Aryans originally lived in the Steppe region. Later, they moved to central Asia and then came to the Punjab region of India around 1500 BC. With the advent of the Aryans comes the history of the Vedic Period (1500 BC–600 BC).
The Vedic period is divided into the Early Vedic (Rigvedic) (1500 BC–1000 BC) and Later Vedic (1000 BC–600 BC) periods. Aryan names appear in the Hittite inscription (Anatolia), Kassitte inscription (Iraq), and Mittani inscription (Syria). An Iranian text, Zend Avesta, talks about the names of Aryan Gods like Indra, Varuna, etc.
Vedic Period (1500 BC – 600 BC)
Around 1500 BC, the Indus culture was conquered by the Aryans. The Aryans were nomadic people who migrated into the Indus Valley from central Asia. They had a new government system. They had a simple government, only grouped in clans, that were ruled by warrior chiefs called rajas.
- The Aryan tribes settled in various parts of northwestern India.
- The tribes were known as Gana (meaning “collection” of peoples).
- The post of chief of each tribe was hereditary in nature.
- The Chief had the final say on a decision but had to listen to a committee of the people.
It is considered that the Vedic period started around 1500 BC in India and lasted up to 600 BC. The same is said to have begun with the arrival of the Aryans in northern India’s plains. The word Aryan is derived from the word Arya, which means “high birth,” but generally speaking, the term refers to a language, not a race.
Indo-Aryans are believed to have migrated from Central Asia into the Indian subcontinent through Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in several stages or waves. A community of Aryans had branched off from Iran to travel to India. For a long time, those Indo-Aryans and Iranian Aryans inhabited Iran, and a portion of this country came to be known as the Araiya or Haraiva. Indra was among the leading early Aryans, and possibly the most influential.
One of its names was Purandara (the fort’s breaker). Everywhere the Aryans succeeded because they owned horses-driven chariots and introduced them to West Asia and India for the first time. Aryan soldiers were equipped with mail coats and better weapons, too.
Origin of Vedic Period
Some scholars, such as Max Muller, believed that originally, the Aryans lived somewhere in the eastern part of the Alps, in the area known as Eurasia, near the Caspian Sea and the southern Russian steppes, and eventually split into many tribes who migrated in search of pasture, to Greece and Minor Asia, to Iran and to India.
They had come to be known as Aryans by that time. This is proven by some Aryan names listed in the Kassite inscriptions of 1600 BC and the Mitanni inscriptions of the 14th century BC, found in Iraq, indicating that a branch of the Aryans migrated west from Iran.
Various Theory Original Home of Aryans:
|Central Asia||Max Muller|
|Arctic Region||B.G. Tilak|
Some believed that Aryans were cattle rearers
Believed to come from Central Asia
Brief History Vedic Period
The Aryans came to India in many waves. The earliest wave came when Rig Vedic people appeared in the subcontinent in about 1500 BC. They came into conflict with the indigenous people called the Dravidians mentioned as Dasa or Ddasyus in the Rig Veda.
The Rig Veda shows the defeat of Sambara by Divodasa. Divodasa belonged to the Bharata clan. Probably the Dasyus in the Rig Veda represents the local inhabitants of India, and an Aryan chief who overpowered the Dasyus was called Trasadvasyu. The Aryan chief was very soft towards the Dasas but very hostile to the Dasyus.
The term Dasyuhatya, the slaughter of the Dasyus, is mentioned many times in the Rig Veda.
Some of the major tribes of the era were Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu Puru, Bharata, Kuru, Panchalaand Tritsu, etc. The name Bharat Varsha is named after the tribe name Bharata.
Among the inter-tribal conflicts, the most important was the ‘Battle of the Ten Kings.’
The Aryans lived in the land known as “Sapta Sindhu”, i.e. Land of the Seven Rivers: Sindhu (Indus), Vipash (Beas), Vitasta (Jhelum), Parushni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Shutudri (Satluj) and Saraswati.
Vedic Period (1500 BC to 600 BC)
- Early Vedic Period (1500 BC to 1000 BC)
- Later Vedic Period (1000 BC to 600 BC)
- Epic Period (600 BC to 500 BC) (Rising of Mahajanpada)
Early Vedic Period Age
The Vedic Age began in India in 1500 BC and ended by 600 BC, with the coming of the Aryans. The Aryans scattered in the plains of northern India. Max Muller believes it an anomaly to treat the race as Aryans because scientifically, Aryans connote nothing but language.
Social and Economic Life of the Vedic Age
Kinship evolved into the foundation of social organization. People gave the tribe their primary allegiance, which had been called “Jana.” Another significant term that stands for the Rig Veda tribe is “vis.”
