The main exponent of the theory of feudalism in ancient India is Prof. R.S. Sharma, who uses the term feudalism to characterise the socioeconomic formation in the post-Gupta period. Feudalism appears in a predominantly agrarian economy, which is characterised by a class of landlords and a class of servile peasantry.
In this system, the landlords extract surplus through social, religious or political methods, which are called extra-economic. This seems to be more or less the current Marxist view of feudalism which considers serfdom, ‘scalar property’ and sovereignty’ as features of the West European version of feudalism.
R.S. Sharma says that obviously land was the primary means of production. In the same piece of land, the peasant held inferior rights and the landlord held superior rights. The land grants leave hardly any doubt that the landlords enjoyed a good measure of general control on the means of production.
Hierarchical control over land was created by large-scale infatuation, especially from the eighth century onwards. This gave rise to graded types of landlords, different from actual tillers of the soil.
In a feudal system of production, the landlords shared the agricultural surplus, called rent, in labour and cash/kind, and this was coupled with a patron-client system of distribution, primarily between the peasant and the landlord.
But in India, the problem is not directly connected with the rise of landed magnates or with the “decomposition of the slave mode of production”, but with the decreasing control of the peasant over his unit of production, coupled with his restricted access to the communal agrarian resources.
It is thought that feudalism was identical with freedom, and there seems to be an assumption that freedom was the only potent method of exploiting e peasants. It may be very effective, but other of servitude imposed on the peasantry did prove inoperative and unproductive. But in the Indian case, surplus produce s extracted more through the general control exercised by the landed intermediaries than by employment as serfs.
He suggests that unlike capitalism, feudalism was not universal phenomenon, and in India, where land as very abundant and fertile, there was no scope r the rise of serfdom or forced labour. No doubt, on account of the practice of :d grants, the landed aristocracy did emerge ring the post-Gupta period, but along with the anted lands privately owned lands also existed, d the state often bought the private lands from individuals for donating it.
Land was commonly assigned by the rulers, rights of varying degrees, to Brahmins and eligious institutions, to vassals for military service, to members of the clan or family and even to officers. Thus there developed a great variety of interests and rights over land, claimed by the grades of intermediaries. “
The state was to be the owner of all lands as a general reposition, but individuals or groups that had lands in their possession were regarded as owners thereof, subject to the ability to pay land tax and the right of the state to with the in- easing extent and the changing complexion of the King’s right of ownership over land, the issue ‘the royal ownership of land became very com- icated in actual practice owing to the increase in e claim of the ruling samanta hierarchy and the Til landed aristocracy in this respect.
Some in- options (of the post-Gupta period) reveal that monarchs and overlords gave land grants in 6 territories and estates of their samantas. The rights enjoyed over land by the overlords and the samuntus of different grades depended upon their actual power and prestige.
There is also evidence of private individual ownership of land, in the law books and some inscriptions, by mostly the aristocracy. The Rajatarangini, etc. reveal a state of insecurity and violence which could not but have affected the land rights of peasants. There was considerable growth of dependent peasantry and collective rights over pastures.
The scholars who support the view of the emergence of the feudal system during the post-Gupta period mainly as a result of the increasing land grants, changes in the socio-economic structure, etc. present a totally different picture of the whole system, particularly of the land ownership pattern.
Consequently, the subject of land ownership pattern in the post-Gupta period is a very vexed question. Contemporary sources make this picture more confusing. For instance, Medhatithi mentions at one place that the King was the ‘Lord’ of the soil, and elsewhere states that the field belonged to him who made it fit for cultivation by clearing it. Prof. Lallanji Gopal, interpreting the views of Medatithi regarding the ownership of land, writes: “When Medatithi speaks of the King as the master of the soil and of the soil as belonging to the peasant, he does not mean to lay down the legal status of the King as the owner of all cultivable land in the state, but only points out the sovereignty of the King implying a general lordship of the King over all things in his kingdom.”
Stray references in the literary works of the period also suggest individual ownership. Some inscriptions of this period, which record cases of land grants and land sales by private individuals, corroborate the testimony of the legal works. In some inscriptions, lands owned by private individuals are mentioned in connection with the demarcation of the boundaries of the donated land.
Fields which were owned by cultivators themselves are generally described as kautamba- kshctra, owned by certain individuals as sakta and tilled by certain individuals as prakrsta or krsta. But with increasing land grants, the theoretical ownership of land, including the grass and pas- turc-land, reservoir of water, groves, dry land, etc. also went to the donees.
Such increasing land granls may be interpreted as a general indication of an increasing claim of the King over the land. Under such conditions, sometimes the actual or existing cultivators of the land were also transferred to the donees.
With the growing practice of remunerating the officers of the state through land grants, the landed aristocracy gained importance in the period. Persons enjoying such land assignments also enjoyed some abiding claims of ownership. The practice of granting the villages to vassals and officials and religious grants to individuals (Brahmins) and institutions (temples or monasteries) went a long way in creating a new class of landlords.
Such rights could be transferred and bought and sold like any other commodity. The growth of the claims of feudal chiefs naturally weakened the claims and rights of the cultivators. A number of restrictions were imposed on the claims of the peasant on the land. But the cultivators were not tied to the soil like European serfs. If they were oppressed, they had the freedom to migrate to other areas.
But in certain inscriptions of northern India of the period, Kings have been indicated as claiming some sort of ownership over the inhabitants of villages in their jurisdiction. In the Chandella grants, villages are described as carrying with them the rights over the artisans, cultivators, and merchants living therein. This situation was much similar to that of the manorial system. But this was not the uniform picture throughout northern India.