In this article we will discuss about:- 1. The Origin of the Aryans 2. The Early Vedic or the Rig-Vedic Civilization 3. The Later Vedic Civilization 4. The Caste-System in the Period of Vedic Civilization.
The Vedic culture occupies the most prominent place in Indian history. Its impact even on modern India is widely prevalent. The religion, philosophy and social customs of the Hindus who constitute the majority in India have their principal source in the Vedic culture.
It has also contributed fairly towards world culture in terms of religious philosophy and spiritual speculations. It has been contended by several scholars that the village culture of the Vedic age was inferior to the city-culture of the Indus valley.
But the contention is not accepted by the majority. The contribution of the Vedic culture to human progress has far exceeded that of the Indus valley culture and that alone is sufficient to justify its superiority. The Vedic culture definitely occupies a proud place among the cultures of the world and adds a brilliant chapter to Indian history. The authors of this culture were the Indo-Aryans, an anglicized version of the original word Arya.
The Origin of the Aryans:
The origin of the Aryans is controversial. Different scholars have expressed different opinions regarding the original homeland of the Aryans and have tried to justify their contentions on the basis of history, philology, racial anthropology and archaeological discoveries. India, Central Asia, South Russia, plateau of Pamir, Scandinavia. Germany, Austria, Hungary etc. have been alternatively suggested as the original home of the Aryans, and yet there is no consensus on this question.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati described Tibet as the original home of the Aryans. But there are no proofs to justify this contention.
The Indian nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak expressed the view that the Aryans w ere the indigenous people of India. He tried to support his arguments on the basis of the Vedas. Many other Indian scholars have tried to support this view.
Ganganath Jha maintained that the original home of the Aryans was Brahmarishi-Desh, that is, India. D.S. Trivedi expressed the view that the area near Multan and Devika river was their original place. D.S. Kala says that it was the hilly region of the Himalayas and Kashmir.
Avinash Chandra Das has maintained that it was Saptasindhu Pradesh, that is the Punjab and the Ganges-Jamuna Doab and, Rajbali Pandey contends that it was Madhya-desh, that is, modern Uttar Pradesh. These scholars have tried to justify their contention on various grounds. They argue that Vedic literature gives no description of any other land or country outside India.
The central feature of the Aryan religious life was sacrifice of animals to god, the practice which originated in north Punjab and, the rivers, the mountains, the climate, the jungles and the rest, described in Vedic literature are all Indian. It is also argued that the Aryans themselves described Saptasindhvah — the land between and nearby the six rivers of Punjab and Saraswati (Sursuti in modern Haryana which has disappeared now) as their home-land.
It included Kashmir in the north and touched the boundary of Rajasthan in the south while in the west it included Gandhara-Pradesh and banks of the river Ganges in the east. There are numerous references of this land in the Rig-Veda.
Yet, the contention of these scholars is not accepted by the majority of scholars. Probably, this view has been upheld as a reaction against the view expressed by western scholars that the original home of the Aryans was Europe.
The first European who declared that there existed a definite relation between Sanskrit, the literary language of the Indo-Aryans and some of the principal languages of Europe was Fillippo Sassetti who for five years (1583-88 A.D.) lived in Goa. However, that this relation is due to their origins from a common source was first suggested by Sir William Jones in his address to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1786.
He maintained that languages like Greek, Latin, Gothic, Celtic, Persian and Sanskrit have the same source of origin. For example, the Sanskrit words pitar and matar are essentially the same as pater and mater in Latin, pater and mater in Greek, father and mother in English, and vater and mutter in German.
On the basis of this similitude of languages, western scholars maintained that Europe was the original homeland of the Aryans. The argument was further supported on the basis of racial physical similarities and the description of flora and fauna in the Vedic texts.
P. Giles argued that all animals, birds and vegetation described in the Vedic texts are not found in India but at different places in Europe. Therefore, Hungary, Austria, Bohemia or the valley of Danube was the probable home of the Aryans. Another scholar Penka compared the physical features of the bodies of different races and declared that Germany or most probably Scandinavia was the home of the Aryans.
Nehring, after making a comparative study of vegetations, declared that south Russia was the original home of the Aryans. Brandenstain maintained that it was the grassy steppes and the region in the south of Yural mountain and Gordon Childe, on the basis of archaeological findings, declared that it was south Russia or Scandinavia.
However, the argument of the similitude of language is no valid argument because the similitude of language does not necessarily prove the similitude of blood or a common homeland.
