Vedic Culture

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The cities of Harappan Culture declined by 1500 BC. Around this period speakers of Indo-Aryan language entered North-West India from Indo-Iranian region. Their initial settlements were in North-West valleys and Punjab. Later they moved to Indo-Gangetic plains. By 6th Century they occupied whole of North India which was called Aryavarta. This period b/w 1500 BC to 600 BC is divided into Early Vedic period (1500 BC to 1000 BC) and Later Vedic period (1000 BC to 600 BC).

Vedic Literature:
The word Veda is derived from ‘Vid’ which means ‘to know’. So, the term ‘Veda’ signifies ‘superior knowledge’. Vedic literature consists of 4 Vedas- Rig veda, Yajur veda, Sam veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Veda is earliest of all. It contains 1028 hymns for praise of various Gods. Most number of hymns are for Indra and after him for Agni. Yajur Veda gives details of rules to be observed during sacrifice. Sam Veda deals with tunes in which the hymns were to be recited during sacrifice. Origin of Indian music is traced in it. Atharva Veda gives details of rituals.

Rig Vedic Age of Early Vedic Age(1500-1000 B.C.):
During Rig Vedic age, Aryans were mostly confined to Indus region. Rig Veda refers to Saptasindhu, meaning land of 7 rivers. The 7 rivers referred to were 5 rivers of punjab i.e. Jhelum, Cheanab, Ravi, Beas and Satluj. Other 2 rivers were Indus and Saraswati.

1. Political Organisation:
Basic unit of political organisation was kula or family. Several families joined together to form a village or grama. The head of grama was known as gramani. A group of villages was called ‘Visu’ and the head of a ‘visu’ was called Vishayapati. Highest political unit was ‘Tribe’ or ‘Jana’. There were several tribal kingdoms such as Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus and Purus. Head of Kingdom was called Rajan. Rig Vedic polity was monarchical and the succession was hereditary. The king was assisted by Purohita or priest and Senani or commander of army. There were 2 important bodies- Sabha and Samiti. Sabha was the council of elders and Samiti was general assembly of entire people.

2. Social life:
The society was patriarchal. The basic unit of society was family or graham. The head of the family was known as grahapati. Monogamy was generally practiced. Polygamy was prevalent among royal families. Women were given equal opportunities as men for their spiritual and intellectual development. There were women poets like Apala, Lopamudra, Viswawara and Ghosa. Women could attend popular assemblies. There was no child marriage and practice of  Sati. Both men and women wore upper and lower garments made of cotton and wool. Wheat, barley, milk and its products like ghee, curd, vegetable and fruits were chief articles of food. The eating of cow’s meat was prohibited as it was considered holy. Chariot race, dice, horse racing, music and dance were pastimes. Social division was not rigid.

3. Economic Condition:
The Rig Vedic Aryans were pastoral people and their main occupation was cattle rearing. Their wealth was estimated in terms of their cattle. When they permanently settled in North India they
began to practice agriculture.
With the knowledge and use of iron they were able to clean forests and bring more lands under
cultivation.
Carpentry was another important profession and the availability of wood from the forests cleared made the profession profitable. Carpenters produced chariots and ploughs.
Workers in metal made a variety of articles with copper, bronze and iron.
Spinning was another important occupation and cotton and woolen fabrics were made.
Goldsmiths were active in making ornaments.
The potters made various kinds of vessels for domestic use.
Trade was another important economic activity and rivers served as important means of transport. Trade was conducted onbarter system. In the later times, gold coins called nishka were used
as media of exchange in large transactions.

4. Religion:
The Rig Vedic Aryans worshiped the natural forces like earth, fire, wind, rain and thunder. They personified these natural forces into many gods and worshipped them. The important Rig Vedic
gods were Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Rain)and Indra (Thunder). Indra was the most popular among them during the early Vedic period. Next in importance to Indra was Agni who was regarded as an intermediary between the gods and people. Varuna was supposed to be the upholder of the natural order. There were also female gods like Aditi and Ushas. There were no temples and no idol worship during the early Vedic period. Prayers were offered to the gods in the expectation of rewards. Ghee, milk and grain were given as offerings. Elaborate rituals were followed during the worship.

Later Vedic Period (1000 – 600 B.C.)
The Aryans further moved towards east in the Later Vedic Period. The Satapatha Brahmana refers to the expansion of Aryans to the eastern Gangetic plains.  One important development during this period is the growth of large kingdoms. Kuru and Panchala kingdoms flourished in the beginning. Parikshat and Janamejaya were the famous rulers of Kuru kingdom. Pravahana Jaivali was a popular king of the Panchalas. He was a patron of learning. After the fall of Kurus and Panchalas, other kingdoms like Kosala, Kasi and Videha came into prominence. The famous ruler of Kasi was Ajatasatru. Janaka was the king of Videha with its capital at Mithila. His court was adorned by scholar Yajnavalkya.
Magadha, Anga and Vanga seem to be the easternmost tribal kingdoms. Thelater Vedic texts also refer to the three divisions of India – Aryavarta (northern India), Madhyadesa (central India) and Dakshinapatha (southern India).

1. Political Organization:
Larger kingdoms were formed during the later Vedic period. Many jana or tribes were amalgamated to form janapadas or rashtras in the later Vedic period. Hence the royal power had increased along with the increase in the size of kingdom. The king performed various rituals and sacrifices to strengthen his position. They include Rajasuya (consecration ceremony), Asvamedha (horse sacrifice) and Vajpeya (chariot race).  In the later Vedic period, a large number of new officials were involved in the administration in addition to the existing purohita, senani and gramani. They include the treasury officer, tax collector and royal messenger. At the lower levels, the administration was carried on by the village assemblies. The importance of the Samiti and the Sabha had diminished during the later Vedic period.

2. Economic Condition:
With help of iron forests were cleared and more area could be brought under cultivation. Agriculture became the chief occupation. Improved types of implements were used for cultivation. Besides barley, rice and wheat were grown. Knowledge of manure was another improvement. Industrial activity became more varied and there was greater specialization. Metal work, leather work, carpentry and pottery made great progress. In addition to internal trade, foreign trade became extensive. The Later Vedic people were familiar with the sea and they traded with countries like Babylon. A class of hereditary merchants (vaniya) came into existence. Vaisyas also carried on trade and commerce.They organized themselves into guilds known as ganas. Besides nishka of the Rig Vedic period, gold and silver coins like satamana and krishnala were used as media of exchange.

3. Social Life:
The four divisions of society (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras) or the Varna system was thoroughly established during the Later Vedic period. A Brahmin occupied a higher position than a Kshatriya but sometimes Kshatriyas claimed a higher status over the Brahmins.
 In the family, the power of the father increased during the Later Vedic period. There was no improvement in the status of women. They were still considered inferior and subordinate to men. Women also lost their political rights of attending assemblies.Child marriages had become common. According the Aitreya Brahmana a daughter has been described as a source of misery. However, the women in the royal household enjoyed certain privileges.

4. Religion:
Gods of the Early Vedic period like Indra and Agni lost their importance.Prajapathi (the creator), Vishnu (the protector) and Rudra (the destroyer) became prominent during the Later Vedic period. Sacrifices were still important and the rituals connected with them became more elaborate. The importance of prayers declined and that of sacrifices increased. Priesthood became a profession and a hereditary one. The formulae for sacrifices were invented and elaborated by the priestly class. Therefore, towards the end of this period there was a strong reaction against priestly domination and against sacrifices and rituals. 


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