There is a great deal of confusion and innumerable controversies regarding the agrarian structure during the post-Gupta period. After the decline and disintegration of the Gupta Empire into a number of small states, several charters and deeds of land grants were issued by the royal and private donors of these states.
This confusion becomes more chronic on account of the contradictory picture provided by the commentators of the Smritis and other literary sources of the period. The whole confusion and all controversies hinge around the practice of land grants which were made during this period, both for the secular and religious purposes.
In the former category, the biggest beneficiaries were the high officials who were paid their salaries or remunerated through the grants of land, and in the latter category the grants were made to the Brahmins and temples for charitable and religious purposes.
Some scholars are of the view that the practice of land grants changed the land ownership pattern and reduced the status of free peasants to serfs, which finally led to the rise of feudalism. In this situation the free peasants also lost their former status due to the imposition of several new taxes. Peasantry was largely composed of the Sudras or, perhaps, peasants were thought of as Sudras.
Another factor which reduced the peasants to the state of serfdom was the extension of the practice of forced labour (vishti). The granting of both virgin and cultivable land, transfer of peasants to the grantees, extension of forced labour, restrictions on the movement of peasants, delegation of fiscal and criminal administration to religious beneficiaries, remuneration in land grants to officials, growth of the rights of the grantees, multiplicity of taxes, growth of a complex revenue system, and wide regional variations in the agrarian structure were some of the salient features of the agrarian system in the post-Gupta period.
But the main controversy on the subject centres on the nature and extent of the feudal system which is said to have come into existence on account of the practice of land grants.