Vedic Period

Vedic Period of India

Early Vedic Period (1500 – 1000 BC)


  • Aryans were generally referred to people who spoke Indo- Aryan language (Sanskrit)


  • Society was mainly male dominated; women were treated with dignity and honour


  • Early life in this period seems to be mainly pastoral with agriculture being the secondary occupation


  • Domesticated horses to ride



Rig Veda


  • Earliest text of Indo European language


  • Contains prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna & other gods


  • Consists of 10 mandalas or books with 2 – 7 being the earliest one called family books & 1 and 10 being the latest editions


  • 3rd Mandal consists of Gayatri mantra (Composed by viswamitra to offer prayer to solar deity Savitri)


  • Many things in common with Avesta (oldest Iranian text – Zorasterism)




Advent of Aryans


  • Aryans called Indus valley “Sapt Sindavah” i.e. land of 7 rivers with river Indus (Sindhu) most mentioned in Rig Veda


  • Saraswati (Naditarna) is mentioned as the holiest river in Rig Veda, named after Harakwati (Hemland river) in south Afganistan


  • Aryans appeared in subcontinent around 1500 B.C. & came into conflict with its inhabitants Dasas & Dasyus


  • Dasas: Mentioned in ancient Iranian literature hence may be early Aryans


  • Dasyus: Possibly original inhabitants of the country & possibly worshipped Phallus (Lingam)


  • Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadasyu , generally soft towards Dasas but hostile towards Dasyus (Term Dasyuhatya is repeatedly mentioned in Rig Veda)


  • Aryans succeeded everywhere because they possessed chariot driven by horses & possibly with coats of mail & better armory Introduced these things for the 1sttime in west Asia & India


  • Aryans were divided into 5 tribes called Panchajana mainly, along with other tribes Most powerful ones were Bharatas of Tritsu Family supported by Viswamitra



Battle of 10 Kings fought at River Parushni (Ravi):


  • Bharat ruling clan was opposed by host of 10 chiefs (5 aryans & 5 non aryans) supported by Vashishta


  • Bharat clan emerged victorious & subsequently joined hand with Purus (Most powerful defeated tribe) & formed a new ruling tribe called kurus


  • Bharatvansa is named after tribe Bharata & 1st mentioned in Rig Veda





Early Vedic Period


  • Agriculture was well known to pre aryans & ploughshare is 1stmentioned in early part of Rig Veda


  • But agriculture was perhaps used to produce fodder only Predominantly pastoral people with cattle rearing as main occupation


  • Most of the wars were fought for the sake of cows as the term for war in Rig Veda is Gavishthi i.e. search for cows (Hence cows seems to have been most important wealth)


  • Gifts were made to priests in form of cows & women slaves Not in form of land


  • Rig Veda mentions several artisans namely Carpenters, Chariot makers, weavers, Leather workers, Potters etc. along with term Ayas used for copper or Bronze which shows metal working was well known


  • Aryans or Vedic people mainly relied on land routes as the word samundra mentioned in Rig veda mainly denotes a collection of water


Rig Vedic

term                            Meaning



Gau                              Cow


Gavishti                  Search for Cows


Gopati Raja or chief,

protector of cows

Godhuli Measure of time
Duhitr Daughter or one who

milks the cows

Gomat wealthy man who

owned many cattle






Administration in Rig Vedic Period


  • Tribal chief at the center (Rajan)


  • King was known as Gopaljanya i.e. protector of its people & cows


  • King was assisted by Purohits, Senani & Gramanis


  • King did not exercise unlimited power & worked in reckon with tribal organization


  • King’s position was hereditary (but could be removed from power if found weak and inefficient or cruel).




Rig Vedic Assemblies & administrative division


  • Several assemblies such as Sabha, Samiti, Vidhata & Gana are mentioned in Rig Veda & even women were allowed to attend Sabha & Vidhata assemblies.


