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5.1 Introduction
5.2 Transition to Early Medieval India: Various Perspectives
5.3 Major Political Powers: Palas, Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas
5.4 Approaches to the Study of Early Medieval Polity
5.5 State Formation under the Rajputs
5.6 Nature of Polity under the Palas
5.7 Summary
5.8 Exercises
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


The land grants bestowed upon the Buddhist monks by the Satvahana rulers in the second century A.D. referred to transfer of administrative right to the donees. This was a novel feature which characterises the post Mauryan polity. An important feature of the Gupta polity was that the position of the officers of the districts had become hereditary. From the 5th century A.D. onwards the land grants became numerous. The feudatories of the Guptas in Central India issued grants to Brahmins which carried with them administrative rights (control over revenue and law and order maintenance). These grants were generally held in perpetuity. These measures later led to the emergence of Brahmin feudatories who held administrative rights independent of the royal authority. Land grants made by the Gupta rulers did not entitle the grantee the right of sub-assignment. However, the earliest example of sub-infeudation can be traced to an inscription from Indore in Central India which refers to the approval given by a feudatory of the Guptas regarding a grant made by a merchant. Towards the close of the Gupta period grants were issued by the feudatories without seeking the approval of the royal authority in the core of the empire. In the periphery this practice is dated much earlier. In the Gupta period there is evidence of land grants bestowed upon officers for religious purpose. The officials were generally assigned revenues as payment for services. There is no specific and clear instance of land grants made to administrative and military personnel. In the 6th century A.D. (Gupta period) the term Samant was generally used in the context of subjugated chiefs who became feudatories (tributaries). The Barabar hill cave inscription of Maukhari chief Anantvarman (who was a feudatory of the Guptas) refers to him as ‘Samanta Cudamanih’ (the best among feudatories). Soon it came to be applied to royal officials (in the period of Kalachuri-Chedis [who ruled in Maharashtra and Gujarat] and Harshavardhan). In Harsha’s period it appears that not only the vanquished chiefs but officials were also bestowed with the titles such as samanta-maharaja and mahasamanta. In times of war the samantas were obliged to render military aid to the suzerain. The Harshcharit of Banabhatt elaborately discusses the role of the Samantas. It seems that tributary relationship was the keynote of the Samant (feudatory) system.

From the above account it is clear that land grants made by the kings were initially for religious purpose and the emergence of feudatories within the state system in the

State in Early Medieval
Gupta period created a hierarchical structure based on suzerain/subordinate relationship. In the post-Gupta period there was proliferation of ruling lineages which, in the process of aspiring for political power, at times collaborated to form a supra-local authority at the regional level. In this context the Kshatriyaisation process and the Samant system characterised by land grants to secular personnel was the basis of state formation.


An important problem which confronts historians is characterisation of historical phases into periods such as ancient, medieval, modern etc. These periods had earlier been correlated with Hindu, Muslim and British periods respectively. N.R. Ray laid stress on associating chronology with the special features or aspects of historical change. The term ‘early medieval’ suggests the evolution from the early historical period to medieval period and brings out the characteristics of continuity and change in the broad historical context. This viewpoint, demolishes the ideas of orientalism which emphasised ‘timelessness’ and ‘changelessness’ of Indian polity, society and economy.

We have to analyse the historiography for understanding the periodisation of Indian History into ancient, medieval and modern. According to the conventional interpretation ancient period began with the Aryan invasion and the medieval period with the Muslim invasion. Recently historians are using the term ‘early historical’ rather than ancient for the period starting from the middle of first millennium B.C. For defining the ‘early historical’ phase the following features have been outlined by historians like R.S. Sharma:

• Territorial states headed by Rajanyas or Kshatriyas developed into an extremely centralised officialdom where the authority did not emanate from landholding since the officials were remunerated in cash. The economy was marked by the development of cash nexus, urbanisation, overseas trade, urban crafts etc. In the villages communal landholdings were prevalent among the village communities which constituted the core of social and economic activities of the village.

• Consolidation of the Varna system in which the Kshatriyas and the Brahmanas had control over the produce and Vaishyas paid the taxes since they were the traders and the peasants engaged in trading and agriculture and the Shudras rendered slave labour. Slavery was prevalent but it was not similar to serfdom. The multiplicity of castes did not exist. These features are found in their mature form in the 3rd – 4th centuries A.D.

The transformation from ‘early historical’ to medieval is explained in the context of Indian feudalism by the most acceptable school of ancient Indian historiography represented by D.D. Kosambi., R.S. Sharma and B.N.S. Yadava. The basic premise of the feudal polity is:

i) The disintegration of the unitary administrative system of the Mauryan state based on money or cash economy led to the creation of various loci of authority.

ii) The religious and secular land grants of the period also embodied the administrative rights, which led to fragmentation of authority and sovereignty.


In most of the conventional writings on early medieval political system the states are considered as monarchies with the kings wielding power and authority through the officialdom but the feudal attributes lead to fragmentation and decentralisation of authority and weakening of the central control within the Hindu political system. A. S. Altekar’s views reflect the prevalent notion of early medieval India among the historians, “ (the) ideal of federal-feudal empire with full liberty to each constituent state to strive for imperial status but without permission to forge a unitary empire after the conquest, thus produced a state of continuous instability in ancient India”. This transformation was regarded as a crisis since the centralised state was replaced by fragmented polity.

The other generalisations regarding the polity of pre-modern India relate to the presuppositions such as traditional polity and oriental despotism. The basic proposition of scholars subscribing to this viewpoint is the changeless nature of the polity, economy and society.

N. R. Ray divides the medieval period into 3 phases:

7th century –12th century A.D.

12th century – 16th century A.D.

16th century – 18th century A.D.

