The following points highlight the ten main sources of income of people in ancient India. The sources are: 1. Agriculture 2. Ownership of Land 3. Revenue 4. Industry 5. The Guilds 6. Trade and Commerce 7. Taxation 8. Other Sources of State Income 9. Forced Labour 10. Foreign Trade.
Source # 1. Agriculture:
Agriculture was the mainstay of the people in ancient India. Naturally, therefore majority of the people lived in villages, where they led an energetic communal life. Most of the villagers tilled their own lands, although the king often claimed ultimate ownership of the lands.
Most of the land holdings were small and worked by the owner with the help of his family. But certain large farmsteads also existed which were cultivated with the help of the hired labour. The king also owned large lands which were cultivated by the serfs and the labourers in return for a fixed payment. Lands were also lent by the owners to the share-croppers in return for one half of the produce.
As the pressure on land increased people started the policy of colonization, clearing of waste and development of new villages. We learn from the stories in Jataka that hardly peasants from over-populated villages cut jungles and started cultivation. There are instances where the entire village shifted en masse because it could not pay the taxes to the collectors.
Though the rain was the chief source of irrigation, canals, rivers and artificial reservoirs were also formed to ensure regular supply of water to the fields. We do not get any mention of the ‘Persian wheel’, although it might have been used for irrigation purposes. The kings considered it their religious and social duty to erect water reservoirs. We know far certain about the reservoirs at Girnar.
This embankment was over 100 feet thick at the base, which subsequently grumbled. In Kashmir an outstanding engineer named Suyya planned a number of irrigation works in the ninth century A.D. It is said he “made the streams of Indus and Jhelum flow according to his will, like a snake charmer his snakes.”
Although most of the irrigation works of ancient times have since vanished it can be said that important irrigation works were undertaken in ancient India.
The chief crops of ancient India were wheat, barley, rice, millet, sugarcane, sesamum, large variety of peas, beans and lentils; While barley and. wheat were cultivated in north and other cooler places, rice was cultivated in the irrigated planes. Millet was chiefly grown in those parts of Deccan which were unfit for rice cultivation.
In South India, especially Kerala, large number of spices like pepper, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon a etc. were grown, which were exported to Europe in large quantity. The saffron was mainly produced in the foothills of the Himalayas. Cotton was the most important staple textile crop.
A large variety of fruits were also grown, the most prominent amongst them being the mango. Palmyra and talipot palms were mainly grown in the coastal areas. The date palm was grown in the dry regions of West, but we find little mention of it in literature. The grape, almond and walnut were cultivated in Western Himalayas. South possessed abundance of sandal tree which provided the much prized fragrant woods.
The fertility of the soil has been greatly praised by the Greek travellers. They greatly wondered at the two crops being grown a year. Arthasastra tells us that the use of manure was known to the people. Both heavy and light ploughs were used for cultivation.
While the light ploughs were driven by two or four oxen, the heavy ploughs were driven by as many as twenty four oxen. In Arthasastra we get detailed rules for the management of king’s farms which suggests that well-developed agricultural techniques existed at that time. The harvesting was done with sickles. The corn was thrashed and winnowed by tossing it in the wind.
Cattle breeding was also known to the people. The basic livestock of the peasant were cattle. These were used for ploughing, transport as well as for food. People left sufficient meadows so that the animals could get sufficient food. They also provided necessary sheds for their protection against extreme cold and heat.
The villages employed communal cowherd who drove the cattle to the waste lands beyond the ploughed fields every morning and returned with them at dusk. It was his duty to ensure that they did not enter the fields and destroy the standing harvests.
Cow was considered to be a sacred animal for most of the time in ancient India , and its slaughtering was punished with heavy penalty. However the other animals like cattle; and oxen were killed for food purpose in the later period.
But Arthasastra makes a mention of the existence of herds of aged, diseased and sterile cattle, which shows that they were allowed to die their natural death, at least in certain parts of the country.
