AskDefine | Define Kshatriya

Dictionary Definition

Kshatriya n : a member of the royal or warrior Hindu caste

Extensive Definition

For the Bollywood film of the same name see Kshatriya
Kshatriya (, from , ') is one of the four varnas (social orders) in Hinduism. It constitutes the military and noble order of the traditional Vedic-Hindu social system as outlined by the Vedas and the Laws of Manu. Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira all belonged to this social order.
Initially in ancient Vedic society, this position was achieved on the merits of a person's aptitude (guna), conduct (karma), and nature (swabhava). Over the years it became hereditary.


In Sanskrit, it is derived from kšatra, meaning "dominion, power, government" from a root kšī "to rule, govern, possess". Old Persian xšāyaθiya ("emperor") and xšaθra ("realm") are related to it, as are the New Persian words šāh ("emperor") and šahr ("city", "realm"). The Thai word for "king", kasat, is also derived from it. The term denotes aristocratic status.
In the early Vedic civilization, the warrior caste was called rājanya or kšatrīya. The former was an adjectival form of rājan "ruler, king" from a root rāj "to rule", cognate to the Latin rex "king", the German Reich "empire/realm", and the Thai racha "king". In Persia, the satraps, or "kshatrapa", were the governors, or "protectors", of the Persian Empire's provinces.

Holy Warriors

A Hindu ruler was bound by the holy scriptures to govern as a Dharma-Raja (Just Ruler), with the main duties being protection of his subjects and livestock.
  • The Rig Veda states:
praja arya jyotiragrah'. RV, VII. 33.17
People ruled by Aryans (nobles) are led by the Divine light. King Rama of Ayodhya is considered the greatest of the Dharma-Rajas:
arya sarva samascaiva sadaiva priyadarsanah
A noble who worked for the equality of all, was dear to everyone. Rama is also considered an avatar of Vishnu.
Like the ancient monarch Manu, father of the human race,
Dasaratha ruled his people with a father's loving grace.

Symbol of Kshatriya

In the initiation rituals, the Nyagrodha (Ficus Indica or India Fig/Banyan tree) danda, or staff, is assigned to the Kshatriya class.
The Nyagrodha or Banyan tree, (not to be confused with the Peepul, Ficus Religiosus or Sacred Fig), with its hanging branch like roots which turn into trunks and can grow to cover acres, was regarded as resembling the Kshatriya. The Nyagrodha is the kshatra power of trees, and the Kshatriya is the kshatra power [among humans], for the Kshatriya dwells fastened to the kingdom, and is supported [by it]. The Nyagrodha is fastened to the ground by its downward growths, and supported [by it]''.
"The staff made of this wood is given to the Kshatriya initiate with a mantra imparting physical vitality or 'ojas'".
In the Manu Smriti, or Laws of Manu, the Kshatriya caste is given the Varna (Color) red.

