Even though hot dialogues are going on about Indian model of feudalism, starting from pre –Mauryan period till 1200 A.D, some scholars talk in favour of the characterising Indian model of socio-economic structure developed in early medieval India with the word Feudalism with the characteristics of European feudalism which means “a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warriors nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of Lords, Vassals, Fiefs”, while some others question the term used to describe that socio-economic formation existed largely between 750 A.D-1200 A.D. In Western part of Europe, feudalism emerged based on self-sufficient economy. It was in the period of between 5th century A.D- 15th century A.D. The dominant class of landlords’ extracted surplus who (lower class) also used to implement forced labour or serfdom. In 1940s Datta, Dange transported main characteristics of European mode of feudalism in to Indian soil with some variant of feudalism. This transplantation of term raises some dialogues between historians. And I will try to discuss Indian based early medieval socio economic structure comparing with European feudalism on the basis of dialogues between Indian historians.
In India, earlier form of feudalism originated from the system of granting the land to Buddhist Monks and on the basis of empirical evidence its origin is traced to 1st century B.C. But in the time of pre-Mauryan and Mauryan period, granting power of military and judicial affairs did not happened to beneficiaries. It was only for the purpose of land revenue. And also there was a system prevailing in ancient period is that, granting land to temples and to Buddhist monasteries. Thus these lands became under full control of theirs. But, granting huge lands to these sections of community is recognised and continued as a custom sanctified by the injunction laid down in the Dhrmashasthrapurana and it clearly enumerated in Anushashana Dharma (Mahabaratha) and also this custom came to know as ‘Bhumidhanaprasamsa’. The evidence of earlier Pali texts of pre-Mauryan period and customs of granting whole villages to Brahmans by the rulers of Kusala and Maghada are the empirical evidences supporting these incidents. And this system was called in early medieval period as ‘Brahmadeyya’. If we look at these all customs, we can understand that the inspiration which they got from old Vedic purana and texts during pre-Mauryan and Mauryan period. And also epigraphic records of Sathavahana inscription shows light to the existence of granting villages as a gift in 1 century B.C and it termed as Aswamedha sacrifice. But one thing is clear that they were not granted some more rights over taxation and judicial affairs over the residents of granted villages. Thus sovereignty of the state was preserved for a long time. In ancient period of India it was believed that the king as the Bhumidah (giver of land) and it helped a lot to expansion of granting land as he wishes. But later these customs took a different shape that the administrative rights were perhaps given up for the first time in the form of grants on to Buddhist monks by the Sathavahana rulers (GauthamiputhraSathavahani) in second century A.D. And also they granted fully protection from intervention of government officials and also from police activities. The granting lands gave beneficiaries rights over judicial matters and fiscal rights over the people of donated village, which causes to enforced labour and eviction, widespread subjection and the system of granting land become similar to merchants also during 6 A.D. at last these granting system enlarged by including whole villages along with low lands, fertile lands, water reservoirs, trees and bushes, pathway and large amount of pastures after 7th century A.D with providing some administrative powers in the hands of landlords. After some more years it was ordered to obey and live as the commands of landlords through charter made by concerned states. This subjection or structure was a characteristic feature of the early medieval Indian society structure .From 5th century of A.D, frequent and developed certain features called political decentralization
The great historian and critic R.S Sharma brought these all developments into a framework and which includes
First phase of development-350 to 750.
Secondary phase of development-750 to 1000.
Final phase of development -1000 to 1200.
