Ancient India

Later Vedic Civilization

Vedic Soceity | Later Vedic Civilization

The main sources of information about this civilization are the Vedic texts which were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda. These were the Sam Veda Samhita, the Yajur Veda Samhita, Atharva Veda Samhita, Brahmanas and Upanishads. All these later Vedic texts were compiled in the upper Gangetic basin in 1000-500 BC. These texts show that the Aryans during the later Vedic period shifted from the North-West to the region of the Ganges and Yamuna. The whole of North India to Central India upto the river Narmada along with some regions south of the river comprised of Aryan influence. Archaeologists have excavated a site Hastinapur which belongs to this period between 1000 and 700 BC. The only available remains found are shreds of painted grey pottery, a few copper implements and traces of houses made of unbaked bricks.

New beliefs were born among the Aryans who started believing in the attainment of Nirvana through Gyan or the knowledge. The Upanishads criticized the rituals and laid stress on the value of right belief and knowledge. The conception of the material world as Maya or illusion also gained currency during this later Vedic age. Thus the tenets of Hinduism – Moksha, Karma and Maya were enunciated by the seers of the later Vedic period.

Political life

Kingship was a normal feature of the society. There are few references to elected kings otherwise most of the times the office was hereditary. There are references in the Atharva Veda regarding the election of the king by the people. The Brahmanas and the later Samhitas state that the king had divine origins. The kings started adopting various titles like Adhiraj, Rajadhiraj, Samrat, Ekarat, Virat and Savarat. The king was the head of the state and was above law but he was not a despotic ruler. He was dependent upon his ministers who were referred to as Ratnins. They performed Rajasuya and Asvamedha Yajnas to show the extent of their powers. The Rajsuya Yajna was performed at the time of the coronation of the king. It conferred supreme power on him. The most important Yajna was Ashvamedha Yajna. It meant unquestioned control over an area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. After the completion of this Yajna the king assumed the title of Chakravartin. It enhanced the power, prestige and prosperity of king. The king performed various duties such as administration, justice, extention of his territory, welfare of his subjects; fighting battles.

In lieu of his duties he received Bali, Sulk and Bhag as taxes. These taxes were roughly 1/6th of the income of his subjects. With the increase in power and income of the king the number of ministers also increased. The ministers were called Ratnins or the receiver of jewels offered by the king at the time of the ceremony. With the increase in royal power the sabha and samiti lost importance. They came under the influence of chiefs and rich nobles. With the expansion of the territories ordinary people could not travel long distance to attend the meetings. They could not remove the king from the power. Women were no longer permitted to sit in the sabhas.King was the fountain head of judiciary. Criminals were given more severe punishments as compared to the Vedic period. Capital punishments became prevalent. King appointed various ministers to dispense justice.Theft, robbery, adultery, abduction, killing of man, treachery and drinking intoxicating liquor were offences punishable with death.

Social Life

In the later Vedic period joint family system was prevalent. The families were patriarchial. Father was the head of the family and was very powerful. He could even disinherit his son. People worshipped their male ancestors. Another chief feature of the later Vedic period was the vanashram system. During this period life span of 100 years of a man was divided into four equal parts of 25 years each and different duties were assigned to him in different parts of life. These ashrams were-

  1. Brahmacharya

  2. Grahastha

  3. Vanaprastha

  4. Sanyasa

In the later Vedic period position of women declined. They were given a lower position in the society. They were considered inferior and subordinate to men. Women could not participate in the political assemblies. They no longer accompanied their husbands in religious yajnas. Marriage was considered a sacred bond. Woman was the mistress of the house and enjoyed respectable position in the household. Polygamy also prevailed. Education was provided independently by teachers in the ashrams maintained by them. The rich people and king gave large donations to the learned teachers. The main aim of education was to shape their character and prepare them for the future. Besides religion and philosophy other important subjects of study were arithmetic, logic, astrology, grammar, medicine and language. The art of writing had become known to the Aryans. Women were free to get education. There were women scholars also. Dress was similar to the early Vedic period. They wore cotton, woollen and silken clothes. Shoes were also used by the people. Both men and women wore ornaments. Aryans started wearing silver ornaments. The principal means of entertainment of this culture were music, dancing, dicing, hunting and chariot racing. The Aryans had built up cities during this period. Indraprastha, Hastinapur, Koshambi and Benaras had grown up as principal cities. They still led a moral and virtuous life.