The other domestic animals included the buffalo, which was not only a beast of burden but also a favorite item of sacrifices to goddess Durga. In the cooler areas the sheep’s were bred, which were a source of wool, needed for the blankets. These blankets were mainly prepared in Kashmir and were exported to the northern plains. The domestic pig and the goats were also bred.
Horses were chiefly found in Sindh and North-West. They were primarily a luxury animal and were mainly used by the warrior class. People knew about the art of taming the elephants. Usually the elephants were owned by the kings and the chiefs, who employed trackers, hunters and tamers for their capture and care.
We do not get a mention about the camel, but it must have been certainly known to the people, and served as a beast of burden in the deserts. Dogs were also known to the people and were commonly used for hunting purpose. However, in Mahabharata we get a reference that the dogs were treated as a pet.
We are told that the five Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi took their dog with them on their final pilgrimage to heaven. When the’ dog was not permitted to enter the heaven Yudhisthira refused to enter the heaven without his faithful friend, and ultimately succeeded in taking him along.
The people of ancient India knew about the breeding and rearing of the silkworms. As silk was known to the people even in the Vedic times these silk-making moths were certainty known to the people. Most probably these worms were introduced to India from China.
In one of the Buddhist scriptures silk is designated as cinapatta or the Chinese cloth. In Arthasastra also we get a confirmation of this view. Another insect known as lac-insect was also reared. It provided resin used for the various articles of ornaments as well as the dye.
Source # 2. Ownership of Land:
On the basis of the ancient literature and ephigraphic records scholars have drawn opposite conclusions regarding the ownership of the land. While one of the verses in the Manusmriti states that the king is the owner of the treasures buried underground, because he is the owner of the land. This suggests that the state owned all land, including the cultivable one.
Similarly, Diodorous has recorded that the land in India is the property of the crown and no private individual is permitted to own it. But certain other scholars, on the testimony of another passage in the Manusmriti have come to the conclusion that private ownership of land existed.
According to this passage a field belonged to him who cleared away the timber and a deer to him who first wounded it with an arrow”. The Nasik caves contained definite record to show that privately owned field was requested for the benefit of ascetics.
We get a definite reference on this point in Purvamimansa which states that a king cannot dispose of the land of private individuals, when he is called upon to gift away all his possessions in charity at the end of certain sacrifices.
Similarly, Narada points out that it would be highly inquisitors if the king proceeded to interfere with the ownership and possession of houses and lands, for it would result in utter chaos. Arthasastra also makes a clear distinction between the crown lands and the private lands. One of the Jataka stories records that a king told his mistress that he cannot give her his kingdom because he is not its owner.
The idea of private ownership of land existed as long back as the Rig Vedic period. We get references to show that the arable and homestead land belonged either to an individual or to a family. The pasturage was perhaps common.
In fact we get so diverse references in ancient literature about the ownership of land that it is difficult to come to any specific conclusion. We get references about individual or family ownership as well as communal and royal ownership of the land. Most probably different systems prevailed in different regions of the country.
The effectiveness of the right of ownership of land depends on the right to gift, sale and mortgage of the land. The ancient legal literature not only contains references about the right of an individual to alienate the land but there are quite a number of inscriptions which record the gifting of the land by the crown, community and private individuals.
The lands were mostly gifted and we do not get many references about the buying or selling of the land.
However, the Arthasastra has recorded an order of priority in choosing buyers while selling a piece of land. This priority includes kinsmen, neighbours and rich persons. People were free to gift away and mortgage their lands. We do not get many records of the sale or transfer of land for purposes other than religious purposes. Usually the grants were made to the Brahmans or temples by the ruler or private individuals.
This does not mean that the lands were actually surrendered to the donee; it simply implied that the taxes payable to the state in cash or kind, were to be paid to the grantee. There are also many instances to show that full ownership rights of the land were transferred to the donee.