As per the R.S Sharma, the granting system of land started from pre-Mauryan period without granting rights over judicial and taxation matters later, it expanded during post Gupta period. The period to 600 A.D recognised as initial stage of Indian model early medieval feudalism and the period between 600-1200 has very significant role in the total development of feudalism. In this period a number of social groups originated within community and they were termed as Camakara, Vajaka, Bamboo worker, Basket worker. And we can see that new mode of socio-economic formation not only appeared as a result of political, administrative and judicial measures taken by the state, but such measures largely developed by internal developments and they created a new socio-economic formation. During pre Gupta period king, his priests and warriors lived on the surplus produced by the peasants and supplemented by the artisans. Later this system was upset by the social crisis of the kali age. In this time the ruler became unable to payment to his priests and also for warriors and he started granting lands to them with various rights on it. And a new type of empirical works emerged after 1950s, when feudal polity was to be a stage which represented a structural change in the Indian social and economic order. It was characterised by hierarchy of intermediaries between the state and peasantry. It was speciality of this structural change. D.D Kosambi developed conceptual definition of feudalism in 1956 and he spoke about ‘feudalism from above’ after 4 A.D. The state was granting land and therefore he used that term. The system of granting land reached its peak point during post Gupta period and emerged a class of landlords and he used the term ‘feudalism from below’. A great historian Nirhanjan Roy, in his work ‘BanghirIthihas’, enumerated about a new structure developed in the region of Bengal. It was a hierarchical political order like Samanta, Mahasamanta, Laghusamanta.
But the contradiction arises between historians on the matter of characterising Indian model of socio-economic structure on the banner of term Feudalism. Even though they all are agreeing in the incidents happened in Indian history, but in the time of comparing it with European feudalism they stands in two opposite chambers. One of the main critics is Harbons Mukhia. And he tells that the serfdom was just an incidental and there was no need to forced labour because of fertility of the soil of northern rich plains. And also he says that the peasants had full control on means of production. Because of all these reasons, he argues that using term feudalism on to Indian soil is not appropriate.
It is obvious that certain people in the villages enjoyed a greater share in the sources of production and apparently possessed more land than they could manage. The land cultivated by pretty peasants either through lease holding, sharecropping or from system of serfdom. Nobody had come with asking their right to cultivate as they wish but the whole controller of plots goes on the hand of landlords. This raises problem of serfdom. In here Harban Mukhia argued that the serfdom was incidental feature in India. And the peasants were given full right over means of production. R.S Sharma opposing above view says that this is a system in here small satellite farms attached to big farms to assist working on the big ones. Big farms are directly managed by manorial magnates but cultivated by those who possess small plots. Therefor serfdom means giving more surplus labour than surplus produce. But in the Indian context, surplus produce is extracted more through the general control exercised by the landed assignees than by their employment or serfs. A serf occupies some land and provides his family with subsistence. A landlord may collect rent and services from his tenants for the plots of land they hold and cultivate. Or he may get all his plots cultivated directly by the serfs who are given small pieces of land for their subsistence. Both systems are concerned with extracting lord’s share; in both the cultivator is dependent peasant under his exploitation of his lord. Free exercise of agrarian rights can make a household unit effective in production, but landlords barred the weak peasants from that one free exercise. And the caste system, untouchability barred it. Hierarchical control over land was created by large scale sub-infuedation in 8 A.D onwards and those are: – king- assignee- occupant- sub occupant- tenant. The critic raised on peasant’s right over means of production also opposed through the evidence of using serfdom in middle Ganga basin to paddy cultivations. On the basis of the empirical evidence found by Udaya, it is clear that thousands of peasants were pushed to serfdom. And they suffered a lot of suppressions from the powers between upper class of hierarchy and also from below side. Finally the peasants had not any power even on means of production. They compelled to grow as the wish of landlord. It is clear from the events of 10th century A.D onwards, the cultivators compelled to go cash crops and the state with internal developments made peasants depended community for every aspects of their life upon beneficiaries.
From these all arguments I would like to say (standing against the critics made by Harbons Mukhia) that existed socio-economic structure in early medieval India can be characterised by the term Feudalism. Even though the system originated in pre- Mauryan period with its initial stage, later some internal developments made it compulsory to change its shape with granting some state owned powers in the hands of landlords. One of the internal developments was Kali age, development of sub-feudatories, ideological slavery among different social classes. These all developed structures effected and worsened the development of peasants breaking their full of right to choose. Feudalism in India characterised by a class of landlords and a class of subject peasantry, the two living in a predominantly agrarian economy marked initially by the decline of trade and urbanism and by a drastic reduction in metal currency. By here the views of R.S Sharma is seems to be very appropriate than of the Harbons Mukhia.