Vedic Civilization

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Vedic Civilization| Who were Aryans?, Early Vedic Age, Later Vedic Age

After Harappan civilization another great civilization, another great civlization started taking its shape known as Vedic Civilization. The makers of this period were Aryans, thus this is also known as Aryan civilization. Our main source of information about this period comes from Vedas. Around 2000 BC, Aryans after Indus civilization developed a high quality civilization which was rich in culture and literature in India.

The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the sanskrit word ‘Vid’ which means ‘to know’. There are total four Vedas of which The Rigveda is considered to be earliest that provides information about Early Vedic period and then other three vedas, Sameveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda tells about the later Vedic period. The Vedas are essentially a compilation of prayers and hymns, offered by different families of poets and sages to various gods. These four Vedas are also known as ‘Samhitas’ as they represent the oral tradition of the time.

Who were Aryans?

Arya word denotes that particular group of people or species that have specific body structure. The famous German scholar Maxmüller has faithfully said that the word ‘Arya’ in scientific language does not mean anything from caste or species, but its meaning is nothing but ‘language’. The holy book of Iran ‘Zend Avesta’ indicates entry of Aryans to India via Iran.

• First, Arya word was used by Veda writers. They referred to themselves as Arya (superior) and opponents with Dasyu or Daas. According to some scholars, there is similarity between Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and other Indo European languages. Hence, ancestors of these language users must be same.

• The western scholars spread the view that the Aryans belonged to some other foreign land but not to India. They were invaders and went on expanding their territory on the tracts after tracts of this sub-continent. However, the literature composed by the Aryans themselves, we can point out that the Vedic Aryans were not invaders or foreigners but on the contrary they were natives of India. Many Indian scholars also supported this view.

• But the original residence of the Aryans has been a matter of controversy for a long time. The Central Asian Theory given by Max Muller, is the most accepted one. According tot this, the Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.

Categorization of Vedic Civilization

The Vedic Age may be divided into two broad categories, first one is the Early Vedic (1500-1000 BC) when most of the hymns of the Rig Veda were composed and the Later Vedic (1000-600 BC) when the remaining three Vedas and their branches were composed.

Early Vedic Age

The Early Vedic society was pastoral, cattle rearing being the dominant occupational activity.

• We know about the Aryans in India from the Rig Veda. The term arya occurs thirty-six times in this text, and generally denotes a cultural community that speaks the Indo-Aryan language. The Rig Veda is the earliest text of the Indo-European languages. It is written in Sanskrit, but also includes many Munda and Dravidian words.  Probably these words taken into the Rig Veda through the languages of the Harappans.

• It is a collection of prayers by various families of poets and sages. It consists of ten Mandala or books of which Book II to VII is the easiest portion. Book I and X seem to have been the latest additions. Four rivers of Afghanistan are clearly described in the Rigveda. These are: Kubha, Krumu, Gomati (Gomal), Suvastu (swat).

Social organisation

The Aryan Society had four divisions, which were called ‘Varnas’. The’ Varna’ system included Four Varnas namely:

(i) ‘Brahmans’, who were supposed to be priests and the Custodians of knowledge,

(ii) ‘Kshatriyas’, who were expected to be rulers and soldiers,

(iii) ‘Vaishyas’, they were traders and landholders

(iv) ‘Sudras’, who performed the other needed services.

Originally, the Varna’ system was based on function or occupation, but it soon became hereditary. Thus, social grades were partly based on race and colour, and partly upon occupation.

Political Organisation

Family was the basic unit of the State and tribe was the larger political entity. Bharatas, Matsyas, Krivis, Tritsus, Turvasas, Vadus, Rurus, Druhyus and Anus were the well-known tribes of that time. Some tribes were organised on the republican pattern and others on the monarchical. The Head of the tribe was called ‘Raja’ or Janapati’ or the king and he ruled over the whole tribal kingdom.

The function of the king was protection including defence and war. He was also to administer justice with the assistance of Purohita (Priest) and other advisers. The Purohita (Priest), Senani (Generals), and the Gramini (Head of the Village) were the important officials of the king. There were also ‘Sabha’ and ‘Samiti’ to assist and control the king.

