Samanta

Samanta

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Samanta was a title and position used by the India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n nobility
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

. The institution of Samanta finds mention for the first time in epigraphs of northern India dating to the 6th century. The institution is considered to belong properly to the Gupta Empire
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

 and is closely associated with the origin and growth of feudalism in India.

However, the institution is known to have existed prior to the Gupta
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

 period, though details on them are vague. A Pallava
Pallava
The Pallava dynasty was a Tamil dynasty which ruled the northern Tamil Nadu region and the southern Andhra Pradesh region with their capital at Kanchipuram...

 inscription dating to the time of Santivarman (AD 455 - 470) uses the term Samanta-Chudamanayah (best feudatories). The Samanta in South-India was used to mean a vassal to an emperor. In North-India, the earliest use of the term in a similar sense was in Bengal in the Barabar Hill Cave Inscription of the Maukhari Chief, Anantavarman (dating 6th century AD) in which his father is described as the Samanta-Chudamanih (best among feudatories) of the imperial Guptas.

The Samanta vassal provided military support to the Monarch and governed over a portion of a territory. In South-India, the Samantas originated from different clans and took the title Raju.

Early development


The term 'Samanta' originally meant a 'neighbour' and in the Mauryan period, the term referred to the independent ruler of an adjoining territory as is evident from its use in the Arthashastra and Ashokan edicts. The 'border-kings' (pratyan-tanripati) mentioned by Samudragupta
Samudragupta
Samudragupta , ruler of the Gupta Empire , and successor to Chandragupta I, is considered to be one of the greatest military geniuses in Indian history according to Historian V. A. Smith. His name is taken to be a title acquired by his conquests...

 in his Allahabad prashasti were such Samantas in the original use of the term.

However, the term underwent a change, and came to mean a 'vassal' by the end of the Gupta period and in the post-Gupta
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

 period. In fact the institution of the Samanta was the main innovation that distinguished the post-Gupta period from the periods of ancient India. By the end of the Gupta period and by the 6th century the term Samanta came to be universally accepted as the Prince of a subjugated but reinstated tributary region.

Early kingdoms of Medieval India would surround themselves with a "Samanta-Chakra", that is, a 'circle of tributary chiefs'. By the time of King Harsha
Harsha
Harsha or Harsha Vardhana or Harshvardhan was an Indian emperor who ruled northern India from 606 to 647 AD. He was the son of Prabhakara Vardhana and younger brother of Rajya Vardhana, a king of Thanesar, Haryana...

vardhana, the institution of the Samanta had become well-developed and the Samantas came to be considered powerful figures. In order to integrate them into the hierarchy of the realm they were often given high positions in the court. One such example is the king of Vallabhi
Vallabhi
Vallabhi is an ancient city located in Saurashtra peninsula in Gujarat, in western India, near Bhavnagar. Also known as Vallabhipura, it was the capital of the ancient Maitraka dynasty.- Origins and history :...

 who was defeated by King Harsha
Harsha
Harsha or Harsha Vardhana or Harshvardhan was an Indian emperor who ruled northern India from 606 to 647 AD. He was the son of Prabhakara Vardhana and younger brother of Rajya Vardhana, a king of Thanesar, Haryana...

 and became a Maha-Samanta. This Vallabhi
Vallabhi
Vallabhi is an ancient city located in Saurashtra peninsula in Gujarat, in western India, near Bhavnagar. Also known as Vallabhipura, it was the capital of the ancient Maitraka dynasty.- Origins and history :...

 King then rose under Emperor Harsha
Harsha
Harsha or Harsha Vardhana or Harshvardhan was an Indian emperor who ruled northern India from 606 to 647 AD. He was the son of Prabhakara Vardhana and younger brother of Rajya Vardhana, a king of Thanesar, Haryana...

 to the position of a Maha-Pratihara (guardian of the royal gateway or the royal door-keeper) and went on to become a Maha-Danda-Nayaka (Royal Field Marshal). In effect, the institution of the Samanta brought rulers of fragmented or tribalistic, small independent regions under subjugation to serve the king or emperor as vassals.

The office of the Samanta represented a semantic change in state formation from an independent neighbour to a tributary chief and finally to a high ranking court official.

Types of Samantas


The poet Banabhatta
Banabhatta
Bāṇabhaṭṭa , also known as Bāṇa, was a Sanskrit scholar and poet of India. He was the Asthana Kavi in the court of King Harshavardhana, who reigned in the years c. 606–647 CE in north India...

 describes several types of Samantas in his work, Harsha Charita. Bana
Banabhatta
Bāṇabhaṭṭa , also known as Bāṇa, was a Sanskrit scholar and poet of India. He was the Asthana Kavi in the court of King Harshavardhana, who reigned in the years c. 606–647 CE in north India...

