Original Home of the Aryans:
Our knowledge about the original home of the Aryans is still in a speculative stage.
There has been a great divergence of opinion in the matter of identification of the place wherefrom the Aryans came into India. No firm conclusion is, therefore, possible in this regard.
The problem of identification of the original home of the Aryans has to be approached from both linguistic and racial points of view. As early as the sixteenth century Filippo Sassetti, a Florentine, during his long stay in India noticed a definite relation between Sanskrit and some of the principal languages of Europe.
But it was Sir William Jones who in 1786 showed that Sanskrit and the European languages such as Greek, Latin, German, Celtic, Gothic, as also the Persian, had a common origin. The scholars have named this language group as Indo-European or Indo-German language group. Max Muller also emphatically pointed out that scientifically speaking, Aryan means language and not race.
From this language affinity it is argued that the Indo-European languages, at least a large number of them, are crowded in Europe and some of them are found to stretch out in a narrow length reaching upto the region of the Punjab in the early Rig Vedic time. This has led many a scholar to conclude that the original home of the Aryans was Europe rather than India. They support their conclusion by pointing out that comparative philology has shown that the Lithuanian language is the only language that retains the basic Aryan idioms even today.
Penka and his school of thought, particularly Kossuna, approached the problem of the Indo-Aryans from racial point of view and concluded that Germany was the original home of the Indo-Aryans.
From the above approaches the claim that India was the original home of the Aryans becomes untenable. However, some scholars, such as Gananath Jha, D. S. Triveda, L. D. Kalla, are advocates of the theory of indigenous origin of the Aryans. While J ha seeks to prove that Brahmarshi-Desha was the original home of the Aryans, Triveda mentions the region of the Devika River in Multan, and Kalla claims Kashmir and the Himalayan regions as the original home of the Aryans.
In support of the theory of the indigenous origin of the Aryans it has been pointed out that there is a mass of literary evidence to show that Sapta-Sindhu was regarded by the Vedic Aryans as their original home. Further, there is no reference to their coming into India from any outside country and it is not possible that the Aryans had forgotten all about their original home if it were anywhere out of India. In fact, there is an emotional association with the land of the origin of all migrating people. But no such evidence has been found in the literature of the Vedic Aryans.
It has also been pointed out that linguistic affinity cannot be regarded as positive proof of immigration of the Aryans from any outside country. For in the Sanskrit language largest number of vocables of the Aryan languages is found. But in parts of Europe, if it were the original home of the Indo-Aryans, it is inexplicable why only very few vocables are found in the languages of the European countries.
This is argued to be a pointer to the fact that India was the original home of the Aryans and from India the Aryan language and other languages of Aryan affinity came into existence due to the contacts between the migrating Aryans and non-Aryans out of India.
Another argument in support of this view is that the Vedic literature was the expression of the highly developed thoughts of the Aryans. If the Aryans had come to India from outside it would be natural to find some traces of their thoughts and literary activities in some of the places through which they had travelled.
But no such record has been discovered at any place. To suggest that the Aryans had attained the highly developed literary and intellectual acumen after coming into India does not justify the absence of any record whatsoever in any of the places through which they had travelled into India.
Another argument is that the original home of the Aryans was Lithuania on the basis that the language of the Lithuanians is archaic and has the greatest resemblance to the original Aryan language. But this by itself does not conclusively prove that the Aryans migrated into India from Lithuania.
Absence of the mention of tiger in the Rig Veda and the reference to Mrigahastin meaning elephant have been pointed out to be good grounds for the belief that tigers were actually not known to the Aryans when they came from outside and that Mrigahastin was anything but a poetic name. But the geographical data in Rig Veda show that the Punjab and the neighbouring regions were the home of the people who had composed the Rig Vedic hymns.
Such arguments have been put forward in support of the contention that the Vedic Aryans did not come from outside but were original inhabitants of India. But the overwhelming majority opinion is in favour of regarding the Aryans as a people who had migrated into India.
The Early Vedic Age: Early Aryan Settlements:
The territories which the Aryans had occupied by the time that they composed the Rig Veda can be defined from the references to the names of the rivers and the geography of the areas mentioned in the Rig Vedic hymns. The Rivers referred to in the Rig Vedic texts are the Indus, and its main tributaries, the five rivers of the Punjab, namely, the Satadru, Bipasa, Ravi, Chenab, and the Jhelum. From the Rig Vedic texts it has been possible to get a fair idea of the early Aryan settlements as well as of their centres of activities.
Yet it must be remembered that the Rig Veda is not a book on Geography and absence of the names of places or rivers in the Rig Vedic texts does not mean that other places, not mentioned in the texts, were not included in the early Aryan settlements. It may also be pointed out that reference to rivers, hills and mountains, races, territories, kingdoms in the Rig Veda cannot be regarded as conclusive proofs of the extension of the Early Aryan settlements.
There is reference to the Himalayas in the Rig Veda. That the influence of rivers on the religion and life of the Vedic Aryans was tremendous can be realised the mention of as many as twenty- five rivers in the Rig Veda itself out of a total of thirty-one rivers mentioned in all the Vedas.
The names of the rivers Ganges, Jumna, Saraju and Saraswati are also found in the Rig Veda. From all this, we may generally conclude that the early Aryan settlements extended in the valleys of the rivers mentioned above.
Reference to Sapta-Sindhava in the Rig Veda is taken to mean the territories along the courses of the five rivers of the Punjab, the Indus and the Saraswati. Historians like Ludwig, Lassen and Whitley are in favour of including the river Oxus in the place of Saraswati. Mention of the rivers Krumu (Kurram), Gomati (Gomal) and Kubha (Kabul) and Suvastu (Swat) in the Rig Veda shows that the Aryan settlements extended to territories within the boundaries of present Afghanistan.