Caste System

During the later Vedic period the caste system became very rigid. It was difficult to change one’s caste but it was not absolutely impossible. The society had been divided into four main caste divisions- Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Brahmans emerged as the most important class. They performed the sacrifices and rituals for their clients. Kshatriyas came next and they were to fight wars, third position was occupied by Vaishyas and they carried trade and Shudras were considered the lowest among the four castes. They were to serve the other three castes. The first three castes called Dvija -twice born but Shudras were deprived of it. According to Satapatha Brahmana, Kshatriyas and Brahmans could marry women from the Vaishyas and Shudras but the Vaishyas and Shudras could not marry Brahmana and Kshatriya girls.

Economic Life

The Aryans in the later Vedic period had progressed and prospered economically. Agriculture was the chief means of livelihood of the later Vedic people. The Aryans had come to know about iron but very few agricultural tools made of iron have been found. Heavy ploughs were made from it. Vedic texts refer that 24 oxen were used to drag heavy and large ploughs. During this time rice and wheat became their chief crops. Other agricultural products were barley, cotton and various pulses. In Vedic texts rice is also called as Vrihi. Cattle rearing was second important occupation of the Aryans. They domesticated camel, cow, ox, elephant, sheep, horse, goat, donkey and dog. The number of animals represented the wealth of the people.

During this period cow-worship increased and slaughter of cow was prohibited. Various arts and craft developed during this period. Weaving was done by women only but on a wide scale. The people were acquainted with four types of pottery -black and red ware, black slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware. Other occupations of the Aryans were the goldsmith, leatherwork, the carpenter, blacksmith etc. Both internal and foreign trade had progressed. The Vedic texts refer to sea and sea voyages. This shows that now sea-borne trade was carried on by the Aryans. Money lending was a flourishing business. The references to the word Sreshthin indicates that there were rich traders and probably they were organized into guilds. The Aryans did not use coins but specific weights of gold were used for purposes of a gold currency- Satamana, Nishka, Kosambhi, Hastinapur, Kashi and Videha were regarded as renowned trade centres. Bullock carts were used to carry goods on land. For foreign trade boats and ships were used.

Religious life

Significant changes took place in religion and philosophy during this period. Many of the old gods lost their importance and new so called gods and goddesses rose in popularity. Rudra or Shiva, Vishnu or Narayan and Brahma or Prajapati became the most respected names in Godliness. Prajapati the creator or Brahma occupied the supreme position in the religion. Durga, Kali and Parvati were also worshipped. The Aryans started worshipping certain objects as symbols of divinity. Idol worship also began in this period. Rituals became more complex. Emphasis was laid on 40 samskaras. Sacrifices became more important and now they were being performed by priests only. This was done to maintain the supremacy of the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas in the society. No ceremony was considered complete in the absence of a purohita. Therefore they got a special status in the society. The chief priests who were engaged in performing sacrifices were -Horti the invoker, Adhvaryu-the executor, Udgatri-the singer. The chief priest received voluntary offerings from the people called Bali.

New beliefs were born among the Aryans who started believing in the attainment of Nirvana through Gyan or the knowledge. The Upanishads criticized the rituals and laid stress on the value of right belief and knowledge. The conception of the material world as Maya or illusion also gained currency during this later Vedic age. Thus the tenets of Hinduism – Moksha, Karma and Maya were enunciated by the seers of the later Vedic period.

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