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South Indian Village System

The South Indian society during and after the Chola period ushered in a new social formation under the Vijayanagar-Nayaka rule.

An intensive and comparative study made between Brahmadeya villages and the non-Brahmadeya villages revealed two different patterns; individual holding in the former and communal holding in the latter. This was in the earlier period.

But in the later Chola period, individual land holdings were prevalent in non-Brahmadeya villages also. Since the latter type of villages formed the overwhelming majority, the relations in those villages, could be regarded as the basic determinant of social relations of the day.

The village community was not a self-sufficient unitary place as is usually supposed; but rather it depended on a larger area.

A statistical analysis of personal names, together with the titles and status terms, seems to indicate the existence of the administrative system or bureaucracy maintained by the central government. An “analysis of the revenue terms in two Mandalas shows uniformity of terms and also creation of Valanadus and also systematic land survey, indicative of a central controlling machinery and political integration that the Cholas consciously tried to build up.”

The number of villages granted by rulers to Brahmins and temples was decisively in minority.

Types of Villages

Inscriptions on stones or copper-plates, which occur in substantial numbers, are the basic source-material for the ancient and medieval history.

There are three long and continuous inscriptions in the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur, which stated the revenue in paddy, which has to be measured by the measure (marakkāl), and the gold and money, which had to be paid from the land paying taxes. The land free from taxes included the village-site, the sacred temples, the ponds and the burning ground.

The inscriptions also mention about the existence of threshing grounds and granaries as tax-free land. From the amount of tax on paddy and the extent of taxable land one can calculate the rate of taxation, which was more or less 100 kalam of paddy per vēli  of land – though a similar inscription in Gangaikondacholapuram gives a somewhat different ratio, ranging from 16 to 92 kalam per vēli.

There was a usual hierarchy of officials in charge of provincial administration. The governor of a province was advised and assisted by officers in charge of districts who worked in close collaboration with local autonomous institutions, largely in an advisory capacity. They were built on local relationship of caste, profession and religious adherence. Frequent meetings or assemblies were essential to their functioning.

Assemblies were of many varieties and at many levels including that of merchant guilds, craftsmen and artisans (such as weavers, oil mongers, etc), students, ascetics and priests. There were assemblies of villagers and also of representatives of districts.

General meetings of the members of an assembly were held annually and more frequent meetings of smaller assemblies were responsible for implementing policy. The smaller groups were chosen by lot from amongst the eligible persons and worked in a manner similar to the modern committees, each group having a separate function.

In the village the basic assembly was the sabha, which was concerned with all matters relating to the village including endowments, irrigation, cultivated land, punishments of crime, the keeping of a census and other necessary records. Village courts also dealt with similar criminal cases.

At a higher level, in towns and districts, courts were presided over by governmental officers with the king as the supreme arbiter of justice.

The sabha was a formal institution and worked closely with the urar, an informal gathering of the entire village.

Above this was a district council which with the district administration called the nadu. Villages which were populated entirely or highly by Brahmans have a good collection of records about the functioning of such assemblies.

Further north in the Deccan there was less autonomy in administrative institutions. In the Chalukya domains, government officers were more involved in routine administration, even at the village level.

Village assemblies did function but under the paternalistic eye of the officials. The role of the headmen as the leader of the village was also of a more formal nature. From the eighth century onwards some of the Deccan rulers adopted the decimal system of administrative division, where group of ten villages or multiples of ten formed a district.

Land ownership rested with the king, who could make revenue grants to his officers and land grants to Brahmans or else continue to have the land cultivated by small-scale cultivators and landlords.

The Status of a village

The status of the village varied according to the tenures prevailing and could be one of the three: the most frequent was the village with an inter caste population paying taxes to the king in the form of land revenue; less frequent were the Brahmadeya villages were the entire village were donated to a single Brahman or a group of Brahmans.

Associated with the Brahmadeya grants were the Agrahara grants, an entire village settlements of Brahmans, the land being given as a grant. These were also exempted from the tax but the Brahmans had to provide free education to the local people.

Finally, there was the Devadana (donated to the God) villages, which functioned more or less in the same manner as the first category of villages except that the revenue from these villages were donated to the temple authorities.

Functioning and Constitution of Assemblies:

The General Assemblies included most of the local residents and were of three categories: the ur consisted of the tax paying residents of an ordinary village; the sabha was restricted to the Brahmans of the village or else was found exclusively in villages gifted to Brahmans; and finally, the nagaram was found more commonly in trade centers.

In some villages the ur and the sabha were found together. Very large villages had two urs if this was more convenient for their functioning.

The working of these assemblies differed according to local conditions. The ur was open to all male adults of the village but in affect the older members took a more prominent part, some of them forming a small executive body for routine matters.

The sabha had the same system and in addition had the power to constitute smaller committees of any size from among its members.

The Chola administration was functioning on the principles of democracy and the Panchayat system flourished during their reign. The Chola self government was built up on ‘general assemblies’ or ‘sabhas’ or ‘mahasabhas’ of the villages. All aspects of village community life were administered by these general assemblies.

The mahasabhas encouraged and accepted endowments from public towards temple functions and services and disposed services as per laid down procedure. In several occasions they exercised their authority in selling the land portions under their jurisdiction to individuals of various villages and towns.

They also ascertained the purchase and accepted endowments offered by public. The mahasabha also accepted paddy grains or ghee as well as gold Kalanchu, accrued as interest of the principal, in certain stipulated measurements. The sabha also accepted gifts from royal king and his family members and the same was registered and documented with care.

Uttaramerur Inscriptions

The village general assembly or mahasabha of Uttaramerur Chaturvedhi Mangalam,  also known as Vaikunta Perumal Temple, is the huge granite structure with sanctum sanctorum. The Dravidian kind of vimanam adorns on top of the sanctum. The village assembly appears to be the dynamic hub from 9th century A.D. to 11th century. The present sanctum has no deity.

The inscription details the resolutions of the general assembly of Uttaramerur Chaturvedhi Mangalam relating to the Royal orders of Parantaka Chola I on the constitution of the sabha or mahasabha and the ‘Pot ticket election procedures’ to be followed for the village general assembly or sabha of Uttaramerur Chaturvedhi Mangalam.

The village general assembly met and resolved about the qualification for the members of the Sabha, election procedures for the 30 wards of Uttaramerur Chaturvedhi Mangalam.

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