Administration in Bengal never remained the same always. Every new conquest was followed by new mode of administration. In the Hindu-Buddhist period (ancient period) the administrative system evolved, which under the Muslim rulers (medieval period) underwent changes in name and structure; some basic traits remaining the same. Under the colonial rulers it assumed a new character with alien ideas and institution incorporated in it.
Ancient period Proper reconstruction of the administrative structure of ancient Bengal is certainly a difficult, although t impossible, task. Infact, lack of positive data is the most important hurdle in the way of reconstructing a systematic and consistent history of the administration of Bengal from the earliest times to the advent of the Muslims. Contemporary epigraphic evidence is the most valuable source of information in this regard, though it does t provide us with all the details. The extremely limited character of the information furnished by the inscriptions makes the description of the administrative system of ancient Bengal incomplete in many ways. This should be kept in mind while making any attempt to reconstruct some of the important aspects of the administration of Bengal during the period.
Pre-Gupta Period We have definite information regarding the administrative system of Bengal during the pre-Mauryan period. From the evidence of a few stories and legends preserved in later literature and from the classical accounts, we kw that monarchy was the prevailing form of government. The Greek and Latin writers refer to the existence of a very powerful nation/state in Bengal, kwn as gangaridai (the people of the Ganges region) in the latter half of the fourth century BC, which was militarily powerful. The description of the kingdom of gangaridai with its disciplined as well as superior military power seems to indicate a highly developed form of state organisation. Besides the kingdom of Gangaridai, a number of principalities seem to have existed in contemporary Bengal, exercising local authority only in their respective areas. It is very difficult to ascertain their relation with Gangaridai. It is stated in the mahabharata that those powers did t lack general political consciousness amongst themselves against their common enemies and sometimes they established a strong monarchy through the combination of a number of smaller kingdoms. They also maintained diplomatic relations with foreign rulers.
Most probably Bengal formed an integral part of the powerful Maurya Empire, which was marked by a strong, well regulated but enlightened system of administration. Though we possess precise kwledge regarding the Mauryan administration in general, unfortunately we do t have sufficient information regarding their administration in Bengal. Nor do we possess any definite kwledge of the administrative system under independent states that flourished in Bengal for about five hundred years following the downfall of the Mauryas. However we may assume that the system of provincial administration developed by the Mauryas was prevailing in Bengal.
From the mahasthan brahmi inscription (belonging to the third century BC), we kw that the city of pundranagara was probably the administrative seat of a Mahamatra during the period of the Mauryas. The inscription made mention as to whether Bengal was governed as a province of the Maurya empire or was under the direct administration of the emperor himself. The contents of the inscription clearly indicate the existence of an well-organised administration committed to the welfare of the people, which is the cardinal tone of the Mauryan administration.
The end of the Maurya dynasty in the beginning of the second century BC was, however, followed by political disintegration. For a period of about five hundred years there was paramount sovereign in rthern India. The inscriptions, belonging to the post-Mauryan period, record either local dynasties or rulers, or imperial families who ruled over dominions which included portions of Bengal. Indeed with the foundation of Gupta rule in the beginning of the fourth century AD, the scenario changed and a new era of imperial peace and prosperity was ushered in.
Among the local dynasties or rulers who ruled in areas within Bengal, the Varmans of the Susunia Inscription (early 4th century AD), and the Khadgas of samatata (7th century AD) were prominent. We also find the names of the local chiefs of vanga (Gopachandra, Dharmaditya and Samacharadeva), of Karnasuvarna (Jayanaga) and of Tippera (Vainyagupta).
Gupta and Post-Gupta Period In the prevalent form of government, early in the 4th century AD, the king held the supreme position. He assumed the title of Maharaja. Singhavarman and his son Chandravarman of Puskarana (Pokharna in Bankura district) enjoyed the title of Maharaja. The name of Chandravarman is referred to in the Allahabad Prashasti of Samudragupta as one of the powerful rulers of Aryavarta. The Gupta sovereigns used, as recorded in the Damodarpur Copperplates (dated 444 AD, 448 AD, 482 AD and 476-495 AD) the titles Parama-daivata-Parama-bhattaraka-Maharajadhiraja. The Gupta emperors are t said to have directly administered the whole of Bengal, which formed an integral part of their empire.
Among the local rulers of Bengal, Gopachandra, Dharmaditya and Samacharadeva (6th century AD) and Jayanaga (6th century AD) assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja. shashanka also used the same title. There had been several feudal chiefs who assumed the title of Maharaja. In the Gunaighar Copperplate (dated Gupta Era 188), it is stated that under Maharaja Vainyagupta there were two feudatory chiefs, Maharaja Rudradatta and Maharaja-Mahasamanta-Vijayasena, who assumed the same title as their suzerain. The use of titles like Mahasamanta and Maharaja by some feudatories definitely indicates that portions of territory were under their control. In the same inscription, Vijayasena is said to have borne various epithets like Dutaka, Mahapratihara, Mahapilupati, Panchadhikaraparika, Patyuparika and Purapaloparika. The use of such titles, however, clearly reminds us of the important position occupied by a feudal chief in the state functions. Indeed it will t be unreasonable to assume that in the administration of some parts of the independent kingdoms the feudal chiefs enjoyed automy. For example, Maharaja Vijayasena, as recorded in the Mallasarul Copperplate, is found to have used his own seal and issued directives to his officials.
The imperial territory of Bengal, administered by the Gupta emperors, was divided in to some well-defined units like bhukti, visaya, mandala, vithi and grama etc. Each of the units seems to have an adhikarana or office of its own at its headquarters (adhisthana). Bhukti, corresponding to a modern division, was the largest unit of administration, and was governed by a deputy of the king. From contemporary epigraphic records we kw the names of such bhuktis as pundravardhana and Vardhamana, corresponding to the whole of rth Bengal and the southern part of ancient radha respectively. In the Gupta inscriptions we also find mention of an unnamed bhukti with its headquarters at Navyavakashika, which included Suvarnavithi. The bhukti used to be governed by an officer (goverr) appointed directly by the emperor. In the Damodarpur Copperplate of the Gupta sovereigns, the goverr of Pundravardhanabhukti is described as tatpadaparigrhita in relation to the king under whom he might have served. The title of this high official was Uparika during the time of Kumaragupta I while Maharaja was added to it during the reign of Budhagupta. From the reference to Uparika Maharaja Maharajaputra-deva-bhattaraka in the Damodarpur Copperplate (dated 543 AD.) it may be inferred that sometimes either a prince or a member of the imperial family was appointed the goverr of the Pundravardhanabhukti. However, we have very little information regarding the way in which a provincial goverr carried on his administration. It is learnt from the Paharpur Copperplate of the Gupta year 159 (479 AD) that the bhukti of Pundravardhana had its adhikarana (headquarters) at the town of Pundravardhana. It may be mentioned here that the provincial goverr was responsible directly to the king because his appointment was subject to the choice or approval of the latter.
Next to the bhukti was the visaya, the second largest administrative unit, which played a significant role in the administration. The visayas correspond to the modern districts. The officer in charge of a visaya was kwn as Kumaramatya and Ayuktaka in the earlier and later Gupta periods respectively. During the supremacy of the Later Guptas over North Bengal, the officer of the visaya was called Visayapati. Generally the goverr of a bhukti appointed the heads of the districts or visayas which formed parts of his province. The Baigram Copperplate, however, refers to a district officer who was directly responsible to the bhattaraka. This shows that in some cases the emperor gave the appointment of district officer. However, the goverr of a bhukti generally appointed a visayapati during the time of the independent rulers of South and East Bengal in the sixth century AD.
Contemporary inscriptions mention only a few visayas. Each of the Damodarpur Copperplates Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 records the name of Kotivarsavisaya under the bhukti of Pundravardhana. The Dhanaidaha Copperplate of Kumaragupta I (dated 432-33 AD), however, records the name of Khatapara or Khadaparavisaya belonging to the same bhukti. The Baigram Copperplate records the existence of a visaya which included Panchanagari as its headquarters. It is most likely that this was the name of the visaya too. This visaya seems to have been under the jurisdiction of Pundravardhanabhukti. The existence of a visaya kwn as Varakamandala under the administrative control of Navyavakashika is recorded in the Faridpur Copperplate of Dharmaditya and Gopachandra. We kw the name of Audamvarikavisaya from the Vappaghosavata grant of Jayanaga of karnasuvarna.
It seems clear from the Damodarpur Copperplates (Nos. 1-5) that the district officer had his adhikarana in his headquarters (adhisthana-adhikaranam) and a staff of officers under his control. Among the officers, the record-keepers (pustapalas) are said to have played an important role in connection with the transactions in land. The inscriptions are the only source of information regarding the grant or sale of lands and the role of the adhikaranas in it. Probably the business of the adhikaranas was t confined to transactions in land only. They formed a general administrative body to carry on many other kinds of administrative work that a state has to perform. Unfortunately their other possible functions cant be determined owing to lack of evidence. It is learnt from the Damodarpur Copperplate inscriptions Nos. 2, 4 and 5 that the officer-in-charge of the kotivarsa visaya was aided by a 'Board of Advisers', which was composed of, excluding himself, four other members representing the various important interest groups of those days. They were the Nagara-shresthi (the President of the various guilds or corporations of the town or of the rich bankers), the Prathama-sarthavaha (the chief merchant representing perhaps the merchant class or the various trade guilds), the Prathama-kulika (the chief artisan representing perhaps the various artisan classes) and the Prathama-kayastha (the chief scribe representing the Prathama-kayastha as a class or acting as a state official in the capacity of a Secretary of modern days). However, the supreme authority of managing the affairs of administration of the adhikarana rested in the hands of the Visayapati. We have evidence to prove whether the Nagara-shresthin, the Prathama-sarthavaha and the Prathama-kulika were minated by the government or elected by their respective communities or guilds. But it can fairly be asserted that they represented the various interest groups in trade, industry and commerce in the leading city of the district.