Thus Dhruvasena I of Valabhi gave 360 padavartas of land to a temple in his kingdom. This land was not contiguous and was intercepted by land owned by private individuals.
This implies that while certain lands were owned by private individuals or the community, certain other pieces of land were owned by the state. The land owned by the state was described as rajya- vastu, and its ownership acrewed to the state either through failure of heirs or through the non-payment of the land tax.
When the lands were actually transferred to the donee (instead of the revenue) it is not known how they were cultivated. Most probably they were either let out to sub-tenants or cultivated through hired labourers.
Whether these lands were granted on perpetual basis or otherwise, is also not quite clear. Most probably these grants were made on perpetual basis, but the donee had no right of alienation or a perpetual endowment of rent-free land.
According to Dr. A.S. Altekar we “possess conclusive evidence to show that in the post-Buddhist period at any rate the ownership in cultivable lands was vested in private individuals; the state could not interfere with it except for the non-payment of the land-tax. What is claimed from the average cultivator was thus not a land rent but a land tax”.
Another problem connected with the land-ownership in ancient India is whether the people enjoyed occupancy right subject to the pleasure of the king or it existed in the ordinary sense of the term. The scholars have not been able to arrive at any definite conclusion on this point.
One of the passage in the Milindapanha clearly states that all towns, ports, mines etc. which are situated on-the earth are under the ownership of the king. Manu also seems to agree with this view and states that the king is the overlord (adhipati) of the soil.
Though some scholars have contended that this view of Manu conflicts with his precept that the ownership goes to the first cleaner, but Prof. Adiya does not find any conflict between these two views of Manu. He says the ownership of land by private individual has never been an absolute right. The state has always the last say in this matter whatever may have been the position in theory.
Source # 3. Revenue:
The land revenue system prevailing in ancient India corresponded to the type now popularly known as ryotwari. Under this system the peasants cultivated their land individually, making common use of the services of the craftsmen of the village and paying land revenue to the state through the village.
The two prominent revenue officials which have been mentioned were Bhagadhuk (collector of royal share) and Samaharta (bringer of tributes). The former was concerned with the collection of taxes and tributes, which were mostly in kind, and the latter stored them in the royal granary and treasury.
The state claimed a certain portion of the produce of the crops, the amount differing in different periods. The percentage of taxation varied from eight to thirty-three per cent. This variation was not only due to variation in the quality of the land but also due to the rates charged by the rulers at different times according to their varying needs.
The normal practice was, however, to charge one- sixth of the produce as the land tax. However, those states which resorted to the imperialist policy and undertook extensive military expeditions, the rate was higher. For example Arthasastra and the Greek writers have recorded that the Mauryan rulers charged 25 per cent tax on agricultural incomes.
In cannot be said for certain whether the percentage of the land tax charged in different periods was calculated on the basis of the gross or net produce. The Jataka literature points “out that it was charged on the gross produce.
However, it is difficult to believe that the government was not making any allowance for the cost of the agriculture when it was claiming such a high share. The revenue was usually paid in kind. The revenue thus collected by the state was stored in granaries located in different parts of the country, where from it was disposed off.
However, in later period the practice of collecting revenue in cash also started although it was practised on a very limited scale.
The share of state or the land tax was not permanently fixed and the percentage varied according to the exigencies of the state finance. It could be enhanced when the king needed greater funds for the conduct of the war.
Similarly it was reduced when the crops failed or there was some other natural calamity. If the land-owner failed to pay the land tax his land could be disposed off after the lapse of a certain period, which differed from place to place and time to time. The state often charged interest on the revenue in arrears.
It may be noted that though the instances of state confiscation of land, for nonpayment of land tax are available in records, the Smritis do not make any mention of the right of state to confiscate the lands of the defaulting owners. It may be further noted that the people paid all these taxes to the ruler in return for the protection which the king accorded them against all possible dangers.
