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Vedic Civilization

Vedic Civilization is the most important civilization of ancient India. There are many speculations about its origin in the subcontinent. The Vedic culture is also unique in the sense that unlike anywhere else, it continues to influence modern life even today. In a way, the culture never declined and modern India is just a continuation of the same culture. For convenience, Vedic Age is divided into two major sections 
1] Rig Vedic Period [1500BC – 1000 BC]. 2] Later Vedic Period [1000BC – 500 BC]

Aryan migration theories

Many theories propose migration of Aryans from different parts of world to Indian subcontinent i.e. from Central Siberia (Max Muller), Tibet (Swami Dayanand Saraswati in SATYARTHA PRAKASH), Indigenous people of North West India(A C Das), Arctic region (Bal Gangadhar Tilak THE ARCTIC HOME IN THE VEDAS.)

Migration from Central Siberia

The theory of Max Mueller is most accepted (Central Siberia). According to this theory, Aryans were linguistic group of people who spoke Indo-European language from which later emerged Sanskrit, Italic, English etc. It is suggested that they came in several batches, spanning across several centuries.

The advocates of this theory has drawn the chronology of arrival of Aryans to India.
1] Steppes region (2nd millennium BC)
2] Iran (1900 BC – 1500 BC)
3] North West India (1500 BC onwards)

Evidence of this theory include 
A) The holy book of Iran ZEND AVESTA mentions about arrival of Aryans to North West India. 
B) Evidences of horses, spoked wheel, fire cult and cremation between 1900 BC and 1500 BC from Iran. 
C) Max Muller concluded that ancestors of the Indians, Greeks, Romans, English must have been same, based on the commonality of languages. For example :

Sanskrit English Latin
Matru Mother Mater
Pitri Father Pater

Geographical Extent

Vedic Culture Civilization Map
Extent of Vedic Civilization

Rigvedic age.
According to Rigveda, Vedic Aryans occupied Sapta Sindhwa region after arriving in India. Land of 7 rivers which include Indus, Zelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, Sutlej and Saraswati.
This region is corresponding to Punjab and Haryana region of today.
This is deduced from the fact that river Saraswati is mentioned 72 times in Rigveda.  River Yamuna is mentioned twice and Ganga only once i.e. they had not reached Ganga river from eastern side.
Rigvedic people were also aware of Himalayas because they used to procure Soma plant from Marjauntaa of Himalayas.

Later Vedic period.
During later Vedic period, Vedic culture spread in east and reached upto central Bihar. According to Shatapatha Bramhana, prince Videga Madhav had cleared forest with the help of fire up to rive Gandak, flowing in Bihar.
There is reference to fivefold geographical divisions.
They were also aware of modern Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and were aware of Southern mountains identified with Vindhyas.

Structure of Society

RigVedic society

Tribal, nomadic society.
Kinship relations would be given importance (Blood relations). Whole Kula was one family. No conception of smaller family units.
Varna system. Stratification system evolved gradually during early Vedic age. The social stratification was more because of colour.  Society was divided into 2 categories. Aryans as white and dasyas and dasas as non white (indigenous people). Dasyus were indigenous people, and dasas were early Aryan groups, who had lost their colours and customs due to intermarriage with indigenous groups. Over a period of time, Aryans were divided into 3 varnas. Bramhanas as men of learning, Kshatriyas as ruling class, Vaisyas as producing class.
There was high social mobility as evident from one Vedic hymn which says that

‘I am a bard (poet), my father is a leech and my mother grinds corn. We belong to different varnas but we live together as a family.’

During last phase of early Vedic age, 4 fold division of society emerged in the form of Bramhan, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Sudra. Only one reference to this 4 fold division is found in Purushasukta hymn of Rigveda in 10th Mandala.
Position of woman was quite high as evident from women had access to education. Women sages like Gargi, Appala, Ghosha, Lopmudra, Vishwavara etc. are mentioned in Vedic books.
There was a system of oral education in Gurukulas where both male and female would go to access education. Women would participate in Sabha and Samiti.
Birth of women although was not desirable but once born, she was treated with honour. Child marriage was absent. There was a concept of post-puberty marriage. Marriage was important institution. The tradition of sati was absent. Widow remarriage allowed. 
The society was in general patriarchal (male as head of family), patrilineal (male son would inherit property)  and patrilocal (girl would move to husband’s residence after marriage) in nature.
Overall society was egalitarian, flexible. Slavery was present and number of female slaves was more than male slaves.

Later Vedic Society

Settled society. Kinship would be important even now. Family would be imp unit. But the power of head of the family called Kulapati would increase. He would be able to inflict corporal punishment on family members. 
Varna system would crystallized. 4 fold system would become rigid. Caste mobility would not be appreciable at all. Upanayana ceremony before starting education. Sudras were not allowed.  Sudras didn’t had access to education. Sudras were also not allowed recitation of Gayatri mantra.
Gotra system would appear in marriage. (One cannot marry within same gotra). 
Position of women declined to high extend.  Access to education was not allowed. They could not participate in Sabha and Samiti. Birth of girl child was considered a curse. Widow remarriage still allowed, no child marriage, still sati system was not there.
Slavery continued dominated by female slaves.
Ashrama system would emerge in later Vedic age.  Chandogya Upanishad contains reference to 3 ashramas. Bramhacarya, Grihastha and Vanaprastha. The reference to 4 ashramas including Sanyas ashram is in Jabala Upanishad.
1] Bramhacari Ashrama (Age 5-25 years)
2] Grihastha ashram (Age 25-50)
3] Vanaprastha ashram (Age 50-75)
4] Sanyas ashram (Age 75-100)

Politico Administrative Life

Rigvedic Period.

