Indian Feudalism: Feudal System in India, Impact, Feudalism UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Indian Feudalism refers to the social framework from the Gupta Empire to the Mughal dynasty in the late 16th century. The Kushanas played a significant part in bringing Feudalism to India, along with the Guptas. Under the Feudalism of India framework, the nobles received ownership of the crown’s property in exchange for military service; these individuals were known as vassals. Aristocratic peasants who lived on the lord’s land were required to show him respect, toil, and pay tribute. They agreed to provide them with military security in exchange for a portion of their merchandise.

Even though the term “feudalism” is more commonly associated with the social system prevalent in Europe, it is important to note that feudalism in India had notable similarities and a few minor distinctions. Indian feudalism, like its European counterpart, was characterized by a hierarchical structure, land-based economy, and a system of rights and obligations between lords and vassals. However, the Indian feudal system also exhibited unique features influenced by local customs, religious practices, and the caste system, making it distinct from European feudalism. Check the Impact of Feudalism in India in detail below.

Indian Feudalism

Feudal System in India originated post-Mauryan era, especially after the Gupta dynasty. Certain political and administrative developments resulted in feudal state institutions. Some gave land to Brahmin and Buddhist monks and civil servants for military and administrative services. These financial offers meant the transfer of all sources of income and establishing of police and administrative functions, creating feudalism.

In the medieval era, feudalism was the prevailing socioeconomic structure. In this arrangement, the peasants were required to reside on their lord’s property and to pay him respect, labor, and a share of the product in exchange for military protection. The nobility held lands from the Crown in payment for military service, and vassals were tenants of the nobles.

Feudal System In India

When referring to the feudatory rulers of the Gupta era, the name “Samantha” (neighbor) first appeared. The captured districts resumed independence due to the weak enforcement of power, and some essential administrative positions became hereditary. The decentralization of power was the primary aspect of feudalism in Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

Feudal lords in India were required to give the overlord a small portion of their income and soldiers. Indian Feudalism is frequently linked to the following concepts:

  • Sardar
  • Jagirdar
  • Ghatwals
  • Deshmukh
  • Taluqdar
  • Zamindar
  • Chaudary

Characteristics of Post-Mauryan Indian Feudalism

Feudalism in India was defined by a class of landowners and a class of subject peasants who lived in a primarily agrarian economy, characterized by a drop in trade and urbanization as well as a sharp decline in the use of metal money. The characteristics of Indian Feudalism are:

  • Vassalage: This was the relationship of personal dependence and loyalty between the Lord and his vassals.
  • Hierarchy of feudal lords: Various titles represent the position and power within the rank of feudal lords.
  • Hereditary administrative status: Weak and unstable power enforcement led to the restoration of independence, and some high administrative statuses became hereditary.
  • Decentralization: Samanthas were given land instead of salary, and they continued to own the territory, calling themselves vassals of the ruler.
  • Regressive taxation system: The working class was exploited by collecting proper and improper taxes, fixed and non-fixed taxes, along with pensions.
  • Wealth was not shared equally: It was assumed that wealth was not shared equally, as some were destined to land and others were destined to enjoy the fruits of production.
  • Fragmentation of social composition: Caste has been divided into several other castes and subcastes.
  • Manorial System: The landowner grants land to an individual who performs various services, including working on the lord’s land, in exchange for the land.

Impact of Feudalism in India

Feudalism in India had a significant impact on the social, economic, and political structures of the country. It resulted in a rigid hierarchical system, with land ownership concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite, leading to social inequalities and limited opportunities for mobility among the lower classes. The main impacts of Indian Feudalism in the early Middle Ages were:

  • Political decentralization: The seeds of decentralization sown in the form of land grants were vibrantly decentralized, consisting of semi-autonomous rulers, Samanthas, Mahasamantas, and Rajpurushas.
  • The establishment of new land brokers: The emergence of land brokers, the dominant social group that owned the land and did not exist in the early historical era, is associated with land grant practices that began in Satavahana.
  • Changes in farming relations: Free Vaishya peasants dominated the farming structure of the early historic Indian and Shudra labor services. However, since the 6th century AD, farmers have retained the land assigned to beneficiaries because they were told not to leave the villages assigned to them or move to duty-free villages.

Indian Feudalism and European Feudalism

The Difference between Indian Feudalism and European Feudalism are discussed below:

Indian Feudalism European Feudalism
Caste-based divisions of Indian feudalism included Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Class divisions in European feudalism included nobility, clergy, and commoners.
Indian kings issued grants to collect taxes and surplus. In order to cultivate their land, feudal lords in Western Europe granted land to their serfs.
Land ownership concentrated in the hands of rulers and elites Land ownership concentrated in the hands of nobility
Declined with the consolidation of Mughal and British rule Declined with the emergence of centralized monarchies
Largely fragmented political entities and local rulers Centralized political entities with feudal hierarchy

Feudalism UPSC

The topic of Indian Feudalism falls under the History section of the UPSC Syllabus, particularly the Ancient and Medieval History section. To study this topic effectively, candidates should read notes, and must study from best books that provide insights into the nature, characteristics, and impact of feudalism in India.

Understanding Indian Feudalism is vital for the UPSC Exam as it sheds light on the socio-political structures and economic arrangements of the past. Candidates are encouraged to utilize History Books for UPSC and study materials to gain a thorough understanding of this topic and prepare adequately for the examination.

Indian Feudalism UPSC Questions

Candidates should have a thorough understanding of Indian Feudalism to excel in the UPSC exam. Questions related to this topic are likely to be asked in the exam. Analyzing previous year’s questions will assist candidates in developing a systematic approach and building a strong foundation for this topic.

Question: Which of the following is included in the rights of serfs? (A) The right to work on certain land and pass the lands to their heirs, (B) The right to move from one manor to another, (C) The right to marry whomever they wanted to marry, (D) All the above

Answer: (A) The right to work on certain land and pass the lands to their heirs

Questions: Which of the following is a characteristic feature of Indian feudalism? (A) Centralized political authority, (B) Decentralized power structure, (C) Absence of social hierarchy, (D) Equal distribution of land ownership

Answer: (B) Decentralized power structure

Questions for UPSC Mains: Examine the role of land tenure, hierarchy, and social relationships in shaping the Indian feudal system. How did feudalism influence political and economic structures in India?

Questions for UPSC Mains: Discuss the characteristics of Indian feudalism and its impact on the socio-economic structure during ancient and medieval times in India.

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