He gives the following characteristics of medievalism:

i) The kingdoms become regional and they are regarded as analogous to nation states of Europe.

ii) The nature of economy gets transformed from one based on monetary transactions to predominantly agrarian.

iii) In the sphere of the development of language, literature, script etc. the regional features get consolidated.

iv) The distinctive feature of religion in this period was the mushrooming of a number of sects and sub-sects.

v) Art was categorised into specific regional schools such as Eastern, Orissan, Central Indian, West Indian and Central Deccanese.
Ray’s postulate is also based on the feudal theory or assumption (conjecture). The early period of medievalism according to the established historiography is
located in the pre-Sultanate phase and it has to be analysed in the context of Indian
feudalism. The important features of this postulate are given hereunder:

i) Fragmentation of polity: This process was antithetical to the centralised polity of the Mauryan period. It got consolidated in the post-Gupta period. The essential characteristics of the state were vertical gradation, division of sovereignty, emergence of a category of semi-independent rulers viz. Samantas, Mahasamantas etc.

ii) The rise of landed groups: This is attributed to the prevalence of land grants bestowed mainly upon Brahmanas or religious institutions in the initial period (starting from the early centuries of Christian era and later). In the post-Gupta phase land grants were made to individuals and for other secular purposes. There is reference to fief holding Samantas in this period.

iii) An important constituent of this model was the decay of market economy, trade and urbanism. Services were paid through land assignments. With the growth
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval

of agrarian economy social relations in the rural areas underwent transformation due to the movement of groups into rural areas and the consolidation of the Jajmani (patron-client) system.

iv) Exploitation of the peasants: They were subjected to high taxation, compulsory labour and were deprived of the right of freedom to move from one place to another.

v) The multiplicity of castes: A unique characteristic of the post-Gupta period was the stratification within society. This was brought about due to the prevalence of the concept of Varnasankara (intermixture of castes which originated in the pre-Gupta period) but the process of emergence of castes got strengthened in the post-Gupta period. Due to this phenomenon many new categories came into existence such as Kayasthas and untouchables.

vi) The basis of the ideology and culture of this period was Bhakti which was analogous to the feudal construct since both relied upon attributes like fealty and faithfulness. The deterioration in the sphere of religious practices (development of Tantricism etc.) and court culture and the emergence of the category of landed intermediaries led to the crystallisation of feudal ideology or precepts.

Thus the feudal proposition of scholars in explaining early medieval polity is in contrast to the attributes which shaped the ‘early historical’ period.

‘Early Medieval’ as a category in the historical time span can be explained by juxtaposing it with the ‘Early India’. The historians have tried to define the features of ‘Early India’ and contrast it with ‘Early Medieval’. This exercise has enabled the historians to demolish the myth of the changelessness of Indian polity, economy and society.

The early medieval period has generally been perceived as marked by decentralisation of polity. This view is deduced from the belief that the disintegration of Mauryan empire led to the fragmentation of polity. Historians relying on an important literary source i.e. the Arthasastra, have analysed the Mauryan empire as a ‘centralised bureaucratic state’. However, this approach is being reviewed and Mauryan empire is regarded not as a monolithic entity but a variegated structure comprising of different cultural strands within its large spatial and political dimensions. It consisted of the core located in the Madhyadesa and the local peripheral cultural areas. Thus the political formation even in the Mauryan times was not homogenous.

Recently historians have tried to analyse state formation from a perspective which is at variance with the feudal and decentralisation model. According to this view the following factors contributed to state formation in the early medieval period:

i) The development of state society (represented by ruling lineage formation) resulted in state formation at the regional and local level (nuclear and peripheral regions).

ii) Transformation of tribes into peasants. Historians suggest that in the early medieval period with diminishing trade and commerce the Vaishyas (engaged in commerce, agriculture, pastrolism) suffered a setback. Shudras had served as slave labourers in the early historical period but in the early medieval period, aboriginal tribes and foreign ethnic identities permeated the Shudra Varna. The cultivating categories were now the tribes who got metamorphosed into Shudra peasants who paid revenue.

iii) On the ideological plane the consolidation of regional cults by the amalgamation of varied doctrines, rituals and customs (brahmanical, tribal etc.). The rise of Bhakti and regional cults was thus an important feature of the ideology of this period viz. the Jagannath cult in Orissa was a mechanism to legitimize the king’s power.

Scholars feel that historical changes should be studied against the backdrop of regions and localities. Local state formation brought about the convergence of local and regional customs, traditions etc. into the existing patterns of monarchy, Dharmshastric social and Puranic Hindu religious traditions. These features did not exist in isolation. They were interrelated and contributed to the emergence of regional patterns in polity and culture. Thus recently historians have tried to analyse early medieval not as a period of crisis but a phase when historical changes led to the emergence of regions embodying distinctive political, social, economic and cultural attiributes.

The emergence of Rajput lineages such as Guhilas, Chalukyas and Hunas (foreign and native) was a unique feature of early medieval polity. These lineages were spread over Gujarat, Rajasthan, Central India and Uttar Pradesh. In the 12th and
13th century the medieval state of Mewar became prominent under the Guhila clan belonging to the Nagda-Ahar branch. The expansion of agrarian economy (development of irrigation techniques, etc.) and land grants indicate the proliferation of agricultural settlements. Gurjaras are referred to as agriculturists in the inscriptions. Many ruling families in Western India were offshoots of the Gurjaras.

In Orissa in the period between 4th and 12th century A.D. state formation was characterised by the proliferation of lineages. The most important among these were the Coda-Gangas who emerged powerful in the 11th Century A.D. The emergence of the ruling familes took place in the regions which provided the scope for resource mobilisation as is evident from the land grants of the period.

The viewpoint that disintegration of a centralised state structure led to a crisis or the emergence of feudal polity has been contradicted by some scholars who feel that early medieval period was characterised by the establishment of local and regional states which arose due to the proliferation of local ruling clans and their transformation into local state and regional structures.

The period from 3rd to 6th centuries A.D. especially the period after the 6th century A.D. witnessed the emergence of regional and local states. This phenomenon was the characteristic trait of early medieval India. An underlying feature of local state formation was the rise of ruling lineages in different regions. However, the political system was monarchical. Thus, Brahmanical ethos validated the monarchical system as essential for maintenance of political order and it also regarded Varna system indispensable for preservation of socio-political order. The Varnasamkara concept accentuated the process of stratification (vertical and horizontal) and social mobility also took place through dissent or fissioning off within groups and communities etc. The ascription of Kshatriya status by social categories was a means to get sanction for political authority.

The three important attributes of state formation in this period were:

1) Ideology for endorsement of monarchy

2) Appropriation of agricultural surplus

3) The emergence of a hierarchical system based on hegemony and subjugation.
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval
The rise of state system had several implications for the localities and social groups. It brought about the disintegration of the social system comprising of non-stratified communities and created distinctive category of ruling groups. Thus the formation of state in a regional and social context was made possible due to the divisions within social groups and regions and the development of a system marked by hierarchical relations based on the elements of authority and subjection.


