Out Pasts - II

M any new dynasties emerged after the seventh century. Map 1 shows the major ruling dynasties in different parts of the subcontinent between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Map 1 Major kingdoms, seventh-twelfth centuries Locate the Gurjara-Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, Palas, Cholas and Chahamanas (Chauhans). Can you identify the present-day states over which they exercised control? The emergence of new dynasties By the seventh century there were big landlords or warrior chiefs in different regions of the subcontinent. Existing kings often acknowledged them as their subordinates or samantas. They were expected to bring gifts for their kings or overlords, be present at their courts and provide them with military support. As samantas gained power and wealth, they declared themselves to be maha-samanta, mahamandaleshvara (the great lord of a “circle” or region) and so on. Sometimes they asserted their independence from their overlords. One such instance was that of the Rashtrakutas in the Deccan. Initially they were subordinate to the Chalukyas of Karnataka. In the mid-eighth century, Dantidurga, a Rashtrakuta chief, overthrew his Chalukya overlord and performed a ritual called hiranya-garbha (literally, the golden womb). When this ritual was performed with the help of Brahmanas, it was thought to lead to the “rebirth” of the sacrificer as a Kshatriya, even if he was not one by birth. In other cases, men from enterprising families used their military skills to carve out kingdoms. For instance, the Kadamba Mayurasharman and the Gurjara-Pratihara Harichandra were Brahmanas who gave up their traditional professions and took to arms, successfully establishing kingdoms in Karnataka and Rajasthan respectively. Administration in the kingdoms Many of these new kings adopted high-sounding titles such as maharaja-adhiraja (great king, overlord of kings), tribhuvana-chakravartin (lord of the three worlds) and so on. However, in spite of such claims, 17 Fig. 1 Wall relief from Cave 15, Ellora, showing Vishnu as Narasimha, the man-lion. It is a work of the Rashtrakuta period. Do you think being born as a Kshatriya was important in order to become a ruler during this period? they often shared power with their samantas as well as with associations of peasants, traders and Brahmanas. In each of these states, resources were obtained from the producers, that is, peasants, cattle-keepers, artisans, who were often persuaded or compelled to surrender part of what they produced. Sometimes these were claimed as “rent” due to a lord who asserted that he owned the land. Revenue was also collected from traders. In what ways was this form of administration different from the present-day system? These resources were used to finance the king’s establishment, as well as for the construction of temples and forts. They were also used to fight wars, which were in turn expected to lead to the acquisition of wealth in the form of plunder, and access to land as well as trade routes. The functionaries for collecting revenue were generally recruited from influential families, and positions were often hereditary. This was true about the army as well. In many cases, close relatives of the king held these positions. Prashastis and land grants Prashastis contain details that may not be literally true. But they tell us how rulers wanted to depict themselves – as valiant, victorious warriors, for example. These were composed by learned Brahmanas, who occasionally helped in the administration. Many rulers described their achievements in prashastis (you read about the prashasti of the Gupta ruler Samudragupta last year). One prashasti, written in Sanskrit and found in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, describes the exploits of Nagabhata, a Pratihara king, as follows: The kings of Andhra, Saindhava (Sind), Vidarbha (part of Maharashtra) and Kalinga (part of Orissa) fell before him even as he was a prince … He won a victory over Chakrayudha (the ruler of Kanauj) … He defeated the king of Vanga (part of Bengal), Anarta (part of Gujarat), Malava (part of Madhya Pradesh), Kirata (forest peoples), Turushka (Turks), Vatsa, Matsya (both kingdoms in north India) … Kings often rewarded Brahmanas by grants of land. These were recorded on copper plates, which were given poem containing the history of kings who ruled over Kashmir. It was composed by an author named Kalhana. He used a variety of sources, including inscriptions, documents, eyewitness accounts and earlier histories, to write his account. Unlike the writers of prashastis, he was often critical about rulers and their policies. Warfare for wealth You may have noticed that each of these ruling dynasties was based