Agriculture was the principal occupation in the villages. Its adoption took place undoubtedly at a very early age, though we have nothing, which can tell us as to the period when it was adopted. Historical evidence goes to prove that among pastoral peoples or even semi-savages, agriculture in some form or other has been practiced.
In regard to the Indo-Europeans, Dr. Schrader who tried to estimate their agricultural development with the aid of Philology, came to the conclusion that these peoples had a considerable amount of agricultural knowledge; not only did they cultivate millets, oats flax, and beans but had devised a rude wooden plough.
Coming to the Indo-Iranian period when the Vedic Aryans are supposed to have lived along with the Iranians, we find that the Indo-Iranian agriculture was considerably developed and this is proved by a careful comparison of a number of Vedic and Avesta words relating to agriculture.
The evidence of the Vendidad shows indeed, the importance of sheep and cattle-rearing among the old Persians as would appear from the repeated references to flocks and herds, but we have direct reference to agriculture also (Vendidad. Fas. III. 23 and 24; and also Vendidad XIV. 10).
Of the two passages cited the first speaks in terms of praise of those “who cultivate most corn-grass and fruit,” while the other speaks of the “gift of a plough with share, and yoke and oxen, whip, a mortar of stone, and a hand-mill for grinding corn.” Zimmer held the same view and Keith and Macdonell are of the same, opinion. They point out the similarity existing between Sanskrit Yavam krs and Zend Yayo karesh, and between Sk. Sasya and Zd. Hahya (Vedic Index, Krsi I. P. 181).
From the evidence of the Vedic hymns we may safely draw the conclusion that by the time even of the earliest hymns, the Aryan masses had settled down to a peaceful agricultural life though some sections like the Vratyas retained their wandering nomadic habits for a long time (Pafica, V. Br h. XVIII).
In regard to this the Rigvedic evidence is conclusive. Thus the words Krsti and Carsani (used in the plural) are applied to people in general (R. V, 1. 52, 11; I. 100. 10; I. 160. 5; 1. 189. 3; III. 49. I; IV. 21. 2, etc. and A.V, XII. I, 3 and 4. For carsani R. V, 1. 86. 5; III. 43. 2; IV. 7. 4, V. 23. 1; etc.) In other places too the words Pafica krstayah, Carsanayah, are applied to denote the great tribes (See R. V, II. 2. 10; III. 53. 16; IV. 38. 10; X. 60 4; etc: For Carsanayah V. 86.2; VII. 15.2; IX, 101.9; etc.).
The use of the root krs is found in many places and the word krsi occurs in innumerable places of the Atharva Veda and the Taitt. Samhita. That agriculture had become the chief occupation of the people is further proved by innumerable prayers for rain (R. V, VII. 101.3; X. 105, 1; X. 50, 3; IV. 57. 1;) or those addressed to rivers to increase the fertility of the soil and to further the growth of grains and plants. These speak in clear terms of the needs of an agricultural population and show how much they depended on it.
Some more light is thrown on this point by a passage of the tenth Mandala (X. 34. 13) in which a man advises the ruined gambler, to give up gambling and to engage in agriculture which is sure to bring him wife, wealth and cattle.
Apart from scattered references to agricultural operations the Rigveda contains some detailed description of agricultural methods in the Krsi Rk (R. V, IV. 57). In that hymn attributed to Bamadeva, and addressed to Ksetrapati, Sunasira, and Sita, prayers are offered to these deities, so that, there might be timely rain and that the fertility of the soil might be increased.
We have next, a description of the ploughing of the field by means of plough drawn by oxen, and driven with goads. Lastly Indra is invoked to help in ploughing and Pusan is asked to drive the plough. More information is furnished by scattered words and passages. Thus, one passage speaks of clearing of forests, two others (X. 94; X. 101 3 and 4) speak of the sowing of seeds after ploughing.
The ripe grain was cut with the sickle (Datra, Srni). The harvest (Yava) was collected in bundles, and taken home in batches (X. 131. 2). The bundles (Parsa) are then described as being beaten or trampled upon, on the floor of the granary or Khala (X. 48. 7), The next operation e.g. the separation of the grain from straw was done with the help of a sieve or a winnowing fan, (R. V, X. 94. 13). For measuring the grain a wooden vessel Urdara was used (R. V, II. 14. 11).
