Indian Royal Titles & Aristocratic Ranks
The diverse cultures of the modern Indian subcontinent are the result of centuries of change and evolution, incorporating a bewildering array of tribes, kingdoms, cultures, languages and faiths. These tumultuous times resulted in a rich and fascinating legacy of royal titles and aristocratic ranks. Even today, the precise status and position within the hierarchy can differ between regions and religions.
Although the official duties, power and privileges nobles and royals ceased when India was declared a republic in 1950, India’s aristocracy and regal lineages still play an inspiring and cherished role in Indian culture, with modern royals and nobles revered and adored like Hollywood celebrities.
To help you understand the hierarchy of Indian royal titles and noble ranks, here’s a guide to some of the most popular and enduring names and terms within the Indian aristocracy and its royal families.
Padshah is one of the most esteemed royal titles within Indian and Persian culture. The origin of the word means ‘master king’ and the title was used through the centuries by a number of high-ranking monarchs to express their imperial power or elevated sovereignty.
Given the rich diversity of Indian history, it’s not surprising that the title can be spelt in a number of ways, such as Padishah or Padeshah. Its precise definition also varies, representing status and ranks such as The Great or King of Kings, and is a similar stature to the European rank of Emperor.
Nawab was also a royal title given to a sovereign ruler, though was generally deemed to be a level below that of an Emperor or Padshah. This unique title was often granted to Muslim rulers throughout the Mogul Empire who held semi-autonomous control over their regions or vassal states, though they remained loyal and subject to the imperial Moghul ruler. In later times, the title of nawabi was granted by the British colonial Indian government, to persons of merit or particular importance.
The term translates as viceroy, as in an assistant to the king or sovereign. Nawab is the title for males within this role, and the female equivalent is Nawab Begum, or simply Begum. The children of a Nawab would be referred to as Nawabzada (sons) or Nawabzadi (daughters).
An Indian Maharaja is considered a king or prince, who would rank below a Padshah but above a Raja. The term derives from the Sanskrit words for great (mahat) and king (rajan). Throughout the evolution of the Indian subcontinent, it was the title of powerful imperial rulers such as Maharaja Sri Gupta, the 3rd-century founder of the Gupta dynasty, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the late 18th-century and early 19th-century ruler of the Sikh Empire.
In the earliest times, this title was reserved for princes of the blood or rulers of vast princely states. Over time, however, the title of Maharaja was applied or adopted by less powerful leaders and rulers, and on occasion was also awarded as a title of nobility that implied rank but did not entail power or land ownership.
The wife of a Maharaja would be called a Maharana, as would a female without a husband who ruled at this level. The children would be known as Maharaj Kumar (sons), or Maharaj Kumari (daughters).
Although the precise rank and role of a Raja varies across the Indian regions and cultures that make up India’s historic legacies, it is commonly regarded as the level of a reigning monarch, such as a king or ruler of a princely state. There are occasions, however, when the title of Raja implies a regal status or lineage, but without the power, privilege, land or wealth of a modern monarch.
The term Raja originates from rājan, a name of Sanskrit and Hindi origin, which means ruler (similar to the Latin word rex). Over the centuries it has become the root word for a number of royal titles, such as Rajadhiraja, which translates as King of Kings, Raja Bahadur, which means Illustrious King, and Rajadhiraja Bahadur – Illustrious King of Kings,
The wife of a Raja would be called Rani, as would a female in the role of a Raja. The children would be called Rajkumar (sons) or Rajkumari (daughters). The estate of a Raja may be referred to as a Raj, and the British rule over India before its independence in 1947 is often called The British Raj, ie British Rule.
The ancient title of Thakur hails from the feudal times of India’s history. The term derives from the Sanskrit word thākura, and implies such lofty noble status as idol, god, deity or lord. Over time, the rank and status of Thakur came to represent the equivalent of a European Duke or Prince.
The wife of a Thakur would be called a Thakurani, as would the female equivalent of this role. The sons of a Thakur would be called Kumar or Kumari, which means prince, and daughters would be called Kumari. The estate of a Thakur would be known as a Thikana.
The rich diversity of India is renowned the world over, and it is undoubtedly evident in its royal titles and aristocratic ranks. Although the hierarchy and pecking order may not be as clear cut and strictly adhered to as some other royal or aristocratic systems of the world, these Indian names and sobriquets are even more captivating for their colourful variety and nuances. As a result, the evolution and legacies of these royal and noble titles are as fascinating as the individuals they came to represent.
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