Similarly arguments of similarity of physical features have also been discarded by scholars and so is the case with the argument put forth by P. Giles. There is no evidence to prove that the flora and fauna described in the Vedic texts existed in European countries at that time.
There is another set of scholars who have argued that central Asia was the original home of the Aryans. Max Muller supported this argument. He claimed, that one group of them established itself in Iran while the other group marched as far as India. There is similarity of gods such as Indra, Varun and Nastya as described in the Vedas and the Iranian Avestan Gathas.
These scholars maintain that the climate of the original homeland of the Aryans ought to have been such where the cow and the horse, the principal animals of the Aryans could be found and exist, and such climate existed only in central Asia. K.M. Panikkar has also supported the opinion of Mr Max Muller.
Edward Mayer has expressed the view that the original home of the Aryans was the plateau of Pamir. Mr. Oldenburg and Prof. Keith have supported this view.
The latest researches, particularly that of Prof. Schrader, have tried to prove that the original home of the Aryans was south Russia. Dr. B.K. Ghosh has accepted this view.
He writes – “In spite of the enormous increase in knowledge since the days of Schrader it would be best, therefore, to adhere to his conclusion that south Russia, more than any other region, can claim to be regarded as the cradle-land of the Aryans (Indo-Europeans.)”
Thus, we find that different opinions have been expressed by different scholars regarding the original home of the Indo-Aryans and still there is no consensus. Therefore, it is difficult to say positively about it. However, the majority is of the view that the great steppe land which stretched from Poland and south Russia to Central Asia was inhabited by the Aryans who were tall, comparatively fair and mostly long-headed.
They were mainly pastoral people but practised a little agriculture. Probably, the natural increase of population or the search for pasture lands forced them to move towards East, West and South. They had tamed the horse which they used in light chariots with spoked wheels which gave them superiority over their enemies.
They migrated in bands. Some invaded Europe to become the ancestors of the Greeks, the Latins, the Celts and the Teutons, while others reached Anatolia where, from the mixing of these and the original inhabitants, the great empire of the Hittites grew up.
Some others moved southwards and, from the Caucasus and the Iranian tableland, attacked the Middle Eastern civilizations. The Kassites who conquered Babylon and the Mitannis who conquered Syria belonged to this stock. Yet, there were others who remained in their homeland to remain ancestors of the later Baltic and Slavonic peoples. Those who had established themselves in Central Asia and Iran marched further eastward and entered India through Afghanistan near about 2000 B.C.
These were called the Indo-Aryans. The Aryan invasion of India was not single concerted action, but one covering centuries. The Dravidians who were then occupants of India resisted them and a fierce and protracted struggle ensued. It was not merely a struggle between two nationalities, but a conflict between two types of civilization. The Dravidians, no doubt, put up a brave fight, but ultimately succumbed to the attacks of the invaders.
The victory enabled the Aryans gradually to conquer the greater part of North India and the vanquished natives, Dravidians as well as others, either submitted to them, found shelter in the South or retreated towards the north, south and the east in hills and forests. In India the Aryans created their religious texts and laid the foundations of not only Vedic culture but Indian culture as well.
The Early Vedic or the Rig-Vedic Civilization:
The only source of Vedic culture is the Vedic literature. Amongst it are the four Vedas (called Samhitas also), the Rig-veda, the Sama-veda, the Yajur-veda and the Atharva-veda; Brhamanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads.
The Rig-veda is a collection of hymns; the Sama-veda is a collection of songs mostly taken from the Rig-veda; the Yajur-veda is a collection of sacrificial formulas; the Atharva-veda is a collection of spells and charms; Brahmanas contain observations on various sacrificial rites and ceremonies; Aranyakas contain philosophic speculations about the nature of truth; and Upanishads elaborate further philosophic speculations of Aranyakas.
Upanishads marked a reaction against sacrificial religion and revealed the ultimate truth and reality, a knowledge of which was considered indispensable for the emancipation of man. Besides, certain other Hindu scriptures too have been included in Vedic literature.
Six vedangas, Sutras and Smritis are included in it. Among Sutras important ones are the Graha-Sutra and the Dharma-Sutra and among Smritis are- the Manu-Smriti, the Narada-Smriti, the Brahaspati-Smriti etc. Certain other Hindu philosophical texts i.e., the Sankhya-Darshana by Kapil, the Yoga-Darshana by Patanjali, the Nyaya-Darshana by Gautam etc. are also included in it.