Kaegi sums up the whole operation by saying that “before sowing, the ground was worked with plough and harrow, mattock refer and hoe” (Rigveda. p. 13). We have moreover references to prove that occasionally the water of wells or of canals was used in watering fields. (Vedic Index I. 181 & 1)
The Rigveda gives us no description of the plough except that it was drawn by oxen (X. 106). According to a tradition the twin gods (the Asvins) were the first to teach Manu the use of the plough and the cultivation of Yava (R. V, I, 117.21.). In that passage the word, Manusaya according to Sayana refers to the Great Manu.
Nothing more is known of agricultural operations from the Rigveda. It is only when we come to the later Samhitas that we have some more details about agricultural operations. The Atharva Veda contains the tradition that Prthi-Vainya was the inventor of ploughing and agriculture (A.V, VIII. 10.24).
In the same book as elsewhere we hear of the employment of a larger number of oxen to draw the plough e.g. from six to twelve (A.V, VI. 91.1), indicating either the practice of deeper ploughing, or the hardness of the soil. It mentions also the use of natural manure (III. 14. 3 and XIX. 31. 3).
The seasons for agriculture are mentioned in the hymns of the Taittirlya Samhita, bearing on agriculture and ploughing. (See IV. 2. and VII. 2. 10)According to that book barley “ripened in summer, being sown in winter, rice ripened in autumn being sown in the rains, while beans and sesamum ripened in winter and the cool season.”
The Satap. Br. mentions only the operation of ploughing, sowing, reaping, and threshing (1. 6. 1. 3). The Tait. Sam. further mentions that there were two harvests a year (V. 1. 7. 3 – “May they cook he says wtice, therefore twice in the year the corn ripned,”), and according to the Kausitaki Br., the winter crop was ripe by the month of chaitra (XIX. 3).
The mention of a double crop shows a distinct advance in agriculture, which may be attributed partly to the larger use of manure, and partly to the knowledge of the cultivation of a large of grains and plants which grew in different parts of the year.
Whether this rotation of crops made the people entirely dispense with the practice of keeping fallows is a question yet to be decided. In the absence of evidence to the contrary we may presume that the custom of keeping fallows bad gone out of practice. The cultivation of two varieties of rice e.g. the Asu and the Mahia-vrihi points to the same.
The agriculturist had to take great precautions against injury to his crops. In addition to drought and excess of rain many other hindrances to agriculture existed and the agriculturist suffered owing to varieties of these; occasionally inundations swept away the seeds; lightening often injured crops and plants; moles, rats, various birds and insects destroyed the seeds or injured the sprouts.
The Rigveda (R. V, X. 68. 1.) speaks of the driving away of birds from fields. In the Atharva Veda we find spells for destroying the Jabhya and Tarda, (A. V, VI. 50. 142. etc.) for counteracting droughts, lightening, and inundations (A. V, VII. 18).
As regards the cultivated grains of the earliest period the Rigveda mentions only the Yava and the Dhana, (Vedic Index I. 398) or Dhanya (R. V. VI. 3 & 4). The meaning of the word Yava according to some European scholars (Vedic Index. II. 187) is not quite clear. They hold that word perhaps meant any kind of grain and not merely barley. But this meaning appears more probable, in as much as barley is one of the grains to be cultivated earliest and it suits all climates.
According to Indian commentaries Yava means barley only. The meaning of Dhana is similarly obscure. Scholars take this word to mean grain in general, though in later literature it means rice. The question of rice cultivation in the Rigveda is disputed.
European scholars interpret Dhana and Dhanya as meaning grain in general and not rice, which, according to them could not have been known, since rice was originally indigenous to S.E. India. In the Atharva Veda Vrihi is repeatedly mentioned (VI. 140. 2; VIII. 7. 20; IX. 6. 14;) as also the word Tandula (X. 9 26 etc.). The same Veda (III. 14.5) speaks of Sarisaka, which Weber took to be nothing but Sali.
The Taitt. Sam. (I. 8. to 1) as well as the other Samhitas distinguish between the dark, swift growing Asu, and the Maha-vrihi. The Satapatha Br. mentions the swift growing Plasuka (V. 3.3.2.). Speaking generally, in the Atharva Veda or other later Samhitas we End a gradual development of agriculture and multiplication of cultivated plants.