From the Faridpur Copperplate of Dharmaditya (3rd regnal year), we kw that besides the adhikarana of visayapati, there had been a considerable assembly of visaya-mahattara (leading men of the district), followed by other men of lesser importance (purogah prakrityas-cha). ramesh chandra majumdar thinks that the word 'purogah' used after the names and designations of the additional members is perhaps an indication that 'they formed an integral part of the adhikarana and possessed rights and prerogatives beyond those of mere advisers'. Mention has also been made in the Gupta inscriptions regarding the staff of record-keepers serving in the visayadhikarana. However, the description of the advisory bodies in the district administration bears clear testimony to the participation of the local people as well as the democratic principle pursued in local administration.
Next to the district, the administration of the vithi forms one of the important features of the administration. The exact meaning of the term vithi seems to be unclear. Sometimes it corresponds to a subdivision of the bhukti or a mandala. Several inscriptions refer to this administrative unit. Suvarnavithi, as referred to in the Ghugrahati inscription of Samacharadeva, is taken to mean "the bullion market" situated in Navyavakashika. The use of vithi in the sense of an administrative unit is available in the Mallasarul Copperplate. In the same inscription we find mention of a vithi kwn as the Vakkattakkavithi in the Vardhamanabhukti without any reference to a visaya. Ather reference to vithi can be found in the Paharpur Copperplate of 159 Gupta Era in which it is recorded that Daksinangshakavithi was under the jurisdiction of the Pundravardhanabhukti. We have specific references to the adhikaranas of the vithis, but we have definite information regarding their constitution. So far as the land transactions were concerned, the adhikarana of the vithi performed the same duties as were fixed for the district adhikarana. It appears from the evidence of the Mallasarul plate that the adhikarana of a vithi was assisted by a board of prominent persons, comprising mahattaras (leading men of different localities or wards of the vithi), agraharins, khadgis (swordsmen) and at least one Vaha Nayaka (Superintendent of conveyances). It will t be unreasonable to assume that such adhikaranas existed in Bengal under the Imperial Guptas also.
Villages played a very significant role in the whole system of administration of ancient Bengal. They probably formed the smallest unit of administration. Contemporary inscriptions usually suffix the name of a village with grama, while some others are mentioned with the names ending with the term agrahara. We have references to the existence of the village Gunekagrahara-grama in the Gunaighar Copperplate of Vainyagupta (507 AD) and the Ambila-grama-Agrahara in the Nandapur grant of 169 Gupta Era (488 AD). It seems that an agrahara was often considered more important and better developed than a grama from an administrative point of view. The combination of villages for the purpose of administration seems to have been common in ancient times. We have reference to the name of Palasha-Vrndaka in the Damodarpur Copperplate of Budhagupta (482 AD), the area of which seems to have been larger than the usual area of a grama. An example of perhaps a union of small villages is found in the Baigram Copperplate of Gupta Era 128. It is referred to as Vai-grama and is said to have included two distinct localities like Trivrta and Shrigohali.
Prominent men of a village were involved in its administration or in local affairs. Their role was, however, confined to cooperation with the state officials. We can find a parallel in the participation of Mahattaras and other leading men in the affairs of the adhikarana of a visaya or a vithi. The theory that the Gramika was the head of administration in every village cant be satisfactorily established. The inscriptional references do t make it sufficiently clear as to who represented the official side of the administration in villages t administered by Gramikas. The Paharpur Copperplate informs us that Brahmins, Kutumbins and Mahattaras represented the n-official side. The Damodarpur Copperplate of Budhagupta (476-495 AD) mentions that in the administration of the village Chandagrama the n-official members included prominent subjects headed by Brahmins and also Kutumbins (the chief Brahmanas, prominent subjects and householders). However, the nature of administration of such villages differed from that of others where the powers were entrusted t only to the local Mahattaras and Kutumbins but also to the Astakuladhikarana and the Gramika. The villages, belonging to this category had their own adhikaranas, which represented the official side. Such an adhikarana probably consisted of eight persons and the Gramika. In such villages, there appears to have been an office of record-keepers. We have definite information regarding the adhikarana of a grama under the independent rulers of South and East Bengal in the 6th century AD. However, the exact constitution of the rural adhikaranas might have varied to a certain extent in different times.
Land Administration The study of the administration during the pre-Pala period will remain incomplete without some light on the matters relating to the sale of land as depicted in the inscriptions of contemporary Bengal. Indeed land occupied an important place in the ecomy of Bengal. It was the principal source of wealth and chief support of life. From the epigraphic records of the Gupta and post-Gupta period we kw about the existence of a class of officers called Pustapalas or record-keepers, who were responsible for the task of maintaining permanent registers recording different plots of lands with their boundaries, demarcations and titles, sales and other transactions. Not even a fragment of these documents has come down to us.
In the absence of such records, our information is mainly derived from the contemporary copperplates that provide us with the most reliable information regarding the land system of the time. The ownership of land, the system of selling and alienating the lands to private individuals and the fixation of tenure has been referred to in these epigraphic records. It is to be ted here that there was uniformity in various aspects of the land system throughout the whole of Bengal. Local conditions, customs and traditions played a vital role in determining different standards in different areas. However it is very difficult to settle the question relating to the ownership of land in those days. Scholars are t unanimous on this point. UN Ghosal holds that the king was the sole proprietor of land in ancient Bengal; while RG Basak takes the view that the whole village or individual cultivator was the real owner. However, we have numerous references to the sale or gift of fallow lands (khila) for religious purposes in most of the early land grants of Bengal. Any estate that came into being either by sale or gift was marked off from the neighbouring holdings. We have the details of these boundary-marks in the copperplates. The principle that regulated the transfer of land was kwn in contemporary documents as nivi-dharma (Damodarpur Copperplate No.1), aksaya-nivi-dharma (Baigram Copperplate), or aprada-dharma (Damodarpur Copperplate No. 5). The main feature of nivi-dharma was that it was a perpetual grant but n-transferable. By this law the purchaser or the person or institution on whose behalf the land was transferred after purchase obtained the right of perpetual enjoyment (putra-pauttra-kramena and chandra-taraka-sthiti-kala-sambhogyam) except perhaps the right of making further transfer of the property by sale or mortgage in future.
It is to be ted here that this limitation might be averted by destroying the nivi-dharma at the time of purchase ie, with the right of alienation. The term aksaya-nivi-dharma is likely to mean a perpetual restraint from transfer. References to rent-free pious endowments in Bengal in the sixth and seventh centuries AD are available in the Nidhanpur copperplates of Bhaskaravarman. The inscriptions of the Pala, Sena and other dynasties refer to pious endowments of a somewhat different character. During this period the king usually made pious endowments to temples and religious institutions, individuals like priests and learned Brahmanas, and on many occasions to institutions and persons together.
Most of the land in ancient Bengal was classified into aprada (unproductive and unsettled), aprahata (uncultivated) and khila (fallow). Also we find references to some other varieties of land in the epigraphic records such as ksetra, khila and vastu. Ksetra meant a field under cultivation, while khila was synymous with aprahata, which meant wasteland, and the meaning of the third term was a dwelling site. The Gupta Copperplate grants recording sale of land give us information regarding the measurement of land. It seems that the task of measuring the land accurately was entrusted with the body that received the applications for purchase of lands. Measurement of land in ancient Bengal was t uniform all over the region. Terms like kulyavapa and dronavapa are the units of measuring land during the Gupta age. A kulyavapa is usually taken to mean an area of land that could be sown with a kulya measure of seed. A dronavapa is said to be equivalent to one-eighth of a kulyavapa. It is, however, very difficult to fix the exact measure of a kulyavapa of ancient days.
Some scholars hold that it was equivalent to almost three bighas of land. In connection with land measurement we have reference in epigraphs to the use of other units like pataka or bhu-pataka. In the Gunaighar Copperplate of Vainyagupta we find mention of the grant of eleven patakas of uncultivated lands in five plots to a Brahmana for religious purposes. The same source, however, informs us that a pataka was equivalent to forty dronas or dronavapas. Apart from the units mentioned above, the terms adhaka or adhavapa, unmana or udan, kaka or kakini, bhu-khadi, khadika, hala and drona etc, were said to be in use for measuring land although it is very difficult to ascertain the exact measure of all these units. However, the epigraphic sources belonging to the Gupta and the post-Gupta period throw light on the use of nalas (standard rods) as the real unit of land measurement. Hence we learn about the terms astaka- navaka- nalena or astaka- navaka-nalabhyama from the Baigram Copperplate and Faridpur Copperplate of Dharmaditya.
