THE VEDIC CIVILIZATION

The Vedic Period or the Vedic Age refers to that time period when the Vedic Sanskrit texts were composed in India. The society that emerged during that time is known as the Vedic Period, or the Vedic Age, Civilization. The Vedic Civilization flourished between the 1500 BC and 500 BC on the Indo-Gangetic Plains of the Indian subcontinent. This civilization laid down the foundation of Hinduism as well as the associated Indian culture. The Vedic Age was followed by the golden age of Hinduism and classical Sanskrit literature, the Maurya Empire and the Middle Kingdoms of India. Many historians have given various theories regarding the original place of the Aryans. However, the Central Asian Theory given by Max Muller is the most accepted one. It states that the Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.

  • They entered India probably through the Khyber Pass (in the Hindukush Mountains) around 1500 B.C.
  • The holy book of Iran ‘Zend Avesta’ indicates entry of Aryans to India via Iran.
  • The early Aryans did not have to look routes to Indian sub-continent; for the Harappans had crossed the high passes of the Hindukush and reached the middle course of the Amu Darya where they had set up a trading post at Shortughai.
  • In the Rigvedic period, the nobles were advised to eat from the same vessel as the vis for success.
  • Metal came to be known as Ayas and Iron as Krishanayas (Black Metal).
  • The Vedic texts may be divided into two broad chronological strata: the Early Vedic (1500-1000 B.C.) when most of the hymns of the Rig Veda were composed and the Later Vedic (1000-600 B.C.) when the remaining three Vedas and their branches were composed.

 

3.1 Early Vedic or Rigvedic Period (1500-1000 B.C.)

The Rig Veda is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Varuna and other gods by various families of poets and sages. From Rigveda, we come to know that there were 33 gods that time who were divided into three categories viz., heavenly gods, atmospheric god, and earthly gods. Varuna, Surya, Aditi, Savitri were heavenly gods. Indra, Rudra, Maruts etc. were atmospheric gods. Agni, Soma, and Prithvi were earthly gods. Four rivers of Afghanistan are clearly described in the Rigveda. These are: Kubha, Krumu, Gomati (Gomal), Suvastu (swat). It consists of ten Mandala or books of which Book II to VII is the easiest portion. Book I and X seem to have been the latest additions. In the Rigvedic period, the dead man’s soul is said to depart to the waters of the plants.

  • Since the Aryans came through the mountains, which were considered the dwelling places of their gods, these are repeatedly mentioned in the Rigveda. Meru, a mountain beyond the Himalayas, is a happy divine abode in the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
  • The Rig Veda has many things in common with the Avesta, which is the oldest text in the Iranian language. The two texts use the same names for several Gods and even for social classes.
  • The history of the later Vedic period is based mainly on the Vedic texts which were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda. These include the three Vedas – Samveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda and the Brahamanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads and the Sutras.
  • The collection of the Vedic hymns or mantras were known as Samhitas.
  • For purposes of singing, the prayers of the Rigveda were set to tune and this modified collection was known as the Samveda Samhita.
  • The Yajurveda contains not only the hymns but also the rituals which have to accompany their recitation.
  • The Atharvaveda is completely different from the other three Vedas. It contains charms and spells to ward off evils and diseases. Its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the non-Aryans. Atharvaveda is the most valuable of the Vedas after the Rig Veda for the history and sociology.
  • All the Vedic literature is together called the Shruti and they include apart from the four Vedas, the Brahamanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.
  • The Brahamanas are a series of texts that followed the Vedic samhitas. Each Veda has several bhramanas attached to it. These are ritual texts.
  • Brahamanas attached to the Rigveda are Aitareya, Kaushitaki (composed by Hotri priest), Brahamanas attached to Samveda are Jamini, Tandyamasha, Panchavis, and Chhandogya (composed by Udgatri priest).

Brahamanas attached to Yajurveda are Satpatha Brahmana (composed by Adhvaryu priest). Brahamanas attached to Atharvaveda are Gopatha Brahamana. The Brahamanas throw light on the socio-political life of the Aryans and form a sort of explanation of their religion, especially sacrifice. They also contain ritualistic formulae for the respective Vedas and its priests. The Aranyakas are forest books that are treaties on mysticism and philosophy and are concluding portion of the Brahamanas. They explain the metaphysics and symbolism of sacrifice. They lay emphasis not on sacrifice but on meditation. They are infact opposed to sacrifice and many of the ritualistic practices.