Thus in the Atharva Veda we find not only barley (Yava) and rice (Vrihi) repeatedly mentioned but also sesamum (A. V, XII. 2. 54; XVIII. 3.69, XVII. 4) beans (M sa) sugarcane (A.V. XII. 2) millets, Syamaka and some other varieties of rice which came to be extensively used and became the staple food in a large locality (A. V, IV, 35; X.3; XII.3; XII. 4 also A.V, VII. 10.24; R.V. VII. 19).
The innumerable harvest hymns and prayers for rain (AV, VII. 18 & 39. etc.) and agricultural prosperity, (A. V. VI. 142) show that at the time of the Atharva Veda ‘agriculture had extended and had become the most important occupation of the people. In the same Veda, in addition to prayers for rain and good weather, we find mention of the weather-foreteller or—the Saka-dhuma (A. V, VI. 128. 1-4) and a distinct mention of canal digging.
The Yajur-Veda Samhitas and Brahmanas give us more information on cultivated plants. Thus we find that the white Yajus mentions wheat (Godhumah) rice (Vrihi) barley (Yavas) Masa, Tila, Mudga, Khalvas, Priyangu Anu, Syamaka, Nivara, and Masura see Vaj. Sam. (XVIII, 12; XIX. 22; and XXI. 29) all these words used being in the plural. The Taitt. Sam. distinguishes between black and white rice and speaks of the Asu-dhanya and the Maha-vrihi (Taitt. Sam. II. 3. 1, 3. Taitt. Br. 1, 7, 3, 4).
Next we have in the Vrhadaranyaka Up. (VI. 3. 12) a mention of the ten cultivated grains (Gramyani) e.g. rice and barley (Vrihi-Yavas), sesamum and beans, (tila-masas), Anu and Priyangu, (Anupriyan-gavah), wheat or maize (Godhumah), and lentils Masura (Khala-kulah).
In addition to the grains and plants enumerated above, other plants were cultivated or were valued for their medicinal or other properties. In the Vedic literature we find a division of the vegetable world into Osadhi, Virudh, and Vrksa.
The Osadhis were valued for their medicinal properties. In addition to the Soma plant valued for its juice used in sacrifices, we hear of the great properties of Apsmgrga, Kustha, Nalda, and other plants. Bhanga was known for its intoxicating property and is mentioned in the Rigveda and in other Samhitas.
Sana valued for its fibre, is mentioned in the Atharva Veda. In addition to these we find mention of the Eranda and Sarsapa, being cultivated in order to extract the oil from the seed, the oil of Tila being also mentioned in the Atharva Veda. Of other plants we have the Alabu, urvaru and Amalaka, the fruit of which was largely used.
Of the more important trees we bear of the Asvattha, the Khadira, the Vilva, the Nyagrodha, Udumvara, Asvagandha, Simbula, and the Amalaka, Fruit trees are mentioned but we have very little of details about them. Moreover it is doubtful whether they were planted or grew wild. Of fruit trees the Kulvala, Karkandhu, and Badara are mentioned in the Satapatha Br. (V. 5.5.52) Certain plants came to be regarded as sacrificially unclean.
Agricultural Implements and Irrigation:
Of agricultural implements, we have repeated mention of the plough (Langala, Sira), but we know very little about its construction and shape. All that we know of the plough is, that it was large and heavy lad required two, four or more oxen harnessed to it to draw it. In the Atharva Veda and other Samhitas the number of oxen used, is increased to eight or twelve, and this shows that a heavier plough was used, perhaps owing to hardness of the soil.
It was sharp-pointed with a well-smoothed handle which was known as the Tsaru. It was also known as Suna and Sira, or Sits. The ploughshare was called Phala. In addition to the plough we have mention of other implements e.g. the Khanitra (shovel), Datra, and Srni (sickle), Titau (sieve) and Surpa (winnowing fan) in various places. According to Kaegi the mattock and the hoc was also used. The Urdara or grain-measuring vessel has already been mentioned (See R. V, II. 14. 11.)
