In this article we will discuss about the occupations and condition of labour during Aryans period.
The ever-increasing wants of society gave rise to different crafts. The requirements of agriculture, of war and of religion gave a stimulus to these craftsmen. Sections of the community began to engage themselves in these occupations. The success of a few induced a large number to follow the same occupation. The advantages of a division of labour became apparent, and led to a further subdivision among these craftsmen.
As yet in the early period there was no stigma attached to the following of these professions, and consequently a part of the Vaisya community took up the business of the smith, the carpenter, the weaver, or the chariot-builder. Some of these stood in a special relation to the kings and chiefs of those days and were known as the “Upasti”.
Apart from these skilled workmen, there were the landless poor, who made service as the chief means of their livelihood. The servile classes became workmen or engaged in lower crafts like pottery or basket-making, or took to hunting or fishing.
The existence of some of these occupations is proved by the evidence of the Rigveda which speaks of the varieties of professions in which men engage and mentions the physicians, the wright, the barber the smelter, the carpenter, the cow-herd in addition to many-others. In a bard describes the various professions very beautifully.
Thus he says- “The Brahmana seeks the worshipper. The wright seeks the crackled. The leech the maimed. The smith with enkindled flames. Seeks him who hath stores of gold.”
In the Rigveda other occupations are mentioned. Thus the barber is mentioned; the merchant is spoken of in more than one place. From the Atharva Veda we have more information on this point and the Vajsaneyi Samhita gives us a list of various occupations in connection with the victims of the Purusamedha. From all these we can form an idea as to the extent of division of labour at the time of their composition. The following is a list of the principal occupations.
Occupations of Aryans in the Vedic Period:
i. Priestly Occupations:
First of all, there were the Priestly class, who earned their livelihood by officiating in sacrifices, by teaching the sacred lore, or in other ways ministering to the spiritual needs of the community. As has already been shown, various grades of priests had arisen and these included the following e.g. Rtvij (priest officiating in sacrifices), Chhandoga (reciter of verses), Somin, Udgltha, Gayatrin (priest or reciter), the Adhvaryu (a yajus priest), the Brahma priest, Ganaka (mathematician), Naksatradarsa (astrologer), and Bhisak (physician).
Even during the days of the Rigveda the practice of medicine had become a profession. The word Bhisak occurs in many places of the Rigveda. The healing art was highly lauded, and the Asvins, the divine physicians were repeatedly invoked.
In addition, Varuna and Rudra were also called physicians. To the physician’s skill was attributed the healing of the blind and the lame; the story of the restoration of Cyavana’s youth is mentioned in many places. As yet there was no stigma attached to the following of this profession, though the germs of the later dislike, is found in the Yajurveda (Taitt. Sam. Vi. 4. 9. 3. etc.).
ii. Agricultural Occupations:
Agriculture and allied operations drew a larger number of people. Besides the high caste husbandmen we hear, of various agricultural labourers.
We have the names of the following:
Gopa and Gopala— herdsman.
Avipaia and Ajapala—Goatherd
Dhanyakrit-one employed in husking.
Upalapraksini— woman employed in making groats.
Vapa—sower of grains.
iii. Industrial Occupations:
Of those engaged in the various arts, the following are worthy of being mentioned e.g.:
Kulala and Kaulala—potter.
Isukara—one who makes arrows?
The separation of the arrow-maker from the bow-maker shows the extent of the division of labour.
Taksana— carpenter—who produced all sorts of work— both rough and fine. In the Vedic age they do not seem to have been members of a lower caste.
Manikara, Hiranyakara—worker in gold and jewellery.— The existence of these skilled workmen shows the wealth of the society.
Vayitri—a female weaver.
Pesaskari—a female embroiderer. The fine embroidered cloths produced by them was used by the rich, who are described as wearing mantles adorned with gold (R. V, V. 55. 6). The weaving industry was then mostly in the hands of women.
Rathakara—chariot- builder. The importance of these craftsmen was due to the use of the chariot in war. They are mentioned in the Rigveda. By the time of the Atharva and Yajur-vedas they formed a separate caste and stood in special relation to the king and occupied a considerable social position.