  • Their stress is on moral virtues. They form a bridge between the way of the works (karma-marga, advocated by the Brahamanas) and the way of knowledge (gyan-marga, advocated by the Upanishads). Some important Aranyakas are Aitreya Aranyaka, Kaushitaki Aryanka and Taittiriya Aranyaka.
  • The Upanishads contain philosophical speculations. They are generally called Vedanta which means the end of the Vedas. One reason is that they came at the end of the Vedic period or that they were taught at the end of the Vedic instruction.
  • These texts were compiled around 600 B.C. and criticized the rituals and laid stress on the values of right belief and knowledge. They emphasized that the knowledge of the self and the atma should be acquired and the relation of atma with Brahma should be properly understood.
  • The ten Upanishads are: Ishopanishat, Kenopanishat, Kathopanishat, Parshnopanishat, Mandukopanishat, Koushikopanishat, Thaittariyopanishat, Chandogyopanishat and Brihadaranyaopanishat. These are commentaries appended to the Aranyakas and deal mainly with philosophy and religion.
  • The Smriti are the auxiliary treatises of the Vedas or their supplements. It refers to that literature that has been passed on from one generation to the other. Manusmriti written by Manu is the oldest of all the Smritis.
  • The Puranas are 18 in number, of which the Bhagawat Purana and Vishnu Purana are the most important.

 

The early Aryans settled in eastern Afghanistan, modern Pakistan, Punjab and parts of western U.P. The whole region in which the Aryans first settled in India is called the Land of Seven Rivers or Sapta Sindhava (the Indus and the five tributaries and the Saraswati).

 

Political Organization

The political organization was of monarchial form. The tribe was known as Jan and its king as Rajan. He was the leader in battle and protector of the tribe. His office was not hereditary and was selected among the clan’s men. The Rajan was not an absolute monarch, for the government of the tribe was in part the responsibility of the tribal councils like sabhas, samitis, gana and vidhata. Even women attended gana and vidhata only.

  • Many clans (Vish) formed a tribe. The basic social unit was the Kula or the family and the Kulapa was the head of the family.
  • The king was assisted by a number of officers of which Purohita was the most important. Next important functionary was the Senani (leader of the army) even though there was no regular or standing army. The military technique of the Aryans was much advanced. The Aryans succeeded everywhere because they possessed chariots driven by horses.
  • There was no regular revenue system and the kingdom was maintained by voluntary tribute (Bali) of his subjects and booty won in battle.

 

Social Life

The term Varna was used for colour, the Aryans being fair and the Dasas dark. Family was the basic unit of society and was patriarchal in nature. But women enjoyed equal power with men. Marriage was usually monogamous and indissoluble, but there are a few instances of polyandry, levirate and widow marriage. There are no examples of child-marriage. The marriageable age seems to have been 16 to 17.

  • Both dowry and bride price were recognized during the Early Vedic period.
  • The word ‘Arya’ came to refer to any person who was respected.
  • Aryans were fond of soma, sura, food and dresses. Soma was drunk at sacrifices and its use was sanctified by religion. Sura was purely secular and more potent and was disapproved by the priestly poets.
  • Throughout the Vedic period, education was imparted orally. Unlike the Harappans, the Aryans do not seem to have a system of writing.
  • The Aryans loved music and played the flute, lute and harp. There are references to singing and dancing girls. People also delighted in gambling. They enjoyed chariot racing. Both men and women wore ornaments.

 

Economy

Their bronze smiths were highly skilled and produced tools and weapons much superior to those of Harappa culture. There were artisans like carpenters, weavers, cobblers, potters, etc. Aryans followed a mixed economy – pastoral and agricultural – in which cattle played a predominant part. Most of their wars were fought for cow (most important form of wealth). Cattle were in fact a sort of currency and values were reckoned in heads of cattle (man’s life was equivalent to that of 100 cows), but they were not held sacred at the time. The horse was almost as important as the cow. Standard unit of exchange was the cow. At the same time coins were also there (gold coins like Nishka, Krishnal and Satmana). Gavyuti was used as a measure of distance and Godhuli as a measure of time. Reference to money lending first occurs in Shatapatha Brahmana, which describes a usurer as Kusidin. Lived in fortified mud settlements, Physicians were then called ‘Bhishakas’ and the staple crop were ‘yava’ which meant barley.

 

Religion

The Aryans personified the natural forces and looked upon them as living beings. The most important divinity was Indra who played the role of warlord (breaker of forts – Purandar and was also associated with storms and thunder).

  • The second position was held by Agni (fire-god). He is considered an intermediary between gods and men.
  • Varuna occupied the third position. He personified water and was supposed to uphold the natural order. He was ethically the highest of all Rigvedic gods.
  • Soma was considered to be the god of plants. Maruts personified the storms.
  • Some female deities are also mentioned like Aditi and Usha, who represented the appearance of dawn.
  • Didn’t believe in erecting temples or idol worship. Worshipped in open air through yajnas.
  • Aryans didn’t worship animals – only gods in man’s form.
  • The Asvamedha sacrifice concluded with the sacrifice of 21 sterile cows.
  • From Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we get the first exposition of the doctrine of transmigration of soul.
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