Another noteworthy point with regard to the revenue administration in ancient India is that at least during the later period a systematic survey of all land was carried before determining the revenue. Both Arthasastra and Strabo confirm this.
The revenue collectors classified the different villages as best (jyestha), medium (madhama) and low (kanistha). This sort of classification of land was practiced is further confirmed by the fact that the same authorities have mentioned different rates of revenue. Obviously this variation must have been due to the difference in the quality of land.
The rulers received a considerable part of their income from mines, forests etc. There is considerable difference of opinion amongst the authorities of this period regarding the share of the king in the metals.
While Manu says that the king should obtain one half of the metals produce in his realm, Vishnu declared the entire output of mines as the royal due. Arthasastra also says that mines were under the full control of the state.
The forests also yielded considerable re venue to the king. Persons earning a living from forests were required to pay a share to the king. According to Manu and Vishnu the king received one-sixth of the various forest products like honey, wood, medicinal herbs, leaves, grass, flowers and fruits.
In addition to the above taxes, which the king claimed regularly, certain other taxes like kara and pratibhaga were also charged by the king. The precise nature of these taxes is not clear because the different authorities have interpreted them differently.
Kara was probably a periodical tax levied on agricultural land over and above the normal grain share. Pratibhaga was sort of presents consisting of fruits, flowers and roots made to the king daily.
In short we can say that the rulers in ancient India extorted money from people under different pretexts. However, while imposing these taxes the ruler was expected to ensure that the subjects were not robbed of their due rewards.
We do not get any comprehensive account of the machinery for the collection of these taxes. At the most we learn that a hierarchical order of revenue officials existed. Groups of villages were administered by different officials, one under the next. These officials were responsible for the revenue administration in the area under their charge and received a fixed pay for this.
According to Prof. G. L Adhya the revenue officials were paid as follows :
Lord of 1 village—the king’s daily dues of food, drink and fuel.
Lord of 10 villages—1 Kula
Lord of 20 villages—5 Kulas
Lord of 100 villages—revenue of 1 village
Lord of 1000 villages—revenue of 1 town.
It is evident from the above account that the officials received salary according to the responsibility. Thus the lord of 20 villages received five times the income of the lord of ten. However, it is not clear as to what meant by kula. Most probably it was an area of land sufficient to maintain a family.
Source # 4. Industry:
The industry in ancient India was merely an extension of the scheme of exploitation of the soil. The chief industries of ancient India were cotton and woolen textile. The other important industries included clay, metal and wood work. These industries were run by the individual craftsman with the assistance of their family members.
The larger industries also existed and were run mainly with the hired labour. For example during the times of the Mauryas the state owned not only spinning and weaving workshops, but also shops which manufactured weapons and other military equipment’s.
These worships employed large number of craftsmen on regular salaries. Even individual producers undertook production on large scale and their manufactures enjoyed wide market.
In the Jain texts we learn of the story of a potter named Saddalaputta, who owned not only 501 potters workshops but also a fleet of boats with the help of which he distributed his wares throughout the Gangetic valley. Similarly, other references are also available regarding large scale production by the individuals, hut the number of these references is not very large.
The co-operatives of the workers probably also existed. These co-operatives were based on the principle of division of labour and different members specialised in a particular branch. The individual members of the co-operatives were bound by a contract and any violation of the terms of the contract was punished severally in accordance with the law books
The craftsmen sold their products direct to the purchaser. Usually each trade or craft was concentrated in a particular locality and the stalls for sale of goods were set up in the home itself. Often these craftsmen visited the houses of the purchasers to dispose off their goods. The prices were regulated and controlled by the guilds (sreni), a sort of industrial organisation.
These guilds fixed rules of work and wages as well as the standards and prices for the commodities in which its members dealt. The regulations laid down by the guilds were enforced by the king and the government.
A person who violated the orders of the guild could be expelled from its membership and precluded from practising his ancestral trade. Thus the guilds played an important role in the regulation of the economic life.
