Theory of Urban Decay Further, social crisis, corresponding to the crisis
of state authority, as an explanation for the genesis of a new social formation,
appears structurally different from another hypothesis simultaneously
advanced. The hypothesis is that the relapse of a market economy of towns
into a subsistence economy of agriculture, which followed a widespread
decay and desertion of towns from the third century AD, seems to be the key
factor in our understanding of the origins of feudalism. Here too, the
formulation of the hypothesis suffers from internal inconsistencies, but what
needs to be noted is that as an explanatory model, ‘urban decay’, though
implying reduction in the quantum of state’s resources, is not the same as
persistent social conflicts constituting the collapse of state authority. ‘Urban
decay’, linked to the collapse of long-distance exchange networks, may be
considered ‘external,’ as compared to the ‘internal’ explanation represented
by social conflicts.
Need for a New Explanation It is, thus, obvious that there is no
satisfactorily structured argument available as yet for the genesis of Indian
feudal formation. As suggested earlier, the current theory of Indian feudalism
appears to continue to subscribe to the assumed binary opposition,
incongruously in the early Indian context, between a centralised state and a
decentralised state and between an urban market economy and natural
economy. In any case, what this theory has bypassed almost totally, in failing
to understand their implications for a study of the period 320-750 AD, are two
major processes which characterise Indian history in general: (i)
transformation of a pre-state society to a state society, through what is
generally called the process of state formation, and (ii) transformation of tribe
into peasant community and through this transformation, the positioning of
its different segments in the hierarchy of the caste system, within the
framework of varna ideology. It needs further to be stressed that these
processes were interrelated and that their operation in any phase of Indian
history has to be looked at from the regional perspective, since the formation
of historical/cultural regions in India derived largely from how these features
became major in varying space-time contexts.
Formation of Regional States It is becoming increasingly evident, through