Naturally the Oxus region was not unknown to the early Aryans. The main area of the early Aryan settlements was the Punjab; but there has been difference of opinion in this regard. It is supposed that the early Aryans had not extended their settlement into Bengal. Absence of reference to tiger in the Rig Veda leads to the conclusion that Aryan expansion in Bengal, Assam and the Deccan took place in later times.
There are references in the Rig Veda to constant conflict between the Aryans and the Dasas, that is, the non-Aryans. In these conflicts the non-Aryans were progressively defeated and the Aryans extended their settlements towards the east. This movement of the Aryans from the Punjab towards the east naturally reduced the importance of the Punjab eventually.
This is borne out in the Brahmanas. During 1500 to 800 B.C., that is the period when the Brahmanas were written the Aryan settlements had extended from the valley of the river Saraswati to the Gangetic doab. This vast plain became the main settlement of the Aryans. During that period Kurukshetra, Magadha, Kasi, Videha, Anga etc. acquired importance as Aryan kingdoms.
During the Brahmana period the Kurus and the Panchalas were the most important and powerful Aryan kingdoms. From Videha or North Bihar to South and East Bihar, Bengal etc. were not brought under the Aryans before 800 B.C. This area was known as Prachi or Prachya. In course of time the Aryan settlements were also extended to the Brahmaputra and Irawdy valleys. It took a little longer time before Saurastra, Avanti, i.e., present Malwa and Saubir came under the Aryans.
By 200 B.C. the Aryans spread all over the vast area from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas and from the Arabian sea to the Bay of Bengal. It has been from that period of history that this vast area came to be known as Aryavarta.
In course of time the Aryans crossed the Vindhyas and moved into the southern parts of India. The story of Agastya Muni’s crossing the Vindhyas and Ram Chandra’s expedition to Ceylon (Lanka) are supposed to be instances of the Aryan penetration into the south. It may, however, be mentioned that the Aryans did not succeed to bring the whole of the south under their control.
There were a large number of non-Aryan tribes which existed by the side of the Aryan settlements in the southern India. The Andhras, Pulindas, Nishads may be mentioned as instances in point. In the Vindhya region reference to the existence of a non-Aryan tribe called the Sabars has been found. In the far south the Tamil, Malayalam and Kanada speaking Dravidians continued to live.
The Vedic Literature:
The literature of the Aryans is called the Vedas. The word Veda is derived from the root Vid meaning knowledge or to know. The Aryans produced four Vedas: the Rig, Sham, Yayu and Atharva Vedas. Rig Veda was the oldest of the Vedas and it contains more than a thousand hymns. Description of Nature and hymns to the Nature gods and goddesses are the subject matter of the Vedas.
The hymns contained the Sam Veda were mostly adapted from the Rig Veda. These were sung at the time of Yajna. In the Yayurveda mantras and rituals for the Yajna are incorporated. The Atharva Veda was the last of the Vedas. It contained the mysteries of creation, mantras for the cure of diseases, and many kinds of mysterious signs and mantras.
From the earliest times the Hindus believed the Vedas to be the words of God and as such these were divine, eternal and not of human authorship. As the Vedas were received from God’s mouth through hearing the other name of the Vedas is Sruti. But the Vedangas which were composed later were not the words of God. These were descended from generation to generation through memory and as such came to be called Smriti.
Each of the Vedas is divided into four parts, namely. Samhita, Brahman, Aranyak and Upanishad. Samhita is hymns which were sung and written in rhymes. Each Veda has its own Samhita. Likewise each Veda has its own Brahman. In the Brahmanas the ritualistic side of the Yajna is described. These were mostly written in prose.
In later time the Aranyakas and the Upanishads were written. According to the Aryan social rule people had to renounce their household and live in the forest after having attained the age of fifty. As it was not possible for such people to follow the intricate rituals of Vedic Yajna, Aranyakas were composed for them.
The philosophical thought that emanated from the essence of the Aranyakas came to be known as Upanishads. As the Upanishads had been the result of the philosophical speculations at the last and ultimate stage of the Vedic literature these are also known as Vedantas, i e., Veda Anta, end of the Vedas.
For correct reading and comprehension of the Vedas and following the very essentials rituals during the Yajnas six Vedangas and six Darshana (philosophies) were written in later times. Both the Vedangas and the Saradarshana together came to be known as Sutra Sahitya.
The six Vedangas were:
(i) Siksha: Study of this would enable correct pronunciation of the Vedic texts,
(ii) Chhanda: The rhymes of the Vedic hymns could be correctly understood by study of Chhanda.
(iii) Vyakaran or Grammar would enable use of language correctly.
(iv) Nirukta dealt with the roots of words,
(v) Jyotish dealt with the knowledge of the stars and sky, and
(vi) Kalpa was the study of duties of the householders, and the rules to be followed in social behaviour among the Aryan Society.
Kalpa or Kalpasutra was again divided into Srautasutra, Grihyasutra and Dharmasutra. While Srautasutra was a compilation of the rituals to be followed in times of Yajnas, the Ghriyasutra dealt with the duties of the householder, the method of living, christening of children, sacred thread investment, marriage etc. Dharmasutra contained the social discipline, administration of the state etc.
It was on the basis of the Dharmasutra that Manusamhita and similar other samhitas were composed. Apart from Dharma-sastras the Aryans also had written treatises like Arthasastra, Sangit Sastra, Natyasastra, Dharmaved, Hastisastra. Aswasastra, Sthapatya Vidya, etc. In Sulvasutra details of the construction of the Yajna Vedi, i.e., fireplace for the Yajna was narrated. It was from Sulvasutra that the knowledge of geometry developed among the Hindus- of the past.
From the philosophical speculations, explanations and discussions on the Upanishads the Hindu Philosophy had developed. Hindu Philosophy has six distinct parts:
(i) Kapila’s Samkhya Philosophy,
(ii) Patanjali’s Yogasastra,
(iii) Gautam’s Nyaya Philosophy,
(iv) Kanad’s Vaisesik Philosophy,
(v) Jasmine’s Purba Mimamgsa,
(vi) Vedavyasa’s Uttar Mimamgsa is Vedanta Philosophy.
