Nature of State during Early Medieval Period

The state structure in this period has often been described as "decentralized" political system. It is a system in which there is a king as the main authority at the top, but he shares his rule with other small chiefs called feudatories or the samantas.

The term ‘Samanta’ basically refers to a king who has been defeated but his kingdom has been restored to him but with the condition that he will continue to accept the over lordship of the conquering king and also pay regular tribute to him in cash or kind. He may also be asked to help with military assistance in times of need.

As these chiefs enjoyed freedom of administration over their regions they were quite powerful. These chiefs could always be a threat to the overlord, and no wonder whenever there was a weak king at the top, they would assert their independence leading to the break up of the empire. And precisely it was what happened during the last days of Pratihara empire.

Another aspect the decentralized polity was characterized by the practice of making land grants to Brahmanas and others. This practice was initiated by the Satavahanas kings in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, but after the Gupta period it had become a normal practice all over the country. Now land grants came to made not only to religious persons and institutions but to state officials as well.

Why did it so happen? It is suggested that one of the reasons for the increase in land grants during this period, was the decline in trade and, therefore the shortage of coined money to pay to the officials and others for their services. The shortage of coined money in the post-Gupta period is indicated by the absence of the presence of coins in the archeological finds.

The land granted to the donee (the receiver of grant) was tax free, i.e., the donee did not pay any tax to the state and used the produce and income on it for his personal benefit. The donee was also free from any interference by his king or his officials in managing the land donoted to him. Thus, these donees converted the lands granted to them into independent islands of authority with no or little central control.

In the Chola kingdom in South India, the structure of administration was slightly different. Here at the village level, a great amount of autonomy was enjoyed by the local people. They looked after their administration with the help of self elected local bodies. Two types of village assemblies are mentioned in the records. These were known as Sabha and Ur.

Sabha was the assembly in the villages which were inhabited predominantly by the brahmanas, whereas Ur was in the non brahmanical settlements. These assemblies looked after the local public works, tax collection, temple management, etc., with the help of the members elected through a procedure set by the villagers. It was a unique feature of the Chola administration as it represented a harmonious balance between the central authority and the local self-government.