Vedic Period

vedic period civilization text later early

Origin of Aryans

  • The Indo Aryans in due course of time orally composed the Rig Veda Samhita which on linguistic grounds is dated between 1500 and 1000 BC.
  • The language of the Zend Avesta (old Persian) is also very similar to the Rig Vedic Sanskrit.
  • The excavations and the Boghaz Kui (Turkey) inscriptions in the script of Babylonian cuneiform yield information about the oldest known group of Aryans, the Hittites who moved into Asia Minor before 1950 BC.
  • The Indo Europeans are distinguished by horse-drawn chariots which are amply attested to by Vedic, Avestan and Homeric texts
  • The Indian subcontinent does not show a profusion of horse remains.
  • Richard Meadow, who has made a thorough study of the remains, argues that until 2000 BC there is no clear osteological evidence of the presence of the horse in the Indian subcontinent.
  • The cult of fire is the most significant cult in the Avesta, but although Agni is an important god in the Rig Veda
  • The cult of soma, called haoma in Avestan language, was typical of both the Vedic and Iranian people
  • Male dominance is an important trait of Indo European society.

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vedic period civilization text later early

vedic period civilization text later early

Vedic Period Texts

  • The word Veda is derived from the root vid, which means to know, signifying ‘knowledge par excellence’.
  • The Vedic literature consists of two parts: Samhitas and Brahmanas.
  • The latter itself is divided into three parts: Brahmanas pure and simple, the Aranyakas, and finally the Upanishads.

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Samhitas

  • They are collections of hymns sung in the praise of various gods.
  • The most essential part of the Vedic literature.
  • They are four in number:
    • Rig Veda Samhita
    • Sama Veda Samhita
    • Yajur Veda Samhita
    • Atharva Veda Samhita

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Rig Veda

  • This veda of praise consists of 1017 hymns (suktas) and supplemented by 11 others called valakhilyas.
  • It is divided into 10 books or mandalas.
  • The oldest hymns are contained in mandalas Il to VII, which are also known as the ‘Family Books’
  • Tthe latest in mandalas I and X.
  • The Rig Veda is the oldest as well as the most important of all the Samhitas

vedic period civilization text later early

Sama Veda

  • The name is derived from saman, a song or melody
  • It consists of 1810, or 1549 songs or melody, which they were chanted by the udgatri priests at the soma sacrifice.
  • They were set to tune for the purpose of chanting in this sacrifice.
  • It is called the book of chants, and the origins of Indian music are traced to it.

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Yajur Veda

  • Veda of yajus or formulae, consists of various mantras (hymns) for the purpose of recitation and rules to be observed at the time of sacrifice.
  • The two royal ceremonies of rajasuya and vajapeya are mentioned for the first time in this Veda.
  • It is divided into two parts,
    • Krishna Yajur Veda
    • Sukla Yajur Veda.

vedic period civilization text later early

Atharva Veda

  • Veda of the atharvans or the knowledge of magic formulas, contains  charms and spells in verse to ward off evils and  diseases.
  • Believed to be the work of non-Aryans, its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the non-Aryans.
  • It is divided into two parts:
    • Paippalada
    • Saunaka

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Brahmanas

  • Belonging to the second great class of the Vedas, they are treatises relating to prayer and sacrificial ceremony.
  • They deal with the science of sacrifice.
  • The Brahmanas of the Rig Veda are intended for the use of the invoking priest (hotri), those of the Yajur Veda for the officiating priest (adhvaryu) and those of the Sama Veda for the chanting priest (udgatri).

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Aranyakas

  • These forest books deal with mysticism and symbolism of sacrifice and priestly philosophy.
  • The Aranyakas contain transitional material between the mythology and ritual of the Samhitas and Brahmanas, on the one hand, and the philosophical speculations of the Upanishads on the other.
  • Two Aranyakas, the Aitareya and the Kausitaki, are attached to the Rig Veda.