The ancient Hindus used to memories the Vedic slokas and handed them down from generation to generation. The Vedas were not reduced to writing at that time. The faultless manner in which the ancient Hindus held the Vedic texts in their memory showed the great reverence they had for the Vedas. The Hindus are even today deeply reverential to the Vedas. In their daily life the Vedic influence can be noticed. For instance,’ in the saying of prayers (Ahnik) Pujas, Sacred thread investment, marriage and Sraddha the Vedic mantras are chanted.
The Religion of the Aryans:
The Aryan civilisation developed amidst Nature, and it was Nature that had influenced all the different aspects of their life and living, including their religion. The Aryans worshipped the forces of Nature as gods and goddesses, thus we see them worshipping the god of light—Sun, also called Mitra, the god of the vast blue sky—Dyau, god of rain and thunder—Varuna, god of air—Marut, as also gods and goddesses like Agni, Usha, Prithivi, Saraswati etc.
Indra and Varuna were the greatest of the gods of the Aryans There is some similarity between the religious beliefs of the Aryans and the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greek God Apollo, was the Sun God, Zeus was their god of the sky. Likewise Jupiter was the god of the sky of the Romans. The Aryans worshipped various gods and goddesses no doubt yet they believed in the unity of the god head, the different gods and goddesses being but various emanations of the same.
The Aryans used to light sacrificial fire for Yajna and would pour ghee, milk and cakes in the fire with the chanting of the mantras. Animal sacrifice, drinking of soma rasa were parts of the rituals. Soma rasa was a kind of intoxicant liquor. It may be noted that animal sacrifice, worship of images were non-Aryan religious, customs which gradually entered into the religious practice of the Aryans. Hinduism, as a matter of fact, developed as a result of the mixture of the religious customs of the Aryans and the non-Aryans.
In course of time the Vedic religious practices like Yajna and the chanting of the mantras became so elaborate and complex that the common people relegated the religious duties to a class of experts who came to be known as Purohits, i.e, priests. In course of time the priests became the guardians and protectors as also the guides of the religion of the common people.
Society: Varnasrama, i.e., Four-fold Division of Society:
When the Aryans entered into India they had no class distinction between themselves. They were fair complexioned, tall, sharp-nosed and handsome. But the original inhabitants of India on the other hand were dark complexioned and short. When the Aryans defeated the non-Aryans and established their settlement in India, there arose two c asses in the society, namely, the Aryans and the non-Aryans on the basis of their complexion, i.e., Varna.
To begin with, the social division was based on Varna, i.e , complexion. But with the growth of population and complexities of social life the society came to be divided into four classes on the basis of division of labour. The division was with reference to one’s guna, i.e., quality and karma, i.e., nature of work. Those who were given to worship, Yajna, and study of the Sastras were called the Brahmanas.
Those who knew the art of warfare and had ability to defend the country and carry on administration were called the Kshatriyas. Persons who were expert in trade and commerce, animal husbandry etc. came to be known as Vaisyas. Manual workers who worked for the first three classes and mainly did physical labour came to be called the Sudras.
In this way there arose a fourfold division in the Aryan society, viz., the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. But there was no rigidity in the division, for one could improve his quality and ability and get into the next higher class. These four classes were not castes. It was permissible for a person of one class to marry in any other class.
But in the latest Vedic Age rigidity in the class division began to develop and the classes were gradually being transformed into castes. Intermarriage between different classes was being gradually looked upon with disfavour and was eventually prohibited. Change over from one class to another was also not permissible.
Four Asramas, i.e., Four Stages of Life:
The life of the Vedic Aryans of the Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaisya classes was divided into four stages or Asramas. For each of these asramas or stages there were a set of rigid rules and practices which had to be meticulously followed. The first asrama was Brahmacharya, i e., continence, the second was Garhasthya, i.e., house holders life, the third Vanaprastha, i.e., staying in the forest, and the fourth Sannyas, i.e., life of a recluse.
In the first stage, i.e., Brahmacharyya, every young man of the first three classes—the Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaisya—had to live in the house of the preceptor, i e., Guru. It was a stage of studentship and training. Every male had to be invested with sacred thread, i.e., Upanayana and had to be sent to the house of Guru, i.e., the preceptor. He has then to be a Brahmachari and become a member of the preceptor’s household.
The idea was that he should live a simple and austere life identifying himself with his preceptor in sharing the vicissitudes of the preceptor’s life and studying the sastras. When the study of the sastras would be complete he had to return to his own house and live the life of a grihi, i.e., householder with his wife and children. It was the stage called Garhasthya Asrama where all worldly affairs had to be looked after.
On the attainment of the age of fifty, the grihi had to live in forests separately from the household, that is, take to Vanaprastra and prepare himself for the final stage of life. The fourth or the final stage was that of the Sannyasin when the person had to renounce the world and take to the life of a recluse and bide his time in meditation and sustaining himself with whatever he would receive as gifts. The entire life of the Vedic Aryans was but religion in practice.
Economic Life of the Aryans:
The Aryan, i.e., the Vedic civilisation was based on village life. In the Rig Veda there is reference to Puras as military citadels but no reference to towns or cities. Later on, however, we came across cities like Asandhibat, Kampila etc. In the later Vedic Age although towns and cities had grown up yet the Vedic civilisation continued to be rural in character.
Village was the unit of political, social and economic life of the Vedic Aryans. Naturally, the basis of the economic life was agriculture and animal husbandry. Every family of the village had a plot of agricultural land. Apart from this, every village had a large area of pasture land. Every villager had equal right to graze his cattle in this pasture land.
Among the domestic animals mention may be made of the cattle, horse, dog, sheep, goat etc. Cow’s milk was one of the most important and indispensable food Land was ploughed by bullocks. The Jumna Valley was particularly noted for cow’s milk and Gandhara for wool.
