The practice of land grants had been started from a much earlier time but it became frequent from the fifth century A.D. There were two types of land grants viz. firstly to “Brahmanas” or priests and secondly to the government officials. The “Brahmanas” or “Priests” grantees had no liability of paying any tax in lieu of the grant.
Earlier the taxes of the granted land was collected by the government official and was transferred to the “Brahmanas” grantee. In addition to the collection of taxes the beneficiaries were given the right to govern the people living in the donated or granted land.
No government official or royal retainers was permitted to enter the gifted or disserted village. Up to the fifth century A.D. the ruler generally retained the right to punish the thieves but in later times the beneficiaries were authorised to punish all criminal offenders.
Therefore, the “brahmanas” not only collected taxes from the peasants and artisans but also maintained law and order in the granted-villages to them. During the Mauryan period, the taxes were assessed and collected by the king’s officials and agents and law and order were maintained by them.
Moreover, the grant was not of a permanent nature, but by the end of the Gupta period, the grant or granted villages became permanent, so that the power of king was heavily undermined. As a result of land grants developed many pockets which were free from royal control.
The second type of land-grant made to officials. In the Mauryan period, the officers of the state from the highest to the lowest were generally paid in cash. This practice was continued under the Kushanas, who issued the large number of copper and gold coins and it lingered under the Guptas.
But from the sixth century A.D. the position seems to have changed. The law-books of that century recommended that the services should be rewarded in land. Accordingly from the time of Harshavardhana public officials were paid in land revenues.
One fourth of the royal revenue was earmarked for the endowment of great public servants (according to the Huein-Tsang’s account). All these led to weakening of central control.
From all these, we noticed an important change in the agrarian economy. As the landed beneficiaries could not cultivate the lands by themselves nor could they collect revenues by themselves.
The actual cultivation was entrusted to peasants or share-croppers who were attached to the land but were not legally the owner of the land. The authority over the land remained with the landlord or the beneficiary of the grant.
* The Chinese pilgrim ‘I-tsing’ states that most Indian monasteries got their lands cultivated by the servants and others. Huein-Tsang’s description of “Sudras” as agriculturists which suggests that they were not the cultivators of land mainly as slaves and agricultural labourers but they probably, occupied it temporarily especially in the old settled areas in North India.
From the sixth century A.D. onwards the sharecroppers and peasants and artisans in the tribal areas were asked to stick to the areas granted to the beneficiaries (particularly in Orissa Deccan etc.).
This practice soon spread to other parts of India also. This restricted the mobility and migration of people from one village to another. They had to live in the same village to cater to its all possible needs and necessities.
Actually, in practice even peasants and artisans came under the grantees or beneficiaries. Thus the grant was not related only to the land but also of all the things of the land including human labour etc.
Since the inter-village mobility or migration was restricted, there began to develop self-sufficient villages; rather economic isolation of villages began. These villages began to develop as separate political, economic and to some extent, also as cultural units.
Consequently a new agrarian economy emerged in this period i.e. the Post-Gupta period. This new agrarian economy came to be characterised by the number of salient features e.g. grant of cultivated or uncultivated land, transfer of peasants and artisans to the beneficiaries imposition of forced labour, restrictions on the movements of the peasants, delegation of fiscal, criminal and administrative powers to religious beneficiaries, and remuneration in land grants to officials in lieu of cash salaries, multiplicity of taxes, growth of a complex revenue system and wide regional variation in the agrarian structure.