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Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century

Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century
Item Code: NAJ145
Author: B. N. S. Yadava
Publisher: Raka Prakashan, Allahabad
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9789382182955
Pages: 642
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 770 gms

About the Author

B.N.S. Yadava was the former Professor and head of the Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad and Coordinator of its U.G.C. special Assistance Programme. His national eminence was recognized by his election as Sectional President of Indian History Congress, 1980 and General President in 1992-93. His Published works on the social and economic history of Ancient and early medieval India are well known. He was also lifetime Honarary Fellow, Indian Institute of Advance study, Shimla. He has contributed more than three dozen articles in reputed journals of India.


Dr. Yadava's Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century is by far the best study of the twelfth century that has been attempted so far. The period which he has chosen for his researches is undoubtedly difficult, for it is a period of transition and is generally held to mark the boundary between the ancient and medieval ages. The study of the period is possible only on the basis of an extensive study of the earlier period as) of all the varied sources of information, Indian and foreign, literary and archaeological, which shed light on the twelfth century. Dr. Yadava's work impresses the reader as much with the compass of its scholarship as with the critical thoroughness of its grasp of "acts and principles. He threads his way through a vast maze of evidence and confusing interpretations offered by some modern writers with an insight and sureness which is bound to evoke the unstinted admiration of all his readers. In fact, the attempt to discover some relevant truth in all interpretations appears to smudge he structure of the chapter on 'The Samantas and the Ruling Landed Aristocracy'. In so far as Dr. Yadava's near eclecticism makes him depart in the present work from its original conception, he puts himself in the danger of tolerating contradictions.

Historical evidence, being incomplete, is not unoften ambiguous, but it does not follow thereby that all possible interpretations are to be admitted as equipoisible. The historian who seeks an overall characterization must seek the most consistent 'fit' for the facts as a whole while he must be ever prepared to modify his hypothesis if recalcitrant evidence suggests I more suitable explanation. One can either be satisfied with piecemeal hypotheses or hold to a systematic hypothesis in a purely tentative manner. This methodological dilemma must always be faced by the social historian. Marxist historians in India as elsewhere tend to hold to general hypotheses as almost a priori, or at least give the impression of doing so. In the context of Indian history they seem at the present moment to seek to understand almost the entire history of India, at least from the Saka-Kusana period to the 19th century, in terms of Feudalism. Dr. Yadava is too critical to be committed to such a view. He is aware that the task of reconstructing the social history of the past is a process of painfully putting together the half-lost pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. He analyses the concept of Feudalism clearly and brings out the danger of using the term indiscriminately. At some places, however, his practice is not equal to his precept.

The twelfth century saw towards its end the sudden dissolution of Hindu political power in Northern India, and all historians of India have naturally been anxious to discover the causes of so catastrophic an event. Despite Seignobos's admonition, historians continue to search these causes in ever-widening circles, from military and political incidents to their institutional assumptions, from institutions to their general systematic relations, and thence to fundamental ideas and values which define the basic cultural texture and structure. Dr. Yadvava's conception of social history places it midway between political history and the history of ideas and values. Social history thus becomes the history of institutions and institutional relations. On any view, this would constitute the heart of social history. Dr. Yadava is aware of the role of social groups as also of dimensional differences in the making and working of institutions. Nevertheless, he realizes that Indian society was not merely a society of classes, but also of castes and clans. He is also aware of the regional differences and the consequent complex variability of the social structure of India in those days.

The present work gives us a vivid and detailed image of the twelfth century, its classes and castes, chivalry and warfare, economic and religious life. The century is illumined and placed in context, and thus serves in turn to illumine by the de hall- dipaka-nyaya the preceding as well as the succeeding ages. Dr. Yadava's work will long remain indispensable for every serious researcher of ancient as well as medieval India.


The twelfth century stands out as one of the landmarks of Indian history : it marks the end of an epoch extending from about the 7th to the 12th century which has been regarded as representing the late ancient and early medieval period in the Indian context. An objective historical study of the social configuration of this fateful century has been a desideratum, especially for a correct appraisal of the situation leading to the Turkish conquest of the Northern India and for a better understanding of the social developments of the entire age as well as of the later medieval period.

The present work, which is substantially the approved D. Phil. thesis of Dr. B.N.S. Yadava, represents an attempt to fulfil he same. He has made a critical and comparative study of the main aspects of the society and culture of Northern India in the twelfth century in a wide, historical perspective. Inter alia the economic, military and administrative aspects of the society have also been dealt with. The vexed question of feudalism and medievalism has been tackled, and some fresh light has been thrown on the development, nature and range of the feudal phenomenon. The author has tried to correlate the major spheres f the society's life and has analysed not only the social framework but also the operation of the existing social forces.