's Harshacharitra is the only work from which we know of various categories of Samantas. Bana
Banabhatta
Bāṇabhaṭṭa , also known as Bāṇa, was a Sanskrit scholar and poet of India. He was the Asthana Kavi in the court of King Harshavardhana, who reigned in the years c. 606–647 CE in north India...

 mentions a large number of conquered enemy Maha-Samantas in the royal camp who were probably waiting to be assigned their new duties.

Some types of Samantas mentioned by Banabhatta are:

1) Samanta: which signified the lowest and ordinary type of vassal.

2) Mahasamantha (Maha-Samanta): a step higher than a Samanta.

3) Shatrumahasamanta (Shatru-Maha-Samanta): a conquered enemy chief.

4) Aptasamanta (Apta-Samanta): those who willingly accepted vassalage and the emperor as their overlord.

5) Pradhanamahasamanta (Pradhana-Maha-Samanta): who were most trusted hands of the emperor and never disregarded their advice.

6) Pratisamanta (Prati-Saamanta): who were opposed to the king and meant a hostile vassal. Though hostile, all Samantas had military obligations. If they did not fulfill their obligations, the King could seize their territory and appoint a new Samanta. Despite that, some Samantas however, would keep trying to throw off their allegiance to the King and assert their own independent rule.

Banabhatta uses the term Anuraktamahasamanta (Anurakta-Mahasamanta) only once and it possibly meant those especially attached to their overlord.

Obligations of the Samanta


From the Harshacharitra, we understand that the Samanta had 5 duties. They are:

1) Paying yearly tributes to the emperor.

2) Paying homage to the emperor in person.

3) Defeated Samantas had to offer their sons and minor princes to the Emperor so that they are groomed in the imperial traditions and grow to be loyal to the emperor.

4) Render military aid to the emperor.

5) Perform administrative and judicial functions in times of peace.

In the nature of rendering military aid, paying tributes and performing administrative and judicial functions, the office of the Samanta is comparable to the office of the Nayaka which was followed by the Vijayanagar Empire.

The Samanta system was followed by several kingdoms across north and south India.

In South India


Some examples of Samantas in South India are:
  • In the Hoysala empire, samantas were feudal chiefs paying vassalitic homage to the Maharaja
    Maharaja
    Mahārāja is a Sanskrit title for a "great king" or "high king". The female equivalent title Maharani denotes either the wife of a Maharaja or, in states where that was customary, a woman ruling in her own right. The widow of a Maharaja is known as a Rajamata...

     and served the King as heredity governors. Some examples or names of the Hoysala heredity governors are Samanta Chattaya ruling Huliyara, Samanta Goyideva ruling Magare and Samanta Bankeya ruling Senavagere. Some such as Samanta Gandaraditya ruled over a larger territory of Arakere, Kaligunda, Kunduru, Belugere, etc. put together.
  • In the Chalukya empire, the Banas
    Bana Kingdom
    The Banas were a dynasty of South India, who claimed descent from the asura Mahabali. The dynasty takes its name from Bana, the son of Mahabali. The Banas faced opposition from several neighbouring dynasties and served some major dynasties such as the Cholas and Pandyas as feudatories, sometimes...

     under Vikramaditya Bali Indra Banaraja, the son of Balikula Tilaka Banaraja accepted the overlordship of the Chalukyas and proclaimed themselves as "Taruna Vasantham" and "Samanta Kesari".
  • In the Kakatiya
    Kakatiya
    The Kakatiya dynasty was an Indian dynasty that ruled most parts of what is now Andhra Pradesh, India from 1083 CE to 1323 CE, with Orugallu , now Warangal , as its capital. Orugallu is also called 'Eka Sila Nagaram'...

     dynasty some examples are of Gonka I who rose to become a viceroy and Beta I (AD 1000 - 1050). Beta I emerged from a status of the Samanta Vishti Vamsa, a feudatory family from among the Karma or Kamma
    Kamma (caste)
    Kamma or the Kammavaru is a social group that are classed as Upper Shudras is found largely in the Southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The Kamma population was 795,732 in the year 1881. According to 1921 census they constituted about 4.8% of Andhra Pradesh...

