Later Vedic Period: History
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Later Vedic Period: History

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Ancient and Medieval History

Later Vedic Period: History

Introduction:

During the later Vedic period, the Aryan settlements covered virtually the whole of Northern India.

  • The centre of culture now shifted from Saraswati to the Ganges.
  • There was mention of more rivers such as Narmada, Sadanira and Chambal etc.
  • The emergence of Janapadas- Kuru (combination of Purus and Bharatas), Panchala (combination of Turvashas and Krivis), Kashi etc. in the Doab region.

Later Vedic Period

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Three broad divisions of India appeared:

  • Aryavarta (Northern India)
  • Madhya Desa (Central India)
  • Dakshinapatha (Southern India)

Source to understand Later Vedic Period:

Archaeological Sources:

  • Sites: Atranjikhera, Hastinapur, Ahichatra, Noh/Nuh-- All found in Western UP
  • Pottery: Painted Grey Ware (PGW) is found at almost all sites in Western UP.

Literary sources:

  • Yajurveda: This was the second Veda to be composed after the Rig Veda. It consists of rituals of sacrifices and yajna.
  • Sama Veda: Sama Veda consists of musical hymns which could be sung. Most of the hymns were taken from Rig Veda itself. Samveda can also be considered the oldest text on music.
  • Atharva Veda: Atharvaveda is folk literature. It consists of charms, spells and magic to ward off evil spirits and diseases.
  • The first time Ayurveda is mentioned in Atharvaveda.
  • Note: the previous three Vedas were written by Aryans while Atharva Veda is written by non-Aryans.
  • So its contents also throw light on the beliefs and practices of non-Aryans.

Brahmanas:

  • Brahmanas are the commentary on Vedas. They explain the complex verses of the Vedas. They are the first complete literature in prose.
  • The most famous Brahmana is the ‘Satapatha’ Brahmana of the Yajur Veda.

Upanishads:

  • The literal meaning of ‘Upanishad’ is to sit down near someone.
  • Originally there were 108 books.
  • Came out as a result of the increasing grip of Brahmans on society. 
  • They discuss the importance of rituals and sacrifices. They deal with metaphysics i.e. the relation between man and God.

Some famous Upanishads:

  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (The oldest), Chandokya, Jabala, Katha, Ken, Isa etc.
  • Brahmanas are regarded as the basis of Hindu philosophy along with the Rig-Veda. 
  • In Upanishads Brahma (the creator) is the most important God.

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Society of Later Vedic Period

Society

  • Divided into 4 varnas: Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra
  • Even in later Vedic times, Varna distinctions had not gone so far.
  • Certain sections of artisans such as chariot-maker or Rathakara was given high status and also entitled to sacred thread ceremony.

Brahmins

  • Priests, scholars and teachers
  • The growing cult of sacrifices increased their importance in society.
  • This development in Brahmins was not found in Aryan society outside India.

Kshatriyas

  • Rulers, warriors and administrators
  • Tried to assert his power over all the three other varnas.

Vaishyas

  • Assigned the producing functions like agriculture, trade, cattle breeding etc.
  • Some worked as artisans also.
  • During the end of the later Vedic period, the Vaishyas started trade activities.
  • Vaishyas were just to pay tributes (like we taxpayers) and Brahmins and Kshatriyas were to collect tributes (tribute collectors).

Shudras

  • Labourers and service providers
  • Meant for serving the three higher varnas and were barred from the Vedic studies.
  • They were called cruel, greedy and thieving in habits and some of them were treated as untouchables.
  • was deprived of it and Gayatri mantra recitation.

Family

  • The power of the father increased. He could now disinherit his son.
  • Princely families-rule of primogeniture strengthened.
  • Male ancestors were started to be worshipped.

Position of Women 

  • They were given a lower position.
  • Ordinarily, women were considered inferior and subordinate to men.
  • Women were prohibited to attend the political assemblies
  • Though monogamy was ideal polygamy was frequent
  • According to Maitrayani Samhita, there are three evils- Liquor, woman and dice.
  • Yajnavalkya- Gargi dialogue (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) indicates that some women had got higher education.

