The problem of Mirasi right emerged in this process of trial and error in establishing the British revenue policy in the early nineteenth century. The Mirasi right had one of its roots in the village or land grant made to Brahmins and officials by the Chola and Pandyan kings. A detailed analysis of the issue of Mirasi rights has been made in the Ellis report. The contents and formulae of those documents are very similar to those of the Chola and Vijayanagar inscriptions recording land sale or donation, which facilitates the study of the problems of Mirasi right historically.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries form one of the most important periods in the long course of South Indian history, as did the thirteenth century. The latter was an important transitional period, during which Chola rule came to an end and a new agrarian order appeared in the lower Kaveri River valley and other places. Similarly, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially the former, some important socio-economic changes took place in Tamil Nadu, particularly in the Chingleput area. Both periods were marked by constant warfare and unstable political conditions. However, an important difference is noticeable between these two periods: for, though one can regard the change from Chola rule to the Vijayanagar one in and after the thirteenth century as reflecting indigenous developments, in the latter period native forces were entangled with an element brought from outside, the British.
The Ryotwari system introduced by the East India Company into South India at the beginning of the nineteenth century left such a rigid imprint on socio-economic relationships in the villages that even present-day agrarian problems in South India frequently derive from it. The Ryotwari system, introduced to create a new landholding class of medium standing, was itself superimposed on traditional landholding systems. Therefore, even though the Ryotwari system was intended to replace the systems then prevailing, the old systems of landholding and also the production patterns based on them survived, and continued to function as factors affecting agrarian conditions in the South till the present day. Therefore, in examining the problems affecting South Indian agrarian conditions not only the Ryotwari system but also the earlier land tenure system must be taken into account.
Source Materials for studying revenue system in South India
The source materials for studying agrarian problems and particularly land tenures in South India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fall into three categories. Of first type are survey reports made by British administrators who tried to introduce three or four different land systems in the period from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century. As their surveys were made with the sole view of finding out from whom they should collect land revenues, the reports do not necessarily provide all the information needed. However, there are some important reports, for example, the famous Fifth Report, the Papers on Mirasi Right, the Baramahat Records, etc., from which one can gather information on the actual conditions of land tenure at that time. One of the limitations of these reports, however, is that they mainly concern the period 1775-1820, and do not furnish information on the seventeenth century and a large part of the eighteenth century.
The second type of source consists of inscriptions and village documents. There are many stone inscriptions for the Vijayanagar period, but after the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire in the mid seventeenth century, the number of inscriptions declined sharply, and for the eighteenth century there are only a small number of inscriptions referring to the local rulers. Instead, from the eighteenth century, there appeared local village documents called Kaifiyat, which record the transactions, resolutions, etc. made in the villages. However, as these were mostly written on palm leaves, many of them have perished or been much damaged. Some did, however, survive independently or were preserved in the famous Mackenzie Collection, but many of these remain unpublished.
The third type of source is formed by Christian missionary documents and foreign travellers' accounts. Though they are concerned more with political events than agrarian conditions, they also provide some information on land tenures.