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Chapter 2 – Changes in the Government

The modern Hindu government differs from that described by Menu, less in consequence of any deliberate alterations, than of a relaxation of the systematic form which was recommended by the old lawgiver, and which, perhaps, was at no time exactly conformed to in the actual practice of any state.


The chief has no longer a fixed number of ministers and a regular council. He has naturally some heads of departments, and occasionally consults them and his prime minister, on matters affecting the peculiar province of each.

Revenue divisions

Traces of all the revenue divisions of Menu326, under lords of 10 towns, lords of 100, and lords of 1000 towns, are still to be found, especially in the Deckan; but the only one which remains entire is that called Perganneh, which answers to the lordship of 100 towns. Even the officers of the old system are still kept up in those divisions, and receive a remuneration in lands and fees; but they

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are no longer the active agents of the government, and are only employed to keep the records of all matters connected with land. (A) It is generally supposed that these officers fell into disuse after the Mahometan conquest; but as, like every thing Hindu, they became hereditary, and liable to division among heirs, the sovereign, Hindu as well as Mussulman, must have felt their inadequacy to fulfil the objects they were designed for, and the necessity of replacing them by officers of his own choosing, on whom he could rely.

At present, even Hindu territories are divided into governments of various extent, which are again divided and subdivided, as convenience requires. The King names the governors of the great divisions, and the governor chooses his own deputies for those subordinate.

The governor unites all the functions of administration; there being no longer military divisions as in Menu’s time; and no courts of justice, but at the capital (if there).

But among all these changes, the townships remain entire, and are the indestructible atoms, from an aggregate of which the most extensive Indian empires are composed.

Description of a township

A township is a compact piece of land, varying in extent, inhabited by a single community. The boundaries are accurately defined and jealously guarded. The lands may be of all descriptions; those actually under cultivation and those neglected; arable lands never yet cultivated; and land

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which is altogether incapable of cultivation. These lands are divided into portions, the boundaries of which are as carefully marked as those of the township; and the names, qualities, extent, and proprietors of which are minutely entered in the records of the community. The inhabitants are all assembled in a village within the limits, which in many parts of India is fortified, or protected by a little castle or citadel.

Its privileges

Each township conducts its own internal affairs. It levies on its members the revenue due to the state; and is collectively responsible for the payment of the full amount. It manages its police, and is answerable for any property plundered within its limits. It administers justice to its own members, as far as punishing small offences, and deciding disputes in the first instance. It taxes itself, to provide funds for its internal expenses; such as repairs of the walls and temple, and the cost of public sacrifices and charities, as well as of some ceremonies and amusements on festivals.

It is provided with the requisite officers for conducting all those duties, and with various others adapted to the wants of the inhabitants; and, though entirely subject to the general government, is in many respects an organised commonwealth, complete within itself. This independence, and its concomitant privileges, though often violated by the government, are never denied: they afford some little protection against a tyrannical ruler,

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and maintain order within their own limits, even When the general government has been dissolved.

I quote the following extract from a minute of Sir Charles Metcalfe, as well for the force of his language as the weight of his authority.

“The village communities are little republics, having nearly every thing they can want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down; revolution succeeds to revolution; Hindoo, Patan, Mogul, Mahratta, Sik, English, are all masters in turn; but the village community remains the same. In times of trouble they arm and fortify themselves: an hostile army passes through the country: the village communities collect their cattle within their walls, and let the enemy pass unprovoked. If plunder and devastation be directed against themselves, and the force employed be irresistible, they flee to friendly villages at a distance; but, when the storm has passed over, they return and resume their occupations. If a country remain for a series of years the scene of continued pillage and massacre, so that the villages cannot be inhabited, the scattered villagers nevertheless return whenever the power of peaceable possession revives. A generation may pass away, but the succeeding generation will return. The sons will take the places of their fathers; the same site for the village, the same positions for the houses, the same lands will be reoccupied by the descendants of

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those who were driven out when the village was depopulated; and it is not a trifling matter that will drive them out for they will often maintain their post through times of disturbance and convulsion, and acquire strength sufficient to resist pillage and oppression with success. This union of the village communities, each one forming a separate little state in itself, has, I conceive, contributed more than any other cause to the preservation of the people of India through all the revolutions and changes which they have suffered, and is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence327.”

Government of a township by one head

A township in its simplest form is under a Headman (B), who is only spoken of in Menu as an agent of the King, and may have been removable at his pleasure. His office has now become hereditary; and though he is still regarded as an officer of the King, he is really more the representative of the people. The selection of an individual from the proper family rests sometimes with the village community, and oftener with the government; but to be useful to either he must possess the confidence of both. He holds a portion of land, and receives an annual allowance from the government; but the greater part of his income is derived from fees paid by the villagers. So far is he identified with the village, that he is held personally

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responsible for its engagements, and thrown into prison in all cases of resistance or failure of the revenue.

Duties of the headman

The headman settles with the government the sum to be paid to it for the year; and apportions the payment among the villagers according to the extent and tenures of their lands. He also lets such lands as have no fixed occupants, partitions the water for irrigation, settles disputes, apprehends offenders, and sends them to the government officer of the district; and, in short, does all the duties of municipal government.

