Of the arts and crafts of the Vedic period, some seem to have arisen undoubtedly before the Aryans came and settled down in the Punjab. Many nations of antiquity had made considerable advance in them, as would appear from the similarity existing between some words of the Sanskrit language and corresponding words of various Indo-European languages, denoting the same craft, industry or occupation.

Thus the similarity existing between Sanskrit Taksan and Zend Tashan and Greek Tektan all meaning a carpenter, proves the existence and development of the carpenter’s art among the Indo-Europeans before the separation. Again, when we come to discuss the origin of weaving, we find that the Sanskrit words Tan, and Tanti (string), Zend Tan, Greek Teina, Latin Tendo, all meaning stretching, are closely allied to each other.

For plaiting we have the Sanskrit root Pre, akin to, Greek pleko, and Latin Plico all similar in sound and in sense. Similarly, for weaving we have the Sanskrit root, Ve, Latin Vieo, Teutonic Weban, all akin to each other in sound and in meaning.

The above philological evidence is really interesting and from this comparison of words denoting carpentry, stretching and weaving, we may safely draw the conclusion that a common knowledge of some of these crafts (e.g. those of the carpenter, boat-builder, and the weaver) existed among a large number of communities who in antiquity were closely related to each other either by blood or by speech.


Max Muller discussed this subject in his “Biographies of words” and after him Schrader took up the study of the same subject. According to the latter, the primitive Indo-Europeans knew in addition to certain crafts, the rudiments of platting and weaving and this art had advanced a little.

From a study of the Rigveda and the other Samhitas it would appear that by the time of Rigveda society had long passed that primitive stage in which families or individuals supplied their own necessaries by their own skill and labour. Industry had come into being, and, moreover, the ruralized industry was on its way to a further development. There was a decided tendency towards division of labour and the growth of various sub-crafts.

In the early Vedic period, industry does not appear to have been servile and some of the early craftsmen like the Rathakara and the Taksan enjoyed a considerable social status. They stood in close relation to the king of whom they were regarded as Sti or clients (Supra pp. 95-96).

The main impetus towards the development of industry came from the ever-increasing requirements of the agricultural and military needs of the community, settled in the midst of a hostile population. With the growth of the crafts the organisation of the craftsmen into guilds came into existence.


For a time, however, with the elevation of the princely class and of the priests, the agricultural and industrial population lost the social status they once enjoyed. The Vaisyas, the mass of the industrial population came to be regarded as being tributary to another (Anyasyavalikrt), and oppressed at will (Ait. Br. VII. 29. 3), while the Sudras were regarded as the servants of others, whose lives could be taken with impunity.

Towards the end of the Vedic period, however, there came a change. The Vaisya and the Sudra communities, looked down upon by the higher castes, were able to improve their position by organising into guilds, which gave them protection against oppression and helped them in making their economic condition better.

At present we know very little about the guilds which existed in the Rigvedic period, but some of the words denoting these bodies in later literature, occur even in the Rigveda and prove their existence in that very early period. The question of guild-organisation will receive attention in its proper place.

Of the more important industries of the Vedic period we may mention the following:


1. Working in wood—carpentry, including boat and chariot building and making of household implements and furniture.

2. Weaving.

3. Pottery

4. Tanning of hides

5. Working in metals.

1. Working in Wood:

In the Rigveda we have the carpenter e.g. the Taksan and Tastr (R. V., IX. 112. 1). In addition to the ordinary carpenter who was employed in making vessels of wood and household furniture, we have the Rathakara who made Rathas (chariots) and wagons. The Rathakara enjoyed a high social position, and is mentioned in many places in the Vedic literature. His importance was due to his work e.g. the chariot, which was important in connection with the warfare of those days.

References to boats and ships pre-suppose the existence of boat- builders. From the Rigvedic days downwards, we hare mention of Plavas and N vas of Navus. Later on in the Satapatha Br. we find mention of the two rudders of a ship or Nau-manda (Sat Br. II. 3. 3. 15.).

2. Weavings:

The art of weaving also originated with the Indo- Europeans Inspite of the knowledge of weaving the hide of slain animals and the bark of trees often supplied garments to the poorer or backward sections of the Vedic community (R. V, X. 136. 2). Hermits and Brahmacaris continued to use these till the time of many of the later Smrti works.

As a rule however, garments made of wool or of other materials were largely used by all classes of people in the Vedic period. The earliest references to weaving are found in the Rigveda. In that book as also in the Atharva Veda we have repeated occurrence of that simile in which night and dawn are compared to two young women engaged in wearing (R. V, II. 38. & A. V, X. 7. 42).