The decline of the Gupta empire in the 6th century A.D. was followed by the rise of a number of ruling houses such as Maukhris of Kanauj and Pushpbhutis of Thanesar. Harshavardhana who belonged to the family of Pushpbhutis of Thanesar became the ruler of Kanauj, filling the vaccum after the death of his brother-in-law, the Maukhri ruler of Kanauj. Ever since Harshavardhana made Kanauj the capital of his empire, it remained the imperial centre of North Indian polities for several centuries, even though its political fortunes changed frequently. This implied a shift in political power from the east to the west. Pataliputra, which was an important centre during the reigns of both the Mauryas and Guptas, was now replaced by Kanauj as the centre of North Indian political dominance.

In this Unit we shall mainly strive to understand the political history of the major regional powers of North India. Later we will discuss the complex processes of formation of polity which have been understood in different ways by different historians. Before engaging with those, it is necessary to have an overview of the succession of ruling dynasties that ruled in these regions during the early medieval period as also the sequence of important battles won and lost by these dynasties. To start with, let us look at Bengal.

Bengal had been part of the Maurya and Gupta empires. For long stretches of its early history Bengal is not known to have played an important role in the political history of India even after the decline of the Guptas. The first significant ruler of Bengal was Sasanka who ruled roughly between 606-637 A.D. Sasanka is considered the first historically known ruler of the area that constituted Bengal. He was also the first in this region to have extended his political sovereignty over areas that lay far beyond the geographical boundary of Bengal. Sasanka had become the master of the whole of Bengal with his capital at Karnasuvarna (near Murshidabad), and had perhaps extended his rule as far as Orissa. He even advanced against Kanauj which was occupied by the rulers of the Maukhari dynasty at that time. Sasanka’s military adventures proved successful and this ultimately led to the growth of hostilities between him and the rulers of Thanesar. Harshavardhana, who eventually became king of Thanesar, set out to defeat Sasanka but was unsuccessful. Ultimately, Harsha succeeded in his conquest of Sasanka’s empire only after the latter’s death.

The death of Sasanka was followed by a period of political decline in the fortunes of Bengal. It was attacked by Yasovarman of Kanauj and Laitaditya of Kashmir and later on perhaps by the king of Kamrupa. It resulted in the weakening of central authority and the rise of independent chiefs. It seems that the prevailing anarchy led the chiefs to elect someone called Gopala as the ruler of the whole kingdom. Gopala, who went on to become the founder of the Pala dynasty in Bengal,
6 consolidated his rule over Bengal and brought the much needed stability and prosperity

to the region. The date of his accession is not known in definite terms but is generally believed to be in the second half of the 8th century A.D. He died in about
780 A.D. and was succeeded by his son Dharmpala.

R.C. Majumdar describes Dharmpala as one of the greatest kings that ever ruled in Bengal and one who raised the glory of the kingdom to great heights. It may be mentioned that in the famous tripartite struggle between the Palas, Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas, to establish control over Northern India, Dharmpala played a very crucial role. In fact for a while he managed to attain a supreme position in North India. According to R.C. Majumdar, Dharmpala spent his whole life in military campaigns. After having suffered defeat at the hands of Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas, he went on to establish an empire that embraced a considerable part of Northern India. Details about his reign are known mostly from copper plate inscriptions found at a place called Khalimpur. Apart from his military campaigns, Dharmpala is also known for his patronage of Buddhism. He founded many Buddhist monasteries but, it was the famous Vikramshila University founded by him, that earned him a lot of fame.

Dharmpala was succeeded by his son Devapala who ruled for about 40 years. According to R.C. Majumdar his fame had reached as far as the distant isles of the Indian Archipelago. Devapala also emerged as a powerful king. Devapala was the last among the line of powerful kings of the Pala dynasty. He was succeeded by Vigrahapala, who ruled for a short period. It is said that Vigrahapala preferred an ascetic life to an aggressive military career. He was followed in succession by Narayanapala, whose reign saw the decline of the glorious rule established by the Palas.

Of the Pala kings, both Dharmpala and Devapala, won fame and glory thorugh their victories in the famous Tripartite struggle. This was a struggle amongst the Pratiharas, Palas and Rashtrakutas for gaining victory over the imperial capital of Kanauj and for establishing control over Northern India.

About the same time that the Palas had established a strong monarchy in Bengal, the Pratiharas under their king, Vatsaraja, seemed to have ruled over large parts of Rajputana and Central India. While the Palas were expanding in a westward direction. The Pratiharas were expanding their kingdom towards the East. Conflict between the two powers was thus inevitable. By the time the first encounter between the two took place, the Palas seemed to have extended their kingdom at least as far as Allahabad. It is not clear who the Pala king was at that time. It may have been either Gopala or Dharmpala.

In the meantime, rulers of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, who had already established their supremacy in the Deccan were trying to extend their dominance over North India. The Rashtrakuta king Dhruva having crossed the Vindhyas, first defeated the Pratihara king Vatsaraja and then advanced upon Dharmpala and defeated him. With this encounter which took place somewhere in the Ganga Yamuna doab, began the Tripartite struggle for supremacy between the Palas, Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas.

Though the Rahtrakutas achieved complete triumph in the beginning, the death of Dhruva was followed by chaos in the Rashtrakuta kingdom. Dhruva’s son Govinda III was engaged in a struggle against an alliance of twelve kings of South India. The Palas and Pratiharas made use of the respite that this development gave them. Of the two, Dharmpala was quick to recover. He took advantage of this and made his
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval

suzerainty to be acknowledged by almost all important states of North India. He managed to capture Kanauj and place his own nominee on the throne. He held a great imperial assembly in the presence of a large number of vassal kings at Kanauj. In this assembly he consecrated himself as the overlord of the whole of Northern India. At this time Dharmpala’s suzerainty was accepted in areas covering Central Punjab, and probably extended upto the Sindhu, Kangra valley, East Punjab, Jaipur, Malwa and probably also Berar. This is inferred from the list of vassal chiefs who attended his imperial assembly. With this event, Bengal emerged from oblivion and rose to the position of a supreme power in North India. The king of Bengal became the supreme head of an empire that stretched from the Western part of North India to the East up to Central India.

However, this situation did not last for long, given the ever-changing nature of political control during this period. The Pratiharas managed to recover under the leadership of Nagabhatta, the son and successor of Vatsaraja. Nagabhatta attacked and defeated the nominee whom Dharmpala had placed on the throne of Kanauj, which resulted in a conflict with Dharmpala himself. In a battle fought against Dharmpala, Nagabhatta emerged victorious. After this success, Nagabhatta conquered several territories, including a large portion of the territories under the control of Dharmpala.

