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Vedic Civilization

Updated on August 14, 2014
Vedic Civilization
Vedic Civilization

The culture that existed between 1500 BC and 600 BC in Northern India is known as Vedic Culture. It is called Vedic Culture because the Vedic literature are the chief source of information. Vedic Culture was broadly classified into two stages, Rigvedic Period and Later Vedic Period. In the initial stage the settlements were limited to a geographical extent and subsequently in the latter stage the people have migrated to different region of the Indian sub-continent.

Vedic Culture in India was dominated by the Aryans, who came to India from somewhere in the area east of Alps in the region known as Eurasia, according to Professor. R.S.Sharma, though some of the descendants of the Aryans dispute it. Substantial and scientific evidence like the dimensions of skeletal remains found in the Indus Valley sites, pottery, etc. 'Aryan' is in fact a linguistic term indicating a speech-group of Indo-European origin', According to Professor Romila Thapar, Sanskrit, the language of the Vedic literature, belongs to the Indo-European language family.

Aryans came to India a little earlier than 1500 BC, They came in waves, a group after group. They were resisted by the dark skinned local people called Dasyus by the Aryans in the Vedic literature. However, the local people were overpowered by the Aryans due to better weapons and chariots driven by horses.

Unlike the Indus Valley people, the Aryans lived in thatched houses in rural areas and depended extensively on cow and horse. People were divided into four varnas : Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. They believed that gods would be pleased with religious sacrifices (yagnas) conducted by priests. They personified force of nature and worshipped them as Vayu (air), Maruts (storm), Indra (rain), Varuna (water), Surya (sun), Agni (fire), Prithvi (earth), Aranyani (forest) etc.

Geographical Extent of Vedic Civilization

Rigvedic Period: Early Aryan settlements were in the Saptha Sindhu region corresponding to the region occupied by modern East Afghanistan, Punjab and fringes of Western UP. Possibly, they did not know the land beyond Yamuna. Himalayas were mentioned but no mention of the Vindhyas. Ganges was mentioned only once in a later hymn of Rig Veda.

Later Vedic Period: The Aryans occupied first Ganga - Yamuna doab (the land between two rivers) and later spread themselves in the entire Gangetic plain and also penetrated into Deccan. Vindhyas and the two seas on the east and west were mentioned.

living conditions of the people of Vedic Civilization

The Aryans were illiterate till about 7th century BC. They lived mostly in rural settlements though towns like Hasthinapur and Kausambi started emerging during the later Vedic period.They showed plasticity of mind (ability to absorb new ideas) as the Atharva Veda contains many non-Aryan beliefs: Rudra is an equivalent of Pasupati of Indus Valley Civilization. They were warlike as many Rigvedic hymns glorify Indra as war lord and Purandhara (destroyer of cities).

Wheat, barley, rice (in the latter Vedic period), milk products, fruits, vegetables and meat. Soma was their religious drink, Sura and Madhu were Secular drinks were the food items they consumed. Garments of cotton, woollen and skin were used by them. Gold ornaments such as necklaces, ear rings and anklets were worn by both men and women. Houses were built around the wooden frame work, walls of reed stuffed with straw (During the later vedic period walls were built with mud bricks). Dance, music, dicing, hunting and chariot racing were their entertainment activities. They preferred outdoor activities.

Gold, bronze, copper, silver and tin were used. Though iron was not known during the Rigvedic period, it was known from about 1000 BC in Punjab, in UP and Rajasthan. It was commonly used from the 7th century BC. Wheeled carts were used for transporting goods.

Social Conditions of the people of Vedic Civilization

Initially, the society was divided into three classes, namely warriors, priests and common people. This division was based on attitude. Within a family, one can be a warrior if he had attitude for fighting, and a priest with the attitude for praying, preaching and teaching. However, particularly during the later Vedic period (1000 BC to 600 BC), heriditary Chaturvarna system (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras) emerged to prevent intercourse between the Sudras (the Dasyus) and the other three varnas of the Aryans. Sacred thread ceremony was introduced for giving Dvija (twice born) status to the three upper varnas. The institutions of Upanayana and Gotra emerged, the system of ashramas (Brahmacharya, Grihastha and Vanaprastha) developed but sanyashrama did not develop at this period.