In the fourth Mandala of the Rigveda we have a reference to a cloth-stealing thief (Vastramathim tayum). In the sixth Mandala we have a distinct reference to weaving and the occurrence of the words Tantum, Otum, and Vayanti (R.V., VI. 9. 2.). The roots Ve and Tan meaning weaving and stretching, occur in many places of the Vedic literature. Moreover, the Rigveda contains the word Vaya meaning a weaver (X. 26.6) and the word Tasan meaning a weaver’s shuttle (X. 130. 2).

In the Yajur-veda we find the word Veman meaning a loom (see Vaj. Sam. XIX 83; also Maitra. Sam. III. II. 9; Kat. Sam. XXXXIII. 3; Taitt. Br. II. 1, 4, 2).The Vaja-saneyi Samhita mentions the use of Mayukhas or wooden pegs to stretch the web on, and the use of leaden weights (Vaj. Sam. XIX. 80). In addition to these we have a large number of words showing the extensive use of woven garments and the names of parts of the Vedic Aryan’s dress. The words Vasana (R.V, I. 95. 7), Vastra (R. V, I. 26. 1; I. 1. 134. 4; II. 29; III. 39.2;): Vasas (R. V, I. 34; 1; I. 115. 4; I. 162, 16; VIII. 3. 24; X. 26. 6; & X. 102.2) occur in the Samhitas.

In addition to these we have the words Atka (mantle), Usnisa (Turban) Nivi, Paridhana, Samula, Samulya (woolen garments), and Pesas (embroidered garments) (R. V, 11. 3, 6; IV. 36. 7; VII. 34. II; also Vaj Sam, XIX. 82. & 89 also XX 40). As to the material used in the weaving of cloth, wool was probably used first (Urna).

In the Rigveda the god Pusan is described as engaged in weaving woolen cloth and wearing a garment of wool. In the Rigvedic period the wool of Gandhara (R. V. I. 126. 6), of the Parusni country and of the Indus region (R. V, X. 75. 8) was highly prized. Urna Sutra is mentioned in later Samhitas (Vaj. Sam. XIX, Maitra Sam III. 11.9; Kat. Sam. XXXVIII. 3).

a. Linen:

Next to wool we meet with the use of linen garments. The word Ksauma meaning a linen garment occurs in the Maitrayani Samhita and in some of the Sutras. The word Tarpya occurs in the Atharva Veda (A. V, XVIII. 4.31) and in other Samhitas (Taitt. Saw. II. 4. 11.6; Satap. Br V. 3. 5. 20; Kayayana. Sr. Sutra XV. V. 7.). As to the meaning of T rpya there is a difference of opinion. According to Indian commentaries T rpya means linen but according to Goldstucker it means a silken garment. According to Max Muller Skt., Ksauma and Uma mean flax or linen.

b. Sana:

The word occurs in the Atharva Veda and in some later works. As to its use details are lacking. The Atharva Vedic passage simply describes it as growing in the forest (A. V, II. 45).

c. Cotton:

As to the use of cotton in the Vedic period we have no information. As far as our knowledge goes cotton has been indigenous to India, and it was extensively used in India at least before the 7th century BC. However at present we have nothing to prove its use in the Vedic period. The Word Ksarpasa does not occur in Vedic literature proper.

Its earliest mention is found in the Asvalayana Srauta Sutra which was composed not later than the 8th cen. BC. From this we may conclude that the use of cotton was known towards the close of the Vedic period, when the Aryans came to occupy the cotton-growing districts.

In the early Vedic period weaving was most probably entrusted to women. This would appear from the Vedic simile cited above in which night and dawns are compared to two women engaged in weaving. The word Sin probably means a female weaver (R. V. I. 92. 3; A. V, X. 7. 42 and XIV. 2. 51). The Vaja­saneyi Sam. contains the word Pesaskari meaning a woman engaged in making embroidered garments ( in the list of human victims in the Purusamedha; Vaj. Sam. XXX. 9). The Panca V. Br. (1.8. 9) contains the word Vayitri meaning a female weaver, Women were also engaged in washing and dyeing cloths as would appear from the words Vasahaluli and Rajayitri.

3. Pottery:

The potter is mentioned in the Vedic literature where we have the word Kulala (Vaj. Sam. XVI 27; Maitra. Sam 1. 8. 3; also Vaj. Sam. XXX. 7) meaning a potter. The word Mrtpaca too occurs in the same sense.

4. Tanning of Hides:

Tanning of hides was known in the Rigveda where we find mention of the Carmamna meaning a tanner. The Rigveda (VI.48,) refers to bags and pota of hide or skin in which milk, curd and wine were kept. Chariots were covered with cow hide. No further details as to the process of tanning have come down to us, but the Satapatha Br. seems to refer to stretching of hides with pegs.

