Land grants were one of many methods used by rulers to establish their legitimacy and were integral to the political systems and social structures of the time. Many historians contend that the state held exclusive ownership of the land throughout the Gupta era. 

  • In the Gupta era, the number of land grants increased and expanded over the empire. Kings, chiefs, members of the royal family, and their feudatories frequently granted land to Brahmanas and religious institutions like temples and monasteries.
  • Not only was the income of the donated lands transferred to the donees beginning in the fifth century but the mines and minerals in that region were also transferred. Soldiers and royal officials were forbidden from interfering with the donated land, village, or villages. Finally, monarchs and princes granted the brahmana donees the authority to punish any crimes against the family, private property, and individuals, as well as the power to keep the fines they were awarded. 
  • However, the imperial Guptas were not deeply involved in the development of land grants. Only one authentic inscription survives that documents a land grant made by a Gupta ruler. This Skandagupta stone pillar inscription, known as the Bhitari stone pillar inscription, recalls the donation of a hamlet in support of a Vishnu temple without specifying the terms of the donation. In addition to this, there exist the Samudragupta copper plates from Gaya and Nalanda. 
  • The Gaya plate documents a Brahmana called Gopasvamin receiving the grant of Revatika hamlet in Gaya vishaya. The donation of Bhadrapushkaraka village in Krivila vishaya and Purnanaga village in Krimila vishaya to a Brahmana named Jayabhattasvami is documented on Samudragupta’s Nalanda plate.
  • While it appears that the imperial Guptas did not give much land to Brahmanas, the Vakatakas did. 35 villages are listed as being granted in the Vakataka inscriptions. These donations were made in significant numbers under the reign of Pravarasena II; according to his 18 or 19 inscriptions, a total of 20 villages were given. The grants use a broad variety of technical terminology to describe the exemptions and privileges given to the donees and the gifted land.
  • The land area is mentioned in thirteen inscriptions, with measurements varying from 20 to 8000 nivartanas by the royal standard.
  • Subordinate rulers of the Guptas and Vakatakas also granted land. These included, for example, Bharatabala, a monarch of the Mekala nation who was a Vakataka vassal, and the Parivrajaka maharajas, who ruled over the Baghelkhand region and acknowledged the suzerainty of the Guptas.
  • Gupta and Vakataks’ land grant inscriptions show that there were various land grants in use throughout that time. These types were as follows:
    • Nivi Dharmas: Permanent land endowment.
    • Nivi Dharma Aksayana: A permanent gift that could not be alienated and from which the receiver could draw income indefinitely.
    • Aprada Dharma: This term denotes that a receiver had full rights to use the property in question, but was not permitted to make subsequent gifts of it. Instead, they were only permitted to use the land’s income and interest and had no other administrative powers.
    • Bhumichchhidranyaya: This referred to rights of ownership that were acquired by a person who turned barren land into a cultivable field and was exempt from having to pay rent for it.
  • While kings were the main land donors, others also contributed. Records of land donations made to Brahmanas by private individuals, at their request, and by kings at the request of others can all be found in inscriptions from Bengal. For instance, it is written in the Gupta year 113 copper plate inscription from Dhanaidaha (432–33 CE) that a royal officer (ayuktaka) purchased some land and gave it to a Brahman named Varahasvamin.
  • In the Karnataka region, land grants to Brahmanas may have started in the second century, but their numbers began to rise after that time. The earliest Pallava royal land gifts are documented in the Hirehadagalli and Mayidavolu plates from the third and fourth centuries (both in Prakrit). According to the Pulankurichi inscription, which dates to around the fifth century CE, a brahmadeya village was established, and it also specifies the superior rights (miyatchi) of the donees and the inferior rights (karankilamai) of the cultivators.

Land Grants in Post-Gupta Period

During the period between 600 and 1200, there were much more grants made by rulers to Brahmanas. The land became the focal point around which the early mediaeval economy was organised, altered, and operated. Revenue from land increased significantly. In return for their services to the empire, rulers gave the territory to both individuals and organisations. 

  • By around 1200 CE, the system of land transfers had spread throughout all of India and covered nearly every type of land, including pastures, semi-fertile lands, dry regions, and unfertile plains. 
  • The beneficiaries of land gifts who later became landlords were primarily Brahmanas, temples, government employees, and royal ancestors. For their generosity and assistance, and sometimes for political reasons, the kings gifted the land. 
  • Land grants in ancient India led to differential access to authority, wealth, and complex relationships of dominance and subordination in donated territories. Land grants can be broadly divided into two groups, namely religious and secular awards. Brahmadeya, Devadana, and Agrahara/Mangalam are the 3 types of land grants. 
  • The term “Brahmmadeya” refers to lands given to a group of Brahmins. For their relocation to the north and south India, respectively, tax-free villages named Agrahara and Mangalam were given to Brahmins. 
  • Land grants to religious institutions, both Brahmanical and Non-Brahmanical, known as Devadanas, served as the foundation for agricultural settlements and the fusion of various peasant and tribal settlements. For a share of the crops, Temples rented out its land to renters. Elite Brahmana and non-Brahmana landowners were in charge of managing the estates used for temples and monasteries.
  • Institutions like Brahmadeyas and temples were crucial to the growth and expansion of the agrarian base, the consolidation of governmental power, the peasantization of Shudras, and social segregation.
  • Officials and royal kinsmen who were supporting the monarch in administration and defence began receiving land grants for secular purposes in the seventh century. From Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Assam, and Odissa among other places, we frequently come across references to land grants given to officials, kin, military commanders, and others between the 10th and the 12th centuries.
  • The Brahmadeya communities were typically completely exempt from paying different taxes or obligations, or at least during the early stages of settlement. They also received increased privileges (pariharas). Let us look at a few of these pariharas:
    • Alonakhadakam: Free from a royal monopoly or privilege on salt production 
    • Aratthasamvinayika: without administrative restrictions 
    • Aparamparabalivadam: No longer required to provide bullocks to royal officials 
    • Abhadapapesam: No military allowed to enter to collect taxes 
    • Akuracholakavinasikhatayavasamvasa: Free from the provision of boiling rice, pots, cots, and homes

It appears that the earliest religious endowments were given to Brahmins and religious organisations in remote, underdeveloped, tribal, and agricultural areas in order to integrate them into the economy. The king then started giving out secular rewards for assistance with administration and defence.