In this situation, Dharmpala probably sought the aid of Govinda III, the Rashtrakuta king, to check the advances of Nagabhatta. Govinda III, either in response to this or on his own initiative, undertook a military expedition to North India. Nagabhatta who was unable to resist such an onslaught was forced to flee. His territory was overrun by the Rashtrakutas who then proceeded northwards. However, even after establishing an empire that stretched from South to North Govinda III was unable to sustain his conquests, due to internal dissensions within the empire. In this scenario, Dharmpala managed to gain the upper hand. He seems to have recovered his empire to a large extent. At the time of his death around 815 A.D., his son Devapala became the undisputed ruler of a large part of North India. He is said to have defeated the Dravidas, Gurjaras and Hunas and conquered Utkala and Kamarupa. The court poet described his empire as extending from the Himalayas in the North to the Vindhyas in the South and from the Bay of Bengal in the East to the Arabian sea in the West.

We have already discussed how the power of the Palas gradually declined after the reign of Devapala. The Palas henceforth ruled as a local power in Eastern India. They continually faced invasions and occasional raids by the Kalachuris, Chandellas and Rashtrakutas who sometimes conquered portions of their territory. North and West Bengal were occupied by the Kambojas in the later half of the 10th century. Taking advantage of this the Kalachuris advanced against the Palas as far as Mithila. Around the same time, the Chola king Rajendra Chola and a Chalukya king also invaded the Pala territories. It goes to the credit of Mahipala I, the reigning Pala king of the time, to have defended his kingdom successfully against the Kalachuris, Cholas and Chalukyas and also to have recovered territories from the Kambojas. But South and West Bengal were ruled by several independent chiefs and was not under the control of the Palas.

However, Mahipala’s successor, Nayapala and his successor Vigrahapala III continued to be engaged in a constant struggle against the Kalachuris of Tripuri. Vigrahapala III was succeeded by his son Mahipala II whose reign witnessed a lot of upheavals. Some of the vassal chiefs rose against him. Mahipala II tried to resist these vassals,

but was defeated and killed. Divya, an official who belonged to the Kaivarta caste established control over North Bengal. Mahipala II’s brothers Surapala II and Ramapala took shelter in Magadha. Surapala II died soon after and Ramapala took over, but by this time practically the whole of Bengal had passed out of Pala control. A dynasty of kings with names ending in Varman, ruled over East Bengal, while Divya the rebel Kaivarta chief ruled over North Bengal. The remaining territories of Bengal were under the control of different independent chiefs who perhaps still nominally acknowledged the overlordship of the Palas.

Ramapala was able to mobilise the support of a large number of chiefs who helped him to defeat and kill the son of Divya and wrest back North Bengal. Ramapala also forced the Varman ruler of East Bengal to submit to his authority. He also conquered Kamarupa and sent an expedition against the Gahadavalas. He also interfered in the politics of Orissa. In short, Ramapala was successful in restoring the strength and prestige of the Pala kingdom to a large extent. However, the Pala kingdom disintegrated during the reign of his two sons Kumarapala and Madanapala.

Even while Madanapala was busy defending his kingdom from invasions, a new dynasty called the Senas rose in West Bengal. The first significant ruler of this dynasty was Vijayasena, who defeated Madanapala and conquered Bengal. He advanced as far as Assam and Mithila and also conquered a part of Magadha, although the Pala king still ruled over a portion of Magadha. Vijayasena was succeeded by his son Ballalasena. Ballalasena who was a powerful king as well as a learned scholar, was succeeded by his son Lakshmanasena. Lakshmanasena whose reign began in 1178 A.D., had an illustrious military career. He achieved some success in Orissa, fought against the Gahadavalas and was able to advance successfully as far as Banaras and Allahabad and was also in possession of a large part of Bihar. Lakshmanasena was also a learned scholar and a patron of poets. With him ended the reign of the Sena dynasty and Bengal passed into the hands of the Turkish rulers of Delhi.

Let us now examine the political developments in the region of Orissa which also emerged as an important regional kingdom with its distinctive regional tradition. We have already learnt about Sasanka’s conquest of Orissa. After the death of Sasanka, Orissa, as we already know was overrun by Harsha. Around the middle of the 7th century A.D. Sainyabhit Madhavavarman, the ruler of the Sailodbhava dynasty declared independence. The Sailodbhavas were a dynasty that ruled over Kongoda, a region extending from Chilka lake to Mahendragiri mountain in the Ganjam district. After Sasanka conquered Orissa, this dynasty continued as his feudatory.

After going though this brief sketch of political events of the early medieval period in North India you may be wondering how to make sense of all these details of dynastic accounts, battles, victories and defeats. After all, the study of history goes far beyond mere listing of political events, and deal mainly with the analysis of political processes and social and economic formations. Of what use, then are these sketches of dynastic histories of the different regions, to a modern day historian. Well, as B.D. Chattopadhyay points out, “Even the seemingly bewildering variety of details of the political history of early medieval India – the absurdly long genealogies, the inflated records of achievements of microscopic kingdoms, the rapidity of the rise and fall of centres of power – are ultimately manifestations of the way in which the polity evolved in the period and hence is worthy, not so much of cataloguing, but of serious analysis.”
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval

Early medieval India has been described by historians, largely as a dark phase of Indian history characterised only by political fragmentation and cultural decline. Such a characterisation being assigned to it, this period remained by and large a neglected one in terms of historical research. We owe it completely to new researches in the recent decades to have brought to light the many important and interesting aspects of this period. Fresh studies have contributed to the removal of the notion of ‘dark age’ attached to this period by offering fresh perspectives. Indeed the very absence of political unity that was considered a negative attribute by earlier scholars is now seen as the factor that had made possible the emergence of rich regional cultures of the medieval period. The existing historiography on the early medieval period has been classified into hypotheses based on broadly two sets of propositions. One of these assumptions is that traditional polity is essentially changeless. Historians relying on this hypothesis have described polity in early medieval India as “traditional” or “Oriental despotic” (originally derived from Marx) Hermann Kulke points out that Marx’s model of oriental despotism was an “outcome of occidental prejudice against an alleged oriental despotism”.

The other assumption underlying most of the recent works on this period is one that envisages possibilities of change as opposed to the previous approach of changelessness of Indian polity. The first kind of model with the assumption of change is perhaps the “imperial model” or centralised state model. Change according to the historians subscribing to the imperial model, was thus conceived in terms of dynastic change as well as change in size of territory of the empire. It was seen as deviation from the norm set by “imperial rulers down to the time of Harsha who endeavoured to stem the tide of disintegration and fragmentation” (B.D. Chattopadhyaya, The Making of Early Medieval India). The early medieval period was therefore understood, within this model as a negative change from the ideal imperial system. In other words, change is seen here as a negative change towards a state of instability as opposed to the norm of a centralised unitary state. This approach is also, therefore not very helpful in gaining insights into the processes involved in state formation during the period under study. This is because, it does not go much beyond a description of military conquests and dynastic history into more crucial structural issues. This approach, which was mainly adopted by nationalist Indian historians is also fraught with dangers of communal interpretations of Indian history since it assumes as its ideal or normative, the “Hindu political order”.

