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KeywordsBrahman Village Granted Land Gifts Temple Authorities Family Priest
Village Granted to Brahmins
Agrahāra means a village or an area of land granted to Brahmins or temples. The Brahmins lived in houses generally granted to them by the Indian ruler in recognition of their learning and religious devotion. The lands were granted to the Brahmins who had performed sacrifices, who were spiritual guides, priests, and learned in Vedas, thereby rewarding high intellectual eminence. Brahmins occupied an important position in the Indian social setup. They formed the exclusive and distinctive class respected for their knowledge of Sāstras (sacred texts). Sometimes kings granted lands to their kula-brahminas (family priests).
Agrahāras began to appear in Sutra period and are well described in the ancient literary works like Brahmanical and Buddhist texts and in the inscriptions of the various kings . As Brahmin settlements they occupy privileged position. There are records of these gifts from the fifth century C.E. onward. Making a gift of land to an individual or institution was considered to be highly meritorious. Sometimes, two or more settlements were clubbed together to form an agrahāra and which was then renamed. The setting up of an agrahāra involved considerable intervention. These endowments were perpetual in nature. In land grant charters, the term used to indicate the permanent and inalienable character of such a gift is akṣayanȋvȋ . These pious charitable endowments were held in heritability and with the essential rights of ownership. The charters refer to the name and location of the gift land with reference to the territorial divisions. Inscriptions also refer to the donations made by the women of royal family. Usually agrahāras were fertile areas situated by the banks of rivers or large tanks. It is described as a tax-free village granted to the Brahmins in order to help them settle down as householders. Such lands are called by Kautilaya, Brahmadeya lands, which yield sufficient produce for the maintenance of Brahmins. The residents of these villages enjoyed many privileges of various types. One of these was the restriction imposed on some government officers from either visiting these agrahāras or restraining them from acting at these places as they did in other villages. Lands also carried a right vested with the temple authorities to call for unpaid labor (vishti) as a religious service to the temple from the tillers on the donated land.
Donations of agrahāras increased from the time of the Gupta period. During this period, the office of the Agrahārika was created. The officials kept records of such grants. Land for each individual family was distributed with a full record of its measurement for the royal archives. Sites for different temples and for erecting structures for public use were also earmarked. While the early grants gave the donee only a few exemptions and property rights, the nature of concessions granted by later inscriptions made the donee the owner of the land and the lord of his estate. The donees were allowed to gift, sale, or mortgage lands, however only to the respective classes. Agrahāras were often linked in one way or another to temples . Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava temples were important recipients of such grants . Royal land grants became a regular feature especially in the case of dynasties seeking to establish a regional hegemony. The Pallavas were, in particular, more active in their support of temples.
The intention of the donors in granting of agrahāra was on one hand to seek religious merit and on the other to ensure that the recipient performed religious rites. The newly emerged states and dynasties used to give land grants to Brahmins mainly for legitimization. Boundaries of the donated land or village were very often carefully demarcated, and government maintained close scrutiny over the lands. The proliferation of land grants in the early medieval period accelerated the prosperity of temples, converting them into semi-administrative units . These villages had their own administrative assemblies called Sabhās. The responsibility of looking after the local affairs of an agrahāra rested almost entirely upon the residents. The kings tried to protect agrahāras from taking away from others. These villages usually bore the names of the kings, queens, or royal officials who were responsible for their formation. The Brahmin recipients were expected to show loyalty and good conduct toward their patrons. The recipients used to receive the share of the land depending on his intellectual accomplishments. These areas blossomed into centers of traditional education.
Agrahāras became the foremost educational institutions in Southern India during the medieval period. The Brahmins administered all affairs of the agrahāra including education. There are references that the kings promoted learning by inviting scholars from outside. The agrahāras imparted primary education. Some agrahāras taught only parts of the Vedas. Inscriptions mention the subjects which were taught at the various agrahāras and some teachers who specialized in a particular subject. An agrahara was typically composed of different vocations such as blacksmiths, carpenters, goldsmiths, security men, flower-men, and farmers. These were allotted to donee. Youngsters of all the families in the community received elementary education locally in their families and later through guilds.
Land grant charters from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Konkan, and Gujarat of Gupta and post-Gupta times contain provisions allowing the beneficiary to evict peasants, introduce new peasants, as well as assign land to those he pleased. Inscriptions of Vijayanagar Empire include the names, gotra, i.e., family name of the recipients, along with the portion of the Veda the recipient could recite. By the medieval period, the land assignments were to be held at the pleasure of the king . Agrahāras occupy significant place in the economic history of India.
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