 616-624] The north-eastern and north-western Rajasthan, known by the name Jangala Desh since Mahabharata times, was inhabited by Jat clans ruled by their own chiefs and largely governed by their own customary law. [Dasharatha Sharma, Rajasthan through the ages, Jodhpur, 1966, Vol.I, p. 287-288] The chiefs enjoyed a large amount of autonomy, from their nominal overlord, the sultanate of Delhi.

Whole of the region was possessed by six or seven cantons namely Punia, Godara, Saran, Sihag, Beniwal, Johiya [Tod. Pages 1126 and 1127.] and Kaswan [Ibid., Seventh clan of Jats] . Besides these cantons there were several sub-castes of Jats, simultaneously wrested from Rajput proprietors for instance Bagor, Kharipatta, Mohila or Mehila, [Tod. Pages 1126 and 1127.] Bhukar, Bhadu, Chahar. [Thakur Deshraj, Jat Itihas, Delhi, 2002, p. 269-285] According to History of Bikaner State and by the scholars, the region was occupied by Jats with their seven territories. It is said about Jat territories that "Saat Patti Sattavan Majh" (means seven long and fifty-seven small territories). [G.S.L.Devra, op. cit., Cf. Dayaldas ri Khyat, Part II, p. 7-10] [Ibid., p.103]

The rise of Rao Bika

About 1465 Rao Bika, a Rathor Rajput, and a junior son of Rao Jodha, king of Marwar, provoked by a stray comment by his father, left Marwar (Jodhpur) with a small contingent of Rathore warriors (500 soldier and 100 cavalrymen) to create his own kingdom. He was accompanied by his uncle, Rawat Kandhal, who provided politico-strategic advice.

Encouraged by the mystic Karni Mata, who he had meet early in his travels he took advantage of the internal rivalries of the Jat clans so that by 1485 he was able to establish his own territory and build a small fort called Rati Ghati at the city which still bears his name. In 1488 he began the building of the city itself. In the beginning the neighboring Bhati chiefs were suspicious of the new growing power in their vicinity. Karni Mata, who had become the "kuladevi" of Rao Bika brought the rivalry between the Rathore & Bhatis to an end by inspiring Rao Shekha - the powerful Bhati chief of Pugal, to give the hand of his daughter in marriage to Rao Bika. This consolidated Rao Bika's power in the region and proved to be a milestone in the history of the state.

Upon Rao Jodha's death in 1488 Rao Bika stormed Mehrangarh Fort, [Beny & Matheson. Page 47.] an event that was to lead to 200 years of intermittent wars between Marwar and Bikaner.

According to James Tod, the spot which Rao Bika selected for his capital, was the birthright of a Nehra Jat, who would only concede it for this purpose on the condition that his name should be linked in perpetuity with its surrender. Naira, or Nera, was the name of the proprietor, which Bika added to his own, thus composing that of the future capital, Bikaner. [Tod, page 141.]

Remains of the original small fortress Rao Bika built can still be seen around the walled city, near Lakshminath ji temple. The royal family of Bikaner lived there, till Raja Rai Singh Ji built a new fort called “Chintamani” (now Junagarh) between 1589 to 1593 AD.

According to legend Bika consulted a holy man called Jamboji, who foretold that Bika's line would reign for 450 years. While Bika was pleased with this prediction, his uncle when he heard of the prediction thought a longer period of power should have been prophesied. He confronted the holy man while he was in a deep trance and roused him by thrusting burning incense under his nose. [Beny & Matheson. Page 47.] Jamboji told him 'All right take 50 years more or less but of trial and tribulation'. [Crump and Toh. Page 193.]

Rao Bika died in 1504. His successors benefited from the weak rule of Suraj Mal of Marwar and the disruption caused by Babur's invasion of India to consolidate and extend their possessions [Martinelli & Michell. Page 218] until by the 17th century all the Jat clans (including the powerful Godara clan) had accepted the suzerainty of the rulers of Bikaner. [G.S.L. Devra, op. cit., 7-8, Cf. Dayaldas ri Khyat, part 2, pages 4-5]

One of the most successful earlier rulers was Jait Singh (1526-39) until he was killed by the forces of Rao Maldev of Marwar. He was succeeded by his son Kalyan Mai (1539-71) who under pressure from the Marwar forces retreated to the Punjab where he joined with Sher Shah who expelled the Mughal ruler Humayun in 1540. With Sher Shah's support Kalyan Mai was able by 1545 to recover his lost territories from Rao Maldev.

