The largest part of the population lived in compact groups in villages which were mostly dependent on agriculture, although some of them were ex­clusively inhabited by people of other professions. The villages usually consisted of three parts, namely residential area, arable land, and pasture- land.

Reference is sometimes made to barren tracts, forests, pits, canals, tanks, temples, roads, and cattle-tracks pertaining to the villages. There were numerous cities and towns in all parts of the country. They were usually developed round the residences of rulers, places of pilgrimage, and centres of trade.

While the villagers were chief dependent on the produce of the soil, and (partly on industry and commerce, the people of cities and towns followed mainly commercial and industrial pursuits, although some of them engaged themselves in agricultural, political, judicial and military activities. Cities were characterized by wealth and luxury while the villages were mostly poor.

There was also a marked distinction between the culture of the polished i clever citizens and that of the simple village folk. The copper-plate grants usually refer to the free gift of pieces of land (sometimes cultivate) but often waste) or of entire villages made by Kings in favour of Brahmins or religious institutions sometimes state lands were sold to particular parties, occasionally for the latter perpetual enjoyment, but usually to enable them to make free gifts.


Most of the free gifts of land were regarded as aprada, and their per­petual enjoyment by the persons (and their heirs) 1 or institutions, in whose favour they were made, was ensured, although they were often without any right of alienation by sale or mortgage. They were governed by the custom regarding permanent en­dowments of money only the interest was to be enjoyed by the domes.

In many cases, the donated lands were delimited by artificial devices such as chaff and charcoal or pegs. Sometimes, the cultivators were asked to delimit a piece of land (apparently waste land) of the required measure outside their own fields.

Gifts of land were usually rent-free; but in some cases a fixed rent is also mentioned in connection with gifts, while in others there is no specific mention that the land was made rent-free. The loss of the royal charter registering a rent-free gift involved the loss of immunity from taxation, and a fresh charter was required for the renewal of the privilege.

Free gifts of land usually carried with them certain immunities and privileges which were not exactly the same in all cases and in all localities; one of these was the immunity from the entry of chata and bliata (substituted by the word in some Vakataka inscriptions), which are often explained as regular and irregular troops respec­tively, but may actually signify policemen and peons.


According to some inscriptions of western India, the gift land was made a holding “not to be even pointed at with the hand by any of the royal officers”. In many cases, the gift land is clearly exempted from all taxes and burdens. The grant of rent-free villages usually carried with it the assignment of all kinds of income accruing to the Crown.

In some cases, the donees of villages, who were to receive all the taxes in kind and cash that the cultivators had till then paid to the King, are known to have been allowed the right of enjoying the fines for ‘the ten offences’ committed in the villages.

But sometimes, a village was granted without the right of enjoying the fines for theft and other offences. Often the privilege of enjoying the uparikara or the rent from temporary tenants also accompanied the gift of a village. This possibly shows that, in some cases, the donees were al­lowed to enjoy the dues from the permanent tenants only (mukt-oparikara in certain charters).

It seems that when the free gift was that of a piece of arable land belonging to the state, it virtually became a freehold in most cases; but, in regard to the free gift of villages, merely the state share of the produce and other dues from the inhabitants were conveyed to the donees.


The villagers were often specifically ordered to be obedient to the commands of the donees and to pay them regularly the royal share of the produce (bhaga), periodical supplies of fruits, firewood, flowers, etc. which they had to furnish to the King the tax to be paid besides the grain share (kara), the King’s share of certain crops payable in cash (hiranya), duties (pratyaya), etc., while the future Kings were requested not to collect their dues from the villages in question.

It was the cus­tom not to confiscate such gift lands; but some­times, it was clearly stated that, a village granted to Brahmins could be confiscated in case the donees were- guilty of heinous crimes, such as rebellion against the Crown. Unscrupulous rulers like the Kashmiri Sankaravarman often resumed lands in the possession of free-holders.

In many cases, land was granted as a free gift of a rent-free holding. Sometimes, a piece of land was sold at a specified price but was made a perpetually rent-free holding. In some other cases, the land was said to have been ‘given’ but a specified rent was fixed for it. There were other cases, in which land was given without any clear specification whether it was made a free gift or a rent-free holding.

There is little doubt that in many cases the word ‘given’ actually meant ‘sold’, and silence about making the land rent-free is an indication that it was revenue-paying, although certain concessions, varying in different cases, may have often been allowed to the holders. In ancient India, the sale of land was sometimes theoretically represented as a gift. This is definite­ly suggested by the Mitakshara on the supported by the quotation of the imprecatory verses, usually found in charters recording free gifts of land and in sale-deeds.


These ten minor offences were possibly theft, killing of living beings not in accordance with the precept, pursuit of the wives of others, harshness of languages, untruthfulness, slandering others, incoherent conversation, coveting the property of others, thinking of harming others, and tenacity in wrong doing. “Mitakshara are commentaries on Manu, Yajnavalkya Smritis, etc. written during the post-Gupta period.

Besides those who enjoyed the rent-free (pos­sibly partial in some cases) holdings of different classes referred to above, which covered only a small portion of the agricultural land of the country, there was the large number of common cultivators. Little is known about their rights in the soil.

The fact, which some inscriptions speak of a piece of land as belonging to one but under the cultivation of a different person, shows that some of the cultivators were non-proprietary or ex- proprietary tenants. The specification of im­munities and privileges in the land grants clearly shows that ordinary tenants had not only to pay many kinds of taxes and cresses, but had also a number of other obligations.

The privileges of the holders of rent-free villages are specified as fol­lows: “together with the mango and mahua trees”, “together with the ground and the space above it”, “together with land and water”, “together with treasures hidden underground together with fish and grass”. These and other similar expressions show that the ordinary tenants enjoyed none of these rights.


They had to provide for the food and other articles of necessity to the royal officials visiting their localities, and also to pay the per­quisites on such occasions as the birth of a prince or the marriage of a princess. This is suggested not only by the inscriptions but also by the literary works.

Such proprietary rights were only enjoyed by the Kings, by the freeholders of landed proper­ties, and apparently also by the various categories of subordinate chiefs or landlords, mentioned in inscriptions, such as rajan, samanta, rajanaka (or ranaka), etc. According to Hiuen-tsang, “mini­sters of state and common officials have all their portions of land and are maintained by the cities assigned to them”. But the officers had no right of alienation.

Uncultivated land belonged to the state, while the ownership of cultivated land, often claimed theoretically on the King’s behalf, lay actually with the tenants (with the exception of non-proprietary cultivators) who were bound to pay to the state a share of the produce, but could not be easily dis­possessed of their fields.

Brihaspati and others speak of particular classes of people like the Sudras who could not possess the land of a Brah­min “by sale, partition, or in lieu of wages”. They further say that when the land was for sale, there was a right of pre-emption in favour of full brothers and other relations, neighbours, creditors, and co-villagers, in that order.


These points to the right of transfer of land exercised by ordinary occupants an early authority, quoted in the Mitakshara, says that land was transferred with the asset of villagers, relations, neighbours and co-sharers, but does not refer to the King or his officials.