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Upanishads

  • They are philosophical texts dealing with topics like the Universal Soul, the Absolute, the individual self, the origin of the world, the mysteries of nature, and so on.
  • the several Upanishads, only 12 are very important. They are: (1) Aitareya, (2) Kausitaki, (3) Chandogva, (4) Kena, (5) Taittiriya,(6) Katha, (7) Svetasvatara, (8) Brihadaranyaka, (9) Isa, (10) Mundaka, (11) Prasna and (12) Mandukya.
  • (1 and 2 belong to the Rig Veda, 3 and 4 to the Sama Veda, 5 to 9 to the Yajur Veda and finally 10 to 12 to the Atharva Veda.)

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Vedangas and Sutra Literature

  • There are six Vedangas:
    • (I) Siksha (Phonetics),
    • (2) Kalpa (Rituals),
    • (3) Vyakarna (Grammar),
    • (4) Nirukta (Etymology),
    • (5) Chandas (Metrics)
    • (6) Jyotisha (Astronomy).
  • In contrast to the Vedic literature proper, which is considered sruti or divine revelation
  • The Vedangas are called smriti or literature handed down by tradition because they are of human origin.
  • The Vedangas are written in the form of sutras, i.e. condensed prose style intended for memorisation.
  • The sutra literature, though not forming a part of the Vedic literature proper, helps us in the study of the Vedic literature.
  • Of all the sutra texts, only Kalpa Sutras have come down to us, and these are again divided into three classes:
    • (1) Srauta Sutras,
    • (2) Grihya Sutras
    • (3) Dharma Sutras

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vedic period civilization text later early

vedic period civilization text later early

Early Vedic Period (1500 – 1000 BC)

Geographical Knowledge

  • The geographical distribution of the people referred to in the Rig Veda covers the sapta sindhu region

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Economy

  • The Rigvedic economy was primarily pastoral, but it was familiar with agriculture.
  • Wealth was primarily computed in heads of cattle as well as horses (regarded as more valuable but less easy to obtain) and chariots, gold and slave girls, as is evident from the dana-stuti hymns in praise of gift-giving.

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Society

  • There was a broader division of society initially, into two varnas
  • The arya varna and the dasa varna as referred to in the Rig Veda.

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Political Pattern

  • Identity in the Rigvedic period was related to jana, meaning tribe, into which one was born.
  • The vis, which appears to have been a smaller unit than the jana and was possibly a clan, is frequently mentioned.
  • In the hierarchy of clans, that of the raja had the status of the ruling clan.
  • Yet the raja often bore the name of the clan.
  • The term raja referred to a chief rather than to a king.
  • A group of families constituted the grama,

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Later Vedic Period  (1000-600 BC)

Geographical Knowledge

  • The later Vedic texts cover a wider geographical area, including the western Ganga plain and the middle Ganga plain.

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Economy

  • A comparative study of the early and late Vedic texts suggests a gradual change from pastoralism to agriculture as the predominant economy, although the former never totally declined in the western Ganga plain.
  • Wet rice cultivation is also, in itself, labour intensive.
  • Such activities would not only necessitate the availability of labour, but also a social distance between those who laboured and those who controlled the labour.
  • Many words for battle,   such as gavisti, also imply a search for cattle.
  • The importance of cattle is also evident from references to the chief as gopati or lord of cattle, as well as from references to the daughter as duhitri or she  who milks cattle.

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Society

  • These changes had a bearing on other changes in society
  • The origin of caste has generally been traced back to the Vedic sources and the society to which they refer, since the earliest references to varnas come from these texts.
  • Jati derives its meaning from the root jan, to be born, and therefore, the patterns of kinship relations are of primary importance to caste organization and these patterns have regional variations.
  • The two systems, the varna seeking ritual legitimacy and jati based on kin-relations, were apparently fused together.

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Political Transformation

  • The janas go back to Rigvedic times, but there are references in the later texts to larger groups resulting from the coalition and the confederating of individual janas, such as the Kurus or the Panchalas.
  • The Vedic raja gradually evolved into a king, an evolution which involved the transformation of the rajanya into the kshatriya, a term which has its root in kshatra or power and occurs frequently in later Vedic texts.
  • Battle of Ten Kings The Dasarajna or the battle of ten kings is an important historical event, and many of the important tribes and principalities figured in this battle. In the struggle on the Parushni (Ravi), the Bharatas emerged victorious.

