Indian feudalism, thus, passed through several distinct stages. The age of
the Guptas and the following two centuries saw the beginning of land grants
to temples and Brahmins, and the number of such grants increased steadily
and their nature changed basically in the kingdoms of the Palas, the
Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas. In the earlier period only usufructuary rights
were generally given, but from the 8th century onwards proprietory rights
were transferred to the donees. The process of grants culminated in the 11th
and 12th centuries when northern India was parcelled into numerous political
and economic units largely held by secular and religious donees, who
enjoyed the gift villages as little better than fiefs.
Samanta System
Origin and Meaning
The institution of the samanta was the main innovation which distinguished
the post-Gupta period from the other periods of ancient India. The term
samanta originally meant ‘neighbour’ and referred to the independent ruler of
an adjacent territory in the Maurya period, as is evident from its use in the
Arthasastra of Kautilya and the Asokan edicts. In the pre-Gupta period the
term was used by law-givers in the sense of a neighbouring proprietor of
land. Even the ‘border kings’ (pratyantanripati) mentioned by Samudragupta
in his Allahabad prasasti were such samantas in the original sense of the
term. By the end of Gupta rule and definitely by the 6th century AD, a new
meaning of the term had gained universal currency. Samanta had come to
mean a subjected but reinstated tributary prince of a realm.
    The rise and growth of the samuntas was a dis-tinctive structural feature
of the growth of feudal regimes. Whereas in the earlier periods of ancient
India administrators had been imposed from above by imperial appointment,
the feudal realms from the post-Gupta period onwards were controlled by
princes who had once been subjected but then reinstated and were then
obliged to pay a tribute and to serve the king loyally. In the late Gupta period,
this type of administrator was occasionally found in the border provinces but
in Harsha’s time and later on they became powerful figures even in the core
area of the kingdom. They enjoyed a great deal of auton-omy within their
territory and soon surpassed the