Early Medieval Economy 8th – 13th Century
- The early medieval period in Indian history marks the growth of cultivation and organisation of land relations through land grants.
- These grants began around the beginning of Christian era and covered practically the entire subcontinent by the end of the 12th century
- In the early medieval period agricultural expansion meant a greater and more regular use of advanced agricultural techniques, plough cultivation and irrigation technology
- Institutional management of agricultural processes, control of means of production and new relations of production also played an important role in this expansion
- With this expansion, new type of social tensions also emerged. Commercial activities in agricultural and non-agricultural commodities increased.
- Began with the establishment of “Brahmadeya” and “Agrahara” settlements through land grants to Brahmanas @ 4th century
- The early Pali texts of the pre-Maurya period refer to the villages granted to the Brahmanas by the rulers of Kosala and Magadha. A term used for such grants was “Brahamdeya“.
- The centuries between the 8th and 12th witnessed the processes of this expansion and the culmination of an agrarian organisation based on land grants to religious and secular beneficiaries, i.e. Brahmanas, temples and officers of the King’s government
- The practice of making land grants to the Brahmanas was a custom, sanctified by the injunctions laid down in the Dharmashashtras, Epics and Puranas.
- The Anusasana Parva of the Mahabharata devotes a whole chapter to the praise of making gifts of land (Bhumidanaprasamsa).
Geographical and Chronological Patterns :
- Cultivation was extended not only to the virgin lands but even by clearing forest areas. This was a continuous process and a major feature of early medieval agricultural economy.
- Land grants started in outlying, backward and tribal areas first and later gradually extended to the Ganga valley, which was the hub of the brahmanical culture.
- In the backward and aboriginal tracts , Brahmanas could spread new methods of cultivation by regulating agricultural processes through specialised knowledge of the seasons (astronomy), plough, irrigation, etc., as well as by protecting the cattle wealth
- Land grants were also made in areas of settled agriculture as well as in other ecological zones, especially for purposes of integrating them into a new economic order.
Chronological appearance of the land grant system shows the following pattern:
- 4th – 5th centuries : spread over a good part of central India (MP,Chattisgarh), northern Deccan (Western Maharashtra) and Andhra,
- 5th – 7th centuries : eastern India (Bengal and Orissa), beginnings in Western India (Gujarat and Rajasthan)
- 7th and 8th centuries: Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
- 9th century : Kerala
- End of 12th century : almost the entire sub-continent with the possible exception of Punjab
- Ideas relating to the gift of land emphasize the importance of dana or gift.
- The idea of dana or gift to Brahmanas was developed by Brahmanical texts as the surest means of acquiring merit (punya) and destroying sin (pataka).
- It appears to be a conscious and systematic attempt to provide means of subsistence to the Brahmana.
- Grants of cultivable land to them and registration of gifts of land on copper plates are recommended by all the Smritis and Puranas of the post-Gupta centuries