Though the guilds flourished during the times of the Buddhist scriptures, we get faint references to their existence even during the Vedic period in the Vedic literature. These guilds mainly existed in important towns of India and embraced almost all trades and industries. It shall be desirable to have an idea about the organisation and functions of the guilds.
Source # 5. The Guilds:
Some sort of corporate or organised bodies of craftsmen and traders have existed in India since earliest times. These bodies were known by various terms like pani, vrata, gana and sresthi. Subsequently they came to be known as Sreni or guild.
Certain scholars have expressed doubts regarding the existence of such organised institutions in the Vedic period on the ground that the economic conditions prevailing at that time were unsuitable for their proper functioning.
During the Vedic period the society was quite primitive and was quite unstable for the working of these associations of traders and craftsmen. It is held that in India the guilds came into existence sometime between the later Vedic period and the fifth century B. C. viz., the period of the Dharmasutras.
By that time the different professions came to be organised and laid their own laws for the protection of their own interests. We get references about the guilds of agriculturists, traders, rearers of cattle, money-lenders and craftsmen in the early law books. However, it may be noted that there are no conclusive evidences to confirm the existence of the guilds during this period.
The most useful information about the early Guilds is provided by the Jatakas. The various Jataka stories are quite helpful in understanding the working of the guilds at that time. The Jataka tells us that there were 18 kinds of guilds which shows that the guild system was quite widespread at that time.
However, the Jatakas mention only three specific guilds viz., the wood-workers, the smiths, the leather dressers and painters. The guilds gained popularity with the spread of Buddhism and Jainism.
Both these religious movements were a sort of revolt against the tyranny of the Brahmans and were heterodox religions. The merchants and artisans, whose position was not quite comfortable under the Brahmans, also extended full support to these religions.
At the time of the Arthasastra the guild system was so well entrenched in India that it pleads for certain special privileges for them such as reservation of quarters in the city and special leaves to the members of the guilds.
The influence of the guilds can be measured from the fact that the king also borrowed money from them in time of stringency. Both Manu and Yajnavalkya emphasise that the royal power should honour and preserve the laws of the guilds.
Though the primary function of the guilds was to protect the interests of the members, they also paid sufficient attention to the public good. The guilds fixed rules of work and wages as well as the standards and prices for the commodities in which its members dealt. The regulations laid down by the guilds were enforced by the king and the government.
A member who violated the orders of the guild could be expelled from the membership and precluded from practising his ancestral trade. In short, the guilds played a significant role in the regulation of the economic life.
It may be noted that the guilds mainly existed in important towns of India and embraced almost all trades and industries. Usually each guild had its own seals with particular emblems. Many such seals made of clay have been found in Basarah.
The guilds also acted as bankers and accepted deposits and lent money on interest to the merchants and others. The guilds often acted as the trustees of religious endowments and provided necessary funds for the various religious activities.
The necessary funds for meeting the expenses were raised through donations, subscription of the members, and fines levied on the defaulting members of the guilds. Sometimes rich individuals left huge funds with the guilds for carrying out public utility services on their behalf.
For example one of the inscriptions found in Jannar refers to a devotee investing the income from certain fields with a guild for the planting of karnja and banyan trees, apparently in order to gain merit by helping travellers. At Sanchi also the ivory-carvers guild is said to have dedicated one of the piers of Southern Gate.
The guilds found the necessary funds through donations, subscription of the members, and fines levied on the defaulting members of the guilds. The guilds also acted as the guardian of the widows and orphans of the members. It also provided them with financial assistance during sickness etc.
The chief occupations adopted by the people of ancient India included those of potters, carpenters, smiths, smelters, weavers, washermen, barbers, butchers, makers of baskets, ropes, jewelers, merchants, magicians kind so forth. The women generally engaged themselves in occupations like dyeing, embroidery and basket making.
