Early Vedic Age: The Vedic age began in India in about 1500 BC and extends upto 6000 BCE with the coming of the Aryans, who scattered on the plains of northern India. Max Muller believes it an anomaly to regard the race as Aryan because scientifically Aryan connotes nothing but language. The relationship between the race and language of these people with the classical languages of Europe was established by a Bavarian Franz Bopp in 1816.
Aryans developed Vedic culture based on Vedas. The meaning of the word Veda is "knowledge", the best of all knowledge in the eyes of Hindus. It is a collection of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies and sacrificial formulae. There are four Vedas, namely, Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.
Origin of Aryans
Some scholars, such as Max Muller and Dr. Thapar, believe that originally, the Aryans seem to have lived somewhere in the area east of Alps, in the region known as Eurasia, the region of the Caspian Sea and the southern Russian steppes, and gradually dividing into a number of tribes migrated in search of pasture, to Greece and Asia Minor, to Iran and to India. By that time, they came to be known as Aryans. This is proved by some Aryan names mentioned in the Kassite inscriptions of 1600 BC and the Mitanni inscriptions of the fourteenth century BC, found in Iraq which suggest that from Iran a branch of the Aryans moved towards the west.
Original Home of Aryans
Penka and Hert
Pt. Laxmidhar Shastri
Aryans arrival in India
The Aryans came to India in several waves. The earliest wave is represented by the Rig Vedic people who appeared in the subcontinent in about 1500 BC. They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called the Dravidians mentioned as dasa or dasyus in Rig Veda. The Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by Divodasa, who belonged to the Bharata clan. Possibly the dasyus in the Rig Veda represent the original inhabitants of the country, and an Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadvasyu. The Aryan chief was soft towards the dasas, but strongly hostile to the dasyus. The term dasyuhatya, slaughter of the dasyus, is repeatedly mentioned in the Rig Veda.
Some of the chief tribes of the period were Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu Puru, Kuru, Panchala, Bharata and Tritsu. Among the inter-tribal conflicts the most important was the 'Battle of the Ten Kings.'
Rig Vedic Polity
The administrative machinery of the Aryans in the Rig Vedic period worked with the tribal chief in the centre. He was called rajan. Although his post was hereditary, we have also some traces of election by the tribal assembly called the samiti. The king was called the protector of his tribe. He protected its cattle, fought its wars and offered prayers to gods on its behalf.
Several tribal assemblies, such as sabha, samiti, vidatha, and gana mentioned in the Rig Veda exercised deliberative, military and religious functions. Even women attended the sabha and vidatha in Rig Vedic times. But from the political point of view important were the sabha and samiti
In the day-to-day administration, the king was assisted by a few functionaries. The most important functionary seems to have been the purohita. The two priests who played a major part in the time of Rig Veda were Vasishtha and Visvamitra. The next important functionary seems to be the senani. Princes received from the people voluntary offering called bali.
There were cases of theft and burglary, and especially we hear of the theft of cows. Spies were employed to keep an eye on such unsocial activities. The officer who enjoyed authority over the pasture ground was called vrajapati. He led to the heads of the families called Kulapas. or the heads of the fighting hordes called gramanis to battle. The king did not maintain any regular or standing arymy, but in times of war he mustered a militia whose military functions were performed by different tribal groups called vrata, gana, grama, sardha.
Socio Economic Life in Rig Vedic Period
Tribal Organizatoin: Kinship was the basis of social structure. People gave their primary loyalty to the tribe, which was called jana. Another important term which stands for the tribe in the Rig Veda is vis. Probably the vis was divided into grama or smaller tribal units meant for fighting. When the gramas clashed with one another, it caused samgrama or war. The term for family (kula) is mentioned rarely in the Rig Veda. It seems that family in early Vedic Phase was indicated by term griha. Differentiation in family relationship leading to the setting up of seperate households had not proceeded far, and the family was a very large joint unit. It was obviously a patriarchal family headed by the father. Since it was a patriarchal society, the birth was desired again and again.
