The Chola Administration System
The Chola administration system was very well organised and efficient. The administration of Chola dynasty was essentially monarchical in character where the king was at the helm of the administration and all executive legislative and military powers rested with him.
A council of ministers and other high officials were there to advice the king for administration of Chola Empire. Even the princes of Chola dynasty were to associate with the ruling king and were actively employed in war and peace. Since the Chola empire was a big one there were many administrative divisions for the efficient working of the government.
The Chola Administration system did not had any central assembly either to assist the kings of Chola Dynasty in making policy or to help in day to day administration of the state like the Maurya administration. Since there was no central Assembly of the Vedic character, the king was alone responsible for efficient administration of the Chola Empire. The was a body of executive officers in the immediate and constant attendance of the king. Each department was represented by a group of officers. They were possibly personal staff rather than regular council of ministers. Rather they worked as liaison officers between the king and the bureaucracy.
The absolutism of the monarchy was tempered both by a ministerial council and by an organised administrative staff, the heads of the departments being also in close contact with the king, and often consulted by him. Royal towns also contributed to the efficiency of the Chola administration and the officers were paid by land assignments, and honored and encouraged by titles. Moreover the verbal orders were drafted by the Royal or Private Secretary. It is believed that in the days of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra Chola Deva, the Chief Secretary and another higher functionary officers had to confirm the royal orders before they were communicated to the parties concerned by the dispatch clerk. known as Vidaiyadhikari. Finally the local governors scrutinized the orders before they were registered and sent to Departments of Archives for preservation.
The Chola empire known as Rajyam or Rastrayam was divided into a number of provinces or Mandalam. The most important Mandalams were placed under the charges of the Viceroys who were generally the Princes of the royal blood or of noble families. We came to know that Rajaraja, the great, divided his empire into about eight Mandalams. Chola Princes were in the charges of the provinces of Vengi and Madura. Some of the provinces were formed of such principalities as had been annexed by the Chola imperialists. Besides there were the territories of the vassal princes, who paid tribute and rendered service to the Crown in times of needs. The provinces or Mandalams were subdivided into number of divisions known as Kottams or Valanadus. The next administrative subdivisions of Cholas were the districts (Nadus), each of which again consisted of a number of autonomous villages, unions or groups of villages, playing a vital part in the Chola administration system.
Though there was corporate activity in the economic and religious life and in the territorial divisions like Nadus and Nagarams or towns, there is ample evidence to show that these divisions had their own popular assemblies during the period of Chola ascendancy which exhibited the greatest and most comprehensive group activity. First we hear of the assembly of the people of the whole Mandalam in connection with the remission of certain taxes on land under its jurisdiction. Next the inscriptions refer to the ‘Nattar’ assembly of the people of a Nadu or district, and ‘Nagarattar’ or assembly of the mercantile groups which went by the generic name ‘Nagaram’. These two terms perhaps corresponded to the Janapada and Paura respectively. Unfortunately the details or their constitution and working are unknown. Besides local administration was greatly facilitated by the existence of guilds or ‘Srenis’, ‘Pugas’ and such other autonomous corporate organisations in which persons followed the same craft or calling binding themselves together.
The Chola Village Administration
The Chola village administration was very systematic and well developed. As regards the assemblies of the villages, the Chola inscriptions mention the assemblies called the ‘Ur’ and the ‘Sabha’ or ‘Mahasabha’ which were the gatherings of the adult male members of the Community.
The ‘Ur’ was the gatherings of the local residents to discuss matters without any formal rule or procedure. But the Sabha or Mahasabha was the assembly of the Brahmin Settlement (Agrahara) and it is this type about which our information’s are copious indeed from the inscriptions of the period.