in a specific region. At the same time, they tried to control other areas. One particularly prized area was the city of Kanauj in the Ganga valley. For centuries, rulers belonging to the Gurjara-Pratihara, Rashtrakuta and Pala dynasties fought for control over Kanauj. Because there were three “parties” in this long-drawn conflict, historians often describe it as the “tripartite struggle”. As we will see (pp. 62-66), rulers also tried to demonstrate their power and resources by building large temples. So, when they attacked one another’s kingdoms, they often chose to target temples, which were sometimes extremely rich. You will read more about this in Chapter 5. One of the best known of such rulers is Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, Afghanistan. He ruled from 997 to 1030, and extended control over parts of Central Asia, Iran and the north-western part of the subcontinent. He raided the subcontinent almost every year – his targets were wealthy temples, including that of Somnath, Gujarat. Much of the wealth Mahmud carried away was used to create a splendid capital city at Ghazni. He was interested in finding out more about the people he conquered, and entrusted a scholar named al-Biruni to write an account of the subcontinent. This Arabic work, known as the Kitab-al Hind, remains an important source for historians. He consulted Sanskrit scholars to prepare this account. Other kings who engaged in warfare include the Chahamanas, later known as the Chauhans, who ruled over the region around Delhi and Ajmer. They attempted to expand their control to the west and the east, where they were opposed by the Chalukyas of Gujarat and the Gahadavalas of western Uttar Pradesh. The best-known Chahamana ruler was Prithviraja III (1168-1192), who defeated an Afghan ruler named Sultan Muhammad Ghori in 1191, but lost to him the very next year, in 1192. Look at Map 1 and suggest reasons why these rulers wanted to control Kanauj and the Ganga valley. Sultan Sultan is an Arabic term meaning ruler. Look at Map 1 again and discuss why the Chahamanas may have wanted to expand their territories. A closer look–The Cholas Map 2 The Chola kingdom and its neighbours From Uraiyur to Thanjavur How did the Cholas rise to power? A minor chiefly family known as the Muttaraiyar held power in the Kaveri delta. They were subordinate to the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. Vijayalaya, who belonged to the ancient chiefly family of the Cholas from Uraiyur, captured the delta from the Muttaraiyar in the middle of the ninth century. He built the town of Thanjavur and a temple for goddess Nishumbhasudini there. The successors of Vijayalaya conquered neighbouring regions and the kingdom grew in size and power. The Pandyan and the Pallava territories to the south and north were made part of this kingdom. Rajaraja I, considered the most powerful Chola ruler, became king in 985 and expanded control over most of these areas. He also reorganised the administration of the empire. Rajaraja’s son Rajendra I continued his policies and even raided the Ganga valley, Sri Lanka and countries of Southeast Asia, developing a navy for these expeditions. Splendid temples and bronze sculpture The big temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Rajaraja and Rajendra, are architectural and sculptural marvels. Chola temples often became the nuclei of settlements which grew around them. These were centres of craft production. Temples were also endowed with land by rulers as well as by others. The produce of this land Fig. 3 The temple at Gangaikondacholapuram. Notice the way in which the roof tapers. Also look at the elaborate stone sculptures used to decorate the outer walls. went to maintain all the specialists who worked at the temple and very often lived near it – priests, garland makers, cooks, sweepers, musicians, dancers, etc. In other words, temples were not only places of worship; they were the hub of economic, social and cultural life as well. Amongst the crafts associated with temples, the making of bronze images was the most distinctive. Chola bronze images are considered amongst the finest in the world. While most images were of deities, sometimes images were made of devotees as well. Agriculture and irrigation Many of the achievements of the Cholas were made possible through new developments in agriculture. Look at Map 2 again. Notice that the river Kaveri branches off into several small channels before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. These channels overflow frequently, depositing fertile soil on their banks. Water from the channels also provides the necessary moisture for agriculture, particularly the cultivation of rice. Although agriculture had developed earlier in