All this is done in public, at a place appropriated for the purpose; and, on all points affecting the public interest, in free consultation with the villagers. In civil disputes the headman is assisted by arbitrators named by the parties, or by assessors of his own choice. His office confers a great deal of respectability with all the country people, as well as influence in his own village. It is saleable; but the owner seldom parts with it entirely, reserving the right of presiding at certain ceremonies and other honorary privileges, when compelled to dispose of all the solid advantages.

Village establishment; the accountant, watchman, &c.

The headman is assisted by different officers, of whom the accountant and the watchman are the most important.

The accountant (C) keeps the village records, which contain a full description of the nature of the lands of the village, with the names of the former and present holders, the rent, and other

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terms of occupancy. He also keeps the accounts of the village community and those of the villagers individually, both with the government and with each other. He acts as notary in drawing up deeds for them, and writes private letters for those who require such a service. He is paid by fees on the inhabitants, and sometimes has an allowance or an assignment of land from the government.

The watchman (D) is the guardian of boundaries, public and private. He watches the crops, is the public guide and messenger, and is, next to the headman, the principal officer of police. In this capacity he keeps watch at night, observes all arrivals and departures, makes himself acquainted with the character of every individual in the village, and is bound to find out the possessor of any stolen property within the township, or to trace him till he has passed the boundary, when the responsibility is transferred to the next neighbour.

These duties may seem beyond the powers of one man; but the remuneration is hereditary in a particular family, all the members of which contribute to perform the service328. They are always men of a low cast.

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The money-changer may also be considered an assistant of the headman, as one of his duties is to assay all money paid. He is also the silversmith of the village. Besides these, there are other village officers, the number of which is fixed by the native name and by common opinion at twelve; but, in fact, it varies in different villages, and the officers included are not always the same.

The priest and the astrologer (one of whom is often the schoolmaster), the smith, carpenter, barber, potter, and worker in leather, are seldom wanting. The tailor, washerman, physician, musician, minstrel, and some others, are not so general: the dancing girl seems only to be in the south of India.

The minstrel recites poems and composes verses. His most important character (in some places at least) is that of genealogist329. Each of these village officers and artisans has a fee, sometimes in money, more frequently a portion of produce, as a handful or two out of each measure of grain.

Government by a village community

This is the mode of village government, when there is nobody between the tenant and the prince; but in one half of India, especially in the north and the extreme south, there is in each village a community which represents, or rather which constitutes, the township; the other inhabitants being

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their tenants. (E) These people are generally regarded as absolute proprietors of the soil, and are admitted, wherever they exist, to have a hereditable and transferable interest in it; but, as the completeness of their proprietary right is doubtful, it will be convenient to preserve the ambiguity of their native name, and call themvillage landholders.” (F)

Where they exist, the village is sometimes governed by one head, as above described; but more frequently each branch of the family composing the community (or each family, if there be more than one,) has its own head, who manages its internal affairs, and unites with the heads of the other divisions to conduct the general business of the village. The council thus composed fills precisely the place occupied in other cases by the single headman, and its members share among them the official remuneration allowed to that officer by the government and the villagers. Their number depends on that of the divisions, but seldom exceeds eight or ten. Each of these heads is generally chosen from the oldest branch of his division, but is neither richer nor otherwise distinguished from the rest of the landholders.

Classes of inhabitants

Where there are village landholders, they form the first class of the inhabitants of villages; but there are four other classes of inferior degree:– 2. Permanent tenants. 3. Temporary tenants. 4. Labourers. 5. Shopkeepers, who take up their abode in a village for the convenience of a market.

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Village landholders

The popular notion is that the village landholders are all descended from one or more individuals who first settled the village; and that the only exceptions are formed by persons who have derived their rights by purchase, or otherwise, from members of the original stock. The supposition is confirmed by the fact that, to this day, there are often only single families of landholders in small villages, and not many in large ones (G); but each has branched out into so many members, that it is not uncommon for the whole agricultural labour to be done by the landholders, without the aid either of tenants or labourers.

The rights of the landholders are theirs collectively; and, though they almost always have a more or less perfect partition of them, they never have an entire separation. A landholder, for instance, can sell or mortgage his rights; but he must first have the consent of the village, and the purchaser steps exactly into his place and takes up all his obligations. If a family becomes extinct, its share returns to the common stock.

Their rights are various in different parts of the country. Where their tenure is most perfect, they hold their lands subject to the payment of a fixed proportion of the produce to government, or free of all demand. When at the lowest, they retain some honorary exemptions that distinguish them from the rest of the villagers. (H)

There are many instances where the government has taken advantage of the attachment of the

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landholders to their land to lay on them heavier imposts than other cultivators are willing to pay. Even then, however, some advantage, actual or prospective, must still remain; since there is no tract in which village landholders are found in which their rights are not occasionally sold and mortgaged. One advantage, indeed, they always enjoy in the consideration shown towards them in the country, which would induce a family to connect itself by marriage with a landholder who laboured with his own hands, rather than with a wealthy person, equally unexceptionable in point of cast, but of an inferior class of society.

So rooted is the notion of property in the village landholders, that, even when one of them is compelled to abandon his fields from the demand of government exceeding what they will pay, he is still considered as proprietor, his name still remains on the village register, and, for three generations, or one hundred years, he is entitled to reclaim his land, if from any change of circumstances he should be so disposed.

