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Vedic Civilization

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Who were the Vedic People?

  • These were the people who lived in Northern India between 1500 BC and 600 BC.

  • They are also known as Indo-Aryans.

  • The meaning of the word 'Arya' is 'noble'.

  • They spoke Sanskrit.

  • The four Vedas namely; Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda were written during this period. That's why this civilization is known as 'Vedic Civilization'.

From Where Aryans Came to India?

  • Max Muller said that Aryans came from the area near the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.

  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak opined that Aryans came from Artic region.

Time Period of the Vedic Civilization

  • This civilization came into existence after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization.

  • Vedic period can be divided into two; early Vedic period and later Vedic Period.

  • Early Vedic period was from1500 BC to 1000 BC.

  • Later Vedic period was from 1000 BC to 500 BC.

Early Vedic Period (1500 BC to 1000 BC)

  • During this time, the Aryans lived in the region known as Sapta Sindhu (Land of Seven Rivers).

  • These seven rivers were; Indus, Saraswathi, Jhelum, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Sutlej.

  • That means they lived in the north-western part of India.

  • Cattle rearing was their main occupation.

  • However, they were involved in some agricultural activity also.

  • We got the information about the early Vedic people from 'Rig Veda'.

Later Vedic Period (1000 BC to 500 BC)

  • During this time, the Aryans moved to the Gangetic plain.

  • Agriculture was their main occupation.

  • We got the information about the later Vedic people from 'Sama Veda', 'Yajur Veda' and 'Atharva Veda'.

Family Structure of the Vedic Society

  • The family was the basic unit of the Rigvedic society.

  • It was patriarchal in nature.

  • That means, older males dominated in the family

Marriage

  • Monogamy existed during early Vedic period. That means, one man had only one wife.

  • However, in noble families, men had more than one wife (Polygamy).

  • There was no child marriage during early Vedic period.

  • During later Vedic period, polygamy and child marriage became common.

  • This indicates the deterioration of position of women in the society during the later Vedic period.

Political Structure

  • During early Vedic period, small kingdoms existed. These small kingdoms were known as 'Jana'.

  • King was the head of 'Jana'. The king was known as 'Rajan'.

  • The king had limited powers only. He was controlled by popular assemblies known as 'Sabha' and 'Samiti'.

  • The king's position was not hereditary.

  • There was no compulsory tax. People gave a voluntary tax known as 'bali'.

  • During the later Vedic period, large kingdoms known as 'Maha Janapada' were formed by amalgamating small kingdoms.

  • The power of the king increased; the 'Sabha' and 'Samiti' lost their importance.

  • The king's position became hereditary.

  • Taxes became compulsory.

Religion

  • During the early Vedic period, people worshipped natural forces like earth, fire, wind, rain, thunder, etc. by personifying them into deities.

  • Indra (thunder) was the most important deity. Other deities were Prithvi (earth), Agni (fire), Varuna (rain) and Vayu (wind).

  • Female deities were Ushas and Aditi.

  • There were no temples, no idol worship, no rituals and no sacrifices.

  • During the later Vedic period, gods like Indra and Agni lost their significance.

  • Prajapati (creator) and Vishnu (preserver) became important gods.

  • Rituals and sacrifices became more important. The most important sacrifices were Rajasuya (consecration ceremony), Vajapeya (chariot race) and Ashwamedha (horse sacrifice).

  • The priestly class became very powerful.

Social Structure

  • The early Vedic society was an egalitarian society.

  • There were some social distinctions based on occupation.

  • According to their occupation, people were included in different castes.

  • This caste system was not based on birth; that means the son of a carpenter could become a priest.

  • During the later Vedic period, caste became rigid.

  • Some castes became upper castes and some castes became lower castes.

  • Brahmanas (priest) and Kshatriyas (warriors) became the upper castes.

  • Vaishyas (farmers& traders) and Shudras (labourers) became the lower castes.

  • The Shudras had to serve the other three castes.

  • The caste system became based on birth; that means only the son of a priest could become a priest.

  • Since rituals and sacrifices became more important, the position of the Brahmanas increased much.

Economy

  • Early Vedic people were semi-nomadic people.

  • Cattle rearing was their main occupation.

  • Agriculture was their secondary occupation.

  • In the later Vedic period, agriculture became the main occupation of the people.

  • Industrial work like metalwork, pottery and carpentry work also was there.

Position of Women

  • In the early Vedic society, women got a respectable position.

  • They were allowed to take part in popular assemblies like Sabha and Samiti.

  • They were allowed to choose their partners in marriage.

  • In the later Vedic society, the position of the women deteriorated.

  • They were no longer allowed to take part in Sabha and Samiti.

Vedic Literature

  • Four Vedas namely; Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda were written during Vedic period.

  • The term 'Veda' means 'knowledge'.

  • Rig Veda was composed during the Early Vedic Age. The other three were written in the Later Vedic Age.

  • Rig Veda is the oldest religious text in the world. It contains 1028 hymns and is classified into 10 mandalas.

  • Yajur Veda deals with the ways to perform rituals.

  • Sama Veda deals with music. Indian music is said to be originated from Sama Veda.

  • Atharva Veda contains spells and magical formula.

  • The great Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana were also composed during this period.

  • Other Vedic texts were the Brahmanas (explains the meaning of sacrifices); Upanishads (also called Vedantas, 108 in number, source of Indian philosophy); and Aranyakas (books of instructions).

Non-Vedic People during Vedic Period

  • Before the advent of Aryans, there lived some people in this region.

  • They were the original inhabitants.

  • They were known as 'dasa'.

  • They were dark in complexion and spoke a different language.

  • Later, dasa became the slaves of the Aryans.


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