In this article we will discuss about the history of Aryans.
Probably last in the series of migrations in antiquity, came the race, whom tradition regards as the forefathers of the high-caste Hindus of the present day. We would designate this race by the name Aryan, as it was the term they used in describing themselves, as opposed to the aborigines of the country.
A systematic historical record of this race is wanting. For we have no account as to the date of its settlement in India during the earliest period; nor have we any systematic records depicting its civilization. We have only the religious literature of the people.
From the early part of the last century, the history of this race attracted the attention of the scholars of the West and evoked in them the greatest possible interest in the subject. The greatest of European scholars devoted years to the study of the culture of the race, as its language, religion, and mythology were akin to those of their forefathers, and its philosophy and literature far outshone their own.
Oriental studies had by that time been fairly progressing among the Europeans, who had established a direct contact with the lands of the East, and established their dominions in various parts of Asia. Comparative philology and comparative mythology had as the result of those studies developed into sciences, while anthropology was gradually progressing to the status of a science.
The conscious European mind, with the help of these sciences, discovered an affinity in race and language, with the Aryans of India, and gradually evolved the theory of the past existence of a race, from which they along with the Indian Aryans and the Iranians, claimed a common descent. The theory received general acceptance and the best brains of Europe were engaged in trying to find out the original home of the Central Aryan stock.
The Primitive Aryans and the Indo-Aryans:
The Rig Veda is our earliest record about the Aryans and a careful study of this book convinces us that by the time of the composition of the hymns, the Aryans had attained the stage of culture which was far from primitive, as also “sharply separated from that of the Western peoples supposed to be related to them”. The mass of the people had taken to settled life; agriculture was well advanced; private property in land was established, the family organisation was complete.
We know very little about the primitive Aryans before their migration into different lands. As yet scholars are not unanimous about the state of culture attained by them at that stage. The subject of the earliest Aryan civilisation was studied by Max Muller and by others, prominent among whom is Schrader, the author of Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryans.
A comparison between the civilisation of the Indo-Aryans and the, Indo-Europeans convinces us of the great advancement which the former had attained upon the civilisation of the primitive Aryans. The primitive Aryans knew very little of agriculture and had hardly any conception of private property in land, while their kinsmen in Vedic India had a good knowledge of both. With the primitive Aryans, the various arts were in a rude state, and they knew one metal only, while the Vedic Aryans had developed weaving, carpentry, working in metals, and probably used metallic currency.
Theory of Semite Contact:
Coming to an explanation of the cultural development of the Vedic Aryans, we may at the outset enquire “whence came this civilisation?” and in this connection the question arises whether it was due to the contact of the moving Aryans with the cultured Semites of Western Asia or whether it was derived from the cultured but enervated people who were conquered by them in India? The theory of Semite contact found favour with scholars, certain as early as 1879, Dr. Hommel of Munich tried to show in his learned work “Die Arier Und Semiten” that the Aryan and Semitic nations possessed in common a number of names connected with early civilisation and that they lived in very ancient times in close proximity.
The principal words which Dr. Hommel mentioned as Semitic loan-words were the names for bull, horn, lion, gold, silver, and vine. Hommel’s views found support from Delitzsch who claimed to have identified 100 Semite roots with corresponding Aryan roots and also from Kremer. Dr. Schrader too believed that the Akadian word Mana (Akin to Hebrew Maneh and Egyptian Mn.) is found in the Rigveda (VII 78.2).
Max Muller in his ‘Biographies of Words’ (pp. III to 116) tried to refute these arguments, and refused even to admit “any intercourse between the Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia and the Aryans of India, in later though still pre-Vedic times, as asserted by some scholars on the slenderest evidence.” Apart from the slender philological evidence, nothing was forth-coming.
Of late however we have historical record proving the contact of these races in the past. The recent researches of the Assyriologists have indeed thrown some remarkable side-lights on this Aryan- Semitic contact in the region of Sumeria, about the close of the 3rd Millennium BC. Records have been discovered showing the existence of an Aryan race, the Kassites, who conquered a large part of Sumeria in 1745 BC and ruled there for centuries. Of these Kassites nothing more is known except the names of some of their kings and gods.
Nothing can be made out of these royal names Gandash, Kashtiliash, Ushshi, and Adumetash. But among the gods, some are distinctly Indo-Aryan. Thus the Vedic Marut figures as Maruttash, Surya as Suryash, Bhaga as Bugash. We may hope that a proper study of the Kassite language and phonology will enable scholars to show the real connection of these people with the Indo-Aryans.
Next to the Kassites, we have records also of the Mitannians another Aryan race, who had in the 16th and 17th centuries BC, established a kingdom in Northern Syria where they ruled for a long time and established relations with the Pharaohs of Egypt and other neighbouring princes. The names of the Mitanni kings appear to have been those of an Aryan people. Some of these bear strong resemblance to those of the Vedic Aryans.
Of these we may cite the names Artatama, Sabandu, (Subandhu) Swardata (Isvardatta) and Yasdata (Yasadatta). These names are seemingly those of a race speaking either an Aryan, or an Iranoid dialect. Next to these, the discoveries near Boghazkyoi are still more interesting. There has been found a treaty written in cuneiform between the Mittanian King Mattiuaza son of Dushratta and the Hiltite conqueror Shubbiluliuma.
As protectors of the treaty, the gods of the two peoples were invoked, and in this list, we find the names of Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nssatyas. These last two discoveries go to prove at any rate, the existence of intercourse in the second Millennial BC between a Section of the Aryan race with the Semites, but what connection they had with their kinsmen in India we do not at present know; and as yet the evidence is not enough to justify us in drawing the conclusion that the Aryan civilisation of India vas influenced by that of the Semites of Western Asia.
Supposed Dravidian Influence:
Next we come to discuss the question of the influence of any pre-Aryan indigenous civilisation of India upon that of the original civilisation of the Aryan race. There, certainly was a time when it was supposed by most scholars that the pre-Aryan inhabitants of India were semi-savages who are succumbed inroads of the highly civilized invaders.
Modern research which with indefatigable energy tries to pierce the veil of dark antiquity has as yet hardly taken up the study of the culture of those races who inhabited India prior to the Aryan settlements, yet as the result of the labours of some of those we have taken up the study of prehistoric culture of India, we know (as we have tried to show) something of a race who cultivated rice and millets, who knew the art of weaving, domesticated the buffalo, goat and sheep, knew the extraction and use of iron, silver and gold, wore silver and gold ornaments, were probably acquainted with the use of the metallic currency, and had most probably devised a rude system of hieroglyphic writing.
The existence of a pre-vedic culture is also attested by some passages of the Rigveda speaking of the gold, silver and cattle-wealth of the enemies of the Aryan (RV, III, 34,9) of their forts and strong-holds and of the dread inspired by their enmity.
This is all that we know of the contact of the Aryans with the Semite and the pre-Aryan culture of India, which might have influenced the civilisation of the Aryans; but as yet, we are not in a position to answer the question whether the Aryans borrowed considerably from these sources.
The controversy as to the influence of foreign cultures on the civilisation of the Vedic Aryans is far from being ended cod some of the greatest scholars of the present day are coming forward with their own explanations as to the origin of the Indo-aryan culture.
Prominent among these may be mentioned the view put forward by Hall, the author of the “Ancient History of the Near East” who on ethnic and other considerations has propounded a theory that the Sumerians were a branch of the Dravidian race originally living in India. They brought their culture developed in that country and planted it in the land of Sumeria. In a footnote to page 174 of his book, he adds that “the culture of India is pre-Aryan and the Aryan Indian owed his civilisation and degeneration to the Dravidians.”
At present however we are not in a position to answer the question as to probability or extent of these mutual borrowings. ‘Who borrowed from whom and to what extent’ is very difficult to answer. The question of Dravidian influence still remains an open one. No evidence has as yet been furnished to prove any considerable Dravidian influence upon the Vedic Indian culture.
Even the earliest hymns of the Vedic describe, as we shall see later on, a highly developed society, lacking in almost all the characteristics of a primitive culture. The evidence of pre-history or of philology does not help us in substantiating the views of Hall or his followers. The evidence of the latter science shows rather a contrary influence of Aryan culture upon the civilization of the Dravidians. Hall’s theory must therefore be regarded as a piece of brilliant conjecture.
So far as our present evidence goes we may take the Indian Aryan culture as being indigenous in its evolution. In the races to which the composers of the Vedic hymns belonged, we have a conglomeration of several highly gifted and intelligent peoples, placed in an environment entirely favourable to the development of man. The amount of culture which the races possessed in common with many other nations of antiquity, was far from being inconsiderable. The history of its origin is lost in the darkness of antiquity.
Racial expansion, contact with other peoples, and the favourable influence of the material richness of the land of their habitation, all contributed to accelerate the growth of their culture. As they spread over the whole of India, they learnt to exploit the natural resources of the country. The hostility of enemies not only brought them into contact with diverse elements, but induced, in its turn, an effort for self-preservation and progress, and stimulated the further development of the race.
The cultural development of the Indian Aryans has been a slow and gradual process. We find nothing coming into view suddenly. Take the history of Indian economic life, the history of Indian social development, the growth of Indian philosophy—in everything we find stages of evolution—one succeeding the other—the whole forming a series which gives us a complete history of the development of a race.
We find nothing abrupt—nothing abnormal springing into our view, which may justify the existence of any extraneous factor, introducing sudden modifications. In the history of India, we find moreover peculiarities in institutional and cultural development, which stand out unique and have parallels nowhere in this world; and the existence of such elements scouts the idea of any extraneous moulding influence. We proceed next to divide the economic history of India into the chief periods in order that we can make a systematic and comparative study.
Division into Periods of Economic History of India:
The economic history of India extending from the earliest time to the end of the Hindu period (Cir. 1200 AD) may be divided into the following periods:
We take this period as extending from the earliest time to the tenth century BC. For this period, our sources of information are the Vedas, the Brahmanas and some of the Sutras attached to the Vedas, which though composed later, preserve some old and genuine traditions relating to the Vedic period. During the greater part of this period, agriculture and cattle-rearing were the main occupations of the people. Individual owner-ship in land was established and villages reminded for the most part self-sufficient units.
The use of various metals including gold and silver came to be known. Gold and Silver currency came into existence though the introduction of metallic currency did not displace barter altogether. We find also the beginnings of industry and the developments of various crafts (e.g. working is metals, weaving, carpentry etc.) and it was towards the end of this period that the earliest unions among craftsmen were formed. As we proceed onwards, trade and commercial enterprise are found to be developed, showing the growth of mutual interdependence between the various parts of the country.
The second or the Pre-kautilyan period extending from 1000 BC to 400 BC e.g. from the end of the Vedic period to the rise of the highly centralised monarchy in Magadha. This period is characterised by some of the greatest religious and social upheavals e.g., the rise of Buddhism, Jainism, and various other religious sects opposed to the Vedic religious system. It was also during this period that there grew up an active and direct intercourse between India and some of the nations of antiquity e.g. the Semites of Western Asia, the Phoenicians, the Hebrews, and the Persians.
We find the growth of towns, the development of town-life, and the rise of the guilds in all spheres of national activity. From the point of views of economic history it was an age of guild enterprise and marked the transition from Individual enterprise to that of corporate activity, and ultimately paved the way for the rise of state control in economic organisation.
The materials for a study of this period are very scanty, our sources of information being some of the Brahmanical Sutra works (e.g. the Grhya, Srauta and Dharma Sutras, the Sutras of Panini), and the early religious literature of the Buddhists. The Artha Sautra of Kautilya, which describes the social and economic condition of the next period, is of great service to us in as much as from the picture given in it of social and economic life, we can get certain data about the condition of the preceding period.
The third or the Imperial Maurya-Kautilyan period, which extends from 400 BC to the disruption of the Empire and the Imperial system, ending with the overthrow of the Sunga-Kanvas in the first century. We have a good picture of the social and economic condition of this period in the Arthasastra of Kautilya as well as in the edicts of Asoka corroborated by the evidence of the Greek travelers who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta and his successors. The evidence of portions of the Great Epic which belong to this period is also interesting.
From the Arthasastra, we know that the Maurya state had a definite economic policy, and it:
(a) Aimed not only at administrative centralisation but the definite, establishment of state control on national economic activity;
(b) Attempted to nationalise certain industries and tried to enrich the state by establishing monopolies in various articles;
(c) Regulated the working of guilds and crafts; controlled the price of articles, the profits of merchants and the wages of artisans.
(d) Gave a great encouragement to agriculture by granting loans and advances of money and corn to cultivators, and bestowing privileges and exemptions on them. It encouraged Indian manufacturers and traders by finding out new markets for Indian goods, by encouraging foreign traders to live and settle in India, and by establishing state factories under the supervision of royal officials which served perhaps as models to the public.
(e) Established control over the currency by appointing officers to superintend the manufacture of gold and silver coins. It was during this period that a direct intercourse with the Greco- Roman world and with China was established.
The fourth period again may further be subdivided into two periods e.g. one extending from the beginning of the Christian era to the middle of the seventh century AD which witnessed the establishment of the Saracens in the Near East putting an end to the Indo-Greco-Roman trade and the other from that age to the end of the Hindu period.
During the first part of this period, the Indians came into contact with many foreign nations e.g. the Parthians, the Indo Greeks, the Sakas, the Kusanas, who came as conquerors, and subsequently settled down in this country, thus adding new elements to the Indian population and probably many new principles in economic life.
The importance of this period lies in the fact that it saw the great commercial and maritime activity of Hindu traders of Northern and Southern India, who in their own vessels sailed up to the coast of Persia, Arabia, and Africa in the West, and in the East to the Islands of the Archipelago and China. Moreover, merchants from Northern India carried on an overland caravan trade with the nations of Central and Western Asia.
All this together with the industrial development led to the growth of market towns, and stimulated the further growth of the guilds and their banking activity. They developed into ruling organisations and into municipal bodies. The law of joint-stock organisation was developed. The activity of adventurous Indian traders and princes led to the extension of Indian conquests in Further India and to the establishment of Indian colonies in tire Islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Borneo, and the settlements on the coast of Africa.
At home, we find continued industrial development as proved by the importance of manufactured Indian articles in the Western market, and the prosperity of the merchants and of the guilds. Another important characteristic was the great improvement of Indian coinage after the model of the Greeks and Romans.
From the seventh century to the end of the 12th, there comes a period in which there is hardly any continuity of development. The evils of war and anarchy at home were supplemented by foreign competition abroad, and gradually the Indian trader lost ground. This period thus saw that gradual decay, which culminated in the loss of independence. Indian economic activity dwindled down, maritime trade passed into other hands, and a bitter struggle for existence began.
With regard to these periods, something more ought to be said in passing. First of all, we cannot venture to have clear out demarcations either by means of historical landmarks or important events. The periods are more or less overlapping as far as some of the main economic phenomena are concerned. Secondly, the scantiness of material at our disposal often stands in the way of our realizing, to the fullest extent, the importance and nature of the economic phenomena, together with their causes and effect.
The Vedic Village or the Grama:
The Vedic village was a settlement in the midst of a well- watered plain or presumably on the side of a river, affording facilities for agriculture or for cattle rearing. Various types of village existed, each type conforming to the peculiar characteristics of the locality. From scattered references we may form an idea as to its outward appearance and arrangements.
In general the village consisted of:
1. The central or the inhabited nucleus which contained the houses of the inhabitants and the land for cultivation (arable land). In this central portion of the village were also situated, probably the quarters of the Gramani or the village headman, the chief’s domains and the meeting-place of the village assembly.
2. Round the first was the belt of pasture land where the cattle of the village were allowed to graze. According to Roth the Gavya or the Gavyuti was the pasture land (see R. V., I. 25. 16, III. 62. 16; V. 66.3 etc.).
3. Beyond the pasture land was the Aranya or uncultivated land beyond the village, with which the grama is contrasted in Vedic literature. The Aranya was not necessarily the forest. In some places the Aranya is contrasted with the Ama (R. V. Vi. 24. 10) and the Krsi (A. V. II. 4. 5) home and plough lands respectively. It was regarded as a sort of no man’s land—the home of the hermits and of out-laws. Probably it was also frequented by the villagers in connection with hunting and sporting.
The outward arrangement of the Vedic village appears to have been similar to the Teutonic mark in its later stage of development during the Anglo-Saxon period or to similar village-types. But we must bear in mind that there were some essential differences between the Vedic village and the early mark as described by the historians.
To take the case of the Teutonic mark, it had changed its original character with the migration and settlement of the conquering Anglo- Saxons in Britain. In the days of Tacitus, the forest and the uncultivated plains were regarded as common property. The arable land, which was under the occupation of the community, was indeed divided into plots, but these allotments changed every year, and were redistributed among the members of the community, according to the social importance or the requirements of the families.
This goes to prove the absence of private ownership in the cultivated land. In the case of the homesteads however the evidence of Tacitus goes to prove without doubt, the existence of private ownership. The history of the Anglo-Saxon period shows a succession of further changes.
During the earlier part of that period, private ownership of the homestead remained as before, while accepting the forest and waste, the meadow and the arable land, remained subject to the system of annual allotments. With the system of rotation of crops, two sets of arable land came into existence. This system of communal ownership and periodical allotments did not however last long. It failed to take root or last long. Private ownership became the general rule, and land was appropriated by families and held in severally.
The Teutonic system therefore shows the preponderating influence of a system of communal ownership. But when we come to the Vedic village, we find quite a different state of affairs. To understand the points of difference, in this connection we must classify the land of the village, and discuss the question of communal ownership of land, existing in the Vedic village.
Ownership of Village Land:
An enquiry into the nature of the Vedic village-community and the question as to whether the land of the village was owned by the community in general, has already engaged the attention of Vedic scholars. To answer this question a careful investigation is necessary and we must take the three kinds of land e.g. homestead land, the arable and the pasture lands separately, and discuss the question of ownership with regard to each.
1. The Homestead:
In regard to this we find that the earliest available Vedic evidence supports the view that houses were owned in severally. Not to speak of scattered references to private ownership, we have in two hymns (R. V., VIII. 54 and 55) the description of a state of affairs which could not have existed without private property in houses being the accepted principle. In these two hymns the owner of each household offers prayers to ‘Vistospati’ for immunity, security, and prosperity.
Moreover, the hound of Indra (Sarams’s son) is spoken of as protecting it. He barks at the thief and the robber, and his teeth gleam like the lance’s point. Further-more in another place (R. V, X., 34. 10 and 11) an impoverished gambler is made to take shelter in another’s house. The sight of other’s prosperity and their fine dwelling houses torments him. This proves conclusively that houses were owned in severally, and that the owners had the right of sale or gift.
The Atharva- Vedic evidence too confirms the same view. In all descriptions of houses, they appear to have been owned by individuals. As we proceed onward we have the evidence of the Chandogya Upanisad, (VII. 24. 2.) where fields and houses are cited as instances of private wealth. This together with other evidences from Vedic literature goes to prove the establishment of private ownership in houses in very early times.
2. The Arable Land:
In connection with the ownership of arable land the following facts in the Rigveda are to be noted:
(a) In Rigveda I. 110. 5 we find reference to the measurement of fields with a rod. There the Rbhus are spoken of as measuring as a man measures fields with a staff or a rod.
(b) We meet with epithets like Ksetra-pati, Ksetra-sa, Urvara-pati and Urvara-sa, meaning owners or lords of fields. (Vedic Index. I. pp. 99).
(c) Moreover in the Rigveda we find the story of Apala, the daughter of Atri, who prayed to Indra for the fertility and increase of production in his father’s field.
All these evidences may be taken to prove that even by the time of the oldest Rigveda hymns, not to speak of later times, individual ownership in the plough-land was fully established. For without private ownership we cannot expect land to be measured or fields spoken of, as objects of private possession. Schrader takes into consideration the measurement of fields already mentioned and in his opinion this points to the existence of private ownership.
Baden Powell, one of the greatest authorities on Indian land-tenure, discusses the same question and says that “there is not the least suggestion that the Vedic village was a group of land-holdings held in common or in any other way. But the idea of fields owned by someone, seems familiar from the allusion found to measuring the field with a staff and reed and to there being bare strips of balks (Khilya) between two fields.”
Two other authorities, Macdonell and Keith, in their Vedic Index have discussed the question of ownership of land and after careful investigation, in the course of which they have cited instances of land being measured and spoken of as belonging to individuals, they have come to the conclusion that private property in land was fully established. As regards communal ownership they express the opinion that there “is nothing to show that the community as such owned or held land.”
Their conclusion is decidedly in favour of individual tenure, “this in effect presumably meaning tenure by a family or an individual.” The evidence of later samhitas like the Taittiriya Sam (see 11. 2. 1) is more clear. In one passage we are told that a man who has a dispute about land with his neighbour must make offerings to Indra and Agni on eleven potsherds (note I. Keith-Black yajus. trans).
3. The Pasture Land:
As to the pasture land Vedic evidence as yet collected is too meagre to enable us to form any opinion and there must exist room for differences. Macdonell and Keith deny the existence of any trace of communal property in the sense of ownership by a community of any sort (V. I. p. 100). This indeed is beyond dispute as regards the plough land but at the same time there is nothing to prove private ownership in the grazing land.
On the other hand we have before us the fact that nothing is spoken about the pasture in terms which may suggest private control. The herd of the village was entrusted to a common herdsman (R. V. X. 19. 3 and 4), and this goes to suggest that the pasture was enjoyed in common. The evidence of the later legal literature of the Hindus e.g. of the Dharma-sutras and of the Artha-sastra lends support to the same view (Kautilya p. 172 1st Ed. text).
To the last day of the Hindu village system and even up to the establishment of the English in India the village pasture was enjoyed by the inhabitants in common, and was never subject to individual ownership. Moreover is those days when villages were situated in the midst of the vast expanse of unoccupied land the question of defining ownership in the pasture did not arise at alt.
Such was the state of affairs. Fields belonging to individuals remained open. In the Vedic literature we find very little about permanent enclosures or hedges between fields. According to some there were bare strips of balks (Khilya) between two fields. But probably fields remained open with occasional barriers set up in times of harvest.
The establishment of individual ownership was most probably due to the Aryan migration and settlement. In Teutonic and Anglo- Saxon society we find a similar change. Thus according to Schrader (Prehistoric Antiquities P. 289) private property in land was unknown among the Indo-Europeans before the migrations.
Later on with settlement in Western Europe it became established among them. By the time of Tacitus however there arose communal cultivation and periodic allotments of land according to the dignity of the members of the community.
With the establishment of the Saxons, a branch of these Teutons in England, private ownership of land was fully completed. In the case of Vedic Aryans we may infer that in the course of migration and settlement, they passed through successive stages of development and by the time of the Rig-Veda private property in land was fully established.
Nature of Private Ownership:
We come next to discuss the nature of private ownership e.g. whether the land belonged to the head of the family, or to the members of joint families in common. As yet we have very little of precise information as to the legal relationship subsisting between the head of the family and the other members of the same. From some passages of the Atharva-Veda we know something about the existence of joint families, members of which had an equal interest in the family property.
Not only do we find a repeated mention of the words Sajata and Samana meaning clansmen or men of the same family but in one hymn (A. V., III. 30), we find prayers to the gods for unity in the family. There the expressions “let what ye drink, your share of food be common” and ‘united obeying one sole leader—one minded be you all’ go to prove large joint families, in which all the members had their shares in the common property.
On the other hand, we have conflicting evidence furnished by some other passages. These prove the almost autocratic authority of the father or the head of the family over the other members. According to the evidence of such passages the father who often exercised tyrannical authority over his children, could disinherit them, sell them to slavery or inflict any punishment he liked.
As an instance of such paternal authority Zimmer cited the story of Rjrsva, who was blinded by his father for having destroyed the sheep and cattle of his subjects. The story of Visvamitra and his fifty sons who were out casted by him and expelled, as also of the sale of Sunahsepha who was sold by his father Ajigarta in lieu of 100 cows, all occurring in the Aitareya Brahmana (VII. 15 and VII. 18) are examples which point to the autocratic authority of the head of the family.
It is however doubtful as to whether these are instances which give us the real state of affairs or were arbitrary exercises of authority. On the contrary there is evidence to prove that it was an accepted principle that even during a father’s life-time the sons could divide property, and in that case the division was equal. This would appear from the story of Nabhanedista, son of Manu. He demanded his share, when his other brothers had divided their patrimony.
His claim was accepted in principle, though many obstacles intervened in his regaining his lawful share. The story shows undoubtedly that even daring the lifetime of the father, sons were regarded as having a vested interest in property, from which they could not be excluded at will (Ait. Br. V. 14). The Taitt-triya Samhita (II. 6. 1) indeed speaks of a father making common property with a son.
In some of the Brahmanas we find a decided feeling against land transfer (Sat. Br. XIII) though we have passages which point to the existence of the practice of plots of land being made over to others as gift, specially to Brahmins who officiated in sacrifices. (Sat. Br. XIII. 6. 2. 18, XIII 7. 1. 13 and 15). From another passage of the same book which deals with the Garhapatya hearth, we know that the Ksatriya clansmen apportioned land given to them by a (Ksatriya) king, with the mutual consent of all (VII. I. I. 4).
In the case of houses they could be sold or given away as we know from the story of the gambler in the Rigveda who had lost everything including his dwelling-house in course of gambling. Later on when we come to the Chandogya Upanishad we find fields and houses regarded as object are of private ownership (Kshetrani and ayatanani VII. 24.2.) and easily transferable.
The next important point for us is to discuss the relation between the ordinary cultivator, and the king in regard to the land which the former tilled— i.e. whether the ownership of the land resided ultimately in the king or whether the cultivator was a free proprietor.
Royal Rights in Land:
From the evidence at our disposal, it is very difficult to decide as to whether the king was regarded as the owner of the land. Some scholars have leaned towards the theory of royal ownership of the soil. But as a matter of fact they have hardly relied upon clear evidence, and probably they have been misguided by later Western analogies.
As yet there is nothing to prove that in the Vedic period the king was ever regarded as the owner of the stale territory. The Rigvedic evidence shows that as guardian of his people he could claim his tribute only (Vali – See R.V. X. 173)from his subjects. Nothing more is said of his being the owner of the soil.
Later on in the Atharva Veda we find prayers for the grant of a share in villages to the king (A.V. IV. 22.2) and this shops that he was not regarded as the sole owner of the villages, but that the people granted him some land for the maintenance of his authority and dignity.
The evidence of this hymn may be relied on and there could have been hardly any room for this prayer if he was already the master of the soil. The truth seems to be that during that remote period when there was plenty of land for settlement and cultivation the man who first cleared it and tilled it had every right to be regarded as its owner, and there was hardly any scope for the elaboration of fine legal theories.
Another important topic to be discussed in connection with the land is, as to whether a landed aristocracy e.g. men who stood as intermediaries between the king and the common cultivator existed. As regards this we have nothing in the Rigveda which proves the existence of such an aristocracy.
But when we come to the later Samhitas we have some distinct evidences, which throw light upon it. Thus in the Taitiriya Samhita we repeatedly meet with the word Gramakama and the word Gramin (II. 1. 3. 2.)(i.e. one desiring the ownership of a village) in connection with special sacrifices for the attainment of specific desires (see Tait. Sam. II. 2.8.1 and 11. 1).
The significance of these two passages is that, they suggest that men could attain the lordship of villages either through royal favour or through the acceptance of the villagers. In the first case it is difficult to decide as to what real rights the king bestowed on this overlord of the village. The point does not seem to be quite clear. The authors of the Index believe that what the king granted was his regalias or sovereign right of levying contribution and probably nothing more.
In the other case the man attained nothing more than a social pre-eminence, in as much as we know from the passages in which the word occurs that it required the sanction of sajatas and samanas, and this shows that no real rights were parted with, by the sajatas and were vested in him. When we come to later literature we find instances of gifts of villages by kings. The Chandogya up contains the gift of a village by king Janasruti to Raikka (Chh. Up. IV. 2.4).
In subsequent periods such gifts of villages were common and this contributed to the growth of the Mabaslas whom we find in the Upanishads and in early Buddhist literature. The evidence of the Buddhist literature shows—that the Mahasalas enjoyed the revenue of villages, and may be regarded as occupying the position of land-lords.
As to the King’s revenue we find the earliest reference to it in the Atharva Veda (IV. 22.2) where Indra is invoked to give him a share in villages, kine and horses, and to leave his enemy without a portion. (Emam bhaja grame asve su gosu nistham bhaja yo amitro asya. A. V. IV. 422.2). Perhaps in those days the royal revenue was raised from voluntary contributions. As to any fixed share of the produce being paid to the king as tribute, the evidence of a passage of the Atharva Veda (III. 29.1) is significant.
In that hymn in which immunity from taxation in the other world is prayed for, we hear of the kings sitting by the side of Yama, (Yad rajano bibhajanta istapurttasya sodasam yamasysmi sabhasadah. A. V. III. 29.1)dividing among them the sixteenth part of hopes fulfilled in this world. This may point to the royal share being assessed to a sixteenth part of the produce in those days.
Idea of Vedic Village Corporation:
Most of the villages were founded by settlers under some leader. No more details are definitely known of the Vedic village, except that there was some place of common gathering where the people assembled for dice-play, amusement or for transacting business.
In times of war the people of the village assembled under their leaders and fought for the safety of their hearth and home. This is proved by the word Sangrama, occurring in Vedic literature. The word primarily meant, an assembly of the village folk but later on it came to mean a war gathering, and this sense has survived in classical Sanskrit.
All these facts cited above go to prove the rise and growth of an idea of Village Corporation. For though private ownership was established in the homestead and the arable land, the pasture, and beyond that, the Aranya remained subject to a sort of communal ownership.
Again (even if we exclude the discussion of the question of consanguinity) the village folk regarded themselves as a united body, as opposed to outsiders, and this is proved by the tendency against land-transfers, the operation of which existed even to the days of the Artha-sastra, where we find the existence of a right of pre-emption residing in a co-villager in the matter of sale of a house or a plot of land in the village.
This was the state of things in the Vedic village. The name village-community may be applied to it, if that may be taken to mean a body of cultivators located in one particular area “bound to-gather by certain customs, and with certain interests in common, possessing within the village the means of local government and of satisfying the wants of life without much reference to neighbouring villages”.
The administrative machinery of the village goes to support the above corporate character. At the head of the village was the Gramani who was most probably an elected official. In the Gramyavadin who was a village judge, we find another instance of the corporate character of the village (Taitt Sar. Ii. 3.1.3; Kat. Sam. XI 4 and Maitra. Sam. II. 2.1). The village officials transacted the of the village. They had judicial and magisterial powers and these subsisted up to the last days of Hindu independence.
Villages thus became the basis of social life and gradually as the Aryan settlement advanced they became more and more numerous. They were situated all over the country in the midst of the fertile plain. But a large part of the country still remained forest.
The Aitareya and Satapatba Brahmanas mention Dirgharanyas (Ait Br. III. 44, VI. 23, Sat Br. XIII. 3. 7. 10) but these were gradually cleared. According to the Aitareya Br. villages became numerous in the west, while there were forests in the East (III. 44). The Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana mentions Mahagramas, but gives us no details.
Growth of Towns during the Vedic Period:
Villages were connected by roads which were generally insecure and infested by robbers and outlaws. We have no details showing the great roads which connected villages of distant localities though only the word Mahapatha occurs in later vedic literature. Most of the villages were probably open though we hear of pur or forts mentioned in Vedic literatures. Most probably these forts were built inside villages, and were made of stone and offered security to the people in case of ravages by enemies.
We have occasional references to forts of iron or those having hundred walls but we cannot form an exact idea as to their construction, nature and size. Towns most probably did not exist in the early Vedic period. Pischel and Geldner thought that there were towns with wooden walls and ditches.
Kaegi thinks that there were no towns in the Rigvedic period. We have no names of Vedic towns, though the word Nagara meaning towns occurs later on. One passage of the Sukla Yajurveda seems to make some doubtful reference to a town named Kampila (Vaj. Sam. XXXIII. 18).
But when we come to the Brahmana literature we find the word Nagara frequently used as well as the epithet Nagarin. The Taittinya Brahmana describes Janasruteya as a Nagarin. In the same literature we have epithets derived from place names, which later on became big towns. For instance we have the epithets Kausamveya, Kausalya, Vaidarbha and all these may be taken to mean the gradual growth of big centres of trade and culture which later on grew into towns.
Existence of Guilds in the Vedic Period:
We come next to discuss the existence of guilds in the Vedic period. In the Rigveda (V. 53. 11) the army of the Maruts is said to be divided into Ganas and Vratas, the two words always meaning guilds or corporate-unions in later Sanskrit. Again, in the same book (X. 34), in connection with dice-play, we hear of leaders of Ganas and Vratas.