In the Tamil country and in Hindostan, a tenant put in by the government will sometimes voluntarily pay the proprietor’s fee to the defaulting and dispossessed landholder330.

Permanent tenants

In all villages there are two descriptions of tenants, who rent the lands of the village land holders (where there are such), and those of the

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government, where there is no such intermediate class. These tenants are commonly called ryoti (I), and are divided into two classes, – permanent and temporary.

The permanent ryots are those who cultivate the lands of the village where they reside, retain them during their lives, and transmit them to their children. (K)

They have often been confounded with the village landholders, though the distinction is marked in all cases where any proprietor’s fee exists. In it no tenant ever participates331.

Many are of opinion that they are the real proprietors of the soil; while others regard them as mere tenants at will. All, however, are agreed within certain limits; all acknowledging, on the one hand, that they have some claim to occupancy, and on the other, that they have no right to sell their land.

But, though all admit the right of occupancy, some contend that it is rendered nugatory by the right of the landlord to raise his rent; and others assert that the rent is so far fixed, that it ought never to go beyond the rate customary in the surrounding district.

The truth probably is, that the tenant’s title was clear as long as the demand of the state was fixed; but that it became vague and of no value when the public assessment became arbitrary. At present,

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the permanent tenant is protected by the interest of the landlord; he will pay more than a stranger for lands long held by his family, and situated in a village where he has a house; but if driven to extremities, he could easily get a temporary lease, in another village, on lighter terms. (L)

It is thought by some that the permanent tenants are the remains of village landholders reduced by oppression; others think they are temporary tenants who have gained their rights by long possession. It is probable that both conjectures are partially right; as well as a third, that their tenure was, in many instances, conferred on them by the landholders at the first settlement of the township.

Temporary tenants

The temporary tenant (M) cultivates the lands of a village different from that to which he belongs, holding them by an annual lease, written or understood. The first description of land being occupied by the resident tenant, an inferior class falls to his share, for which there is little competition; for this reason, and on account of his other disadvantages, he gets his land at a lower rent than the permanent tenant.

There is another sort of tenant who deserves to be mentioned, though of much less importance than either of the other two. (N) These are persons whose cast or condition in life prevents their engaging in manual labour, or their women from taking part in any employment that requires their

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appearing before men. In consideration of these disadvantages, they are allowed to hold land at a favourable rate, so as to admit of their availing themselves of their skill or capital by the help of hired labourers. (0)

Hired labourers

The services and remuneration of hired labourers are naturally various; but they differ too little from those of other countries to require explanation.

It need scarcely be repeated that each of these classes is not necessarily found in every village. One village may be cultivated entirely by any one of them, or by all, in every variety of proportion.

Shopkeepers, &c.

Shopkeepers, &c. are subject to a ground-rent, and sometimes a tax besides, to the person on whose land they reside. They are under the general authority of the headman as a magistrate, but have little else to do with the community.

Probable origin and decline of the village communities

It seems highly probable that the first villages founded by Hindus were all in the hands of village communities. In the early stage of their progress, it was impossible for single men to cut fields out of the forest, and to defend them against the attacks of the aborigines, or even of wild beasts; there was no capital to procure the services of others; and, unless the undertaker had a numerous body of kindred, he was obliged to call in associates who were to share in the profits of the settlement; and thence came the formation of village communities, and the division of the land into townships.

The unoccupied waste, as in all other cases where society has assumed a regular form, must

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no doubt have belonged to the state; but the King, instead of transferring this property to the intended cultivators for a price paid once for all, or for a fixed annual rent or quit-rent (as is usual in other countries), reserved a certain proportion of the produce, which increased or diminished according to the extent and nature of the cultivation. The rest of the produce belonged to the community of settlers; but if they found they bad more good land than they could themselves till, they would endeavour to make a profit of it through the labour of others. No method seemed easier than to assign it to a person who should engage to pay the government’s proportion, with an additional share to the community; but while land was plenty, and many villages in progress, no man would undertake to clear a spot unless he was to enjoy it for ever; and hence permanent tenants would arise. Temporary tenants and labourers would follow as society advanced. The subdivision of property by inheritance would have a natural tendency to destroy this state of things, and to reduce all ranks to the condition of labourers; but as long as there was plenty of waste land, that principle would not come into full operation.

But for this, the village community would remain unaltered as long as the King’s proportion of the produce was unchanged. When he raised his demand, the profits of the landholders and permanent tenants diminished; and when it rose above a certain point, both classes cultivated their land

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at a loss. If this continued, they were obliged to throw up their lands, and seek other means of living.

As the highest proportion claimed by the King, which at the time of Menu’s Code was one sixth, is now one half, it is easy to account for the annihilation of many village communities, and the shattered condition of others. The lands abandoned by the landholders reverted to the state.

But though this progress may have been very general, it need not have been universal; conquered lands already cultivated would become the property of the Prince, and might be cultivated on his account by the old proprietors reduced to serfs. Even at this day, the state constantly grants lands to speculators, for the purpose of founding villages, without recognising a body of landholders. The terms of these grants are various; in general, they provide for total or partial exemption from revenue for a certain number of years; after which the payment is to be the same as in neighbouring villages.

Other processes must also have taken place, as we perceive from the results, though we cannot trace their progress. In Canara, Malabar, and Travancore, the land is held in absolute property by single individuals, subject to a fixed payment to the state.