As to irrigation something has already been said. Of course cultivators depended upon rain, or where rivers were close by they watered their fields with the water of the liver. Where there was scarcity of water people had to depend on the water of wells and the Rigveda contains references to the water of wells being used for watering the fields and we have repeated mention of the word Avata meaning a well (see R. V, 1. 85. 10; 1. 116.9; IV. 17. 16, VIII.49. 6; X. 25. 4).
The water seems to have been raised by means of a wheel (Cakra) to which buckets of wood were fastened. The evidence of another passage (R. V, VIII. 69. 12) shows that sometimes this water was poured into channels and sent to different parts of the field. (Vedic Index. I. 39) Muir (Sans. Texts V. 465-66) took the word Kulya to mean artificial water-ways which carried the water into reservoirs.
In addition, to these the same book contains at least one reference to canal digging. When we come to the Atharva Veda, we find a description of canal digging (A. V, III. 13). The newly-cut canal is described in figurative language as a calf to the river which is as the cow.
The Kausika sutra (XL. 3-6) give us the practical part of the ceremony of letting in the water. At first some gold plate is deposited on the bed, a frog with a blue and red thread round it, is made to sit on the gold, and after this the frog is covered with Sevala (an aquatic plant) and water is then let in.
As to agricultural labour, most probably it was in the hands of the freemen house-holders themselves, who worked along with their sons and relatives. The early hymns show a state of affairs in which agriculture was looked upon as in honourable occupation. Wealthier people of course employed servants, or labourers recruited from the landless poor or the aborigines in connection with the various agricultural operations.
As the Aryan occupation extended over the country and the people became rich, slaves came to be employed. Slaves are mentioned in the Rigveda and in other Samhitas, but we have no evidence to show that they were largely employed, or that slavery became the basis of Vedic husbandry. On the other hand prayers for male children, show that they were welcomed in assisting their fathers in their field operations.
As yet there was no stigma attached to Brahmanas engaging in agriculture, what to speak of Ksatriyas or Vaisyas. Much of the subsidiary labour allied to agriculture was entrusted to the women of the house.
Gradually, however, a class of landless labourers arose and these earned their living by working in other’s fields. With division of labour various classes of workmen came into existence and the Rigveda mentions two types Dhanyakrt and Upala-praksini. In the Atharva Veda we find Dasis or slave girls employed in husking and thrashing operations.
Agriculture thus had become the main stay of the people and consequently we have in the religious literature, all sorts of prayers and spells to remove hindrances to the proper growth of crops. We have in the Atharva Veda a large number of such prayers, directed against the failure of crops either owing to drought or lightening (A. V. VII. 11), excess of rain or other causes. In addition we have charms for the hastening of rains (A.V, IV. 15) for the destruction of vermin, insects, (A. V. VI. 50 and 52) or locusts and for fair weather (VI. 128).
Some of these hindrances occasionally caused great disaster to the population, though we have no detailed account in the early Vedic literature describing these calamities. In the Chandogya Up. we have the story of a famine caused by the destruction of crops by locusts (see Chandogya Up., 1. 10, 1-3).
According to the account preserved in that book, owing to disaster caused to the Kuru country by the destruction of harvest by locusts (Mataci) a sage named Chakrayana had to migrate to a neighbouring country along with his young wife and had to live on Kulmasa. Famines thus often caused migrations and wanderings on the part of the distressed population. Unfortunately we have no graphic description of a famine during the Vedic Period.
The Agriculturist’s Ideal:
The agriculturist’s ideal is described well in all the hymns for prosperity and increase, which we find in the Atharva Veda and the other Samhitas. Almost all the hymns speak in the same strain— agricultural prosperity, a bumper harvest, increase of cattle, and accumulation of wealth.
It will be impossible to quote all such prayers for protection and prosperity but the harvest hymns of the Atharva Veda throw light on the requirements of the peasantry and their simple ideas of happiness.
The following harvest song of the Atharva Veda speaks (A. V, 111. 24) of the ideals of the peasantry:
1. The plants of earth are rich in milk, and rich in milk is this my word. So from the rich in milk I bring thousand fold profit.
2. Him who is rich in milk I know. Abundant hath be made our corn. The God whose name is Gatherer, him we invoke who dwelleth in his house who sacrifices not.
3. All the five regions of the heavens, all the five races of mankind,— As after rain the stream brings drift, let them bring increase hitherward.
