The early Vedic Society represented human equality and simplicity at their best. It was a society of high moral standards.
It showed an advanced civilisation, a settled life, and an organised human relation.
The Aryan families were the backbone of the society. The society was organised on the basis of the family as a unit. Each home was like an abode of happiness.
This was because the Aryans laid great emphasis on the virtues of family life. A good family man was a good social being.
Usually, the father was the head of the family. As the head, he controlled the other members. The younger members obeyed the senior members. The relation between father, mother, brothers and sisters rested on a sense of duty, devotion, affection and cordiality. The size of a family could be big enough to contain many members from grandparents to grand children. But they all lived in peace. In their daily life, the Aryan householders believed in plain living and high thinking. Truth, mercy, kindness, goodness, mutual help and understanding were the ideals of family life.
The Aryans believed in the system of Chaturashrama or the four- fold division of one’s life. At the young age when man received education and training, he practiced Brahmacharya. Thereafter he married and led the Garhasthya life or the life of a householder. When man reached the third stage of his life, he adopted Vanaprastha. During that period he lived in a cottage away in forests to perform religious duties. In the final phase, of life in the old age, he practised the Sannyasa Vrata by renouncing everything. These practices showed the discipline of the Aryan life.
Position of Women:
The women held a high position in the Aryan society. Inside the family they played a prominent role. They exercised much influence in domestic affairs. In religious ceremonies and festivals, women enjoyed equal place with men. Before their marriage the Aryan daughters received education in the house of their parents. The word Duhitri in Sanskrit and Daughter in English came from the root Aryan word Dugh which means milking the cow. Perhaps the Aryan girls were fond of looking after the cows as their domestic duty.
There was no child marriage in the Rig-Veda society. Girls lived in the house of their parents till they attained marriageable age. They had freedom to select their husbands. Of course, arranged marriages were a more usual custom. Marriage was considered a sacred obligation in Vedic culture. It was indissoluble. There was no seclusion of women in the Vedic society. The Vedic women took part in the highest socio-religious duties. They studied the Vedas. Some of them like Lopamudra, Ghosha, Vishwavara and Apala become immortal as the authors of the Vedic hymns.
The most praiseworthy feature of the early Vedic Society was the social equality of men. All Aryans were equal among themselves. There was no caste system to separate man from man. Every Aryan could learn the Vedas, could fight battles as a soldier, and work as a cultivator. It is only the conquered people who were given a lower rank in the society as the Dasas. In brief, the Rig-Veda Aryans lived in an ideal society which was unique in ancient world.
The economic condition of the people in the early Vedic society was prosperous. The Aryans were a hard-working race. They were also the believers of simple life. They loved to live in villages. Their economic activities mostly centred in and around their villages.
Agriculture was the chief occupation of the Vedic Aryans. They regarded cultivation as the main source of their livelihood. Around every village there were plenty of cultivable lands and wide pastoral fields for cattle. Each family had its own lands to grow crop. Grass lands for the animals were held in common by all villagers.
The lands under cultivation were called Kshetra. The Aryans depended much on the rains and rivers for agriculture. They also took water from canals to their fields. To make the land fertile, they used manure. Dhan and Yava were the two chief products of agriculture. Since the lands were fertile in those days and population was small, there was enough food in Vedic India to keep the people happy and self-sufficient.
Rearing of Animals:
Next to agriculture, the Vedic Aryans paid great attention to the rearing of cattle and various other domestic animals. Milk was regarded most useful, and cows were paid the maximum care. In every village there were cowherd boys to drive the cattle to the green pasture lands. Sheep, goats, and horses were the other useful animals in Vedic society.
Trade and Commerce:
The early Aryans also developed trade, commerce and industry. Merchants were there to carry various useful goods from place to place. Varieties of cloths, metal goods and skin products were sold by traders in different markets. Carts drawn by horses and oxen usually carried the articles of trade. Boats were used in rivers for internal movement of goods. Rare evidences are also there to prove that the Vedic Aryans had maritime activities across the seas.
Cottage industries flourished in Vedic society. In most villages there were weavers, smiths or metal-workers, carpenters, and also tanners. Artistic goods were made at select centres. Ornaments, weapons, chariots, implements for cultivation, utensils and many other useful things were made by the people for regular use.
The Aryans loved to eat rice, barley, milk, meat, fish and fruits. In festivals and religious occasions, they used to drink Somarasa. On the whole, the economic life of the Vedic period was a life of plenty and prosperity. It is said that the early Aryans did not build big cities or Nagara. But they built strongholds and forts known as Pura with walls around and strong houses inside.