The Mughal Era

The return of Humayun to power meant that Bikaner due to its involved with Sher Shah came into conflict with the Mughals again. However Kalyan Mai by using all the advantages of the harsh desert environment around Bikaner was able to defeat any invading Mughal army. [Crump and Toh. Page 193.] The coming of Akbar to power saw the Mughal empire turn to diplomacy instead of force to bring the individual Rajput states into the empire. As a result Raja Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner was among the first Rajput Chiefs to make an alliance with the Mughal Empire. As a result during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar the rulers of Bikaner were esteemed among the most loyal adherents of the empire and held high ranks as Mansabdars of special order in the imperial court. They served as military commanders in various Mughal campaigns all over the Indian sub-continent. In 1570 Akbar married a daughter of Rao Kalyan Singh. Kalyan's son, Rai Singh, who succeeded him in 1571, was one of Akbar's most distinguished generals and the first Raja of Bikaner; his daughter married Salim, afterwards the emperor Jahangir. Two other distinguished chiefs of the house were Raja Karan Singh (1631-1669), who in the struggle of the sons of Shah Jahan for the throne threw in his lot with Aurangzeb, and his eldest son, Anup Singh (1669-1698), who fought with distinction in the Deccan, was conspicuous in the capture of Golconda, and earned the title of maharaja.With the decline of Mughal power in India with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 AD, the bonds of Mughals-Rajput relationship slowly dissolved. Sujan Singh (1700-35) formally broke the connection with the Mughal throne and from 1719 based himself within his kingdom.

From this time forward the history of Bikaner was mainly that of the wars with Marwar, which raged intermittently throughout the 18th century, most notabily in 1722 when Abhai Singh of Marwar invaded Bikaner and in 1739. During the latter conflict Bikaner was only saved by the intervention of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur, which lead to a close alliance between Bikaner and Jaipur. Maharaja Gai Singh (1746-87) made peace with Marwar which was seen as a sign of weakness by his nobles(thakurs), who rebelled, which lead to several years of conflict before he reestablished his authority.

Early and middle 19th Century

In 1802, during the last of the wars between Bikaner and Marwar, Mountstuart Elphinstone was passing through Bikaner on his way to Kabul; when Maharaja Surat Singh (1788-1828), applied to him for British protection, which was refused. In 1815 Surat Singh's tyranny led to a general rising of his thakurs, and in 1816 the maharaja again applied for British protection. On 9 May 1818 a Treaty of Perpetual Friendship was signed between the Bikaner ruler and the East India Company, [Digby, Simon. "Review of "The Relations of the House of Bikaner with the Central Powers, 1465-1949" by Kami Singh", "Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies", University of London, 38 (3), London: 1975, pp. 653-654.] and order was restored in the country by British troops. Ratan Singh, who succeeded his father in 1828, applied in vain in 1830 to the British government for aid against a fresh rebellion of his thakurs; such that during the next five years banditry became so rife on the borders that the government raised a special force to deal with it (the Shekhawati Brigade), to which over the next seven years Bikaner contributed part of the cost. Henceforth the relations of the maharajas with the British government were increasingly cordial.

By the middle of the 19th century the years of internal strife together with the financial and military demands put on Bikaner by the British had put the kingdom in debt. A sharp turnaround in the fortunes of the kingdom occurred in 1842 when Maharaja Ratan Singh took advantage of a shortage of pack animals to supply Bikaner's renowned camels at considerable profit to the British for their Afghan expedition. Ths turnaround was such that by 1844 he was able to reduce the dues on goods passing through Bikaner. He also gave assistance in both Sikh campaigns to the British. His son, Sardar Singh (1851-1872), was rewarded for help given during the Revolt of 1857 by an increase of territory. In 1868 a rising of the thakurs against his extortions led to the despatch of a British political officer, by whom affairs were adjusted.

