Early Vedic Period: Ancient India
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Early Vedic Period: Ancient India
Introduction: Vedic Period
The Indus civilisation declined around 1700 BC due to a variety of causes. The advent of Aryans in India around 1500 BC marked the beginning of the Rigvedic period.
The Vedic period is broadly divided into
Early Vedic (1500 – 1000 BC)
Later Vedic (1000 – 600 BC)
In this article, we will discuss the facts related to the Early Vedic Period.
- Rig Veda is the most important source to know about the early Vedic Period and early Aryans.
- It is considered the purest form of Hindu Literature.
- The term ‘Veda’ is derived from ‘Vid’ which means ‘to know.
- The oldest book of any kind in India.
- Composed during 1500 – 1000 BC.
- In Rig Veda, there are 10 Mandals (chapters), 1028 Suktas (Hymns) and 10465 Shlokas (verses)
- The Mandals from 2nd to 8th are older.
- 1st and 10th manuals are the latest.
- The term ‘Shudra’, is mentioned for the first time in the 10th Mandal.
- Rig Veda has many things common with Avesta (oldest text in Iranian languages)
- Avesta and Rig-Veda had used common names for several gods and social classes.
- ‘Aryan’ literally means pure or noble.
- The name was given to the linguistic group and not a race.
- Coming of Aryans has no clear and definite archaeological evidence
- They came to India in 1500 BC
- It is believed that they originally came from Eurasia (Central Asia).
- Aware of Himalayas but not of Deserts and Seas.
- Even, in Rig Veda, the word ‘Samudra’ meant a collection of water and not ‘sea’.
- Earliest life – Pastoral
- Agriculture – 2nd occupation
- Language – Indo-European language
- The earliest example of the Indo-European language is found in an inscription of 2200 BC from Iraq.
- Maybe they have used a socketed axe, bronze dirks and swords-found in Northwestern India
- The important role of the horse in their life
- Because of Horse’s swiftness, Aryans were able to inroad in West Asia.
- Horse and horse sacrifice archaeological evidence found in Southern Tajikistan (Central Asia) and swat valley.
- Earliest Aryan lived in-eastern Afghanistan, NWFP, Punjab and fronts of UP
- After coming into India Aryans had differences with indigenous inhabitants called Dasas, days etc.
The Dasrajan war (Battle of 10 kings)
- Was internecine war of Aryans
- 10 kings participated in the war against Sudas who was Bharata king of the Tristu family.
- 10 chiefs (5 were head of Aryan tribes and the rest were non-Aryan people) opposed Bharat ruling clan.
- Ruling clans of Aryans and got support from Vasishtha.
- The battle was fought on banks of river Parushani, identical to river Ravi
- Sudan won and supremacy of Bharatas was established.
- Purus-one of the tribes who got defeated.
Rivers are known to the Rig Vedic Aryans
- Kubha river (Afghanistan)
- Indus river and its five tributaries (mentioned many times in Rig-Veda)
- Aryan first settled in India in Sapta Saindhava or land of the 7 Rivers (Indus + its 5 tributaries + Saraswati)
- River Saraswati (in Rig-Veda mentioned as Nadi Tarana or best of the river)
- It had been identified as Ghaggar(Hakra channel in Haryana and Rajasthan).
- Predominantly pastoral people because there were a lot of references to cow and bull in Rig-Veda.
- The cow seems the most important form of wealth. Most of the wars were fought for sake of cows
- Gavishthi – war for cow
- Gifts made to priests consists of cows and women slaves (for domestic works) and not land.
- The land was important because of agriculture, grazing and settlement but not as a private property
- Craftsmen: Rig Veda mentions Carpenter, Chariot maker and Weaver, Leatherworker, Potter etc.
Trade: Early Vedic Period
- No evidence of regular trade
- They mostly know about land routes and not sea routes as Rig Veda mentions the sea as just a collection of water
- Money and markets were known but they were not extensively used.
- Cows and gold ornaments of fixed value were the media of exchange
- Coins were not known
Polity: Early Vedic Period
- This was another name for the tribe. It had been mentioned 170 times in Rig Veda
- Vis was divided into many grams (smaller tribal units for fighting)
- War or sangrama-clashing of gramas with one another
- Kingship- It was the basis of the social structure
- A man was identified by his clan
- The tribe was called Jana and people’s primary loyalty was to the tribe
- Total no. of members in a tribe about 100
- Term Jana occurs 75 times in Rig Veda. While the term janapada not used even once
Ruled by a King (Called Rajana)
- Election: by tribal assembly
- King’s post gradually become hereditary
- The form of government was patriarchal in Nature.
- Center of administration machinery
- Successful leadership in war
- Just a chief with not unlimited power
- He had to reckon with tribal organizations
- King was the protector of his tribe
- He protects tribes’ cows
- Fought war for the tribe
- Offer pray to god on behalf of the tribe.
- Domestic priest
- First ranking official
- King’s preceptor, friend, philosopher and guide
- Vashishta and Vishwamitra were the two most important priests during Rigvedic times.
Senani (army chief)
- Senani is the next important functionary
- He used spears, axes, swords etc.
- The king didn’t maintain any regular or standing army
- In times of war, the king mustered the military whose military function was performed by different tribal groups.
- wood, stone, bone and metals were used in weapons.
Kula (the family)
Grama (the village)
Vis (the clan)
Jana (the people)
Rashtra (the country)
- No officer
- There were cases of theft and burglary and theft of cows.
