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Inarch Center Publication

VEDIC CULTURE

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

InArchCenter ID :- IACBN0025


Introduction: -


"Cities of Harappan culture had declined by 1500 BCE consequently their economic and administrative system had slowly declined. Around this period the speakers of the Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit entered north-west India from the Indo-Iranian region. The advent of Aryan opened a new chapter in the history of ancient India. It marked the end of the pre and protohistoric period. The voluminous literature produced during this period gave us valuable information regarding the polity, economy, society and the religious set up of the Aryans."


Northern India especially the Gangetic valley was the cradle of the Vedic culture known largely from the vast Vedic literature. Vedic literature has been traditionally held scared for it is believed to have a divine source. The Vedas, according to popular Indian perception are eternal. The various sages were their authors and were transmitted orally from generation to generation. The Vedas were not committed to writing until very late. The Vedic text may be divided into two broad chronological strata: The early Vedic (C. 1500BCE – 1000BCE) when most of the hymns of rig Veda were composed and later Vedic (C. 1000 – 600BCE) which belongs to the remaining Vedas and their branches. The two-period correspond to the two phases of Aryans expansion in India.


The discovery of the Painted grey ware (PGW) from the site in the Indo-Ganges divide, upper Ganga valley and the Ganga Yamuna doab has provided valuable archaeological material to supplement, corroborate, check and verify the literary data and in the Vedic literature, especially the later Vedic texts.


Original home of the Aryans: -


In Indian, the founders of the Vedic culture were the Aryans, probably an immigrant people. Their first arrival in Indian is dated between c.2000BCE and 1500BCE. It has been a long matter of controversy as to what region the Indo-Europeans inhabited before the arrival of one or more of their branches to India. The earliest Aryans lived in the geographical area covered by eastern Afghanistan, Punjab and Fringes of western Uttara Pradesh, some rivers of Afghanistan such as the river Kubha and the river Sindhu and its five branches are mentioned in the Rig Veda. Another river mentioned is the Saraswathi, now lost in the sands of Rajasthan. The whole region in which Aryans first settled in India is called Saptasindhu, the land of the seven rivers.


Many scholars such as Ganganath Jha, D.S. Trivedi, L.D.Kalla etc. tried to prove that the Vedic Aryans were neither foreigners nor did they migrate into India but were the indigenous people, who regarded Sapta-Sindhu as their original home. Bal Gangadhar Tilak suggested the Polar region as the original home of the Aryans on astronomical calculations.


Different scholars have identified different regions as the original home of the

Aryans. They include the Arctic region, Germany, Central Asia, Central Europe, Hungary, Scandinavia etc. But the majority of the state that the Indo-Europeans emerged from the region between the Caspian Sea and the Southern Russian steppes. From there they migrated to far off places in search of pastured lands to graze their cattle. It has been proved that the Aryans before entering India stayed for a long time in Central Asia, but by the second millennium BCE they migrated to North India through the passes of Hindukush, i.e., Khyber, Bolan and Gomal.


The Vedic Literature: -


The Vedas are the most important source of information about the Vedic Aryans. They attained their greatest cultural achievement. The Vedas are the oldest literature of the Indo- Aryans and perhaps the literary works in the whole group of Indo-European languages. The term Vedic literature means the four Vedas in their Samhitas and the Allied Literature based on or derived from the Vedas.


The Vedas: -


The word Veda comes from the root 'vid' which means to know. In other words, the term Veda signifies superior knowledge. The Vedas are four in number viz, (i) Rig Veda (ii) Yajur Veda (iii) Sama Veda (iv) Atharva Veda.


Rig Veda is thought to be the most ancient and most sacred text. It is also the best source of information on the daily life of the early Vedic Aryans; their struggles, and aspirations, their religion and their philosophical ideas. The Rig Veda contains 1028 hymns which are collected in ten books or cycles of songs. It is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna and other gods by various families of poets and sages. The mantras (hymns) were sung in praise of various gods. These were recited at the time of sacrificial and other rituals with utmost devotion. Books Il to VII are considered to be the most ancient ones; they are also called family books because they were produced by certain families of sages. A book I and X were composed at a later stage. Book X contains a great deal of philosophical reflection as well as evidence of the caste system which is missing in the root Saman i.e., melody.


Sama Veda is a collection of melodies - It has 1603 verses but 99 rest of the hymns have been borrowed from the Rig Veda. It is called a book of chants and the origins of Indian Music are traced in it. These were meant to be sung at the time of Soma sacrifice by the Udagatri priests.


Yajur Veda consists of various mantras for the purpose of recitation and rules to be observed at the time of«sacrifice. The two royal ceremonies of Rajasuya and Vajapeya are mentioned for the first time in this Veda. It is divided into Krishna-Yajur Veda and Sukla- YajurVeda.


Atharva Veda contains charms and magical spells in verse to ward off evils and diseases. Its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the nonAryans. It is divided into two parts, Paippalada and Sannaka.