4. Open the well with hundred streams, exhaustless, with a thousand streams.
5. O Hundred-handed, gather up. O Thousand-handed, pour thou forth. Bring hither increase of the corn prepared and yet to be prepared.
6. Three sheaves are the Gandharvas claim, the Lady of the house hath four. We touch thee with the sheaf that is the most abundant of them all.
7. Adding and Gathering are thy two attendants, O Prajapati. May they bring hither increase, wealth abundant, in exhaustible.
Sheep and Cattle-Rearing:
In the earliest period e.g. before the period of definite settlement cattle-breeding was one of the main occupations of the Vedic Aryans. Even after the development of agriculture, cattle remained their principal wealth. In the earliest period forays and raids for cattle, were common and in the Rigveda we have ample evidence of this.
In the Sata-patha Br. in connection with Royal coronation the cow raid is mentioned, this being a relic of older days and customs. Throughout the whole of Vedic literature we find innumerable prayers for the increase of cattle. There are one or two prayers addressed to Pusan to find out new pastures and to lead the shepherds there.
The cow was invaluable to the Vedic Aryans for its great economic value and for a long time remained even the standard of value in ancient India. Individual ownership was known very early and the Samhitas speak of branding and the use of marks to distinguish cattle belonging to various owners.
Even in the earliest period we find mention of large numbers owned by individuals. In the Dana-stutis find mention of gifts of large herds of cattle by princes and rich people. The principal domestic animals in the Vedic period were the cow, and the buffalo, the horse and the ass (also the mule and the donkey), the Camel, and the sheer and goat.
From the earliest time the cow was regarded as the most important and most valuable of the domestic animals. It was domesticated probably in the Indo-European period as is proved by the similarity of Sanskrit Go (Gaus. Nom.) with Slav. Liu. Gow, and Zend Gao. In the Indo-Iranian period the cow was highly prized and was held in high veneration. The economic importance of the cow and its products was so great that the animal was absolutely indispensable to the Vedic householder.
To supply the needs of Vedic household’s large herds were maintained. The cow- stall was situated within the precincts of the house and the kine were taken care of, by the inmates of the house. The meaning of the words Duhitr shows that the work of milking was at one time entrusted to the daughter of the householder. Every morning the kine were sent out to the field for grazing, and in the evening they were kept in the Gostha.
While grazing they were separated from the calves and were put under the charge of the herdsman. They were generally milked thrice a day. In addition to the milk of the cow and its various preparations the flesh was at one time used for food (Vedic index 1.231; also U.C. Vatavyala article on Beef-eating in the Veda Pravesika. also Dr. R.L. Mitra’s article on the Practice of Beef-eating in ancient India in the Indo-Aryans).
From the evidence of Vedic literature, it is clear that in early times the flesh of the cow as well as that of the bull, was largely taken, and in connection with all important ceremonies and sacrifices, we find the regular slaughter of these animals enjoined.
The slaying of the Mahoksa and the Mahaja was regularly prescribed for the feeding of the guests even in some of the Grhya Sutras. In the Vedas the word Goghna (the cow-eater—according to some scholars) is applied to mean a guest.
In the Taitt. Br. we find the division of the limbs of the slaughtered cow among the various gods descried in detail. The cow and the ball were slain on occasions of marriage and in certain forma of Sradhas e.g. the Mamsastaka.
The cow was sacrificed to the manes. From the Satapatha Br. (III. I. 2. 21.) and the Taitt. Br. (II. 7. 11. 1) we know that Yagnavalkya and Agastya were described as taking beef. On the other hand we find a decided tendency against cow-slaughter even in the Rigveda. There the words Aghnya and Aghnya, applied to the bull and the cow, occur many times (16 & 3 times).
The very use of these words goes to show that public feeling looked upon the slaughter of these animals as injurious to society and in the Satapatha Br. we have a long discourse (Satap. Br. III. 1. 2. 3.) on the non-advisability of cow- slaughter, and we find the injunction “let him not eat the flesh of the cow or the ox for the cow and the ox doubtless support everything on earth.”