Wine Distilling:

Wine-distilling was an important industry in the Vedic period. Of the intoxicating drinks we hear of the Soma, the sacred sacrificial drink obtained from the Soma plant which probably grew in the mountains, and the Sura which was a strong drink, used, in certain sacrifices. As to Sura, in Taitt.

Brahmana we have (Taitt. Br 11.6) an account of its preparation. The ingredients used were powdered rice, barley and sour milk. Kilala was probably a variety of Sura (a kind of rum) while Parisrut was a drink made from flowers. The Surakara meaning a wine-distiller occurs in Vedic literature. As to the introduction of the wine we have no informal from the Vedic literature. By the time of, Panini, however, Kapisa became famous for its grapes and the wine prepared from it.

5. Knowledge of and Working in Metals:

From the evidence of the Vedic literature we know that the Vedic Aryans were acquainted with the use of the following metals:

i. Gold—Hiranya, Harita, Suvarna, Jatarupa, Candra etc.

ii. Silver—Rajata-hiranya or Rajata.

iii. A Third metal—iron (copper or bronze)- Ayas or Lohayasa.

iv. Copper—Loha

v. Iron or steel—Ayas—Syama, Karsnayasa.

vi. Lead—Sisa.

vii. Tin—Trapu.

Of these the Rigveda mentions gold and the metal most used at that time—Ayas As to Ay as we do not at present know whether it was iron or copper or bronze. The Atharva Veda mentions in addition to gold and silver (Raja’a A. V, V. 28) Lohayasa, or Lohitayasa, Syama  (A. V, IX 5.4.)) occurring along with as meaning sword.

The word Ayas too occurs in the same passage), Ayas (A. V, V. 28), Trapu (Tin A. V, XI 3. 17) and SIsa lead (A. V, XII 2. 1). The Vajasaneyi Sam (Vaj. Sam. XVII 2. 1) gives us a list of the metals than known e.g. gold, (Hiranya) Ayas, Syama, (iron), Loha (copper), lead (sisa), and Trapu (tin).

i. Gold:

Gold according to Schrader was known to the Indo- Iranians as is proved by the similarity between Sanskrit. Hiranya and Zend Zaranya. It is repeatedly mentioned in the Rigveda, Atharva Veda and other samhitas, where golden ornaments, golden necklaces, armlets, and ear-rings, worn by princes, wealthy men, bridegrooms, and women of high society are spoken of. In times of marriage, ornaments of gold were given to the bride by her relatives. In connection with ceremonies and sacrifices gold was also largely used.

In the Taitt. Sam. (V. 7. 13.) golden discs were used, and a golden image of man was used in Asva-medha since gold was regarded as immortality. In the Rigveda (V. 19. 3)we find the word Niskagiiva (wearing golden necklace). According to the same book, golden ornaments were used by bride-grooms and formed part of the gift to brides by their fathers or brothers; golden armour (Pisangam and Drapi – see R.V.)were used by princes.

In the innumerable Oanastutis the Rigveda, gifts of gold pieces, ornaments Niska, or lumps of gold (Hiranyapindan) are mentioned. Apart from this use of gold, gold coins came into circulation. The question of the use of gold as medium of exchange will be discussed later on.

ii. Silver (Rajata):

According to the evidence of the Rigveda, silver was most probably not known to the Rigveda Aryans. In the Atharva Veda, Rajata occurs and it must be taken to mean silver. The Atharva Veda (V. 2. 28) describes an amulet of three metals e.g. of gold, silver, (Rajata) and iron and Silver is said to grant vigour to the wearer. The word Rajata again occurs in the Atharva Veda (XI 11. 4. 51).

In the Taittiriva Samhita we have the story of the origin of sill and there the word Rajata-hiranyam is used. According to the same story the god Agni carried off the booty gained by the devas from the Asuras. Pursued by the other gods he cried and his tears were turned into silver. In the later Samhitas and Brhamanas, we find repeated mentions of ornaments and plates of silver (Satap. Br. XII. 8. 3. 11.; Taitt. Sam II. 2. 9. 7; III. 9.6.5). The Pancavimsa Br. describes the Vratyas as wearing silver necklaces (XVII. 1. 14).

iii. Ayas or the Third Metal:

As to the real meaning Ayas, a metal largely used in the Rigvedic period, there is a difference of opinion amongst scholars. The Rigveda as well as all the other Samhitas are full of references to Ayas and articles made of it, but nowhere there is any clear indication to tell us whether the metal was copper, iron, or brass. The evidence of some of the old texts is often misleading. Thus in Satapatha-Br. (V. 1.2. 14) Ayas is any metal which is neither gold nor lead. In the Vaj Sam. (XVIII. 13) Ayas is separated from Loha and Syamam.