In the Yajur Veda (Vaj. Sam. XXIII. 19. 1) we have the word Gana, besides Ganapati, which means the head of a Gana. The evidence of these words which are not clearly and intelligently explained by the Indian commentators, goes to prove the existence of these organisations in the early part of the Vedic period.
Coming to the Brhadaranyaka Up. we find the gods of the Vaisya class described as divided Into Ganas (Etani devajatani ganasah akhyayante—ganasahganam-ganam—ganapraya hi Visah). In addition we have the word Sreshthi meaning a man of consequence or more probably the headman of a guild, occurring in the Brahmanas (Ait. Br. III 30. 3.; Kaus. Br. XXVIII. 6). All these go to prove the existence of the guilds in the Vedic period. As yet, information about them is very scanty and we know nothing about their nature and organisation.
Capitalism during the Vedic Period:
Its growth was facilitated by various circumstances and by various causes. Apart from the tendency to accumulation in the case of thrifty individuals, this was helped to a certain extent by the existence of freedom of disposal of property. There was very little of restrictions on transfers, whether of chattels or of real property. A study even of the Rigvedic hymns shows that from very early times, men enjoyed a certain amount of freedom in the disposition of their property.
Sale of houses or lands either to a purchaser, or for the sake of satisfying debts to creditors, was allowed even in those days. The evidence of R.V. (X. 34) shows how a man could spend his whole fortune even for gambling. In the case of heads of families, they were most probably unfettered in the matter of disposal of their property. As long as they lived they exercised some control over their children, but this authority of the head of the family never approached that of a Roman ‘pater families.’
Children could divide in the very life-time of their father, and this added much to the freedom of disposal of property.
Money Dealings and Debts:
The religious literature supplies us with very little information is regards money dealings. But in spite of this, we know something about these. Even from the evidence of the Rigvedic hymns, we find the existence of money transactions. In that book we meet with the word Rna, meaning debt. Debts were contracted for various purposes, gambling being one of them. (R. V. X. 34. also A. V. VI. 119. 1).
It often reduced men to slavery. Debtors were bound by the creditor, and according to some they were fastened to posts to be exposed before the public, pressure being thus put on them for re-payment (R. V. X. 34). The Rigveda contains references to the repayment of debts (R. V. VIII. 47. 17) and in the Atharva Veda we have prayers to the gods for absolution from sin arising from nonpayment of debt.
The information supplied by three hymns of the A.V, is of interest in this connection (A. V, VI. 117, 118, 119). In the first, absolution from the sin arising out of debt is asked for. Some passages are really significant arid show how in those days non-payment of debt was regarded as a sin which brought consequences in the other world.
The reciter expresses his willingness to ‘throw away the grain to pay his debt’ and prays further:
“May we be free in the world and that yonder.
In the third world may we be un-indebted.
May we debt-free, abide in the pathways, in all the
Worlds which gods and fathers visit.”
The next two hymns ask forgiveness for cheating and incurring debt in dice-play. The last one contains a clear reference to an intention of non-payment, and shows how the moral idea came to be masked by motives of deception. The Kausika Sutra directs these three hymns to be uttered on the occasion of repayment of debts, or on the decease of the creditors.
The Atharva-Veda makes a reference to the creditor’s wife (A. V, VI. 118) to whom, probably, the debtor was liable to pay on the demise of her husband. The consequences of debt told heavily on the debtor, and consequently on society. The evidence of R. V, X. 34, shows that the debt for gambling reduced people to poverty. Everything was exacted, even the dwelling houses were sold, and men became homeless and destitute.
In some passages of the Rigveda and Atharva Veda, there are references to interest, but we know nothing about the rates of interest. The Rigveda contains the word Bekanata which according to Yaska means a usurer. According to the interpretation suggested by some passages of the Rigveda, (R. V. VIII. 47. 17 and A. V. VI, 46.3) the rate seems to have been one eighth or one sixteenth (V.I, II. p. 109). In the Atharva Vedic passage, which occurs in a hymn to avert the bad consequences of evil dreams, the citer assigns too evil to the enemy with an addition of 1-8 or 1-16; as in the case of repayment of debts.
With the growth of capitalism a new class i.e. of usurers arose as is proved by the evidence of the word Kusidin. Probably the rate of interest became heavy, and consequently we find a denunciation of the usurer In the Dharma Sutra literature, where we find attempts to fix rates of interest.
Banking- Money accumulated unquestionably in the hands of the rich, but we have no clear reference to organised banking or banking transactions. The word sresthin, meaning a man of consequence, occurs in the Brahmanas (Ait. Br. III. 30.3; Kausit Br. XXVIII. 6; Kaus. Upa. IV. 20 etc.). According to the Taittiriya Br. Bhaga was the sresthi of the gods. As to the real meaning of the word, we have differences of opinion. Hopkins is inclined to take it in the sense of a modern Seth. Macdonell is inclined to believe that the Sresthi was the headman of a guild.