As to the procedure of sale of land we have the following information in the Gupta inscriptions. Initially the intending purchaser of land had to place an application before the adhikarana to whose jurisdiction he was attached. He had to state the nature, amount and purpose for which the land was required. He was also required to express his readiness to pay the price of the land along with emphasising whether the price of the land was in conformity with current local rates and also whether such land was to be of a n-transferable character. The concerned adhikarana, after receiving the application from the intending purchaser, referred the same to the record-keepers (pustapalas) seeking their opinion after a proper scrutiny to determine whether the land applied for could be given under the terms mentioned by the applicant. The application was considered and necessary steps were taken to complete the sale transaction only after the record-keepers had given their consent and the price of the land was actually paid. The copperplates embodying the terms of the sale were regarded as the formal deeds and these were handed over to the purchasers as documents of their rights.
The Gupta records do t clarify the method of collecting the price of the land. There were differences in the prices of land sold. It might have been due either to the character of the land or the prevalence of different rates in different localities. It appears from the Gupta documents that the prices of land, fixed beforehand, were paid to the district or village authorities to which application was addressed for purchase. It is, however, difficult to ascertain whether the collection of the price was made directly by the district or village authorities or through some other government agencies. In the absence of any reference to any other authorities entrusted with the responsibility of collecting prices from the purchasers of the land, it can fairly be asserted that it might have been a local government matter.
A review of the valuable epigraphic documents, as mentioned above, makes it clear that during the pre-Pala period, Bengal made some progress, though t systematic, in the art of administration. The discussion on the responsibilities of different functionaries of the administration has been carried out on the basis of the evidence so far available in the contemporary inscriptions. It is to be ted here that the structure of administration, as referred to above, does in way represent the general administrative machinery of the whole period under discussion. It simply symbolises the first stage in the administrative organisation, which was further developed in the later ages.
Pala Period Bengal experienced for the first time a stable government under the long rule of the Palas. Unfortunately we do t possess a detailed account of the Pala administration from the available materials. We can only reconstruct glimpses of different aspects of it. It was during the rule of the Pala kings that the central administrative machinery was established in Bengal upon the structure of the Gupta provincial administration. The monarchical form of government prevailed throughout the period. The king's eldest son was usually meant for heir apparency (Yauvarajyam). We have detailed information regarding the duties and functions of the Yuvaraja. As in the Gupta period, the term Kumara was applied to a son of the king. He was given a high administrative post such as a provincial goverrship. Sometimes the Kumaras played vital roles in the military campaigns of the reigning king.
In the task of administering the empire, the king was assisted by a group of officials at the head of which were the ministers kwn as mantri or sachiva. During the rule of the Pala kings we find references for the first time in the records to an important official of the state whose position was similar to that of the Prime Minister. We are told in the Badal Prasasti of devapala about the great power and high dignity of the post. It seems that the post of Prime Minister was hereditary in the family of Brahmana Garga from the time of dharmapala. The descendants of Garga (namely Dharbhapani, Someshvara, Kedaramishra and Guravamishra) occupied the post of Prime Minister for the next hundred years. They played an active role in the foundation and consolidation of the Pala empire. Members of ather family were however associated with the later Pala kings as their Prime Ministers. Yogadeva was the Prime Minister of Vigrahapala III while his successor Vaidyadeva is said to have served in the same post during the reign of Kumarapala. The hereditary principle in regard to higher services seems to have been in operation under later dynasties also viz, the Chandras (chandra dynasty) and the Yadavas. The evidence of the Bhuvaneshwar Prashasti of Bhatta Bhavadeva proves it.
The Pala emperors had numerous feudatory chiefs under their control. They are referred to in the Pala records as Rajan, Rajanyaka, Ranaka, Samanta and Mahasamanta etc. It is very difficult to determine the real significance and mutual relation of these titles. But it can fairly be said that the power of the central authority compelled them to be under its control. Sometimes the weakness of the central authority led them to assume higher prerogatives and declare independence. The fact of Ramapala's seeking assistance from fourteen samantas to recover varendra definitely proves that the power of the Pala kings depended to a great extent on the help of the feudal chiefs.
During the rule of the Palas, the administrative units of the earlier period, like bhuktis, visayas, mandalas and other smaller ones, were retained. The bhuktis, referred to in the Pala records, are Pundravardhana, Vardhamana and Danda-bhukti in Bengal, Tira-bhukti in North Bihar, Shrinagara-bhukti in South Bihar and Pragjyotisa-bhukti in Assam. The Pala inscriptions record the names of a large number of visayas and mandalas. They also recorded the names of a large number of smaller units of administration such as khandala, avrtti and bhaga. The avrtti was subdivided into chaturakas and the chaturakas into patakas. The exact nature of ne of these is clearly kwn. The inscriptions of the Palas refer to the officers connected with various administrative units. The long list of officials furnished by the land grants indicates the efficiency and comprehensive character of the administrative organisation. Regarding the power and functions of many of the officers very little is kwn. The list only helps us to form a general idea of the wide scope of the administrative machinery and the different departments through which it was carried on. It is to be ted here that the Pala inscriptions, although providing more details regarding the central government, do t throw much light on the forms of contemporary provincial and local governments. It is t also certain whether the adhikaranas of the earlier period still survived as a very significant aspect of administration. It is, however, true that the names of the adhikaranas do t appear in any inscription, but their survival in a modified form cant altogether be ruled out.
The king, during the Pala epoch, was at the top of the whole administration. His titles remained as in the preceding period. He had practically unlimited power. The central executive body, controlled by the king, exercised the main powers and responsibilities of the government. Besides the Yuvaraja and the Prime Minister, as mentioned earlier, specific references have been made to other ministers such as Mahasandhivigrahika (Minister in charge of Peace and War or Foreign Minister of the present day), Rajamatya, probably indicating junior ministers in general, Mahakumaramatya, whose real position is unkwn, and Duta, the envoys. Next to these high executive officials were the Amatyas, referring probably to the officials of high rank. Among other high officials mention may be made of the Angaraksa, probably the head of the Royal bodyguard, and Rajasthaniya, probably holding the rank of a Regent or a Viceroy. There was a class of officers described as Adhyaksas whose position may be taken to mean the superintendents in the civil administration. Among other officials connected with the central administration Pramatr and Ksetrapa were prominent. The scope of their work was perhaps limited to disputes regarding property or they might have been in charge of the Department of Land Survey. However, some scholars to mean a Judge with civil cases only have explained the term Pramatr.
Revenue Administration 'There are references to various kinds of revenue along with various officers employed to collect them. The heads of territorial units such as Uparika, Visayapati, Dashagramika and Gramapati mainly performed the duty of collecting revenue from agricultural land. Items of revenue were bhaga, bhoga, kara, hiranya, uparikara etc. It is difficult to ascertain the exact nature of these revenues. References to an officer called Sasthadhikrta, whose duty was to collect for the king one-sixth of the produce from the cultivators, is available in many inscriptions. Ather officer, designated Bhogapati, was probably entrusted with the responsibility of collecting bhoga. It seems probable that the officer named Tarika was placed in charge of ferry services, probably a source of revenue. The Shaulkika was the superintendent of tolls and customs. The Chauroddharanika was the officer who was concerned with tax payable by the villagers for protection against thieves, robbers and brigands, while the Dashaparadhika was to collect fines for criminal offences. Inscriptions refer to a revenue officer kwn as Mahaksapatalika who, in association with Jyestha-Kayastha, controlled the Accounts. The Mahadandanayaka was an officer connected with the judiciary. Several officers like Mahapratihara, Dandika, Dandapashika and Dandashakti regulated the Department of Police. The duty of the Khola was probably to be actively responsible for the Department of Intelligence.
Military Administration The Senapati or Mahasenapati was the highest military officer of the state, the Commander-in-Chief of the King's army. Separate officers under the supervision of Mahasenapati managed the various divisions of the army viz., infantry, cavalry, elephants, camels and ships. The phrase Gauda-Malava-Khasha-Huna-Kulika-Karnata-Lata, which occurs in most of the inscriptions of the Palas, can be interpreted to refer to the fact that different tribal people and people from different areas of India were absorbed in the service of the state. Also, there are references in the inscriptions to some special officers such as Kottapala, in charge of forts, and Prantapala, the Warden of the Marches. The list of officials available in the Pala records, however, shows many other names as well. But in view of the absence of sufficient clarity regarding their meaning, their functions cant be properly ascertained.
Chandra, Varman and Sena Period The inscriptions of the Chandras, the Varmans and the Senas show a great similarity with those of the Palas in respect of the portions referring to the administrative machinery. In some places these records, however, unfold few new developments. Two new names like the Mahavyuhapati (the chief military officer) and the Mahapilupati (officer-in-charge of the elephant force) appeared respectively in the Chandra, Varman and Sena copperplates and the Varman and Sena inscriptions. The most important additions, during this period, are the Mahadharmadhyaksa, performing the duties of the Chief Justice; the Mahapurohita, the Chief Priest; the Mahasarvvadhikrtta or the Chief Superintendent, exercising some kind of general supervision over all the departments of the state; and the Mahagastha, probably a high military officer acting as the Head of its different units. The mention of Rajni in the Sena copperplates may be an indication of greater political prominence of the queen in the administration of the state. Ather important feature of the administration of the n-Pala, n-Buddhist kings is the 'officialisation of the Brahmin priest'. The recognition of the Purohita with the status of a high government officer by the Sena and Varman kings is highly significant. 'The interest of such an officer whose position in the social sphere was one of the unquestioned domination, would naturally lie in the administration becoming a tool of the priesthood', observes BC Sen.