Public land revenue

The Sovereign’s full share is now reckoned at one half; and a country is reckoned moderately assessed where he only takes one third.

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This increase has been made, not so much by openly raising the King’s proportion of the crop, as by means of various taxes and cesses, some falling directly on the land, and others more or less circuitously affecting the cultivator. Of the first sort are taxes on ploughs, on cattle, and others of the same description: of the second, taxes on the use of music at certain ceremonies, on marriages with widows, &c., and new taxes on consumption. Besides these, there are arbitrary cesses of both descriptions, which were professedly laid on for temporary purposes, but have been rendered permanent in practice. Of this kind are a cess on all occupants of land, proportioned to their previous payments, and a cess on the emoluments of village and district functionaries.

As there is no limit to these demands but the ability of those on whom they fall to satisfy them, the only defence of the villagers lies in endeavouring to conceal their income. For this purpose they understate the amount of produce, and contrive to abstract part without the knowledge of the collector: more frequently they conceal the quantity of land cultivated, falsifying their records, so as to render detection impossible, without a troublesome and expensive scrutiny, involving a survey of the land. The landholders, where there are such, possess other indirect advantages, the extent of which the government is seldom able to ascertain. Some degree of connivance on the collector’s part is obtained by bribes, which are

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levied as part of the internal expenses, and charged assecret service;” an item into which it is a point of honour, both with the villagers and with future collectors and auditors, never to inquire.

It is only by the existence of such abuses, counterbalancing those on the part of the government, that we can account for land yielding a rent and being saleable when apparently assessed to the utmost of its powers of bearing332.

In the confusion produced by these irregularities on both sides, the principle of proportions of the produce is lost sight of; and in most parts of India the revenue is annually settled by a reference to that paid in former years, with such alterations as the peculiarity of the season, or the occurrence of any temporary advantage or calamity, may render expedient.

When the parties cannot agree by this mode of settlement, they have recourse to a particular inquiry into the absolute ability of the village for the year. The land being classed (as has been mentioned) according to its fertility, and the facilities it possesses for cultivation, the surplus remaining after the expense of production can be conjectured: a sufficient proportion is set aside for

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the maintenance of the cultivator; and the rest, after deducting village expenses, &c., goes to the government. As a final resource, when all other amicable means fail, an appeal is made to an actual division of the crops: but this mode of adjustment is so open to frauds that it is generally avoided by both parties; except, indeed, in places where long connection between the representative of the government and the people has established mutual confidence, in which case the division of the crop is the most popular of all settlements.

If the result of the contest with the government officers is the imposition of a burden beyond the patience of the cultivators, the whole body by common consent abandon their lands, leave their village, and refuse to enter into any engagement with the government. The public officers then have recourse to conciliation and intimidation, and, when necessary, to concession: force would be reckoned very oppressive, and, if used, would be ineffectual: the most it could do would be to disperse the villagers, and drive them into other jurisdictions.

It may easily be supposed that such modes of settlement cannot be carried on without much interference with the internal constitution of the township. In general the government officer carries on his exactions through the headman, but interferes when necessary to support him against individuals; and he sometimes suspends the headman from his duties, and takes the details of imposing

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and collecting the public revenue for the time into his own hands. Appeals and complaints are also incited to afford pretences for extortion in matters connected with justice and police; so that under a bad government the privileges of the townships are often reduced to insignificance.

All these evils are aggravated in many parts of India by the system of farming the revenue. The governments of provinces in such cases are conferred on the person who engages to give security for the largest annual payment to the treasury. This contractor in like manner farms his subdivisions to the highest bidder; and these last, in their turn, contract with the headmen for fixed payments from the villages, leaving each of them to make what profit he can for himself. By these means the natural defender of the cultivators becomes himself their principal oppressor; and, if the headman refuses the terms offered to him, the case is made worse by the transfer of his office to any stranger who is willing to accept the contract.

It is by such exactions that village landholders have in many cases been reduced from masters of the township to mere tenants of the crown, and in some have been obliged to fly from their lands, to avoid being compelled to cultivate them under terms which it was impossible for them to bear.

Hitherto each sharer in the village has been supposed to be acting on his own rights; but the King and the landholders are each entitled to alienate their share in the advantages derived from


it. The headman and accountant also, if not others of the village functionaries, can sell their offices and official emoluments. Thus a new description of persons is introduced into the township; but the new comers occupy precisely the station of their predecessors. The grantee of the King’s share becomes entitled to receive his proportion of the produce, but does not supersede the headman in his local duties, still less interfere with private occupants; the new landholder takes up all the relations of the old; and the headman, accountant, &c. must henceforth be taken from the new family, but his functions undergo no change.

The purposes of the King’s alienations will be explained a little further on.

Property in the soil

This account of the different occupants of the land naturally leads to the much agitated question of the property in the soil; which some suppose to be vested in the state; some, in the great Zemindars; some, in the village landholders; and some, in the tenants.

The claim of the great Zemindars will be shown, in its proper place, to be derived from one of the remaining three; among whom, therefore, the discussion is confined.