  • Two most important assemblies were Sabha & Samiti as even kings & chiefs showed eagerness to win their support


  • No introduction of taxes & offerings (Known as Bali) were made voluntarily by people


  • Aryan tribes was known as Jana ( Janapada or territory is not used even once in Rig Veda as Territory / Kingdom was not established)


  • Jana was divided into Group of villages called Vis (Headed by Vrajapati),


  • Vis was further divided into Grama or small tribal units meant for fighting (Headed by Graminis),


  • Grama was further divided into Kulas (Family) headed by Kulapa


  • When Grama clashed with each other then it caused samgrama or war


  • Kinship was the basis of social structure & a man was identified by the clan he belongs to







Societal Practices & Divisions


  • Rig veda speaks of Arya varna (Aryans) & Das varna (Non Aryans), where possibly the distinction was on the basis of colour



  • Society was patriarchal & people prayed to God mainly for brave sons & Cattles.


  • Practice of Levirate (Man marrying to Brother’s widow) & widow remarriage was prevalent with no mention of sati system or Child marriage as marriageable age mentioned in Rig Veda is 16- 17 Years


  • Women poets in Rig Veda peiord : Apala, Vishwavara, Ghosa & Lopamudra


  • Tribal Society was divided into 3 groups mainly Warrior, priest & People with 4th division called shudra appeared towards end of Rig vedic period (1st time in 10thbook of Rig Veda)


  • Conquered Dasas & Dasyus were treated as slaves or Shudra by Aryans for domestic work purpose


  • Main pottery of this period is OCP (ochre coloured pottery)





Early Vedic Gods


Indra Warlord / Raingod /Purandara / Breaker of forts
Agni Fire god & intermediary b/w God & peopleMarriages were solemnize in his presence Destroyed germs & dirt hence was considered pure
Varuna Personified as water & supposed to keep natural order in line
Soma God of plants, & an
intoxicating drink somras
named after it
Marut Personified as storm
Aditi Goddess of
Usha Appearance
of dawn(Not so Prominent in Rig veda)






Other gods were Prithvi, Vayu

etc. Mainly Nature gods



  • Gods were invited to take partake of sacrifices made by whole tribe (Jana)


  • Sacrifices mainly consists of Vegetables, Barley etc. (No rituals or sacrificial formulae were used).


  • Yajna (sacrifice) was performed along with chanting of Vedic hymns.


  • People poured ghee (clarified butter) and other ingredients into the fire to invoke the blessings of gods.


  • Jana mainly asked for Praja (Children), Pashu (Cattle), Food, Wealth, health etc.


  • Eating of cows meat was strictly prohibited as cow was considered as a sacred animal

Later Vedic Period (1000 – 600 BC)

  • Advent of Iron Age


  • Marked by invention of PGW (Painted grey ware) for bowls & dishes


  • Origin of Sam Veda, Yajur Veda & Atharva Veda


  • Sections of vedas – Samhitas, Brahmanas, Arankyas & Upanishads


  • Samhitas: Collection of Vedic hymns & Mantras



  • According to Satapatha Brahamana Rig veda, Sama Veda & Yajur veda constitutes Traya Veda & were composed by Aryans



Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda

Sama Veda

  • Book of chants


  • Origin of Indian music


  • For recitation, prayers of Rig Veda were set to tunes


  • Modified collection is known as Sama Veda




Yajur Veda

  • Contains hymns & rituals, sacrifices, Royal ceremonies


  • Rajsuya & Vajpeya mentioned for the 1st time
  • Written in verse and prose form



Atharva Veda

  • Origin of Indian medicine


  • Contains formulae, charms & spells to ward off evil & diseases


  • Composed by a non-aryan









Brahamanas & Aranyakas


  • Prose commentaries of all four Vedas


  • 18 in number


  • Most important is Satapatha Brahamanas


  • Full of ritualistic formulae & explains social and religious meaning of rituals & sacrifices






  • Forest books Composed in forests
  • Were meant to study in forests
  • Describes the lifestyle of Sanyasis in forests






Developments in Later Vedic Period


  • Satapatha brahamanas refers to expansion of Aryans into eastern Gangetic plains i.e. Aryans expanded from Punjab to whole of Uttar Pradesh covered by Ganga – Yamuna Doab


  • Soon Kuru occupied upper portion of the doab along with Delhi & set up their capital at Hastinapur


  • Kurus coalesced with Panchalas who occupied middle portion of the doab


  • This era marks the famous Mahabharata war at land of Kurus i.e. Kurukshetra


  • In later Vedic times, people hardly knew the use of burnt bricks as mud structures have been discovered at Hastinapur


  • From traditions we learnt that Hastinapur was thoroughly flooded and remnant of Kuru clan moved to Kaushambi near Allahabad.


