The Vedic Culture: 1500-600 B.C.
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Phases of Vedic culture:
The period of 1500 to 600 B.C can be divided as:
- Early Vedic Period or Rig Vedic Period (1500 B.C – 1000 B.C)
- Later Vedic Period (1000 B.C – 600 B.C)
The advent of the Aryans
After the decline of the city of Harappan culture by 1500 BC consequently, the economy and administrative system slowly declined. Around this period, the speakers of the Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit, entered northwest India from the Indo-Iranian region.
- Initially, they would have come in small numbers through the passes in the northwestern mountains.
- The initial settlement of Aryans was in the valleys of the North West and the plains of Punjab.
- Later they moved towards the Indo-Gangetic plains.
- By the 6th century BC, they occupied the whole of North India, which was referred to as Aryavarta.
Original home of Aryans:
There are several views on the original home of Aryans and still, it is a debatable question, as different scholars identified the different regions as the original home of the Aryans.
- According to different scholars different places are associated with the origin of Aryans including Arctic region, Germany, Central Asia, and Southern Russia.
- Bala Gangadhar Tilak argues that the Aryans came from the Arctic region on astronomical calculations.
- As the theory of Southern Russia appears more probable and it is widely accepted by historians.
- The Aryans migrated to India in several waves. The earliest wave represents Rig Vedic people who came to the subcontinent about 1500 B.C. and came to be known as Indo-Aryans.
- They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called dasas, dasyus, etc. The Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by a chief called Divodasa of the Bharata clan.
The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the root ‘vid’ which means to know. The term ‘Veda’ also signifies ‘superior knowledge.
The Vedic literature consists of four Vedas:
- Rig Veda
- Yajur Veda
- Sama Veda
- Atharva Veda
Rig Veda: It is the earliest of the four Vedas and consists of 1028 hymns. These hymns were sung in praise of various gods.
Yajur Veda: It consists of various details of rules to be observed at the time of sacrifices.
Sama Veda: it is set to the tune for the purpose of chanting during sacrifices. This book is also called the book of chants and the origin of Indian music are traced in it.
Atharva Veda: the text contains details of rituals.
Other Sacred works:
Besides the Vedas, there are other sacred works like the Brahmanas, the Upnishads, the Aryankas, and the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata.
- The Brahmanas are treaties relating to prayer and sacrificial ceremony.
- The Upanishads are philosophical texts dealing with topics like the soul, the absolute, the origin of the world, and the mysteries of nature.
- The Aryankas are also known as forest books and deal with mysticism, rites, rituals, and sacrifices.
- The author of Ramayana was Valmiki and that of Mahbharata was Vedavyas.
Early Vedic Period or Rig Vedic Period (1500 B.C – 1000 B.C)
During the Rig Vedic period, the Aryans were mostly confined to the Indus region. The Rig Veda refers to Saptsindhu or the land of seven rivers, which includes five rivers of Panjab, namely Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, along with Indus and Sarasvati.
The Indo-Aryans emerged in two types of conflicts:
- Fight with pre-Aryans
- They fought among themselves.
Intra-tribal conflicts rocked the Aryan communities for a long time. According to tradition, the Aryans were divided into five tribes called Panchajana, but there might have been other tribes too.
The Aryans fought amongst themselves and sometimes enlisted the support of non-Aryans for the purpose.
- The Bharatas and the Tritsu were the ruling Aryan clans and they were supported by priest Vasishtha.
- The country Bharatvarsha was named after the name of the tribe Bharata, which is first mentioned in Rig Veda.
- The battle of ten kings: On the river Parushni, the Bharata fought with ten kins is known as the battle of ten kings. of the defeated tribes, the most important was the Purus. The Bharatas joined hands with the Purus and make new tribe Kurus.
- The Kurus combine with the Panchalas, and they together established their rule in the upper Gangetic basin.
The political, social, and cultural life of Rig Vedic people can be traced from the hymns of the Rig Veda:
‘Kula’ or family was the basic unit of political organization, and several families joined together on the basis of their kingship to form a village or Grama.
- Gramini – was the leader of Grama.
- Visu – A group of villages constituted a larger unit called “visu”, and headed by “vishyapati”.
- The highest political unit was Known as ‘Jana’ or ‘tribe’.
- There were several tribal kingdoms during the Rig Vedic period such as Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus, and the Purus.
- The head of a kingdom was called ‘Rajan’ or ‘king’.
- The polity was normally monarchical and the succession was hereditary.
- The king was assisted by purohita or priest and Senani or commander of the army in his administration.
- There were two popular bodies called ‘Sabha’ and ‘Samiti’. The sabha seems to have been a council of elders and samite was a general assembly of the entire people.
The society of the Rig Vedic period was Patriarchal, and the basic unit of society was the family or ‘graham’.
- The head of the family was known as grahapati.
- Monogamy was generally practiced while polygamy was prevalent among the royal and noble families. The wife took care of the household and participated in all major ceremonies.
- Women were given equal opportunities as men for their spiritual and intellectual development.
- In Rig Vedic period, women poets like Apala, Viswavara, Ghosa, and Lopamudra were well known.
- Women could attend the popular assemblies.
- In Rig Vedic period, there was no child marriage and the practice of Sati was absent.
- In the dress – both men and women wore upper and lower garments made of cotton and wool.
- Both men and women used a variety of ornaments.
- In food- wheat, barley, milk and its product like curd and ghee, vegetables, and fruit were the chief articles of food.
- The cow was a sacred animal, so eating cow meat was prohibited.
- Chariot racing, horse racing, dicing, music, and dance were their favorite pastimes.
- During the time of Rig Veda, the social divisions were not rigid.
Economic Condition during Vedic culture:
The main occupation of Rig Vedic people was cattle rearing, and the wealth was estimated in the terms of their cattle.
They began the practice of agriculture after they permanently settled in North India. As the Vedic people had the knowledge of the use of iron, they were able to clean the forest and bring more lands under cultivation.
- In Rig Vedic people Carpentry was another important profession as the wood was easily available and profitable for them. They produced chariots and ploughs.
- They also made varieties of articles with metals like copper, bronze, and iron.
- Spinning was also an important occupation and cotton and woolen fabrics were made.
- Goldsmiths were very skilled in making ornaments.
- The potters made various kinds of vessels for domestic use.
Trade: In people of Vedic culture trade was another important economic activity, and for trade, rivers served as important means of transport.
- The trade in this period was conducted on the barter system.
- ‘Nishka’ gold coins were used as media of exchange in large transactions in the later times.
The Aryans of Rig Vedic time worshiped the natural forces like earth, fire, wind, rain, and thunder. They personified the natural forces in many gods.
- Important rig Vedic gods: Prithivi (Earth), Agni (fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Rain), and Indra (Thunder) were important gods of Rig Vedic people.
- Indra was the most popular among them during the early Vedic period, and Agni was important next to Indra
- Varuna was supposed to be the upholder of the natural order.
- Female gods- There were also female gods like Aditi and Usha.
- In the early Vedic phase, no temples and no worship of idols.
Later Vedic period (1000-600 B.C):
In the later Vedic Period, the Aryans moved further towards the east. The expansion of Aryans to eastern Gangetic plains is referred to in Satapatha Brahman.
- After the fall of Kurus and Panchal, other kingdoms like Koshala, Kasi, and Videha came into prominence.
- The famous rular of Kasi was Ajatasatru.
- Janaka was the king of Videha with its capital Mithila.
- Magadha, Anga, and Vanga seem to be the easternmost tribal kingdoms.
- The later Vedic text refers to the three divisions of India-Aryavarta (Northern India), Madhyadesa (Central India), and Dakshinapatha (Sothern India)
- Many Jana or tribes were amalgamated to form Janapadas or Rashtras in the later Vedic period.
- The king performed various rituals and sacrifices to strengthen his position, they include Rajasuya, Asvamedha, and Vajpeya.
- The kings assumed titles like Rajavisvajanan, Ahilabhuvanpati, Ekrat, and Samrat.
- In the later Vedic period large numbers of new officials were involved like the tax collector, treasury officer, and royal messenger.
- The importance of Sabha and Samiti had diminished during the later Vedic period.
- Knowledge of manure.
- The later Vedic people were familiar with the sea and they traded with countries like Babylon.
- A class of hereditary merchants (Vania) came into existence and Vaisyas also carried on trade and commerce.
- Use of iron and iron made instruments were very frequent
- Gold and silver coins like Satamana and Krishnala were used as media of exchange.
The Varna system was thoroughly established during the later Vedic period. the four varnas of society as – Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras.
- Bhrahmina and Kshatriya were privileged.
- The power of father in the family was increased in the later Vedic period.
- Women lost their political right of attending assemblies.
- Child marriage became common.
- According to Aitreya Brahmana, the daughter has been described as a source of misery.
- The early Vedic god-like Indra and Agni lost their importance.
- Prajapati (The creator), Vishnu (the protector), and Rudra (the destroyer) became important during the later Vedic period.
- The priesthood became a hereditary profession, and they elaborated the formula of sacrifices.
You can also read:
- Sources of Ancient history of India
- Major Sites of Indus Valley Civilization
- Chronology of Ancient History of India
- Books and Authors in Medieval India
- Delhi sultanate, Mughals, and mind map of Modern History
- Second Carnatic War (1749-54)
- Third Carnatic War (1758-63)
- The Battle of Plassey (1757)
Thank you 🙂