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Landholding and Peasantry in the Brahmaputra Valley C . 5Th-13Th Centuries a. D

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image of Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

In the world of the Brahmaputra valley inscriptions between the 5th and the 12th/13th centuries A.D. the Brahmins, traditionally at the apex of the caste hiearchy, had their position as the dominant landholding class buttressed by certain fiscal and administrative-judicial privileges that went along with the donations of land they received from the contemporary kings. However, in contrast to certain other areas of India, such as Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra where the donated plots of land were supposedly in waste areas, giving the donee Brahmins absolute land tenure rights, the rights of the already existing peasantry in the donated plots of land in the Brahmaputra valley were unlikely to have been impaired because these plots of land were in already settled regions and not in areas to be reclaimed. The reclamation of land went on in the hilly fringe of the Brahmaputra valley as late as the 19th century, and the peasants, originally tribals, cnjoyed a permanency of tenure in the land they reclaimed. The Brahmaputra valley was reclaimed before the period of our inscriptions, and this means that the Brahmins got only the rent which the resident peasantry used to give earlier to the king. The ranks of the peasantry also included such occupational groups as boatsmen, potters and weavers, suggesting on the whole a picture of occupational mobility which could be found even the early 20th century Assam, mainly because of the general availability of cultivable waste land and the insignificance of trade conducive to the growth of occupational groups. The peasant production was geared to wet rice cultivation which had an irrigational system, perhaps honed by the Kachari element of the population of our period, to fall back upon. The Kachari participation in this irrigation system can be surmised both from the occurrence of the related language words in the inscriptions and the general ethnographic literature on pre-modern irrigation in the Brahmaputra valley. The interaction between the Brahmins and the general range of peasantry which undoubtedly had a significant tribal element ushered in what would be called the process of Sanskritization of the grassroots village level in the Brahmaputra valley. The data on the systems of landholding and the general character of the peasantry are not much in the inscriptions of our period, constituting, in fact, its basic historical source, but viewed in the light of the relevant ethnographic evidence in the context of pre-modern Assam, even this limited amount of data can offer a coherent picture, howsoever brief.

Affiliations: 1: Hindu College, Delhi


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