The broad divisions of administration of the pre-Pala and Pala periods remained in practice during the next few centuries. The name Pundravardhana, which included a considerable portion of North Bengal in the earlier period, was altered to Paundravardhana during this period. The gradual extension of the Paundravardhana-bhukti is ticed during the rule of the Senas. It was the largest administrative division of Bengal and included t only North Bengal but also Southeast (Samatata) and East Bengal (Vanga) as well. A new bhukti, the Kankagrama-bhukti, was established. The prominent Visayas that flourished during the same period were the Mahantaprakasha-visaya, the Sthalikkata-visaya, the Kotivarsa-visaya, the Krimila-visaya, the Kaksa-visaya, the Gaya-visaya, the Khatika or Khadi-visaya, the Suvvunga-visaya and the Vada-visaya. Regarding the term mandala, which means a much wider area than a visaya, reference has been made to the following names: Vyaghratati-mandala, Kamarupa-mandala, Gokalika-mandala, Halavaratta-mandala, Brahmanigrama-mandala, Uttara Radha-mandala etc. In addition to the major administrative divisions, smaller territorial units like patakas, chaturakas and avrttis, were also retained.
In the realm of revenue administration, the name of Hattapati (probably the superintendent of markets) appears in the inscriptions belonging to this era. Regarding measurement of land during this period, a uniform system was followed in the particular area where the grant may have been situated. Every copperplate was to be stamped with the Royal Seal, which might have been in charge of an officer entitled Mahamudradhikrta. The land grants of the Sena kings mention the use of various kinds of nalas in measuring the land in different parts of Bengal. The Barrackpur Copperplate of vijayasena refers to the use of Samatatiya-nala in Samatata and Khadi-visaya of the Pundravardhana-bhukti. The Naihati Copperplate of vallalasena proves the fact that the use of Vrsava-shangkara-nala, introduced by Vijayasena, was current during his days. The reference to Vrsava-shangkara-nala is also found in the Anulia Copperplate of laksmanasena. Besides these, we have further mention of the phrase tatratya-desha-vyavahara-nalena (according to the nala as current in that particular area) in the Tarpandighi Copperplate of Laksmanasena in connection with the measurement of land where there is mention of any specific standard of measurement. Some scholars hold that the unit in every case must have been the hasta or cubit. Indeed a standard hasta must have determined the unit of this measurement. Hence the term Vrsava-shankara-nala implies that the hasta of Vallalasena was to be regarded as the unit of measurement. From the Govindapur Copperplate of Laksmanasena we kw that a nala is equivalent to 56 cubits (hastas). In fact it is very difficult to determine the exact length of a nala. It is t unlikely that the nala was measured by the hasta of different persons at different places and in different periods.
The history of administration in ancient Bengal, as gleaned mainly from the inscriptions, is certainly sketchy. But there cant be any doubt that there prevailed well-organised administrative machinery. Besides the long list of officials, as contained in the land grants, other important information regarding the administration bear clear testimony to the fact that the administrative system of ancient Bengal was uniform throughout the region in its main outline and was subject to changes and modifications when the situation demanded. It can fairly be concluded that ancient Bengal was t lagging behind in respect of administrative efficiency in comparison with other parts of India. [Chitta Ranjan Misra]
Bibliography RC Majumdar, The History of Bengal, Dhaka, 1963, Niharranjan Ray, Bangalir Itihas, Adi Parva, II Ed.,Calcutta,1402 BS.
Medieval Period Administration in Bengal in the medieval period was the outcome of the development of administrative institutions of the earlier period. The uniqueness of medieval administration lies in the fact that despite frequent changes in dynasties, it bore the main characteristics of several centuries old institutions which the Turko-Afghans carried with them to India. After the inception of the Muslim principality in Bengal by Ikhtiyaruddin Muhammad bakhtiyar khalji in early 13th century (c 1204), it was ruled as a province of the Delhi Sultanate till an independent Sultanate was established over the major parts of Bengal in 1338. gaur or lakhnauti, the capital, followed the broad principles of the Delhi Sultanate, and the administrative system was a copy of the House of iltutmish - a hierarchy of decentralised mir sovereignties bearing a feudal character. However, some improvements were made under the Iliyas Shahi (1342-1415 and 1442-1487) and the Husain Shahi (1494-1538) rulers. With the Mughal conquest of Bengal (1576), the kingdom of Gaur turned again into a province of the vast Mughal Empire. The Mughal system of administration, which was more or less a continuation of the Sultanate period with some alterations and improvements made during the brief rule of the Afghan chief sher shah, became operative in Bengal.
In the absence of contemporary historical literature on the details of administration, it is difficult to build up a comprehensive account of the early medieval administrative institutions of Bengal. The imperial chronicles do t provide much information about the administrative set-up of a distant region like Bengal, although the gap has to some extent been filled in by travelers' accounts and other sources. However, these sources can be used only to capture the spirit and ethos of the age and do t produce the details of the system. On the other hand, contemporary numismatic and epigraphic sources provide important information. All these pieced together give us an idea about the structure of the medieval administration of Bengal.
The Khalji Maliks Though the credit of establishing the first Muslim kingdom in Bengal lies with Bakhtiyar Khalji, he did t assume the title of sultan or strike coins in his own name, for this was a prerogative he left to his overlord, Muizuddin Muhammad-bin-Sam of Ghor. However, as Malik-ush Sharq (Lord of the East), he divided the territory into iqtas (provinces) most of which were put under his fellow Turk and Khalji fortune seekers in India. Through the creation of goverrships in frontiers and the placement of leading military personnel in them, he gave the installed government the character of a Khalji oligarchy. The muktas (goverrs) were also assigned with the civil administration of the iqtas.
Bakhtiyar's successors asserted their independent status by assuming the title of Sultan, but they could t hold it for long and the kingdom of Gaur/Lakhnauti became subordinate to the Delhi Sultanate more than once. The distance of the region from Delhi, lack of an efficient communication system and ambition of the aspirants for the throne of lakhnauti, however, made it difficult for the central government to hold its grip over Bengal for long. Ultimately, an independent Sultanate was established in 1338. Two dynasties (with a short interregnum between 1415 and 1442), namely the Iliyas Shahis and the Husain Shahis ruled for 200 years until the Afghans overthrew them in 1538. Under Shamsuddin iliyas shah, the founder of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty, almost the whole of Bengal was conquered and united under a single authority for the first time. He was called the Shah-i-Bangalah and Sultan-i-Bangalah and the territory henceforth came to be kwn as Bangalah.
Under the Independent Sultans' As the supreme head of the state the sultans assumed lofty titles such as Sultan-ul-Azam, Sultan-ul-Muazzam and even Sikandar-us-Sani (Alexander II). That the sultans owed their allegiance to the Khalifah, the spiritual head of the Muslims, is apparent from the fact that some of them struck coins in the names of the Khalifahs. Some ambitious sovereigns even went as far as to use the epithet of Yamin-al-Khilafat or Yamin-i-Khalifatullah etc. As the fountainhead of all powers, the sultan used to appoint high officials and make laws. The state was mainly run in accordance with the principles of Islam.
The sultans used to hold darbars (courts) in their protected palaces, where they used to meet the important bles and officials, confer titles, present robes and give audience to foreign dignitaries. Numerous staff was necessary to maintain the splendour of the court. In addition to a large number of troops, the royal household included eunuchs and slaves.
Proximity to the Sultan being a source of pride and power, the court was full of dignitaries of the state. The bility, t hereditary, was composed of heterogeneous elements like Arabs, Pathans, Mughals and Bengalis, and were given high-sounding titles. They played an important part in the administration. It can be surmised that a section of them were rent receiving agents enjoying jagirs (assignments of lands) like their rthern Indian counterparts. The sultani regime in Bengal seems to have continued the somewhat feudal character of administration prevalent under the Palas and Senas. For the proper working of the government machinery, there were several departments such as finance, correspondence, the police, judiciary and military. Though the jurisdiction of these departments was t properly defined, some ideas can be had of their functions from existing documents.
Next to the Sultan was the Wazir, the head of the civil administration. His special domain was the financial organisation and administration. As the prime minister, the Wazir had, in fact, controlling authority over all the departments. In the absence of detailed information about the finance department it may be assumed that the entire revenue of the kingdom, its customs, and other income were placed at the disposal of this department.
The department of correspondence was perhaps an integral part of the central secretariat. It was under the charge of dabir-i-khas (private secretary), who used to deal with all the correspondence between the sultan and his officials, tributaries, and also the rulers of the foreign countries. There were several dabirs (secretaries).