Vedic Origin

Version one

The Universe, in Hindu mythology, came into being through the yawn of the Adi-Purusha, the one eternal being. He then felt it necessary to monitor the universe. So, he created Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, entrusting them with preservance and re-creation. These two were the two sides of the same coins, a replica of HIM. The primary job now was that of procreation. Lord Vishnu created Brahma from his navel, an incarnation of none other than Lord Shiva. Brahma, the procreator, then set about his task of creating the universe. He created the celestial bodies, earth, mountains, water, air and ether - known in Hinduism as Panch Maha Bhuta. He then created the Sapta Rishis, (Seven wise sages who would take the task of infusing life on the earth). An eighth rishi Narad was born, who declared that he was not interested in procreation and renounced his life for the propagation of Knowledge and Bhakti (Worship). The seven sages started with what their Father had ordered them. They came to be known as Prajapatis (Propagators of the divine human race). Rishi Kashyap grew to be wiser than the rest and Brahma married him off to Daksh Prajapati's two daughters - Diti and Aditi. Diti turned out to be a scheming and jealous woman always trying to belittle and outdo virtuous Aditi. This quality in her gave rise to a human race with the same inherent qualities and they came to be known as Daityas. Virtuous Aditi gave birth to equally virtuous and illustrious sons and they came to be known as Adaityas. Surya (Sun) and Indra (Fire) were born of Aditi. Hence the Sun God is also known as Aditya.
When Brahma was involved in the job of procreation due to toil and perspiration, a negative energy emanated from him. This negative energy took form of Rakshasas (Devils) Madhu and Kaitabha, evil and inhuman souls. They started torturing Brahma. Brahma appealed to Lord Vishnu who readily appeared and killed both of them. He explained to Brahma that when a positive energy is utilized, negative energy also emanates, and that a special race of humans should be created to protect the entire human race. Brahma acting on this advice sat down for meditation. At the end of the day four different forms of energy for the human race were formed out of Brahma's body. Brahmins were created at dawn, Kshatriyas at Noon, Vaishyas at dusk and Shudras at night. Note that these were the Varnas (colors) and not 'caste' (Jati) as now thought of today. Usually this is told as Brahmins were born from Brahma’s head, ending with Shudras from the feet. In the Rig Veda the varnas were not rigid and were related to ones actions.
The Brahmin varna was reddish as the sky before dawn, Kshatriya varna as the Sun at noon, Vaishya as the evening sky and Shudra the color of night sky. Gradually, the Varna system caught hold of Indian Sub Continent and each varna did its job as per guidelines of Brahma. Brahmins and Kshatriyas were the upper castes and Vaishyas and Shudras the lower castes. Both, Brahmins and Kshatriyas were allowed to study the Vedas. Kshatriyas (pronounced as shatria) also studied the ancient martial arts which were eventually carried by Buddhist monks like Bodhidharma (a Kshatriya) to China and Japan. The Brahmans and Kshatriyas and later the Vaishyas had to perform a communion ceremony called the Upanayanam (thread ceremony) that would symbolize their entry into the Aryan social structure and would be considered reborn, i.e dvijas (twice born). This meant that you accepted the Vedas as the word of God and were willing to perform the rituals and duties outlined under the guidance of your spiritual guide, the Brahman priest.

Version two

Another version in the Rig Veda refers to the ways in which Gods four body parts make up the four classes, depending on the nature or values that the human holds. The Brahmans hold spiritual and intellectual values and are in charge of teaching the Vedic Sanskrit, thus are made up of his head. The Kshatryas are the warriors that protect the countries and thus are made up of his arms. The Vaishyas are the farmers and merchants in the production nature and thus are made up of his belly and the Shudras are the laborers who perform menial chores of farming, labor, artisans and all the jobs required of a society and thus are made up of his legs. This was interpreted as meaning that no one caste is more important than the other and that society cannot survive without all parts working together.

Version three

Yet another version is that in Vedic theology, Manu is considered the law-giver and progenitor of humanity. He had over 50 sons. Manu was both king and priest and his children (and thus all of humanity) are considered highborn. Due to the eventual differences in occupations, people ended up in different jātis and caste. Those who studied the Vedas became known as Brahmins, those who practiced trade became Vaishya, those who labored became Sudra, and those who took up martial arts became Kshatriyas. The word Arya means "noble" and was initially only used for kings and kshatriyas as it is related to the word "Aristocracy".


There is confusion between Varna, Jati and Caste. While the term varna refers to the four broad different classes in society, the term jati refers to the different specific endogamous sections of the Hindu Society which is known as castes. Varna means "color" as well as "veil". It shows the four different ways in which the Divine Self is hidden in human beings. In the context of color people have confused it to mean race but it actually represents the distinct qualities (guna) that the four functional classes possess in their hearts and minds. The four different qualities of human beings:
  1. If a person possessed the qualities of purity, love, faith and detachment, seek true knowledge and have a spiritual temperament, they would be represented by the color White (sattva = truthful). Those that belong to this color, belong to the Brahman class.
  2. If a person possessed the qualities of action, will, aggression, and energy, seek honor, power, status and have a martial and political temperament, they would be represented by the color Red (rajas = energetic). Those that belong to this color belong to the Kshatriya class.
  3. If a person tried to seek communication, interchange, trade, business and possessed a commercial temperament they were represented by the color Yellow. They make up the Vaishya class.
  4. For those individual in society who showed ignorance, inertia, and dullness, they were represented by the color Black (tamas = inert, solid). Those belonging to this color are thought to be dependent on the rest of the world for motivation and seek nothing as they exist in those of the servile disposition and make up the Shudra class.
One hymn of the Rig Veda states:
कारुरहं ततो भिषगुपलप्रक्षिणी नना । (RV 9.112.3)
"I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the corn......"
Clearly this color scheme had nothing to do with race and everything to do with a person’s aptitude.
  • Panchjanya, meaning five people, is the common name given to the five most ancient Vedic kshatriya tribes. It is supposed they are all descendants of the Turvasu, Yadu, Puru, Anu and Druhyu. For example, Yadav is descended from the Yadu; Saini is descended from Sini, Paurav is descended from the Puru; etc.

