In the evolution of the Indian society and its cultural and socio-economic tradition, the Vedic phase is very significant one.

A prolonged debate is going on about the meaning of the term ‘Aryan’ and the original home of the Aryans.

In spite of more than two centuries of study by different scholars from different perspectives, nothing conclusive could be said about the original homeland of the Aryans and meaning of the term Aryan.

Proof of Vedic Culture's Global Existence

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Though the predominant popular view among right-wing Indian scholars is that the Aryans are natives of India, the academic historians question this view and they are of the opinion that the Aryans are not indigenous. The myth of the large-scale migration of Aryans into India indulging in extensive destruction of the culture and civilization of the natives is no longer valid. The concept of the superiority of the Aryan race with better skill in warfare and technical expertise in comparison to the natives of the subcontinent of India is also not accepted as historical reality.

The division of population of Indian subcontinent as Aryans and Dravidians is a construct of the colonial rulers to justify and perpetuate their rule in India. Unfortunately, our scholars as well as ordinary public could not understand the strategy of the colonial masters.

An image of the society of the Indian subcontinent of this phase could be constructed with the available information culled from Vedic literature. It is considered as the earliest literary tradition of the entire world. Based on changes witnessed in the course of time this phase is divided into early Vedic, Rig-Veda and later Vedic periods. As it is very difficult to fix the exact date of the compo­sition of this vast corpus of literature and establish the authorship of this literary tradition, we can only approximately date them.

Though many Indians believe the Vedas as ‘Revelation’, dating back to lakhs of years, the scholars assign the earliest portion of the Rig-Veda to the period from 1800 BC, the rest of it from 1600 BC to 1000 BC and the later Vedas to a period from 1000 BC to 800 BC the remaining body of the Vedic literature is considered to be anterior to 6th century BC.


Archaeologically, the Rig-Veda phase seems to coincide with the pre-iron phase of the painted grey ware culture. The recently excavated sites at Bhagawanpura in Haryana and three sites in Punjab, where painted grey ware culture has become known, was assigned to 1600 BC to 1000 BC, which is approximately the period of the composition of the later parts of the Rig-Veda.

Before we attempt to delineate the image of the early Vedic society, let us know about the Vedic literature. The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Vid’, which means ‘to know’. The Vedic literature consists of 50 texts.

These are divided into four principal categories:

(a) Samhitas,


(b) Brahmanas,

(c) Aranyakas, and

(d) Upanishads.

Besides these categories, Vedangas and Upavedas also constitute the corpus of the Vedic literature. The Samhitas are a collection of hymns and verses that refer to particular rituals observed and the various aspects of life of those times in general. The texts of the Samhitas are Rig-Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. The Brahmanas is a group of interpretative texts and are associated with the particular Samhitas. For example, Aitereya and Kausitaki Brahmanas are associated with the Rig-Veda.

Likewise, Pancavimsa, Sadavimsa and Jaimineya are associated with Samaveda. Katha, Taittiriya and Satapatha Brahmanas are associated with Yajurveda and Gopatha with Atharvanaveda. It is generally accepted in academic circles that the later Samhitas and the earlier Brahmanas could have been composed between 1000-800 BC, the later Brahmanas, and the earlier Aranyakas Upanishads between 700 as 500 BC.

The content of Vedic literature is demar­cated by assigning the Samhitas as a nomadic and an open period that incorporated an egalitarian hymn-tradition while the Brahmanas are texts of a settled people who rigidly formulated an interpretive grid to the rituals of the Samhitas. The Aranyakas again are a liberal delineation from the Brahmanas where the stress is more upon speculation or Gyanavkhara.

The last of the Aranyakas overlap with the earliest Upanishads that seem to be an even more sustained effort towards ontological discourse. There is a difference of opinion regarding the importance given to ritual and speculation. The whole corpus of Vedic literature had been rearranged and reconstituted throughout the Early Historic Period and the Early Medieval Period, when it was given the final form that exists today.

Rig-Veda is the oldest of the four Vedas. It is a compilation of hymns chanted by priestly families at the time of sacrifices to gods. There are five recensions of the Rig-Veda. Out of the five, the Sakala recension consisting of 1,017 or 1,028 hymns has come down to us totally.