The above mentioned Vedic and other allied Hindu religious literature has been regarded most useful for human knowledge. The Hindus, therefore, have claimed that their religious texts contain every aspect of human knowledge. Besides, several of these texts provide us useful historical material as well
During the early stage of their settlement in India, the Aryans had composed only samhitas (hymns) of the Rig-veda. Therefore, the only source of early Vedic culture is the Rig-veda. Its present text consists of 1,028 hymns which are divided into ten mandalas or books. There is no unanimous opinion amongst scholars regarding the period of its composition.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak believed that it was composed during 6000 B.C. Jacobi fixed the time as 2500 B.C. and Max Muller opined that it was composed sometime between 1200-1000 B.C. However, the majority of scholars accept that most of its hymns were composed between 1500 and 1000 B.C. although many of its hymns might have been composed a century or two later.
The Rig-veda gives us the following idea about the political, social economic and cultural life of the people during the Vedic Age:
1. Geographical Expansion:
The implication of the term Saptsindhavah as used in the Rig-veda means a definite country. It meant the country of seven rivers and according to Max Muller, the seven rivers are the Indus, its five tributaries and the Saraswati (Sursuti in modern Haryana which has now disappeared) which is also the most accepted view. River Yamuna has been referred to very little, while reference to the Ganges has been made only once.
Thus, during this period, the Aryans were mainly confined to Punjab though their outer settlements towards the East reached up to the banks of the Yamuna and the Ganges. However, references to Kabul, the Swat, the Kurram and the Gomal river indicate that some Aryan tribes still lingered on the western side of the river Indus.
Thus, Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier province, Punjab, Kashmir, parts of Sind and Rajputana and Eastern India up to the river Sarayu were inhabited by the Aryans during this period.
2. The Aryans and Non-Aryans:
There was continuous fighting among the Aryans themselves and between the Aryans and non-Aryans who were called Dasas, Dasyus, Asuras etc., by the Aryans. There are many hymns in the Rig-veda which prove that the Aryans constantly sought the help of their gods against non-Aryans. Indra was the main Aryan god who was credited with honour of destroying forts or Puras of non- Aryans in large numbers.
The Aryans were themselves divided into various tribes and fought amongst themselves for extension of their territories and power. They often sought help of non-Aryan rulers as well. The Rig-veda describes one such important battle as the Dasrajana or the battle of the ten kings.
Sudas was a Bharata king of the Tristsu family which was settled in the country which later came to be known as Brahmavarta, the land lying between the rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati. Sudas dismissed his priest Visvamitra and appointed Vasishtha in his place. Thereupon a bitter and long rivalry ensued between the two priests, and in revenge Visvamitra led a tribal confederacy of ten kings against Sudas.
The federation consisted of the five well-known tribes — Puru, Yadu, Turvasa, Anus and Druhyu, along with five of minor importance, that is, Alma, Paktha, Bhalanas, Siva and Vishanin. Dr D.D. Kosambi gave another reason of this battle. He has opined that the primary cause of this war was the attempt of the confederation of ten rulers to change the course of the river Purushni (modern Ravi).
Sudas won this battle. He had to fight yet another important battle in which the three non- Aryan tribes, Ajas, Sigrus and Yakshus had united against him under king Bheda. He again emerged victorious and, thus, became the most powerful Aryan king of his time. Such references in the Rig-veda give us some idea about political condition, kingdoms and various tribes of the Aryans and non-Aryans at that time.
The Aryans fought among themselves and also against non-Aryans at that time. Among the non-Aryans primarily were the Dravidians though other races were also there. In Rig-veda, these different races have been called by different names. Mostly, the Aryans called them Dasyu, Dasa, Ajur, Rakyash, etc. All of them were regarded enemies of the Aryans and their gods. The fight between them and the Aryans was very bitter.
In Rig-veda many hymns have been devoted to invoke the gods of the Aryans for providing their help in destroying the forts and settlements of these non-Aryans. Indra was the primary god of the Aryans who destroyed the forts of these non-Aryans. Finally, the Aryans who used horses in their chariots and had sharp weapons emerged victorious in this struggle and the non-Aryans either accepted their supremacy or went to hills, forests or towards south India.
3. Political Organization:
The state was called the Rashtra (tribal kingdom). The head of the state and the tribe was called Rajan or the king. In later days the expression Samrat was also used which meant emperor.
It might have been used for a king who had several kings under his rule. However, it is not accepted that somebody assumed the title of Samrat at that time because the kings were mostly tribal chiefs at that time. Rashtra, probably, was divided into Janas.