The police department or diwan-i-kotwali was placed under the chief police officer or the kotwal-bakali. There were a number of subordinate kotwals whose duties were to maintain peace and order and also to watch the movement of strangers in the city. The police department was also connected with the criminal court, which was presided over by a judge or munsif who used to try criminal cases. Records of an well-organised espionage system can also be traced. Secret agents used to keep the ruler informed about what was happening in and around his territories.
From the scanty information extant about the judiciary, it can be surmised that the sultan was the highest judge and justice was dispensed in accordance with the sharia. There were qazis (judges) in towns and villages to carry out routine justice. A learned man -the chief lawyer and an expert on traditions - called malik-ul-umara wal-wazara settled the complicated legal cases and Muslim traditions. The sultan was t above the law and could be tried by the qazis. Whipping and deportation were the two common modes of punishment. In the absence of proper jails, the convicts were kept under the care of an officer.
The village panchayets played an important role in the administration of justice in rural areas. The Hindu population used to get justice in matters relating to social affairs in accordance with Hindu laws and tradition.
Since the very existence of Muslim rule in Bengal, as elsewhere in India, depended heavily on military strength, the sultans had an well-organised army. The establishment of authority over the subjugated but t too submissive population, and the threat of the expansionist policy of the Delhi sultans, necessitated the maintenance of strong armed forces composed of cavalry, artillery, infantry and elephants and navy, of which the sultan himself was the chief.
Because of the physical features and climatic conditions, it was t feasible to use cavalry all through the year in Bengal. Good quality horses were t available in this part and the sultans had to depend on the supply of horses from foreign countries. The sar-i-khail was the chief of the cavalry, which was probably the weakest component of the Bengal army.
The artillery was an important section and the Mughal ruler Babur characterised it as a very effective part of the Bengal army. De Barros opined that the military supremacy of the Bengal army over that of Arakan and Tippera was largely due to the efficiency of the artillery. The artillery used canns and guns of various sizes. The paiks formed the vital part of the Bengal infantry. There were occasions when the paiks also tackled political situations. The special battle array of the foot soldiers that used bows, arrows and guns, attracted the attention of Babur.
Elephants seemed to have played an important part in the Bengal army. Apart from carrying war materials, elephants were also used to transship armed personnel. In riverine Bengal the elephants were especially useful.
The navy too was of prime necessity in riparian Bengal. In fact, the cavalry could ensure the hold over this country only for a period of about six months, whereas the boats backed by the paiks could command supremacy over the other half of the year. Since the time of iwaz khalji, the war boats had been playing an important role in the political affairs of the country. The chief of the admiralty, Mir Bahar, had multifarious responsibilities. His duties were (a) to build boats of all kinds for river transport; (b) to fit out strong boats for transporting war elephants; (c) to recruit efficient seamen; (d) to supervise the rivers and (e) to collect tolls at ferry ghats. Though an indispensable part of the military department, the efficiency of the navy eroded towards the end of Husain Shahi Rule.
Apart from the maintenance of well-trained armed forces, the sultans depended heavily for their defence on their forts. Impregnable fortresses like ekdala and Basankot played important roles in protecting the sovereignty of the Bengal kingdom from the repeated onslaughts of Delhi. The hurriedly built mud-walled fort was a common defence stratagem in Bengal. The soldiers were paid salaries, and meals were provided. The paymaster was called ariz-i-laskar.
Though the details of the revenue administration of Medieval Bengal are lacking, it can be discerned that it was based on the system developed by the Delhi Sultanate. The sultans of Delhi followed the system of bringing the newly conquered territories under proper control by carving those out among military and civil personnel. It appears that the rulers of Bengal also adopted such an assignment system with modifications as and when needed. However, the indigeus practice of collection of state dues through local chiefs and village heads were left almost undisturbed as a measure of expedience.
Ganimah (war-booty) land revenue, tolls and other taxes formed the main source of revenue during the period under review. Of these, land rent constituted the major part of the revenue. Abul Fazl's account about the pre-Mughal system reveals that the annual demands were paid in eight monthly installments. The system of cash payments direct to the khalsa (exchequer) was prevalent. Though the method of crop-estimation was generally followed, survey and measurement of land were t insisted upon. Abul Fazl also mentions that the people were generally submissive and paid rents regularly.
However, this could t have been the general practice in Bengal. Side by side with cash payments, crop sharing was prevalent in some parts. Again, in view of the distinctive geographical and climatic conditions of the region, especially of the southern and eastern parts of the country, the collection of revenue direct from the peasants was t feasible. Hence, the mode of collection of revenues through the intermediary agents, namely ijaradar, majumdar etc was followed by the Bengal rulers. Most of these intermediary revenue farmers were brought under the generic term, zamindar (holder of land) during the Mughal period.
Custom duties were generally collected from river ports and different market places. There were customhouses at the ports, which were placed under custom chiefs directly appointed by the sultan. With the increase in the volume of external trade, especially during the Husain Shahi rule, Satgaon and Chittagong became flourishing ports.
The administrative units during the medieval period were kwn by the names of iqlim, Mulk Mulk or arsah, and diyar. Each unit was placed under an officer having the tittle of Sar-i-laskar wa wazir. From the title it appears that the unit goverrs were both financial and military heads, there were checks on them, and the sultan could dismiss them according to his will.
For administrative convenience, the units were divided into mahals, shiqs and villages. Shiqdar and jangdar, two important officers of the mahals, were in charge of collecting revenues and controlling soldiers respectively. The civil affairs and the supervision of religious endowments were preserves of the provincial Qazis.
Under the Mughals With Mughal conquest, the kingdom of Bengal turned into a province (henceforth called subah) of the Mughal empire. However, the Afghan quest for supremacy in the region and the defiant nature of the local chiefs (bara-bhuiyans) delayed the full subjugation of the eastern and southern parts of Bengal until 1613. Because of its distance from the capital and distinctive physical features, Bengal was ruled with close supervision by the emperor through a subahdar (goverr). For administrative convenience the subah was divided into a number of sarkars which were further subdivided into mahals or parganas.
As the head of the provincial administration, the subahdar had twofold responsibilities, ie, the defence of the country, along with the maintenance of peace and order, and civil administration. Though the original title of the provincial head, sipahsalar (commander of the armed forces) subsequently fell into disuse and the term nazim-i-subah became prevalent, the subahdar of Bengal continued to perform both the duties. As the nazim-i-subah, he remained in overall charge of defence and criminal justice. Since civil administration during the medieval period revolved around the revenue management, the subahdar had to look after the extension of cultivation and was required to extend assistance to peasants. His other duties included the construction of tanks, wells, canals, sarais and other buildings of public utility.
The subahdar, appointed by the emperor on the advice of the Wazir-e-Ala (prime minister) usually for a period of 4-5 years, was under the direct control of the centre. Though they worked under the general supervision of the subahdar, the provincial officers were in reality responsible to their counterparts at the centre. Such a system of checks on the authority of the provincial administration made it difficult for the subahdars to put undue pressure on subordinate officers or neglect their duties. However, such an ideal situation worked well only during the heyday of Mughal rule. The weakening of central authority and its increasing dependence on the flow of revenues from Bengal led to the establishment of the semi-independent Nawabi rule in Bengal soon after the death of Aurangzeb (1707). Apart from the subahdar, the province had some other important officers like the diwan, bakhshi, sadr, kotwal, mir bahr, and Waqianavis.
As the head of the finance department, the provincial diwan's main function was to oversee revenue administration. Like the subahdar, the diwan was appointed by the emperor on the recommendation of the central diwan who direcly supervised his activities. In way subordinate to the subahdar, the diwan controlled the income and expenditure of the subah, an advantageous position that made the former dependent on the latter in matters of the required funds. Such a system of check and balance in making the diwan independent of the executive head, who was in charge of the armed forces, was t to the liking of many subahdars. There were occasions of conflict between the two in which the emperor had to intervene. The system of appointment of the provincial diwan by the emperor fell into disuse during the time of murshid quli khan (1717-1727), who wielded both the responsibilities of diwan and subahdar. Subsequently, the provincial diwan was appointed by the nawab-subahdar with the mere approval of the emperor whose control over the subah had virtually ceased by this time.
For the efficiency of the agrarian administration, the diwan was to be in constant touch with the revenue staff in the pargana, the hub of rural administration. It was in his office that all the returns of assessment and realisation of revenues from the parganas were audited and consolidated into abstracts for transmission to the central ministry of finance. All data necessary for the assessment of the state-demand were kept in the diwan's office. The diwan was especially instructed to ensure that peasants were dealt with properly and every encouragement given to them.
The bakhshi, the counterpart of the mir-bakhshi (central bakhshi) in the province, was responsible for the proper administration of the military department. He used to supervise the training, efficiency, and discipline of the armed forces maintained by the mansabdars. It was on the basis of his certification that salaries were disbursed by the diwan. He also advised the subahdar on military affairs and when necessary, made arrangements for expeditions. The bakhshi was to transmit the reports of the waqianavis to the central government.
The provincial sadr mainly looked after religious affairs. In the absence of qazis, the sadr dispensed with judicial matters. He used to make recommendations to the central sadr for grants of rent-free lands for religious and educational purposes (madad-i-mash), and other charitable grants.