Property in land seems to consist in the exclusive use and absolute disposal of the powers of the soil in perpetuity; together with the right to alter or destroy the soil itself, where such an operation is possible. These privileges, combined, form the

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abstract idea of property; which does not represent any substance distinct from these elements. Where they are found united, there is property, and nowhere else. Now the King possesses the exclusive right to a proportion only of the produce. This right is permanent, and the King can dispose of it at his pleasure; but he cannot interfere with the soil or its produce beyond this limit. If he requires the land for buildings, roads, or other public purposes, he takes it as magistrate, and ought to give compensation to his fellow shareholders, as he can on emergency seize carts, boats, &c., and can demolish houses in besieged towns, although in those cases he has no pretensions whatever to property.

As much of the produce as comes into the hands of the landholder, after the King’s proportion is provided, is his; and his power to dispose of his right to it for all future years is unrestrained. The tenant has what remains of the produce after the King’s proportion and the landlord’s rent is paid; and this he enjoys in, perpetuity; but the right is confined to himself. and his heirs, and cannot be otherwise disposed of.

Neither the landholder nor the tenant can destroy, or even suspend, the use of the powers of the soil: a tenant forfeits his land when he fails to provide a crop from which the other sharers may take their proportions; and a landholder guilty of the same default would be temporarily superseded by a tenant of the community’s or the

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King’s, and, after a certain long period, would be deprived of his right altogether.

From all this it is apparent that, where there are village communities and permanent tenants, there is no perfect property in any of the sharers. Where there are neither communities nor permanent tenants, the King doubtless is the full and complete proprietor; all subsequent rights are derived from his grant or lease. The extent of those grants varies with circumstances; but when they are given without reserve and in perpetuity, they constitute a perfect form of private property.

Many of the disputes about the property in the soil have been occasioned by applying to all parts of the country, facts which are only true of particular tracts; and by including, in conclusions drawn from one sort of tenure, other tenures totally dissimilar in their nature. Many also are caused by the assumption, that where the government attends to no rights, no rights are now in being. Yet those rights are asserted by the sufferers, and not denied by those who violate them; and often, in favourable circumstances, recover their former efficiency. Practically, the question is not in whom the property resides, but what proportion of the produce is due to each party; and this can only be settled by local inquiries, not by general rules founded on a supposed proprietary right, nor even on ancient laws long since forgotten.

Other branches of the King’s revenue

The King’s share in the produce of all land, and his rent on such as belongs to the crown, form by

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far the greatest part of the public revenue. The rest is derived from various sources: of these, some are drawn from the land, as the cesses and taxes above alluded to; and others from classes unconnected with agriculture; as taxes on shops and trades, and houses in towns, or on articles of consumption, market duties, transit duties on the great roads, sea customs, and a few others. Most of them, especially the transit duties, are fertile sources of oppression and vexation, and yield little clear profit in return for so much evil. These revenues are generally collected by the village and other local authorities; but some of them, especially transit duties and customs, are often farmed to separate contractors.


It has been mentioned that the King can alienate his share in a village. In like manner he often alienates large portions of territory, including numerous villages as well as tracts of unappropriated waste. But in all these cases it is only his own rights that he makes over: those of the village landholders and permanent tenants (where such exist), of district and village officers, and of persons holding by previous grants from himself or his predecessors, remaining unaffected by the transfer333. These grants are made for the payment of troops

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and civil officers, for the support of temples, the maintenance of holy men, or for rewards of public service. Lands given for the two first purposes are called jagirs. This mode of remunerating the services of certain officers, and of providing for holy men, is as old as Menu. When it came to be applied to troops is uncertain. It was in use in Bijayanagar, and other states of the south of India, when they were overturned by the Mussulmans; but the more perfect form in which it is now found among the Marattas is probably of modern date.

Lands alienated for military service

Such grants originate in the convenience of giving an assignment on a district near the station of the troops, instead of an order on the general treasury; a mode of transfer particularly adapted to a country where the revenue is paid in kind.

These assignments at first were for specific sums equal to the pay due; but when they had long been continued, and were large enough to swallow up the whole revenue of a district, it was natural to simplify the arrangement, by transferring the collection to the chief of the military body. This was done with every precaution to prevent the chiefs appropriating more than the pay of the troops, or exercising any power not usually vested in other collectors. The system adopted by the Marattas gives a full illustration of the means resorted to for this purpose.

According to their plan, the number and description of troops to be maintained by each chief was prescribed; the pay of each division carefully

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calculated; allowances made for officers, sometimes even to the extent of naming individuals; a sum was allotted for the personal expenses of the chief himself; and every particular regarding the terms of service, the mode of mustering, and other arrangements, was laid down. A portion of territory was then selected, of which the share belonging to government should be sufficient, after deducting the expenses of collection and other charges, to supply the amount which had been shown to be requisite; and the whole territory yielding that amount was made over to the chief. The chief was now placed in the situation of the governor of a revenue division, and exercised all the other functions which are now united in the holder of that office.

The power to interfere for the protection of subordinate rights was, however, retained by the government, as well as a claim to any revenue which the tract assigned might yield beyond the amount for which it was granted. Those stipulations were enforced by the appointment of two or more civil officers, directly from the government, to inspect the whole of the chief’s proceedings, as well in managing his troops as his lands.

Notwithstanding all these precautions, the usual consequences of such grants did not fail to appear. The lands had from the first a tendency to become hereditary; and the control of the government always grew weaker in proportion to the time that had elapsed from the first assignment. The original

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principle of the grant, however, was never lost sight of, and the necessity of observing its conditions was never denied.