Other Theories

As stated earlier the caste system was very fluid early on and an individual rose or fell depending on his own merit. Historians generally agree that caste became hereditary around the time of the rise of Buddhism and Jainism based on archaeological, literary, and artistic evidence of the communities that existed in India. Gautama Buddha and Mahavira are two Kshatriya sages who made a lasting impression on the world. They did not believe in the preeminence of the Vedas and taught to the masses, not keeping spirituality to an elite few. Many of the ancient rulers such as Ashoka Maurya were ardent followers of this faith and promoted it throughout the Mauryan empire. This resulted in the decline in status of the Brahman order. Priests in all three faiths were the record keeper and as you will see in the coming examples there was a definite trend towards placing rulers in the Sudra varna if they did not follow Vedic teachings and maintain the prominence of the priestly order, losing their Kshatriya status.
Two camps exist about the importance of these texts. One camp is similar to the literalists of the Christian faith who believe that their holy texts are verbatim documentation of real people, events and dates and that modern society is descended from them. The other camp believes that the holy texts are not meant to be taken literally and should be used symbolically as examples of the proper way to live.
Those who believe the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas were verbatim documents feel that modern Kshatriyas are descended from the Vedic Kshatriyas. The reason for the controversy is that we do not have any physical evidence of their existence. There are no bones, forts, weapons, coins, monuments, pictures etc. discovered to state unequivocally that they existed.
The literalists believe that most of the Kshatriya communities descend from Surya, Chandra, or Agni. The Surya descendants claim descent from the Sun Dynasty (Suryavansh). Rama also belonged to this dynasty. Maharaja Agrasen also belonged from the same descent. The Chandra descendants claim descent from the Lunar Dynasty (Chandravansh). Krishna also was born in this dynasty. Yaduvanshi Kshtriyas consider him as an ancestor. This is based on the writings of the Rig Veda and other Puranas. Great epics, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Raghuvamsa, also support it.

Jain/Buddhist Origin

According to Jainism, Rishabh, the first Tirthankar founded three varnas namely Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Later, Bharat, eldest son of Rishabh, and the first Chakravarti founded the Brahmin varna in the absence of Rishabh. “They will promote inequality in people.”
Thus four varnas came into existence: namely, the Kshatriyas, Brahmins, Vaishyas and Shudras. According to Jain and Buddhist literature, Kshatriyas are nothing but those who own a farm, i.e. farmers. And kshatriyas are descendants of Rishabh, the first Jain Tirthankar. This fact is clearly stated in many Hindu puranic texts like the Bhagwat Purana, Brahma Purana, Vishnu Purana, etc.
The clan of Rishabh was called Ikshwaku and is thus the clan of all khsatiyas. Later two branches of this clan came into existence. The first was Suryawanshi which was named after Adityayash (Ark kirti), the elder son of Bharat and the Grand Son of Rishabh and second Somvansh named after Somyash, the elder son of Bahubali. (Bahubali was younger brother of Bharat and son of Rishabh). Rajputs and Marathas believe that Suryavansh was divided, later, into 36 clans and Somvansh was divided into 60 clans. Thus the total number of Kshatriya clans became 96

Establishments and assimilation

In ancient times there was mobility between varnas, as people learned new skills and changed their actions and occupations. The nomadic tribes of ancient India did not have a fixed caste system. They initially assigned roles based on an individual’s aptitude and ability. This was necessary in order to ensure the tribe's survival. The stronger members of the tribe became the warriors and were given higher status in society, as they were more important to the survival of the tribe at the time. As the tribes became more familiar with farming they built up surpluses and settled. This more sedentary and leisurely lifestyle shifted the people's focus to accumulating wealth and finding a meaning to life. Priests began to take the preeminent role in society as they ensured spiritual salvation. This led to society forming a more rigid social system, where one's position was determined by birth rather than merit. Thereafter, those in the more powerful classes enforced this caste system to remain in power, a pattern also exhibited by the nobles of Europe. During the Epic Age people began to question these institutions.
Many historical rulers came from other castes, or were descended from non-Hindu foreign conquerors, and were either granted de facto Kshatriya status by virtue of the power they held, or they created fictionalized family histories to connect themselves to past Kshatriya rulers. For instance, the Sakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Paradas, etc., were foreign invaders from the northwest, but were assimilated into the Indian community as Kshatriyas.