Agriculture and animal husbandry were the main stay of economic life but trade and commerce were no less important. The Vedic Aryans knew the art of manufacturing various articles of daily use. Trade and commerce were, however, in the hands of the non-Aryans. Manufacture of textiles, potteries, painting, metallurgy and various other articles was the source of income of a large section of the Vedic Aryans.
In those days, coins were not in use. Cow was the medium of exchange. A gold piece called Niska was also used as medium of exchange besides cow. In the Rig Vedic times, there is reference to the use of Maria, a piece of gold, as the medium of exchange. Some scholars think that the Rig Vedic Mana was the copy of the Babylonian Mana and Latin Mina.
The transport during the Vedic Age consisted of chariots and bullock carts. Chariots were drawn by horses. Whether the Vedic Aryans carried on sea-borne trade and commerce is not very sure and there has been considerable controversy among scholars in this regard. But if we agree that the Rig Vedic Mana was the Indian version of the Babylonian Mana and Latin Mina then we will have to agree with the view that the Rig Vedic Aryans must have had commercial relations by sea with those countries.
The early Aryans took wheat, barely, milk, fruits, fish and meat as food. Sura or Soma rasa, i.e. intoxicant liquor was very popular drink of the Aryans. Soma rasa was particularly used in times of Yajna.
The dress of the Aryans were made of both cotton and wool. In certain cases dress was also made of animal skin. The dress of the Aryans comprised three parts—the Nivi, a sort of an underwear, above which there was the Paridhan, i.e., cloth and Adhivasa, i.e., a flowing upper garment. Both male and female would use ornaments. Gold was mainly used for the manufacture of ornaments but other metals were also used for the purpose.
Arts and Sciences of the Aryans:
It is generally supposed that the Aryans did not know the art -of writing. It was because of this that they used to memorise the Vedic texts and hand them down from generation to generation. Yet, that the Aryans were adept in composing poetry goes without saying. The Rik Samhita was the finest expression of the art of poetry of the Aryans.
The Aryans were highly developed in the art of house building. Reference to large palace with a thousand pillars and doors testifies to the highly developed knowledge of architecture on the part of the Aryans. They were also expert in the science and medicine. The medical men used to rely on mantras, besides medicines, for the cure of diseases. Reference to iron leg pre-supposes the knowledge of science of surgery among the Aryans.
The Aryans were also expert astronomers. The Science of Astronomy had been very much developed at that time. This can be realised from the naming of some of the stars and planets by the Aryans.
Political life of the Aryans:
The basis of the political life of the Aryans was family. Each family was under a head of the family called the Grihapati who was the eldest male member of the family. His orders were law unto the members of the family. A number of families would constitute a village which was under the administration of the Gramani.
The Gramani exercised both civil and military functions. A group of villages would constitute a Vish or Jana. The ruler of a Vish or Jana was Vishpati or Rajan that is monarch. As a general rule monarchy was the system of government prevailing in the early Vedic Age. There are references to a large number of kings in the Vedic texts.
This was obviously because the country which the Vedic Aryans had occupied was split up into numerous tribal principalities. The king occupied a position of high dignity and his supremacy was emphasized by a formal consecration and laudatory hymns. The lines of kingly succession that we come across in the Rig Veda presupposes hereditary kingship to be the normal system.
Theoretically the king was supreme and repository of all powers of the state. Yet in practice the king had to consult the opinions of two assemblies called Sabha and Samiti. The Sabha was a select body usually believed to- be a Council of Elders. The Samiti was a more comprehensive body more popular and political in character.
The Samiti discharged the political business of the, tribe and was presided over by the king. Although the exact nature of the functions of the Sabha and Samiti cannot be defined yet it is generally believed on the basis of the reference to the Sabha and Samiti in the Rig Vedic texts that the Sabha was a council of the Brahmanas and the rich patrons which came into session for administrative purposes.
From references to the game of dice in the hall in which the Sabha met it is clear that non-political business could as well be transacted by the Sabha. It, however, gave decisions on matter of public importance and as we find in later literature, it became particularly prominent in matters of the administration of justice.
The Samiti which was practically the assembly, of the people was attended by the members of the royal family as well as the people. It met for transacting political business of the tribe.
That both the Sabha and Samiti exercised considerable authority and acted as healthy checks of the powers of the king goes without saying. This is also borne out by a hymn in the Rig Veda which stresses the importance and the need of unity among the members of the assembly and concord between the king and the assembly.
The authority of the king was also curbed by the power and prestige of the Purohita who not only helped the king and the people of the tribe by, spells and prayers, but actually accompanied the king to battle where he invoked God’s blessings for the king’s victory. The cases of Vashista and Viswamitra are noteworthy in this regard. It may be mentioned here that the tribal kings of the Rig Vedic times were constantly at war and naturally they needed God’s blessings which the Purohita would invoke for them.
Although the prevailing system of government in Rig Vedic times was monarchy, yet references to Gana, Ganapati or Gana Jyestha show the existence of tribal republics. Ganapati and Gana Jyestha were names for the administrative head of a Gana, i.e.,, republic.
Protection of the people, their properties etc. was the primary duty of the king. He had to defend the Kingdom against attacks- from without, to wage war for expansion of territory to attend to the complaints of the subjects and mete out justice. In order to administer the country efficiently and effectively, the king would be assisted by a body of royal officers.
The Purohita and the Senani, i.e. the commander of the royal forces, were the most important of all officers. The king was the supreme commander but below the king the highest commander was the Senani. In times of war the Senani had to go to battle, but in times of peace he would discharge civil functions. The army comprised infantry, cavalry and chariotry. Bows and arrows, swords, axes, spears etc. were the weapons of war. The king used to fight from chariot.
Spies were engaged for gathering secret information about the- kingdom and the people, in order to keep the king always aware of what was happening in the country. Dutas, messengers and emissaries were appointed to carry information to the different parts of the country.