Position of Women: During the Rigvedic period (1500 BC to 1000 BC) the position of women was relatively better. They were allowed to attend tribal assemblies (Sabha and Vidatha). Some were highly educated like Ghosha, Uppala, Visvavara etc The presence of women was essential in religious ceremonies. Levirate (the practice of dead man's brother or next of kin marrying the widow) and widow remarriage were prevalent. Child marriage was not known. However, during the later vedic period, the status -of the women started declining. They were not allowed to attend Sabha and Vidatha. Patriarchal joint family system was the order. Grihapati (eldest male member) was the head of the family.

Religious Conditions of the people of Vedic Civilization

Rigvedic Period: The natural forces were personified as male gods or female goddesses. Male gods were Indra, Agni, Varuna, Maruts etc. Female goddesses were Prithvi, Ushas, etc. Mode of worship was prayers and sacrifices. They prayed for Pasu (cattle), Praja (children), health, wealth etc.

Later Vedic Period: Some gods like Indra, Varuna, etc. were relegated to the background. New gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra emerged. Mode of worship became highly sacrificial and ritualistic. Atharva Veda shows faith in magical spells and charms. Philosophical speculations became prominent due to the leisure provided by agricultural prosperity.

Economic Conditions of the people of Vedic Civilization

Rigvedic Period: During this period the economy was mainly pastoral. Agriculture w,as also known. Weaving, metal crafts,carpentry, pottery, chariot making, leather work, etc. were the occupations. Barter system was used mostly for trade. Units of value were cow and nishka (ornament). No evidence of towns.

Later Vedic Period: Agriculture became dominant. Common use of iron implements from about 7th century BC which revolutionised agriculture as forests could be cut down for cultivation purposes. Other crafts like weaving, metal crafts, carpentry, pottery, chariot making, leather work etc. were practiced. Hasthinapur and Kausambi emerged as early towns.

Political Conditions of the people of Vedic Civilization

Rigvedic Period: Tribes were led by tribal chiefs known as Rajan. The type of rule was that of tribal monarchy. Monarchy was based on hereditary succession though election was also known. The king was kept in check by tribal assemblies like Sabha (probably council of elders), Sam it hi (probably general assembly), Vidatha (whose exact function was not known). The important officials were the Purohitha (priest), Senapathi (commander), etc. Wars known as Gavasthi were fought for cows not for territory. Janapadha (kingdom in a definite area) was not even mentioned once. However, Jana (tribe) was mentioned quite often in Rigveda. Rajan (king) had no standing army. King had no direct rights of tax collection but received bali (voluntary gifts) and war spoils.

Later Vedic Period: Position of king became important. Gradually the concept of divinity began to be attached to the king. The king performed various ceremonies like Rajasuya and Ashvamedha to assert his superiority. The powers of tribal assemblies faded as they could no longer check the king. They were dominated by nobility. The strength of the staff of the king increased. Important officials were Purohita, Senapathi, Yuvaraj, Samgrahitri (treasurer), Bhagadugha (tax collector). The king had no standing army. Whenever there was war tribal militia were gathered. The concept of territorial administration emerged as Janapadha mentioned in the later vedic texts.

Vedic Literature

The Vedic literature was mostly created by the Aryans. The Vedic literature consists of 'Shruti' (revealed) literature and 'Smriti' (memorised) literature.

Shruti literature consist of Vedas: Rig Veda (Collection of prayers), Yajur Veda (Sacrificial manual), Sama Veda (Mostly Rig Vedic hymns in musical form), Atharva Veda (Magical charms).

Each Veda has four parts: Samhita (essential part of a Veda containing hymns), Brahmanas (prose commentaries on Vedas with detailed observations on prayers and ceremonies), Aranyakas (texts to be read by Risrvis in forests as they deal with mystic meanings of Samhita texts) and Upanishads (philosophical aspects which are to be taught by Acharyas to their trusted students).

Smriti literature consist of Vedangas, Upavedas, etc. which form supplementary sections of Vedic literature.

Vedagangas: Shiksha = phonetics, Vyakarana = grammar, Chandas = metre, Nirukta = etymology, Kalpa = ritual, Jyotishya = astronomy.

Upa Vedas (supplementary Vedas) are largely secular in nature.

Gandharva Veda = music, Shilpa Veda = sculpture, Ayur Veda = medicine, Dhanur Veda = archery or art of war Sutras (that guide people in various fields).

Grihya Sutras deal with domestic rituals Shrauta Sutras deal with public rituals Sulha Sutras deal with science of altars Dharma Sutras deal with customary law and practices.

Epics: Mahabharata and Ramayana. Puranas: Brahma, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Padma, Vishnu, Shiva, Agni, Vayu, etc.


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