Bharat Ek Khoj

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Feudalism in India
(Episode 29)

Nehru recounts that while India had widespread monarchy, the hold of its power different from that of European feudalism where the king had the authority over all persons and things within his domain. In a herarchy of authority, both the land and people belong to the feudal lord. In India, in contrast, the king had the right only to collect taxes from the land and the revenue-collecting power was all he could delegate to others. Thus, the individual peasant paid his due to the aristocrat revenue collector who, in turn, paid it to the king.

The scenario opens with a bullock-cart race, which the common man is hugely enjoying. Enacting episodes from masti's Kannada novel Mallige, the landless labourer, Saguna, and his fiancee are accosted by the revenue collector's wife who lords over them, having fixed Mallige's marriage some were else. The lovelorn couple takes recourse to a holy Swami ji who advice prudence and declines to intervene. Undeterred, they pursue Swami ji his urban Ashram and he now advises them not to go against the lady for six months. The lady still insists on getting Mallige settled after five months, when the desperate couple catches hold of the Naik, the higher intermediary and seeks his intervention, which finally comes.

The scene shifts to the declining Vijaynagar empire and its decadent feudalism. Ramaraya, Krishna's, powerful son-in-law, thwarts Achyuta Deva Raya, royal treasurer and the nominated successor of Krishna Deva Raya, in his aspiration to the throne. Trouble is brewing in Chandumandal under Udya Varman and needs to be subjugated. In the ensuing battle under Achyuta Raya, the ace rebel shilappa is taken prisoner. Achyuta dies in 1542.

Nehru notes that amidst all these internecine feuds, the peasant is unaffected, as there is no advantage in dispossessing him. The twin concepts of landlord system as well as full owner ship by the individual peasant of his patch of land where both introduced much later by the British and had disastrous results.