The Brahmanas: -


The Brahmanas are the explanatory treatises meant as manuals for the guidance of priests. They are written in prose. Every Veda has several Brahmanas attached to it. The most important, as well as the most voluminous of all the Brahmanas, is the Sathapatha Brahmana. It provides us with information about not only sacrifices and ceremonies but also theology, philosophy, manners and customs of the later Vedic period.


Rig Vedic Age (c. 1500 - 1000 BCE)

The Aryans during the early Vedic phase settled in the Sapta Sindhava region which corresponds to Easter Rajasthan, Punjab and the Western parts of the present Uttara Pradesh. The Aryans used the term Saptha Sindhava in the context of the country. This includes the five rivers of Punjab, namely Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej along with Indus and Saraswati. The Rig Vedic Aryans also knew the existence of three rivers the Kubha, the Krama and the Gomal. The words Samudra, Arnava, or Chatuh Samudra refer to the Vast Waters of the Indus. The political, social and cultural life of the Rig Vedic people could be traced from the hymns of the Rig Veda.


The Vedic Tribes and Conflicts


The whole of the territory known to the Vedic Aryans was divided into a number of tribal principalities, ruled normally by the leaders or kings of various tribes. They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called the Dasas or Dasyus, etc. The Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by a chief called Divodasa. who belonged to the Bharata Clan, The Bharatas and the Tritsu were the ruling Aryan clans, and they were supported by the priest Vasishtha.


The country Bharatavarsha was eventually named after the tribe Bharata, which appears first in the Rig Veda. The Bharata ruling clan was opposed by a host of ten chiefs, five of whom were heads of Aryan tribes and the remaining five were Non-Aryans. The battle that was fought between Bharatas and the confederacy of ten -chiefs are known as the famous Dasarajna Yuddha or the battle of ten kings. The confederacies of ten (eight and given two were to be traced) well-known tribes are Puru, Yadu, Turvasa, Ann, Druhyu, Alina, Paktha, Bhalanas. This battle was fought on the river Parushni, identical to the river Ravi, and it gave victory to Sudas and established the supremacy of the Bharatas. One of the defeated tribes, the most important was that of Purus. Subsequently, the Bharatas joined hands with the Purus and formed a new tribe called the Kurus. The kurus combined with the Panchalas, and they together established their rule in the upper Gangetic basin where they played an important part in later Vedic times.


Vedic Polity: -


The basic unit of political organization was Kula or family. In the early Vedic period, the tribes were organized on a patriarchal pattern. As a result, the chief of the tribe became a tribal leader. The most capable protector was made the chief The tribal chief or the Rajan was the leader of the people belonging to a particular tribe and not the ruler of any territory. There were several tribal kingdoms during the Rig Vedic period such as Bharatas, Matsyas, yadus and Purus. The Rig Vedic polity was normally monarchical and the succession was heredity. People s primary loyalty was to the tribe, Jana. The term Jana occurs about 275 times in Rig Veda. His authority was curtailed by the tribal assemblies called Sabha, Samiti, Vidatha, Gana etc. Purohit was another powerful person who accompanies the king to bath and boosts his moral with prayers and spell. The Rig Vedic king did not have elaborate administrative machinery. The early Vedic Rajan was assisted by Senapati and Vrajapati in conducting the administration. The Senapati will head the tribal force in times of war. The Vrajapati was in charge of pastures. The protection of the people was the sacred duty of the Rajan. In return, he expected and received loyal obedience from his subjects.


Vedic Society: -


The early Vedic Society was divided into three classes namely i) the warriors ii) priestly and iii) the commons. The classification indicated that society was a class-divided society. By the end of the Rig Vedic period, the society was divided into four castes i.e., Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. The Purushasukta, the 10th mandala in the Rig Veda, refers to the fourfold caste system. Professions were not hereditary. There was a considerable amount of flexibility. There were no rigid rules limiting marriage and inter-dining between various occupational classes of the society.


In spite of the patriarchal character of the family, the position of women was much better in the Rig Vedic period than in later times. They could attend assemblies and offer sacrifices along with their husbands. Ghosha, Lopamudra and Apala were the famous women composers of hymns.


Girls were normally married after puberty. There is evidence of levirate (Niyoga) and widow remarriage in the Rig Veda. Sati was symbolic in nature and confined only to the upper strata of society. A variety of ornaments were used by both men and women. Two pieces of cloth were normally worn-the upper garment was called Uttariya and the lower one was known as Antariya. The dress for the male and female did not differ much. The students used garments made of skin or hide-cotton. Wheat, barley, milk and its products like curd and ghee, vegetables and fruits were the chief articles of food.


Economy: -


The Rig Vedic Aryans were pastoral people and their main occupation was cattle rearing. Wealth was estimated in terms of cattle. When they permanently settled in North India they began to practice agriculture. The Rig Veda refers to the practice of ploughing, sowing of seeds on the field, seasons, harvesting and threshing. With the knowledge and use of iron, they were able to clean forests and bring more lands under cultivation. The main cereal produced by the people was Yava or barely. Wheat was the staple food. References to several arts and crafts were found in the early Vedic literature. Weaving seemed domestic craft, by women. The early Vedic Aryans knew the use of metals like gold, copper, bronze, silver etc. Trade was practised on the barter system. In the later times, gold coins called Niskha were used as media of exchange in transactions.