Nothing is definitely known about the composition of the ‘Ur’. But this much we came to know that ‘Ur’ had an executive body, called “Abunganam” or “ganam” or “Miyalunganam.” Instead Sabha or Mahasabha had a more complex machinery of local administration. Inscriptions found in Tondamandalam and Cholamandalam describe us the activities of the Mahasabhas. The assemblies are found concentrated in certain regions, the major concentration being around Kanchi and minor one encircling Madras. The two Uttaramerur records of Prantika I of 919 and 921 A.D. contain resolutions passed by the local “Mahasabha” on the constitution of the Variyams or executive committees, the second resolution improving on and superseding the first. According to the regulation of 921 A.D. each of the thirty wards of the village was to nominate for selection of persons possessing the following qualifications:
- Ownership of more than 1/4th ‘Veli’ (about an acre and a half) of land,
- residence in a house built on One’s own site,
- age between 35 and 70,
- the knowledge of the ‘Vedic mantra-brahmanas’; in the alternative 1/8th Veli of land and knowledge of one Veda and a Bhasya.
The followings among others were excluded;
- those who had been on any of the committee but had failed to submit the accounts, together with all their specific relations,
- those who had committed incest or other great sins as well as their relations;
- those who had stolen the property of others etc.
From among the persons thus nominated one was to be chosen for each of the 30 Kudumbus or Words by Kudavolai or pot lot for a year in the manner so prescribed. Of the thirty so selected, 12 who were advanced in age and learning and had served on the garden and tank committees, were assigned to the Samvatsara-variyam or annual committee, 12 to the ‘totta-variyam’ or garden committee and 6 to the ‘erivariyam’ or tank committee. Two other committees were equally selected. They were the ‘Panchavira variyam’ or a standing committee and the ‘Ponvariyam’ or the Gold committee. The number of the committees and its members varied from villages to villages and no payment was made for their services. The members of the committee were called “Variyapperumakkal” and the Mahasabha was called “Perunguri” and its members ‘Perumakkal.” Ordinarily the assembly met in the village temple and occasionally under a tree or in the bank of a pond. There is no reference of voting or quorum. General questions were discussed in the assembly and resolutions were passed are recorded.
From the functions of these assemblies we can judge the extent of the Chola village autonomy. “The Mahasabha possessed the propriety rights over communal lands and controlled the private lands within its jurisdiction. The Chola village assembly was the absolute proprietor of the village lands. When fresh dealings were made the assembly became proprietor of those newly acquired lands. The assembly was to see that the cultivators were not harassed. The assembly could transfer its jurisdiction to other corporations or organisations. The Mahasabha was also concerned with the reclamation of forest and water lands. It cooperated with the royal officials in estimating the procedure of the cultivated land and assessing the land revenue due from the village. It also collected the revenue, and had also the right to realize the revenue in cases of default by selling the lands in question by public auction. Disputes concerning lands and irrigation rights were settled by it and in special cases, assemblies irrigation rights were settled by it and in special cases, assembly’s form the neighborhoods were requested to cooperate in arriving at a decision. It also enjoyed powers of taxation for purposes connected with the village, and of remission of such taxation for specific purposes. Instead of paying land revenue every year, a land owner could compound all his future dues to the local and central authority, by paying a fixed sum to the assembly.
The committee was assisted by paid officials who detected crimes. The Judicial committee “Nayattar” of the assembly was to settle disputes and award punishment to the guilty. Capital punishment was not given in all cases. The Chola administration of justice was rather lenient. “Riding on an ass” was a punishment given even for some serious type of crimes. The maintenance of road and irrigation works including tanks, supervision of religions, medical and eleemosynary endowments by the Dharmavariyam and making provisions for learning etc. from its own limited resources were the duties of the Mahasabha. Accounts were kept with meticulous care and were regularly checked by the accountants. The Chola government carried out land survey operations periodically. They were correct to the lowest fraction, and a record of holdings was maintained. In the earlier period rods of 16 or 18 spans were used for purposes of survey, but subsequently the foot print of Kulattunga I became the unit of liner measure. The main source of income of Chola Kindgom was the land revenue, which was normally 1/6th of the gross produce. Variation from this rate, however, depended on the quality of land and water facilities. Of course remission was sometimes granted in case of flood or famine. The royal dues were collected by the village assemblies and were paid either in cash or the kind or in both. The unit of grain was a “Kalam” or about three mounds and the current coin was the gold “Kasu.” The Chola government used to tap almost every conceivable sources of revenue to fill its treasury. The chief expenditure was mainly for royal household, maintenance of civil and military administration, planning and laying out of the cities, construction of temples, roads, irrigation channels and other works of public utility.