INDIAN HISTORY: Vedic Civilisation

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    • The people who evolved this culture called themselves Aryas or Aryans.

    • As per the theorypropagated by late Bal Gangadhar Tilak the original home of Aryans was the Arctic region.However, the most widely accepted view is that the Aryans originated from Central Asia. The view which is accepted in West isthat original home of Aryans was in South-East Europe.

    • The Aryans who entered India are known as the Indo-Aryans. Their advent in India has been variously dated, from B.C. 5000 and even earlier to B.C. 1500. Though any accurate date is impossible to assign, some date between B.C. 2500 to B.C. 2000 seems to fulfill all conditions.

  2. The Vedic Literature:

    • The only source of information about the Aryans in India is the vast literature known as the Vedas.The word Veda comes from the root vid, to know. It means knowledge in general. It is specially applied to branch of literature which has been handed down by verbal transmission and is declared to be sacred knowledge or Sruti. Vedic texts are divided between Sruti (based on hearing), which is distinct fromSmriti (based on memory). The Vedas are four in number, namely, Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda.

    • Rig Veda:A collection of 1028 hymns of a number of priestly families.Written between 1700-1500 B.C. when Aryans were still in Punjab.It is divided into 10 Books or Mandalas. Books II to VII are considered the oldest. Book I, VIII and X seem to be later additions.

    • Yajur Veda:Written in prose, it deals with procedure for performance of sacrifices and contains rituals as well as hymns.

    • Sama Veda: A collection of 1603 hymns. Except 99, all others were derived from Rig Veda.A collection of melodies.

    • Atharva Veda: A collection of 711 hymns, it is divided into 20 Kandas.Atharva Veda is a book of magical formula.

    • The Veda consists of four different classes of literary compositions:

      1. the Mantra constitutes the oldest division of Vedic literature and is distributed in four Samhitas or collections known as the Rik, Sama, Yajus and the Atharva;

      2. Brahmanas are the secondclass of Vedic works. They are mainly prose texts containing observations on sacrifice;

      3. Aranyakas or forest texts are books of instruction to be given in the forest or writings meant for wooddwelling hermits;

      4. Lastly there are the Upnishads which are either imbedded in the Aranyakas or form their supplements. The above named literary works are classed as Sruti, or revelation, and constitute the Vedic literature proper.

    • Samhita: Samhita is the period of compilation of texts of Veda. In the Rigveda Samhita ther are 1017 to 1028 hymns or Sutras, which have been divided into 10 mandalas or chapters. In the Samveda samhita ther are only sacrificial hymns. The Yajurveda Samhita is the “Book of Sacrificial Prayers”, which lays down the procedure for the performance of sacrifice. There are two texts of Yajurveda: Shukla Yajurveda and Krishna Yajurveda.

    • Brahamanas : The Brahamanas are the first specimens of praise in the world. They mark the transition from the Vedic to later Brahmanical social order. Each Brahaman is connected to one Samhita.

    • Aranakyas: Aranakyas are merely the concluding portions of the Brahmanas and only deal with mysticism and philosophy.

    • Upanishadas: There are 108 Upanishads which were written by various sages between 800 and 500 B.C. They are anti-ritualistic and define the doctrine of Karma (Action), Atman (Soul) and Gad (Brahma).The Aitareya and Kaushitaki Upanishads belong to Rig Veda. Chhandogya and Kena Upanishad belong to Sama Veda. Taittiriya. Katha and Svetasvatara Upanishad belong to the Krishna Yajur Veda. Brihadaranyaka and Isa belong to the Shukla Yajur Veda.Prasna. Mundaka and Mundukya belong to the Atharva Veda.

    • Samhitas, Brahmanas and Upanishadds, Aranakyas ans Sutras are known as the three stages of development of Vedic literature. The later commentaries on the Vedas are known as Vedangas.

    • The Rigveda is the oldest book in the World.

  3. Ashramas:

    • The ashrama system is found mentioned for the first time in the Aitareya Brahmana. Meant mainly for regulating the life of the male members of the higher castes, they consisted of four stages:

      1. Brahmacharin or student life;

      2. Grihastha or life of the householder;

      3. Vanaprastha or partial retirement and Sanyasin or complete retirement (ascetic life).

  4. Kalpa Sutras:

    • These are the treatises dealing with Vedic rituals on one hand, and with customary law on the other They are written in a laboriously compressed style, sometimes approaching the structure of algebraic formulas, unintelligible without the help of authoritative commentaries.

    • With a view to conveying to the future generations the ancient and contemporary literature, the Aryan sages invented a special concise method called the Sutra style. Thus the massive Vedic texts were condensed into short, terse formulae, which could be easily remembered and transmitted orally - from father to son or from Guru to Shisya. Most of the Vedic literature was handed down orally in this manner.