The tribes were presumably split into gramas or smaller tribal units intended for war. It triggered a samgrama or battle, when the gramas clashed with each other. When the gramas clashed with one another, it caused a samgrama, or war.
The term used for family (kula) is rarely mentioned in the Rig Veda.
It appears that the family was indicated by the term “griha” in the early Vedic period.
Family partnership separation leading to the establishment of separate households had not gone far, and the family was a very large joint entity.
The society was patriarchal, and the birth of a son was desired again and again
Marriage and Status of Women in the Vedic Age
The status of women was equal to that of men. Women received an education, studied the Vedas, and some of them even rose to the higher rank of seers composing Vedic hymns.
Monogamy was established in society. Polygamy and polyandry were also known.
Varna System in Vedic Age
Varna was mainly used for color, and the Aryans appeared to be white and the indigenous people dark in complexion. The dasas and dasyus that the Aryans captured were regarded as slaves and Sudras. The tribal society was slowly divided into three groups- the warriors, the priests, and the people. Towards the end of the Rig Veda era, the fourth division called the Shudras emerged. In the age of Rig Veda, divisions based on occupations had started. But the division was not very sharp.
Occupation in Vedic Period
The earliest life seems mainly of pastor and agriculture being a secondary occupation. The Aryans did not lead a settled life. They used several animals, but horses played the most significant role in their life.
The Rig Vedic people had better knowledge of agriculture.
Ploughshare found a place in the earliest part of the Rig Veda, though some consider it an interpolation. The term used for war in the Rig Veda is gavisthi or ‘search for cows.’ The Rig Veda mentions artisans as the carpenter, the chariot-maker, the weaver, the leatherworker, the potter, etc. It indicates that the people of rig Veda practiced all these crafts. The term ayas were used for copper or bronze shows that metalworking was known.
Metals Known to Rig Vedic People:
- Gold – Hiranya
- Iron – Shyama
- Copper – Ayas
Diet: Food And Drinks
The Indo-Aryans, while sharing the ancient Iranian veneration for the cow, felt no scruple about sacrificing both fulls and cows at weddings or on other important occasions. Those persons who took part in the sacrifice ate the flesh of the victim, whether it is bull, cow, or horse.
But the meat was eaten only as an exception. Milk was an important food article, and milk was supplemented by cakes of barley or wheat (yava), vegetables, and fruit.
Strong Drinks: The people consume two kinds of intoxicating drinks, called Soma and sura.
Sura probably was a type of beer. Soma juice was deemed particularly appropriate to the gods and was provided with elaborate ceremonial. The Sama Veda provides the chants appropriate for the ceremonies.
Amusements: Amusements in Vedas included dancing, music, chariot-racing, and dicing.
Gambling with dice is mentioned frequently in both the Rig Veda and the later documents the prevalence of gambling is beyond doubt.
Rig Vedic Gods
There were neither temples nor idols. So, the early Vedic religion was naturalistic. The mode of prayer was mantras recitation. Sacrifice was offered for Pashu (cattle), Praja (children), and Dhana (wealth) and not for spiritual upliftment.
- Indra: He was the most important divinity. Indra played an important role of a warlord, leading the Aryan soldiers toward victory against the demons. 250 hymns are devoted to Indra in the Rig Veda.
- Indra was associated with thunder and storm and is addressed by various names such asRatheshtha, Purandra, Jitendra Somapa, Varitrahan, and Maghayam.
- Agni: Agni was the second important divinity. He was an intermediary between Gods and men. Nearly 200 hymns of the Rig Veda are devoted to Agni.
- Varuna: Varuna was the upholder of Rita or cosmic order or natural order. He personified water.
- Soma: Soma was considered the god of plants. An intoxicant drink was also called Soma.
- Yama: Yama was known as the guardian of the world of the dead.
- Surya: Surya is considered similar to that of the Greek God Helios.
- Savitri: The famous Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitri.
- Rudra: An archer of god, whose anger brought disease.
- Pusan: Pusan is known as the lord of the jungle path. The main function of Pusan was to guard the roads, herdsmen, and cattle.
- Vishnu: Vishnu was a relatively minor God at that time.
- Vayu: is Known as the Wind God.
- Dyaus: Dyaus is known as the Father of Heaven.
- Aditi: Aditi is known as the goddess of Eternity.
- Usha: Goddess of Dawn.
- Vishvadeva: Intermediate Deities
- Maruts: Storm Spirits
- Gandharvas: Divine Musicians
- Ashvins: Ashvins were the healers of diseases and experts in the surgical art
- Ribhus: Gnomes
- Apsaras: Mistresses of Gods
- Aranyani: Goddess of Forest
- Prithvi: was known as the Goddess of Earth.