In return for all that the king did, he received the loyalty and obedience of the people. He also received takes like bali, sulka and bhaga. Bali was perhaps the tribute received by the king from the tribe brought under his sway by conquest. Sulka was tax on goods and bhaga must have been king’s share of the produce.
Position of Women:
Families were patrilineal, as such, people desired larger number of male children than female. Birth of daughters was not desired but this did not mean any maltreatment of the daughters and for the matter of that of the women. In fact, in the early Vedic period women were held in high esteem, women’s education was not neglected and some of the women of the time had acquired such eminence as to be ranked with the great scholars in sastras.
Women like Visvavara, Ghosa and Apala were experts in sastras and composed hymns and verses and belonged to the rank of seers. Girls were given in marriage mi their attaining puberty. Although polygamy was not unknown yet the general practice was that a man married only one wife. Women were not independent persons in-the eye of law but they had to depend on their parents before marriage, on their husbands after marriage, on their sons in old age.
But position of women in the household was of honour and she was not only the mistress but also the master of the house. Wife not only managed the domestic life of the family but also participated in the religious activities of her husband. From references in the Rig Veda that women trooped to festal occasions- decked in shining clothes, we may conclude that the Rig Vedic women were not kept in life of seclusion.
Widow remarriage was permissible and girls were given in marriage through negotiations by their parents or they might choose their own husband i.e. have Swayamvara.
Social Life in the Later Vedic Age:
In the later Vedic Period the society underwent considerable changes. The four Varna, i.e., classes, were now taken in the sense of castes. The period witnessed gradual hardening of the caste system and deterioration of the position of the Vaisyas and Sudras in relation to the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas. The Brahmans now became a well-organised priesthood given to study and teaching of the Vedas, offering sacrifices for themselves and others and receiving gifts.
The Brahmans, however, could not become kings nor could the Kshatriyas become priests. Certain degraded Sudras like the Bratyas and Nishadas were forced to reside outside the limits of the village or town. The nation consisted of the upper class castes—the Brahmans, Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas, the Sudras being excluded from it.
The position of women did not improve during the later Vedic Period; rather their status marked a positive deterioration. Women could no longer attend the Assembly, i.e., the Samiti. They had no right to inherit properties. As marrying more than one wife was permissible among the upper classes, married women of these classes had often to suffer the presence of rival wives.
The lot of the queens was rather unenviable in this regard and although there was the practice of naming one of the queens as Rajmahisi or Chief Queen yet the lot of the other queens was one of neglect and lack of honour due to queens. But they were allowed to participate in religious rites.
Some of the women, such as, Gargi, Maitrayi, Lopamudra, Mamata, received education of high order and even took part in philosophical disputations in royal courts. Rule of marriage underwent a great change and there was much rigidity in matters of marriage. Intercaste marriage was permissible but was not looked upon with favour.
The Upanishads are by themselves a living testimony to the high intellectual attainments during the later Vedic Age. That a very high standard was maintained in education is clear from the stories of Svetaketu and Satyakama and the instruction given to the student at the end of his studies as contained in the Taittiriya Upanishad.
The subjects of study included the Vedas, Itihasa, Purana, grammar, mathematics, astronomy, military science, ethics, dialectics, science of snakes etc. Personal purity and good health were regarded as essential conditions for study. After the completion of the whole course of studies came the ceremony called Samavartana, i.e., convocation, and the students could become Snataka, i.e. one who took ceremonial bath after the completion of studentship.
Teacher, that is the preceptor, was the pivot of the educational system and the State had nothing to do with education. Pupils had to show great respect to the teachers who had also to observe certain rules of conduct towards the pupils.
Economic Life in the Later Vedic Age:
It may be mentioned at the outset that most people lived in villages and the village agriculturists were the true representatives of ancient India. Importance of agriculture in the economy of the period is also denoted by the rites for putting the bullocks to the plough and for honouring the goddess of agriculture. Sacrifices were also offered to Kshetrapati i.e. the Lord of the agricultural field.
Rice and barley were, as before, the staple food of the later Vedic people. Cattle were an invaluable possession and all the upper three classes were engaged in cattle-keeping. Cows were not merely a property and source of milk, but a great reverence to them was gradually growing.
The Vaisyas were engaged in trade and commerce and several forest products, besides articles of food, clothing, figured as items of trade and commerce, e.g. Kutaja, Vamsa, Madhya, Ikohu etc.
From Panini we know that a system of currency was in use although a large part of trade and commerce was managed by system of barter. Panini mentions coins like Pana, Karshapana, Pada, Vaha etc.
Implements and vessels of copper, iron, stone, and earthenware are mentioned. These were manufactured by skilled artisans. Gold and silver were also used for manufacture of cutleries, such as spoons, dishes etc. Clothes made of cotton, wool, silk and hemp were in use. Now it is clear that various occupations, professions, arts, crafts and industries were there.
That the transport system was highly developed during this period is clear from references to bridges, roads, cross-roads, light two-wheeled wooden carriage etc. Horses, oxen were common draught animals. Horses, asses, camels, elephants were used for travels by land and raft and boats for travel by water.
In the later Vedic Age a vast change had taken place in the political condition of the country. Many of the former tribal kings who were mutually at war had in the process developed into emperors by conquering the weaker kingdoms. The emperors took the honorifics like Ekrat, Samrat, Rajdhakravartins etc. These denoted the expansion of the territories and powers of the kings who had grown into emperors.
But a highly intellectual and moral discipline was prescribed for the king. He must be fully instructed in threefold sacred sciences, and in logic, and learn the management of chariot and the use of bow, he shall be holy in acts and speech, pure and of subdued senses. His essential duties and functions were to protect the castes and orders in accordance with justice.
