Ancient India

Vedic Society

Ancient Indian History – Vedic Society

The Harappan civilization was followed by Vedic or Rig-Vedic culture which was completely opposed to it. The Vedic culture was founded by the Aryans. They were immigrants and arrived in India between 2000 and 1500 BC. The origin of the Aryans is still an unsettled affair. The coming of the Aryans to India was a great event in Indian history. The Aryans were considered to be one of the world’s most civilized communities. They were far ahead of other races of their time. The original homeland of Aryans has remained a subject of long and protracted controversy. Regarding the original home of the Aryans the historians have held divergent views.

This book in original form has been lost. But most passages have been preserved in form of epitomes and quotations which are found scattered here and there in the later writings of various Greek and Roman authors such as Strabo, Arrian and Plinius. Another important source which gives valuable information on the Mauryan period is the Arthashastra. It is believed to be the work of Vishnu Gupta Kautilya also known as Chanakya. He was the chief advisor of Chandragupta Maurya. His book Arthashastra is a standard work on politics and art of government.

It is considered to be the most valuable work in the field of secular literature. Mudra Rakshasa is another important work which throws some light on Chandragupta Maurya’s career. It is a drama written by Vaisakha Dutta in the Gupta period. The author collected all the information available to him in the 5th century AD. This drama gives the detail of the revolution by which Chandragupta Maurya overthrew the Nandas. It also mentioned that Chandragupta belonged to a low caste.

The concept of Arya or Aryan

The Indo-Europeans are called Aryans although the term Arya is found mainly in the eastern Indo-European languages. This term may indicate the culture shared by the Avesta and the Rig Veda. The two terms Indo-Iranian and Indo Aryan is frequently used. The term Indo-Iranian is used to signify the undifferentiated language which was spoken by the Aryans comprising the Indians and Iranians before their separation. The term Indo-Aryan means the speech and its speakers who existed in India sometimes are termed as Proto-Indian to denote the same. The term Arya occurs in both the Rig Veda and Avesta. Since Afghanistan was occupied by the Indo Aryans and the Iranian Aryans for some time, a part of this country came to be known as Araiya or Haraiva. In the sixth century BC King Darius I of Persia called himself an Aryan.

In the Rig Veda the term Arya connotes a cultural community. Speakers of both the Indo Aryan and the Indo Iranian languages are called Aryans. The Avesta mentions the country of the Aryans where Zoroastrianism began. This might indicate the ‘Aria’ or ‘Ariana’ mentioned by classical writers. It covered a large area including Afghanistan and a part of Persia. It also included parts of Bactria and Sogdia to its north. Megasthenes speaks of Arianois as one of the three people inhabiting the countries adjacent to India.

In the Rig Veda the worshippers of Indra were called arya. When this text speaks of the struggle between the Aryans on the one hand and the dasas and the dasyus on the other it does not consider the former to be indigenous and the latter to be foreigners. The struggle takes place between two cultures one observing the vrata and the other violating it. At that stage there is no perception of India as a country or a nation and therefore the notion of indigenous and foreigner do not arise. On the basis of skin colour some hymns of the Rig Veda depict Aryans to be of a separate community. Their enemies are described as black skinned.

Things to remember

  1. It is believed that before the coming of the Aryans in India the greater part of northern and north-western India was inhabited by a group of people known as Dravidians

  2. The Dravidians could not meet challenge and hence gradually moved southwards. The horse played a very important role in the lives of the Aryans.

  3. There is no trace of totemism and animal worship.

  4. Rig Veda is collection of 1017 hymns supplemented by 11 others called Valakhilyas. Purusukta theory developed in the later Vedic period.

  5. The first three Vedas – Rig, Sam and Yajur Veda are collectively known as Trayi.

  6. The word Arya comes from the root word meaning to cultivate and Aryans as a whole were agriculturists who considered agriculture a noble profession or occupation.

  7. In the later Vedic period the purohita or priest was described as the rashtragopa or the protector of the realm of the raja.

  8. The king in later Vedic age performed Rajsuya sacrifice which was supposed to confer supreme power on him. The king also performed Vajpeya or the chariot race. The ritual lasted for 17 days and it was supposed to elevate him from the position of Raja to that of Samrat.

  9. Indra and Varuna lost their previous importance and prajapati attained the supreme position in later Vedic age.

  10. Pushan became the God of Sudras.

  11. Rudra and Vishnu became more important than before.

Vedas and their Brahmanas

1. Rig Veda – Aitereya and Kaushitaki Brahmana
2. Sama Veda- Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmana
3. Yajur Veda – Taitteriya and Satpatha Brahmana
4. Atharva Veda – Gopatha Brahmana

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