The Agrarian System in Ancient India, Part 9


Field Worker
Orme, after Solvyns

Oct 29, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial historical account of the early Agrarian System in Vedic Culture.

During the period from the end of the eighth to that of the eleventh century, Bengal was ruled for the most part by kings of the famous Pala dynasty, while towards its close minor dynasties such as the Chandras and the Varmans shared the possession of the country with the Palas. The records of these kings refer to the payment in kind (bhagabhogakara, bkogabhaga, rajabhogakara, or more generally kara) and in cash (called hiranya or pindaka). Reference is also made occasionally to the rent of temporary tenants (uparikara).

The mention of an officer called sasthadhikrta ('the officer in charge of the sixth') in the earliest extant Pala inscription shows that as in the time of Hiuen Tsang, the land-revenue in kind was assessed on the basis of a uniform rate of 1/6 of the produce. Further it indicates that the management of this branch of the revenue was entrusted to a distinct department of the administration. The Pala records contain not the slightest reference to the measurement by reeds which prevailed in Bengal under the Imperial Guptas and their immediate successors, but one document apparently mentions the measurement of lands by seed-capacity along with the current measure according to the area. With regard to the pious endowments, it is enough to state that they were granted by the kings in perpetuity and with full right of ownership. The documents, again, frequently refer to the gramapati ('the village headman') and the ksetrapa ('the lord of the fields') and once to the dasagramika ('the officer in charge of 10 villages'), but we have not the slightest indication of the part played by them in the land revenue administration.

Let us notice, in conclusion, a few records of kings ruling in other parts of the country and belonging to the tenth and eleventh centuries. In the region of Assam the inscriptions of Balavarman (c. end of tenth century), Ratnapala (early part of eleventh century) and Indrapala (middle of the eleventh century), furnish complete lists of burdens charged upon the ordinary revenue-paying lands from which the charitable endowments were exempted. These include the rent of temporary tenants (uparikara) as well as the 'oppressions ' exercised by members of the royal family and State officers together with those caused by the grazing of animals, the binding of elephants and the mooring of boats, all apparently belonging to the State service. These burdens naturally suggest comparison with those occurring in the inscriptions of the early kings of the Deccan and Southern India, to which reference has been made in another place. The grant of Balavarman, moreover, conclusively proves the prevalence of payments of the land-revenue in kind, for it mentions in connection with the king's donation of certain lands the measures of rice produced by them.



In the last lecture the history of the land-revenue system in Northern India has been attempted to be brought down, roughly speaking, to the period marked by the collapse of the Empire of the Gurjara-Pratiharas of Kanouj. We shall now try to pass in review the history of those dynasties that arose during the last phase of the ancient period, and were mostly swept away by the devastating flood of Moslem invasions towards its close. This will be followed by a brief retrospect of the ground that we have traversed, and some general reflections arising from its consideration.

We begin our account with the history of the Rajput dynasties that arose on the ruins of the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire. One of the earliest dynasties to break away from the yoke of Kanouj was that of the Chandels of Jejakabhukti (modern Bundelkhand), who assumed independence in the middle of the tenth century and ruled with great glory till they were overthrown by Qutb-uddin Ibak in 1203 A.C. The land-grants of these kings refer in the completer examples to the usual payments in kind and in cash under the old familiar titles. The further specifications in some of the grants that the king, the royal officers, the foresters, the irregular troops and the like should renounce their respective dues, illustrates the more irregular charges that were ordinarily imposed upon the villages. In two documents, the objects of the gift are stated to consist of certain lands described in terms of the primitive measure by seed-capacity along with the revenues derived therefrom. Evidently, then, the village lands were assessed, as in the Gupta period, with respect to the individual holdings of the cultivators.

Nearly all the Chandel land-grants are concerned with endowments in favour of Brahmanas and temples. Their status is sufficiently indicated by a clause in one of the documents which expressly states that the donee is not to be obstructed with regard to the gift, sale or mortgage of the land. Another record which describes a family of scribes (kayasthas) holding high office under the Crown mentions that three of them received villages from different kings. These probably belonged to the class of Assignments granted to officials for service. Two other documents mentioning a royal gift of land as mrtyuka vrtti ('death-allowance ') to the heir of a person killed in battle with the Moslem Turks introduces us to a type of grants unknown elsewhere in Northern India. This partakes of the nature of military pensions to the heirs of soldiers killed in battle.

Kharacbardar (House Purveyor)
Orme, after Solvyns

Another Rajput dynasty that rose in power after the downfall of the Gurjara-Pratihsras was that of the Haihayas or Kalachuris of Chedi (modern Central Provinces). These kings declared independence after the middle of the tenth century, and attained considerable importance in the eleventh century, after which they virtually disappeared from history. The records of this dynasty prove the continuance (under the old titles) of the usual payments in kind and in cash. While most of the documents are concerned, as usual, with pious endowments, we have some examples of grants made for support of the king's family, which evidently carried with them the full right of alienation. Thus we have documents conveying the grant of lands by a Queen-mother, by a Queen-regnant, and apparently also by a Crown Prince. The grant of the Queen regnant just mentioned consisted of two villages which were assigned by her to a certain sage as his vidyadhana ('fee of learning'), while the grant of the Crown Prince refers to a group of twelve villages within which the object of the gift was situated.

