(Online Course) History for IAS Mains: Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhanas – Polity and administration

Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhanas

Topic: Polity and administration

Q. What are the salient features of the administrative system
of the Guptas?

Answer : Contemporary
inscriptions and literary sources throw lightt on the polity and
administrative system of the Gupta period. Land and land relations acquired
central stage in the economic life of the period and flourishing trade of
the post Mauryanpre-Gupta period declined sharply in this period. The period
was also marked by the growing significance of land grants which led to
decentralization of political authority of the king and finally gave birth
to feudalism in Indian history.

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The law of the primogeniture was not firmly established,
and sometimes elder sons were passed over in favour of younger sons. The
king appointed ministers, commanders, governors etc. He received the
obeisance of his vassals and princes. His pompous titles Paramesvara,
Maharajadhiraja. Paramabhattaraka indicate the existence of lesser princes
and chiefs with whom he had to come to terms in his empire. The maintenance
of the Vamasrama Dharma appear as an important royal duty in Gupta
inscription imposed upon the king, who is described as the giver of
thousands of gold coins. The second change noticeable in the Gupta kingship
is not qualitative but quantitative and relates to its divine associations.
They are compared to Vishnu as regards their function of preserving and
protecting the people, and Laxmi, wife of Vishnu and goddess of prosperity
appears on many Gupta coins.

Ministers called by different names such as Mantrin,
Amatya or sachiva may have restrained the despotic activities of the king,
although inscriptions give very little idea of their functions and
no idea of their corporate existence. Undoubtedly some individual ministers
such as Harisena were powerful because of having combined posts of the
Mahadandanayaka, Kumaramatya. Sanhivigrahika in the same person. And then
the post became hereditary in the same family for several generations. Such
families must have played an important part in politics. Ministers or
advisers formed part of the higher bureaucracy of the Guptas. Among the
other high officers we may take special notice of the Sandhivigrahika, who
are not known to earlier inscription. Like the Mahamatras under Ashoka and
the Amatyas under the Satavahanas. the Kumaramatyas formed the chief’ cadre
for recruiting high functionaries under the Guptas. Literally translated as
the minister of peace and war, the Sandhivigrahika first appears under
Samudragupta whose Amatya Harisena holds this title. We have the famous
example of Harisena, who held the several important portfolios. We hear of
Kumaramatya who held the offices of the Mahasvapti and Mahadanayka. We have
no precise idea about the mode of
payment to the officers under the Gupta Empire. The discovery of numerous
Gupta’s gold coins and their use in land transaction in Bengal coupled with
the prevalence of the tax known as Hiranya would suggest that at least
higher officers were paid in cash. Three grades of military commands came
into existence, namely those of Mahabaladhikrta, Mahadanayaka and Senapati.
The cavalry, the elephant corps and perhaps also the infantry
were organized under separate commands. Civil officials such as Amatyas,
Kumaramatyas, etc.  performed military functions or were promoted to
the rank of high military officers. A ministers hailing from Pataliputra
accompanied Chandragupta II on his campaign to Western India.Similarly
military officers may have performed civil functions.

The taxation system of the Guptas was not so elaborate
and organised like that of the Arthasastra of Kautilya. The villagers paid
in kind certain customary miscellaneous dues, which could he measured but
these are not specified. They also paid hiranya or gold, but what it
actually meant cannot be said. The artisans also had to pay some imposts,
and traders were subjected to customs on commodities of trade, which were
levied and collected by the custom officer.

Guptas evolved the first systematic provincial and local
administration. This was primarily concerned with the collection of revenues
and maintenance of law and order. The core, of the empire directly
controlled by the Guptas was divided -into a number of provinces. A Gupta
province was smaller than a Mauryai province, but much larger than a modern
division. The Bhukti was the largest administrative unit under the Guptas
and there were at least six such divisions over Bengal, Jharkhand. Bihar.
Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. It was placed in charge of
an Uparika. The exact connotation of this high officer is obscure, probably
in origin it had something to do with the collection of Uparikara, an
additional impost on the peasants in addition to the fixed annual share of
the produce. The officer was undoubtedly a governor appointed by the Gupta
King. but the literal meaning of the term Bhukti suggests that the territory
placed under his charge was intended to be enjoyed rather than governed by
him in its own interest. It is a pity that we have no information regarding
the functions of the head of the Bhukti.

The Bhukti was divided into Visayas or districts, whose
number is not known. The visayas of Rajgriha, Pataliputra and Gaya were
included in Megadhbhukti which, if we believe the geographical details in
the Spurious Nalanda grant of Samudragupta. also included Krimila Visaya,
roughly corresponding to Munger, Lakhisarai. Shekhpura. Jamui. Khagria and
Begusarai districts and extending over both the north and south of the
Ganges. In Tirabhukti, Vaisali was the headquarter of a Visaya, although it
is mentioned as such in only one seal and here to the reading is doubtful.
In Pundravardhan bhukti. now in Bangladesh, the Visaya of Kotivarsa was a
famous administrative unit. The Visaya was in charge of the Kumaramatya in
early times, but later it came to be placed under the Visayapati. Ordinarily
in Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar the Visayapati was the head of the local
office or Adhikarna. But in one case in western U.P. he was placed in charge
of a  district called Bhoga. We have some idea of the way the district
governor maintained his power in the Visaya of Kotivarsa. He based his
authority on the force consisting if elephants, cavalry and infantry, whose
cost was defrayed probably out of the revenues supplied by the district.
Perhaps every district had a strong military contingent to back civil
authority in times of need. The Visaya was divided into Vithis. In Bihar we
know of Nandivithi. whose headquarters lay 2 miles to the northwest of
Surajgarha in South Munger. But several vithis are known from Bengal, and in
one case we have full information about the composition of the committee
which took part in its government. The vithi consisted of villages which
formed the lowest unit of administration; several of these are mentioned in
Gupta inscriptions and seals. The leading part in managing the affairs of
the village was taken by its gramika and elders known as the mahattama,
mahattaka or mahattara. The term Gramadhipati and Gramasyadhipati used in
contemporary texts would suggest that the village headman was treated as the
lord of the village. If we rely on a passage from the Kamasutra of
Vatsyayana, perhaps in western India. where this text was composed. the
village headman called Gramadhipati Ayuktaka tended to become all powerful.

The expanding scope of the village administration is a
significant aspect of the Gupta polity. This did not come to happen because
the state raised too many taxes to maintain a large official apparatus nor
had too many copper coins to pay minor employees. Naturally many of the
functions once performed by the central government devolved on the village
administration, which was dominated by feudal and influential elements.


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