Administrative land division in the Deccan, has followed a common pattern for about 2000 years, starting from the Satavahan reign, up to the Maratha rule. Administrative divisions broadly had three or four hierarchical subdivisions. The current administrative divisions in India — State > District > Tāluka (Tehsil) > (Block) > Village, more or less follow the same structure and hierarchy that was in practice since 230 BCE, of the Sātavāhan reign.
Each successive empire, made changes to the administration in their own ways. Some empires made changes to create a more cohesive empire and enable direct control of the administrative regions. Others, who were primarily interested in the revenue from the land, assigned the land to people as awards, or in lieu of cash, for services rendered. (The Jagirdari System) Depending on the nature of the assignment, these land owners, paid varying amount of tax to the centre. The changes that these empires caused, transformed the smallest revenue unit, as well as the name, and it’s place in hierarchy.
Chhatrapati Shivaji made some significant changes to administrative divisions as well as the method for revenue collection. Of these, there were two major changes; one, the survey and assessment of land (measurement as well as quality of land) was done in a detailed way, and two, the abolishment of the Jagirdari (the right to collect revenue) system. It’s usually accepted that the base system he followed was that of Malik Amber, and refined it to end harassment of the villagers by the semi-independent feudal lords, and ensure effective revenue collection directly by government appointed officials.
The territories that formed the kingdom of Ch. Shivaji, were annexed from four different states: Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, Delhi, and Vijayanagar. This meant, that he also inherited four systems of land division and revenue. To overcome the differences, Ch. Shivaji, instituted a uniform system of land assessment and revenue collection.
The largest administrative unit during this time was a Prānt, which was the same as a Subāh, during the Mughal reign. By some accounts, during Shivaji’s time there were fourteen Prants. Yet, some historians do not think that the Prant and the Subah were the same. One theory is that the kingdom was divided into three Prants, which were further divided into Subahs. The second theory, is that Prants were different from Subahs; the three Prants were overseen by the three ministers, and the Subahs were smaller outlying provinces. The second theory makes sense, since we have information that Ch. Shivaji assigned the responsibility of three Prants to his Ministers, and they could not have been Subehdars.
The Subah consisted of a Parganā (This term was probably introduced in the 14th century, and means, “tax paying land”) or a Mahāl. Pargana and Mahal have often been used interchangeably. Some sources point to a Mahal being a revenue paying area (with an annual produce below a 100,000), and note it as a sub-division of a Pargana. We also see a clear mention that two Mahals made up a Subah. The word Mamlá came into use for this sub-division during the Peśhwā rule. The size, origin, and the nature of the sub-division becomes the source for this confusion. As researchers look at different letters, this interpretation broadens.
The Pargana or the Mahal was divided into Tarfs (Original, Arabic, Taraf, meaning ‘direction’) or Karyat, which is a Mahal composed of ten or twelve villages. (The number of villages vary from source to source)
The last independent unit was the Village, often called Maujā. Also referred to as Grām, Dehe, and Khede. A coastal village came to be known as Mire or Mirya.
If a village had a market, it was known as a Kasbā. The actual marketplace in the Kasba, was called a Peth. Like their parental counterparts, villages also had a life of their own. They shrunk, expanded, or formed new villages. Villages had suburbs, which were called Majrá, Pádi, Wádi, or Khári. These were formed when farmers lived on farms that were away from the villages. As tenants and workers joined in, they formed small communities, or suburbs of villages. Majra, Padi, Wadi, and Khari are synonymous; Khari seems to be the word used for such communities in coastal areas.
For over two-thousand years, villages in India have been democratic and republic. Notwithstanding the coming and going of empires, the villages managed themselves. This feature seems to have withstood time, till the advent of the British.
As Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose says,
“With the advent of the Mohammedans, a new synthesis was gradually worked out. Though they did not accept the religion of the Hindus, they made India their home and shared in the common social life of the people—their joys and sorrows. […] In architecture, painting, music—new creations were made, which represented the happy blending of the two streams of culture. Moreover, the administration of the Mohammedan rulers left untouched the daily life of the people and did not interfere with local self-government based on the old system of village communities. […] The British people, unlike the invaders of the old, did not make India their home. […] Moreover, they endeavoured to imitate the autocracy of the Mohammedan rulers without following their wise policy of complete non-interference in local affairs.”
What was the nature of the self-government of the villages? Who were these people and how did they manage their village. In the next post, we will look at the village communities in the Deccan, with specific governance issues during Ch. Shivaji’s time.
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