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Industry

  • Some of the basic crafts, such as carpentry, metalworking, tanning, weaving, pottery, and the like, were practiced since the Rig Vedic times.
  • The smith, who produced objects of ayas, was called  karmara.
  • There were carpenters (takshan) who made chariots (rathas), wagons (anas), and boats (nau).
  • There were also goldsmiths (hiranyakara),  potters, grinders of corn, barbers (vaptri), tanners (charmamna) and physicians.

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Trade

  • Trade was practiced since the Rig Vedic period, though on a very limited scale.
  • It was carried on mainly through barter.
  • Wealth of the Vedic Indians consisted of cows which also served as the media of exchange.
  • In the later Vedic period, trade increased to an extent necessitating organization. Merchants organized themselves into guilds, known as ganas (called srenis in the post-Vedic period).
  • Money lending also began to be practised by some people
  • Nishka, came to be used as units of value.
  • In the Satapatha Brahmana, the gold piece, named satamana, is frequently mentioned in connection with the honorarium to be paid to the priests.
  • Another type of gold piece, named suvarna has  also been mentioned in it.
  • Though nishkas, hiranyapindas and manas had become well-known pieces of recognized weight and value, they cannot be called gold coins.

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Taxes

  • Bali, bhaga and sulka have been interpreted taxes of various kinds.
  • But known of these were collected at a specified time and regularly, nor were they of a precisely defined

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Republics

  • Gana, the technical word for the republic, is found  at forty-six places in the Rig Veda.
  • References indicate that gana also served as a sort of religious and cultural (dancing and drinking) assembly.
  • The first and nearest attempt at the classification of the types of government is found in the Aitareya Brahmana, which talks about ten forms of government.
  • The terms svarajya and vairajya were used in this text in the sense of the republican constitutions.
  • Two trans-Himalayan tribes, Uttarakurus and Uttaramadras, have been described as having a vairajya form ofgovernment

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Tribal Assemblies

  • In the Rig Vedic period, the vidata seems to be a more popular assembly than either sabha or samiti.
  • The vidata was an assembly in which both men and women participated.
  • It also functioned as a centre for settling disputes.

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Varna System and Social Division

  • The term varna literally means colour.
  • Though the colour of the skin played a considerable role in the rise of social divisions, it was mainly due to the conquest of indigenous inhabitants by the Aryans.
  • The Purushasukta in this book clearly mentions the four-fold division of the society. The Brahmin,  the Kshatriya, the Vaishya, and the Sudra
  • In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Mahabharata and the Manu Smriti also, the origin of the caste system has been repeated in a similar manner.

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Asramas or Stages of life

  • Brahmacharya – student or life of the householder
  • Grihastha – family life
  • Vanaprastha – hands over household responsibilities to the next generation
  • Sannyasa retirement – ascetic life

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Institution of Gotra

  • Literally meaning cowpen, it came to signify descent from a common ancestor.
  • It appeared only in the later Vedic period, for it is mentioned for the first time in the Athan’a Veda.
  • This period also witnessed the beginning of the practice of gotra exogamy. In other words marriage between persons belonging to the same gotra was prohibited.

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Position of Women

  • Monogamy (a man having one wife)  was  very  common.
  • Polygamy (a man having more than one  wife), though known, was not common.
  • Polyandry  (a woman having more than one husband), though known, was very rare.
  • Remarriage of widows   was permitted.
  • Child marriages were unknown.
  • Women participated in religious ceremonies and tribal assemblies (sabha and vidata).
  • In the later Vedic period, women lost their  political rights of attending assemblies.
  • Child marriages also came into vogue.
  • According to the Aitareya Brahmana, a daughter has been described as a source of misery.
  • The Atharva Veda also deplores the birth of daughters.
  • Further, references to sages such as Gargi and Maitreyi would probably mark a certain continuity with the tradition of early Vedic women seers.

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