  • Grants of land were provided to religious and ritual specialists, as well as to officers and other government officials.This did not generate revenue for the state, but it did allow for some reorganisation of revenue demands at the local level and the establishment of small centres of wealth in rural areas, which, if replicated, could lead to broader improvements in the overall situation.
    • The grantee took on the role of a pioneer in the introduction of agriculture if the land granted to brahmans (whether as ritual specialists or as administrators) was wasteland or forest.
    • Brahmans were competent in the supervision of agrarian activities, aided by agricultural manuals such as the Krishiparashra, which may have been written during this period or later.
    • Some normative writings forbade brahmans from engaging in agricultural activities unless they were in grave need, but this did not prevent brahmanical expertise in agricultural activity from developing.
  • By encouraging commercial activity in a variety of ways, including through payments to guilds, even if the interest was to benefit a religious institution, and by putting commercial entrepreneurs on city councils and in other positions with the potential for investment and profit Increasing the number of taxes collected from business and bringing them into the state requires a corresponding increase in the number of officials in the state’s hierarchy. Although land grants were initially limited, by the seventh century CE, they had become more widespread, gradually resulting in a political economy that was distinguishable from that of pre-Gupta eras.
  • The defeated kings of nearby kingdoms were occasionally changed into tributary or subordinate rulers, which are referred to as feudatories in modern writing. Kings who conquered neighbouring kingdoms were commonly referred to as feudatories in modern literature. Agreements were also established with monarchs of this calibre, as well.
    • The name samanta, which originally meant “neighbour,” came to signify “tributary ruler” throughout time as the meaning of the phrase evolved. With this came the establishment of more clearly defined connections between the monarch and the local rulers, relationships that were increasingly important in later periods, as a result of the conflict between royal demands and the aspirations of the samantas.
    • The power of the king was undermined in areas where the latter were powerful. However, he required the agreement of the samantas — the samanta-chakra or circle of samantas – in order to maintain his pestige. Samantas found themselves in an uncertain situation of being either possible allies or potential adversaries.
  • Grants of land have resulted in the creation of further sorts of intermediaries, in addition to tributary rulers. Some of the grants went to temples, monasteries, and brahmanas, among other religious institutions. Temples were given to sects that were in charge of the temples’ administration as a result of such grants. Villages could also be given to a temple as a gift to help with the up keep of the temple.
    • In addition to serving as a place of worship, the temple now serves as a centre for local administration and government. It is likely that the award to the Brahman served as a reminder of his privileged position at a time when land grants were considered emblems of particular favour.
    • The agrahara donation of rent-free land or a village that could be made to a group of brahmans, the brahmadeya award to a group of brahmans, and grants to temples and monasteries were all exempt from taxation under the Indian Constitution.
    • The brahmans were frequently people who were well-versed in the Vedas or who possessed specific knowledge, such as that of astrology. Traditionally, gifts to brahmans were intended to ward off the ills of the current Kali Age, but it appears that astrology was more commonly used in this period.
  • In the early twentieth century, land grants began to take precedence over monetary donations to religious organisations.
  • Land was more permanent, it could be passed down through generations, and it was less susceptible to manipulation. Such grants were more favourable to landlordism among brahmans beneficiaries, though monasteries did not lag far behind in this regard.
    • Another notable aspect of this time period was that commanders were periodically compensated with money from land grants, which served as an alternative to cash compensation for military or administrative service.
    • This is recorded in some land-grant inscriptions from this period onward, as well as in Xuan Zang’s narrative of his journey through China (Hiuen-Tsang). There were fewer of these grants available. Because there were many literate brahmans who were also performing official tasks, not all donations to brahmans were intended for religious purposes. Vassalage, which entails a warrior class with bonds of obedience and protection, is not something that is usually encountered.
  • Such awards separated the owners from the supervision of the central authority, hence predisposing administration to a more decentralised form of governance. Those who have received major land grants that generate income could pool their resources and combine their strength to mount a serious challenge to the ruling family. If they were also able to gather support from peer groups and others, such as forest chiefs, or coerce the peasants into fighting for them, they would be able to over turn the current authority and install themselves as kings, at the very least on the periphery of the kingdom’s borders.
  • In exchange for legitimising and validating the dynasty, or averting a misfortune by the performance of rites or gaining merit on the part of the king, Brahmanas as religious benefactors were granted property, presumably as a reward for their services.
    • It was sought after to establish lineage ties with historical figures in order to elevate one’s social standing through a presumed descent. Because of the appropriation of authority and resources, the recipient may be considered the parent of a dynasty if the grant was big enough to qualify.
    • The grants were also part of a process of evangelising, in which the beneficiary hoped to spread his religion throughout the world. The Vedas were taught to many brahmans, but when they resided in forested regions or in communities already observing their own beliefs and rituals, the extremely different observances of the brahmans may have produced conflicts that necessitated a negotiated adjustment on the part of the two parties. When faced with this circumstance, the Puranic sects proved to be effective mediators between Vedic Brahmanism and the faiths of the local people. Even if the Brahman had taken over the priest’s ritual, he would have required to assimilate local mythology and iconography into the ever-expanding Puranic sects, which were themselves constantly evolving.

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