He must support the learned Brahmins and the poor and the needy of all classes, and none in the realm must suffer from hunger, sickness, cold etc. He must be impartial to his subjects. The Sabha and Samiti of the Early Vedic Age do not figure in the later Vedic Age. In any case the powers of the Sabha and Samiti to regulate the affairs of the State and to control the powers of the king must have been very much reduced if not totally absent.
Despite the increase in the powers of the king, it must be mentioned that he did not become despotic since he had to take an oath for doing his duties as narrated above and failure to do his duties would be visited with adequate penalties in this world and the world hereafter. This was considered to be a sufficient deterrent. The Brahmanas and the Purohita still exercised same political control over the king.
The kingship became normally hereditary in the period. For the efficient administration of the country, the king would appoint a regular hierarchy of officers for the three upper classes, i.e. the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas, but they must be pure, truthful. These officers would appoint subordinate officers under them, who must also possess the same quality.
Collection of taxes was one of the most important branches of administration. One-sixth, one-eighth, or one-tenth of the produce of the soil would be variously charged as land taxes. This variation was perhaps due to the variation in the quality of the soil. One twentieth of merchandise, one-sixtieth of roots, fruits, flowers, medicinal herbs, honey, meat, grass and fire wood would be payable as tax. Artisans and other manual workers had to do a day’s work for the king every month. One-tenth of the imports had to be handed to the king.
The king was to remain always prepared for war. He should lead his fighting forces in the battle. He must be brave and fearless in the battle field. Ethics of war prevented the use of poisonous weapons in fighting. As in the former times, the army consisted of the infantry, cavalry, charioteers, elephants etc.
The king was the highest civil and criminal judge but there is reference to a Chief Judge who was next to the king in matters of judicial authority. The Senani who was the commander-in-chief below the king did both executive and judicial functions in peace time. Killing a Brahmana was the greatest crime. Punishments ranged from death to physical disablement and expulsion from the country. Penalty of death might be commuted by gift of cows to the relation, of the murdered.
Impact of the Non-Aryans on the Aryan Society:
It was by defeating the non-Aryan population that the Aryans established their settlements. This process of conquest went on for long after which some of the non-Aryans came to be reconciled to their fate and lived under their conquerors while many others moved away to other parts of the country. Long stay side by side gradually removed the original feeling of mutual hostility between the Aryans and the non-Aryans.
This naturally led to mutual understanding and influence. The Aryan society gradually accepted and assimilated many of the social and religious customs and rites of the non-Aryans. The mixture of the Aryan and non-Aryan customs and rites etc. gave rise to the Hindu culture of India.
It may be mentioned here that although the non-Aryans were less developed in civilisation and culture compared to the Aryans, yet there is no reason to believe that they were uncivilised. In fact, the Dravidian civilisation among the non-Aryan civilisation was highly developed. The term non-Aryans meant nothing more or less than those who were not Aryans. It was not a term of contempt.
It is, however, difficult to determine the quantum of contributions made by the Aryans and the non-Aryans to the Hindu culture and civilisation. Yet it is possible to refer to certain special impacts of the non-Aryans upon the Aryan society and religion.
When the Aryans came to India, their main stay of life was animal husbandry but when they settled in India they took to agriculture and adopted the method of cultivation followed by the non-Aryans- Cultivation of food grains, fruits, sugarcanes etc. were learnt by them from the non-Aryans.
Preparation of molasses from juice of the sugarcanes, building of houses, making of pottery with various paintings and decorations, boat-making and boat plying, manufacture of dresses, use of bricks etc. are supposed to have been learnt by the Aryans from the non-Aryans. Use of horses, manufacture of articles from iron, use of milk products, and liquor, sewing of garments and charioteering etc. were also learnt by them from the non-Aryans.
The Aryans originally did not worship any image. They only worshipped different forces of nature as gods and goddesses. The non- Aryans, on the other hand, worshipped images of gods and goddesses. The image worship is supposed to have been adopted by the Aryans from the non-Aryans.
Impact of the non-Aryans is also noticeable in the food habits of the Aryans. Meat and butter were used by the Aryans as their main food. But gradually they began to take rice, pulses, curd, ghee, oil, fish etc. as food as did the non-Aryans. In ceremonies like marriage etc. use of vermillion, cocoanut, betel leaf, incense etc. and animal sacrifice in certain religious ceremonies were learnt by the Aryans from the non-Aryans.
The civilisation and culture that developed in India in the ancient times had been the product of the mixture of the Aryan and non- Aryan manners, methods and habits, the main ethical bases of which were brotherliness, non-violence and mutual tolerance. The Indian civilisation acquired a potency incomparable to many other civilisations due to the mixture of the Aryan and non-Aryan cultures. The basic structure of the Indian culture is, therefore, the joint contributions of the Aryans and the non-Aryans.
The Age of the Epics:
Many writers have referred to an Epic Age in the history o£ India. But modern historians are definitely against such a view. According to them the period during which the Indian Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were composed, belonged to the Vedic Age. As such what is usually called as the Epic Age, in fact, is a part of the later Vedic Age.
In the Sutra-Sahitya which was written in the later Vedic Age there is reference to the Epics. It was from the Gatha and Nara- sangshi, i.e. the folk songs that the epic like the Mahabharata emerged. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are not the songs of the court poets, nor the composition of any individual at any particular time, but the collection of diverse poems of unequal value which had been sung through centuries and had continued interpolations and additions.
Naturally, the Mahabharata or the Ramayana does not represent the life or events of any particular period. Thus two things that have to be remembered are: the epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, belonged to the greater body of the Vedic literature, and that they do not represent the life and conditions of any particular period.
In fact, during the period the Vedic Brahmanas were composed, the kings like Janmenjaya, Parikshit etc. mentioned in the Mahabharata were actually ruling princes. Historians like R. D. Banerjee and others, therefore, consider the naming of any period as the Epic Age to be erroneous.