Marriage and Status of Women: The institution of marriage was established, although symbols of primitive practices survived, We also notice the practice of levirate and widow remarriage in the Rig Veda. The status of women was equal to men and they received Upanayana and education, studied Vedas and some of them even rose to the rank of seers composing Vedic hymns. Monogamy was established, though polygamy and polyandry were also known.
Varna System: Varna was the term used for colour, and it seems that the Aryans were fair and the indigenous inhabitants dark in complexion. The dasas and dasyus, who were conquered by the Aryans, were treated as slaves and sudras. Gradually, the tribal society was divided into three groups-warriors, priests and the people. The fourth division called the Shudras appeared towards the end of the Rig Veda period. In the age of Rig Veda, divisions based on occupations had started. But this division was not very sharp.
Occupation: Their earliest life seems to have been mainly pastoral, agriculture being a secondary occupation. The Aryans did not lead a settled life. Although they used several animals, the horse played the most significant role in their life. The Rig Vedic people possessed better knowledge of agriculture. Ploughshare is mentioned in the earliest part of the Rig Veda though some consider it an interpolation. The term for war in the Rig Veda is gavisthi or 'search for cows'. The Rig Veda mentions such artisans as the carpenter, the chariot-maker, the weaver, the leather worker, the potter, etc. This indicates that they practiced all these crafts. The term, ayas used for copper or bronze shows that metal working was known.
Metals Known to Rig Vedic People
Diet: The Indo-Aryans, while sharing the ancient Iranian veneration for the cow, felt no scruple about sacrificing both fulls and cows at weddings or on other important occasions. The persons who took part in the sacrifice ate the flesh of the victim, whether bull, cow, or horse. But meat was eaten only as an exception. Milk was an important article of food, and was supplemented by cakes of barley or wheat (yava), vegetables and fruit.
Strong Drinks: The people freely indulged in two kinds of intoxicating liquor, called soma and sura. Sura probably was a kind of beer. Soma juice was considered to be particularly acceptable to the Gods, and was offered with elaborate ceremonial. The Sama Veda provides the chants appropriate for the ceremonies.
Amusements: Amusements included dancing, music, chariot-racing, and dicing. Gambling with dice is mentioned so frequently in both the Rig Veda and the later documents that the prevalence of the practice is beyond doubt.
Rivers Mentioned in Rig Veda
Rig Vedic Name
Frequency of Important Words Mentioned in Rig Veda
Rig Vedic Gods
The early Vedic religion was naturalistic. Evidently, there were neither temples nor idols. The mode of prayer was recitation of mantras. Sacrifice was offered for Praja (children), Pasu (cattle) and Dhana (wealth) and not for spritual upliftment or misery.
Early Vedic Religion
Rig Vedic Gods
He was the most important divinity. He played the role of a warlord, leading the Aryan soldiers to victory against the demons. 250 hymns are devoted to him in the Rig Veda. He was associated with thunder and storm and is addressed by various names: Ratheshtha, Jitendra Somapa, Purandra, Varitrahan and Maghayam
He was the second important divinity. He was intermediary between Gods and men. 200 hymns of the Rig Veda are devoted to him.
He was the upholder of Rita or cosmic order or natural order. He personified water.
He was considered to be the God of plants. An intoxicant drink was also called soma.
He was the guardian of the world of dead.
Similar to that of the Greek God Helios
The famous Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitri
Lord of jungle path, main function was that of guarding of roads, herdsmen and cattle.
A relatively minor God at that time.
Father of Heaven
Goddess of Eternity
Healers of diseases and experts in surgical art
Mistresses of Gods
An archer of God, whose anger brought disease
Goddess of Forest
Goddess of Dawn
Goddess of Earth
Political Organisation: In later Vedic times, the vidatha completely disappeared. The sabha and samiti continued to hold the ground, but their character changed. Women were no longer permitted to sit in the sabha, and it was now dominated by nobles and Brahmanas. The formation of wider kingdoms made the king more powerful. Tribal authority tended to become territorial. The term rashtra, which indicates territory, first appears in this period. The King performed the rajasuya sacrifice, which was supposed to confer supreme power to him. He performed the asvamedha, which meant unquestioned control over an area in which the royal house ran uninterrupted. He also performed the vajapeya or the chariot race, in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen. During this period collection of taxes and tributes, the king officer called sangrihitri.
