Emergence of a New Agrarian Structure
The most important reason for the emergence of a new agrarian economy in
the post-Gupta period was the growing practice of land grants. As seen in the
earlier chapters, the practice had its origins in the pre-Gupta period, grew in
the Gupta age and became quite frequent in the post-Gupta period. Though
religious merit was often quoted as the reason for making these land grants in
the contemporary records themselves, the real reason behind them was a
serious crisis that affected the ancient social order. Contemporary Puranic
texts (third-fourth century AD) complain of a situation in which varnas
discarded the functions assigned to them. Among the numerous measures
adopted to overcome the crisis, the most crucial one was to grant land to
priests and officials in lieu of salaries and remuneration. The measure had the
advantage of throwing the burden of collecting taxes and maintaining law and
order in the granted lands on the recipients. Besides, it could bring new lands
However, the land grantees could neither cultivate the land themselves
nor collect revenues. Hence, the actual cultivation was entrusted to peasants
or share-croppers who were attached to the land but did not legally own it.
Itsing (a Chinese pilgrim to India in the late seventh century AD) informs us
that most Indian monasteries got their lands cultivated by servants and others.
From the sixth century AD onwards, peasants and share-croppers were
specifically required to stick to the land granted to the beneficiaries. So they
could not move from one village to another, instead they had to live in the
same village to cater to all its possible needs.
Consequently a new agrarian economy emerged in the post-Gupta period.
This new agrarian economy in general, and the new agrarian structure in
particular, came to be characterised by a number of salient features, such as
the grant of barren as well as cultivated land, transfer of peasants to the
grantees, imposition of forced labour, restrictions on the movement of the
peasants, delegation of fiscal and criminal administrative power to religious
beneficiaries, remuneration in land grants to officials, growth of the rights of
the grantees, multiplicity of taxes, growth of a complex revenue system and
wide regional variations in the agrarian structure.