Non-Orthodox Kshatriyas

  • Though the Ashtadhyayi of Panini (sutra 4.1.168-175) attests that the Kamboja and Gandhara were very important Kshatriya kingdoms of Uttarapatha during or prior to Paninian times (500 BC), they came to be regarded as Sudras for not following the teachings of the Vedas. See more on ancient Kamboja Kshatriyas.
  • The Manusmriti, written about 200 AD states that the Sakas (Scythians), Yavanas (Ionian, Indo-Greeks), Kambojas (Central Asians), Paradas (Sinkiang), Pahlavas (Persians), Kiratas (Nepal, Assam), Dravidas,Thevar (Tamil), and Daradas were originally noble Kshatriyas but were relegated to the Barbaric (Vrishala) status due to their neglect of the Brahmanas as well as due to their non-observance of the sacred Brahmanical codes (X/43-44).
  • Anushasanaparava of the Mahabharata also views the Sakas, Kambojas and the Yavanas etc. in the same light. Patanjali in his Mahabhasya regards the Sakas and Yavanas as pure Sudras (II.4.10).
  • The Vartika of the Katyayana informs us that the kings of the Sakas and the Yavanas, like those of the Kambojas, may also be addressed by their respective tribal names.
  • The Mahabharata also associates the Sakas, Yavanas, Gandharas (Northwest India), Kambojas (Pamir-Badakshan), Pahlavas, Tusharas, Sabaras, Barbaras, Dravidas, Boyars etc.. and addresses them all as the Barbaric tribes of Uttarapatha.
  • In another verse the epic groups the Shakas, Kambojas and Khashas together and state them as the tribes from Udichya, i.e. north division (5/169/20).
  • The Kishkindha Kanda of the Ramayana locates the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas and the Paradas in the extreme north-west beyond the Himavat (i.e. Hindukush) (43/12) in the Shakadvipa, adjoining the land of Uttarakurus.
  • The Udyogaparava of the Mahabharata (5/19/21-23) tells us that the composite army of the Kambojas, Yavanas and Sakas had participated in the Mahabharata war under the supreme command of Sudakshina Kamboja. The epic repeatedly applauds this composite army as being very fierce and wrathful. Some verses of Mahabharata also attest that the Tusharas or Tukharas were also included in the Kamboja division (e.g.: MBH 6.66.17-21; MBH 8.88.17). Tocharians
  • Puranic accounts attest that the Dravidas are Kshatriyas and are said to be descendants of the sons of Vishwamitra. Like the Kambojas, Sakas, Yavanas, Daradas, Khashas etc, the Dravidas were recorded as Kshatriyas who no longer were initiated into the sacred thread due to their neglect of the Brahmanas as well as due to their non-observance of the sacred Brahmanical codes.

Participation in World Wars

The British Indian Army heavily depended on the Kshatriyas. There were many Kshatriya regiments that served in the world wars.

World War I

At the center of Delhi stands the India Gate, a First World War monument dedicated to the ‘dead of the Indian armies who fell in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa and Gallipoli’ (Dr Santanu Das).
The Garwhal Rifles were stationed in France in the 1st World War.
The Anglo-Indian Division was stationed in Iraq at Kut-al-Amara near the Tigris River, a stronghold of the Turks. There they fought not only on land but also against the German-Turkish air force attacks. The Grenadier Regiment was also in Iraq in this war on the Mesopotamia of the Mesopotamian Campaign and the Siege of Kut.
The Jats formed one of the largest ethnic group in the British Indian Army during World War I (DefenceIndia). A large number of them were recruited in the British Indian Army during World War I.
The Rajputs were recruited into the British Indian Army as soon as the 19th century. They were a significant force from India to fight the war (DefenceIndia).
In addition to the previous places mentioned, the British Indian Army also served in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