The Aryans were a powerful people. They came to India in an organised way. As they spread themselves in India and settled permanently, they developed political organisations in their society for a better life. The nature of the Vedic political organisation was as follows.
Several families formed a village or the Grama. The head of the Grama was called Gramani. He regulated the affairs of the village and maintained peace in his area. Several villages formed a district or canton which was called the Vis. The head of the vis was named as Vispati. If the Vis was very big in size, the Vispati ruled more or less like a king.
Several districts formed a Jana or people, which was like a big political unit or the Rastra. The Rastra or the State or the Jana was ruled by a head named as the Rajan or the king. He was said to be “without a rival and a destroyer of rivals.” In later times, when the territory became big in size the Rajan became a Samrat.
King and Kingship:
In Vedic India, the kingship was generally a hereditary institution. The king occupied a position of honour. He was anointed by the Chief Priests. He usually enjoyed the confidence and loyalty of the people. He lived in his palace. In dress, manners and style, he maintained the dignity of royalty.
The son of the king had his right to his father’s kingdom. Because of such continuity, it was a duty of the ruling king to train his successor in the art of good government as well as in various virtues required of a monarch. At places, the subjects also could elect or select a king for their land.
The king appointed several officers. Among such officers, the Purohita or chaplain, the Senani or the commander of the army, the Duta or the messenger, the Gramani or village headman played prominent role. The king also had his advisers or ministers. He appointed spies to collect information about the people. The king was required to perform two main duties. One was the protection of his land and the people from outside enemies. For this he maintained his army. The other was to serve and please the people.
The king or the Rajan of the Vedic age was not an autocrat. He governed according to the laws and customs of the land, according to religious beliefs and with the advice of the seers, sages, and elders. There were even some kind of popular assemblies in those days called Samiti to give opinion on the affairs of the state. There was also the Sabha or Council of Elders, containing wise men to advise the Government. The monarchy was thus limited.
It is also understood that at places there were some kind of republican governments among some of the Aryan tribes. The term Gana or people was perhaps used for such a state. Its head was called Ganapati or Jyeshtha (elder).
On the whole, the Vedic political organisations were sound and stable. The state rested on the foundations of ethics, morality, virtue and popular will. In course of time, smaller kingdoms yielded place to bigger kingdoms. Powerful monarchs wanted to rule over larger territories. Stronger political units and organisations thus became the need of the time.
The Aryans were deeply religious. Their spiritual thoughts were of the highest order. Among the ancient races on earth, no race was equal to the Indian Aryans of the early Vedic age in spiritual and religious thoughts. While the whole world was in the darkness of ignorance and blind beliefs, the Rig-Veda India held the lamp of wisdom. Among the ancient-most religions of mankind, the Vedic religion is considered the best.
The Rig-Veda Aryans thought of the Supreme Creator through the Creation. Nature represented the different manifestations of that creation. They, therefore, became the worshippers of Nature. The mighty elements of Nature were regarded by the Aryans as their gods. All the useful elements of Nature appeared in divine form in the Aryan religious thought.
Dyus or the Shinning Sky, Prithivi or the Mother Earth, Indra or the God of Rain and Thunder, Varuna or the Lord of Waters, Surya or the Illuminator, Marut or the Lord of Storms, Vayu or the God of Wind, Agni or the God of Fire, and Usha or the Goddess of Dawn, were the famous divinities of the Aryan worship. Everyone of them was a part of Nature. While believing in several gods and goddesses, the early Aryans developed faith in the Supreme Being who was the Creator of all. Every other god was only His representation.
Therefore, they sang:
“They call him India, Mitra, Varuna,
To what is One, the poets give many a name, They call It Agni, Yama, Matarisvan.”
The seers and sages of Vedic India were the epitomes of wisdom. They searched for the origin and meaning of the Universe and came to know the first cause of creation.
“Neither death nor deathlessness existed:
Of day and night there was yet no distinction,
Alone that one breathed calmly, self-supported,
Other than it was none, nor aught above It.”
While the religious faith of the Vedic Aryans was deeply spiritual, their religious practices were most simple. They performed Yajnas in which they made offerings of ghee, milk, grain and other things while singing hymns in honour of gods and goddesses. In their religious conduct, they became virtuous, kind, charitable and truthful.
Thus was the early Vedic Civilisation glorified. The social, political, and religious conditions of the time were the brightest proofs of that great civilisation.