Max Muller was once inclined to believe that Ayas meant iron, but changed this opinion later on. In learned article in which he discussed the meaning of Ayas he summed up as follows: — “All, therefore, we are justified in stating positively is, that at the time of the Rigveda besides silver and gold, a third metal was known and samed Ayas, but whether this name was referred to either copper or iron or to metals in general, there is no evidence to show.”

In this connection Schrader in his Prehistoric Antiquities says that it probably meant neither iron nor bronze but the pure dark copper which was known to the original Indo-European peoples (compare Sanskrit Ayas, Latin. Aes, Goth. Aiz, Zend Ayarih). He further points out that “It is worthy of note that a series of names of copper gradually assumes the meaning of iron.” Thus Sanskrit Loha originally meant copper but later it was used to denote Iron.

Whatever be the real meaning of Ayas, it was extensively used throughout the Vedic period. As to agricultural and household implements we find mention of various articles made of Ayas e.g. Aya-hata (R.V, IX.; 1. 2; IX. 80. 2), Ayasmaya (R. V, V. 30. 15). In connection with chariots we hear of poles of Ayas (Ayasthuna – V. 62. 8.) and in connection with warfare we find mention of warriors meaning mailed armour or bearing Sipra, Khrgala or body armour Samtrat, Drapis all made of this metal. The Rigveda(V. 53) describes— armours and weapons of metals (E.g. V si, Rukuma, Khadi, Rsti). Arrows were tipped with metal points (Ayasagra) and the God Pusan was armed with a metal goad. The Rigveda also mentions razors.

We have distinct references to the smelting of metals and the business of the smith (see R. V, Vi. 3. 4; IV. 2. 17 and IX. 9. 12). The Rigveda mentions the smith along with the carpenter, the physician, and other craftsmen. Other Saimhitas, too, mention him. In the Atharva Veda the smith is said to be one of the Manisinah or clever workers. The smith smelted the ore and was called Dhmatr. Mention is also made of the bellows.

iv. Copper- Loha:

Loha, the red metal or copper. It occurs in the Atharva Veda as Loha and Lohita (XI. 3. 17), and also in the list of the metals in the Vaj. Sam (XVIII. 13). The words Lohamaya and Lohayasa occur in the Satapatha. Br. (V. 4. 12; and also XIII. 2. 2. 8) In the Taitt. Sam. it is distinguished from Syama or iron. It is called Loha from its colour. As to its meaning, scholars often differ.

Roth explained Loha in Lohamaya as made of copper or iron, in connection with the explanation of a passage in the Satapatha. Br. in which three words Hiranmaya, Lohamaya, and Ayas exist side by side. Max Muller thought of translating Loha by copper if there was but a certainty that Ayas meant (made of) iron. Schrader translated Loha by copper and his opinion has already been cited.

v. Iron or Steel:


Syama or the black metal is used in Atharva Veda (IX. 5. 4; XI. 3. 7) apparently to mean iron because the word occurs along with Asi meaning sword (see also Taitt Sam. 7. 5. 1.; Kat. Sam. XVIII, 10 and Vaj Sam. XVIII. 10). The early mention of articles made of Syama goes to prove that the Indians learnt the process of extraction of Iron from the ore very early. In subsequent periods the iron and steel manufactures of India were famous throughout the world.

vi. Lead- Sisa:

Lead—occurs in the Atharva Veda in the list of metals in the Vaj. Samhita where we also find the statement that grass and other necessaries of sacrifice were obtained in exchange of lead. It is also mentioned in the Satapatha. Br. and in the Chandogya Up.

vii. Tin- Trapu:

Trapu or tin is mentioned in Atb. Veda (XII. 3. 18) in the Vaj. Sam. (XVIII. 13)  in Taitt. Sam. (IV. 7. 5. 2) Katha. Sam. and Maitra-Samhita.

Golden Ornaments:

Of golden ornaments we hear of the Niska or necklace made of gold pieces (R. V, II. 33. 10; VIII 47; A. V, V. 14. 3; Chando. Up. IV. 21). The Kurira (head-ornament) is mentioned in connection with the bride’s ornament (R. V. X. 85. 8; A. V. VI, 138.2), as also Kumba (head ornament VI. 138. 3) , Karnasovana (R. V, I. 122 14, VIII. 78.3) Rukma, Khadi, anklets, armlets and rings. Princes and rich people bedecked themselves with gold. Gold ornaments were worn by brides, and formed a part of the gift by their fathers or brothers. Princes, especially those who were rich, used armours of gold.

Workers in gold and manufacturers of jewellery e.g., the Hiranyakara and Manikara are mentioned in the list of human victims of Purusamedha in the Vajasaneyi Sam. (see Vaj. Sam. XXX. 17 and also the Taitt Br.).

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