This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
The minister must be a man fully informed in the knowledge of the duties of a king, equipped with learning by means of which to enforce those duties upon all about, and possessed of the skill and judgment to adopt the proper means for carrying out his object. In this manner each of the angas gets described and the whole of this political science occupies about 70 chapters, out of the 133 chapters of the work; that is, just a little more than half of it. But the point to be noticed here, as in the Niti Sastras of Sanskrit Literature, is that all this applies to the central government.
Such as it is described here the government seems at first sight to be an autocratic power dependant entirely upon the will of the individual man who occupies the throne for the time being. So it appears at first sight; on a careful analysis however it will be found that it is hedged in by so many restrictions, all of them enforceable by the will of the community so long as that community had an organisation to express that will. Such an organisation was provided by the assembly of ministers, who constituted five groups. These were the priest, the great accountant, the Brahman judges, the tax-collectors and the secretarial establishment; that is how the old classic 'Silappadhikaram' defines it. Of these groups two were composed of individuals. The other three constituted boards, apparently with establishments of their own. When a king died, it was the charge of this "group of five" to consider what had next to be done, the choice of a successor, even where the succession was hereditary and the making of the arrangements for the carrying on the administration. It is in a connection like that, that this group of people are brought in in the work under reference. In another connection, regarding the consecration of a temple only the first three of these figure along with the sculptors and architects. Thus then this council had a recognised standing, and they were susceptible to public opinion. What the force of that public opinion was, and how far it expressed itself effectively we have no means of ascertaining definitely. But as we shall see the documents that issued under the Chola administration do require the counter-signature of two at least of the ministers for their validity, an indication of their responsibility in regard to the matter. These ministers are referred to as men of unchanging word and appeared like the four divisions of the foreign Kosar, omitting the accounts officers in that particular, by the author of the poem Maduraik-Kanji. That would mean that these ministers were expected to speak their minds fearlessly and did do so oftentimes.
The central administration thus constituted had first of all to provide for the defences of the country by occupying the frontier fortresses provided with adequate defences both in material and men. They had to see to the prevalence of peace and goodwill within the country by interceding in disputes between communities and corporations. They had to be constantly on the look-out for means of increasing the prosperity and fertility of the country, thereby increasing their own revenues and warding off such evils as may befall the people or their property and interfere with the prosperity of the community as a whole. There their duties ended.
Local administration was carried on entirely by popular assemblies constituted under a form of election and lot combined so that these administrative bodies may be regarded as aristocratic in character with a democratic responsibility. Elaborate regulations were laid down for their constitution. Serious misdemeanour disabled not only the individual, but all of his relations of the first degree from the exercise of political franchise. Judgment in regard to the misdemeanour was the judgment of the community, and that was perhaps the most effective way possible then of making representatives responsible to the community as a whole. The property qualification was the possession of about an acre and a half of land. The alternative educational qualification laid down consisted in the capacity to recite a Veda in the orthodox fashion or the capacity to expound one of the Brahmanas, which required perhaps a more or less equal degree of intelligence and effort. A town or a community was divided into wards, according to size and the worthy men in the wards were registered. Prom out of this group of the worthy men, the men that actually constituted the administrative bodies, were chosen by lot. The village accountant was the umpire in all matters of dispute and had to hold himself unconcerned in matters of material interest with the various communities constituting the township. A large committee thus chosen was broken up into sub-committees, generally into 5 or 6, each with its duty defined. There were committees for the supervision of tanks, committees for looking after temples, and a number of other committees like that. One committee however seems to stand out distinct from all these. It is called by the compound name panchavaravariyam. The last word 'variyam' seems to mean control, training or discipline, such as in the expression vasi-variyan or horse-trainer. These were probably men who had to control the affairs of the community generally from day to day, and the previous word pancha seems to indicate that that body was composed of five members. That was the supreme panchayat, under whose control, the various committees carried on the details of the administration. Where general matters were concerned, they were brought before the assembly as a whole and discussed, and resolutions were arrived at. It was the duty of the village accountant to keep a faithful record of all these and that is why he was expected to keep himself uncontaminated by the party politics of that locality.
These local bodies practically controlled all revenue matters included in the revenue administration of modern times. They had charge of the communal lands; they controlled the division of land among the members of the community under their charge. They arranged for the reclamation of uncultivated wastes by giving them to enterprising cultivators on favourable terms beginning with free cultivation gradually rising through a series of years to the normal revenue roll of the district according to the quality of the land. If individuals or communities or even royalty wished to purchase lands to make gifts to temples, the Brahmans or to some other party or body, the village assembly had to make the necessary preliminary enquiries, assessed the value of the land, arranged for its purchase and completed the transaction. It is on a satisfactory report from them that the final order for the conveyance of the property was made from the head-quarters. The community received the compensation in the case of communal lands and administrated it at their discretion. It was they that estimated the outturn of particular holdings and assessed the revenue thereon, which sometimes was less than the dues according to the revenue register, sometimes even exceeding it. The state seems however to have carried out general surveys and classification of lands, and we have references to three such surveys in the records that have come to us. The first of these was urdertaken in the reign of Raja Raja A. D. 985-1016. The next one was apparently a local revision settlement for some reason or other, which is not clearly explained to us, under his son Rajendra A. D. 1011-1011. The next one which seems to be more or less a general survey under Kulottunga A. D. 1070-1118. The last operation was undertaken in the year A. D. 1080, the year of the Doomsday-survey in England. Holdings were carefully registered and they were correctly measured, or calculated correct to 1/52000 th of a square inch.