- Rig Veda mentions traditional rules were used to deal with it.
- Spies were employed to keep an eye on unsocial activities.
- Vrajapati-officer who enjoyed over large land or pasture ground. He led the kulapa or gramanis
- No evidence found for the officer who collects taxes
- Bali-In the early Vedic period the king collected taxes regularly from his subjects.
- The taxes were called Bali and consisted of 1/6 the agricultural produce or cattle for a given person
- War booty was distributed among kings and their people
- Sabha, Samiti, Vidhata, Gana – Tribal or the clan-based assemblies.
- Sabha- Council of clan members or assembly of Brahmins and elders
- Samiti- Assembly of the common man. Both men and women could participate in it.
- Sabha, Samiti exercised deliberative, military and religious functions
Social Structure: Early Vedic Period
- Kula- the term for family. Kula was the basis of both social and political organisations.
- Above the Kula were the Grama, the Vis, the Jana and the Rashtra.
- A group of Kula formed a Grama and so on.
- Griha-this term was also used for a family in Early Vedic times.
- Father-head of the family Patriarchal society
- In Rig Veda, desire for children and cattle is repeating but no desire express for daughters
Position of Women
- Patriarchal and Patrilineal society
- But Education was not neglected,
- Vishavara and Lopamudra were the girls who have composed hymns of Rig Veda.
- Monogamy was the rule though Polygamy was permitted.
- They attended assemblies
- Some rituals were not considered complete without the company of a wife. (for example in Yagya pooja)
- The institution of marriage was established.
- Symbols of primitive practices also survived
- Instances of polyandry were also found
- Marriage was indissoluble and the concept of divorce was absent
- Child marriage – absent
- Widow Remarriage – allowed
- Marriageable age – 16 to 17
- Consciousness about physical appearance had started in 1500 – 1000 BC
- Varna – It was the term used for colour
- Aryans were fair in colour while original inhabitants of the country were dark in colour.
- Colour may have been used for different social orders. Western writers have exaggerated this racial distinction
- A factor that contributed most to the creation of social divisions was the conquest of indigenous inhabitants by the Aryans
- E.g.- Dasas and Dasyus conquered by the Aryans were treated as slaves and Shudras
- According to Rig Veda there were two varnas – Arya varna and Dasa varna
- Another factor was more share of king and priests in war booty, which created social inequalities in the tribe
Society was divided into 4 groups –
- Brahmana-Priest, Teachers
- Kshatriya-rulers, administrators
- Vaishya- Farmers, Merchants, Bankers
- Shudra- Artisans and Labourers
- The 4th division Shudra appeared in the last phase of the Early Vedic Period.
- Slaves were given as gifts to the priests
- Women slaves-they was only for domestic purposes
- Slaves were not used directly in agriculture or other producing activities.
Division based on occupation
- Division on basis of occupation was there but it wasn’t sharp. Anyone could change his profession.
- One of the members of a family says - “I am a poet, my mother is corn grinder and my father is a physician. We belong to different varnas by our profession but still love together”
- Because the economy was pastoral and surplus was also not significant. So, there were fewer ways to collect regular tribute from people Gifts of land and cereals were rare.
- Social division based on tax collection or accumulation of landed property- absent
- Society was tribal and egalitarian
Rig Vedic Gods
- Early Vedic Aryans were not able to explain the reasons for natural forces and so they found their faith in the surroundings.
- They gave them human or living being attributes.
- There were nearly 33 Gods. Later day tradition classified them into 3 categories:
- Terrestrial(Prithvi Sthaniya): Prithvi, Agni, Soma, Brihaspati and rivers.
- Aerial/Intermediate (Antariksha Sthaniya): Indra, Rudra, Vayu-Vata
- Celestial (Dyusthaniya): Surya, Varun, Aditi and Usha.
Indra (Rain of god)
- Most important Rig Vedic god.
- Known as Purandara or breaker of forts.
- Played the role of a warlord, leading the Aryan soldiers to victory against the demons.
- 250 hymns were devoted to him
- Known by various names as Rathestha, Shatakrata, Jitendra, Meghavan and Somapa
Agni (God of fire)
- Second most important god.
- 200 hymns devoted to him
- Agni is the priest of the gods and the gods of the priests.
- Has three forms: terrestrial as fire, atmospheric as lightning and celestial as the sun.
- Considered as an intermediary between gods and people
- Cult of fire occupied a central space not only in India but also in Iran.
- 3rd most important god
- God of water
- He was supposed to uphold the natural order
- It was considered that whatever happened in the world were because of the desires of the Varuna god.
Soma: God of plants
- An intoxicating drink was made from plants brought from the Himalayas and it was named after the Soma god
- Marut: God of storm
- Aditi: Goddess of eternity
- Usha: Goddess of dawn
- Aranyani: Goddess of the forest
- Nirrti: Goddess of decay and death
- Sarma: Messenger of Gods
- Vastospati: God of settlements
- Because of the patriarchal society, the male gods were more important than female.
- Sometimes God was visualised as animals but no animal worship as such.
- The nature of Rig Vedic religion was Henotheism i.e. belief in many Gods but each God standing out in turns as highest.
Mode of Worshipping
- Mainly through a ceremony called Yajna (by the offering of milk, ghee, grain, flesh and soma)
- Both collective and individual prayers were made.
- Every tribe or clan had a special God.
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