As the chief of the police administration, the kotwal maintained internal peace and security. Through a network of agents, he received information about the movements of unwanted elements and strangers in and around the capital and the towns.
The provincial mir-bahr, the chief of the nawarah (flotilla), had to maintain the river and sea ports in good condition, to guard and supervise river communications, and to keep the flotilla in good order. In riverine Bengal where the utility of the nawarah was immense, the mir-bahr was often required to assist the subahdar and the bakhshi by providing with his fleet.
The waqianavis used to keep the central authority informed about happenings in the province. Assisted by a number of sawanihnavis (secret reporters), waqianavis used to send intelligence reports to the centre.
Of the administrative divisions, sarkar and pargana deserve mention. Under the Mughals the subah of Bengal was divided into 19 sarkars, each of which was placed in charge of a Faujdar (military head). Appointed by the emperor on the advice of the wazir, the faujdar was responsible for the maintenance of peace and for proper implementation of imperial edicts. Working under the close supervision of the subahdar, the faujdar assisted the revenue officials in collecting dues from recalcitrant zamindars and raiyats (peasants).
Each sarkar was divided into a number of parganas. There were 628 parganas by the time Murshid Quli became the Diwan of Bengal in early 18th century. The pargana was mainly a revenue unit. The amil was the chief of a pargana and there were amins, karkuns and qanungos to assist him. Since the revenue collection involved some law and order situation, the pargana staff was required to perform administrative duties as well. These aside, there were some semi-government personnel called chaudhuris who represented the peasants to the proper authorities concerning their rights and privileges. The muqaddam (village headman), on the other hand, assisted the revenue personnel in the smooth collection of rents and helped maintain peace and order in the locality.
No account of the administrative history of medieval Bengal would be complete without reference to the salient features of the revenue system. Based on local tradition and the revenue system developed by the sultani administration, the Mughals built up a comprehensive system. Since land was the mainstay of the Mughal ecomy as in past regimes, agrarian matters got proper attention of rulers. Realising that the prosperity of the country depended on the well-being of peasants, the rulers took great care in protecting the interests of cultivators and encouraged them to bring more land under cultivation.
In Bengal, unlike other parts of India, the government did t directly control land. Because Bengal was flat and riverine and hence marshy in the monsoon, the maintenance of accurate land records was almost impossible. So Akbar's Zabti or Regulation system (1582), based on direct settlement with the individual cultivator, was t feasible in Bengal. Moreover, the distinctive geographical and climatic conditions rendered communications and military transport difficult.
Consequently, revenues in the subah of Bengal were collected through a chain of intermediate agents kwn by the generic term of zamindar. The underlying principle was perhaps to mould all different holders of land tenure into a group of loyal agents who would help in cementing gap between the conqueror and the conquered. By placing the automous tributary chiefs, like the Raja of Kuch Bihar or Tippera, and the prime zamindars such as the Maharaja of Burdwan, and the petty revenue farmers under a common demination, the Mughal rulers attempted to depress the status of the local princelings. However, the relation between the automous chiefs-turned zamindars was based especially on military and political interests rather than on fiscal considerations.
Besides, the position of intermediary and petty zamindars within direct administrative control and their powers and functions were clearly defined by imperial sanads. It is important to te that though the Persian term zamindar literally meant a holder of land, the zamindars in the Subah of Bengal were mere possessors of proprietary rights in the collection of the rents of a given tract of land. Thus, zamindars, especially the lineage ones, emerged as the lords of the territory, with hereditary proprietary rights t in land but in the office of collecting the revenue. The holders of land on the other hand were the raiyats, in whose names lands were registered by the village patwari.
Apart from land revenue, which constituted the major source of income, the intermediary revenue farmers were supposed to collect miscellaneous tolls and taxes called Sair. Commonly deminated as ghat or chauki and hat duties, sair was imposed on all articles at their transit and for use of sale facilities in market places. Fines, forfeitures and taxes on marriages, fees paid to Brahmins/Maulavies, taxes for selling spirituous liquors, grazing cattle on plains or commons, cutting woods, etc came under the head of bazi-jama, which was a source of revenue.
At the beginning of each financial year, two settlements, namely, sadar-band-o-bast, between zamindars and the government, and the other, mufassal-band-o-bast, between raiyats and zamindars were made. While the revenue demand on zamindars was fixed by the rent-roll, it rested on them to assess the rent of individual peasants. Though the differences in the productivity of land, the labour charge, irrigation facilities, and local social and agrarian customs contributed to the diversity in the rate of rents, the asal (original rent) appears to have been fixed at 1/3 or 1/2 on the estimation of the actual produce. While forbidding additional levies the imperial farmans, emphasised providing assistance to needy raiyats in the form of utensils, seeds, tools and taqavi (loan). In practice, however, the period between Todarmal and Murshid Quli was marked by the multiplication of abwabs (miscellaneous cess) and mathauts (capitation tax), which considerably enhanced the rents of peasants. The rate of 10 annas per bigha or kani of Murshid Quli's time appears to have been raised to Rs 2, if t higher by 1761. The rent per bigha was t less than Rs 22, exclusive of abwabs and mathauts, which were separately charged by name.
The pluralistic administration was a salient feature of the revenue management, the best-organised branch of the Mughal period. A hierarchy of revenue officials from the diwan- i-subah at the capital to the patwari at the village level had their own share of responsibilities in the collection and disbursement of revenues. In addition, the faujdar was obliged to ensure the full realisation and punctual remittance of revenues. The qanungo daftar, on the other hand, used to put a check on the abuse of power by zamindars, taluqdars and other mir revenue farmers by keeping detailed records of villages, land, revenue assessment, sale deeds, and varying local customs and practices, and to a large extent, the concealment and illegal alienation of land and over taxation on raiyats. Again, for the collection and supervision of revenues, the chief amil at the sarkar was assisted by subordinate amils, shiqdars, amins, bitikchis, munsifs, thanadars, patwaris and others. The importance of amils was in ascendancy from the time of Murshid Quli Khan who brought some important changes in revenue administration during his tenure as the Diwan-Subahdar of the province. Through his mal-zamini system (1722), Murshid Quli sought to increase the revenue and discipline the defaulting intermediary landed interests by transferring a huge number of jagir lands of Bengal to those in less productive lands in Orissa, by getting the lands surveyed, and fixing dues on the basis of the average of the last few years and by ensuring strict supervision of the collection of fixed revenues by stationing amils. To cut down the costs of collection and to expedite its speedy remittance, he divided the subah into 13 chaklahs (revenue circles) and placed the smaller zamindars under the jurisdiction of larger zamindars, who were appointed as chaklahdars. In fact, he sought to simplify the age-old complicated revenue management of Bengal by assigning to the newly appointed chaklahdars the task of realising the government dues without fail.
Though the reforms of Murshid Quli succeeded in infusing vigour in revenue administration, the policy of making the principal zamindars immediately responsible to the government for the state share of the produce added to their power and position, providing them in turn wider scope to enhance their standing in the Court, and also to further their own cause by abusing their official positions as the chaklahdar. [Shirin Akhtar]
Bibliography JN Sarkar ed, History of Bengal, II, Dhaka, 1948, 1H Qureshi, Administration of the Sultanate of Delhi, New Delhi, 1981, Abdul Karim, Banglar Itihash (Sultani Amal), Dhaka, 1987, IH Qureshi, The Administration of the Mughal Empire, Delhi, 1990, MR Tarafdar, Husain Shahi Bengal, Dhaka, 1999.
Colonial Period A fundamental difference between the pre-colonial and colonial administration is that the pre-colonial administrative structure was essentially traditional and fixed; whereas the colonial administration was a flexible and ever evolving affair. Unlike the pre-colonial dynastic regime, the legitimacy of which was often claimed to have been of divine origin, the legitimacy claim of the colonial rule was made on treaties and charters and most importantly establishment of unchallenged dominance. While the sources of law of the pre-colonial regime were religious commandments mainly, the colonial laws and legal institutions were based on secular needs and exigencies.
The colonial administration obtained its characteristics from the dictates of the state formation processes. One reason for the variant character of the colonial administration was that the goals of the colonial power changed over time. Pursuing the eastern trade and commerce without depending on the British government for precious metals was the original goal of the East India Company's domain in Bengal. Thus we find that the entire administrative machinery was then geared to ensure an ever-increasing revenue collection. From 1784 this approach to administration was modified under the circumstances of the 1780s and 1790s. The pitt's india act, 1784 required the company to pay attention to good governance. The cornwallis code (1793) was the result of the new outlook. With the expansion of the colonial state to all India scale in the early 19th century, the principles of colonial administration changed again. The exclusive white rule, as envisioned and institutionalized by Lord cornwallis, lost viability under the changed circumstances. To sustain the empire, native elements had to be accommodated. The sepoy revolt of 1857 made the desirable reform imperative.
The next half-a-century of colonial rule had witnessed massive changes in the method of colonial administration both structurally and ideologically. Attempts were made to inject the spirit of contemporary British liberalism into Indian administration, Western representative institutions were begun to be introduced with a confidence that the Indian Empire would over time become a dominion of the British Empire and remain its partner forever. But the circumstances like the growth of nationalism, terrorism; First World War led the British to liquidate the empire in phases. The administration for the last half a century of British rule was marked by a series of constitutional reforms culminating in the India Independence Act of 1947.