Yet another model which is based upon the assumption of dynamism or change is the “Indian Feudalism” model. This model needs to be understood seriously as it represents a turning point in the historiography of the period. This is because change during the early medieval period was explained in this model as representing a transformation of the socio-economic system and the interrelatedness between social and political formation. The emergence of a hierarchical structure during this period, as exemplified in the Samanta system, is used by historians following the feudalism approach to explain the hegemony and dominance of the early medieval state through suppression and exploitation.

D. D. Kosambi was the first to provide a conceptual definition of Indian feudalism. In subsequent years the most important contribution towards the understanding of
10 this period through the feudalism approach was in the writings of R. S. Sharma. The

basis of Sharma’s arguments was evidence that revealed an ever-increasing number of land grants made to Brahmins and religious institutions since the early centuries of Christian era and also to government officials later on. Sharma pointed to the fact that grantees were being endowed with more and more immunities and they increasingly encroached on communal village land which led to the exploitation of the peasantry.

This situation according to him was further aggravated by the decline of urbanism and trade, particularly foreign trade. Another factor was the paucity of coins. Thus economically, this period was characterised by him as one of decay and decline. He described the period, in political terms, as one which saw a continuous process of fragmentation and decentralisation, caused by the widespread practice of granting big and small territories to feudatories and officials who established their control over territories and emerged as independent potentates. The crux of this argument, therefore is that feudal polity emerged from the gradual breakdown of a centralised bureaucratic state system, represented by the Mauryan state. The system of assignment of land, gradually became widespread in the early medieval period and was tied up with the transfer of the rights of administration of the centralized state as well as its rights over sources of revenue. This process gradually led to the corroding of the authority of the state and resulted in the erosion of sovereignty.

This construct drew criticism from scholars like D. C. Sircar who pointed to the scarce amount of evidence for land grants of a secular type with service tenures, as compared to the evidence of a large number of grants made to Brahmins and religious institutions. Another proponent of the ‘feudal polity’ model, B. N. S. Yadava endeavoured to provide new evidence of an increasing practice of land- grants to military officers, during the post-Gupta period and for restrictions on the mobility of peasants. Yadava, influenced by the writings of Marc Bloch and Max Weber, shifted emphasis towards the political aspects of feudalism. For him the most important feature of Indian feudalism was the ‘Samanta’ or the independent neighbouring chief, who rose to prominence since 600 A.D., at the royal courts from a vanquished status to a position of reinstalled feudatories and court dignitaries. In the new conception of empire, the territorial aspect or control was no longer important. In its place, the extension of the tributary system became important. According to Yadava, such empires were at best tributary superstructures and therefore lacked solidarity, stability and political unity.

The feudalism model outlined above has met with a lot of criticism over the years. B. D. Chattopadhyay has questioned the theory of urban decay and decline of trade in the post-Gupta period, a very essential premise of the feudalism argument. The sharpest criticism has come from Harbans Mukhia who questioned the very existence of Indian feudalism. He pointed out that in the European context, feudalism emerged due to changes in the society, whereas in India, the establishment of feudalism has been attributed to state actions especially land grants. He raised doubts whether such complex socio-political structures as feudalism can be established through administrative and legal procedures. Mukhia also raised questions about several other essentials in the concept of Indian feudalism, such as serfdom. He argued that Indian peasantry has been characterised predominantly as free. Like Mukhia, B. D. Chattopadhyay also raises doubts whether administrative measures can bring in changes in socio-political formations. He says that if land assignments made by the state weaken the power of the state (because the state surrenders its administrative and revenue rights), then it means that feudal polity emerged because “pre-feudal polity decides to preside over the liquidation of its own power” (B.D. Chattopadhyay,
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval

The Making of Early Medieval India). In this sense the situations in early medieval times could be explained as a form of crisis in the pre-feudal system. This leads to the question i.e., was the pre-feudal polity absolutely centralised?

While critiquing the model of feudal polity Chattopadhyay agrees that the existence of landgrants cannot be denied, nor can the presence of the contractual element in these landgrants be negated completely. He also accepts that the system of assignments, wherever it existed, did bring in important changes in agrarian relations. However, he points out that all this does not help to explain the origin of feudal polity. Instead, he considers land grants (secular) as one and not the sole criteria for understanding the structure of polity. While questioning the single line argument for the formation of polity, based on the evidence of landgrants, Chattopadhyay also says that no system can be totally centralised, indicating thereby that the problem should be addressed from another stand point. This leads us to studies, which have analysed the complex interrelationship between socio-economic and political aspects that have shaped the formation of the early medieval polities.

In recent years, new historical works on the formation of polity in early medieval India have taken our understanding of the problem from a macro to a micro-level. The common issue in most of these studies is a focus on structural developments and changes within a micro-level state system. These studies constitute a departure from the existing historiography because unlike the nationalist historians’ model and the feudalism model, which have viewed political change largely in terms of fragmentation or the breakdown of political authority, the new group of historians have perceived political changes through integration and interrelationship between socio-economic and political processes.

The process of change, according to these historians, has been a result of the emergence and gradual development of “state society” (formation of ruling lineages). This involved a metamorphosis of ‘pre-state polities’ into state polities and thus the assimilation of local polities into larger state structures.

B.D. Chattopadhyay explains that the process of establishment of large polities took place in the nuclear areas. These nuclear regions served as a strong resource generation pocket for the state structure. He further points out that large polities emerged in other areas as well as a result of military expansion. In this context he gives the example of the expansion of the Pala power which from South East Bengal penetrated into the middle and lower Ganges basin.

According to Hermann Kulke this process of the expansion of state society, through the transformation of pre-state polities into state polities, was based on and progressed along with certain other crucial phenomena. One of these was the emergence and spatial expansion of ruling lineages. This process was achieved through Kshatriyaisation or Rajputisation. Within the framework of post – Gupta polity state society which was a manifestation of formation of ruling lineages had first penetrated into nuclear regions and expanded into peripheral areas by the end of the Gupta period.

