The origin of the Aryans in the Indian sub-continent is shrouded in mystery. There are many theories about the presence of Aryans in India. Though there are historians who claim that they were people who migrated to India from central Asia over centuries. There are also others who believe that they were part of the indigenous population. The sudden disappearance of Indus valley civilization makes the picture even more complex. There are those who believe that Indus valley civilization disappeared owing to climatic changes and there are others who hold the view that they were displaced by the invading Aryans.
ORIGIN OF ARYANS
Despite this confusion there are some sources of evidence which throw light on the Aryans in India. They are basically from historical and traditional sources. By historical we mean archaeological evidences and Vedic texts. By traditional it is implied the information which is culled from the Puranas. Though many view Puranas as myths, it does however contain references to actual historical events. Vedic texts are usually referred to the Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. Some of the early Vedic sources contain references to places like Punjab; later Vedic sources however contain information about the Himalayas, Vindhyas, Gangetic plains and ‘two seas’.
Aryans were basically semi-nomadic and dependent upon rearing cattle. This explains the sanctity that is attached to cows because it was a very valuable commodity. Once they settled down in the fertile plains of the Ganges, they turned to agriculture for a living. Early Aryans lived in communes where the land was the common property of all. It was however later divided among families and this gave rise to private property and decline of tribal way of life. The result of this was that it gave rise to new occupations which were held in high esteem. For example, carpenters were in great demand and they were held in esteem. Aryan life was however not solely confined to agriculture. Maritime trade took place to a limited extent and it was confined to the Persian Gulf territory only. Money as a medium of exchange had however not become prevalent. Barter was common and cow was the unit value of for transactions.
The Aryan society was basically patriarchal like all tribal ones. The chief of the tribe enjoyed kingly privileges and tribal activities were controlled by assemblies like the ‘Sabha’ and ‘Samiti’. The Sabha consisted of elders and Samiti was a general assembly of the entire tribe. These two assemblies had power to act as a check against the king. The early kingship was strange in many aspects. The king was entitled to voluntary gifts but did not have right over land or taxation. They were however entitled for the booty from cattle raids or battle. And over the period of time the kings were endowed with divinity.
The structure of the Vedic society was as follows:
At the top was the RASHTRA or the tribal Kingdom. The tribes who lived in this kingdom were called JANA and each tribal unit was called VISH and every village under it was called a GRAMA and the families which come under it were called the KULA. The head of the family was called the KULAPA. All those who were non-Aryans were called PANIS and DASAS. In the administration of the Rashtra, the king was assisted by two officers who were known as PUROHITA (chief priest) and SENANI (military commander).
The Aryan society comprised of three groups of people. They were the warriors, priests and the common people. As caste consciousness had not yet taken root, professions were not hereditary and there were no strict rules on marriages between classes. Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas were known as DVIJA or ‘twice born’ and were considered of Aryan stock. But Shudras were excluded from DVIJA status. Society was regulated on the basis of custom and in case of disputes it was the king and the chief priest who acted as arbiters.
Religious worship was a mix of both Aryan and non-Aryan beliefs. Though the concept of BRAHMAN appeal to a few, Vedic sacrifices were central features of Aryan society. There was also a primitive form of animism and worship of manmade objects. However hymns dedicated to the powers of nature like Varuna, Indra etc. was widespread. Primitive Aryan society later got transformed into a rigid hierarchical system which took deep roots in all parts of India.