The various articles of food obtained from milk are described in the Satapatba Br. (III. 3.3.). In addition to these the fat of the cow was used for various purposes. The skin served the purpose of a mattress and on the occasion of occasion marriage the newly- married wife had to sit on a cow-hide along with her husband. Cow-hide was used for manufacturing various articles. Thus in the Rigveda we find mention of Drties (leather bags to hold fluids). It also (VI. 48. 18) refers to bags of skins in which curd and wine were kept.
Some passages (VI. 49) refer to chariots covered with cow-bide. The evidence of some of the later works, (Panca. V. Br. XIV. 11.26.; and XVI 13. 13.)proves the use of these leather bags for holding milk, wine and other liquids. From the earliest period the cow was used as a standard of value in purchasing articles. Thus in the Rigveda we hear of the buying of an image of Indra for a few cows.
In the Brahamanas too, we find Soma bought with a cow one year old and immaculate. Oxen and bullocks were used for ploughing, for drawing wagons, and for carrying loads. For the purposes of grazing, the cattle were placed under a cow-herd who after grazing the cattle led them to the respective houses (R. V, X. 19. 3-4).
ii. The Buffalo:
Like the cow the buffalo was a useful animal. In addition to its milk, its flesh was probably eaten (see R.V, V. 29. 8; VI. 17. 11; VII. 12. 8; VIII. 77.). In one of the Vedic passages quoted above we find Indra slaying buffaloes, the flesh of the slaughtered animal being used for food.
iii. The Horse:
(Asva Haya, Vajin, Arvant, etc.). The horse too, was probably domesticated in the Indo-European period and this is proved by the similarity between Skt. Asva and SI. Liu. Aszva. By the time of the Rigveda, the horse e.g. Asva had become one of the most important of domestic animals. In the Rigveda it is always praised for its speed. Its importance was due most probably to its use in war, and we find them largely used for drawing chariots and carts.
They were also used for riding and in the races which formed a very important and favourite game of the Vedic Aryans. In the Brahamanas we have innumerable references to the gods engaging in horse-races to win prizes. In Vedic warfare cavalry was probably used, (see R. V, II. 34. 3 and V. 61).
The Asvins and the Maruts were fond of riding. In the Rigveda (IV. 39) the horse is described in connection with the invocation of the Dadhikra, and it had probably a sacred character. The sacrifice of the horse was regarded as being of the highest religions merit.
According to the evidence of some passages the flesh of the horse seems to have been eaten (R. V, I. 163). The regions about the river Sindhu and Sarasvati were famous for horses. In the innumerable Danastutis we find the horse as an object of gift (R. V, VIII. 46). Horses were often given to priests as sacrificial fee especially in connection with the worship of Surya.
iv. The Ass, Mule and Donkey:
In addition to the horse, the ass, the mule and the donkey were also used for drawing chariots and other purposes. As to mules their hardiness is praised and their sterility dwelt upon and explained in some of the Brahamanas. Mules and donkeys were used for carrying load and drawing carriages. The story of the race won by the Asvins with a carriage drawn by donkeys is found in the Aitareya Brahamana (see Aitareya Br. IV. 9).
v. The Camel:
Camels were largely used for carrying loads. Probably these animals were of great service in the sterile regions without water near the desert. In the Rigveda we find mention of gifts of camels (see R.V, VIII. 5. also R.V, VIII. 46). In the Atharva Veda we find them drawing carts (A. V, XX. 137. 2).
vi. Sheep and Goat:
(Avi & Aja) The usefulness of the sheep and the goat is repeatedly mentioned in the Rigveda and the later Samhitas. In the first named book the god Pusan is represented as weaving woolen cloth, and is said to wear a garment made from the wool of sheep (R. V, X. 26). Large, herds of sheep and goat are mentioned in many places of the Rigveda and the other Samhitas. The flesh of these was largely used as food, while the wool was used for clothing. In the time of the Rigveda the wool of Gandhara was highly prized.
vii. The Elephant (Varana, Hasti):
Elephants are mentioned in the Rigveda and the Atharva Veda, in addition to the later works. In the Rigveda we find mention of kings riding on elephants. The Rigveda also seems to refer to elephants probably used in war.
viii. The Swine (Sukara):
As to the swine we have very little information. In the Satap. Br. (V. 4. 2. 19)we have the story of the origin of the boar, in which the fat of the boar is referred to. The same speaks of pig-skin shoes.