The Agrarian System in Ancient India, Part 3


F.B. Solvyns, c. 1799

Oct 22, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial historical account of the early Agrarian System in Vedic Culture.

Apart from ensuring this very necessary provision for the security of the cultivators' tenures, the account of the Arthasastra is important as illustrating an enlightened policy of agricultural development under the auspices of the State. We find that remissions of the revenue together with the advances of grain, cattle and cash, are enjoined to be made to the cultivators on various occasions. Again, the construction of reservoirs is required to be undertaken either by the direct agency of the State or else with its active support.

On the other hand, it is a significant indication of the extreme length to which the king's special jurisdiction over the cultivators could be pressed that he is enjoined to exercise a strict control over their lives. Not only are the family duties in their case to be enforced by means of fines, but they are also forbidden to indulge in innocent recreations lest there be obstruction in the cultivation of lands.

Like the Smrtis, the Arthasastra is well acquainted with Grants and Assignments of land. As we have just seen in connection with the rules for settling a tract of country, the king is required to grant revenue-free lands to various classes of Brahmanas. Such grants were accompanied with full right of alienation, since the grantees enjoyed, subject to a restriction to be presently mentioned, the right of selling and mortgaging their lands. In the same context, the king is asked to give away out of the unculturable land soma forests to Brahmanas and hermitages to ascetics.

Another class of grants is referred to under the title of atithya, which means land granted to State officers for the purpose of public charities. 60 Such grants, it may be supposed, were of a permanent character like their counterparts in Moslem India, namely the inam and the mu'afi. We may mention in this connection the grant of lands for the support of the Queen and the Princes, which is referred to in the Arthasastra in the course of its description of the items to be entered by the Superintendent of Accounts in his register. We are however, left completely in the dark as regards the tenures of such grants.

Turning to another point, we have already seen that the Arthasastra requires the king to grant lands out of freshly colonised tracts to sundry officials. Reference is made to the same class of lands in the list of contents of the Superintendent's register just mentioned. Such assignments may be compared with those forming the remuneration of village and circle officers in Manu. In the Arthasastra, however, they amount to a mere usufructuary possession of the land, as the assignees are expressly debarred from the sale and mortgage of their lands.


Another class of service-tenures is mentioned in the Arthasastra under the title of ayudhlya, which may be taken to mean land held on condition of supplying troops. These two types of Assignments may be broadly stated to be the Ancient Indian parallels of the watan and the jaigir of Moslem India.

On the whole it may be concluded from a consideration of the evidence that Assignments do not play an important part in the Arthasastra as compared with the system of direct assessment by the State officials. The remuneration of officers by means of land which has been mentioned above is of an exceptional character, and the Arthasastra elsewhere gives a long list of persons on the royal establishment (including the Queen, the Princes and the highest civil and military officers), who are arranged in grades according to their salaries. Reference is made in the same connection to the cash payments of individual troopers. The attitude of the Arthasastra with regard to Assignments is sufficiently indicated in another part of the work, where the author recommends the king intending to colonize waste lands to grant cash allowances, but not villages.

We may next notice some clauses of the Arthasastra law relating to the sale of immoveable property (vastu), which give us a glimpse into the working of the land-revenue administration at this period. The tax-payers (karada), we are told, should sell or mortgage only to their own class, and the same should be done by the Brahmana owners of rent-free lands, otherwise they should both be liable to a fine. The same penalty is imposed even upon a tax-payer settling in a tax-free (akarada) village.

In this remarkable passage it will be seen, a distinction is drawn not only between the taxable and tax-free individuals, but also between taxable and tax-free villages, this last apparently referring to the entire villages that were granted by the kings in favour of temples or Brahmanas with complete immunity from taxation. As regards the restriction imposed upon the alienation of land in the above case, it was probably caused by the policy of preventing the confusion of different classes of tenures. The more stringent rule penalising a tax-payer for simply settling in a tax-free village has its counterpart in a clause of a Gupta land-grant to be mentioned later on, and like the latter it was doubtless intended to prevent the loss of the king's revenue through collusive agreements between the privileged and the taxable classes.

As a fitting sequel to the above description of the land-revenue system in ancient times, we may mention in conclusion the principal features of the system as described in the Sukraniti, which is beyond doubt a work of the late Mediaeval period. In contrast with the vague lists of varying rates of the payments in kind in earlier times, the Sukraniti expressly mentions four distinct rates for as many different kinds of soils. It is curious to observe that the old traditional rate of 1/6 is here reserved only for the barren soils, while the richest soils are assessed at 1/2 of the crop.

A more important contrast is presented by the fact that while the older authorities apparently make the gross produce the basis of assessment, the Sukraniti seems to show that 1/3 of the net produce was taken to be the proper rate of the land-revenue. The Sukraniti, moreover, refers to cash payments of the land-revenue, but unfortunately while it specifies the amount of this tax (namely, 100 silver kanas), the unit of land upon which it is changed is left unspecified.

As regards the Method of assessment, the Sukraniti expressly refers in one place to the measurement of lands according to standard units of measure and their classification according to fertility. On the other hand, there is a unique passage which refers to the employment of farmers or middlemen for the purpose of collection of the land-revenue.


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