Early Vedic Period: Ancient India
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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.

Early Vedic Period: Ancient India

Rig Veda

  • 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).

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  • 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.
  • Vasishta-Conservative,
  • Vishwamitra-Liberal

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)

Gopa/ Gopati

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

Tribal assembly

  • 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

Early Vedic Period: Ancient India

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)

Marriage institution

  • 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

Social Divisions

  • 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

Other goddesses

  • 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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