Religious Life

They worshipped and prayed nature in the form of God, such as Gods of the sky namely: Varuna, Usha, Surya, Mitra, Vishnu, Gods of the Air namely: Indra, Rudra, Marut, Vayu, and the Gods of the Earth such as Prithvi, Agni, Brihiaspati, Soma. They worshipped gods with sacrifices, by offerings of food and drink. Sometimes, animal sacrifices were practiced. One of the important features of Rgvedic religion is that all Gods were equal and were important in their own sphere of activities.

Later Vedic Age

During the period of Later Vedic Age (about upto 600 B.C.), some remarkable changes took place in the Aryan Society. Tiny tribal settlements were replaced by strong kingdoms. Kings were called samrat and their power increased during this time. Women’s empowerment started decreasing and they were not allowed to attend assemblies. Sabha and samiti were now not powerful. A regular army was maintained for the protection of the kingdom. Three main assistants of the king were powerful that time they are the Purohita, the Senani and the Gramini. Many great cities like Videha, Kaushambhi, Kasi, Ayodhya, Hastinapur and Indraprashtha etc. had sprung up.

Social organisation

Caste System based on Birth, emerged out of the old ‘Varna system’. Brahmans because of their knowledge of language and authority of interpretation of the sacred laws and Kshatriyas because of their military power emerged as the leading castes. Vaishyas were no doubt superior to Sudras but had not dignified position in the society, Sudras were given the lowest position in the society. They had no right to perform sacrifices or read sacred books. They were denied the right of burning the dead body. The marriage with the Sudras was looked upon with disfavour. Though the society was divided into four castes, this system was not rigid in the beginning. The rigid rules of caste system, were indeed laid down in the ‘Sutra’ Period, (approximately 500 B.C. to 200 B.C.).” There is no evidence of conflict between priests and warrior as classes, or between either of these and the rest. Social categorization is retrospective. People were not at first very much concerned with it.

Another important feature of the social life of this period is ‘Ashrama system’. According to this system, the span of life was divided into four stages or Ashramas, each being reserved for specific functions. ‘Dharma'(justice), ‘Artha’,(material prosperity), ‘Kama’ (satisfaction of emotional interests) and ‘Moksha’ (Salvation) were described as the four aims of life. In order to achieve these aims of life, an individual had to live through four Ashramas, namely:

(i) Brahmacharyashrama (for education and training)

(ii) Grihasthashrama (for fulfilling obligations to the family and society)

(iii) Vanaprasthashrama (for ascetic living in the forest and spending life in the study of religion and philosophy)

(iv) Sanyashrama (for complete renunciation of worldly affairs and dedicating to the service of God)

Political Organisation

There were many important changes in the political structure. The old tribal set-up changed, several kingdoms, big or small emerged as the result of the conquest or amalgamation of tribes. “Kuru’, “Panchalas’, ‘Kasi’, ‘Kosala’, and ‘Videha’ were the important kingdoms. These kingdoms were at war against each other. The political life became more keen and the struggle for supremacy among the different states was of frequent occurrence. Already the ideal of universal Empire loomed large in the political horizon, and it is difficult to maintain that it was never actually realized in practice to any considerable extent. The references to Asvamedha and Rajasuya sacrifices are too frequent in literature to be dismissed as mere fiction, and those rulers who performed either of them had, as their immediate and

Religious Life

Religion in the later Vedic Age became more complicated, ritualistic and all embracing force influencing all walks of life from birth to death and even after death. Rigid formalities developed in the place of simple worship of natural forces. The technique and method of sacrifice became elaborate. Dharma’, ‘Artha’, ‘Kama’ and ‘Moksha’ were the aims and guiding principles of life, and for that purpose the Ashrama system was developed. The Gods in the earlier
period now become secondary as the new Gods, “Vishnu’, Brahama’ and ‘Maheshvarat attained a higher position. These also were mere symbols and the real one was ‘Atman’ or Brahman. The Concept of direct relationship between man and God, of the early age disappeared in this period.  Sacrifices were necessary to establish relations with Gods, and the Brahmans presence was necessary at the time of performing sacrifices. The theory of ‘Karma’, ‘Punarjanma’ and Moksha’ also developed during this period. These doctrines created the ascetic attitude of life.

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