These grants affected but a moderate proportion of the territory of the state; the rest of which was administered by local officers directly under the prince, according to the form laid down in Menu. The allotment of lands was adopted as a means of paying the troops, and not of governing the country; so that, although there were fiefs, there was no feudal system.

But, though this was the progress of landed assignments in settled countries, they took another course in the case of foreign conquests. In some instances a chief was detached by the invaders, to occupy a remote part of the country, and to subsist his troops on its resources; and was allowed to remain undisturbed until his family had taken root, and had become tenants on condition of service instead of mere officers on detachment. Examples of this nature may be found among the Hindu governments in the south of India, and in abundance and perfection among the Marattas of later times.

Even in these cases of foreign conquest, however, the intermediate tenure is the exception, and not the rule; the main portion of the territory remaining under the direct administration of the prince.

But a course of proceeding yet remains, which carries the principle of alienation to a greater

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extent, and leads to a system which (with every caution in applying familiar names to remote institutions) it is impossible not to call feudal.

Lands for military service among the Rajputs

It is that which prevails among the Rajputs. With them, the founder of a state, after reserving a demesne for himself, divided the rest of the country among his relations, according to the Hindu laws of partition. The chief to whom each share was assigned owed military service and general obedience to the prince, but exercised unlimited authority within his own lands. He, in his turn, divided his lands on similar terms among his relations, and a chain of vassal chiefs was thus established, to whom the civil government as well as the military force of the country was committed. (P)

This plan differs from the feudal system in Europe, as being founded on the principle of family partition, and not on that of securing the services of great military leaders; but it may not always have originated in conquest, and when it did, the clannish connection which subsists between the members of a Rajput tribe makes it probable that command among the invaders depended also on descent; and that the same kinsmen who shared the chief’s acquisitions had been the leaders Of the tribe before the conquest by which they were gained.

The origin of present possession in family claims is still alive in the memory of the Rajput chiefs, who view the prince as their coparcener in one

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point of view, though their sovereign in another. This mixed relation is well shown by the following passage, in a complaint from certain chiefs of Marwar against the Raja:– “When our services are acceptable,” say they, “then he is our lord: when not, we are again his brothers and kindred, claimants and laying claim to the land334.”

The rule of partition was adhered to after the conquest, and each chief, in succession, was obliged to provide an appanage for the younger members of his father’s family. When any of those claimants remained inadequately provided for, he was assisted to set out on military adventures, and to found new states, by conquests in other countries. (Q)

The example of granting lands, which was set in the case of the Raja’s family, came to be extended to strangers: many fiefs are now held by Rajputs of entirely distinct tribes335; and one of the first order seems, in later times, to have been bestowed on a Mussulman336. (R)

From the accounts given by the Mahometans of the state of Sind, during their early invasion in AD 711, it seems not improbable that the species of feudal system preserved among the modern Rajputs was then widely extended337.

Lands for services not military

Lands for services not military, besides those already noticed to local officers, are, to ministers

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and other persons engaged in the administration; and also to great officers of the household, and hereditary personal attendants.

Lands held free of service

Other alienations are, to temples or religious persons, or to meritorious servants and to favourites. Though very numerous, they are generally of small extent: often single villages; sometimes only partial assignments on the government share of a village; but, in some cases, also, especially religious grants, they form very large estates. Religious grants are always in perpetuity, and are seldom interfered with. A large proportion of the grants to individuals are also in perpetuity, and are regarded as among the most secure forms of private property; but the gradual increase of such instances of liberality, combined with the frequency of forged deeds of gift, sometimes induces the ruler to resume the grants of his predecessors, and, more frequently, to burden them with heavy taxes. When these are laid on transfers by sale, or even by succession, they are not thought unjust; but total resumptions, or the permanent levy of a fixed rate, is regarded as oppressive. The reaction must have begun long ago; for the ancient inscriptions often contain imprecations on any of the descendants of the granter who shall resume his gift.

Tributary and other dependent territories

It is probable that in all times there were heads of hill and forest tribes who remained independent of the Hindu monarchies; since even the more vigorous governments of the Moguls and the British have not always been able to reduce such

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chiefs to subjection. There were certainly others who, though they acknowledged a sovereign, and paid him a real or nominal tribute, or furnished a regular quota of troops, or merely gave general assistance, yet retained the internal administration of their country, yielding different degrees of obedience according to circumstances.

The number of these half subdued chieftains was, from time to time, increased on the breaking up of different Hindu states, when the governors of districts and the military feudatories were able to hold out against the conqueror, and to maintain themselves in different degrees of independence. Other individuals of the same classes, and, still more, persons who farmed the public revenue, contrived to keep their stations by rendering themselves useful to the ruling power; and, without the least pretensions to independence, were admitted to have a sort of hereditary right or interest in their districts, as long as they administered them satisfactorily, and paid the revenue demanded by the government.

Zemindars, what

It is these three descriptions of persons, together with others who have risen under the Mahometans, that form the great class known to the English by the name of Zemindars338, whose rights have been

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discussed with so much heat and confusion, and who will again be noticed as the requisite occasions arise.