Dungar Singh

Sardar Singh had no son, and upon his death in 1872 his widow and the state's principal ministers selected Dungar Singh, with the approval of the British government as his successor. The principal political event of his reign was the rebellion of the thakurs in 1883, owing to an attempt to increase the dues payable in lieu of military service; this led to the permanent location at Bikaner of a British political agent. Dungar Singh's reign was notable for the establishment of a modern administrative system, a police force, the state's first hospital and Bikaner becoming (in 1886) the first Indian Princely State to introduce electricity. [Crump and Toh. Page 198.]

Dungar Singh died in 1887 without a son; but he had adopted his brother, Ganga Singh (born 1880), who with the approval of the British government succeeded him as the 21st ruler of Bikaner.

Ganga Singh

Ganga Singh was educated at the Mayo College at Ajmer, and was invested with full powers in 1898. He attended King Edward's coronation in 1902, and accompanied the British army in person in the Chinese campaign of 1901 in command of the Bikaner Camel Corps, which also did good service in Somaliland in 1904. For his conspicuous services he was given the Kaisar-i-Hind medal of the first class, made an honorary major in the Indian army, a G.C.I.E., a K.C.S.I., and A.D.C. to the Prince of Wales. The military force consisted of 500 men, besides the Imperial Service Corps of the same strength.

The reign of Maharaja Ganga Singh was notable for great Socio-Political and economic development in every sphere of life viz. – Education, Health, Sanitation, Water Supply, Power Generation & Electricity, Irrigation, Post & Telegraph. Roads & Railways, Trade & Commerce, etc. The state owes to this ruler the opening up of new railways across the great desert, which was formerly passable only by camels, and the tapping of the valuable coal deposits that occur in the territory. The railway from Jodhpur had been extended towards Bhatinda in the Punjab; on the northern border, the Ghaggar canal in the Punjab irrigated about 5000 acres (20 km²).

Drought is a common occurrence, and the region faced the most severe famine in 1899-1900 which was so severely felt that by 1901 it reduced the population to 584,627, a decrease of 30%.

When Maharaja Ganga Singh died in 1943 he was succeeded by Maharaja Sadul Singh.


After the end of the British Raj, Maharaja Sadul Singh was one of the first rulers of the princely states, to sign on 7 April 1949 the instrument of accession with India, and Bikaner became a part of India. After the reorganization of states in 1960, Bikaner became a part, and the largest desert city in the state of Rajasthan.

Rulers of Bikaner

*Rao Bika (1485-1504)
*Rao Jait Singh (1526-39)
*Kaylan Singh (1539-1571)
*Rai Singh (1571-1611)
*Dalpat Singh (1611-1631)
*Karan Singh (1631-1674)
*Maharaja Anup Singh (1674-98)
*Maharaja Sujan Singh (1700-1735)
*Maharaja Zorawar Singh (1736-1746)
*Maharaja Gaj Singh (1746-1787)
*Maharaja Surat Singh (1788-1828)
*Maharaja Sardar Singh (1851-1872)
*Maharaja Dungar Singh (1872-1887)
*Maharaja Ganga Singh (1887-1943)
*Maharaja Sadul Singh (1943-1949)



*cite book| author=Beny, Roland; Matheson, Sylvia A.| title=Rajasthan - Land of Kings| origdate = 1984| publisher=Frederick Muller| location=London| id = ISBN 0-584-95061-6| pages = 200 pages
*cite book|author=Crump, Vivien; Toh, Irene| title= Rajasthan| location=London| publisher=Everyman Guides|origdate=1996| format = hardback| id = ISBN 1-85715-887-3| pages = 400 pages
*cite book|author=Martinelli, Antonio; Michell, George| title=The Palaces of Rajasthan| origdate = 2005| publisher=Frances Lincoln| location=London| id = ISBN 978-0711225053| pages = 271 pages
*cite book|author =Tod, James|title = Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Volume II (With a Preface by Douglas Sladen)|origdate = First Indian Edition 1983 (Originally Published in 1829-32)|publisher = Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 54, Jhansi Road, New Delhi-1100055.

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