The rest of the corpus is considered lost. Rig-Veda is not the work of one individual or family but a collective work of many families spanning over a considerable time. As a result, we notice considerable variation in style and in metres. Rig-Veda is divided into 10 mandalas or sections.

Out of these six mandalas form the kernel of the Rig-veda. The above six mandalas are also known as family mandalams. The authors of these six mandalas belong to the families of Gristsmada, Viswamitra, Vamadeva, Atri, Bharadwaja and Vasistha. Of the ten mandalas, the first, the eighth and the tenth mandalas are later additions; Yaska was the first one who attempted to arrange the verses in accordance with their contents.

He refers to 17 commentaries that existed before his time. Sayana’s commentary, written during the Vijayanagjra period in the early 14th century AD, is the primary basis for the understanding of Rigveda in modem times.

Puranas claim that Samaveda has a thousand Samhitas but only one Samhita has been left to us with three recensions – the Kanthama, Jaiminiya and the Ramayania. Samaveda contains 1,800 hymns and of them 261 are repetitions. Therefore, it is concluded that it has only 1,549 hymns. Even among 1,549 of these, except 75, the rest variations are from the Rigveda. Even these 75 hymns are repeated in other Samhitas and Brahmanas.

Samaveda is of immense value to a student of Indian music. It has three Brahmanas – the Tandya, the Shadvimsa and the Jaiminiya Brahmana of these three, the first the Tandya Mahabrahmana refers to a ceremony of Vratyasoma by which non-Aryans could be admitted into the Aryan fold.

The mention of this ceremony indicates a process of acculturation that took place between the Aryans and non-Aryans and refers to the accommodative process of the society of that time. Atharvaveda is also called Atharvangirasa. It has two branches: Samnaka and Paippataka. This has 731 Suktas.

The composers of this Atharvaveda appear to have a wider geographical knowledge than the authors of Rig-Veda. Further, social life as reflected in Rig-Veda is different from that of the Atharvanaveda. This Veda refers to charms, magic and spells by which one can overcome enemies and gain success in worldly matters. The Yajurveda is divided into two parts – Sukla or white and Krishna or black.

While Sukla Yajurveda has only one branch – the Vajasaneya Samhita, the latter has four branches – Kautaka, Kapisthada, Katha, Taittariya and Maitrayani Samhitas. Vajasaneya Samhita has two recensions, the Kanva and the Madhyandina. Yajurveda has two Brahmanas – Taittariya and Satapatha. While Taittariya belongs to Krishna (black) Yajurveda, Satapatha belongs to Sukla (white) Yajurveda.

Next in importance to the Samhitas are the Brahmanas. The Brahmanas are the texts of the rituals to be performed at various ceremonies. It is believed that, the objective of the Brahmanas is to mystify the sacrifices. Aranyakas are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas, which deal with mysticism and symbolism. Aranyakas may also be regarded as the natural transition to the Upanishads. The Upanishads are taught at the end of Vedic learning as they contain the ultimate philosophy of Vedic knowledge.

The word Upanishad means sitting at the feet of the guru and acquiring knowledge through question and answer method or clearing of doubts of the Sishya by the guru.Besides the above texts forming part of the Vedic tradition, we have ‘sutras’ texts closely associated with the Vedic tradition: Srauta, Dharma and Grihya sutra literature. Srauta means sacrifices. These texts describe the rituals involving the services of the Purohits. Rigveda has two Srauta sutras – Asvalayana and Samkhyayana.

These describe the ritual duties of the Hotri or priest in a systematic fashion. While Asvalayana sutra is associated with Aitareya Brahmana, Sakhyayana sutra is affiliated to Kaushithaki Brahmana. Samaveda has two Srauta sutras: Latyayana and Drahyayana. Interestingly, while the Vedic Tradition looks down on the Sudras, Nishadas and Vratyas as cursed; Latyayana Srautasutra differs in its treatment of these social groups from the Vedic tradition. Even if it is a solitary reference or instance, it needs to be noticed, as it happens to record a dissenting voice from the existing Vedic tradition.

Krishna Yajurveda has two Srauta sutras: Apasthambha and Baudhyayana. Sukla Yajurveda has Katyayana Srauta sutras. Sometime after the composition of Srauta sutras, Grihya and Dharma sutras were composed. While Grihya sutras relate to domestic religious ritual or Karmakanda to be performed by an individual in his four stages of life (Chaturasrama), the Dharma sutras stipulate social relations.

These Dharma sutras are the earliest sources of the later day Hindu law. Gautama, Vasista and Apastambha are some of the most important writers of the Dharma sutras. Besides these three; Srauta, Grihya and Dharma, we come across another category: Sulva sutras: attached to Srauta sutras. They deal with the rules and regulations regarding the measurement and construction of fire altars, which occupy an important place in the Vedic ritual. Generally, all these four sutras are known as Kalpa sutras.

The composition of these sutras is assigned from 6th century to 2nd century BC. As a part of Vedic literature, we have a separate category called Vedanga literature. Siksha or phonetics, Kalpa or Vyakarana or grammar, Nirukta or etymology, Chandas or metres and Jyothisha or astrology are called Vedangas. Along with Vedangas, there also exist Upavedas-Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharvaveda and Arthasastra. While the Vedas are considered to be of divine origin, the rest of the literature is agreed to have been composed and interpreted by human beings. A detailed survey of the Vedic literature is necessary because even today the Vedic literature has significant impact on the minds of the Indians.

Whatever new philosophy or new instrument is invented anywhere in the world, there is a tendency among Hindus to believe that it has its origin in the Vedas. The Vedic tradition was so deep rooted, that it has become a way of life, knowingly or unknowingly of a large section of the populace. What is needed is not a blind admiration of the Vedic literature and thought; but a proper understanding and critical appreciation of the Vedic knowledge by all those who are concerned with the value of the Vedas.

No doubt, the Vedic liter­ature is the repository of all forms of early knowledge, skills, and speculations of the people of India from that of brewing wine to the highest abstract cosmos- logical theories.In course of time, the basic content of the Vedic knowledge became spiritual in outlook. This knowledge in turn paved way for emergence of the Indian way of life. Even today, the Vedic concepts of transmigration of soul, karma and rebirth continue to retain their strong hold on the minds of many Indians. To sum up, every aspect of our social, cultural and legal system is influenced by Vedic thought and tradition.

Rig-Veda provides some information regarding the geographical knowledge of the Vedic people and this helps us to ascertain the area known to them. Rig-Veda refers to the Muja ant peak of the Himalayas and twenty-four rivers. Of these, Rig-Veda frequently refers to the Sarsavati River, which they worshipped.

The Ganges does not appear to be an important river at that time. Their knowledge of sea is debatable. While A.B. Keith is of the view that they were not aware of the sea, Max Muller believes that they had a definite knowledge of the sea. We may safely conclude that they knew the present areas of Afghanistan, the Punjab, parts of Sindh and Rajputana, the north-western frontier province, Kashmir and eastern India up to the Sarayu River.

The data available from the archaeological sources and Rig-Veda provides the necessary clues to paint a picture of the society. The Rig-Veda society can be characterized as simple with small settlements of cultivators and cattle raisers. They lived in wattle and daub huts with rammed earth floors, which gradually gave way to brick structures.

As Rig-Veda refers to a number of tribes living in specific regions by name, it is inferred that their society was based on tribal organizational set-up. This phase appears to be a transitory period, from tribe to lineage. Rig-Veda refers to non-Vedic tribes also like Kikatas, Kiratas and Dasyus. It was a period of constant skirmishes among the Vedic tribes and the Vedic and the non-Vedic tribes for economic gains.

The most important politically signif­icant event appears to be a battle between ten kings or Dasaraja Yuddha. Trutsu-Bharata tribes fought against a confederacy of tribes comprising forces of Puru, Yadu, Turvasu, Anu and Drhyu and many others and defeated them. The fight between the tribes was for cattle, as it was considered wealth and conferred power and prestige. Each tribe attempted to enhance its cattle holding by raiding the other tribes besides cattle breeding. Even today in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, cattle is called Sommulu meaning wealth.

A study of Nuer and Dinka tribes of East Africa proves that cattle raids are a common feature of pastoral society. Naturally, in such a society, the winner is considered as hero and in the Indian context, such hero is called Gojit. Rig-Veda refers to the head of the tribes as Gopa, Gopat and Janasya Gopti.

These terms appear to be synonymous with raja, the common term we come across as head of a tribe or a small kingdom. In later times only, the Raja was also called Nripati and Naresvara the head of people or controller of the people. In course of time, the winner of cattle raids, who was called ‘Gojit’ or ‘Gopa’ or ‘Gopati’ later became ‘Nripati’ and ‘Naresvara’ and thereby established his right, which became a family right.

The members of the tribe showed respect and loyalty to such an individual and family for increasing the wealth of the tribe as well as protecting them from the other tribal attacks. Most probably, the tribe out of gratitude or fear, agreed to make this heredity in the hero’s family. We do not know whether the law of primogeniture was accepted or not, and can only surest that we notice a gradual and slow transition from lineage to the state in the first millennium BC.

The Rig-Veda society was, though primarily pastoral, dependent on agriculture to sustain itself as pastoralism and agriculture are complementary to each other. In the promotion of agriculture, we notice both Vedic and non-Vedic people cooperating and helping each other.

This process of understanding, either on a small or large scale can be established by references to plough cultivation in the Rig-Veda and references to the agricultural implement language, a non-Vedic term, according to Burrow. It must have taken considerable time for agriculture to become an accepted profession by all. This gradual transition from pastoralism to agriculture must have influenced the social formation.

The tribal society appears to have been divided into two groups:

(i) Vis or ordinary members of tribe who took to the profession of cattle raising and cultivation, and

(ii) Rajanya, men who were engaged in increasing and protecting the wealth and safety of the tribe. The gradual spread of agriculture required not only new areas of land but also control over water resources and thereby, it increased the role of the chief of the tribe and the persons involved in this process of protecting the tribe. We may surmise, in the beginning for some time the chief of the tribe depended on his kith and kin to discharge his new duties. In this process, the new social group of Rajanya based on blood relationship and lineage began to take shape.

Acceptance of the superior social and political status of ‘Rajanyas’ by Vis was further legitimized by the custodian of Dharma, i.e., the priest in course of time. The evolution of the Vedic chief ‘Gopati’ or ‘Nripati’ involved the evolution or transformation of the Rajanya group into Kshatriya Varna, a term that has its root in Kohatra or power which occurs frequently in later Vedic society.

The Vamasrama model makes its appearance in the Punishasukta section of Rigveda. It is believed to be an interpolation by scholars and as such, the social group Rajanya could have become Kshatriya not in the early Vedic age, but in the later Vedic age. It is generally believed that hereditary monarchy existed in the Rig-Veda phase, but as the evidence is not convincing it cannot be accepted with certainty.

As Rig-Veda refers to ‘Ganapati’ or ‘Jyeshta’, scholars are of the opinion that there existed Ganarajya concept or a sort of republican form of government as well as elected monarchical system. Rajan or the head of the tribe who may be an elected or a hereditary functionary empowered with ruling authority is believed to be assisted by a number of functionaries and among them the Purohit, the Senapati and the Duta appear to be important. It indicates increase in the functions of the ruler as well as distribution of functions between different categories of functionaries.

The title Senani indicates the emergence of a warrior group under the leadership of a Senani. The term Duta refers, perhaps, to a person who acted as a representative of the ruler or who looked after the relation between one tribe or kingdom and another.

The term Purohita refers to a person who advised the king on auspicious dates and occasions as well as one who propitiated Gods through worship or prayer for the well-being of the whole of the tribe or state, rather than the ruler alone. The Rig-Veda refers to the pompous and luxurious lifestyle of the Rajan.

Compared to the simple life of the ordinary people, the Rajan, perhaps, led a different that made the seers imagine the position of Rajan to be pompous and luxurious. Rig-Veda refers to the bodies Sabha, Samiti, Gana, Vidhata and Parishad. It is not possible now to explain the nature and functions of these assemblies in detail with any certainty. We can only surmise. It is generally believed that they acted as checks over the authoritarianism of the Rajan.

The Samiti may be the representative body of the Vedic tribes and the Sabha a body of the elected or chosen representatives of the tribes. R.S. Sarma is of the opinion that these assemblies performed both civil and military functions. It is not easy to explain or define what those civil and military functions were. The Rig-Veda Rajan appears to be a warrior, who was empowered to protect people as well as cattle. In return, the people offered him, ‘Bali’ or tribute to show their gratitude, loyalty and obedience for making their lives secure.

We do not know whether Bali was offered voluntarily or fixed by the Rajan. We do not know how the Rajan and other functionaries maintained themselves. Rig-Veda refers to chariots drawn by horses and these chariots may have been used by Rajan. Bows and arrows, swords, spears, lances and axes are the weapons known to them.

Rig-Veda refers to moving forts and Purapatis are said to be heads of these forts. It is also subjected that the army was divided into Sardhavaha, Vrata and Gana. It is very difficult to believe the above view as the maintenance of army with division involves vast resources. The exact extent of the territorial hold of the Rajan is not known. Rigveda refers to the term Jana 275 times and to Vis 170 times.

These numerous references indicate their importance. Rigveda also refers to terms Kula and Grama. The head of Vis was known as Vispati, the head of Kula as Kulapati and the head of Grama as Gramapati or Gramani. More details are not available to indicate the relationship between Jana, Vis, Kula and Grama as well as the junctions and powers of Rajan, Vispati, Kulapati and Gramani.

Patriarchy, which is the basis of the social system even today, was the basis of the society at that time. The father appears to have had absolute control over the children’s life. The family was the basic unit of society and the basis of family was the institution of marriage. Early marriages were unknown and as today, marriages took place in the bride’s house. Girls were married after they attained marriageable age of 16 or 17. Dowry and bride price appears to have been socially acceptable in those days.

Common people practiced monogamy, but polyandry and polygamy were common among Rajanyas. Marriages with blood relations were prohibited. Childless widows were allowed to have a male child by their brothers-in-law, as the hymns of the Rig-Veda strongly indicate desire for male progeny.

Like today, in most families, the girl child was not welcome and as such, we do not come across any hymns praying for the birth of a female child. Rig-Veda society does not appear to have favoured the adoption of a child, though such practice was accepted. This society did not know the cruel practice of Sati but a symbolic act of asking the dead man’s wife to lie on the pyre and to ask her to get down from the pyre is known from a Rig-Veda hymn.

No doubt, the Rig-Veda society was male-oriented and dominated by men, yet women were not looked down upon as useless objects or as dolls to be petted. They appear to have enjoyed equal status with men because we have reference to women sages and authors of hymns. From this, we can infer that though a girl child was not welcome to a common person, the sages and the seers did not show discrimination.

The hymns of Rig-Veda pray for perfect harmonious conjugal bliss for a hundred years. In addition, this makes us believe that the Vedic people were optimistic by nature and temperament and they wished to spend a whole life enjoying their togetherness. Generally, people lived in houses built of wood or reed.

Every house invariably had a separate place for the fire altar because they worshipped fire. Every house had more than two or three rooms, with a separate room for women. The Rig-Veda people wore dress of three parts: undergarment (nivi), a lower garment (vasa) and an upper garment ‘adhivasa’. Both men and women wore turbans. They wore clothes made of cotton and wool. Like today, women combed their long hair into broad plaits. People favoured gold ornaments and both men and women wore floral wreaths on festive days.

The food habits of the Rig-Veda people were very simple. Generally, they ate parched grain, apupa or cakes, milk products, fruits and vegetables. They also ate meat and on celebrations, beef they knew Sura and Soma as drinks. Their favorite pastime was hunting and they hunted wild animals as well as deer and birds. The other pastimes were dancing and chariot racing. Women also took active part in dancing and music.