Surakara—wine-distillers, who seem to have formed a separate caste in a society which used various kinds of intoxicating liquors in spite of the fact that drinking was looked down upon as an evil (A. V, VI. 70. 1).
iv. Non-Industrial and Menial Occupations:
In addition to the above we find mention of the barber (Napita, Vaptr), washerman (Malaga, Vasahpalpuli), gatherer of wood (Darvahara), fisherman (Dasa, Dhivara, Dhaivara, Vainda, Mainala, Kaivarta, kevarta), herdsman (Gopa, Gopala), huntsman (Govikartana), drum-beater (Dundubhyaghata), cook (Paktr, Pacaka, Srapayitr), charioteer (Sarathi, Rathin, Rathagrtsa, Dhursad, Yantr), elephant-keeper (Hastipa), servant (Anuksattr, Ksattr), doorkeeper (Dvarapa, Grhapa), guard or servant (Payu, Purusa,) Presya, (Pratyenas), menial, or messenger (palagala), waiter, (Parivestr), waiter (Paricara), rower (Anithin), boatman (Navaja), groom (Asvapa), bath-attendant (Upasektr), shampooer (Upamanthitr).
In addition to these there were others who earned their living by amusing the public or ministering to the luxury of the rich. The Purusamedha list mentions actors (Sailusa), dressmaker (Pesaskari), exciters of love (Smarakari), lute player (VInavada) Tunabadhma, Sankhadhma. Similarly, we hear of Vamsanartaka (acrobat) Vinagathin (lute-player) Talaba, Panighna (Hand-clapper) Sabhavin (keeper of gambling houses). The evidence of the Rigveda and other Samhitas proves the existence of courtesans (R. V, X. 27. 12).
We know further that with the growth of the state there arose a class who lived by accepting service under the king. Prominent amongst these officials we have the Ugra (police officers) Jivagrbh (police officer) atapati, and later on the Am tyas and Sacivas (included in the list of the Ratnin).
The evidence of certain words show the existence of merchants and bankers. The words Vanij and Vanija occur even in the Rigveda. The words SresthI, meaning a rich man or a banker, and Kusidin (a usurer) occur in the Aitareya and other Bhahmanas.
v. Occupation through Hunting and Fishing:
Hunting and fishing remained the occupation of a large section of the people especially the aborigines. Some were hunters by profession and lived by it, used bows or arrows, or the snares. Fishing became the main occupation of a section of the population who belonged to the aboriginal classes.
In the Yajurveda we find the words Dass Kaivarta or Kevarta and Dhaivara, all denoting fishermen. In the Rigveda we have very little reference to fishing. Of fish the Sakula is mentioned. Crabs (Kakkata) are also mentioned.
Of fish-eating we know very little from the Vedais although the land inhabited by the Aryans contained mighty rivers abounding in fish. This may be due to aversion to fish eating, but there is no direct evidence pointing to it. In the later Smrti works, fish was not only prescribed as food but was offered to the manes and the guest.
Of aquatic animals other than fish, the tortoise (Kurma or Kasyapa) is spoken of in glaring language in the Satapatha Br. (VII. 5. 1. 5.)which describes it as a sacred animal from which all creation sprang up. it is doubtful whether the flesh of these used to be taken. References to Pearl-fishery exist in the Rigveda and Atharva veda, and the word Krsana occurs (Vedic Index 1. 181).
Condition of Labours during Aryans Period:
A study of the economic condition of the Vedic period shows that as yet labour was not wholly servile- much of the agricultural labour was in the hands of the freemen householders along with their sons and kinsmen. Gradually, however, there arose various labouring classes recruited from the landless poor or conquered enemies.
Slaves existed and in the Samhitas we have repeated mention of slaves (Dasa). In the Rigveda we have prayers for the acquisition of slaves and we hear of gifts of slaves (R. V., III. 46. 32; VIII. 56. 3). We do not, however, know the extent to which slave labour was employed or anything as regards their status and condition.
Husking, winnowing, grinding of grains etc. were mostly entrusted to women. Women were employed in certain industries and female labourers working for wages probably existed. Thus in Vedic literature we meet with the words Upalapraksini (woman)