Ample references have been projected on Revenue System in our ancient treatises. Such thoughts bear evidence of a highly civilized society which existed in ancient India. The Vedas, later Vedic scriptures, Dharmasastras and the epics prompted me to an indepth study in the matter. Being a student of Sanskrit and a lover of ancient Indian history, the topic fascinated me. Almost immediately it occurred to me that this field of study may be extended to the system in modern society and a comparative analysis of the system of two ages can bring forth interesting data. But such research work needs good understanding of economics and finance— which is not my comfort zone.
The person to whom I am extremely indebted in this matter is my father, Sri Samir Mohan Chakravarty, Rtd. Asst. Commissioner, Commercial Taxes.. His relentless effort and patient guidance was of immense help in my long course of study. I am so grateful to the Almighty for having such a wonderful father who has constantly guided me to the right path, throughout my life. He has taken out time from his busy schedule and has taught me the basics of Economics and Finance and has even corrected my preliminary notes.
I am thankful to the University Grants Commission for sponsoring this study of mine — a Minor Research Project. I also take this opportunity to thank Sri Debashis Bhattacharya of Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar. He has taken special care to give my study a finished look. I am thankful to my colleagues and friends for their support I extend numerous hugs and kisses for my daughters—Reshmi and Roshni, for designing the cover page of this book.
I shall feel honoured if this book is appreciated and any shortfall therein should be considered as my incapability.
Revenue System of reflected in the Vedic age
The earliest written document which reveals social and political life in India is the Rgveda Satmhitã. These collection of verses serve as valuable and authentic. witness of how our very old ancestors lived in society— how they met their needs, how they ruled, how they dealt with calamities, so on and so forth. It is assured that the Indo-Aryan tribes migrated and settled in India during this period. They were politically conscious, So as to say, they had a king who looked after the wellbeing of the general people. The king seemed to be assisted by a tribal assembly in execution of his duties. This is the first instance that in the Rgveda we find mention of the king deriving revenue or contributions from his subjects. The technical term of revenue mentioned in the Rgveda is ‘bali’.
Look I am attaching the non-decaying Soma with the help of non-decaying sacrificial offerings. So Indra, your subjects will be united and eager to pay taxes.
As the Indo-Aryans were a conquering tribe, it is probable that revenue to the king may have been voluntary in the beginning but turned into a compulsion later on. There is reference of the king acquiring tribute from conquered communities.
Who has weakened all policies of enemies by his weapons, who has created usa, the Aryan wife, that great Agni had controlled the subjects by force and made them pay taxes to king Nahusa
In this battle Indra had destroyed Bheda. Yamuna had satisfied him. The Trtsus also satisfied him. The communities of Aja, Sigra and Yaksu gave tribute of Horse’s heads to Indra as tax.
These hymas bear witness to the ways of life in primitive social structure of the Vedic age, which began in 1200 B.C. probably.
The Atharvaveda often mentions the term ‘bali’ in order to mean— contribution paid by the people to the king.
Oh king! may all other kings serve your order. May your envoy be as speedy as Agni. May your wives and children be contended at the attainment of kingdom and may you become strong by payment of taxes to you.
That performer of rite, who offers white-footed sheep goes to the painless heaven, where the weak do not have to give taxes to the strong.
In the Atharvaveda we get an additional term ‘sulka’ to mean tax. A rate of 1/16th part is also mentioned as the payable revenue. It is interesting to note in one mantra, Indra is asked to attached people, horses and cows to the king. This vividly indicates the king’s share from the village. Another mantra mentions the king as a lion devouring his subjects.This gives an indication of tax as a heavy burden for the common man.
The Atharvaveda suggests that the revenue of the king was related to agricultural produce and contribution in cattle. This is very natural as the economy of that ancient period mainly depended on agriculture and animal husbandry. It also underlines the fact that revenue was not only compulsory for the subjects, but were at times painful burden in the period when the Brãhmana literature evolved, we can notice further development of Indo-Aryan political organisation. The king emerges as a very strong phenomenon of socio-political structure. By this time the Indo-Aryans ruled over almost the whole of northern India, from the Himalayas to the Vindhya mountains. There was a striking increase in the authority of the king. As a result, we find instances in the Brãhmanas, where the king is characterised as a devourer of his folk. Hence we can assume that pressure of extraction of revenue from the subjects was striking and unavoidable.
And a god-offerer doubtless is he who knows. ‘I am now offering sacrifice to the gods, I am serving the gods’ — such a one is like an inferior who brings tribute to his superior or like a man of the people who brings tribute to the king : verily he does not win such a place (in heaven) as the other.
By this time revenue had become the definite mark of the relation between the king and his subjects. The Brãhmanas were seen to be exempted from tax payment at times, whereas the burden of revenue was borne by the Vaisyas who were vastly occupied with agriculture and cattle-rearing.
Wherefore then is he to take it in the upabhrit (spoon with left arm), if he does not offer it with the upabhrt? Now, if he were to offer it with the upabhrt, those subjects (of the king) would assuredly become separated from him, not would there be either an eaten or what is to be eaten. When on the other hand, he pours (the butter) together and thus offers it with the guhu (spoon with the right arm), thereby the people pay tribute to the ksatriya. Hence by what he takes in the upabhrt, the Vaisya, under the rule of the Ksatriya, becomes possessed of cattle; and when he pours (the butter) together and offers it with the guhu, thereby the Ksatriya, whenever he likes, says “Halo vaisya just bring to me what thou hast stored away ! Thus he both subdues him and obtains possession of anything he wishes by dint of this energy.”
What was the process by which the king of the Vedic age would collect his share of produce? The Pancavimsa Brahmana refers to eight viras who serve the king and samgrahitr or collector is one of them.
Eight persons of importance sustain together the
kingship the king’s brother, the king’s son, the house- chaplain, the queen consort, the equerry (suta) the praefectus urbi (gramani), the chamberlain (ksattr) and the charioteer these are the persons of importance who together sustain the kingship.
The Yajus Samhitas and Brähmanas also mention a similar list of ‘ratnins’ or jewels, who include samgrahitr and Bhagadugha.
Having taken up both fires on the two kindling sticks, he toes to the house of the commander of the army and prepares a cake on eighth potsherds for Agni Anikavat, for agni is the head (anika) of the gods and the commander is the head of the army, hence for Agni Anikavat. And he the commander is assuredy one of his (king’s) jewels. It is for him that he is thereby consecrated (or quickened) and him he makes his own faithful (follower). The sacrificial fee for this (jeweloffering) consists of gold; for Agni’s is that sacrifice and gold is Agni’s seed; therefore the sacrificial fee consists in gold.
The points out that the officers were appointed to collect tax from the subjects and receive the same into the king’s treasury. It also throws light on the word bhaga’ which was also technically used to mean revenue in that period.
In a nutshell, we can summarise by pointing out that Indo-Aryan polity in the early vedic period was sufficiently organised. The king collected revenue from his subjects as a rule. The revenue probably consisted of contributions from agricultural produce and cattlerearing. The king’s treasury was also cariched by tribute received from conquered enemies. The king appointed special officers who were incharge of collection of revenue, but specific details regarding such operation is not available to us.
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