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Society in Feudal Era

D.N. Jha

By P.C. Jain
B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi, 1976, pp. xviii 370, Rs. 80.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 2 September/October 1978

Based mainly on Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhramsha texts, the present work is a sequel to P.C Jain's Labour in Ancient India (1971). Divided into six chapters, it seeks to study the social and economic condition of various categories of Indian labour and the state of guild organizations in early medieval India. Unlike most historians, Jain rightly assumes that the medieval period in India began around the sixth or seventh century A.D. with the emergence of feudalism. Accordingly, he has utilized the literary texts ranging in dates from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries or thereabouts. But their use in conjunction with inscriptions would have given us a clearer and surer picture of the times. Moreover, the author's excessive realiance on the Shukra­niti is open to question in view of recent research which assigns it to as late as the eighteenth century. The present study is therefore hardly 'definitive' so far as the use of source material is concerned. Jain's implicit acceptance of the growth of feudalism in the early medieval period has justifiably led him to indicate at least some of the changes noticeable in the contemporary socio-economic fabric. The peasantry, we are told, was subjected to heavier taxation than was collected from it during the preceding period. The feudal era witnessed a substantial fall in the volume of India's trade, leading to a decline of industry as well as to dimini­shing importance of guilds. It also saw, in the author's opinion, an unprecedented increase in the number of slaves on acco­unt of frequent feudal wars. Although the above assertions indicate some of the broad developments in early medieval social polity they by no means throw light on its inner dynamics. In view of the scheme of periodization adopted by Jain, one would expect him to have focussed attention on the funda­mental changes in the social structure and the varna system and on the study of the 'working class' in relation to them. By all indications the varna system tended to be rigid and members of the different varnas came to be classified on the basis of the regions to which they belonged. Feudalism not only fostered localism but also sharpened social conflict. Contrary to this, however, Jain confidently asserts that egalitarian ideas gained in strength and enhanced the status and prestige of the labouring classes. He seems to rule out any social tension between ...

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