     Buddhist peasants and went on to become a feudatory prince within the Chalukya empire. Beta's son, Prola I, rose to become a Mahamandalesvara under the Chalukya King Someshvara. Further, the son of Prola I named Beta II (aka, Betha Raju) and his grandson named Prola II assumed princely status in the Kakatiya dynasty.
  • The office of the Samanta was also passed on as a matrilineal inheritance. An example is the Paduva Panamburu inscription of AD 1542 which refers to one Kinnika Samanta being succeeded by his Aliya (elder sister's son), Dugganna Samant, a Jain Chieftain of Mulki
    Mulki
    Mulki is a panchayat town in Dakshina Kannada district in the Indian state of Karnataka. It is on the banks of Shambhavi River. It was earlier known as Moolikapur, turned to Mulki. A small town with people of diverse religions, it is 10 km north of Suratkal. Karnad is a locality within...

    . The Chiefs of Mulki served as Samantas and patronized Jainism.

In North India

  • The Samanta feudatories of Sagakula were called 'Sahi' and their overlord was called 'Sahanu Sahi' (King of Kings). The location of Sagakula is unknown. The Jaina saint Kalaka describes in his "Kalakacarya Kathanaka", that a group of Saka
    Saka
    The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

     kings called Sahi kings were induced to come to India from 'Sagakula'. And, after crossing the Indus, they captured Kathiawar and Ujjayini and installed their own Sahi as the "King of Kings" and began a dynasty. The Sagakula were probably Saka-Kula Western Satraps who had been expelled from Seistan
    Sistan
    Sīstān is a border region in eastern Iran , southwestern Afghanistan and northern tip of Southwestern Pakistan .-Etymology:...

     by Mitradates-II
    Mithridates II of Parthia
    Mithridates II the Great was king of Parthian Empire from 123 to 88 BC. His name invokes the protection of Mithra. He adopted the title Epiphanes, "god manifest" and introduced new designs on his extensive coinage....

     of Parthia.
  • It is suggested that Adisura ruled over a small portion of northern Bengal and Bihar as a Samanta king during the Pala rule.
  • A samanta king (sub-ordinate ruler) named Sarangadeva or Kesari of the Somavamsi family is said to have probably ruled Sarang-Garh in Orissa.
  • Bardhamman
    Bardhaman
    'Bardhaman or Burdwan , is a city of West Bengal state in eastern India. It is the headquarters of Bardhaman District....

     was ruled by a Samanta king, Ichai Ghosh or Iswani Ghosh of the Sadagope community, which his desdendents held as a zamindari.

In Nepal


In the Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

i realm of the Maharaja of Licchavi
Licchavi
Licchavi was an ancient kingdom in Nepal, which existed in the Kathmandu Valley from approximately 400 to 750. Centuries earlier, at the start of the Buddhist era a powerful republic known as Licchavi existed in what is today Bihar. There is no conclusive evidence of any ethnic or historic links...

, samantas held feudal domains and played a major part at court. Samantas played a role in other Nepali Kingdoms as well.

DR Regmi writes that in Nepal the Samanatas adopted high sounding titles such as Maharaja and Maharajadhiraja at a time when they were just Samantas (vassals). An example is an inscription in which a Samanta of Changu area, named Amsu-Varma, adopted the title of Maharajadhiraja. They were not seen giving up the title of Samanta even after adopting a higher sounding title. One such example is Mahasamanta Maharaja Sri Karmalilah.

Regmi compares this situation with the Indian side, where the title of Maharaja was used by both, the King as well as his feudatories, such as the feudatory of Sasnaka in Midnapore
Midnapore
Midnapore is the district headquarters of Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. It is situated on the banks of the Kangsabati River . This area had taken a pioneering role in India's freedom struggle...

, Sri Samanta Maharaja Samadatta, who ruled Dandabhukti of Utkala.

The position of a Samanta was also acquired by marrying into the ruling family. An example is Baliraja of Chaughan Rajasthanakot of Jumla
Jumla (town)
Jumla is the capital of the Jumla District in the Karnali Zone of Nepal, a landlocked country of Southeast Asia. The town is located at an altitude of 2514 metres .-Geography:...

 who was made a Samanta Raja of the state after he married the daughter of Medinivarma who was the heiress of Semja. After marriage, Baliraja was virtually the head of all feudatory chiefs of the kingdom. This was elucidated in a copper-plate inscription of 1404 AD.

Samanta Raju


This compound Indian title refers to a territorial vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

 or governor
Governor
A governor is a governing official, usually the executive of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the head of state...

 (a person who provides military support and governs a territory) under a king or monarch
Monarch
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

 in exchange for certain guarantees) in South India. This should not be confused with the titles given in the colonial British India.

Sources and references