World War II

The British Indian Army in the following list of operations:
  1. Middle East Theatre of World War II; East African campaign, Anglo-Iraqi War, Syria-Lebanon campaign, Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran
  2. North African campaign; Operation Compass, Operation Crusader, First Battle of El Alamein, Second Battle of El Alamein
  3. Battle of Malaya
  4. Battle of Singapore
  5. Burma Campaign; Battle of Kohima, Battle of Imphal
  6. Italian campaign; Battle of Monte Cassino
Hindus such as the Rajputs, Jats, Gorkhas, Marathas, Nairs of the Madras Regiment and others have fought against the 'Axis' enemies, mainly of Nazi Germany and Japan. Most Hindu soldiers are Gorkhas, and engraved on their graves in Sanskrit are the words, Om Bhagwattee Nammo. Rest of the particulars are the same.
That of Gajraj Singh, Plot 3 reads "The following Hindu soldier of the Indian Army is honoured here....".
The Janjua Rajputs took part in the fighting in both World Wars.
The Kumaoni, Dogra and Garhwali (hill Rajputs) fought with bravery and honour in both the great wars.
The regiments were Jat Regiment, Rajputana Rifles, Gorkha and others.

Kshatriya Clans

The major branches of Kshatriya varna are Chandravanshi, claiming descent from Chandra, Suryavanshi, claiming direct descent from Ramachandra and descent from Surya, Agnivanshi, claiming descent from Agni and Nagavanshi claiming descent from the Nāgas.


The Suryavanshi lineage is one of the three lineages into which the Kshatriya caste of Hindus is divided. They claim descent from Surya - god of the sun. All present-day Suryavanshis also claim descent from the Hindu God Rama, who was himself born into a Suryavanshi dynasty.


The Chandravanshi lineage is one of the three lineages into which the Kshatriya caste of Hindus is divided. According to legend, the Chandravanshis are descended from Chandra, in the Lunar Dynasty or the Hindu Moon God.
The Yaduvanshi lineage are the major branch of the Chandravanshi lineage. The Yaduvanshis claim descent from Krishna, who in turn was born into a Chandravanshi dynasty. Several Indian castes such as Sainis, Rajputs of Bhati Clan, Jadaun Rajputs (Madhya Pradesh) and the Jats of Mathura/Bharatpur claim descent from the Yaduvanshi lineage


The Agnivanshi are people belonging to the Agnivansha. According to legend, they are descended from Agni, the Hindu God of Fire. The Agnivanshi lineage is one of the three lineages into which the Kshatriya caste of Hindus is divided.


Some Kshatriyas claim descent from the Nāga or the "serpent dynasty", and are called Nagavanshi. Some clans of Nair and Jat caste claim Nagavanshi descent. The Nagavanshi (or Nagabanshi) are known for ruling Chhotanagpur.

South India

These communities are traditionally designated as Kshatriyas:


  • Ahom kings of Assam claimed descent from Indra (identified with Khunlung) and Syama (a low-caste woman), and called themselves Indravanshi (or Indravamsa) Kshatriyas.
  • The Brahmavansha lineage descends from the Brahmavanshi king Chulki.
  • The Vayuvanshi are another Kshatriya clan although not much is known about the clan.
  • The Rexulvanshis are popular for being the kings of Surguja.
  • The alien hordes that didn't follow priestly customs or traditions (Shakas, Kushans, Indo-Greeks, Hunas and Parthians) were stated as Vratya Kshatriyas in Manusmriti.

Outside the Indian subcontinent


Further reading

  • History and Culture of Indian People, The Vedic Age, p 313-314
  • The late Shri Harilal Upadhyay: This great Gujarati author researched both the ancient and modern eras and wrote books which can be considered as encyclopedic novels. He wrote books on both the Chandravansh and Suryavash. Further details are found at his official web site. Although he wrote all his work in his mother tongue (Gujarati) the site provides some comprehensive information in English. Article about the author also found on Wikipedia harilal upadhyay
Kshatriya in German: Kshatriya
Kshatriya in Spanish: Chatria
Kshatriya in French: Kshatriya
Kshatriya in Korean: 크샤트리아
Kshatriya in Hindi: क्षत्रिय
Kshatriya in Indonesian: Kesatria
Kshatriya in Marathi: क्षत्रिय
Kshatriya in Dutch: Kshattriya
Kshatriya in Japanese: クシャトリヤ
Kshatriya in Polish: Kszatrija
Kshatriya in Portuguese: Xátria
Kshatriya in Romanian: Casta Kşatriya
Kshatriya in Russian: Кшатрий
Kshatriya in Simple English: Kshatriya
Kshatriya in Swedish: Kshatriya
Kshatriya in Ukrainian: Кшатрії
Kshatriya in Chinese: 刹帝利
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