    • The Sutra literature is divided into three classes:

      1. Srauta Sutras -dealing with large public sacrifices.

      2. Griha Sutras: dealing with rituals connected with birth, naming, marriage etc.

      3. Dharma Sutras: explain social and local customs. which later on became the basis of Mann Smriti.

  5. Vedangas:

    • The Vedangas are class of compositions that are regarded less authoritative than Sruti and are styled Smriti. The Vedangas are six in number: Siksha (phonetics), Kalpa (ritual), Vyakaran (grammar), Nirukt (etymology), Chhand (metrics) and Jyotish (astronomy).

    • Yaska’s Nirukta (5th century BC) is the oldest Indian linguistic text. Panini wrote Ashtadhyayi (4lhCentury BC) on Vyakaran.

  6. Political Organisations:

    • The basis of the political and social organisation of the Rig Vedic people was patriarchal family. The successive higher units were styled gram, vis and jan. The grama consisted of several families. The vis was a group in the form of collection of gramas. The vis grew into a tribe or jana whose members were bound together by real or supposed ties of kinship.

    • The people were divided into many tribes(jana). Each was under a king(Gopa). The king was primarily military leader who fought for cows not for teritory.

    • The king ruled over his tribe and not over particular regions. Yet the idea of teritorial monarchy emerged towards the close of Rigvedic Period.

    • There was no regular tax, the king was entitled to booty from successful cattle raids or battles. In the later vedic period the king received regular contributions from the people in the shape bali and shulka. An official called bhagadugha collected the royal share of produce.

    • Hereditary monarchy was the normal mode of government. The king was helped by a number of functionaries of whom those frequently mentioned in the Rigveda are the Senani(military commander appointed by king), Gramani(village officer) and Purohita or the chaplain who was the most important state official.

    • In the early vedic period King's authority was substantially limited by by the tribal assemblies especially the sabha and the samiti. Sabha was a council of the elder members of the tribe and Samithi was a general tribal assembly and less exclusive than Sabha.

    • In the later vedic period, Kings ruled over teritories(janapada) and not over nomadic groups moving from place to place. Popular assemblies lost importance, and royal power increased at their cost.

    • We hear of twelve ratninsappointed by the king. The list includes samagrahitri( royal treasurer), bhagadugha(collector of taxes), kshattri(chamberlain), akshavapa(superintendent of gambling), govikartana( king's companion of chase), purohit(priest) etc. But there were no standing army.

  7. Social Life:

    • The basic unit of Aryan tribal society was the patriarchal family. The master of the house was called the grihapati or dampati and the father had the power over the life and limb of the children.

    • The Rigveda certainly permits polygamy though monogamy may have been the rule. The birth of a son was the common desire of the people. But woman also had important position in it. Remarriage of widow were allowed and child marraige was not prevented. The custom of upanayanam of girls prevailed and the women studied the vedic literature like men.

    • The cloths were made cotton,deer skin or wool. The vedic costume seems to have consisted of three parts – an undergarments(nivi), a garment(paridhana) and a mantle( drapi or adhivasa). Ornaments such as necklaces, ear-rings, bracelets and anklets, were used by both the sexes.

    • The staple diet was milk and milk products, vegetables, fruits etc. Meat was taken , but the meat of cow was not taken because the slaying of cow was gradually looked upon with disfavour as is apparent from the name aghnya applied to it. They drank distilled liquor or sura on ordinary occasions. During religious ceremonies the intoxicating juice of plant called soma was freely drunk.

    • The houses were built of wood and reed and in every house ther was fire-place(agnishala) besides a sitting room and apartments for the ladies.

    • In the early Vedic period the division of society into three social classes was merely to facilitate social and economic organisation. There was no consciousness of caste. Professions were not hereditary. The three Aryan social classes were known by Dwija or twice-born.

    • The word ‘Varna’ is used in the Rig Veda with reference to only the Aryan or Dasa having respectively, fair or dark complexion, but never with reference to the Brahmana or Kshatriya.

    • Society in the Later Vedic Period became increasingly complex and came to be divided into four Varnas - Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. The upper three varnas were known as the Dvijas (twice born).

    • The upper three varnas were entitledto ‘upanayana’ or investiture with the sacred thread. The status of the brahamanas increased because of the increasing importance and complexity of the rituals.

    • Kshatriyas constituted the warrior class. Majority of the rulers belonged to this class.

    • The Vaisyas was the only producing class in the society.

    • The Sudras were supposed to serve the three high varnas and formed the bulk of the labouring masses.

    • During late Vedic period, Vratyas and the Nishads were two important bodies of men outside the regular castes. The Vratyas were Aryans outside the pale of Brahminism. The Nishads were non-Aryan people who lived in their own villages and had their own rulers.

