Mehtab Chand (1820-79), the zamindar of the Burdwan feudal estate in Bengal.

Indian feudalism refers to the feudal society that made up India's social structure until the formation of Republic of India in the 20th century.

A Maratha Durbar showing the King (Raja) and the nobles (Sardars, Jagirdars, Istamuradars & Mankaris) of the state.


Use of the term feudalism to describe India applies a concept of medieval European origin, according to which the landed nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord's land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection. The term Indian feudalism is used to describe Taluqdar, Zamindar, Jagirdar, Zaildar, Ghatwals, Mulraiyats, Sardar, Mankari, Thakurs, Jotedar, Deshmukh, Deshpande, Desai, Chaudhary, Nayak, Nair, Naduvazhi and Samanta. Most of these systems were abolished after the independence of India and the rest of the subcontinent. D. D. Kosambi and R. S. Sharma, together with Daniel Thorner, brought peasants into the study of Indian history for the first time.[1]


Main article: Zamindars of Bihar

The Bihar region (now a state) of India was a hotbed for feudalism. Feudal lords ruled the region for decades; semi-feudal conditions still exist. As a result, child malnourishment is common, in spite of modern Bihar's status as having the fastest growth in gross domestic product in India.[2]


Doras and deshmukhs ruled the region until Hyderabad's annexation. They held all the land in their fief and everybody used to give their produce, and they used to be given barely enough food for sustenance. The rebellion against feudal lords, known as Vetti Chakiri Udhyamam, from 1946 to 1951 in Telangana region called as Telangana Rebellion illustrates the feudal society in the region.[3] The feudal lords used to reside in a high fortress called as Gadi,[4] for entering it they leave their footwear at the threshold of the gadi. The madigas and other backward classes were required to carry their footwear in their hands if they were passing in front of the gadi or dora.

A famous line which is repeated by the oppressed was “Banchen Dora née Kalmoktha (I am your slave my lord, I bow to your feet).[5] Shyam Benegal's films Ankur and Nishant depict Telangana's feudalism grahically. A Telugu film blockbuster, Maa Bhoomi, showed the society under feudal lords.

The Srikrishna committee on Telangana says in its findings that there is still gross injustice to the land tillers of the region, the villains, in this case, were landlords of Telangana and not those of other regions.[6]


Main article: History of medieval Kerala

There were a number of feudal states in Kerala in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Era between the rule of Chera dynasty and the British rule (smaller feudal estates remained even during British rule). In Kerala, Kshatriyas, Nairs, and Samantha Kshatriyas were prominent during feudalism. Nairs acted as both feudals as well as warriors.

Madhya Pradesh

Initially, Madhya Pradesh was inhabited by numerous tribes who lived in densely forested regions with no semblance of authority. However, sometime after the fall of the Yadavas of Devagiri, a feudal structure began emerging among these tribes.[7] Many petty chieftains belonging to tribes such as the Gonds began ruling small areas in Madhya Pradesh which they sometimes fortified as a defensive measure against Islamic kingdoms such as the Malwa Sultanate and Bijapur Sultanate. Gond chieftains such as that of Lanji in Balaghat district ruled from strong forts called garhs. These tribal zamindars served their overlord kingdom in times of war but could also be a nuisance when they rebelled.[8]

These zamindars enjoyed privileges under the native Gond kingdoms such as Garha-Mandla, Chanda and Deogarh. However, after the Maratha conquest of these regions by general Raghuji Bhonsle, these zamindars were displaced from the plains and were forced to retreat into the forest areas. They had to pay tribute to Raghuji Bhonsle and his descendants from then on, and often rebelled against the later oppressive Maratha rule.[8] Many of these zamindars rebelled in the Revolt of 1857 against the English East India Company, were defeated, their leaders killed and the feudal lands annexed to direct British territory as a result. However, some of them were still ruling after 1857 but their family lines died out and those who survived gave up their estates in exchange for pensions.

Madras Presidency

Main article: List of zamindari estates in Madras Presidency

Several zamindaris were established in the Madras Presidency (present-day Tamil Nadu and adjoining areas) from 1799 onwards. The largest of these were Arni, Ramnad, Ganapur and Sivaganga. The zamindari settlement was based on a similar settlement established in Bengal. The Zamindari settlement of Madras was largely unsuccessful and was wrapped up in 1852. However, a few Zamindaris remained till India's independence in 1947.

North Arcot

North Arcot region was under Jagirdars until the Indian independence. The largest estate was that of Arni, a deshastha royal family. Arni estate was larger than Sandur princely state.

Northern Andhra

The Northern Andhra region was under Telaga doras until the Indian Independence. The largest estate was that of Vizianagram under the Poosapati kshatriya family which was liberal and enlightened.


The Rayalaseema region was under Ayyagaru until the independence. The largest estate was that of Panyam; which was ruled by a deshastha royal family of Vishvamitra gotra and was liberal and enlightened.


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The feudal lords in Vidarbha region are notorious for their oppressive rule.

In literature

See also


  1. ^ Habib, Irfan (2007). Essays in Indian History. Tulika. p. 109. ISBN 978-81-85229-00-3.
  2. ^ B Vijay Murty (2010-12-16). "Food that's not fit for humans". Hindustan Times. Archived from the original on 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-10-14.
  3. ^ I Thirumali. Dora and. Gadi: Manifestation of Landlord. Domination in Telangana.
  4. ^ "Spat over portfolio". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 13 August 2004. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  5. ^ "KCR's comments on Nizam's rule raise hackles NEWS ANALYSIS". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 8 December 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  6. ^ Panel finds no data to prove T backwardness, Deccan Chronicle Archived December 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Gonds". Gonds' Rise to power- Chanda District Gazetteer. Gazetteers Department: Maharashtra. 1973.
  8. ^ a b Prasad, Archana (1999). "Military Conflict and Forests in Central Provinces, India: Gonds and the Gondwana Region in Pre-colonial History". Environment and History. 5 (3): 361–375. ISSN 0967-3407.
  9. ^ "Saraswatichandra (1968)". January 21, 2010. Retrieved Feb 8, 2013.