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Vedic Age

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The Aryans:

  • Typically, the age of Aryans is known as the Vedic age because the four major Vedas were created in this time.
  • The word Aryan is derived from the Sanskrit word “arya” which means noble, not ordinary.
  • They arrived from russian steppes, as is believed and agreed to by majority historians.
  • But various scholars voice different opinion about thier origin. Bal Gangadhar Tilak argued that Aryans came from the Arctic region following their astronomical calculations.
  • It is generally agreed that they spoke Indo-Aryan Language, Sanskrit.
  • They were semi-nomadic, pastoral people, who led a rural life as compared to the urban Harappans.

Vedic Literature: 

  • The term Veda means “superior knowledge” in Sanskrit.
  • Four major Vedas constitute the vedic literature. They are – Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda, and Atharva Veda.
    1. Rig Veda – Earliest veda. Has 1028 hymns in praise Gods.
    2. Yajur Veda – Has details of rules to be followed during sacrifices.
    3. Sam Veda – Has a collection of songs. The origins of Indian music are traced to it.
    4. Atharva Veda – has a collection of spells and charms.
  • Besides these Vedas, there were Brahmanas, Upnishads, Aryankas, and epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • Brahmanas – Prose about vedic hymns, rituals and philosophies.
  • Aryankas – Deal with mysticism, rites and rituals.
  • Upnishads – Philosophical texts dealing with soul, mysteries of nature.
  • Ramayana was authored by Valmiki.
  • Mahabharata was written by Ved Vyasa.

Classification of Vedic Period:

The period of Vedic Civilization(1500-500 BCE) is divided into two broad parts –

  1. Early Vedic Period (1500-1000 BC), also known as Rig Vedic Period.
  2. Later Vedic Period (1000- 600 BC).

We will study the following features of the Vedic Civilization under these two periods.

Political Organisation in Vedic Age:

In Early Vedic Age:

  • ‘Kula‘ was the basic unit of political organization.
  • Multiple families together of kinship formed a ‘grama‘.
  • Leader of ‘grama’ was ‘Gramani‘.
  • Group of villages were called ‘visu’, headed by ‘vishayapati‘.
  • The highest political and administrative unit was ‘jana‘ or tribe.
  • There were several such tribal kingdoms – Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus and Purus.
  • The head of kingdom was ‘Rajan‘ or king.
  • The Rig Vedic polity was hereditary monarchy normally.
  • There were two bodies- Sabha(council of elders) and Samiti(general assembly of people).Vedic civilization

In Later Vedic Age:

  • Larger kingdoms by amalgamation formed ‘Mahajanapadas or rashtras‘.
  • Therefore, the power of king increased and he performed various rituals and sacrifices to make his position strong like Rajasuya (consecration ceremony), Asvamedha (horse sacrifice) and Vajpeya (chariot race).
  • The kings assumed titles of Rajavisvajanan, Ahilabhuvanapathi(lord of all earth), Ekrat and Samrat (sole ruler).
  • But, importance of the Samiti and the Sabha  diminished.

Society in Vedic Civilization:

In Early Vedic Age:

  • The Rig Vedic society was basically patriarchal.
  • The basic unit of society was ‘graham’ or family, its head was called as ‘grahapathi’.
  • Monogamy was practiced while polygamy among royal and noble families was observed.
  • Women had equal opportunities as men for their spiritual and intellectual development. Apala, Viswavara, Ghosa and Lopamudra were women poets.
  • Women could attend the popular assemblies.
  • No child marriage, sati practice.
  • Social divisions were not rigid.varna system in vedic civilization

In Later Vedic Age:

  • The Varna system became prevalent- four divisions of society :Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras.
  • A Brahmin and Kshatriyas occupied a higher position than others.
  • Various sub-castes on the basis of occupation emerged.
  • Women were considered inferior and subordinate to men now and also lost their political rights of attending assemblies.
  • Child marriages became common.

Economic Conditions in Vedic Civilization:

In Early Vedic Age:

  • The Rig Vedic Aryans were pastoral, cattle rearing people.
  • After they permanently settled in North India they began agriculture.
  • Carpenters produced chariots and ploughs.
  • A variety of articles with copper, bronze and iron were made by workers.
  • Spinning was an important occupation – cotton and woolen fabrics.
  • Goldsmiths made ornaments.
  • The potters made different kinds of vessels for domestic use.
  • Trade was conducted by barter system in begining but later shifted to use of gold coins called ‘nishka‘ for large transactions.
  • Rivers acted as means of transport.

In Later Vedic Age:

  • More land was put under cultivation by clearing forests. Knowledge of manure saw development.
  • Hence, Agriculture became the chief occupation of people growing barley, rice and wheat.
  • Industrial activity became specialized with metal work, leather work, carpentry and pottery advancement.
  • Internal trade as well as foreign trade also became extensive (they traded with Babylon through sea).
  • Hereditary merchants (vaniya) came into existence as a different class.
  • Vaisyas indulged in trade and commerce organized themselves into guilds known as ‘ganas‘.
  • Coins: Beesides ‘nishka’, ‘satamana’– gold coins and ‘krishnala‘ – silver coins were also used as a media of exchange.

Religion in Vedic Period:

In Early Vedic Age:

  • Rig Vedic Aryans worshiped natural forces like earth, fire, wind, rain and thunder by personifying them into many gods.
  • Some important Rig Vedic gods – Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Rain) and Indra(Thunder). And ‘Indra’ was most popular. Next came ‘Agni’ – an intermediary between the gods and the people.
  • ‘Varuna’ – the upholder of natural order.
  • Female Gods – ‘Aditi’ and ‘Ushas’.
  • No temples and no idol worship.
  • Prayers were offered to gods for rewards.

In Later Vedic Age:

  • Indra and Agni lost their importance.
  • Prajapathi (the creator), Vishnu (the protector) and Rudra (the destroyer) became.
  • Sacrifices and the rituals became more elaborate.
  • But the importance of prayers declined.
  • Priesthood became a hereditary profession. They dictated the rules for these rituals and sacrifices.
  • Therefore, by the end of this period there was a strong reaction against this priestly domination (also against elaborate sacrifices and rituals). This led to the rise of Buddhism and Jainism.