Even in later Vedic times the king did not possess a standing army. Tribal units were mustered in times of war, and, according to one ritual for success in war, the king had to eat along with his people from the same plate.
Regions and Kings
King of middle country
Imp Ratnins/Officials in Later Vedic Period
Chief Priest, in also sometimes referred to as Rashtragopa
Supreme Commander of army
Officer-in-Charge of pasture land
Spies who also sometimes worked as messengers
Head of the village
Head of the family
Mediator on disputes
Charioteer and court minstrel
Keeper of games and forests
Kingdoms in the Later Vedic Age
Rawalpindi and Peshawar districts of Western Punjab
On the bank of River Beas, east of Gandhar kingdom
Nothern region of modern Uttar Pradesh
Bareilly, Badayun and Farrukhabad districts of modern Uttar Pradesh
Faizabad region of today's Uttar Pradesh
Occupation: The Aryans now lived a sedentary life, domesticated animal and cultivated on a greater scale than earlier suger-cane. Cattle still constituted the principal form of movable property. Elephants were tamed. However, the idea of private possession of land gradually began to crystallize. Wheat was also cultivated during this period along with barley. Rice is mentioned in sources but was not an important crop at this time. Beans and Sesame and pulses such as Moong, Urad etc. were also known. New arts, artists and craftsmen also emerged i.e. smelters, ironsmiths, carpenters, weavers, leather workers, jewellers, dyers and potters. Trade was also boosted.
Pottery: The later Vedic Aryans used four types of pottery- Black and Red Ware, Black Slipped Ware, Painted Grey Ware(PGW), and Red Ware. The black and red earthen pots were used around 600 BC by the people of Koshala. The Aryans knew copper or bronze and Iron. The introduced the PGW in northern India. It consisted of bowls and dishes, which were used either for rituals or for eating or both. These were mostly found to the upper Gangetic basin.
Currency: A gold piece of specific weight called Satamana is mentioned in Sathapatha-Brahmana. Nishka was the popular currency. Suvarna and Krishnala were two other classes of coins of circulation. Barter system will continued in spite of the presence of metallic coins. Money-lending was a lucrative trade and the interest on loan was moderately charged. The usurer is mentioned as Kusidin.
Later Vedic Society
Social Organisation: The later Vedic society came to be divided into four varnas called the Brahmanas, rajanyas or kshatriyas, vaisyas and shudras, each varna was assigned with its duty. Brahmanas conducted rituals and sacrifices for their clients and for themselves, and also officiated at the festivals associated with agricultural operations. They prayed for the success of their patron in war, and in return the king pledged not to do any harm to hem. Sometimes, the brahmanas came into conflict with the rajanyas, who represented the order of the warrior-nobles, for position of supremacy. Towards the end of the Vedic period, they began to engage in trade. All the three higher varnas shared one common feature, they were known as Dvijas (twice born), i.e., they were entitled to upanayana or investiture with the sacred thread according to the Vedic mantras. The fourth varna was deprived of the sacred thread ceremony, and with its began the imposition of disabilities on the shudras. Outside the caste-system, there stood two important bodies of men, namely, Vratyas and Nishadas.
According to the Aitareya Brahmana, in relation to the prince, the brahmana is described as a seeker of livelihood and an acceptor of gifts but removable at will. A vaisya is called tribute-paying, meant for being beaten, and to be oppressed at will. The worst position is reserved for the shudra. He is called the servant of another. Certain section of artisans such as rathakara or chariot-maker enjoyed a higher status, and were entitled to the sacred thread ceremony. The term Nagara appears for the first time showing joint beginnings of town life. Women were generally giver a lower position. Although some women theologians took part in philosophic discussions and some queens participated in coronation rituals, ordinarily women were thought to be inferior and subordinate to men.