  • Later Vedic people succeeded in their second phase of expansion because of use of iron weapons & horse drawn chariots (Around 1000 BC iron appeared in Dharwar district of Karnataka & at Gandhar)


  • Iron was called shyama or Krishana Aya (Black metal)


  • Agriculture was now chief means of livelihood with rice & wheat main crops along with the use of wooden ploughshare Predominantly pastoral society became agricultural


  • For the 1st time Vedic people came to be acquainted with Rice & called it Vrihi (in Vedic text recommended in Vedic rituals)





Later Vedic Period Crops



Wheat                      Godhuma



Barley                     Yava



Rice                            Vrihi



Sugarcane                 Ikshu


  • Famous pottery of this age was ‘Painted Grey Ware’ and ‘Northern Black Polished



  • Term Rashtra (Territory) appeared for the 1st time in this period




Famous King’s ceremony of this age


  • Rajasuya Sacrifice: Supposed to confer supreme power on him (To impress/influence people)


  • Vajapeya: Chariot race in which royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinmen


  • Ashvamedha: Unquestioned control over area on which royal horse ran uninterrupted




Later Vedic Period Administration


  • Popular assemblies lost their importance & royal power increased at their cost (Vidhata completely disappeared)


  • Sabha & Samiti continued to hold their ground but women were no longer permitted to sit on sabha & it was now dominated by nobles & brahamanas



  • Collection of taxes and tributes became common & responsibility for the same lied with officer called Sangrihitri”


  • Even now king did not maintain a standing army & tribal units were mustered at the time of war






Societal Division in Later Vedic period

  • Later Vedic period was divided into four vernas:



Kshatriyas / Rajanas




  • Growing practice of sacrifice greatly added to power of brahamanas


  • Vaishyas were placed in the category of Dvija or Twice born and regarded as only tribute payers; on which Kshatriyas & Brahamans lived


  • All 3 higher vernas shared one common feature : Upanayana or investiture with sacred thread according to Vedic mantras


  • Shudras were deprived of sacred thread ceremony & recitation of Gayatri Mantra


  • Certain sections of the artisans such as Rathkaras / Chariot makers enjoyed a higher status & were entitled to sacred thread ceremony




According to Aitareya Brahmana


  • In relation with prince, Brahamana is described as seeker of livelihood & acceptor of gifts but removable at will


  • A vaishya is tribute payer, meant for being beaten & oppressed at will


  • Shudras as servant of another & meant for being beaten & made to work at will by another


  • Institution of Gotra appeared in later Vedic times, literally it mean cow pen i.e. a place where cattle

belonging to whole clan are kept, but in due time it signified as descent from a common ancestors.


  • No marriage could take place between persons belonging to same Gotra or having the same lineage.





Later Vedic period refers to 3 divisions of India viz.


  • Aryavrata (Northern India )


  • Madhyadesha (Central India)


  • Dakshinpatha ( Southern India)




Later Vedic period mentions 4 Ashrams

  • Brahamchari For Student
  • Grihastha For householder
  • Vanaprastha Hermit (a stage of gradual detachment)
  • Sanyasin / Ascetic Who renounced the world fully

Not applicable to women & people of lower varnas






Gods of Later Vedic Period


  • Two outstanding Rig Vedic gods Indra & Agni lost their former importance & Prajapati (The creator) came to occupy the supreme position along with Rudra (The destroyer) & Vishnu (Protector of people)



  • Pushans (Supposed to look after cattles) became god of Shudras although in Rig Veda cattle rearing was primary occupation of Aryans



Protector of


(Killer the rats)

To fix a place

where a new

home could be








  • Signs of Idolatry appeared in later Vedic times & mode of worship changed considerably as sacrifices became far more important than mere prayers along with formulae(Mantras) carefully pronounced by sacrifier



  • Sacrifier was known as Yajamana (Performer of Yajna) & Guests were known as Goghna (Fed on cattle) Sacrifices involved killing of animals at large scale especially cattles