Source # 6. Trade and Commerce:
Trade and commerce also flourished in ancient India. It was considered to be the exclusive prerogative of the Vaisya caste, even though members of the other castes also sometimes took to trade and commerce. The business was carried on both by means of barter or exchange and cash transactions.
In the earlier period the cows were convenient means of exchange and transaction. However, subsequently certain types of coins came into existence. According to scholars like Dr. Bhandarker the coins existed even during the Vedic period, but this view is not acceptable to other scholars because we have not been able to find any conclusive proof.
We have not come across any coins of this period. The earliest coins which have fallen in our hands belong to the first century A. D. These coins are attributed to Vima Kadphises.
Broadly speaking two types of traders existed in ancient India —those who had fixed shops and displayed and sold their goods at those shops, and the traders who moved in the shape of caravans from place to place to sell the goods.
They were popularly known as caravan traders. We cannot say for certain whether markets existed in the Vedic times, but it is certain that the villages and towns were connected by tracks, with wells at intervals.
The important intersections of routes in course of time developed as great commercial centres. The Buddhist Jatakas refer to numerous internal roads in northern India. Similar routes existed in the Peninsula during the Mauryan times.
J. Przyluski says, From Mauryan times onwards Patliputra was connected with Gandhara by an imperial highway, drawn on the model of the great roads of Achaemenids. It played a great part in the political and economic life of India.
After the foundation of the Greek kingdom of Bactriana commercial intercourse became very active between the valleys of the Ganges and the Oxus. For caravans loaded with goods of Bactriana and Kashmir, Mathura was the first large city in Madhvadesa as one came out of the Indus valley.
From Pataliputra three great roads radiated to the frontiers of the Empire—the south-western to Barygaza by Kausambi and Ujaayini, the northern to Nepal by Vaisali and Sarawasti, and the north-western, the longest, to Bactriana by Mathura and the upper valley of the Indus.
Kautilya tells us that the construction and maintenance of the roads was one of the primary duties of the king. For the purpose of maintenance the responsibility was entrusted to the provincial governments. From the times of, Mauryas pillars were set along the roads to mark the distances.
Waterways were also used for the purpose of trade. The ancient Indian engineers, though quite competent, could not master the art of bridges over wide rivers. Usually these rivers were crossed with the help of ferries. We have evidence to the effect that during the times of the Mauryas a well regulated ferry service was maintained by the state at important crossings.
The roads, particularly those passing through dense jungles and over hilly areas inhabited by the wild tribes, were unsafe and the merchants were waylaid by the robbers. The wild beasts like tigers, elephants, snakes etc. also posed another danger or risk to the life of the people.
To safeguard against these dangers the merchants usually moved in caravans. We learn of caravans consisting of 500 men moving under professional caravan guards who assured guidance. as well as safe conduct over the route. The danger to the merchant caravans is testified by many stories. The kings of Mauryan dynasty and certain other dynasties took numerous steps to safeguard the roads.
We do not get any evidence of the existence of a highly organized financial machinery in which cheques, drafts and letters of credit existed. However, there is plenty of evidence that usury (the practice of lending money at exhorbitant rates was widespread and money lending was in vogue.
The Brahmans were however prohibited from indulging in moneylending. The Rig-Veda makes a reference to indebtedness, while Dharma Sutras lay dawn rates of interests and other regulations concerning debts and mortgages.
The just rate of interest was fifteen per cent per annum. The later commentators have however, expressed the opinion that the rates were actually much higher. Manu tells us that there was a sliding scale of interest for the unsecured loans for the debtors of different classes. While the Brahmans paid 24 per cent, Kshatriyas 36 per cent, Vaisyas 48 per cent, the Sudras had to pay 60 per cent per year.
Arthasastra makes mention of three types of rates of interest for short-term loans for commercial ventures. The normal commercial rate was 5 per cent per month. The rate for the merchants travelling through forests was 10 per cent per month and the rate for the sea-faring merchants was 20 per cent per month.
