After the decline of the Gupta Empire no unifying force comparable with it emerged for nine centuries, leaving north India at the mercy of any marauding band that chose to ride down through the passes. Revealed instead are cruel and extortionate north Indian kingdoms, like those of the Muslim sultans of Delhi, and the petty empires of scores of warlike princelings, each the predator of a tract of country dominated by a central fortress. Although incessantly preoccupied with war, these rulers, the Rajputs, contributed to their country’s defencelessness by their quarrelling, lack of a common purpose, and retention of old-fashioned if romantic military methods against enemies who had cannon and had advanced the use of cavalry to an exact science. Reckless, indeed suicidal, bravery was no effective answer to these things. It was a tradition of the Rajputs, when one of their fortresses was doomed to fall, to burn all their women and children alive on a funeral pyre while the men sallied out to meet death at the hands of their enemies.
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