B.D. Chattopadhyay also examines the formation of ruling lineages from the perspective of the process of social mobility in early medieval India. He explains that through Kshatriyaisation, any lineage or segment of a large ethnic group could make an attempt to assume political power and establish a large state structure by an effective mobilisation of force. Ruling lineages owed their origin to the expansion of agricultural settlements (this development was accentuated by the improvement

of agricultural techniques, etc.) and conversion of tribal groups into peasants, which helped in the colonisation of new areas and the emergence of a state structure. Although this period was marked by the emergence of many ruling lineages but they did not become permanently established in a geographical region for long and got eclipsed in course of time. Several other lineages emerged (as offshoots of the same clan) as the political power in another region through expansion into other areas. Sometimes the lineage in a geographical location was replaced by another lineage with the passage of time and established a different type of political formation.

The new group of scholars, working within the framework of “integrative polities”, also linked the process of formation of state polities with economic and social processes like the extension of agrarian society through the peasantization of tribal groups. A very important constituent of this complex and multi-dimenstional process of state formation studied by this group of scholars is the religious aspect i.e. the role played by religious institutions in the process of state formation. Whereas within the framework of the “feudalism” and “segmentary state” models, land grants to Brahmins and temples are attributed a “divisive” and hence negative role leading to the process of fragmentation of political authority and strengthening of the segmentary structure of state, the new approaches view this as an aspect of integration.

According to B.D. Chattopadhyaya, such assignments as Brahmadeyas and Devadanas as administrative measures helped in providing legitimacy to the temporal power in the areas occupied by them. In this respect the temporal and sacred arena were mutually interlinked. Temporal power depended upon the sanction from ‘spiritual authority’ and the latter needed the support from the temporal power for its sustenance.

During the process of spread of lineage society the several cults and practices of the lineage groups were brought into a uniform framework and the precepts of Bhakti provided the basis for this integration. The temple served as the focal point of Bhakti ideology. The religious cults and traditions which were institutionalised and integrated through the temple and the principles of Bhakti were an instrument for legitimising state power.

Samantas have been regarded as feudatories who brought about the decentralization of polity which came to be dominated by suzerain – subordinate relationship. However scholars like B. D. Chattopadhyay counter the decentralised polity perspective and while conceding the hierarchical (overlord/subordinate) element intrinsic to “Samanta”, they feel that it did not lead to centrifugal tendencies but was an instrument of integration. The expansion of ruling lineages horizontally was brought about due to many factors (expansion of agricultural settlements, transformation of tribes into peasants, etc.). This type of polity could sustain itself only through the hierarchical feudatory (Samanta) system in which administrative powers and resources had to be parceled out. A local and regional ruling lineage could get transformed into a supralocal power only with the aid (military etc.) of other ruling lineages and this necessitated a hierarchical system based on gradation. Thus the feudatory system was integrative in character.
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


The period after the 7th century A.D. was characterized by the growth of ruling clans especially in Rajasthan and these have been categorized as Rajput. The rise
of Rajputs has so far been analysed in the context of tracing their ancestry through 13

State in Early Medieval

a study of the genealogies found in the inscriptions and constructing a dynastic and political history. Several theories have been propounded by scholars regarding the origin of the Rajputs. Some consider them to be of foreign stock while others regard them as belonging to the Kshatriya Varna. Bardic traditions refer to them as having originated from agnikunda on Mt. Abu. Later heroic poems or traditions suggest that the category Rajput comprised of 36 clans which initially may have been 12 or
24. However recent writings have tried to study the history of the emergence of ruling lineages in early medieval India. Thus the focus in the study of early medieval polity has moved away from the dynastic history of ‘Rajput’ kingdoms to the analysis of the factors which led to the emergence of state structure comprising of local ruling clans. The formation of ruling lineages is regarded as a ‘process’ which emerged and was strengthened by the alleged ascription of Kshatriya status by these ruling clans. The claims were not merely a manifestation of their desire to trace their pedigree but they represented the means to justify their position as the ruling authority. Thus, the ‘Rajput’ category and the process of Rajputization through adaptation within the regional and socio-political context, gained ascendancy in early medieval times. This should be studied not in terms of dynastic and genealogical details but as a phenomenon which led to the evolution from ‘tribal’ to state polity in this period.

The increase in agricultural settlements with the growth of agricultural economy is borne out by the epigraphic and archaeological testimony. The inscriptional evidence from Western and Central India refers to the subjugation of Sabaras, Bhillas and Pulindas by the Rajput clans. The Rajput ruling lineages gained at the expense of the tribal groups. Various traditions mentioned either in the inscriptions or the heroic poems refer to the migration of Guhilas from Gujarat to Rajasthan and depict them as the successors of the tribal chiefdom of the Bhils. The Nadol offshoot of the Cahamana clan established itself in South-east Marwar by displacing the Medas, which has been referred to in the PuratanaPrabandhSangraha and Nainsi’s Khyat (Compiled in the 17th Century). The improved agricultural techniques encouraged settlement of new territories and the gradual transformation from “tribalism” to state polity. The mythical bardic narrative contained in the Pallival Chand portrays the process by which the Medas and Minas were eclipsed by Rathoda Siha. An important feature of this period was the process of social mobility within Varna hierarchy. Medas and Hunas exemplify this process since they acquired ‘Rajput’ rank from a tribal position. The Pratiharas belonged to the Gurjara clan and became an important ruling power in the 8th century A.D. They were originally pastoralists and agriculturists. The Pratiharas as part of the tribal Gurjara clan branched off to emerge as a ruling power. The genealogies ‘fabricated’ for this period tried to claim high status for the ruling lineage. The Pratiharas of Mandor (837 A.D.) are said to have descended from Kshatriya wife of a Brahmana thus laying claim to Brahma-kshatra status. Guhilas of Mewar (10th to 11th century A.D.) are also referred to as possessing Brahma-kshatra status. Cahamanas of Sakambhari (1169
A.D.) are also alleged to be Brahma- kshatra. In the records dealing with the
‘Rajput’ ruling clans they are either referred to as feudatories of Pratiharas, Mauryas or autonomous. Regarding their ancestry it is traced to the mythological figures like Maharaja Karna, Lakshmana, Vedic gods like Indra, Vishnu, Solar race and Ikshvakus of Krta age. It seems that Brahma- kshatra status was a device used in the late period to further legitimise the new pure Kshatriya position as having been obtained from an even more pure and high status of Brahman. Thus the genealogies were composed in the period of transformation from subservient to sovereign power. These genealogies were exaggeration although they did contain some elements of genuinity. The Gurjaras of Gujarat were feudatories of the Valabhi

king. The early Guhilas held feudatory positions (feudatories of Mauryas and Pratiharas). The Cahahamana genealogy refers to the term Samanta which proves that they were feudatories of Gurjara Pratiharas and the term naradeva or nrpa (king) indicates their transformation to autonomous status. The above examples illustrate how the Rajputisation process (formation of ruling lineages, emergence of feudatories) took place within the prevailing graded state structure.