Types of Marriages in the Later Vedic Age
Marriage of a duly dowered girl to a man of the same varna with Vedic rites and rituals
Father gives the daughter to the sacrificial priests as part of fee or dakshina.
A token bride-price of a cow and a bull is given.
Marriage without dowry and bride-price.
Marriage by the consent of two parties, often clandestine. A special form of it was swayamvara or self choice.
Marriage by purchase.
It is seduction of a girl while asleep, mentally deranged or drunk, hence it can hardly be called a marriage.
Marriage by Capture
Marriage: Eight types of marriage were prevalent in the later Vedic age. Of these, four (Brahman, Daiva, Arsa and Prajapati) were generally approved and were permissible to Brahmans. These were religious marriages and were indissoluble.
Anuloma Marriage: Marriage of a man below his varna was called Anuloma. It was sanctioned by the sacred texts.
Pratiloma Marriage: Pratiloma marriage was the marriage of a girl or women to one lower than her own varna. It was not sanctioned by the sacred texts.
Gotra System: The institution of gotra appeared in later Vedic times. Literally, it means the cow-pen or the place where cattle belonging to the whole clan are kept. The gotra has been regarded as a mechanism for widening the socio-political ties, as new relationships were forged between hitherto unrelated people. People began to practise gotra exogamy. No marriage could take place between persons belonging to the same gotra or having the same ancestor.
Ashrama System: Ashramas or four stages of life were not well established in early Vedic times. In the post-Vedic texts, we hear of four ashramas: that of brahmachari or student, grihastha or householder, vanaprastha or partial retirement and sanyasa or complete retirement from the world. But only three are mentioned in the later Vedic texts. The last or the fourth stage had not been well-established in Later Vedic times. 4th Ashrama only mentioned in Jabala Upanishad.
Food and Drinks: The staple diet was milk and ghee, vegetables, fruit and barely. Wheat was rarely eaten. On ceremonial occasions at a religious feast or the arrival of a guest, a more elaborate meal usually including the flesh of ox, goat, sheep and birds were taken after being washed with sura. Fish and other river animals were also relished upon. The guests were never served vegetarian foods, or at least one non-vegetarian food was compulsory.
Dress: Clothes were simple. Two piece clothes were normally worn: uttariya or the upper garment and antariya or the lower garment. There was no difference between the clothes of male and female. Ornaments were used by both the sexes and bangles were worn by privileged few, Shoes were used. Use of oil, comb, mirror razors, hair ointment and a few cosmetics was known.
Amusements: Music, both vocal and instrumental, was the major source of amusements. Playing of veena, drum flute, harp and cymbals were more common, also were dance. Chariot-racing and gambling were other sources of amusement.
Education: It was for a privileged few. Only Brahamanas and Kshatriyas were allowed to get education. Even women education was discouraged and the study of Vedic literature were forbidden to women in spite of the fact that a few gifted women scholars were present at the time and female teachers were also there.
The subject taught were veda, itihasa, grammer, mathematics etihcs, dialectics, astronomy, military science, fine arts, music and medical science.s
Religion in Later Vedic Period
The two outstanding Rig Vedic gods, Indra and Agni, lost their former importance. On the other hand Prajapati, the creator, came to occupy the supreme position in later Vedic pantheon. Rudra, the god of animals, became important in later Vedic times and Vishnu came to be conceived as the preserver and protector of the people. In addition, some symbolic objects began to be worshipped, and we notice signs of idolatry. Pushan, who was supposed to look after cattle, came to be regarded as the god to the sudras. Important female deities during the Later Vedic Age were: Usha (goddess of Dawn), Aditi (Mother of Gods), Prithvi (Earth Goddess), Aryani (Forest Goddess) and Saraswati (River deity).