The work is well-documented and is characterized by a critical examination and judicious handling of a wide range of literary and archaeological data, including the latest materials relating to the subject. Having known Sri B.N.S. Yadava for the last several years, both as my student and as a colleague in the department, I am happy to introduce his work to the scholars and students of ancient Indian history and culture.


The rapidity of the Turkish conquest of Northern India after the second battle of Tarain in 1192 and the other features of the existing historical situation have made the 12th century one of the landmarks of Indian history. This century, along with the preceding one, represents a significant phase of the early Middle Ages in Indian history. The beginning of this phase comes into clearer view when the feudal tendencies, as manifested in the samanta system, begin to announce their distinctive import by the seventh century A.D. However, in the attempt at the periodization of history, not only is it futile to look for a particular date for the beginning of an age, but some margin has also got to be allowed for a preceding phase of transition.

The arm here has been to study the main aspects of the society and culture of Northern India in the twelfth century in the back- ground of the development and change brought about by the operation of social forces during the late ancient and early medieval times. Attempt has also been made to assess the nature and significance of the conflict of these social forces, of the tension which gripped the age, and of the interaction and interconnection of the major spheres of society's life-social, political, economic and religious.

Besides the well-known general works by c.v. Vaidya, H.C. Ray, and G.H. Ojha, and the relevant volumes of The History and Culture of the Indian People edited by R.C. Majumdar, a few monographs have come out in recent years on different aspects of the political and non-political history of the early Middle Ages. The results of these scholarly endeavours have made valuable addition to our knowledge of the history of the period. At the same time, they have given a new dimension to the problem relating to the Turkish conquest and heightened the significance of the question medievalism together with feudalism in the Indian context, which call for further enquiry in a proper, historical perspective. The present work, representing n attempt at investigation in this direction based on my thesis e titled Some Aspects of Society in North India in the Twelfth Century A.D., which was approved by University of Allahabad for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy 1956.

The materials for the study of the society and culture of twelfth century lie scattered in a variety of Sanskrit Prakrta and Apabhramsa works-epics, dramas, minor poems, law-digest Smrti-commentaries, religious literature, social satires, anthologies compendia, and miscellaneous works including those on practical arts; in the accounts of foreign travellers; and in a large number of inscriptions as well as other archaeological sources.

Though we are mainly concerned with the contemporary sources, works of the eleventh century, which forms part of same phase of the Indian Middle Ages, have also been drawn up Further, with a view to a proper assessment of the development social institutions, the relevant sources of the earlier centuries form part of this period, and even of the ancient period, have been examined. Similarly, the works composed after but not far removed from the twelfth century, which reflect the atmosphere of the early medieval period, have also been utilized.

Contemporary works of South India, especially the Mitaksara of Vijhanesvara, the commentary of Apararka the Yajnavalkya Smrti, and the Manasollasa of king Somesva have been taken into account for comparison, corroboration, a supplementation of the information gleaned form the literary a archaeological sources of Northern India. In view of the India wide political and cultural contacts among the ruling and learned aristocracy at the higher level, the works mentioned above carry, spite of their apparently regional character, a wider significance The majority of the literary works of the age belong to court literature in which the preoccupation is with themes connected with the life of the ruling aristocracy. As such, the facts relating to common life therein are only incidental and vague. The kavya works, such as the Naisadhiyecarita of Sri Harsa, the Trisastisalaka-puru sacarita (with its supplement entitled Pari- sista -parvan or Sthaviravalli of Hemacandra, and the srikant-carit of Mankha, are based on old legendary and mythical themes and are dominated by traditionalism of subjects and forms. However, a careful observer will not fail to notice in them significant bits of information relating to social attitudes and institutions. But to sift history from the myths and legends of an age characterized by imitative tendencies requires a great amount of caution and critical observation. Not only the general epics, but also the historical ones, e.g. the Prthviraja -vijaya, the Ramacarita and the Dvayasraya, are replete with old traditions and poetic conventions. As such, their evidence can be relied upon only after critically examining all possible corroborative and contradictory evidence gleaned from other sources. Among the historical ksvyas, the Rajatarangini of Kalhana is of exceptional importance. The vision of the author is mainly confined to the political narrative of Kashmir, yet one can discover in it significant references to social, political, economic and religious life of the age. The epics of the 13th century, such as the Padmananda-mahaksvya and the Naranarsyanananda, have also been profitably utilized. The latter is based on the achievements of the minister Vastupala of Gujarat. Another minor work on the same subject is the Kirtikaumudi.