An important characteristic of Rajput polity was the distribution of land among the Rajput clans which led to the emergence of large estates. The grouping of villages into blocks comprising of six or multiples of six or eighty four villages led to the emergence of territorial and administrative units. The forts built in this period were an expression of political authority of the ruling clans and these forts drew sustenance from the contiguous landholdings and formed a part of the territorial system of Rajput polity. Marriage alliances among the various Rajput clans also had their impact in the political sphere. The inter-clan marriage networks were confined to Rajputs i.e. ruling elites. Social groups who acquired power in this period and emerged as ruling elites also legitimised their position socially and politically by entering into marriage alliances with established Rajput lineages and through kshatriyaisation.

It appears that by the 13th century the Rajputra category indicated not only the political position but it became hereditary. There was growth and expansion of Rajput clan network. The term Rajputra encompassed a wide category from son of a king to a small landholder. Epithets like Rajaputra, Rauta, Ranaka became more prevalent after 12th century than samanta and mahasamanta. The terms Rajputra, Ranaka, etc. are sometimes mentioned along with the appellations like samanta, mahamandelesvara, etc. Rauta, Ranaka, titles are also found in the inscriptions of many clans who were probably seeking a place in the socio-political structure which proves that Rajput socio-political system was an assimilative and flexible structure. With the rise of the Rajputs the traditional Kshatriyas were probably resorting to other professions and the ruling category was now not analogous to Kshatriya but to the Rajput. There are several instances of inter-clan relationship within Rajput polity viz.- In the Cahamana kingdom Guhilas existed as landholding elites. The memorial stones or relics known as govardhana dhvajas or devali refer to Pratihara, Cahamana and Guhila clans. They also mention appellations like Mahasamanta, Rana, Rauta, Rajputra. It appears that military prowess was an important factor which helped these clans in becoming ruling powers. The Rajput ruling clans got proliferated either through segmentation(an important clan got subdivided into sub-clan) or through assimilation with the local elements.

The land assignments were an important feature of the polity under the Pratiharas and their feudatories. Land was bestowed upon the Brahmins and temples by the Pratihara kings. These grants were virtually held in perpetuity. However these grants do not clarify the exact nature of economic and administrative privileges. These administrative measures (issuance of land grants) led to the emergence of landed intermediaries between the ruling group and the peasants. Religious endowments were commonly prevalent in the territories of feudatories of Pratiharas. The religious grantees were given the responsibility of maintaining law and order and collection of revenue. In 890 A.D. Pratihara ruler Bhoja I assigned land to a Kalachuri ruler for his meritorious military service. Pratihara kings also gave land grants to senior officials. The grant issued by the Gurjara feudatory of the Pratiharas refers to the territory under his control as Svabhog-avapta-vamsapotakabhoga. He was a member of ruling family and had been granted the territory by the Pratihara king but
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval

he further sub-allotted it with administrative rights. However it seems that Pratiharas issued very few secular grants. An important feature of administrative system under Pratiharas and their feudatories was the practice of subinfeudation. The religious grantees made endowments to others by transferring portions of their assignments. Grants were also bestowed upon the mathas and teachers by the members of the ruling clans or other feudatories who could make sub-grants even without the approval of the overlord. There is a reference to a land grant made by a high Pratihara functionary to a temple which was recommended by a Cahamana feudatory. The charter of this grant contained the signature of the two royal officials. This shows the importance of royal sanction in the administrative system. However it seems that royal and official sanction was not always sought while making grants.

A unique feature of Pratihara administrative system was the absence of a large centralised bureaucratic machinery. The category of central officials mentioned in the grants are called Niyuktas. The territories held by the feudatories and Mahasamantas were administered by them through their sub-feudatories. It seems that the administrative rights were further parceled out among feudatories and sub- feudatories. Though the Pratiharas might have exercised control over their feudatories but it seems that the polity was dominated by Samanta/feudatory system. The Pratihara kings used appellations viz. Parmeshwara, Mahrajadhiraja etc. These titles point to the superiority of the king over all other chiefs and princes who had accepted his suzerainty. From the inscriptions we come to know that Madhava (in the period of the Pratihara king Mahendrapal II) who was a governor (Tantrapal) and chief commander (Mahadandanayaka) was also referred to as Mahasamanta. Undabhata who held the position of governor of town (Mahapratihara) was also called Mahasamantadhipati (head of feudatories). It seems that the officials were bestowed with appellations having feudal connotation. The feudatories of Pratiharas (Cahamana, Chalukyas, Guhilot and Kalachuri) provided military assistance to their suzerain. The relationship was based on the idea of loyalty and allegiance. The feudatories acknowledged their suzerain in the grants. The Pratiharas did not have several seats of power and kept their base mainly at Kannauj. They did not generally make non-religious grants. However in 1036 A.D. the last ruler of this dynasty made a non-sectarian grant to a non-Brahmin. Villages under the Gurjara Pratiharas were divided into groups of 12 and 84. This is mentioned in the inscription of 9th century A.D. of a Chalukya feudatory of Pratiharas. It seems that later the territories were distributed among the leaders of the clans in units of 12 villages or their multiples.

The Gurjara Pratihara empire declined in the later half of the 10th century A.D. The Gahadavalas and Kalachuris controlled the territories in UP. The eastern portion of Central India was being ruled by Kalachuris of Tripuri and Chandelas of Jejakabhukti. Later the Kalachuris were divided into 3 groups:

1) of Tripuri

2) of Ratanpura

3) of Gorakhpur

Territories in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Malwa were placed under various Rajput ruling clans viz. Cahamanas who got partitioned into 5 groups:

1) Broach

2) Javalipura (mid 12th century)

3) Sakambhari

4) Naddula and

5) Ranthambhor

The important ruling clans of Cahamanas in the 12th – 13th century A.D. were those of Broach and Ranthambhor. The Guhilas took control of Mewar in the 13th century. The Tomars were in possession of Ajmer and Delhi. Paramaras held Malwa and fissioned off into various branches: Malwa, Abu, Bhinmal and Kiradu in the 12th century A.D. However Abu Paramaras were subjugated by Bhima Chalukya in
1062 A.D. and Paramaras continued to function as feudatories of Chalukya as in Abu. Gujarat was brought under the Chalukya rule. However in the 12th century A.D., their feudatories, the Vaghelas emerged as an important ruling power.

