The Agrarian System in Ancient India, Part 13


Casakaibarta (Gardener)
Solvyns, Calcutta series

Nov 02, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial historical account of the early Agrarian System in Vedic Culture.

Turning to the evidence of the inscriptions, we have two records of private transfers of land in the region of Western India during the early centuries of the Christian era when the country was ruled by the Ksaharatas and the Satavahanas. In the one case Dharmanandin, son of a Buddhist lay-worshipper (upasaka), gave away a field for the benefit of some ascetics living in one of the Nasik caves. In the other instance Usavadata, son-in-law of the Satrap Nahapana, purchased from a Brahmana for three thousand coins (karsapanas) a field formerly belonging to the Brahmana's father.

We may next refer to two records belonging to the Kangra district of the Punjab which bear a date corresponding to 804 A.C. These mention a number of donations made in favour of a Sivite temple, among which are comprised the following gifts made by private individuals:

    1. Half a plough of land in a certain village which was given by a Brahmana,
    2. A plough of land given by a merchant for the court-yard of the temple,
    3. Four ploughs of land in a certain village that were given by the two merchants who built the temple.

Of much greater, not to say unique, importance are two records of the time of the Gurjara-Pratihara Emperors of Kanouj, which relate to the gift of lands by town corporations. In the first which is dated 933 V.S./875 A.C. and is concerned with the ancient town of Gopadri (modern Gwalior), the whole town (samastasthana) makes a gift of a piece of land (bhumikhanda) in one village and two fields (ksetra) in another in favour of certain temples, and both the villages are expressly declared to be in its own possession (svabhujyamana). As the fields are said to be cultivated by named persons at the time of the grant, we have here an instance of leases by public bodies. In the other record , which is the well-known Siyadoni inscription, we are told in the course of a long list of private donations in favour of temples that in 960 V.S./904 A.C. the whole town (sakalasthana) made a gift of a field of which the length and breadth are specified according to the current hasta measure.

In connection with the private donations of lands above-mentioned it might be argued that they belonged largely, if not wholly, to the class of Assignments granted by kings with full rights of alienation, and not to the category of lands held independently by private owners. Some support is given to this supposition by the fact that the donors in some of the above instances belong to those very classes to whom grants or assignments of land were habitually made by the ruling authorities in ancient times, namely, the Brahmanas and the officials. [ ]

A word may be said in the present place about the status of the cultivators of the soil in the clan-monarchies of the type afterwards prevalent in Rajputana, which we have traced back in an earlier lecture to the period of the Gurjara-Pratiharas. To judge from the strong sense of proprietary right that has survived among the peasantry in some Rajput States down to our own times, it may reasonably be concluded that the same right was claimed by their predecessors in the clan-monarchies of earlier times. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the Chiefs' allotments were not hereditary, but were granted to the individual possessors perhaps for life. This is shown not only by later instances from the history of the Rajput States, but also by the significant fact that such allotments as a rule are described in the numerous land-grants that we have analysed as being in the donor's own possession, and not as being handed down from his ancestors.

We have now traced with the help of the legal literature as well as the historical and sastric records the development of the concept of private ownership of land after the period of the Vedic Samhitas and the Brahmanas. Let us now turn to the parallel concept of the king's prerogative over the soil, of which the foundations were laid likewise in the early Vedic period. Beginning our account with the Arthasastra which, as usual, alone treats the subject with completeness, we find that although it does not endorse in the fashion of the Aitareya Brahmana the king's unlimited claim of taxing the cultivators, it mentions certain special rights exercised by him over the revenue-paying peasantry (karadas). Thus the king, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is entitled in the case of colonized lands to evict those who have neglected to cultivate their fields.

Dwallahs (Cowherd)
Solvyns, Calcutta series

Again, in times of grave emergency the king's officers are permitted as a last resource to raise funds from the cultivators by the compulsory raising of a second crop from the fields. In the second place the Arthasastra introduces us to royal farms in connection with its classification of the heads of revenue. Considering how a passage of the Satapatha Brahmana already mentioned apparently hints at the arbitrary disposal of tribal lands by the kings, it is tempting to suggest that such lands in course of time were converted into the private estates of the Crown, and to identify these last with the royal farms of the Arthasastra. Whatever that may be, the above reference makes it clear that considerable tracts of agricultural land in the time of the Arthasastra were owned by the State. Above all, the Arthasastra attributes to the king certain specific rights over land, which may be conveniently classified as follows:

    1. Right over the unoccupied waste, comprising both the cultivable and the barren land. The Arthasastra, as we have mentioned elsewhere, lays down elaborate rules for the settlement of new, or old but since deserted, tracts of country,

    2. Right over waters. According to the Arthasastra the king is the owner of fish, aquatic animals and green vegetables from irrigation-works (setu), in so far as these form articles of merchandise,

    3. Right over mines. In the Arthasastra mines (including salt-works) are held to be a State monopoly, and they are required to be worked directly by the State officers or else let out on lease,

    4. Right over forests. In the Arthasastra forests form an independent head of revenue comprising three distinct branches, namely, those meant for game, for useful products of various kinds and for the rearing of elephants,

    5. Right to the treasure-trove (nidhi). The Arthasastra includes treasure-trove in a list of royal receipts, while it lays down elaborate rules relating to the acquisition of the same by the king.

The Smrtis contain few specific references to the royal rights over land. Like the Arthasastra, they contemplate the treasure-trove in general as belonging to the king. Visnu like Kautilya contemplates the mines as being a Government monopoly, but other authorities require the mines to be worked by private agency subject to the payment of a tax. A special jurisdiction over the revenue-paying cultivators is suggested by a rule of Manu according to which the cultivator who allows his crops to be destroyed through his own fault is liable to ten or five times the value of the government revenue (bhaga).

Of a more general character is the right claimed for the king in a passage of Brhaspati, namely, that of transferring lands in certain circumstances from one individual owner to another. In this passage Brhaspati, while treating the case of land which is taken away from one village and added to another by the action of a great river or of the king, first declares that the land so given belongs to him who receives it. For, as he says, fate as well as the action of kings rules the lives and fortunes of men, and hence what is done by them should not be transgressed. In the immediately following lines, however, Brhaspati considerably modifies his position, for he says that what is done by the king out of anger or greed or trickery and what is given to another out of undue favour should not be given effect to, while what is taken away by the king from one possessing the land without a title and is given to another of superior merit should not be transgressed.

Kshatriya (Landholder)
Solvyns, Calcutta series


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