As to the question which of the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, was composed first and the time these two epics were composed cannot be said with certainty. When the greater excellence of the poetic expression in the Ramayana compared to that of the Mahabharata is considered, it may be concluded that the Mahabharata was composed first and the Ramayana was composed subsequently at a time when the poetic genius had registered a great improvement. This is also borne out by the fact that the main theme of the Mahabharta has been mentioned in the Vedic Sutras.
The socio-economic condition of the people during the time of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana do not show any remarkable difference. But it is certain that the cultural condition that we come across in the Ramayana is superior to that of the time of the Mahabharata.
But in the Advanced History of India, it has been remarked that of the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Ramayana preceded the Mahabharata. This view is based on the ground that reference to the Ramayana is found in the Mahabharata. It is alto argued that while the Mahabharata was known to Asvalayana, Panini etc. there is no reference to the Ramayana.
It may, however, be pointed out that when it is considered that if both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata had been sung as folk songs for long before they were put into writing and in that process there had been interpolations extended over long period, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to decide which of the two epics had been composed first. But from the references to the Mahabharata found in the Vedic literature it will be logical to conclude that the Mahabharata was composed before the Ramayana.
From the historical point of view, however, the Mahabharata is more important than the Ramayana, for its narration is based on historical matters. But the Ramayana, on the other hand, is entirely the result of poetic imagination. Many of characters of the Mahabharata were historical persons but that cannot be said with regard to the most of the characters in the Ramayana.
The main theme of the Mahabharata is the conflict between the Pandavas and the Kauravas and the eventual defeat of the Kauravas by the Pandavas being assisted by Sreekrishna. In the olden times there was a kingdom called Hastinapura, now included within the Meerut district. Its king was Vichitravirya. Dhritarastra and Pandu were his two sons. As Dhritarastra was born blind the younger brother Pandu succeeded Vichitravirya.
Pandu predeceased Dhritarastra leaving Yudhisthir, Bhim, Arjuna, Nakul and Sahadeb— his five sons. They were known as the Pandavas after the name of their father Pandu. On the other hand, Dhritarastra had Duryodhan, Dushasan etc, hundred brothers. The Pandavas married Draupadi, the duaghter of the king of Panchala. Arjuna was also married to Subhadra, the sister of Sreekrishna, the leader of the Mathura- Dwaraka Jadava federation.
On the death of Pandu, his sons naturally sought to succeed to then father’s estate. Dhritarastra, their uncle, divided the kingdom between the Pandavas and his own sons, giving the Khandava forests to the Pandavas and Hastinapura to his own sons. The pious Pandavas were satisfied with what they received and built their capital at Indraprastha near modern Delhi.
They also added to their territories by defeating Jarasandha, the king of Magadha, and extended their kingdom on all four sides. Indraprastha acquired a great prestige as a powerful kingdom. They also arranged for Rajasuya Yajna in order to acquire the status of Samrat. All this excited the jealously of the Kauravas, that is, the sons of Dhritarastra and they sought to devise a plan for grabbing the kingdom of the Pandavas.
On the advice of their maternal uncle, Sakuni, who was a past master in machination the Kauravas, that is, Duryodhan and his brothers invited Yudisthir to the game of dice on stake. In the game which was unfair due to the manipulation of Sakuni, Yudhisthir lost his kingdom and everything that he could call his own including Daupadi, the common wife of the Pandavas.
It was also a condition of the game of dice that the party which would be defeated would have to go into exile in the forests for twelve years to be followed by one year’s living in cognito. The Pandavas did all that was stipulated as the stake in the game which the eldest of the Padavas, i.e., Yudhisthir, had lost and returned to demand their kingdom. Duryodhan and his brothers refused to return the kingdom of the Pandavas which they acquired and enjoyed for long thirteen years.
The Pandavas at last asked for only five villages for five of them but this was also not conceded by the Kauravas. This ultimately led to the Bharata War in the field of Kurukshetra. Visma, Drona, Kama etc. joined the side of the Kauravas while Sreekrishna sided with the Pandavas. He became the charioteer of Arjuna. For eighteen days the war went on unabated and ultimately the Pandavas were victorious. This is the theme of the Mahabharata.
In the Faizabad district of Oudh in modern Uttarpradesh, Dasaratha, the king of lkshaku Dynasty, was the ruler. His eldest son was Ramchandra. Ramchandra married Sita or Janaki, daughter of Janaka, king of Videha, who ruled over his kingdom in modern North Bihar. Due to the selfish plan of the step-mother Kaikei Ramchandra had to go to exile for fourteen years. Ramchandra was accompanied by Sita and Lakshman. When in exile they were living in the forest called Panchabati. At that time the Dravida King, Ravana of Lanki (Ceylon), kidnapped Sita, resorting to a stratagem.
With the help of leader of monkeys— Hanuman of Kishikindhya kingdom—and many other local leaders, Ramchandra with his brother Lakshmana crossed over to Lanka and defeating Ravana rescued Sita. During the period of Ramchandra’s exile, Bharata, his step-brother, ruled over Ayodhya as his regent since in the mean time old King Dasaratha had died of the shock of the departure of Ramchndra, Sita, and Lakshmana into exile.
The people of Ayodhya objected to the consecration of Sita on the throne along with Ramchandra as Queen on the ground that she had been a captive at the hands of Ravana. Ramchandra obeyed the desire of the people and eventually forsook Sita.
Historical Importance of the Mahabharata & the Ramayana:
Considered from the point of view of history while considerable historical materials can be gathered from the Mahabharata, not much materials are available from the Ramayana. However, from both the epics, particularly from the Mahabharata it has been possible to glean political, social, and economic conditions of the contemporary period of history. From the story of Ramchandra’s living on the Godavari and his invasion of Lanka, historians think that these were significant in the Aryan expansion in the South.
Both from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana it appears that kingship was the usual form of government. Ability to rule the kingdom efficiently and ministering to the well-being of the subjects were the criteria for occupying the throne, although kingship was normally hereditary.