The political system was in nascent stage of development. The concept of state was absent and people were living nomadic life. King was not so powerful and was more as a head of the clan rather than having high substantial power. Law of primogeniture (who would inherit kingdom after father) did not exist.

Democratic elements were significantly present in the polity as evident from :

Sabha assembly of Bramhanas and elders.
Samiti assembly of commoners.
Vidhat for distribution of war booty.
Gana it was the highest assembly.
Parishad for ceremonial affairs.

Units of administration

Family (lowest unit), called Kula headed by Kulapati.
Village called Gram headed by Gramini.
Collection of villages called Vis headed by Viswati
Highest unit called Jana headed by Janeshya.

Bureaucratic elements were quiet at nascent stage

Senani Commander of Army
Gramini Representative of village
Purohit Advisor to king.

Taxation system was not much developed.
Bali’ is referred in Rigveda as a voluntary offering to the king.

Wars and battles were quiet common as there is reference in Rigveda of battle of 10 kings fought on river Ravi in which king Sudas of Bharata tribe defeated an alliance of 10 kings.

Later Vedic Period.

Polity had got significantly developed by this period. King had become highly powerful, as evident from high sounding titles like Ekrat, Virat etc. King Parikshit is referred as Ardhadev in Atharvave i.e Semi-divine monarchy had developed.
Law of promogeniture would arrive – the elder son would be inheritor of kingdom.
Sacrifices like Asvamedha, Vajapeya and Rajasuya would increase the authority of king.
1] Asvamedha – to extend realm of sovereignty and territorial control of the king.
2] Rajasuya – coronation ceremony.
3] Vajapeya – to enhance strength of king.
Democratic elements still present, but the representativeness and participatory approach would decline.
Women were no longer allowed to participate in Sabha and Samiti. Role of democratic institutions like Sabha, Samiti, Vidhat would decrease.
Bureaucracy. Elaborate bureaucratic structure would develop with around 16 officials like Balisadhak (Collector of Bali), Rakshin (Police Inspector), Aksava (King’s companion in the game of chess).
Taxation system would develop with Bali becoming regular tax and not a voluntary offering. Bhagadugha – would collect bhaga (king’s share in agriculture produce). Sangrahitra – controller of treasurey.
Concept of state would emerge and state would be called ‘Rashtra‘.  Earlier units would continue but Jana would transit into ‘Janapada‘ and Rashtra above anapada.  Wars and battles would continue to be frequent even now but the nature and purpose would be different. It would change from cattle fighting to be instigated by territorial expansion.

Economic Life

Early Vedic Period (Rigvedic Period)

Economy was pastoral in character.  Importance of Cows (domestication) and Horse (warfare). They were aware of agriculture but it was not mainstay. Economy was subsistence in character.
Food gains like Yava (barley), Vrihi (rice), Godumi (wheat).
Art and culture were practiced like Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Coppersmithing etc.
Rathakara (Chariot Maker) would play important role.
Trade and Commerce operated on small scale. Monetization of economy not taken place.
Concept of private property had not emerged. Number of cows decided the economic status. Rituals and sacrifices played important role in economy.
Women also participated in economic activities. Some professions like spinning and weaving were practiced by women.
Taxation system not developed, bali was voluntary offering.

Economic Life of Later Vedic Period.

Pastoral would continue but agriculture would become mainstay. They utilized the rich plains of Indo-Gangetic valley. Knowledge of seasons helped them in agri. One whole chapter of Shatapada Bramhana would be devoted to ploughing rituals. Barley (main crop), Rice, Wheat.
Secondary activities would develop on a large scale. The introduction of iron was highly significant for emergence of new crafts. Iron was also used to make weapons.
Monetization of economy still absent. Still Nishka (Gold ornaments) and Satamanas (Silver ornamets) were used for trading. Concept of property would emerge, though cow was imp as property. Trade and Commerce would increases.
Taxation system – more organized. Bali became regular tax  by Balisadhak. Bhaga – by Bhagadugga.
Bhoga – Fruits and flowers offering to king.
Shulka – tax on the secondary economic activities.
Role of sacrifices and rituals in economy would increase. Women would continue to play role in economy.

Religious life

Rigvedic age.

Personification of forces of nature. Because they could not understand natural events and forces of nature were given names of gods and goddesses. Domination of male gods.
Indra – God of Rain
Agni – fire
Varuna – water

Polytheism. Belief in many gods was practiced.
Kathenotheism – Different gods were given supreme position on particular occasions.
Rituals and sacrifices were performed on large number of occasions but Rigvedic religion was materialistic in outlook. Rituals were performed for material gain and prosperity. The philosophical dimension of religion was at nascent stage. The concept of salvation, soul and transmigration was largely absent. Role of priestly class was also limited as Brahmins would be one of 16 categories of priests. The householder formed 17th category of priestly class and most of the sacrifices were performed by householder himself without any priestly mediation.

Later Vedic Religion

Personification of forces of nature would continue but position of deities like Indra, Agni, Varuna etc. would be taken by Visnu, Rudra, Prajapati. (Vishnu, Mahesh, Bramha)
Dominance of male gods would continue. Poletheism, Cathinotheism would continue.
Rituals and sacrifices would become more extensive and elaborate. Like Vajapeya, Asvamedha, Rajasuya.
Govishthi – cow sacrifice / slaughter.

Role of priestly class had become significant because of complexity of rituals and sacrifices. But gifts made to priests were in form of cows and not land. Bramhanas which was one of 16 priestly classes, became dominant. Philosophical dimension of religion developed. Concept of heaven and hell, theory of karma, concept of soul and transmigration had become important. Superstitious belief in religion had arisen with Goblins and manis (beads) significantly used.

Posted in Ancient Indian History

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Inder Jit Gupta

Very good presentaion