Feudalism in Early Medievel India
Feudalism became an important feature of the political system of North India between 750 and 1200 AD. This was because the authority of the rulers had been limited in many ways. The ministers were appointed on the hereditary basis and became all powerful. There were numerous feudal chiefs who had ties with ruling class. In the local and central govt these feudal chiefs had special privileges and powers which no ruler could ignore. This also led to the limited authority of the kings. The rulers were under the obligation to rule according to holy Sastras and Smirtis could not enact or amend the laws at will. Thus rulers of this period were basically feudal lords with limited overall power.
The basis of the sovereignty during this period was a mixture of Divine Right theory and contract theory. On the one hand the authors of treaties on polity regarded the ruler as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. On the other hand they also held that it the people who conferred sovereignty on the ruler. So the natural duty of the ruler was to rule in the interests of the people while the duty of the people was to be loyal to him.
A king was usually succeeded by his elder son. If a king dies without an heir the kingdom passed to the head of next in king to the ruling dynasty. There was little scope for disputed succession in this period. The powers of the king were limited in practice due to privileges and prerogatives of the feudal lords. Since he had the theoretical ownership of all the lands, the feudal lords needed his recognition but then this prerogative of the kings was limited as the feudal lords had hereditary rights.
The king was helped in the administration by a council of ministers besides crown prince. The chief priest and the court astrologer were recruited from Brahmin while all over posts were held by feudal lords. They usually belonged to Kshatriya caste.Sudras or lower caste had no place in the political set up of the king.
Feudalism Medieval India | Administration
The kingdom was divided into a central region directly ruled by the king and many areas or fiefs were governed by feudal lords. The central region was divided into bhuktis or rashtras which were under viceroys, vishayas under vishayapatis and finally villages under grama patis. The village self-government weakened during this period due to the domination of the feudal chiefs while at the same time it was best under the Cholas in the south India.
The army consisted of royal retainers or the personal army of the king and the contingents supplied by feudal lords. This was the main reason for the lack of unity in the armies of the rulers of this period. The military service became the monopoly of Rajputs. Taxation during this period was heavier compared to earlier times. This was mainly due to heavy expenditure over the royal household and the court. There was also fighting all around for suzerainty. The burden was laid on the general public.
There was no clear instructions for maintain justice. In the Bhuktis there was a dandanayaka who was in charge of justice, police and prison. There is no mention of any other officer. It is likely that most of the cases were settled by caste and village panchayats. Some feudal chiefs were government officers who were increasingly paid not in cash but by assigning to them revenue-bearing villages. Others were defeated kings and their supporters who continued to enjoy the revenues of limited areas. Some were tribal chiefs.Some of them were village chiefs who had dominated the entire region. There was a definite hierarchy among these chiefs. They constantly fought against each other for supremacy.
Feudalism Medieval India | Society
The caste system formed the basis of the society as in earlier periods but now the kshatriyas and the Brahmins were given more privileges while more and more social and religious disabilities were placed on the sudras and other lower castes. A large number of sub castes such as potters, weavers, goldsmiths, musicians etc proliferated. They were classified as jatis now. Most of the workers were classified as untouchables. Women continued to be denied the right to education. The age of marriage for girls was further lowered. They were kept in seclusion and their lives were regulated by the male relations –fathers, brothers and husbands. The practice of sati seems to have spread widely and was made even obligatory at some places. The custom of sati was widespread in the higher castes.
The attitude of higher classes became very rigid. They tended to isolate themselves from all scientific thought. Buddhism almost disappeared from the land of its origin. There was a marked revival and expansion of Hindusim.There was a growing popularity of Shiva and Vishnu cults. A number of popular movements arose around the worship of these gods. In the eastern India, a new form of worship arose. This was the worship of Sakti or female creator of the universe.
Feudalism Medieval India | Economy
A very important development of the period was the rise of a self-sufficient village economy where production was according to the local requirements with little attempts at producing a surplus to be used for trade or exchange. This existing system led to accepting the standard of minimum production since the incentive to improve production was absent. As a result pressure on peasantry was increased and production stayed at a subsistence level only.
The subsistence economy of the village led to decline in trade. Trade was further hampered by the emergence of wide range of local weights and measures making long distance trade more difficult. The unstable political conditions and internal fighting in India only helped this process of decline in trade.
This decline in trade affected the growth of towns. In coastal areas and Bengal towns however prospered because they continued to trade with West Asia and South East Asia. The only prosperous class in north India during this period was feudal lords. But the surplus wealth was not invested in trade or craft production. It was on the other hand used for conspicuous consumption. The huge amounts were given to temples also thus attracting outsiders.