Revenue administration 1765-1793 The East India Company's acquisition of the diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa (1765) had laid the foundation of the British colonial state in Bengal. Bestowing the company with the diwani of the Suba-Bangla was the result of two treaties, one with the Emperor Shah Alam II (12 Aug. 1765) and the other with Nawab Nazmuddaula (30 Sept. 1765). Under these two treaties, the East India Company was appointed the diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa subject to the conditions that the company would pay an annual tribute of twenty-three lacs to the emperor and fifty-three lacs to the nawab. The treaty also provided that as diwan of the subah the company would be responsible for its revenue settlement and revenue collection and that all the balances of revenue collections after performing the treaty obligations to the emperor and the nawab would be the exclusive right of the company.
Thus entrusted with the diwani administration, the company started its journey towards establishing eventually a full-fledged colonial administrative structure. But until then, its role was limited to only revenue administration from which it drew its income. In managing the revenue administration, the company had two options before it: to make the revenue settlement and collection in accordance with the established Mughal system or to organise a new system altogether. robert clive, the Fort William goverr and architect of the diwani system, however, made a compromise between the two options by evolving what has been kwn in history as Dual Government.
Dual Government (1765-1771) Neither the nawab r the company was able to perform their responsibility without depending on others. Nawab Nazmuddaula was a mir and the company had experience and manpower to undertake direct administrative responsibility. Clive found solution in the dual system. Syed Muhammad reza khan was appointed the naib diwan to act on behalf of the Diwan East India Company. By applying his political influence, Clive also appointed Reza Khan the naib nazim to act on behalf of the mir nawab. Thus Reza Khan was made a common link between the diwan East India Company on the one hand and mir nazim Nawab Nazmuddaula, on the other. As naib diwan, Reza Khan was required to make revenue settlement and revenue collection on behalf of the company and as naib nazim he was also to conduct nizamat administration.
Clive's system gave power to the company, but responsibility to the naib diwan. In other words, company was endowed with power but t with any responsibility, and the naib nazim and naib diwan had responsibility but actual power. Under this system the fort william authority would receive all the surpluses of the revenues of Bengal and Bihar after the payment of the stipulated amount to the emperor and to the nazim.
Clive's system of managing the diwani administration through the traditional native agencies with Reza Khan as their chief (naib diwan) actually made the company an extraordinary intermediary receiving a certain income without investment. The system worked according to Clive's design until his departure from Bengal in 1767. But his successors at the Fort William Council were t disposed to make the system work. Abuses of private trade by company's officials sapped the vitality of trade and commerce of the country. Reza Khan was put under pressure to raise revenue demands every year and collect them ruthlessly in the interest of the company. Reza Khan did t fail to warn the Fort William authorities about the disastrous consequences of such a revenue policy. But the company remained resolute about its policy of increasing revenue demands without considering their consequences on the ecomy of the country. Under the circumstances, revenue resources of the country were declining steeply. The Fort William Council made Reza Khan responsible for such a decline and European supervisors were deployed in 1769 in every revenue district with the instructions to oversee the activities of the officials of the naib diwan. The district supervisors themselves turned into mopoly traders locally. The outcome was the great famine of 1769-70.
Under the circumstances, the court of directors resolved by a proclamation in May 1772 to undertake the diwani aministration of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa directly in the hands of the company and establish an appropriate system for revenue settlement and revenue collections. warren hastings, goverr of the Fort William was instructed to develop a new system of revenue administration. The office of the naib diwan was abolished. Hastings transferred the diwani office from Murshidabad to Calcutta and set up a Committee of Revenue at Calcutta. The offices of the traditional mofussil Qanungos were abolished. For revenue administration, Hastings divided Bengal into many districts. Each district was placed under a European district collector assisted by a native diwan or financial adviser. Four junior members of the Council formed a Committee of Circuit entrusted with the responsibility of revenue settlement. The Committee of Circuit let out all estates to the highest bidders for a five-year period - igring the rights claimed by the zamindars. The company had hoped that this ijara policy would enable them to ascertain the real value of the landed property of Bengal.
One thing that became clear from the measures of Hastings was that the company was w firmly proceeding towards establishing a regular kingdom in Bengal. Hastings was behaving like a sovereign. In fact, he even made the claim that the company was really the sovereign authority of the country. Discontinuing the stipulated tributes to the emperor and curtailing the stipulated allowance to the nizamat asserted the virtual sovereignty. Hastings administration increasingly encroached upon the nizamat jurisdiction thus reducing the nawab into a cipher.
But temporarily Hastings's system remained suspended due to the opposition of the majority members of the Council. The sovereign authority was disclaimed. Nizamat powers were restored. Reza Khan was re-instated. A highly centralised system of revenue administration was established by the creation of a Controlling Council of Revenue at Calcutta, with six Provincial Councils subordinate to it, at Calcutta, Murshidabad, Patna, Dhaka, Burdwan and Dinajpur. District collectors were abolished. In their places a body of native amils were entrusted with the responsibility of collecting revenue and rendering civil justice.
The result of the new experiment was, however, better. Huge amount of revenue arrears and defalcations made the revenue collections more uncertain. Agriculture was t improving. The farming system was abolished in 1777. Directed by the Court, the government made revenue settlement with zamindars alone for a term ranging from one to three years. In 1781, a provincial diwani adalat headed by a civilian was established for each of the six provinces of Bengal.
Under the Pitt's India Act, 1784, the Bengal Government was strictly prohibited from making any more experimentation in administration and introduces permanent rules and regulations for the governance of the country. The Act made it clear that Bengal was a British dominion and thus its proper administration must be made the supreme concern of the company. Parliament appointed Lord Cornwallis Goverr General-in-Council vested with almost absolute powers. Cornwallis was expected to initiate the desired reform programme including the permanent settlement and a legal system.
Cornwallis brought the ad hoc character of administration practiced by the previous regimes to an end. Like his predecessors, he himself made some experiments in the revenue and local administrations. But soon he came to a firm conclusion about the colonial state and its administration. By turning the nawab into a pensioner, Cornwallis abolished the nizamat institution and assumed to himself all residue powers of the nawab. He established detailed rules of governance and rules of business of the state. The whole body of the system that he enunciated and established goes by the name of Cornwallis Code.
The entire Cornwallis Code may be conceived within the limits of 48 Regulations proclaimed by Cornwallis in May 1793. The Regulations described the structure of respective institutions and their rules of business. The main administrative institutions under the Cornwallis system may be summarised under the following heads.
Revenue administration since 1793 The kernel of the administrative system of the colonial state was revenue collection. Most of the laws and rules that Cornwallis framed had direct or indirect bearing on the revenue administration. The basis of Cornwallis's revenue administration was the Permanent Settlement. In fact, the whole administration that he conceived and planned was geared to this system. Under this system, private property was created in land and zamindars were made its proprietors. Appropriate laws and institutions were established to protect the proprietary rights of zamindars. As absolute proprietors of land, zamindars got the right to complete disposal of their landed property in the forms of sale, gift, mortgage and so on. The government revenue demand on them was fixed in perpetuity. In ensuring punctual collection of revenue, the land of defaulting zamindars was made liable to be promptly sold publicly. The zamindars were also stripped of all traditional administrative, judicial and military powers and privileges. A three-member committee called Board of Revenue was made responsible for revenue and revenue related civil administrations. A court of ward was established to protect the rights of landholders invalidated by mirity, profligacy, lunacy and succession conflicts.
Civil Service Until arrival of Cornwallis, civilians were traders at the same time. For their services to government, officers were paid very minally. They were hence allowed to indulge in making money by private trade and other means. Furthermore, in addition to their rmal salary, district collectors were allowed commissions on the collections of revenue. Officers in charge of trade and commerce in the mofussil were also vested with ad hoc administrative powers. Cornwallis brought these ruius amalies to an end. He separated trade from administration. The Board of Revenue was entrusted with administrative affairs and the Board of Trade, with the commercial affairs. The officers in administration were never to be transferred to trading division of the company r the officers in trading division, to administration. He created two cadres of administrative services - covenanted and uncovenanted. The covenanted officers were to be minated by the Court of Directors, and the uncovenanted, by the Fort William Government. Natives were excluded from civil service thereby making the civil administration an all-white affair. In lieu of commissions and other facilities and to make the civil service a covetous profession, Cornwallis provided the civilians with adequate salary. All these measures had established the foundation of a professional civil service for governing the colonial state.
Police administration Cornwallis abolished the police powers of the nizamat. Under the Police Regulation of 7 December 1792, the zamindars in the rural areas and the kotwals in the urban areas were deprived of their traditional privileges of policing. Instead, English magistrates were given control of the police. The district judge was made additionally the district magistrate who was given the control of the police. Every district was divided into a police zone covering an area of 400 square miles, and each such area was to be guarded by a Police Superintendent assisted by an establishment of constables. The district judge in the capacity of district magistrate would appoint the police superintendent and the latter would appoint constables. The superintendents were to receive a commission of 10 p.c. on the value of all stolen property that they recovered.