The officer of a Jana were called Gop. Every Jana was divided into smaller units called Visa. The administrative head of a Visa was called Vispati. The smallest unit was the village called Grama whose chief officer was Gramani. The village consisted of a group of families or Kulas. The head of a Kula or family was called Kulapa, Kulpati or Grahpati.
(i) The King:
Hereditary monarchy was the prevailing system of political organization though there are references to election of the king by the people or when a cruel king was deprived of his kingdom by the people. There are also references to the Gana with the Ganpati or jyeshtha (elder) as its head. Therefore, it is possible that republican states also existed in certain cases at that time.
There are differences among scholars as to how the institution of monarchy grew up in India. Narayanchandra Bandopadhyav expressed the view that war begot the king. Beni Prasad says that kingship was bestowed on people by God while the necessities of war strengthened it. K.P. Jayaswal contends that the Aryans adopted it from the Dravidians and V.M. Apte says that it was the logical result of the patriarchal organization of Aryan society and the necessity of unity and organization under a successful leader created the institution of monarchy.
The majority, however, believes that the necessity of successful leadership in wars created the institution of monarchy. There are references to the fact that when gods were defeated by the demons they chose a king from among themselves who led them in the war and got success.
The head of the state was the king. There were no legal limits to the powers of the king but, in practice, his powers were limited by his own duties (Rajva Dharam) and by the powers of his chief officers and popular assemblies. The king’s primary duties were to protect the lives, honour and property of his subjects, lead them in war, punish the guilty and maintain priests for the performance of sacrifices.
He derived his income from the tribute paid by the conquered tribes and the voluntary tribute called bali by his own subjects. However, the king was not the owner of the land. It was joint property of the tribe. At that time, mostly kingdoms were small.
Yet, the king occupied a position of dignity. He was appointed king at a formal ceremony, wore gorgeous robes and valuable ornaments and lived in a much bigger and more gaily decorated house than houses of the commoners. Mostly kingship was hereditary though we find some instances when the king was elected or a cruel king was deposed from the throne.
(ii) Chief Officials:
The Purohita, the Senani and the Gramani were the chief officers of the king. The Purohita was the chief priest and wielded good influence with the king. Examples of powerful Purohits like Vasistha and Visvamitra are there to prove it.
The Senani was the head of the army after the king and Gramani was the king’s chief officer to look after the administration of the villages. The king employed Dutas (envoys) and spies as well. There must have been many more officers besides these but nothing is known about them.
(iii) Army Organization:
The main elements of the army were charioteers and infantry. Sometimes three to four horses were used in chariots. The main weapons of the soldiers were bow s and arrows, spears, lances and strings. They were protected by helmets and coats of mail. The Aryans also used a moving engine, pur charishnu for assaulting strongholds of enemies.
There were no regular legal institutions at this stage. Custom was law and the arbiters were the king and his purohita, sometimes advised by certain elders of the community. Theft, burglary, robbery and cattle-lifting were the principal crimes.
The common punishment was to tie the criminal to a stake. Murder was probably punished by a system of wergild and the usual payment for killing a man was a hundred cows. There are a few references to prison-houses. It means that mostly offenders were punished and set free. Capital punishment was a later idea.
(v) Popular Assemblies:
Two assemblies called the sabha and the samiti formed an essential feature of the government. Scholars have differed regarding their origin, constitution and powers. N.C. Bandopadhyay regarded the samiti as the assembly of all the tribal people and the sabha as a committee of a few privileged and important individuals. K.P. Jayaswal described the samiti as a representative body of villages and the sabha as a central committee of a few- important individuals working under the supervision of the samiti.
Dr. Altekar accepted the samiti as a political committee of the central government and the sabha as a representative body of villages and V.M. Apte regarded the samiti as a larger body representing the people and the sabha a small committee of less importance.
However, the majority view seems to be that the samiti was an assembly of a larger group of the people for the discharge of tribal business and was presided over by the king, while the sabha was a body of a few selected people to help the king in administration and was less popular and political in character than the samiti.
It is difficult to define exactly the powers and functions of these assemblies but it is accepted that both exercised considerable authority and must have acted as healthy checks on the power of the king. It is also not acceptable that the king carried the administration on their advice but it is certain that their advice was sought on important matters of the state.
(vi) Republics and Oligarchies:
There were certain Rashtras which were called republics or Ganas. Therein the rulers were chosen by the people and they were called Ganpati or Jyeshthas. There were certain other type of states as well where some people ruled jointly. These were called oligarchies. However, the number of Ganas and oligarchies was very little. Mostly the states were ruled by hereditary kings.
