The majority of the people lived in villages and worked farming the staple crops of rice, pulses, and cotton in the dry areas and sugarcane in areas having sufficient rainfall, with areca and betel being the chief cash crops. The living conditions of the laborers who farmed the land were bearable as no records of revolts by the landless against wealthy landlords were discovered. If peasants were dissatisfied the common practice was to migrate in great numbers away from the authority of the ruler who mistreated them, thereby depriving him of revenue from their labor.
Taxes were levied on mining and forest products, and supplementary income was raised through tolls for the exercise of transportation facilities. The state also collected fees from customs, professional licenses, and judicial fines. Records exhibit that horses and salt were taxed as well as commodities (gold, textiles, perfumes) and agricultural produce (black pepper, paddy, spices, betel leaves, palm leaves, coconuts and sugar). Land tax evaluation was based on recurrent surveys evaluating the eminence of land and the type of produce. Chalukya records specifically mention black soil and red soil lands in addition to wetland, dry land and wasteland in determining taxation rates.
Key figures mentioned in inscriptions from rural areas were the Gavundas (officials) or Goudas. The Gavundas belonged to two levels of economic strata, the Praja Gavunda (people`s Gavunda) and the Prabhu Gavunda (lord of Gavundas). They served the dual purpose of representing the people before the rulers as well as functioning as state appointees for tax collection and the raising of militias. They are mentioned in inscriptions related to land transactions, irrigation maintenance, village tax collection and village council duties.
The association of commercial enterprises was common in the 11th century. Almost all arts and crafts were prearranged into guilds and work was completed on a corporate basis; records do not reveal individual artists, sculptors and craftsman. Merchants structured themselves into influential guilds transcending political divisions, allowing their maneuvers to be largely unaltered by wars and revolutions. Their only threat was the prospect of theft from brigands when their ships and caravans traveled to distant lands. Powerful South Indian merchant guilds included the Manigramam, the Nagarattar and the Anjuvannam. Local guilds were called nagaram, while the Nanadesis were traders from neighbouring kingdoms who perhaps mixed business with pleasure.
The wealthiest and most dominant and renowned amongst South Indian merchant guilds was the self styled Ainnurruvar, also known as the 500 Svamis of Ayyavolepura (Brahmins and Mahajanas of present day Aihole), who conducted extensive land and sea trade and thereby contrbuted significantly to the total foreign trade of the empire. It severely confined its trade obligations (Vira Bananjudharma or law of the noble merchants) while its members frequently recorded their achievements in inscriptions called Prasasti. Five hundred such excavated Prasasti inscriptions, with their individual flag and the bull as their emblem, record their pride in their business.
Rich traders contributed significantly to the king`s treasury through paying import and export taxes. The edicts of the Aihole Svamis mention trade ties with foreign kingdoms such as Chera, Pandya, Maleya (Malayasia), Magadh, Kaushal, Saurashtra, Kurumba, Kambhoja (Cambodia), Lata (Gujarat), Parasa (Persia) and Nepal. Travelling both land and sea routes, these merchants traded mostly in precious stones, spices and perfumes, and other specialty items such as camphor. Business flourished in precious stones such as diamonds, lapis lazuli, onyx, topaz, carbuncles and emeralds. Commonly traded spices were cardamom, saffron, and cloves, while perfumes included the by-products of sandalwood, bdellium, musk, civet and rose. These items were sold either in bulk or hawked on streets by local merchants in towns. The Western Chalukyas proscribed most of South India`s west coast and by the 10th century they had established extensive trade ties with the Tang Empire of China, the empires of Southeast Asia and the Abbasid Caliphate in Bhagdad, and by the 12th century Chinese fleets were frequenting Indian ports.
Exports to China included textiles, spices, medicinal plants, jewels, ivory, rhino horn, ebony and camphor. The same products also reached ports in the west such as Dhofar and Aden. The final destinations for those trading with the west were Persia, Arabia and Egypt. The prosperous trade center of Siraf, a port on the eastern coast of the Persian Gulf, served an international clientele of merchants including those from the Chalukya Empire who were feasted by wealthy local merchants during business visits.
An indicator of the Indian merchants` importance in Siraf comes from records describing dining plates reserved for them. In addition to this, Siraf received aloe wood, perfumes, sandalwood and condiments. The most expensive import to South India was Arabian horse shipments, this trade being dominated by Arabs and local Brahmin merchants. Thirteenth century traveler Marco Polo recorded that the breeding of horses never succeeded in India due to differing climatic, soil and grassland conditions.