  • These formulae, Rituals & sacrifices were invented & elaborated by priests called brahamanas who claimed monopoly of priestly knowledge but still territory was not given as gifts in post Vedic period









Status of Women in later Vedic period


Status of women declined as primarily pastoral society now became agricultural & women which in pastoral time worked neck to neck with men for fetching milk & all, begin doing all household chores, with men going to plough the field & grow grains


  • Deprived to attend assemblies


  • Deprived of education


  • Deprived of Upanayana ceremony


  • Child marriage became common


  • Purdah and sati was not prevalent











  • Towards the end of Vedic period around 600 BC, a strong reaction against priestly domination, cults & rituals began especially in lands of Panchalas & Videha & upanishads were compiled.


  • Upanishads were mainly philosophical texts criticizing the rituals & laid stress on Right belief & Right knowledge of self-i.e. Relation of Atman with Brahma should be properly understood


  • Upanishads describes dialogues between guru & shishya and were probably written by Kshatriyas


  • Brahma emerged as supreme entity in Upanishads comparable to powerful kings of the era


  • Upanishads followed principle of Jnana i.e.


  • True knowledge for peace


  • Changelessness, Indestructibility & immortality of soul


  • Salvation



End of Later Vedic Period marked the beginning of territorial kingdoms such as Panchala Janapada, Koshala Janapada etc. & wars were not fought only for cattles but also for territor


Vedic Period and the Aryans


  • The Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people and originated from area around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia(Many historians have given various theories regarding their original place). The Central Asian theory is given by Max Muller.


  • Entered India probably through the Khyber Pass(Hindukush mountain) around 1500 BC.



Early Vedic or Rig Vedic Period(1500- 1000 BC)





Political Organization


  • Monarchial form. Tribe was known as Jan and its king as


  • Family was the basic unit of society. The family was patriarchal in nature.




  • Aryans followed a mixed economy i.e pastoral and agricultural in which cattle played a predominant part.


  • Standard unit of exchange was Cow. At the same time coins were also there.




  • The Aryans personified the natural forces and looked upon them as living beings.


  • The most important divinity was Indra who played the role of warlord(breaker of forts- Purandar)



Later Vedic Period(1000- 600 BC) (Painted Gray Ware Phase)








Political Organization


  • Tiny tribal settlements were placed by strong kingdoms.




  • The four fold division of society became clear, initially based on occupation, which later became


hereditary: Brahmins(priests), Kshatriyas(warriors), Vaishyas(agriculturists, cattle- rearers, traders), Shudras(servers of the upper three).


  • The institution of the gotra appeared for the first time in this age.




  • Indra and Agni lost their importance. Prajapati(the creator) became Vishnu came to be conceived as the preserver and protector of the people.



The Vedic Literature


The Vedas


The word Veda comes from the root “vidi” signifying knowledge. They are four in all – Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Athrava Veda.


(1) Rig Veda


  • Oldest religious text in the world.


  • Contains 1,028 hymns and is divided into 10 mandalas.


  • Sama Veda


  • Derived from the root Samane “melody”. It is a collection of melodies.


  • Yajur Veda


  • Deals with the procedure for the performance of sacrifices.



  • Mostly dealing with magic( along with personal problems of people).



The Upanishads


  • Called Vedanata


  • They are the main source of Indian Philosophy, 108 in numbers.



The Brahmins


  • They explain the meaning of sacrifices and also the methods of performing them.


  • Shatpath Brahmin on Yajur Veda is the largest among brahmins.



The Aranyakas


  • These Granths were studied in the forest.


  • These are the books of instructions.







  • It was written in sanskrit by Ved Vyas


  • It describes about a war between Kauravas and Pandavas of 950 BC in Kurukshetra.


  • Translation of “Mahabharat” in persian is called Rajm nama done by




  • It was written by Valmiki in sanskrit.


  • It has 24000 shloks, also known as Aadi-kavya.


  • Its persian translation is done by Badauni and Tamil translation by


  • Ramcharitmanas is written by Tulsidas.




  • Puranas are 18 in number.


  • It was written during Gupta Age in AD 4th Century.


  • Matasya Purana is the oldest Purana.

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