The art of war is greatly changed. At the time of the Mahometan invasions from Ghazni, the Hindus were capable of systematic plans, pursued through several campaigns, and no longer confined to inroads of a few weeks’ duration. The use of ordnance afterwards made another great alteration; and the introduction of regular battalions entirely changed the face of war. Setting aside that European improvement, their discipline, so far as relates to order of march and battle, is worse thin that described in Menu; but they now show a skill in the choice of ground, an activity in the employment of light troops, and a judgment in securing their own supplies and cutting off those of the enemy, of which there is no sign in the long instructions laid down in the code.

The spirit of generosity and mercy which pervades the old laws of war is no longer to be found; but war in India is still carried on with more humanity than in other Asiatic countries; and more so by the Hindus than the Mahometans.

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The longer duration of their campaigns renders the military part of their life much more marked than it was formerly. Some of the Maratta chiefs, in particular, have lived entirely in the field, and had no other capital but their camp. From this circumstance, the numbers assembled are out of all proportion to the fighting men; and, when they move, they form a disorderly crowd, spread over the country for ten or twelve miles in length, and one or two in breadth, besides parties scattered to the right and left for forage or plunder.

The main body is, in some places, dense, and in others rare, composed of elephants and camels, horse and foot, carts, palankeens, and bullock-carriages, loaded oxen, porters, women, children, droves of cattle, goats, sheep, and asses, all in the greatest conceivable disorder, and all enveloped in a thick cloud of dust that rises high into the atmosphere, and may be seen for miles.

Where there are regular infantry, they march in a body, or, at least, by regiments; and the guns form a long line, occasioning continual obstructions from the badness of the roads or the breaking down of carriages. The rest of the troops straggle among the baggage. Two tall standards, accompanied by kettle-drums, (all, perhaps, on elephants,) represent a body which ought to be from 500 to 5000 horse, but are followed by from 5 to 50. The other horsemen belonging to them are riding singly or in groups, each, perhaps, with his spear poised on his shoulder, to the imminent danger of those

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who press behind, while the owner is joking with his companion, or singing in a voice that may be heard amidst the surrounding din.

The whole is generally so loosely spread that a horseman might go at a full trot from the rear to the head of the column, and have way made for him as he advanced, except at passes of ravines, or narrow parts of the road, where he and everybody else must often suffer most tedious delay.

Partial halts occasionally take place towards the front, when the quarter-master general is negotiating with a village how much it is to give him not to encamp on its lands; and, towards the rear, as individuals wish to smoke, or to take other rest or refreshment.

Now and then a deer or a wild boar runs through the line: shouts and commotion precede and follow his course; sticks are thrown, shots are fired, and men spur through the crowd, without much thought of the risk of life or limb to themselves or others.

With all this want of order, its good intelligence and numbers of light troops prevent a native army from being surprised on the line of march.

It would be difficult, in our wars, to find an instance even of the baggage of a native army being cut off, unless when fairly run down by a succession of hard marches. On the contrary, these apparently unwieldy masses have often gained great advantages from the secrecy and celerity of their movements. Heider, Tippoo, and the Marattas frequently overwhelmed separate detachments by

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attacking them when believed to be in some distant quarter; and as often have they slipped through difficult passes, and ravaged the country in the rear of our general, when he thought he was driving them before him towards their own capital.

When they reach their ground, things are arranged better than would be expected in such a scene of confusion. Conspicuous flags are pitched, which mark the place allotted to each chief or each department; and every man knows what part of his own line belongs to him.

The camp, when pitched, is a mixture of regularity and disorder. The bazars are long and regular streets, with shops of all descriptions, as in a city. The guns and disciplined infantry are in lines, and the rest scattered about, without any visible regard to arrangement. The tents are mostly white, but often striped with red, green, or blue, and sometimes wholly of those colours.

Those of the poor are low, and of black woollen, sometimes merely a blanket of that description thrown over three spears stuck in the ground; though the owners of spears are seldom so ill lodged.

The tents of the great are splendid: they are disposed in courts formed of canvass screens; and some are large and lofty, for public receptions; while others are low, and of moderate size, with quilted, and sometimes double walls, that secure privacy, while they exclude the dust and wind.

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They are connected by covered passages, and contain every accommodation that would be met with in a palace. A Maratta court, indeed, appears to much greater advantage in their camps than in their cities. Yet, with all this magnificence, there is some of their usual carelessness and indifference to making anything complete: these canvass palaces are often so ill pitched that they are quite incapable of resisting the tempests of particular seasons. Sindia’s whole suite of tents have been known to be levelled with the ground at midnight, and his women obliged to seek shelter from the wind and rain in some low private tent that happened to have resisted the fury of the elements. The intended proceedings for the next day are announced by fakirs or gosayens, who go about the camp proclaiming a halt, or the hour and direction of the movement; and who stop on the march to beg, exactly at the point where the welcome sight of the flags of the proposed encampment dispose all to be liberal.

The armies are fed by large bodies of Banjaras, a tribe whose business it is to be carriers of grain, and who bring it from distant countries and sell it wholesale to the dealers.

Smaller dealers go about to villages at a moderate distance from the camp and buy from the inhabitants. The government interferes very little, and native camps are almost always well supplied.