The Gita-Govinda of Jayadeva, and the Sandesa Rasaka by Abdul Rahamana are the two chief minor poems. The former is primarily useful for understanding the religious life of the age, and the latter throws light on the lire in the city and popular amusements and pastimes.

The dramas of the age, especially the farces, as the Latakamelaka of Sankhadhara, who flourished in the reign of the Gahadavala king Govindacandra (12th century) of Kanauj, and the Karpura-carita and the Hasya-cudamani of Vatsaraja, the minister of king Paramardideva (A.D.1163-1203) of the Candella dynasty, are more useful for a student of social history, for they seek to hold up to ridicule the social follies and vices of the age. Though we find in them some realistic picture of the contemporary social types and institutions, yet to rely on them without taking into consideration the Sanskrit dramatic tradition would be risky. The other minor plays of Vatsaraja are the Rukmini-harana, the Tripuradaha and the Samudramathana. The allegorical plays which contain interesting references to contemporary social life are the Prabodha-candrodaya, written to commemorate the victory of the Candella king Krrtivarrnan, by Krsnamisra (end of the 11th century), and the Moharaja-parajaya by Yasahapala, which is based on the activities of Jainism and king Kumarapala's beneficent regulations. The Hammtra-mada-mardana, composed in the early part of the 13th century by Jayasimha Suri, also yields some useful social and historical data.

Of the collections of tales, the Kaths-sarit-sagara of Somadeva and the Brhat-katha-manjari of Ksemendra were composed in the 11th century. Based as they are, directly or indirectly, on Gunadhya's Brhatkatha, which is a much earlier work, their evidence can be utilized only by way of corroborating certain conclusions formed on the basis of more dependable sources. However, the Akhyanaka-mani-kosa (12th century), the Udayasundari-kaths of soddhala (11 century), the Tilaka-manjari (11th century), the Kathakosa-prakarana (V.S. 11 08), the Bhavisayatta kaha of Dhanapala, the Kathakosa (10th century), the upamitri –bhava-prapanca katha (A.D. 906) of Siddharsi, the Samaraiccakaha, the Kuvalayamala-katha, etc., are more or less independent works, and, as such, they ate places reflect more the atmosphere of the early medieval period.

The number of dharma-nibandhas and Smrti-commentaries written in the 12th century is quite remarkable. But for their pronounced tendency of repeating the ancient ideals and traditions, they might have been very useful. The Krtyakalpataru of Laksmidhara, the most stupendous work of the twelfth century, is nothing but a huge mass of compilation from the Dharamasastra works and the Puranas, in which comments are only few and far between. The Dharmasastra works are not to be wholly reliede upon for a historical knowledge of the contemporary conditions. To take an example, they do not throw light on the samanta system, which was a significant phenomenon of the age. Then again, the precise dates of some of them are unknown. However, a careful and critical study of the Smrtis, commentaries and law-digests of the early medieval period, in the light of the earlier and later Dharamasastra literature and the evidence from other sources, does throw some light on the social development and the changing values and attitudes of this age. Kane's History of Dharmasastra serves as an excellent groundwork for any research in this direction.

The satiric comic poetry of the Kashmirian Ksemendra, whose works of this nature tend to reveal the foIIies and vices of men, falls in the middle and second half of the 11th century''. They are undoubtedly of much use for a student of the history of social institutions. Ksemendra's chief works of this type are the Kala-vilasa, Samaya-matrka, Darpa-dalana, Sevya-sevakopadesa, Carucarya. Desodedsa, and Narma-mala, which throw revealing light on the contemporary social types and institutions.

The religious and philosophical literature of the post-Hara period also helps us in deciphering the growth of not only religious but also some social tendencies and institutions. The Hindu Puranas the lain Mahapuranas of Jinasena (9th century) and Puspadanta (10th century), the dohas of the Siddhas and the vast range of Tantric literature, the chronology of most of which unfortunately presents great difficulties, throw valuable light on the social and cultural conditions of the early medieval period. The researches of Hazra and others have made considerable addition to our knowledge of the material in the Hindu-Puranas, but not much attention has yet been paid to the lain Puranas, Like the Smrtis the Purana are also dominated by traditionalism; nevertheless, they do throw stray light on the contemporary conditions. But the absence of the critical editions of most Purana texts creates further difficulties in, handling their data. Some attempt has been made here to examine the Puranic evidence bearing on the medieval factor and to assess the social significance of the data contained in the Tantric works- Sudhanamala, Dakaranava, etc.