Religion ¯ Rig Vedic Gods: -


The religion of the early Vedic people was more simple, realistic and less ritualistic. The Rig Vedic Aryans worshipped natural forces like earth, fire, wind, rain and thunder. They personified these natural forces into many gods and worshipped them. Their number is stated to have been 33. Indra was the most popular of all the early Vedic gods, who is called Purandara or breaker of forts. Indra played the role of a warlord, leading the Aryan soldiers to victory against the demons. He Shared some of the characteristics of the Greek god Zeus. Nearly three-fourths of the hymns of Rig Veda (250) have been devoted to him.


The second position was held by Agni (Fire God) to whom 200 hymns are devoted. Fire played a significant part in the life of primitive people because of its use in burning forest, cooking etc. Agni was worshipped as the god of priests and the intermediary between the devotees and god.


Varuna was next only to Indra in popularity. He was the upholder of the physical and moral order. Surya (the Sun) Savitri (the deity to whom the famous Gayatri mantra is addressed) and Pushan (Guardian of roads, herdsmen and cattle) were the other deities. Soma was considered to be the god of plants and an intoxicating drink was named after him. The Rig Veda has a large number of hymns, which explain the methods of preparation of this drink from plants. The Maruts personify the storm.


A few female goddesses like Prithvi (Earth), Aditi (Mother of God), Ushas (dawn) and Arayani (goddess of the forest) were worshipped. Thus, there were a large number of gods representing the different forces of nature in one form or other. Vedic people worshipped many gods to gain their favours. They thought that the gods might be satisfied by offering food and drink in order to get boons from them and avert evils that they were capable of doing them. They offered prayers and sacrifices to get in return pasu (cattle), Praja (children), health and wealth (sampada).


Later Vedic Age (1000 BCE -600 BCE): -


The history of the later Vedic period s is mainly based on the Vedic texts which were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda. The Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda, the Brahmanas and a few Upanishads were compiled during the later Vedic age, extending from c. 1000 to 600 BCE.


The later Vedic texts show a wider knowledge of Indian geography than was found in the Rig Veda. They mention the two seas the Arabian and the Indian Ocean. The Vindhya Mountains are indirectly referred to. During the period of composition of the later Vedic texts, Aryans became generally familiar with the major portion of the Gangetic plains. There they gradually settled.


The texts show that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over the whole of Uttara Pradesh covered by the Ganga-Yamuna doab. The Bharatas and Purus, the two major tribes, combined, to form the Kuru people. From the fringes of doab, they moved to its upper portion called Kurukshetra or the land of Kurus. The history of the Kuru tribe is important for the battle of Bharata, which is the main theme of the great epic Mahabharata. Later they coalesced with the Panchalas. Together the Kurus and Panchalas occupied Delhi and the upper and middle parts of the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. They set up their capital at Hastinapur situated in the district of Meerut. Towards the end of the later Vedic period around 600 BCE, the Vedic people moved further east to Kosala in eastern Uttara Pradesh and Videha in north Bihar. In the course of his eastward movement, they encountered using copper groups that used distinctive pottery.


Now the Aryans made the transition from semi-nomadic life to settled agriculture. This transition was accompanied by constant fights. After centuries of nomadic life, the Vedic Aryans now began to cultivate fertile but semi-arid areas by means of river irrigation and also started to clear the Jungle wherever it was possible. The cultivation or irrigated arid lands must have been easier than the clearing of dense jungles. The Rig Veda mentions iron in texts which date back to the eleventh century BCE. This correlates very well with recent archaeological research which dates the first use of iron in northwestern India to the same age.


Polity: -


This period saw revolutionary changes in the Vedic polity. Aryans dominated the entire Gangetic basin and the fertile alluvial deposits were at their disposal. This brought substantial changes in their economic position and political setup. Many Jana tribes were amalgamated to form Janapadas or Rashtras in the later Vedic period. The Turvasas and the Krivis became the Panchala group. Finally, the Kurus and Panchalas were amalgamated and became the Kuru-Panchala group. Thus the later Vedic period provided a solid background for the emergence of the famous sixteen Janapadas of the Sixth Century BCE.


The royal power increased due to the amalgamation of tribes and the increase in the size of kingdoms. Tribal authority tended to become territorial. The king performed various rituals and sacrifices to strengthen his position. They included Rajasuya, Asvamedha and Vajapeya. Later Vedic literature contains discussions on the origins of kingship. The kingship evolved more monarchical and hereditary in nature. The tribal assemblies like Vidhata, Sabha, Samiti, though present, came to be dominated by the nobles and Brahmins. The government became more complex because of the necessity of appointing a large number of new officers like bhagalugha (Collector of taxes), sangrahitri (treasurer), Mahishi (Chief-Queen), Suta (Chronicler) etc. The most important change that is noticed from the early Vedic to the later Vedic period is that tribal polity was replaced by the organized monarchy.



 

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