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Feudalism in Early Medieval India


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Feudalism became an important feature of the political system of North India between 750 and 1200 AD. This was because the authority of the rulers had been limited in many ways. The ministers were appointed on the hereditary basis and became all powerful. There were numerous feudal chiefs who had ties with ruling class. In the local and central govt these feudal chiefs had special privileges and powers which no ruler could ignore. This also led to the limited authority of the kings. The rulers were under the obligation to rule according to holy Sastras and Smirtis could not enact or amend the laws at will. Thus rulers of this period were basically feudal lords with limited overall power.

The basis of the sovereignty during this period was a mixture of Divine Right theory and contract theory. On the one hand the authors of treaties on polity regarded the ruler as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. On the other hand they also held that it the people who conferred sovereignty on the ruler. So the natural duty of the ruler was to rule in the interests of the people while the duty of the people was to be loyal to him.

A king was usually succeeded by his elder son. If a king dies without an heir the kingdom passed to the head of next in kin to the ruling dynasty. There was little scope for disputed succession in this period. The powers of the king were limited in practice due to privileges and prerogatives of the feudal lords. Since he had the theoretical ownership of all the lands, the feudal lords needed his recognition but then this prerogative of the kings was limited as the feudal lords had hereditary rights.

The king was helped in the administration by a council of ministers besides crown prince. The chief priest and the court astrologer were recruited from Brahmin while all over posts were held by feudal lords. They usually belonged to Kshatriya caste.Sudras or lower caste had no place in the political set up of the king.