Later Vedic Period

Types of Hindu Marriages prevalent:

  • Brahma Vivaha: Giving the girl to a man with dowry
  • Daiva Vivaha: Giving the girl to the priest himself in lieu of his fees.
  • Arsha Vivaha: Giving the girl to a man after accepting a bride-price
  • Prajapati Vivaha: Giving the girl to a man without demanding a bride price
  • Gandharva Vivaha: Love marriage
  • Asura Vivaha: Marriage with a purchased girl
  • Rakshasa Vivaha: Marriage with the daughter of a defeated king or with the kidnapped girl

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Institution of Gotra

  • It appeared in later Vedic times.
  • Gotra means cow-pen or the place where castles belonging to the whole clan are kept but in course of time, it signified descent from a common ancestor.
  • Gotra exogamy practice started and marriage between the same gotra or lineage was not allowed.
  • The highest castes could marry the lower ones, but marriage with Shudras was not permitted.
  • The idea of pollution appeared in society.

Ashramas

  • Four stages of life or Ashramas were not strengthened during the Vedic times.
  • In later Vedic times, 4 ashramas were there Brahmachari (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprastha (hermit) and sannyasa (ascetic).
  • In the later Vedic times only the stage of a householder was commonly practised by all the varnas.

The earliest reference to these Ashrams is found in -Jabala Upanishad.

Religion:

  • Two important Gods of the Rig Vedic period: Indra and Agni lost their importance.
  • Now Prajapati (Later known as Brahma) occupied supreme position.
  • Prajapati: creator of the world.
  • Vishnu: Preserver and protector of people
  • Rudra: God of animals (Later known as Shiva/ Mahesha)
  • As the society divided into varna system, some sections came with their own deities.
  • For example, Pushana, the god who was supposed to protect cattle, came to be regarded as the god of the Shudras.

Sacrifices

  • In the Later Vedic phase, Brahmanas sacrifices (Yajnas) came into prominence.
  • There were two varieties of Sacrifices:

Laghu Yajnas (Simple/Private sacrifice):

  • Performed by householder
  • Pancha Mahayajna, Agnihotra, Darsha Yajna, Purnamasa Yajna

Maha Yajnas (Grand/ Royal Sacrifices):

  • Sacrifices that could only be undertaken by an aristocratic and wealthy man and the king.
  • Ex: Asvamedha Yajna

The religion of the Later Vedic Period

Ashwamedh:

  • A horse was let loose to wander freely and it was guarded by the raja’s men. If the horse wandered into the kingdoms of other rajas and they stopped it, they had to fight.
  • If they allowed the horse to pass, it meant that they accepted that the raja who wanted to perform the sacrifice was stronger than them.
  • These rajas were then invited to the sacrifice, which was performed by specially trained priests, who were rewarded with gifts.
  • The Raja that organized the sacrifice was recognized as being very powerful, and all those who came brought gifts for him.
  • Sacrifices involved the killing of animals leading to the loss of cattle wealth.
  • Goghana: guest or the person who was fed on cattle.
  • Sacrifices were accompanied by formulae that need to be correctly pronounced.
  • Yajamana was the term used for sacrifice.
  • It was believed that the success of the performer of yajna depended on the magical power of the words uttered correctly in sacrifices.
  • Some rituals were similar to Indo-European people but most was developed by Indian priests.

The economy of the Later Vedic Period

Agriculture

  • Chief means of livelihood.
  • Very few agricultural tools made of iron
  • Ploughing done with wooden ploughshare which would have worked for light soil of upper Gangetic plains
  • Availability of bullocks: Limited for agriculture purposes because of cattle slaughter in sacrifices

Crops

  • Continue to produce Barley
  • Wheat and rice became the chief crop
  • In Punjab and UP, wheat was a staple food
  • Lentil was also produced by them
  • Become familiar with rice in doab(Called it Vrihi in Vedic texts

