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Land Grants Records In Ancient India

Land grants are donations of land to persons of religious establishments in ancient India and they are highly helpful in reconstructing history of places, kingdoms, temples and important personalities.

These donations were extremely rare in the earlier period, but became common from the 5th-6th century CE onwards, and far too common in the post-Gupta epoch. They constitute an important source for the reconstruction not only of political history but also economic, social and religious history, as also historical geography.

The composition of land grants records is rather stereotyped, starting with an invocatory stanza in praise of the family deity of the donor, followed by the genealogy of the ruling monarch. Next in order is the description of the grant land, its whereabouts with geographical boundaries on all sides, and the purpose of the grant. It ends with curses to person who may, later on, forfeit the land, because the land is given for perpetual enjoyment on a nominal rent.

We often come across terms like brahmadeya, brahmadeva-maryada, agrahara, hala-nyaya, etc. which show that the land was donated to Brahmins and or religious and educational establishments for acquiring merit. Agraharas were granted to Brahmins when they completed their study in the gurukula and returned to settle and start their own gurukulas. The charters, either engraved on copper plates or stone, state the privileges to which the donee is entitled, and in the case of temples the varieties of rituals and worship which have to be performed, e.g, anga bhoga, the puja and ranga bhoga, the dance music, and recitation of scriptures, etc. The term akshaya nivi occurring in the grants implies their perpetual enjoyment by the donee and his successors; though even the donee cannot sell such land. There are semi-gifts in which the land is sold at a reduced rate if it is being purchased for religious purposes.

The numerous land grants which have occurred in the thousands have been taken to indicate by some scholars are marking the beginning of feudalism in India. As a matter of fact, they suggest migrations of people to rural areas where many new villages came to be settled. It thus marks the urban decline of the post-Gupta era. However, it is also likely that the deteriorating environment was also responsible for this phenomenon.