Early Vedic Religion
Believed in one Supreme God. They did not believe in idol worship. The Rig Vedic people worshipped the forces of nature as the manifestation of one Supreme God. Vedic Gods were classified into three categories –
1. Terrestrial Gods,
2. Atmospheric Gods, and
3. Celestial Gods.
Indra, Soma, Marut, Dyaus, Vayu, and Prajanaya. Prithvi, Saraswati, Usha, and Aditi were female deities.
Female deities were not given the same position as male deities. People in Rig Veda worshipped for the welfare of Praja & Pashu, not for spiritual reasons. Recitation of prayers, sacrifices, or yajnas, and chanting of Vedic hymns, were an important part of the worship.
Administration of the Vedic Period
In the Rig Vedic period, the Aryans’ administrative machinery operated with the tribal chief at the center.
- The tribal chief was known as Rajan. While the post of Rajan was hereditary, we do have some traces of tribal assembly voting, called the Samiti.
- The King was known as the protector of his tribe. He protected its animals, fought its wars, and offered prayers to gods on behalf of the tribe.
- Several tribal assemblies, such as Sabha, Samiti, Vidhata, and Gana, listed in the Rig Veda, had deliberative, military, and religious functions.
- In Rig Vedic times, women, along with men, participated in the sabha and vidhata. But Sabha and Samiti were political.
- A few functionaries assisted the King in the day-to-day administration.
- It appears the most important functionary was the Purohita.
- Vasishtha and Visvamitra were the two priests who played an important role in the Rigvedic era.
- The next significant functionary obviously is the senani.
- Princes received volunteer offerings called Bali from people.
- There have been robbery and burglary cases. We hear of cow robbery in particular. They hired spies to keep an eye on this unsocial behavior. The officer who enjoyed authority over the pasture ground was called Vrajapati.
- He led the heads of the families called Kulapas. Or the heads of the fighting hordes called gramanis to battle.
- The King did not maintain any regular or standing army, but in times of war, the King mustered a militia whose military function was performed by different tribal groups called vrata, gana, grama, sardha.
Later Vedic Period (1000 B.C. – 600 B.C.)
In the Later Vedic period, the Aryans further moved towards the east in the upper Gangetic basin. They succeeded in the second phase of their expansion because they used iron weapons and horse-drawn chariots. During this time, the Aryans moved eastward and occupied western and eastern UP (Kosala) and Bihar.
Political Structure Post Vedic Period
The vidatha disappeared altogether in later Vedic times. The sabha and the Samiti held on to the land, but their characters changed. Women were no longer allowed to sit on the sabha, and nobles and Brahmanas now dominated it.
The emergence of larger kingdoms made the king more powerful. Tribal jurisdiction tended to be hierarchical in nature. The first word appearing in this era is “Rashtra,” which indicates territory. During this time, the collection of taxes and tributes was done by an officer called sangrihitri. Even the king did not possess a standing army in later Vedic times. Tribal units were assembled in times of war, and the King had to eat from the same plate along with his subjects according to one ritual for success in battle.
Agriculture was the chief occupation. There was also industrial work such as metalwork, pottery, and carpentry. There was also foreign trade with Babylon.
Important Posts of the Vedic Era
|Chief Priest, is also sometimes referred to as Rashtragopa||Purohita|
|Supreme Commander of the army||Senani|
|Officer-in-Charge of pastureland||Vrajapati|
|Spies who also sometimes worked as messengers||Spasas/Dutas|
|Head of the village||Gramani|
|Head of the family||Kulapati|
|Mediator on disputes||Madhyamasi|
|Charioteer and court minstrel||Suta|
|Keeper of games and forests||Govikartana|
Occupation in Post Vedic Era
Now the Aryans lived a sedentary life, domesticated animals, and cultivated on a greater scale than earlier sugarcane. Cattle were still the primary type of movable property. They tamed the elephants.
Gradually, however, the notion of private land ownership started to crystallize. Wheat was also cultivated along with barley during this period. Rice is mentioned in sources, but at this time, it was not a significant crop.
Beans and Sesame were also known, and pulses such as Moong, Urad, etc. Also emerging were new trades, artists, and craftsmen, i.e., smelters, ironworks, carpenters, weavers, leather makers, jewelers, dyers, and potters. Trade also increased.