The works attributed to Bhoja (11th century) of Dhara, especially the Yuktikalpataru, a work on statecraft, and the Samanrangana-stura-dhara, a work on architecture, yield some valuable information. Some light on contemporary religious life and social attitudes and institutions is found in the didactic poems, e.g. the Kumarapala-pratibodha by Somaprabhacarya (12th century), and the Apabhramaa-kavya-trayi (the Upadesa-rasayana-rasa, the Kala-svarupa-kulakam and the Caccari) by Jinadatta Suri. The Aparajita-prccha is a work on architecture which was composed in the 12th century". We find in it a clear picture of the samanta-hierarchy and some incidental reference to social and economic life of the age. The Manasollasa of the Western Calukya king conditions of the age. The Varna-ratnakara of Jyotirisavara Kavise- kharacarya of Mithila is another compendium of knowledge. Though written in the early part of the 14th century, it reflects an earlier atmosphere- as well, and, as such, it has been utilized in the light of the evidence of contemporary sources. It throws some light on the influence of the Muslims on urban life also. Similarly, the Rajantti- ratnakara, the Vivada-ratnakara and the Grhastha-ratnakara of Candesvara Misra of Mithila belong to the thirteenth century but they look back to the traditions prevailing at the last stage of the early medieval period. Valuable social data is contained in the Lekhapaddhati (c. 13th century) 7 which is a collection of the model forms of legal and other documents. Another work of this nature containing earlier traditions is the Likhanavalt by Vidyapati (14th century).

Stray facts bearing on social institutions are also found in the works on astrology and omens, such as the Adbhuta-sagara by kings Ballalasena and laksmanasena of Bengal and the Narapatijaya carya svarodaya by Narhari of Gujarat. Lilavati, the renomned treaise on mathematics by bhaskaracarya of South India, yields some valuable information regarding the coins, weights and measures of the age. The contemporary lexica-the Desinawa mala and the Abhidhana-cintamani of Hemacandra, the Vaijayanti of Yadava prakasa ( 11the century); etc. –and the illustrations and citations by Hemacandra in his Prakrta-vyakarana also contain useful social data. The Ukti-vyakti-prakarana of Damodara pandita is a unique work affording stray glimpses of the social and economic life in the time of the Gahadavalas. The anthologies, i.e. the subhasita ratna kosa by vidyakara, the Sadukti-karnamrta by Sridhara, (12th century) of Bengal, and the Sukti-muktavali by Jalhana, breathe out to a certain extent the social atmosphere of the age. The Prakrta paingala, a work of the later medieval period, contains useful extracts from earlier works. The jaina-pustaka-prasasti-sangraha and the colophons of various manuscripts in the libraries of patan, Jaisalmere, and the India office, London furnish scanty yet significant bits of information.

The late prabandhas, i.e. the prabandha-cintamani of Merutunga, the prabandha-kosa of rajasekhara, and the Puratana prabandha- sangraha, also look back to the traditions of the early medieval period. They are of the nature of quasi-historical biographical works. They bardic literature – the Prthviraja, Rasa, the Visaladeva Raso, etc., though belonging to later times, contain traditions of the period under consideration. Their value for political history is doubtful; however, they are found to constitute ‘a valuable repository of information on the cultural history of the feudal times. Some muslime sources of the later medieval period, the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, the Tarikh –i-firishta, etc., throw valuable able light on some aspects of the conditions on the eve of the Turkish conquest of Northern India. For a proper understanding, however, the evidence they yield has got to be correlated with that gleaned from the other sources.

Being a broad – based niti work the sukraniti would have been of much value from our point of view, but, unfortunately, its date is highly controversial. Gustav oppert who edited the text (Madras, 1882) ascribed it to the fourth century A.D., B.K. Sarkar also supported the same view. V.S. Agrawal considered it to be the kautiliya Arthasastra of the gupta period. K.P. Jayaswal and A.S. Altekar placed it in the 8th century A.D. Rajendra lal Mitra, on the other hand, held that the work could not have been older than the sixteenth century A.D. they mention of gun and gun powder in it led Keith also to assigned it to the later medieval age. Some even regard it as a nineteenth century text on the basis of evidence which deserves consideration.


  Introduction ix
  Preface to the first edition xi
  Preface to the first edition xxiii
1 Castes, classes and the Family 1
2 Kings and coursts 156
3 Samantas and the Ruling Landed Aristocracy 189
4 Chivalry and Warfare 275
5 Villages and towns 322
6 Economic Life 343
7 Pursuit of Kama (The Life of Pleasure) 448
8 Religious Life 475
9 Education, Learning and Literature 553

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