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Mahasamanta In Ancient Hindu Kingdoms

Mahasamanta is a feudal title used in ancient Hindu kingdoms. The epigraphic records and literary works of the post-Gupta period reveal that mahasamanta was used to mean a great vassal or a great noble, usually of a higher rank than samanta.

Samanta literally means neighboring, bordering or being on all sides, as used in Katyayana Srauta Sutra in connection with the rites performed on all sides of the ritual fire. Vashistha Dharmasutra, Kautilya, Manu, Yajnavalkya, Narada, Katyayana, Agni Purana, etc, use the term in connection with the rules of boundary disputes. The term came to be used for the neighboring rulers, especially those who had accepted the suzerainty of the supreme overlord with the passage of time.

Kalidasa used the word in both the senses of a neighboring ruler (Raghuvamsa VI.33) as well as subordinate king (Raghuvamsa V.28). This was also the time when higher titles were applied to emphasize the importance of a person.

The term Mahasamanta, either independently or in combination with other titles, became common from about the beginning of the 6th century CE. An early use of the title is found in the Gunaighar inscription of Vainyagupta, dated 507 CE. Banabhatta in his Harshacharita uses it several times. The maha samantas (vassal chiefs) sometimes held the position of a minister or governor. The designation was also used as an honorific and included in the panchamahasabda (five great titles), in the inscriptions and literary works of early medieval period.