other parts of Tamil Nadu, it was only from the fifth or sixth century that this area was opened up for large-scale cultivation. Forests had to be cleared in some regions; land had to be levelled in other areas. In the delta region embankments had to be built to prevent Fig. 4 A Chola Bronze Sculpture. Notice how carefully it is decorated. To find out how these images were made, see Chapter 6. In many cases it was necessary to water crops artificially. A variety of methods were used for irrigation. In some areas wells were dug. In other places huge tanks were constructed to collect rainwater. Remember that irrigation works require planning – organising labour and resources, maintaining these works and deciding on how water is to be shared. Most of the new rulers, as well as people living in villages, took an active interest in these activities. The administration of the empire How was the administration organised? Settlements of peasants, known as ur, became prosperous with the spread of irrigation agriculture. Groups of such villages formed larger units called nadu. The village council and the nadu had several administrative functions including dispensing justice and collecting taxes. Rich peasants of the Vellala caste exercised considerable control over the affairs of the nadu under the supervision of the central Chola government. The Chola kings gave some rich landowners titles like muvendavelan (a velan or peasant serving three kings), araiyar (chief), etc. as markers of respect, and entrusted them with important offices of the state at the centre. 25 Fig. 5 A ninth century sluice-gate in Tamil Nadu. It regulated the outflow of water from a tank into the channels that irrigated the fields. Chola inscriptions mention several categories of land. vellanvagai land of non-Brahmana peasant proprietors brahmadeya land gifted to Brahmanas shalabhoga land for the maintenance of a school devadana, tirunamattukkani land gifted to temples pallichchhandam land donated to Jaina institutions We have seen that Brahmanas often received land grants or brahmadeya. As a result, a large number of Brahmana settlements emerged in the Kaveri valley as in other parts of south India. Each brahmadeya was looked after by an assembly or sabha of prominent Brahmana landholders. These assemblies worked very efficiently. Their decisions were recorded in detail in inscriptions, often on the stone walls of temples. Associations of traders known as nagarams also occasionally performed administrative functions in towns. Inscriptions from Uttaramerur in Chingleput district, Tamil Nadu, provide details of the way in which the sabha was organised. The sabha had separate committees to look after irrigation works, gardens, temples, etc. Names of those eligible to be members of these committees were written on small tickets of palm leaf and kept in an earthenware pot, from which a young boy was asked to pick the tickets, one by one for each committee. Do you think women participated in these assemblies? In your view are lotteries useful in choosing members of committees? Were there any Brahmanas in this hamlet? Describe all the activities that were taking place in the village? Why do you think temple inscriptions ignore these activities? NEW KINGS AND KINGDOMS China under the Tang dynasty In China, an empire was established under the Tang dynasty, which remained in power for about 300 years (from the seventh to the tenth centuries). Its capital, Xi’an, was one of the largest cities in the world, visited by Turks, Iranians, Indians, Japanese and Koreans. The Tang empire was administered by a bureaucracy recruited through an examination, which was open to all who wished to appear for it. This system of selecting officials remained in place, with some changes, till 1911. In what ways was this system different from those prevalent in the Indian subcontinent? 1. Match the following 2. Who were the parties involved in the “tripartite struggle”? 3. What were the qualifications necessary to become a member of a committee of the sabha in the Chola Empire? Gurjara-Pratiharas Western Deccan Rashtrakutas Bengal Palas Gujarat and Rajasthan Cholas Tamil Nadu 4. What were the two major cities under the control of the Chahamanas? 6. What did the new dynasties do to gain acceptance? 7. What kind of irrigation works were developed in the Tamil region? 8. What were the activities associated with Chola temples? 10. Contrast the “elections” in Uttaramerur with present-day panchayat elections. present-day temple in your neighbourhood, highlighting any similarities and differences that you notice. 12. Find out more about taxes that are collected at present. Are these in cash, kind, or labour services?

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