These enormous rates of interests given in the Arthasastra shows that though the commerce in ancient India was quite risky it yielded huge profit.
Source # 7. Taxation:
Like agriculture, trade and industry had also to bear its own burden of taxation. The most common tax levied on them was the octroi duties which were levied on almost all the articles imported in the town or village.
The state charged this duty on the ground that it had to spend huge amounts on the up-keep and protection of the roads, which were used by the merchants to carry their goods. The octroi duties were usually collected at the gate of the town or the village by an officer known as Saulkika.
The payment was made either in cash or kind, but the common practice was to charge them in kind. The octroi on different items varied. In different provinces and under different governments also their rates differed.
Arthasastra suggests that essential goods like grain, oil, sugar, pots should be taxed at one-twentieth of their value; while other goods be taxed between one-fifteenth and one-fifth, Similarly it has been suggested by Kautilya that the commodities intended for religious ceremonies and Sanskaras, as well as presents for the bride, should be exempted from octroi duties.
The custom duties were also imposed on various commodities, as in our times. No uniform rates were in existence and they differed according to the needs and policies of the different governments. Usually the goods meant for religious purposes were not subjected to any custom duty. People had also to pay ferry tax for goods, cattle, carts etc. This tax was however very nominal.
In addition to the above duties and taxes, the traders and businessmen have to pay certain other taxes. They paid fee for the testing and stamping of the weights and measures. In certain areas a shop tax was also charged, and we get frequent references about this tax in the Smritis as well as different inscriptions.
For example, the Yadavas of the Deccan charged sixed panams per annum as the shop tax. It cannot be said for certain whether sales tax was also in existence. Though Magasthenese has recorded that a ten per cent sales tax was charged, this is not confirmed by the Indian’ sources including the Arthasastra or the Smritis. According to Prof. Altekar most probably Magasthenese confused the customs dues with the sales tax.
People engaged in industry were also subjected to number of taxes. The petty artisans like smiths and carpenters had to devote one or two days work per month to the king. However, the central government could authorize the local bodies to utilise this labour for the completion of their local schemes.
Probably artisans like barbers, washermen, goldsmiths, potters etc. had to pay some nominal tax, although we do not have any confirmed basis to say so.
Trade in wine was under strict state control. Wine was manufactured either in state distilleries or in privately owned distilleries. The latter had to pay an excise duty of 5 per cent. Excise duty was also charged on salt and other metals.
Source # 8. Other Sources of State Income:
In addition to the revenues raised through taxes, the state possessed certain other sources of income. These include the income from state properties, the profits of state industries, proceeds of fines and tributes from feudatories. It shall be desirable to make a detailed study of these sources.
The state property consisted of crown lands, waste lands, forests, mines, natural tanks and reservoirs etc. The state acquired useable income. In addition to the private owned land, a large tracts of land was owned by the state which was either given out to private tenants on rent or cultivated through hired labourers.
This yielded considerable income to the state. The waste-land, which belonged to the state, was usually entrusted to the care of the local bodies. These bodies in turn would hand over these lands to enterprising persons for cultivation by promising them land tax exemption for the initial period of four or five years.
The ownership of the mines and its products has vested in the state since earliest times. Most of the mines were worked by the state but sometimes these were leased out to private individuals. While the state owned the entire yield in the former category of the mines, even in the latter case it received a substantial share.
The right over the treasure troves also rested with the state, and it claimed a major part from the finder. The state charged certain licence fee for gambling and prostitution. But the tributes from feudatories were the most important source of income, However, this source was quite uncertain and irregular.
A feudatory king paid tribute only as long as he was weak and the imperial army was strong enough to extract it. The fines imposed on criminals by the courts also went to the state treasury. The heirless and ownerless property also lapsed to the state.
Source # 9. Forced Labour:
In addition to taxes the state in ancient India extracted forced labour. The state held that the poor people, who could not afford to pay taxes in cash or kind, should also make some contribution to the state in return for the protection accorded to them.