Crafts

  • Rise of diverse arts and crafts like smiths, smelters, weaving, carpenter, pottery, jewel workers
  • Smiths and smelters worked with iron in about 1000 BC
  • Copper was the 1st metal to be used by people

Pottery

  • Later Vedic people know about 4 types of Pottery: Black and redware, black slipped ware, Painted Grey ware and redware
  • Redware was most popular and found all over western UP.
  • Glass hoards and bangles were treated as prestigious objects
  • Jewel workers were to serve the needs of a richer section of society
  • Weaving confined to women and not on a large scale
  • Leatherwork and carpenter also existed

The polity of Later Vedic Period

Living Pattern

  • According to Later Vedic texts, Aryans covered the area between Punjab to Ganga - Yamuna doab.
  • Two major tribes during this period - Bharatas and Purus.
  • Initially, they lived between Saraswati and Drishadvati (i.e. on the fringe of the doab)
  • Kurus gradually united with the Panchal (occupied the middle portion of Doab)
  • So now the authority of the kurus and Panchals spreads over Delhi & upper and middle parts of the doab

Political organization

Assemblies

  • Rigvedic times assemblies lost importance (Vidatha completely disappeared)
  • Royal power increased at the cost of these assemblies
  • Sabha and Samiti were dominated by chiefs and rich nobles
  • Sabha was dominated by nobles and Brahmans and women were not allowed.
  • Tribe connected to territory
  • Formation of the bigger kingdom made chief or king more powerful
  • The territory was named after the dominant tribe, though the tribe was ruled by chief and prince
  • Other tribes might be inhabited in that territory like the minority
  • Territory name was given after the first tribe which settled there
  • Example: Panchali was the name of people but then it became the name of the region
  • Rashtra term indicating territory first appeared in this period

Election of King

  • The one who was best in physical and other qualities was elected as raja.
  • He received Bali (voluntary presents) from ordinary kinsmen or vis (common people)
  • Chief or king tried to ever last the right to receive presents and enjoy other privileges by making his office hereditary.

Rituals

  • The king’s influence was strengthened by rituals.
  • It was supposed to confer supreme powers on the king.

Administration at higher levels

  • Taxes and tributes were common.
  • Taxes were deposited with an officer called Sangrihitri.
  • At the time of big sacrifices, princes made large scale distributions.
  • Priest, commander, chief queen and few other higher functionaries assisted the king in discharging his duties.

Administration at lower levels

  • Village assemblies carried out lower level administration.
  • These assemblies were headed by chiefs of dominant clans.
  • Local cases were also tried by them.

Army

  • Even in this period, the king doesn’t have a standing army.
  • Tribal units were mustered when war was declared i.e. only when required.
  • According to one ritual king have to eat with his people (vis) from the same plate.

Twelve Ratninas ( Satapatha Brahmanas):

Purohit

the Priest

Mahishi

the Queen

Yuvaraja

Crown Prince

Suta/ Sarathi

the Royal Herald/ the Charioteer

Senani

the General

Gramani

Head of the village

Kshata

Gateman/ Chamberlain

Sangrahitri

Treasurer

Bhagadudha

Collector of taxes

Akshavapa

Courier

Palagala

Friend of King

Govikarta

Head of the forest department

Iron and Later Vedic Aryans

  • After 1000 BCE, the use of iron axes and ploughs became widespread and the jungles could be cleared with ease. This enabled the Vedic Aryans to settle at the western Gangetic plains
  • Burials with iron implements are found in large numbers.
  • Also found in Balochistan, eastern Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • Use of Iron in arrowheads and spearhead in western UP – 800 BC
  • Iron weapons to defeat adversaries which were faced during expansion.

Few iron tool for agriculture

  • Spread of iron in Eastern part
  • During the end of the Later Vedic period, knowledge of iron spreads to eastern UP and Videha
  • The earliest iron implements from here belong to 7th C BC. 
  • Iron was called Shyama or Krishna-ayas in Later Vedic texts

The later Vedic Period is considered the most important part of the Vedic Age. This article, will help all the UPSC aspirants to understand the facts related to the Vedic Period.

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