The Agrarian System in Ancient India, Part 8


A Tauntee (Weaver)
F.B. Solvyns, c. 1799

Oct 27, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial historical account of the early Agrarian System in Vedic Culture.

We now turn to the land-grants of the kings of Sarabhapura, belonging to the region of the Raipur and Bilaspur districts of the Central Provinces, which have been assigned on palaeographical grounds to the eighth century. These tend to show that the payment of the land-revenue in kind was in vogue under its usual title. Two grants of Tivaradeva, king of South Kosala (corresponding to the modern Central Provinces), which have been assigned to the middle of the eighth century, mention not only the payment in kind (bhaga bhogakara), but also a strange revenue-term called daradranaka, which Fleet took to mean either an agricultural cess or a marriage-tax.

We have now arrived at the important epoch in the history of Northern India that is marked by the rise of the Rajput dynasties. This event is memorable as introducing for the first time the type of monarchies organised on clan lines, which was afterwards so widely prevalent in Rajputana. In this type of clan-monarchies, as they have been called, to distinguish them from the usual class of single rulerships prevalent elsewhere, the central or at any rate the best part of the kingdom is appropriated by the king, while the outlying portions are assigned to the lesser chiefs of the clan. The king levies the land-revenue entirely from his demesne, while the Chiefs only contribute aids in time of war, fees on succession, and so forth.

The most important of the Rajput dynasties that arose in Northern India during the present period was that of the Gurjara-Pratiharas of Kanouj. In the latter half of the ninth and early part of the tenth centuries they became the leading power in the territory between the Himalayas and the Narmada. The inscriptions of these kings contain an unusually large number of references to estates held by the Chiefs of the royal and other clans under their rule. Thus we have examples of grants made by a Chief of the Chahamana clan, by a Chief of the Guhila clan, by a Chief of the Chaulukya (or Chalukya) clan of Kathiawar, by a Chief of the Chhinda family ruling in the region of the modern Pilibhit district of the United Provinces, and lastly by a Chief called Mathanadeva of the Gurjara-Pratihara lineage, who claims to have obtained his allotment as his own share (svabhogavapta).

An allusion to a clan-Chief's estate is apparently made in an inscription of the reign of Mahendrapala II mentioning the donation of three villages by three brothers of the Tomara clan who were in the service of the Emperor. Reference is made in other records of the Gurjara-Pratiharas to a number of Chiefs who held the town of Siyadoni under the suzerainty of the Emperor Bhoja and his three successors, and to a Chief (mahasamanta) who was in possession of a tract of country in Central India under the same Emperor Bhoja. The typical allotment of the clan-Chief is mentioned in another document where the village forming the object of the gift is located in a group of 84 villages, which the donor claims to have acquired by the might of his own arms.

Apart from the class of Chiefs' estates just mentioned, the older type of Assignments to officials is apparently referred to in an inscription of Mahendrapala II. It records the Emperor's grant of a village which was in possession of a certain tola-varggika-harisada, meaning probably an official of the name of Harisada. The contents of this document show that unlike the Chiefs who were entitled at least to create religious endowments out of their Estates, the Assignees practically held their lands at the pleasure of the Crown. With regard to the class of charitable endowments we may take the example of a Gurjara-Pratihara land-grant. It mentions how a feudatory of King Nagabhata granted a village to a Brahmana with his suzerain's approval, and how subsequently the grant was restricted by the legal officers so that it had to be renewed by Bhoja. Here we catch a glimpse into the close scrutiny which the legal officers of the Crown were wont to bestow upon the revenue-free tenures.

The clauses of the Gurjara-Pratihara land grants, while mentioning the privileges granted to the donees by the Kings and Chiefs, show that alike in the Chiefs' estates and the Reserved tracts of the king, the payments in kind and in cash were in use. In addition to these familiar items of revenue, some of the Chiefs' records refer to the rents from permanent and temporary tenants (udranga and uparikara), the cesses charged upon the crops at the threshing-floor (khalabhiksa), the extra contributions charged upon every prastha measure of liquids and every shoulder-load of articles brought into the king's treasury (prasthaka and skandhaka) and so forth.

A few words may be said in the present place about the methods of assessment followed by these rulers and kindred topics. Division of the crops at the threshing-floor is suggested by the revenue term khalabhiksA, just mentioned. Again, the famous Siyadoni inscription mentions the donation by a whole town (sakalasthAna) of a field of which the length and breadth are specified according to the current hasta measure.

Another record of the year 876 A.C., while mentioning the gift by a whole town (samastasthana) of a piece of land and certain fields, states that the former measured 250 x 20 hastas by the Emperor's hasta measure (paramesvariya-hasta) , while the latter required 11 dronas of barley-seed according to the measure of Gopadri (the ancient name for Gwalior). These documents help to show how the primitive method of measurement by seed-capacity and the more advanced method of measurement according to the area of the land, both of which varied from place to place, were simultaneously in use. They also tend to indicate how the Gurjara-Pratihara Emperors tried to effect an improvement by introducing a standard hasta measure.