Types of Marriages in the Later Vedic Age
|Brahma Marriage||Brahma Marriage of a duly dowered girl to a man of the same varna with Vedic rites and rituals|
|Daiva Marriage||Father gives the daughter to the sacrificial priest as part of a fee or Dakshina|
|Arsa Marriage||A token bride price of a cow and a bull is given. Prajapati Marriage without dowry and bride-price|
|Gandharva Marriage||Marriage by the consent of two parties is often clandestine. A special form of it was swayamvara or self-choice|
|Asura Marriage||Marriage by purchase|
|Paisacha Marriage||It is the seduction of a girl while asleep, mentally deranged, or drunk, hence it can hardly be called a marriage|
|Rakshasa Marriage||Marriage by capture|
Marriage in Vedic Era
- In the later Vedic era, eight forms of marriage were prevalent. Of these, four were generally approved (Brahman, Daiva, Arsa, and Prajapati) and were permissible to Brahmans.
- Anuloma Marriage: It was the marriage of a man below his varna. The sacred texts approved that.
- Pratiloma Marriage: Pratiloma marriage was a girl or woman’s marriage to one below her own varna. The sacred texts didn’t sanction this type of marriage.
Gotra System: In later Vedic times, the gotra institution emerged.
- It means, literally, the cow pen, or the place where cattle belonging to the entire clan are kept.
- The gotra has been seen as a tool for expanding the socio-political links, as new relationships have been formed between unrelated people hitherto.
- People began to practice exogamy at gotra.
- There could be no marriage between people belonging to the same gotra or having the same ancestor.
Ashrama System: In early Vedic times, ashrams, or four stages of life were not well known.
- We hear about four ashrams in the post-Vedic texts: that of Brahmachari or student, Grihastha or householder, vanaprastha or partial retirement, and sanyasa or full retirement from the earth.
- But, in later Vedic texts, only three are mentioned.
- In later Vedic times, the last or fourth stage had not been well known.
- 4th Ashrama is mentioned only in the Upanishad Jabala.
Food and Drinks: The staple diet was milk, ghee, potatoes, fruit, and scarcely anything. Rarely did they eat wheat.
- On ceremonial occasions at a religious feast or a guest’s arrival, a more elaborate meal that usually included the flesh of ox, goat, sheep, and birds washed with sura was taken.
- Fish and other creatures on the river were also enjoyed.
- Vegetarian food was never served to the guests, or at least one non-vegetarian food was mandatory.
Education: Education was available to a few privileged.
- Only Brahmanas and Kshatriyas got an education.
- Also, female education was discouraged, and women were forbidden to study Vedic literature despite the fact that there were a few talented women scholars at the time, and there were also female teachers. The topics were Veda, itihasa, grammar, ethics in mathematics, dialectics, astronomy, military science, fine arts, music, and medical sciences.
Religion in the Later Vedic Period
The two exceptional Rig Vedic gods, Indra and Agni, had lost their former significance. On the other hand, the creator Prajapati came in later Vedic pantheon to occupy the supreme position. Rudra, the god of animals, became important, and Vishnu came to be known as the preserver and protector of the men.
On top of that, some symbolic objects started to be worshipped, and we notice signs of idolatry. Pushan, who was meant to look after the animals, came to the Sudras to be known as the lord.
Significant female deities during the Later Vedic Period were Usha (Dawn goddess), Aditi (Mother of Gods), Prithvi (Goddess of the Earth), Aryani (Goddess of the Forest), and Saraswati (Deity of the River). The way of worship changed significantly. Prayers continued to be recited, but the dominant mode of placating the gods ceased to be. Sacrifices became far more important, and both public and domestic character was assumed. The guest was known as goghna, or one that had been fed on cattle. The priests who were offering sacrifices were generously looked upon and given dakshinas or gifts.
The chief priests involved in the execution of the sacrifices were: –
- Hotri: the invoker, recited Rig Veda.
- Adhvaryu Hymns: the executor, recited Yajur Veda hymns.
- Udgatri: The poet, recited Sama Veda hymns.
The Chief Priests received a voluntary offering from the people called Bali.
Important Vedic Rituals
|The King’s influence was reinforced by rituals. He made this sacrifice, which should give him supreme power.||Rajasuya|
|A King performed the Asvamedha, which meant unquestioned control over the area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. The ceremony lasted for three days at the end of which horse sacrifice was performed.||Asvamedha|
|A king performed the Vajapeya or the chariot race, in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen. The ritual lasted for seventeen days and was believed not only to restore the strength of the middle-aged King but also to elevate him from the position to raja of that of samrat||Vajapeya|
|A ceremony which is performed to promote conception in women||Garbhadhana|
|This ritual is performed to procure a male child||Pumsayam|
|It is a ritual performed to ensure the safety of the child in the womb||Semontonayam|
|It is a birth ceremony performed before the cutting of the umbilical cord.||Jatakarma|
|It is a ritual, also known as tonsure, performed for boys in their third year||Culakarma:|
|It is an initiation ceremony to confer dvija (twice horn) status to boys of the higher varnas in their eight-year.||Upanayana|
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