    • Ashramas, these stages were presented by:

      • Brahmachari: studentship.

      • Grihastha: householder

      • Vanaprastha: partial retirement from householding life in the forest.

      • Sanyasa: complete retirement, ascetics.

    • In the Later Vedic Period, women lost rights of attending assemblies. Women were generally given a lower position. Child marrige came into vogue. Cohabitation of a childless widow with her husband's brother until the birth of a son( niyoga).

  8. Economic Conditions:

    • In early vedic period cattle-rearing remained Aryan's main occupation. Among all cattle, pride of place was reserved for cow. The cow seems to be the most important form of wealth.The term for war in Rig Veda is Gavishthi or search for cows. Those who lived with their cows in the same cow-shed came to belong to the same gotra. Duhitri is a word for daughter, which literally means one who milks cows.The term Aghanya, or not to be killed has been used for cow. This indicated cow’s economic importance. Guests were called Goghana, which indicates that beef was offered to them. Cow was the chief medium of exchange and even fine was awarded in terms of cows.among other domesticated anomals were draught-ox, horse, dog, goat, ass and sheep.

    • In early vedic period evidence for agricultural are less strong. The hala or plough is not found, but two other terms for plough, langal and sira, are mentioned. The only one varity of grain called yava(barley). They did not have knowledge of iron.

    • In the later vedic period agriculture was the chief means of livelihood. Canals were excaveted to help agriculture and the use of manure was also known. In addition to yava, the chief cultivation was wheat, rice, beans, cottons and oilseeds were also known. Cultivated fields were known as Urvara a Kshetra.

    • Copper was one of the first metals to be used by the Aryans. Leather work. Pottery and caepentary made great progress. Weaving was confined to women. Carpenter was an honoured profession. among the other profession may mentioned those of dancer , barber and vinter.

    • In the early vedic period, the trade and commerce was largely controlled by a people called Pani. The standard of unit of value was the cow, but necklets of gold(nishka) also served as a means of exchange.

    • In the later vedic period trade and industry flourished and a class of hereditary merchants( vanija) came into being. Commerce was facilitated by the use of conveninent units of value like the nishka, shatamana and krishnala. Merchants were probably organized into guild, as appears from refferences to ganas or corporations and the shreshthins or alderman. The sea was known intimately and the mention of the legend of the flood in the Satapatha Brahmana is taken to point to intercourse with Babylon.

  9. Religion:

    • The early Vedic religion has been designated by the name of henotheism or kathenotheism (a belief in single gods, each standing out as the highest). They worshiped various powers and manifestations of nature.

    • Father Dyaus, the shinning god of heaven, and mother Prithvi, the earth goddess, are among the oldest of the vedic deities. The worship of Varuna, the encompassing sky, in the early Vedic age is one of the first roots of the later doctrine of Bhakti.

    • Indra, the God of Thunder and Rain, the most popular of the Gods, was given the largest number of hymns. Besides Varuna and Indra, there were the Maruts(storm Gods), Vayu and Vata( the Wind Gods), Rudra(the Howling God of Storm and Lightening) and Parjanya(God of rain). Agni- he was priests of god and god of priests. Next in importance to Agni came Soma- he was the god of plants and an intoxicating drink is named after him.

    • Yama-The first man to die, who became the guardian of the world of dead.

    • Saraswati was the river deity who came to be regarded later as the Goddess of learning. Pushan was the guardian of roads, herdsmen and straying cattle.

    • There were neither temples nor altars, neither images nor herditary priests. The mode of prayer was recitation of mantras.

    • In the Later Vedic Period sacrifices occupied a prominent place in the rituals. The sacrificial rites tended to increase the power of the priest, without whom the sacrifice itself could not take place and it simultaneously led to a decrease in the authority of the kings. Sacrifice was offered for Praja (children), Pasu (cattle) and Dhana (wealth) and not for spiritual upliftment or misery.

    • Indra and Agni lost their importance and the Prajapati, the creator, came to occupy the supreme position. Rudra and Vishnu also became important. Pushan became the God of Shudras.

    • An elaborate system of Yajnas developed. Among the important ones were— Rajasuya, Ashvamedha and Vajapeya.

      • Rajasuya: The King’s influence was strengthened by rituals. He performed this sacrifice, which was supposed to confer supreme power on him.

      • Asvamedha: A King performed the Asvamedha, which meant unquestioned control over the area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. The ceremony lasted for 3 days at the end of which horse sacrifice was performed.

      • Vajapeya: A King performed the Vajpeya or the chariot race, in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen (a case of match-fixing!). The ritual lasted for 17 days and was believed not only to restore the strength of the middle-aged king but also to elevate him from the position of Raja to that of Samrat.


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