There are instances of overriding the claims of the eldest son due to inability to rule. The case of Dhritarastra is an instance in point. In tribal states, kings were elected in times of war. Needless to say, the strongest person of the tribe would be elected as king.
The king was theoretically the repository of all powers but in reality the king used to take counsel of the people of his own caste arid his ministers. There are references to the royal court or Rajsabha in the Mahabharata but in that age it was nothing more or less than a military advisory council. The capital of the kingdom and the chief towns and cities of the kingdom were protected by walls and moats.
The army, in those days, comprised the archers, catapult throwers, charioteers, cavalry and elephants. Provisions were made for payment of allowances to the family of those soldiers who died in battle. In times of war it was customary to form military coalitions. The kings who would be victorious in wars would perform Rajasuya or Asvamedha Yajna and adopt imperial titles like Samrat, Ekarat, Rajchakravartin etc.
In the royal palace there were spacious halls for holding royal court, pleasure halls for games of dice, and also open arenas for fight among beasts. King would go out of the palace in accompaniment of dancing girls, women attendants etc.
In both the Ramayana and Mahabharata we notice the dominance of the Kshatriyas in the political field. The villages enjoyed self- government. In the society the caste system had been solidified and the intermingling and inter-marriage between the four classes of the society were prohibited. The Aryans—the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas and the non-Aryans the Sudras were solidified into four water-light compartments of social castes.
In that period a section of the society lived on animal husbandry and hunting. The rest earned their livelihood by agriculture. Villages were set up on all sides of fortresses or protected cities and towns. In times of war the villagers would take shelter within the protected place.
Custom duties had to be paid in fixed places for transportation of goods from one area to another. There were numerous guilds of producers of different kinds of articles. These guilds played very important part in the economic life of the country. They set up the standard of the manufactured goods, protected the members of their respective guilds from exploitations.
There were also merchant guilds. The importance of the guilds can be realised from he eagerness of the kings to enlist the support of the guilds. Cheating by using lesser weight and measure was not unknown. The king would arrange for a clas6 of overseers to look after the interests of the consumers by preventing use of shorter weight or measure by sellers.
Revenue could be paid by the produce of the soil or any other commodities. But when anybody would be punished by a court to pay a fine, the payment had to be made by copper coins.
Eating of meat, drinking of liquor were in vogue. But the social life as a whole was simple, unostentatious and easy. Showing respect to the elders, obeying the parents, etc. were the normal values of the time. Voluntary exile of Ramchandra in order to redeem the promise of his father, king Dasaratha, was illustrative of the moral attitude of the time.
Respect of the women, special place of honour for the mothers of heroes were the specialities of the time. Polygamy was not unknown, but not polyandry. The same woman could have more than one husband. Draupadi, wife of the five Pandavas may be cited as an instance. Women had the liberty of choosing their husbands but the normal practice was marriage by negotiating through parents of both sides.
Worship of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara as also worship of Sree krishna as gods were the main characteristics of the religious life of the time.
During the period when the Dharma-Sutras and Samhitas were written the society had undergone further change. The caste system had not only become extremely rigid but had outstripped its proper limits and influenced the legal system. The law of manslaughter shows that the system of wergild was in force but the quantum would vary according to the caste to which the murdered belonged.
The crime of murder of a Brahamana could not be expiated by payment of wergild but one thousand cows would be the wergild for the murder of a Kshatriya, one hundred cows for a Vaisya and ten cows for a Sudra. In other crimes as well comparatively light punishment would be meted out to people of higher castes.
Existence of mixed castes is borne out by Dharma-Sutra and Ghriya-Sutra. The mixed castes arose out of marriage where the husband belonged a lower caste than the wife (Pratiloma marriage) offspring of a Sudra male and a Brahmana female became Chandals.
In this period only the Brahmanas were required to follow the fourfold asramas, i.e. Brahmacharya, Garhasthya, Banaprastha and Sannyasa. The liberty formerly enjoyed by women was drastically reduced during this period. According to Manu women had to be under the control of the father during childhood, of the husband in youth, of the son in old age. From the period of Dharma-Sutras widow remarriage and inheritance to property by women had been prohibited.
In the Puranas the genealogy of the Aryan kings have been elaborately mentioned. There are altogether eighteen Pumas and almost the same number of Upa-Puranas. The Puranas have thefollowing five chapters, namely the Sarga, Pratisarga, Vamsa, Mannantar and Vamsa Charita. The theory that the Puranas represent Kshatriya tradition as distinct from the Brahmana tradition contained in the Vedic texts is regarded as incorrect by the modern historians. The Puranas follow the Vedic religion and take pride in calling themselves as the fifth Veda.
A composition or compilation in order that it may be called Purana must contain all the above divisions. But strangely enough in none of the eighteen Puranas this has been followed. The Puranas, like the Vedas, are regarded as divine revelation by the Hindus. To begin with the Puranas contained only genealogical accounts of the kings but subsequently hymns relating to the worship of Siva, Vishnu and traditions concerning the religious places were included.
In this way each of the Puranas had two broad divisions, in the first were recorded the historical traditions and genealogical accounts of the kings and in the second, the narratives and traditional accounts relating to the religious places of the Hindus. Most of the Puranas were reduced to the existing form either during the Gupta period or immediately after that. The Upa-Puranas contain the traditions and accounts of the local gods or goddesses and their worship.
The Puranas contain although in somewhat desultory fashion, the traditions and the genealogical tables of the kings, these have recorded correctly the genealogy of the contemporary kings. But the different Puranas contain contradictory traditions and genealogy of the same kingly dynasty. Yet, the Puranas contain certain important historical materials.
The Matsya Purana and the Vishnu Purana may be mentioned in this regard. The Vishnu Purana contains the genealogy of the Andhra kings and the Matsya Purana contains the genealogy of the Maurya dynasty. Their historical importance is great. The Buddhist and Jaina traditions bear out many of the traditions contained in these Puranas.