My first name, “Niraj”, means “water-born” in Sanskrit; it is a bahuvrihi or kenning for the lotus flower—which is also the meaning of my father’s name. As for my surname, the following is a little blurb written about its origin.
A Brief Biography of Ramsingh Rajsingh (1676-1751): The Reconquista in India
By Subhash C. Inamdar, in consultation with Dr. Janak Inamdar
The first half of the 18th century was a period of transition in Indian history. It was the beginning of the precipitous decline of the Mughal Empire. The preceding century had seen it reach the zenith of its power and glory, but it was faced with the rise of the dynamic Maratha Empire, which, from the time of its founder Shivaji, wanted to wrest India back from Muslim rule.
The death of the fanatic Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 led to a weakening of Mughal authority all over India. The Marathas chose to strike in Malwa and Gujarat. Gujarat had “enchanting natural beauty, enormous natural wealth, and prosperous commerce” that led it to be described as “the beauty and ornament of India”.
It was in this setting that Ramsingh Rajsingh, born into a Brahmbhatt family in a village near Dabhoi, decided to challenge the tyranny of the local Mughal governor or Nawab. Rulers at that time often sought the services of local gentry, who would be called in at a time of crisis. Ramsingh Rajsingh had, at any time, 25-50 horsemen who were ready to fight and die for him. Ramsingh Rajsingh decided to offer his services to the Maratha General Pilaji Gaekwad and join him in his exploits and raids into Gujarat. In 1719 he raided the important trading city of Surat, defeated the Mughal forces, and exacted huge payments from the city and the British, who had factors there.
It was a period of chaos and confusion. There were factions among the Mughals and Marathas who fought over the spoils. There were supposedly five attempts on the life of Ramsingh Rajsingh, whose life was at risk over a Hindu cause against foreign rulers. Success finally was achieved when Pilaji Gaekwad conquered Dabhoi and Baroda from Mughal hands on May 3rd, 1727. Southern Gujarat was now under Maratha rule.
In 1730, Ramsingh Rajsingh was recognized for his bravery and support by the Marathas, who granted him the title of “Inamdar”, the revenue of 19 villages, and 1663 acres in the village of Valasan. He moved there to settle in 1740. He died at the age of 75 or 76 while on a trip to Pune on behalf of the Gaekwads.
For several generations after Ramsingh Rajsingh, the family lived primarily off their land revenues. My great-grandfather, however, was a lawyer (as were several other family members of his generation), and began a successful law practice in British East Africa (also known as Kenya) with his cousin. While my great-grandfather later returned to India, my grandfather moved to East Africa at the age of 18, and it was there that his family (my dad included) resided until Kenyan independence in 1963.