We may mention in this connection an inscription of a king called Sodhadeva belonging to a branch of the Katachuri dynasty that reigned in the region of the Gogra and Gandak rivers in Oudh. The document which is of the year 1077 A.C. refers to the payments in kind and in cash under the usual titles. Its principal interest, however, lies in the description of the object of the grant, which consisted of lands amounting to 20 nalukas measured by the standard rod called devakutikastha. Here, then, we have another historical instance of the official use of a standard unit for the measurement of lands.

The well-known Chalukya dynasty of Gujarat with Anahilvad as its capital was founded in the latter part of the tenth century, and it survived till the middle of the thirteenth century. The records of this dynasty show that the usual payments in kind and in cash were in use under the old titles. Some documents refer to two additional charges called new margganakas and new nidhanas, which evidently stand for contributions of the nature of benevolences and cesses. When these terms are distinguished as 'new' in the above documents, we have probably to understand that the old contributions called by the same titles had in course of time been absorbed in the permanent land-revenue assessment, and that afterwards fresh charges of the same nature were added to the list. This seems to register three successive stages in the revenue-history of the province, viz., the original assessment of the land-revenue, the imposition of additional cesses which gradually became a permanent charge upon land, and the introduction of fresh cesses over and above the land-revenue and cesses combined. Another inscription of the same dynasty mentions the king's gift of certain lands belonging to three named cultivators along with the revenues derived therefrom. As in similar instances dealt with previously, this probably shows that the cultivators' holdings were assessed separately.

While the Chalukya land-grants deal mostly with pious endowments, one document by its use of a special title (talapada) for fully assessed land suggests that the later division of lands in Gujarat into those fully assessed for revenue and those which were held on condition of service or for a reduced lump assessment, may be traced back to the present period. Lastly, we may note that the Chalukya records contain occasional references to the typical clan-Chief's estate of 84 villages and its sub-divisions, but these are mentioned in such a way as to imply that they had become absorbed in the king's Reserved tracts, and in fact had degenerated into convenient geographical divisions.

Thus one document, conveying the king's gift of a village, includes it in a group of 42 villages which is comprised in a larger territorial division called pathaka. In another case, the land forming the object of the royal gift is located in a group of 126 villages in the Anandapura division, which was in the king's own possession (svabhujayamana). This unit of 126 villages, it will be noticed, represents precisely one full-sized Chief's estate of 84 villages together with its half, but the description in the document shows that at the time of the grant it was no longer held by Chiefs, but had been absorbed in the king's domain along with the larger area in which it was included.

The illustrious house of the Paramaras of Malwa, which was founded early in the ninth century of the Christian era, flourished till about the middle of the eleventh century. The land-grants of these kings refer to the payments in kind and in cash under the usual titles, besides mentioning the rent from temporary tenants (uparihara). Two documents record the royal donation of villages held by a mahasadhanika and a pratihara, both of these being titles of State officers. We have here two historical instances of Assignments in favour of officials, and the clauses of the documents show that they were held at the pleasure of the Crown. Other records of the Paramaras refer to the Chief's estate of 84 villages and its sub-divisions, but in such a way as to show that these had become mere administrative divisions. Thus one document mentions a king's grant of a village which belonged to a group of twelve villages, while another commemorates the king's grant of a village comprised within a group of 42 villages which was itself included in a district.

The next Rajput dynasty to which we have to turn our attention is that of the Kachchapaghatas of Gwalior. An inscription of this dynasty of the year 1088 A.C. mentions a certain town as belonging to the king, which probably shows by contrast that some other portions of the kingdom were held by Chiefs.

The famous Gaharwar dynasty of Kanouj came into power towards the end of the eleventh century and flourished for nearly a century afterwards when they were swept away by the tide of the Moslem invasion. The land-grants of these kings which have fortunately been preserved in large numbers indicate some striking developments of the traditional system. To judge from the number of times the items of revenue are mentioned in the documents, we may conclude that while the payment in kind (bhagabhogakara) held its place, the payment in cash (hiranya) fell into insignificance. Other references in the same documents show that various cesses, such as those payable on account of specified State officers were in use along with certain taxes for which hardly any parallels existed before, such as the nearly unique Turuskadanda (either a tax raised for defence against the Moslem invaders, or what is less probable, a tax levied on resident Moslem Turks in the kingdom of Kanouj). One document mentions the king's gift of half a village to his purohita, while the other half is divided among nine learned Brahmanas. This probably shows that the village lands, as in similar instances mentioned before, were assessed separately for the land revenue.

Again, the records frequently describe the land that is sought to be given away in terms of the current naluka measure, but nothing is mentioned about a standard unit of measurement. Another document which assigns nearly a whole administrative division (pattala) to a body of five hundred Brahmanas introduces us to a class of revenue-paying villages (vikaragramas) which are distinguished from villages assigned in favour of temples and Brahmanas (devadvijagramas). Probably the former class consisted of villages that were assigned to officials for service.


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