The grants inscribed on stone or copper as well as documents like Lekhapaddhati throw light on the practice of land grants to officials and feudatories for their services. It seems that under the Cahamanas, Gahadavalas, Candellas and Kalachuris officers and administrative functionaries were remunerated from the taxes collected from villages. Taxes were set aside as salary for the various categories of officers. In the 12th century A.D. Gahadavala officials were in a position to make exactions for their personal use upon the villages. The Cahamans also exacted taxes from villages for the upkeep of military personnel called Baladhipas. In this period various administrative functionaries were remunerated through fixed levies. Officials like Purohits, Sacivas, Pratiharas, Mahamatyas etc. were also remunerated through land grants for the specific services performed by them in the administrative system. Feudatories whether they belonged to the ruling clan or not were however entrusted with all kinds of military, judicial and executive responsibilities. Inscriptions refer to various types of feudatories: Raja, Rajarajanaka, Ranaka, Rajputra, Thakkura, Samanta, Mahasamanta, Mandalikas, etc. They were compensated for their services in the form of grants of villages.

From the inscriptions we learn that the land grants were initially given to the priests and later this practice became widespread and officials (non-priests) and feudatories were also endowed with grants: Brahmins, Kayastha and Kshatriya. An important feature of the Rajput polity in Rajasthan and Gujarat was that grants were generally given to the members of the ruling family. However those who were not members of ruling clan were also given grants in other areas. The feudatories were generally required to provide military assistance to the suzerain. Military personnel of the Chandellas and Gahadavalas were known as Rautas but were called Rajputras under the Cahamanas and Chalukyas (who were members of the ruling clan). The appellations Ranaka and Thakura are frequently used for feudatories in North India.

The earliest land grants were issued in favour of priests and temples. Later the secular grants were also issued on the pattern of religious grants especially to Brahmins who enjoyed civil and military positions. Agni Puran (10th to 11th century A.D.) deriving from Kamandaka NitiSara (8th century A.D.) advises the Samantas “to assuage public feeling to help their overlord in war, to mobilise his (the overlord’s) allies and auxiliaries and to distinguish friends from enemies. They are further asked to protect the people (janatranam) like a fort – a function that devolved on them from their sovereign. On the other hand the king is advised to be on his guard against the vassals, whose revolt is considered to be an external danger in contrast to the internal danger caused by the disaffection of princes, ministers and other high
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


State in Early Medieval
functionaries” (R. S. Sharma, Indian Feudalism). The Agnipuran therefore directs the king to annihilate the rebellious feudatories.

The Lekhapaddhati which discusses the situation in Gujarat in the 12th – 13th century is a legal text which refers to the duties of the feudatories. However, the inscriptions do not clearly state the responsibilities of the feudatories. The Pattalas or charters mentioned in the Lekhapaddhati refer to the king and his Mahamatyas who are also mentioned in the 12th – 13th century grants of feudatories of Chalukyas who gave grants to Ranakas who in turn sub-allotted land to Rajputras. Manasollasa a text of 12th century A.D. suggests that the king should give gifts viz. land to feudatories (Samantamanyakas) and the ministers viz. Mantrins, Amatyas and Sacivas. It suggests that the endowment should be made to servants (Bhrtyas) and kinsmen (Bandhavas). Different types of gifts are mentioned viz. villages, mines etc. The documents relating to revenue collection at village level (grama-pattakas) in Gujarat refer to the Rajputras who sub-assigned their lands to merchants for revenue appropriation (Lekhapaddhati).

The Prabandhchintamani of Merutunga describes the period of Paramara Bhoj and Chalukya Bhim. Merutunga points out, “the lord of the country gives away a village, the lord of the village a field, and the lord of the field some vegetables; every contented person gives away his property”. The grantees were given charters by the king for revenue appropriation and they became the village lords. Manasara (12th century A.D. text) places the king into a graded structure comprising of 9 categories: Cakravartin, Maharaja (or Adhiraja), Mahendra (Narendra), Parsnika, Pattadhara, Mandalesa etc. Aparajitaprccha of Bhatt Bhuvandev (12th century A.D.) describes nine types of rulers: Mahipati, Raja, Naradhipa, Mahamandaleswar, Mandalika, Mahasamanta, Samanta etc. The grants specifically made to priests and temples are more then the specific secular grants.


The Pala kings (referred to as Parambhattaraka, Parameshwara and Maharajadhiraj) gave land grants to brahmans, priests and temples. These grants were permanent. They also bestowed land grants on Buddhist monastries. The land grants carried with them various economic and administrative perquisites. The Pala grants are specifically related to maintenance of law and order and of administration of justice. A Pala grant (802 A.D.) mentions an official in North Bengal called Dasagramika who was given one kula of land as inferred from Manu. Land grants were also given to Kaivartas who were peasants. The pala records (land charters) refer to rajas, Rajputras, Ranakas, Rajarajanakas, Mahasamantas, Mahasamantadhipatis, etc. They were probably feudatories who were given lands in lieu of military services. There is no evidence for sub-infeudation under the Palas. Royal officials are mentioned in the inscriptions who seem to have administered the kingdom comprising of Bengal and Bihar. Some of the titles used for Pala officials are Maha-daussadhasadhanika, Maha-kartakrtika, Mahasandhivigrahika, etc. The Palas operated from several loci of power viz. Pataliputra, Mudgagiri, etc., all located on the Ganga. The victory camps of the Palas were visited by the tributaries. Villages under the Palas were grouped into units of one and ten under the charge of Gramapati and Dasagramika. They were royal officials responsible for the administration for these units. We have very few epigraphic evidences related to service grants under the Palas.



In this Unit we have discussed the debate relating to the transition from early historical to early medieval period. This would help you to understand the essential characteristics of the socio-political formation of the early medieval period. Tripartite struggle among the three powers – Palas, Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas- was an important political development of this period. The major theoretical models propounded by historians to explain early medieval polity have been discussed. The process of state formation under the Rajputs has been analysed. The nature of polity under the Palas and the Rajputs helps us to understand the characteristic features of the polity of this period. These included land grants issued by the state for religious and secular purpose, emergence of feudatories within the state system and the transformation of lineages into ruling groups who established supra-local state structures.
Early Medieval Polities in
Peninsular India 8th to
12th Centuries A.D.


1) Analyse the various approaches to the study of early medieval polity.

2) Discuss the process of state formation under the Rajputs.

3) Give a brief account of the views of scholars about feudalism in India.



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