CHAPTER-31 : From Ancient to Medieval

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

Social Transformation in Medieval India: Land Grants and Agrarian Change

Rise of Landlords (from 5th century CE):

  • Land grants to Brahmins became frequent.
  • Brahmins collected taxes, maintained order in villages granted to them.
  • Weakened central royal power compared to the Maurya era.
  • Shift in king’s role: “gopati” (cattle owner) to “bhupati” (land owner).
  • Cash payments to officials declined, replaced by land grants.
  • By 7th century, a landed elite emerged with weaker central authority.

New Agrarian Economy:

  • I-tsing (Chinese pilgrim) notes use of servants and others for cultivation on monastery lands.
  • Hsuan Tsang suggests Shudras transitioned beyond slave/laborer roles to possibly tenant farming.
  • Increased use of sharecroppers and peasants to cultivate granted lands, especially in undeveloped areas (Orissa, Deccan).
  • This practice spread to the Ganges basin later.

Decline of Trade and Towns (from 6th century CE):

  • End of major trade with Roman Empire (3rd century CE).
  • Silk trade with Iran and Byzantium stopped (mid-6th century CE).
  • Limited trade with China and Southeast Asia, controlled by Arab middlemen.
  • Decline in gold coins reflects reduced trade activity.
  • Towns that flourished under earlier empires (Satavahanas, Kushans, Guptas) decayed or disappeared.
  • Examples: towns in Haryana, East Punjab, Purana Qila (Delhi), Mathura, Hastinapur, Shravasti, Kaushambi, Rajghat, Chirand, Vaishali, Pataliputra.
  • Silk weavers in Mandasor (Malwa) abandoned their craft due to changing economic landscape.

Overall Impact:

  • Land grants transformed social structure, weakening centralized power and creating a landed elite.
  • Agrarian practices shifted with increased use of sharecroppers and peasants.
  • Decline in trade led to the decay of towns and a shift in the Indian economy.

Transformation of Social Order and Rise of Regional Identities

Changes in the Varna System (from 6th century CE):

  • Land grants created a new landlord class between peasants and the king.
  • Vaishyas (traditionally merchants/farmers) lost status, becoming closer to Shudras (laborers).
  • Spread of Brahminical order with land grants brought north Indian Brahmins south.
  • Proliferation of castes:
    • Puranic text mentions numerous mixed castes from Vaishya women and lower castes.
    • Increased sub-castes among Shudras, Untouchables, Brahmins, and Rajputs (dominant warrior class).

Rise of Regional Identities (from 6th-7th century CE):

  • Formation of cultural regions: Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, etc.
  • Emergence of Apabhramsha language:
    • Bridge between Prakrit and modern Indo-Aryan languages (600-1000 CE).
    • Used in Jain literature.
    • Hints of modern languages like Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, and Telugu appear in Apabhramsha writings.
  • Regional isolation led to development of distinct languages.

Overall Impact:

  • Land grants and social mobility challenged the old Varna system.
  • Rise of regional identities and languages marked the shift from a more unified to a more diverse society.

Literary and Religious Trends in Medieval India

Trends in Literature (6th-7th century CE):

  • Sanskrit Literature:
    • Used by the elite.
    • Ornate style with metaphors and imagery.
    • Example: Bana’s prose.
  • Focus on Sex and Religion:
    • Supported by the landed class.
    • Sexual union seen as a path to the divine (Vajrayana Tantrics).
  • Commentaries:
    • Large corpus written between 5th-18th centuries.
    • Explained and interpreted older texts (Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit).
    • Reinforced existing social hierarchies.

The Divine Hierarchy and Temple Architecture (7th-8th century CE onwards):

  • Regional Styles:
    • South India – focus on stone temples.
  • Deities and Ranking:
    • Stone and bronze used for sculptures and statues.
    • Rise of the Panchayatana system: five principal deities (Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Brahma, Ganapati).
    • Vedic gods (Indra, Varuna, Yama) became less prominent.
    • Hierarchical monastic structures with acharyas at the top.

Religious Movements:

  • Bhakti Cult (from 7th century CE):
    • Devotion and surrender to a chosen deity.
    • Offering and receiving “prasada” (favor) from the god.
  • Tantrism (from 6th century CE):
    • Socio-economic context: rise of Brahmin land ownership.
    • Open to women and Shudras.
    • Emphasis on magic rituals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *