Early Vedic Age
1500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.
After the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic civilization flourished in India. The people who were responsible for the evolution of this civilization called themselves Aryas or Aryans.
They entered into India from the north-west.
They spoke the Indo-European languages from which modern languages like Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Greek, and Gothic have developed. Originally, the Aryans seem to have lived somewhere in the area east of the Alps, known as Eurasia.
Theories of Origin: European Origin:
The early Aryans were familiar with certain animals such as goats, dogs, pigs, cows, horses etc. and with the trees like pine, maple, oak, willow, birch etc., which are found in Europe. This led to Prof. Giles to suggest the European origin of the Aryans. He believed that they migrated to India and other parts of Asia from Europe.
According to Giles, Balkan countries were the original home of the Aryans. The flora and fauna and the animals with which the early Aryans were familiar could be found in the Balkan countries at that time.
Prof. Hist believes that the Aryans migrated from Lithuania Europe into Caucasus and from there they entered into Iran. Again, from Iran they entered into Punjab.
Migration from Southern Russia:
Some historians held the view that the Aryans entered into India from the region of South Russia. Brandenstain has suggested that the Aryans migrated to India from Kirghitz stepps in Russia. The great Philologist, Schrader accepts South Russia as the original home of Aryans from where they migrated to different areas.
Some historians held the view that Aryans belonged to India. The Rig Veda refers to ‘Sapta Sindhu’ land (of seven rivers) which was the name of Punjab. Subsequently it was called “Panchanada” (land of five rivers). But, the flora and fauna with which the Aryans were familiar are not found in Punjab. Again, the fertility of Punjab must have attracted immigration. From the linguistic view, point Greek and Latin belong to Aryan group of Languages. These considerations led the historians to believe that Aryans do not originally belong to India.
From linguistic study, it is proved that the Aryans migrated from C. Asia or South Russia to India. For example ‘Pider’ and ‘Mader’ in Parsi, ‘Pater’ and ‘Mater’ of Latin, “Father’ and ‘Mother’ of English resemble with ‘Pitru’ and ‘Matru’ of Sanskrit. We can find hundreds of similar words like these. So the historians generally accepted the view that Aryans migrated from C. Asia or South Russia to India.
From Rig Veda, which is the earliest specimen of Indo-European language we know about the Aryans. The Rig Veda consists of ten mandalas (Chapters) and 1028 Hymns. It is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna and other deities by various families of poets or sages.Important among them are Gutsamad(2nd Mandala), Vishvamitra(3rd Mandala), Vamdeva(4th Mandala), Atri(5th Mandala), Bhardwaj(6th Mandala) and Vashishtha (7th Mandala)
Relation with Avesta
Rig Veda has many things in common with ‘Avesta’ of Iran. The ‘Rig Veda’ and ‘Avesta’ use the same names for several gods and even for several classes. Some Aryan names engraved in the Kassite inscriptions of 1600 B.C. and the Mittani inscriptions of the fourteenth century B.C. found in Iraq proves that from Iran a branch of the Aryans moved towards the west.
Home of the Aryans in India:
The Aryans appeared in India a little earlier than 1500 B.C. The earliest Aryans settled down in eastern Afghanistan, Punjab, and fringes of Uttar Pradesh. The Rig-Veda mentioned the names of some rivers of Afghanistan such as the river Kubha, and the river Indus and its branches. The earliest settlements of Aryans were confined to the region known as Sapt Saindhav (Land of Seven Rivers).
Seven Rivers of Sapt Saindhav
- Indus : Sindhu
- Jhelam: Vitasta
- Sutlej: Shatudri
- Ravi: Parushni
- Beas: Bipasa
- Chenab : Askini
- Ghaggar: Saraswati
The Vedas form the oldest literary works of the Aryans and occupy a very distinguished place in the history of the world literature. Aryans have looked upon Vedas as the revealed words of God. In course of many centuries, Vedas had grown up and was orally handed down from generation to generation. The Vedas were probably authored during 1500 BC and 600 BC. It consists of three successive classes of literary production.
These three classes are:
(i) The Samhitas or Mantras—these are collections of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies, sacrificial formulas.
(ii) The Brahmanas—a kind of Primitive theology and philosophy of Brahmanas.
(iii) The Aranyakas and Upanishads—they are partly included in the Brahmanas or attached thereto and partly exist as separate work. They contain philosophical meditations of the hermits and ascetics on soul, God, world & man.
There are four Samhitas, which are different from one another.
(i) The Rigveda Samhita:
A collection of hymns. It has ten mandalas with a total of 1028 ‘Suktas’ or ‘stutis” for the worship of gods like Indra, Surya, Agni, Yama, Varuna Ashwini, Usha etc.
(ii) Samaveda Samhita:
A collection of songs mostly taken from Rig Veda. It contained 1549 stutis. A special class of priests known as “Udgator” were to recite its hymns.
(iii) Yajur Veda Samhita:
A collection of sacrificial formula. It has 40 mandals. There are two distinct forms of Yajur Veda namely. “Sukla Yajur Veda” and “Krishna Yajur Veda”. The “Sukla Yajur Veda” contains the genesis while the “Krishna Yajur Veda” describes the “Vasya” or the philosophy.
(iv) Atharva Veda Samhita:
A collection of songs and spells. It has twenty mandalas with 731 ‘stutis’. It deals with magic, hypnotism, enslavement through mantra. It is regarded on a lower level than the other three Vedas. These four samhitas formed the basis of four Vedas.
Brahmanas,Aranyakas and Upanishads
Every work belonging to the second and third classes of Vedic literature viz, the Brahmanas, the Arayakas and the Upanishads, is attached to one or another of these samhitas and is said to belong to that particular Veda.
The Authorship of the Vedic Literature
The Aryans believed that the hymns were merely revealed to the sages and not composed by them.For this Vedas are called “apaurusheya’ (not made by man) and ‘ritya” (existing in all eternity). The ‘Rishis’ to whom they are ascribed are known as Mantradrasta’. (Who received the mantra by sight directly from the Supreme Creator).
Besides the Vedas, there is another class of works whose authorship is ascribed to human beings.
They are known as Sutras or Vedangs. There are six vedangas. These are siksha (pronounciation), chhandas (metre) Jyotisha (astronomy), Kalpa (ritual), Vyakarana (grammar), Ninukta (explanation of words).
Socio Political Structure
The lowest unit of the Rig-Vedic society was the patriarchal family. A number of families bound together by ties of blood formed a clan, several clans formed a district, and a number of districts composed a tribe. From the Rig Veda we come to know about some administrative units termed as ‘grama’, ‘vis’, and the ‘jana’.The ‘grama’ consisted of several families. It was under a headman known as ‘gramani’.
During war or battle, he used to lead the soldiers from his village. He attend the meetings of the ‘Sabha’ and ‘Samiti’. Several villages formed a ‘vis’. It was placed under a ‘visapati’. He was a military leader. A group of ‘vishes’ formed a ‘jana'(tribe) whose members were bound together by real or supposed ties of kinship. ‘Gopa’ was the head of one ‘jana’. Several janas formed a ‘janapada’ or ‘kingdom’. The ‘Rajan’ or the king was the head of the Janapada.
Battle of Ten Kings
Rig Veda mentions about various tribes such as Bharatas, Matsyas, Krivis, Tritsus. However, the tribes, which acquired great importance, are the Purus, Turvasas, Yadus, Anus and Drahyus.
King Sudas of Bharat tribe defeated a united army of ten kings- Yadu, Anu, Druhyu, Turvas, Puru, Alina, Paktha, Bhalana, Vishani and Shivi on the bank of river Parushni (Ravi)
Form of Government
Monarchy was the normal form of Government. Kingship was hereditary. Nevertheless, there was a sort of hierarchy in some states, several members of the royal family exercising the power in common. There were references of democratic form of government and the assembled people elected their chiefs.
The kingdom was small in extent. The king enjoyed a position of pre-eminence in the tribe. The priest as king in the ‘Abhisheka’ Ceremony anointed him. The king had the duty to protect the life and property of his people. He was required to be ‘Indra’ in valour, ‘Mitra’ in kindness and ‘varuna’ in virtues. The sacred duty of the king was the protection of the tribes and the territory and maintenance of priests for the performance of sacrifices. Maintenance of law and order was his principal duty. He maintained justice with the help of Purohitas. He collected tributes known as “Bali” or “Bhag” in kind from his subjects.
In the work of administration a number of functionaries like the Purohita (priest), the senani (general) the Gramani (village headman) and the spasa (spies) assisted the king. Purohita was the most important officer of the state.
The army was mainly consisting of Patti (infantry) and Rathins (chariots). The weapons used by the soldiers were bows, arrows, swords, axes and spears. These weapons were made up of irons. The soldiers were organised into units known as Sardha, Vrata and gana.
Socio Political Organizations
The Rig Veda mentions the names of two popular assemblies known as Sabha and Samiti. Though the king enjoyed substantial power, yet he was not an autocrat. In the work of administration, he consulted these two bodies and act according to their decision. Sabha was a select body of elders. The head of the sabha was known as ‘Sabhapati’. The Sabha advised the king on administration. It also functioned as a court of law, tried the cases of criminals, and punished them.
The Samiti was the most popular assembly and included common people. The head of Samiti was known as ‘Pati’. The Samiti mainly dealt with the political business of the state. It also used to elect the king. In the early Vedic Age the Sabha and Samiti had a commendable role to play as the political organisation of the aryans.
The Earliest Tribal Assembly – Vidhata
Vidatha seems to be an important assembly in the Rig Vedic period. Vidatha was an assembly meant for secular, religious and military purpose. The Rig-Veda only once indicated the connection of woman with the Sabha whereas Vidatha is frequently associated with woman. Women actively participated in the deliberations with men. Vidatha also associated with distribution of bounty
The family was regarded as the social and political unit. It was the nucleus of the social life of the early Aryans. The father was the head of the family and he was known as “grihapati”. The Aryans had joint families. The father had great authority over the children. Though the father was kind and affectionate, yet at times he became cruel towards his children. From Rig-Veda we come to know about a father who blinded his son Rjrasva for his extravagance.
Position of Women:
In the early Vedic age, women enjoyed an honored place in the society. The education of girls was not neglected. The Rig-Veda mentions the names of some learned women like Lopamudra, Viswavara, Apala and Ghosa who composed mantras and attained the rank of Rishis. The girls were married after attaining puberty. The practice of ‘Swayamvara’ was also prevalent in the society. Monogamy was the general Practice. Polygamy was practiced and it was confined only to Rings and chiefs. Remarriage of widows was permitted. The women were not independent persons in the eye of the law. They had to remain under the protecting care of their male relations.
Dress and Ornaments:
The Aryans wore dresses made from cotton, wool and deerskin. The garments consisted of three parts—an undergarment called ‘nivi’, a garment called ‘Vasa’ or ‘Paridhan’ and a mantle known as ‘adhivasa’, ‘atka’ ‘dropi’. The garments were also embroidered with gold. Both men and women wore gold ornaments. The women used earrings, necklace, bangles, and anklets. These ornaments were sometimes studded with precious stones.
Food and Drink:
The Aryans ate both vegetable and animal foods. Rice, barley, bean and sesamum formed the staple food. They also ate bread, cake, milk, ghee, butter, and curd together with fruits. Fish, birds, goats, rams, bulls and horses were slaughtered for their food. They also drank intoxicating liquor, known as sura, a brandy made from corn and barley and the juice of soma plant.
Rig Vedic people spent their leisure time in various amusements like gambling, war,dancing, chariot racing, hunting, boxing, dancing and music. Women displayed their skill in dancing and music. The singers used three types of musical instruments like percussion, string and wind.
In the early Vedic age, there was no caste system. Member of same family took to different arts, crafts and trades. People could change their occupation according to their needs or talents. There was hardly any restriction in intermarriage, change of occupation. A late hymn of the Rig-Veda known as Purushasukta refers to four Varnas. But Varna system was never rigid and hereditary.
Reference in Rig-Veda shows, that agriculture was the principal occupation of the people. They ploughed the field by means of a pair of oxen. Rig-Veda even mentions that twenty-four oxen were attached to a ploughshare at the same time to plough the land. The ploughed land was known as Urvara or Kshetra. Water was supplied into the fields by means of irrigation canal. They knew use of manure. Barley and wheat were mainly cultivated. Cotton and oil seeds were also grown. Rice was perhaps not extensively cultivated. Agriculture was their main source of income.
Domestication of animals
Besides agriculture, cattle breeding were another means of living. There are prayers in the Vedas for Gosu (cattle). Cows were held in great respect. Cows were symbols of wealth and prosperity of the Aryans. Sometimes cow was the medium of exchange. The Aryans had also domesticated animals like horse, draught OX, dog, goat, sheep, buffalo and donkey.
Apart from agriculture and animal husbandry, Aryans had also other occupation. Weaving was the most important occupation. We learnt about weavers (Vayas) of wool and cotton together with the workers in the subsidiary industries of dying and embroidery. The carpenters built houses, chariots, and wagons and supplied household utensils and furniture. There were blacksmiths who supplied various necessaries of life, from fine needles and razors to the sickles, ploughshares, spears and swords. The gold smiths made ornaments like earrings, bangles, necklaces, bands etc. The leather-workers made bowstrings and casks for holding liquor. The physicians (Bhishaj) cured diseases. The priests performed sacrifices, composed hymns, and taught them to the disciples.
Trade and Commerce:
There were trade and maritime activity. Sometimes traders made journey to distant lands for larger profits in trade. The principal media of trade was barter. Cow was used as unit of value. Gradually pieces of gold called “mishka” were used as means of exchange. Trade and commerce was regulated and managed by a group of people called “Pani”.
Transport and Communication:
The chief means of transport by land were rathas (Chariots) and wagons drawn by horses and oxen. Riding on horseback was also in vogue. Travelling was common though roads were haunted by taskara (highwaymen) and wild animals infested forests.
The religious life of the Aryans was simple and plain. They worshipped various manifestations of nature such as the sun, the moon, the sky, the Dawn, the thunder, the wind and the Air. Vedic hymns were composed in praise of nature. Rigveda mentions that gods and goddesses of 3 category were worshipped by the Aryans.
(1) The terrestrial gods (Prrithvi Sthaniya) such as Prithvi, Agni and Soma,
(2) The atmospheric gods (Antariksh Sthaniya) such as, Indra, Rudra (Probably lightning), Maruts, Vayu (wind) and Parjanya and
(3) Celestial gods (Dyu Sthaniya) such as Dyaus (the sky), Varuna (vault of Heaven), Ushas (dawn), Asvins (probably twilight and morning stars) and Surya, Mitra, Savitri and Vishnu,Pushan,Vivasman all associated with the most glorious phenomenon of nature, viz., the sun.
Among the vedic gods, Indra occupied the chief place, was given the largest number of hymns—about one fourth of the total number of hymns in the Rig Veda Samhita. He was also known as Purandara (destroyer of forts). He was the god of rain and god of war also.
Maruta was the god of storm. He helped Indra in scattering away the demons. Usha was the goddess of dawn(Morning form of Sun).
Varuna was regarded as the regulator of moral values (Rita). He was conceived as the omniscient ruler of the cosmic waters. Varuna was “the deliverer from sin”. Some scholars seek to identify Varuna with Uranus. He lived in heaven and punished the sinners. He is the keeper of the laws of universe, the ‘Rita’. The seasons turned at his command, the day followed the night at his direction. If Varuna compelled the universe and nature to obey the law, he also wanted the man, a part of nature to obey the law—the Rita. He punished departure and diversions by man. Ethics was the law that guided the human relations.
Varun and Mitra
Varuna punished negligence to ethics and ethical values. However, he was never a cruel God like Indra. One could get his grace by suitable penance and devotion to him. Mitra is sometimes mentioned with Varuna though he was an independent God. He was the keeper of promises, treaties and Varuna punished the violator.
Rudra– The God of Rig Vedic Religion, Rudra was the God of storm and thunder. However, he was relatively unimportant in the Rig Vedic Religion and later on he was merged with the Siva. He was conceived as the God of death. He destroyed men by spreading epidemics, disease, flood, fire and death.
Vishnu who became so prominent later on also remained relatively unimportant in the Rig Vedic period. Prithvi was regarded as the goddess of grain and of procreation.
Agni was second in importance only to Indra. He acted as the coordinator among all deities. He conveyed to the gods the oblations offered by the devotees. He received special homage by the people as no sacrifice could be performed without offering to him.
Vishnu (Associated with Sun in Rigveda) was worshipped as the god of three worlds.He is regarded as ‘God with Golden Embryo’.
Surya was regarded as the destroyer of darkness.
Apart from these deities, others like Savitar (A form of Sun,whom Gayatri Mantra is dedicated), Brihaspati ,Aranyani(Forest Goddess) and Prajnya were also worshipped.
Mode of Worship:
The mode of worship was simple. The Vedic worship meant primarily only oblation and prayer. A great value was attached to the hymns. The Aryans chanted hymns to appease the various divinities. Yajna or sacrifice was another mode to appease the gods and goddesses. They offered milk, ghee, grains, wine, fruits etc. as offering into fire. Animals like horses, buffaloes, rams, bulls, and even cows were also sometimes sacrificed.
The process of sacrifice was simple. Every Aryan family took part in the offering of prayers and performing of fire-sacrifice. There was no priestly class for performing these religious sites. No shrine or temple was built. Image worship was unknown in those days. Religion was materialistic in nature.
In-spite of worshipping various deities the Vedic age saw the prevalence of monotheism. The hymns of Rig-Veda, Mandal x, 82 express the belief that God is one although. He bears many names. The idea of single supreme power governing and controlling the universe seems to have emerged. Nasadiya Sukta also express monistic views.
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