The villages in the neighbourhood of the camp

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are sure to be plundered, unless protected by safeguards. The inhabitants fly with such property as they can carry, the rest is pillaged, and the doors and rafters pulled down for firewood: treasure is dug for if the place is large; and even in small villages people try if the ground sounds hollow, in hopes of finding the pits in which grain is buried; or bore with iron rods, such as are used by our surveyors, and ascertain, by the smell, whether the rod has passed through grain. A system like this soon reduces a country to a desert. In a tract often traversed by armies the villages are in ruins and deserted; and bushes of different ages, scattered over the open country, show that cultivated fields are rapidly changing into jungle. The large towns are filled with fugitives from the country; and their neighbourhood is generally well cultivated, being secured by means of compositions with the passing armies.

The most important part of the Hindu battles is, now, a cannonade. In this they greatly excel, and have occasioned heavy loss to us in all our battles with them; but the most characteristic mode of fighting (besides skirmishing, which is a favourite sort of warfare) is a general charge of cavalry, which soon brings the battle to a crisis.

Nothing can be more magnificent than this sort of charge. Even the slow advance of such a sea of horsemen has something in it more than usually impressive; and, when they move on at speed, the thunder of the ground, the flashing of their arms,

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the brandishing of their spears, the agitation of their banners rushing through the wind, and the rapid approach of such a countless multitude, produce sensations of grandeur which the imagination cannot surpass.

Their mode is to charge the front and the flanks at once; and the manner in which they perform this manoeuvre has sometimes called forth the admiration of European antagonists, and is certainly surprising in an undisciplined body. The whole appear to be coming on at full speed towards their adversary’s front, when, suddenly, those selected for the duty, at once wheel inwards, bring their spears by one motion to the side nearest the enemy, and are in upon his flank before their intention is suspected.

These charges, though grand, are ineffectual against regular troops, unless they catch them in a moment of confusion, or when they have been thinned by the fire of cannon.

Horse are often maintained (as before mentioned) by assignments of the rent or revenue belonging to government, in particular tracts of country, but oftener by payments from the treasury, either to military leaders, at so much a horseman, (besides personal pay, and pay of subordinate officers,) or to single horsemen, who, in such cases, are generally fine men, well mounted, and who expect more than ordinary pay. Some bodies are mounted on horses belonging to the government; and these, although the men are of lower rank than

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the others, are the most obedient and efficient part of the army.

The best foot now-a-days are mercenaries, men from the Jamna and Ganges, and likewise Arabs and Sindians; especially Arabs, who are incomparably superior to most other Asiatics in courage, discipline, and fidelity.

Their own way of carrying on sieges is, probably, little improved since. Menu: individuals creep near the wall, and cover themselves by digging, till they can crouch in safety, and watch for an opportunity to pick off some of the garrison; batteries are gradually raised, and a shot fired from time to time, which makes little impression on the works: a blockade, a surprise, or an unsuccessful sally, more frequently ends the siege than a regular assault.


The modern system of government and policy will appear in so many shapes hereafter, that it is quite unnecessary to enter on the subject in this place.


326. As many of the notes on this account of the revenue system are long, and not required for a general understanding of the subject, I have thought it best to place them in an Appendix, to which reference will be made by letters of the alphabet.

327. Sir C. T. Metcalfe, Report of Select Committee of House of Commons, 1832, vol. iii. Appendix 84. p. 331.

328. This is the only office in which the sort of joint tenancy described is beneficial. In most others the sharers act in turn: in that of the accountant the evil is most conspicuous, as the records are lost or thrown into confusion by frequently changing hands, and none of the coparceners is long enough in office to be perfect in his business.

329. The, widely extended entail of all property in India, and the complicated restrictions on the intermarriage of families, make the business of a genealogist of much more serious concern in that country than it is with us.

330. Mr. Ellis, Report of Select Committee, 1832, vol. iii. p. 376.; Mr. Fortescue, Selections, vol. iii. p. 405.

331. Mr. Ellis, Report of Select Committee of House of Commons, 1832, vol. iii. p. 385.

332. As in the village described by Mr. Hodgson (Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. ii. p. 77.), where the landholders pay 57½ per cent. of their produce. See also Mr. Chaplin and the Deckan collectors, and Mr. Elphinstone, for Guzerat, both in the selections published by the East India Company; Mr. Hamilton Buchanan, for Deinajpur, and other districts under Bengal, in his separate reports.

333. Want of advertence to this circumstance has led to mistakes regarding the property in the soil. The native expression being “to grant a village,” or “a district,” it has been inferred that the grant implied the whole, and excluded the notion of any other proprietors.

334. Tod’s Rajasthan, vol. i. p. 198.

335. Id. ibid. p. 166.

336. In 1770. Tod’s Rajasthan, vol. i. p. 200.

337. See Book V. Chap. I.

338. The Persian word zemin-dar, means haver, holder, or keeper of the land, but by no means necessarily implies ownership; the termination dar being applied to a person in any charge, down to the meanest; as khezdneh-dar, treasurer; hella-dar, governor of a fort; chob-dar, mace bearer; ab-dar, water cooler, &c. It is said by Mr. Stirling (Asiatic Researches, vol. xv. p. 239.) that, until Aurangzib’s time, the term zemindar was confined to such chiefs as enjoyed some degree of independence. In modern times it is not limited to that class; for in the Deckan it is most generally applied by the natives to the district officers (desmuks, &c.); and in our provinces in Hindostan, to the village landholders.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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