We now turn to another Rajput dynasty that held sway in Gujarat together with its branches and feudatories during the greater part of the ninth century. This was the great dynasty of the Rastrakutas of the Deccan, who were the contemporaries and rivals of the Gurjara-Pratiharas of Kanouj. The records of these rulers repeatedly refer to the clan Chief's estate consisting of 84 villages and its subdivisions, such as the groups of 42 and 12 villages.

A curious feature of complexity is introduced in a Rastrakuta inscription of 910-911 A.C. 30 where the village granted by the king is placed in a group of 10 villages included within a larger group of 84 villages, which itself is comprised in a group of 750 villages. In this case the groups of 10 and 750 villages, broadly speaking, have their counterparts in the administrative divisions of the Arthasastra and the Smrtis, while the group of 84 villages exactly represents the normal allotment of the clan Chief. Here, then, we have apparently an instance of super-imposition of the typical arrangement of the clan-monarchies upon an older series of territorial divisions based upon the traditional system. The records of the Rastrakutas refer both to the payments in kind (bhagabhogakara, bhogabhaga or dhanyaya) and in cash (hiranya). Sometimes they are jointly indicated by the term dhanyahiranyadeya. Reference is also made in some records to the rent paid by the permanent tenants (udranga).

We may notice in this place an interesting inscription of 917-918 A.C. 32 belonging to a Surastra Chief of Chapa lineage which is closely allied to the Gurjara stock. It records the Chief's gift of a village to a spiritual preceptor as his 'fee of learning' (vidyadhana). Here we have another historical instance of the type of endowments for learning which is referred to in the Arthasastra and vouched for by the high authority of Hiuen Tsang in the seventh century.

Another Rajput dynasty of this period is commemorated in an inscription of 973-974 A.C., which mentions a family of seven generations of Chahamana kings ruling in the region of Sambhar in Rajputana. From the large number of Assignments mentioned in this single document it may be inferred that they preponderated over the king's Reserved tract. Thus the donations of land mentioned in this document consisted of the following:

    1. A donation by King Simharaja of one village in a specified group of 12 villages belonging to his own domain (svabhoga).

    2. A donation by Vatsaraja, the brother of King Simharaja, of one village in a named district which he had obtained as his own allotment (bhoga).

    3. A donation by King Vigraharaja, son of Simharaja, of two villages.

    4. A donation by two sons of Simharaja, of two hamlets in a certain district which they had obtained as their own allotment (bhoga).

    5. A grant by the Duhsadhya (evidently a State official) of King Simharaja, of one village which was in his own possession (svabhujyamana) .

    6. A donation by Jayanaraja (evidently a Prince of the ruling house) of one village which was in his own possession.

Auheer (Seller of Curd, Whey and Buttermilk)

Let us turn to the history of the States and dynasties in other parts of Northern India that were more or l$ss contemporaneous with the Gurjara-Pratiharas. We begin with the kingdom of Kashmir. The famous Kashmir chronicle, describing the exactions of two tyrannical kings called Sankaravarman (883-902 A.C.) and Harsa (1089-1101 A.C.), mentions specifically that Jx>th of them appropriated the lands and villages belonging to the temples. 34 In this connection the chronicler further states that Sankaravarman paid a compensatory allowance (pratikara) to the dispossessed owners of the temple lands. Here we have a historical parallel of the institution which under the name of malikana played an important part in the revenue history of Bengal in the early period of British rule.

We may next refer to an inscription of a king called Mahasivagupta [1], who ruled in the region of the Central Provinces sometime in the eighth or the ninth century. This document, while describing the arrangements relating to a temple of Visnu, introduces us to a complex example of pious endowment. It mentions that five specified villages were to be divided into four shares, of which three were reserved for the purpose of an alms-house, of repairs to the temple and of support to the temple servants. The fourth and the last share was to be divided into fifteen shares, of which twelve were to be enjoyed by as many learned Brahmanas on the condition that the shares would descend to their qualified heirs in the male line, failing which they would devolve upon the other relatives of the donees by their own choice and not by the orders of the king. The remaining three shares were to be enjoyed by a Brahmana priest and two worshippers of the Bhagavata sect. All the fifteen shares were to be held without the right of gift, sale or mortgage. Here we have a curious instance of a revenue-free estate held on condition of heritability in the male line on proof of fitness but without the right of alienation.

An inscription of Kulastambha of the region of Orissa, [2] whose date has been assigned to the ninth century, records the king's gift of a village yielding 42 silver coins (rupyas). This shows that in contrast with the arrangements prevailing elsewhere, cash assessment of the land-revenue was now in use in a part of Eastern India. Moreover, from the fact that the cash income from the entire village is mentioned in connection with the grant, we may guess that it refers to the process prevailing in Moslem India, which has been conveniently called Valuation.


[1] Epigraphia Indica, XI, 19.

[2] Epigraphia Indica, XII, 20., Cf. Contributions to the History of the Hindu Revenue System by U. N. Ghoshal, p. 247.


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