The mode of worship changed considerably. Prayers continued to be recited, but they ceased to be the dominant mode of placating the gods. Sacrifices became far more important, and they assumed both public and domestic character. The guest were known as the goghna or one who was fed on cattle. The priests who officiated at sacrifices were regarded generously and given dakshinas or gifts.
The Chief priests who were engaged in performing the sacrifices were:-
The Chief Priests received voluntary offering from the people called Bali
Important Vedic Rituals
The vast literature of the Aryans is divided into two parts - Sruti and Smriti
1. Sruti Literature: The word Veda has been divided from the Sanskrit word Ved, which means 'spiritual knowledge'. The Vedas are four in number - Rig Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. The Rig Veda contains a references only to the first three Vedas, which suggests that the fourth Veda was composed at some later date.
The Vedic literature is usually divided into three periods:-
These three periods succeeded or overlap each other.
Brahmanas are massive prose text which contain speculation of the meaning of the hymns, give precepts for their application, relate stories of their origin in connection with sacrificial rites and explain the secret meaning of the later.
Vedas and their Brahmanas
Aitereya and Kaushitaki
Tandya and Jaiminiya
Tattiriya and Satpatha
The Aranyakas are the concluding parts of the Brahamanas. It doest not lay much stress on rites, rituals and sacrifices, but merely contain the philosophy and mysticism. The lead with the problems of soul, origin and elements of universe and the creation of universe.
It would be appropriate to describe Upanishadas as mystic writings. There are 108 Upanishads in all, the most prominent of them being Ish, Prasana, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogaya, Kathoupanishad, Ishopanishad, Brehadaranyaka, etc.
2. Smriti Literature: Smriti is traditional knowledge and designates almost the entire body of post-Vedic classical Sanskrit literature. Smriti literature generally includes the following overlapping subjects:-
The Eighteen Puranas
Shrimad Bhagwat Purana
Brahm Vaivertya Purana
3. Epics: Some historians regard the Later Vedic Period as the Period of Epics. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are the two great epics of this period.
Ramayana: It is said to have been composed by the sage, Valmiki. The incident related in it precedes the Mahabharata by about a hundred and fifty years. The story of Ramayana is of indigenous origin and had existed in ballad form in Prakrit, in more than one version. It was rewritten in Sanskrit and augmented with many 'Shlokas'. The epic was given a Brahmanical character which was not visible in the original work. It is also known as Adi Kavya. Evidence places the oldest part of the Ramayana to before 350 BC. The reference in the epic to the mingled hords of Yavanas and Shakas suggests that it received accretions in the Graeco-Scythian period and may have acquired its final shape by about AD 250.
Mahabharata: The Mahabharata is the bulkiest epic consisting of 100,000 verses and is divided into 18 paravas (books). This book is usually assigned to Rishi Ved Vyas, but scholars have expressed doubts if such a great work could have been accomplished by one single person. The story itself occupies only about one-fourth of the poem. It is a tale about conflict between Aryans-Kaurava and Pandava. The rest is episodical comprising cosmology, theogony, state craft, the science of war, ethics, legendary history, mythology, fairy tales and several digressional and philosophical interludes, of which the best known is the Bhagavad Gita
Vedic Doctrine of Hinduism
By the end of the Later Vedic Age, six prominent schools of Hindu Philosophy had been established. They are as follows:
Year of Beginning
It is a logical quest for God. It tells that the material power Maya, with the help of God, becomes the universe.
It aims is to receive happiness in this life and finally ultimate liberation through the attachment of true knowledge of the Divine.
It explains that the aim of Sankhya is to eliminate all kinds of physical and mental pains and to receive liberation.
It has four chapters and accepts three kinds of evidences for determining the aim of life.
Purva Mimansa Sutra
It is condensed explanation of Vedic theme and at the same time, the classification of its issues.
Vedanta (Uttara Mimansa)
Uttara Mimansa Sutra
It explains that Brahama Sutra is for that person who has a real deep desire to know God. True liberation could only be attained by lovingly surrendering to Him.