The most convenient way to make the contribution was through free service to the state. Usually such people were required to work for the state free for one or two days in a month. While they worked for the state they were fed by the state.
Mostly this free labour was not utilised by the central government and it authorised the local bodies to utilise the services of these people for carrying out local works of public utility.
According to Prof. A. S. Altekar, “The right to free labour therefore eventually benefited the village communities themselves, as it enabled them to get the help and cooperation of a number of labourers, carpenters and smiths in building and repairing roads, rest-houses and tanks.”
Source # 10. Foreign Trade:
India had trade relations with a number of foreign countries in ancient India. In the Vedic hymns there is a clear indication that India carried on trade with Babylon and countries of the West Asia. This is inferred from the legend of flood in the Satapatha Brahman.
By the Buddhist times the sailors had made contact with Burma, Malaya and the island of Indonesia. It was only in the first century A.L. that India established maritime trade with Roman empire.
India mainly exported items of luxuries to West, which were in great demand. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire India’s trade with the West declined. But some sort of trade continued with the Arabs. A contract between South India and China was also established through sea and India’s trade with China increased tremendously.
The Indian spices, jewels, perfumes and other luxury items continued to be exported to China. The trade with Central Asia was carried on through mountain track which ran from Kabul to the upper valley of Oxus, east of Bactria (Balkh).
Certain scholars have tried to suggest that the Indian maritime activities had made tremendous progress, and India possessed ships which could take 1000 passengers. This according to Prof. Basham seems to be an exaggeration.
Pliny, the Greek historian of the first century A.D. who has given us valuable information about the maritime trade of the Indians says that the largest ship known to India measured 3,000 emphorae, or only seventy-five tons. Fa-Hien, the Chinese traveller who travelled from Ceylon to Java in a ship, tells us that the Indian ships could carry 203 persons.
The ships in ancient India mainly followed the coastline and most of the ports of ancient India were located on the western coast. Some of the prominent ports included Bhargukaccha, Supara (near Bombay) and Patala, on the Indus delta.
In the East the Campa was the main port. It was located in the Ganga Basin. However by the times of Mauryas Campa lost its importance and Tamralipti developed as the main sea port of the Ganga basin in the east. Ships sailed from Tamralipti not only to Ceylon but also to South-East Asia.
The Tamilian kings also did much to encourage sea trade. They constructed a number of harbours, light-houses and wharves, where the ships of the Yavanas discharged their merchandise.
The main items exported by India to the foreign countries included spices, perfumes, jewels, fine textiles, sugar, rice, ghee and ivory goods. The Indian iron, lac and indigo were also in great demand. Live animals and birds like elephants, lions, tigers, buffaloes, monkeys, parrots, peacocks etc. were exported to Rome.
While animals like elephants, lions, tigers, and buffaloes were meant for would beast shows of the Roman emperors, the other animals and birds were brought up as pets. In return for these exports India got plenty of gold.
Pliny, the Greek historian has said that the annual drain to the East was 103 million sesterces. This drain ultimately led tire Roman Empire into financial difficulties. In addition to gold a large number of gold coins were also exported to India.
A large quantity of Roman coins have been found in many parts of the Peninsula and Ceylon, which gives the impression that they were being used as regular currency. In addition India also imported pottery and glassware from West.
Certain remains of the same have been found at the tradition of Arikamedu near Pondicherry. The western wine, tin, lead, coral and slave girls were also in demand. Indians also imported silks from China.
Thus, we find that the maritime trade continued to flourish during the ancient times. However, subsequently this trade was monopolized by the merchants because it came to be believed that travel to foreign lands led to impurity, which could not be expunged.
Consequently the members of the upper classes avoided foreign travels. In subsequent centuries the Arabs and the Chinese also made considerable progress in the art of ship construction and gave a rude set-back to India’s foreign trade.