Genesis of Indian Feudalism
Diversity in Explanations An examination of Indian feudalism has to start
with two interrelated questions: Why did Indian feudalism develop and
when? Since opinions of individual historians do vary widely, a search for
answers to these questions may be confined to some major explanations of
the ‘feudalism’ viewpoint and to identifying only the major ideas.
Theory of Decentralised State Structure In the initial phase of the
formation of the viewpoint, the origins of political feudalism were perceived
as represented by a decentralised state structure through the growth of
political hierarchy, and in this sense, the proto-feudal phase was located in
the pre-Gupta period. The origins of feudal economy were seen in the growth
of the practice of land grants with administrative rights, corroding the
authority of the state. Even at this stage, this theory suffered from the
inconsistency of two irreconcilable parallels: whereas hierarchised polity
came to be essentially represented by the growth of the samanta order, the
recipients of land with administrative authority, who could be expected to
have corroded the authority of the state and decentralized it, were brahmin
and religious establishments.
Theory of Social Crisis The second idea, which substantially differs from
the idea of land grants generating a new social formation, but which seeks to
provide an explanation for the genesis of the practice, is articulated in the
form of a theory of ‘social crisis.’ This ‘social crisis’ is presumed to have
brought an earlier social formation to an end. It is believed that certain
inherent contradictions led to sustained social conflicts. These social
conflicts, reflected in the gruesome accounts, in the epics and the Puranas
originally dating from the pre-Gupta age, of the collapse of the social order in
the Kali age, compelled the state to resort to the practice of making land
grants because on its own, it was incapable of exacting revenues from its
subjects. The above assumption, in essence, locates the genesis of a new,
feudal social formation in the crisis of state authority caused by social
conflicts. The way the social crisis of the Kaliyuga is formulated, by pointing
to parallels between Kaliyuga social order and the new, feudal formation,
makes it both a cause and content of the new formation, which appears
somewhat inadmissible logically. More importantly, unlike in the early
medieval period, actual historical   events suggesting social conflicts of such