In what way, the administration of the Guptas was different with the Mauryas?
1. The Kings in Gupta era became more and more interested in local administration in comparison to Mauryas
2. The Gupta era saw an increasing trend of paying salaries in cash in comparison to Mauryas
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Following is an excerpt from Romila Thapar’s magnum opus. © 1966 Romila Thapar
The Gupta kings took exalted imperial titles – ‘the Great King of Kings, the Supreme Lord’, etc., yet in the case of the later rulers these titles were exaggerated, since their claimants could hardly compare with the emperors of earlier centuries, their political sway being limited. In the Ganges valley, which was under the direct control of the Guptas, the administrative hierarchy was superficially akin to that of the Mauryas. The king was the centre of the administration, helped by the crown prince. The other princes were appointed as viceroys of provinces. Ministers of various kinds and advisers assisted the king. The province (desha or bhukti) was divided into a number of districts (pradesha or vishaya), each district having its own administrative offices. But local administration was for all practical purposes independent of the centre. Decisions whether of policy or in relation to individual situations were generally taken locally, unless they had a specific bearing on the policy or orders of the central authority. The officers in charge of the districts (ayukta) and a yet higher provincial official (with the title of kumaramatya) were the link between local administration and the centre. This was the significant difference between the Mauryan administration and that of the Guptas: whereas Ashoka insisted that he must know of the doings of even the smaller officials in the districts, the Guptas were satisfied with leaving it to the kumaramatyas and the ayuktas.
The Gupta system of government did share some similarities with the Mauryan setup but was on the whole a different style of government. Like the Mauryan system the Gupta kings were the center of the administration. The empire was divided into several provinces each of which had viceroys who were appointed from amongst the members of the royal family. The provinces were further sub-divided into a series of districts. Each district had its own administrative centre. The local administration of the district was free to make decisions on governing the area, essentially free from central control, except in matters which may have dealt with central policies. The highest officer in a district was known as the kumaramatya and he was the link between centre and the district. Unlike their Mauryan predecessors, the Gupta kings were not concerned with every nuance of local administration leaving such matters to the kumaramatya.
Villages were organized under rural bodies which consisted of the headman and village elders. In the cities there was a council which had several officers like the President of the City corporation, the chief representative of the guild of merchants, a representative of the artisans and the chief scribe. The Gupta system of urban and rural administration was based on encouraging as much local participation unlike the Mauryan system where royally appointed councils were the norm.
A significant change that had taken place was the increasing trend of paying salaries in land grants rather then in cash. Land grants usually gave the beneficiary hereditary rights over the land, although technically the king retained the right to repossess the land if he was unhappy with the conduct of the beneficiary. Brahmins were usually granted tax free lands which was another concession to an already privileged class. Land grants undermined the authority of the king as more and more land was taken away from his direct control. Also since the beneficiaries of land grants were usually Brahmins or government officials the king was not really able to exercise the repossession option fearing political backlash. The government revenue essentially came from land as commercial activity was no longer as big a contributor as it once was. Land revenue came from a variety of sources, like direct tax on the land as well as a tax on the produce of the land.
The Guptas also had a fairly good judicial system. At the bottom, were various councils which were authorized to resolve disputes that arose. Examples of these were the village assembly or the trade guild. Hence justice was usually available in the place a person lived or worked. The king presided over the highest court of appeal and he was assisted by various judges, ministers and priests etc, their presence dependent on the nature of the case. The judgment were usually made based on legal texts, social customs or specific edicts from the king.
Another significant feature of this period was that salaries were sometimes paid not in cash but in grants of land, as is evident both from the frequency of land-grant inscriptions (in stone and metal) found from this period onwards and also from the specific reference to this practise by Hsuan Tsang in his account of India. Cash salaries were paid for military service alone. Land grants were of two varieties. One was the agrahara grant which was restricted to brahmans and was tax free
This question is a part of GKToday's Integrated IAS General Studies Module