Vedic Society | Life in the Rig Vedic Period
Rig Veda reveals that the Aryans possessed a large territory. The war of ten kings described in Rig Veda refers to many tribes and kingdoms of Rig Vedic India. The most important of them were the Bharatas. They were settled in the territory between the Saraswati and the Yamuna. Divodasa and Sudas were two important Bharata ruler. From the evidence of Rig Vedic texts it appears that monarchy was the prevalent form of government, although the concept of republics was also known. As a rule kingship was hereditary and monarchy was a system of government. But there are instances when the king owed his position to the choice of the people. The protection of the people was the primary duty of the king. Other duties of the king were to establish peace in his region to lead the army in battles, to dispense justice and to appoint priests to perform sacrifices and other sacred rites.
In lieu of all these duties he received voluntary offerings from his subjects for administrative purposes. These were known as Bali. These offerings were made in kind and were both compulsory and voluntary.The carpenters were an important class in Rig Vedic society. Other important crafts of the Aryans were barbers, tailors, leather-workers, smiths, gold smiths; potters etc. They also introduced the Painted Grey Ware in north India. Trade and commerce also flourished in those days. Most of the trade in Rig Vedic days was in the hands of Panis. Trade was carried both by land and sea. Majority of the trade was carried on with the help of the barter system and cow was a standard unit of exchange. Later on coins of gold and silver called nishka, shatamana, rajata and raupya were used as currencies.
The main income was derived from the booties collected in war. The king appointed various ministers for running the administration efficiently. The foremost among them was the Purohita. He was the guide, philopsher and friend of the king. Purohita was the domestic priest of the king. Vasishtha and Vishwamitra were two famous purohitas of the Rig Vedic times. The supreme commander of the armed forces was called Senani. In peacetimes the Senani discharged civil duties. The king appointed spies and dutas also. Spies gave him all the information about the people and the kingdom while dutas acted as ambassadors between the different states. The king’s entourage also included the Senani and the Gramani who looked after the army and served as the village headman respectively. A very striking feature of the Rig Vedic polity was the institution of two political units known as the Samiti and the Sabha. The sabha is mentioned in many passages of the Rig-Veda as body of the elders. It was attended by persons of noble truth – Brahmanas and rich patrons.
It was as important as the samiti. The sabha acted as the national judicature. Various passages of Rig Veda refer to Samiti but they do not define its exact character and function. The Samiti was an ordinary assembly of the tribe and its members were called Visha. The king attended the Samiti. The most important work of the Samiti was to elect the king. Justice was based on Dharma. The king was the fountain head of justice. Main crimes of the age were theft, burglary, robbery, cheating etc. Cattle lifting was the commonest of all. Monetary compensation was given to the relatives of the man killed. To prove their innocence the criminals were subjected to fire and water ordeals. Aryans were skilled warriors. Main weapons of war were bow and arrow. Other weapons included swords, spears, axes and lances. Most of the wars were fought from bullock driven chariot. Horse riding was known. Cavalary as a military unit had not been formed. Local government played a more important part in the Rig Vedic days. The lowest unit of administration was the family or kul and its chief was known as Grihapati or Kulapati. A group pf families or kuls constituted a village which in the Rig Vedic days were called Grama. The village officer was called Gramini.
The village head Gramini led the villagers in time of war and attended the meetings of the Sabha and Samiti. Several villages together formed a vis or clan and its chief was called Vispati. He was also a military leader and used to lead his clan in times of war under the guidance and instructions of the Rajan of the tribe. The tribe was known as the Jana and the head of the Jana was the Rajan who was constantly assisted by the Senani and the Purohita.
Social and Economic Life
The Rig Vedic economy was essentially agricultural economy. They introduced use of plough drawn by oxen and bulls. The ploughed land was called Urvara or Kshetra. The main source of irrigation was rain. The land was also irrigated by wells and small canals. Two crops were raised a year. Animal rearing was the second important occupation of the Aryans. There are references of herdsmen. Cows and bullocks constituted the chief form of wealth. Cow was considered a sacred animal and was called Aghnya (not to be killed). Animals was used to carry goods and agriculture. They reared sheep, goat, bulls, cow and dogs
Aryans lead a simple religious life. They continued to follow the faith and rituals which were prevalent among them before they arrived in India. They worshipped forces of nature. The number and importance of the goddesses was less as compared to the gods. The deities worshipped by the Rig Vedic Aryans were fairly numerous and they have been grouped under three heads
Terrestrial Gods – Prithvi, Agni and Soma
Celestial Gods – Dyaus, Varuna, Surya
Atmospheric Gods – Indra, Vayu, Parjanya
To please these Gods Rig Vedic Aryans offered prayers and sacrifices. Milk, grain and ghee were offered in Yajnas. In these yajnas animal sacrifices were performed. Each sacrifice was performed by a Hotri priest who used to chant the Vedic hymns. The Aryans did not build temples to worship their gods; nor did they prepare idols of these gods. The Rig Vedic people believed in life after death.