Judicial administration Cornwallis separated judiciary from the executive and established rule of law by making all, rulers and ruled, equal in the eyes of law. For civil justice district courts were instituted which dealt with both civil and revenue matters. Above them were four provincial courts at Calcutta, Murshidabad, Dhaka and Patna. At the top was the Sadr Diwani Adalat for civil justice and Sadr Nizamat Adalat for criminal justice. The Goverr General and his council members made these Sadr Adalats. Native advisers were engaged to help them in matters relating to Muslim and Hindu laws.
Administrative reforms to 1857 Cornwallis laid the foundation of British colonial administration. But his system soon turned out to be inconsistent with the colonial state. The India-wide Empire was t yet in sight and it was never in the mind of Cornwallis when he formulated the principles of his administrative system. Within a decade of his departure from India, the Bengal State of the company assumed sub-continental proportions. The very fact of the expansion, dilution and diffusion of the state compelled the central government to modify the original code of Cornwallis. Besides, the internal changes in the relations of the subject people consequent upon the operation of the colonial system had created considerable ambiguities and ambivalence in the system of 1793.
The cornerstone of the Cornwallis system was the Permanent Settlement. Its original constitution was materially modified by the Regulation (1799) which had armed the zamindars with summary powers over their tenantry including coercion and eviction. The zamindars also got the right to sublet their land for any length of time which was originally limited to a maximum period of ten years (Regulation 5, 1812 and Regulation VIII of 1819). Zamindars also got the right to create perpetual intermediate tenures.
Under the system of 1793, natives were excluded from responsible positions. From early nineteenth century, this rule was relaxed under the pressure of work at local level. In 1802, government decided to resolve accumulated arrears of mir cases in the court by creating posts of native judges at district level called Sadr Amin. During william bentinck's administration, a still higher-ranking judicial post called Principal Sadr Amin with the powers and jurisdictions of an additional judge was created. Bentinck's administration had also created a post of Deputy Collectors for the local gentry. Furthermore, the magisterial duties were separated from the district judge and transferred to the district collector. The district collector was w called the District Magistrate and Collector. This reform had made significant compromise with the principle of separation of the judiciary from the executive.
The Board of Revenue, which was made a centrally controlling authority of the revenue affairs and appointment and transfer of district officials, was divided into two authorities - one for Lower Bengal and ather for the Upper Provinces. The Board of Revenue's authority was further curtailed in 1829 by creating Divisions consisting of several adjoining districts headed by a Divisional Commissioner. Besides revenue affairs and district administration, the Divisional Commissioner was also entrusted with police powers. This administrative arrangement remained intact more or less down to the end of the raj.
Administration under the raj The abolition of the East India Company and assumption of the Indian administration directly by the British Crown led to a series of administrative reforms making the administration of the raj different from that of the company both in spirit as well as in form. Though many of the institutions evolved by the company administration had continued under the raj, but their application and operational modality were t the same.
Civil service The forms of civil service developed during the last decade of the company rule had continued almost unchanged under the raj excepting the gradual Indianisation of the erstwhile all-white Civil Service. The Indians filled in the posts of deputy magistrate and collectors and sub-deputy magistrates and collectors mostly. The native judicial service was reshuffled into three classes as regards pays and powers. The Act XVI of 1868 abolished the designations of the native judicial officers - Principal Sadr Amin and Sadr Amin, and the new designations of "Subordinate Judge" were adopted. From 1875, attempts were made to accommodate Indians in the lower branch of administration then kwn as the Uncovenanted Civil Service and some other Statutory Civil Services by way of promotions and minations. The educated Indians were extensively recruited in the executive and judicial branches of the Uncovenanted Civil Services.
Many of the powers and functions hitherto reserved for the Indian Civil Services were transferred to the Uncovenanted Civil Services. From 1922, examinations for the Indian Civil Services began to be held simultaneously in India and England. Consequently greater number of educated Indians got opportunities to compete and get entries into the superior services. Furthermore, Bengal Provincial Civil Services were created with powers and functions close to those of the ICS. By 1935, more than half of the ICS jobs were held by Indians, while the Bengal Civil Services became alternative avenues to absorb the western educated gentlemen.
Police administration The Thanadari police system of the company period was reviewed by the Police Commission of 1860 and in accordance with its recommendations the Police Act V of 1861 was enacted with the objectives of creating a reformed police suitable for colonial governance. A separate police department with its constabulary force was created under an Inspector General of Police, who was to be responsible for the efficiency and discipline of the entire police department. The executive functions of the commissioners of divisions were discontinued. The Inspector General of Police was to be assisted by a Deputy Inspector General. The District Superintendent of Police, who was hitherto under the control of the divisional commissioner, was w to be subordinate to the Inspector General of Police. The district Superintendent of Police was to be assisted by an Assistant District Superintendent of Police. The subordinate police force was to consist hierarchically of the Inspector of Police, the Head Constables, the Sergeant and Constables.
A jail code was prepared to administer jails. The police and jail systems evolved under the Police Act V of 1861 had continued, with small structural changes, until the end of the colonial rule. Even today, the Bangladesh police administration is governed largely by the Police Act V of 1861.
The colonial government had formally abandoned the village chowkidari system of the Mughal regime. All zamindars and talukdars were required then to maintain Choukidars or village police called sebandees at their own expense. The system was discontinued after the permanent settlement. But informally many zamindars continued to maintain chowkidars on their estates. The system was revived in 1870 under the Chowkidari Act of 1870. The Act empowered the District Magistrate to select and appoint a committee or panchayet in every village for three years. The chowkidar was to be appointed by the magistrate but maintained by the village panchayet which was empowered to raise a chowkidari cess in order to pay for the services of the village chowkidar. The Chowkidari Act of 1870 proved to be a failure as regards maintaining law and order in the village.
Local Government The local government system of the native rulers was discontinued under the Cornwallis Code of 1793 which made the district collector main agent of local administration. All local government institutions at village and pargana levels were abolished. The zamindars were shorn of their responsibilities as regards maintaining law and order. The qazi, who was a local judge before, was w reduced to a mere Muslim marriage registrar.
The European district collector appeared as the sole authority of a district. From the last decade of the company rule, the concepts of local municipal government was first conceived. Under the Act XXVI of 1850 the concept of establishing municipal government for major towns was first adopted. The actual establishment of municipalities began under the Municipal Improvement Act of 1864. The district magistrate was made the chairman of the municipality. The chairman was to be assisted by minated commissioners of whom less than seven commissioners were to be selected from amongst the native elite. The proceeds of ferries, bazaar tolls and road levy would make the sources of revenue of the municipalities. The municipal government was extended to smaller towns under the District Town Act or Municipal Act VI (BC) of 1868.
In rural areas, a kind of local government was established by the Bengal Village Chaukidari Act of 1870 which divided the countryside into 'Unions' comprising about ten or twelve square miles. These areas were placed under panchayets or committee selected by the magistrates. These panchayets had the power of appointing chaukidars and collecting chaukidari cess from the village people for maintaining the system.
Both the urban and rural local governments were designed to taking the colonial state control down to the remotest corners of the empire. The ex-official elements were made supreme in the local government. The local government was thus made a handiwork of the district magistrate. However, the scope of the local government was considerably broadened under the Act III of 1885 (BC). The Act provided for the establishment of an indirectly elected District Board in every district and of Local Boards in all sub-divisions of districts. It also provided for the formation of elected Union Committees in a village or a group of villages within a sub-division of a district. The constitution of local boards would consist of members, of whom two-thirds would be elected and one third minated by the District Magistrate. But half of the district board members were to be minated and ather half elected. The district magistrate was rmally to become chairman of the district board. The chairman of the Union Committee was to be elected by the members of the committee.
Theoretically, the intention of the local government system under the local self-government of 1885 was to train the people in self-governance. But in its practical operation, the system failed to achieve its objective. The district magistrate always tried to use the system in containing the nationalist movement of the time. The government never came forward with funding the local government bodies. They were asked to raise necessary finance by levying different cesses that they could seldom collect and the collected cesses were too inadequate to make the system work.
Constitutional reforms towards independence The Great sepoy revolt, 1857 led to the end of the company rule and beginning of constitutional reforms towards Indianisation of administration and finally independence of British rule.
The Indian Council Act of 1861 laid the foundation of the representative government in India. The portfolio system was introduced by entrusting each of the Executive Council members with specific departments to deal with. For legislation purposes, the Council was turned into a kind of a legislature by inducting six to twelve n-official members into it. Of them three were Indians. In 1862, a legislative council was established in Bengal, though its legislative powers remained extremely limited. The growing public pressure for granting representative self-government persuaded parliament to enact in 1892 an Indian Councils Act which increased the strength of the legislative councils of the goverr general and of the provincial goverrs.
The system of elected council was begun under the morley-minto reforms Act, 1909. The system got wider representation under the India Acts of 1919. The universal franchise qualified by property tax was granted under the India Act of 1935. The Act of 1919 transferred some powers to elected representatives who formed government to run the affairs of the transferred subjects. Full representative government was established under the Act of 1935 under which responsible government was established in every province of British India including Bengal. The fullest and absolute transfer of power to the elected representatives took place under the India Independence Act of 1947. [Sirajul Islam]