The Aryan society was lineage and kinship based. The Varnasrama model did not take shape yet. The conquered indigenous people were referred to as Dasas or Dasyus and there is reason to believe that the victorious Vedic people felt themselves superior. Though there was no caste system as such in that society, it witnessed social and economic inequalities due to the special place given to Rajanya and Purohita groups in the social, political and cultural spheres.

The social inequity was not so deep as to create hierarchy and tensions between groups. The Rigvedic society was divided on occupational basis. We come across skilled specialist groups such as those of weavers, smiths, carpenters, leather workers and chariot makers apart from priests and rajanyas. This type of special­ization took place due to the increase in people’s needs and it necessitated the growth of various occupational specialist groups necessary for serving an agrarian society.

The occupations were not divided into superior or inferior occupations, as all were needed for happy living. Yet we notice the beginnings of stratification in society based on the importance assigned to some occupations by the social system. For example, chariot-makers appear to have enjoyed better economic and social status, as the ruling group required their services.

The hymns of the Rig-Veda reflect religious ideology, rituals and practices. Religion, no doubt played a crucial role in their lives. Like all primitive societies, they too venerated nature and its elements. They invested nature with divinity and conceived the elements of the nature as masculine human forms. They worshipped a few female deities like Ushas or dawn, Dharithri or earth.

Their religious ideology was primitive animism. As the Aryan society revolved around war, they created an image of Indra as the god of strength, who could destroy enemies. As their Chief was more of a warlord, they conceived of Indra as a warlord. Indra was also conceived as god of thunder and the rainmaker.

It could be so because rain provided water that is essential for the survival of men, cattle the plant and animal kingdom, and for agriculture. There appears to be hierar chical grading of the divine elements. Next in importance to Indra was Agni Each family had a separate Agnistuti. Agni was considered very pure, the destroyer of dirt and germs that created diseases.

The ritual of marriage was solemnized in the presence of Agni was also given primacy in the perfor­mance of the ritual of Yajna or sacrifice. Next in order, they worshipped Varuna, the water god. Next came Yama, the god of death, Surya, Soma, Savitru, Rudra and 100 Maruts were worshipped. They also worshipped weapons of war, drums and mortar. The Rigvedic worship centred on sacrificial rites.

Hymns to various deities were recited, and animals were offered at the sacrificial altar – calling gods to bless them and provide all the material benefits that will enable them to lead a comfortable life on earth. The Rig-Veda ritual of sacrifice was conducted by a social group of Purohits who acted as intermedi­aries between the worshippers and the gods. This enabled the priestly class group to become a crucial element of society, as they were capable of performing an act that made life sustainable on this earth. It is also suggested that animal sacrifice was a way for this pastoral society to get rid of old and useless cattle by endowing it with a religious significance and gave them osten­sible justification on religious ground. At the time of sacrifice, the Rig-Veda religion appears to be a patriarchal reflection of the pastoral warrior society.

The Rigvedic religious philosophy never advocated devotees to surrender themselves to God as in the later Bhaktimarga or the path of devotion. An exami­nation and study of the Vedic religious philosophical thought reveals a kind of progress from crude to more refined ideas and broader views. They also reflect the first principles of abstract, ritualistic, theistic, physiological and psycho­logical foundations of the Rig-Veda culture. Studies of the Rig-Veda religious practices make us think of people who blended spiritual and materialistic approaches to life.

The Rigveda does not refer to Nagara or city but refers to Pura or seasonal fortification. This society was more or less pastoral and tribal with rudimentary agriculture not producing the surplus necessary for the growth of cities. These people domesticated the horse, the draught ox, the goat, the sheep and the dog.

An interesting feature of this society was that the grasslands were held in common and this established the fact that the society was definitely pastoral and not agrarian. The Panis or non-Aryans controlled trade that was based on barter. The standard unit of exchange was the cow.

The Rig-Veda refers to a gold coin Nishka and golden Mana, which has been identified with the old Babylonian weight. Chariots or Rathas and wagons or Ahas were the chief means of transport. Horses drew the Rathas and oxen drew the wagons. Thus, a study of the Rig Vedic society and culture reveals that it was a dynamic society constantly evolving and willing to adapt to changes in socio-economic cultural spheres.