JAGIRDARI, a feudal system of political and revenue administration based on jagir, lit. fief or grant of land received from the sovereign or a vassal owing fealty and obedience to him. Sikhs who, after the fall of Sirhind in early 1764, started occupying territory, did not automatically take to the jdgirdari system in vogue since the Sultanate and Mughal periods. Heads of various Sikh misis and lesser sarddrs or commanders had under them vast tracts of land, but their holdings were not jdgirs in the sense that they were owed to no sovereign above them.

As the legend on the coins first struck by the Sikhs in 1765 signifies, they considered themselves part of the collective body called the Panth Panth which derived its sovereignty from the Guru (and God). According to anonymous author of a contemporary work, HaqiqatiBind wa Uruji Firqdi Sikkhdn, even he who had only two horses and acquired a single village as his own jdgird`id not owe allegiance to anyone else.

Stray instances however arc not lacking of the chiefs of Sikh misis giving jdgirs to persons serving them in civil or military capacity, but jdgirdari as a system of service jdgirs or revenue free land grants in lieu of salary for services became a distinctive feature of the Sikh revenue administration only under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). According to figures given by Henry T. Prinscp, Origin of the Sikh Power in {.he Punjab and Political l.ife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1834), over 42 per cent of the total revenue from land was alienated by the Maharaja in favour of all kinds ot`jdglrddrs. Some of the jdgirddrs of the former chiefs were also taken into service and paid through jdgirs.

Mos`t jdgirs, oilier than some dharmdrlh jdgirs which were given in perpetuity, were temporary, usually for the lifetime of the grantees. The jdgirdar was given the right to collect revenue either in cash or kind as it might suit the convenience of tlic cultivators. A fixed part of the revenue, normally 12.5 per cent was payable to the State. Judicial powers, both civil and criminal, were vested in the jdgirdar, but he could not interfere with traditional proprietory rights of the cultivators. Conditions of grant were laid down. For instance, in the case of military jdgirdar, the portions for persona] service and for the maintenance of a specified number of horsemen were distinctly mentioned.

Though one and the same person could be asked alternatively to perform civil or military duties, distinction between civil and military officers was generally clear. Thus while Avi labile was essentially a civil administrator, Ventura was a military commander. Instances were also there of a jdgir granted to more than one person with their individual shares severally fixed. This was a legacy from the old patfiddn system. Next in importance to service and subsistence ^a^re were the dharmdrth j aginor land grants for charitable purposes. These grants made both by the sovereign and the vassal chiefs, and even by subordinate jdgirddrs, were usually permanent.

As a rule, d jdgirdar could make further grants of a permanent nature only if he held his own jdgir permanently, which was rare, most jdgirs being for a life tenure. Most dharmdrth grants were therefore also for the grantees` life, but since the grants were normally attached to institutions of permanent nature, they were almost always renewed by succeeding rulers, chiefs and jdgirddrs and thus tended to be permanent. Maharaja Ranjit Singh as well as his predecessors, the misi chiefs, made liberal dharmdrth grants without discrimination on religious basis. Temples, mosques, takids, d.erds, khdnaqdhs, serais as well as gurudwaras, and UdasTs, faqirs, Brahmans as well as Sikh saints were equally the beneficiaries.

The Jagirdari system under the Sikh rule did not affect the basic system of land tenures. The bulk of the cultivators continued to be peasant proprietors of their holdings, paying land revenue direct to the State in case of Khalisa lands and to the fief holders in case of jagirs. Tenants were divided into two broad categories: muzdri` dnimustaqil or maurusi and muzdri`dnighairmustqil or ghairmaurusl, the former preponderating. Those who brought forest land under cultivation were treated as muzan`dnimaurust or occupancy tenants and could not be ejected at will.

References :

1. Banga, Indu, Agrarian System of thf Sikhs. Delhi, 1978