4. Social Life:
The patriarchal family was the basis of social life. The joint-family system was the normal form. Father was the head of the family and after him his eldest son took over. The mother also occupied a respectable place till her husband was alive. The birth of a son was regarded auspicious.
The practice of adopting a child was also prevalent but mostly it was avoided:
(i) Marriage and Status of Women:
Marriage was regarded as a sacred tie between husband and wife. The primary aim of marriage was to fulfill the desire for children. Monogamy was the prevalent form of marriage but there was no restriction on polygamy. There is no reference to polyandry at that time. Child- marriages were not in practice and there was considerable freedom on the part of young persons concerned with the selection of a wife or a husband as they generally married at a mature age.
Marriage connections with Dasyus or non- Aryans were, probably, prohibited. Among the Aryans, only the marriage of brother and sister and of father and daughter were banned. It is not clear whether widow-marriages were permitted or not.
However, widows were permitted to have Niyog (temporary marriage) with any of the brothers of the dead husband in order to beget a son. The custom of Sati did not exist. Hardly a few examples existed and those too were limited to royal families.
There was no dowry-system. It was given or taken only when the concerned party suffered from some physical defect. There was no purdah system. The women did not always remain indoors and moved freely and attended public feasts and entertainment parties and even went to battle-fields.
There was no restriction on their education though, in practice, it was limited to upper strata of society. Some ladies like Visvavara, Apala and Ghosha composed mantras and rose to the rank of Rishis. Thus women occupied a more respectable place among the Aryans as compared to other people of contemporary civilizations.
However, women did not enjoy equal rights with men, socially and legally. They had no property rights. They had to remain in the care of male members of the family; in the care of their fathers or brothers until marriage and in their husband’s after marriage. The women enjoyed respect only as a daughter or wife or mother.
(ii) The Varna-System:
When the Aryans came to India they were divided into three social classes, the warriors, the priests and the common people. At that time, professions were not hereditary nor were there any restrictions regarding marriage or dining within these classes. It is only when the Aryans came in contact with non-Aryans and allowed them a place within their society that the necessity to maintain class-distinctions arose.
However, the early Aryans divided the society only in two parts — Dvija or twice-born and Advija. All Aryans whether warriors, priests or common people were called dvija while non-Aryans and those of mixed blood were called Advija. The distinction was maintained not only on the basis of culture but primarily on the basis of the colour of the skin or what is called varna in Sanskrit .However, during the later period of Rig-veda the fourfold division, that is chaturvarna-system had started to take its form.
Among the Aryans, the priestly class was called the Brahmana, the warriors were called the Kshatriyas, the common people devoted to agriculture, pastoral pursuits, trade and industry were called the Vaisyas and the Dasas or the non-Aryans and people of mixed blood were assigned the status of the Sudras.
Thus, the chaturvarna-system which has been gradually distorted in shape and meaning and replaced by the prevalent caste- system in India, had its beginning during the later Rig-veda period. Besides, except that the Sudras were distinguished from the rest, there was no rigidity in the system. Change in varna was quite often possible with change in profession and-there was no restriction on interdining and intermarriage within the three upper varnas of the society.
There are rare references in the Rig-veda of males being given in donation to others while there are many references of females being donated to others. Therefore, it seems that, probably, the rich people kept slaves in their homes as a mark of social respect. But it is certain that slavery as a means of production either in agriculture or in production of any other article did not exist during the early vedic age.
(iii) Food, Dress etc.
Yava which probably meant wheat, bailey and beans were the chief vegetarian food stuffs of the Aryans. They made bread and cakes of flour. Milk and its various preparations, such as ghee, butter and curd together with fruits, vegetables and sugarcane were also favourite commodities of food. The flesh of ox, sheep and goat was normally eaten. Horse-flesh was eaten only on the occasion of horse-sacrifice and so was the case with beef and there, too.
Only barren cows called Vasas were sacrificed. Probably, rice was eaten by them while nothing can be said definitely about fish. Dr R.S. Sharma has opined that the Rig-vedic-Aryans did not produce rice as we find no reference to rice in the Rig-veda.
Probably, rice became known to the Aryans only at a later stage of the Rig-veda. Sura and Soma were favourite drinks with the Aryans. Probably Soma was bhang and it was a sacrificial drink while Sura was popular intoxicating drink like wine or whisky and was brewed from grain.
Both males and females wore practically the same dress. The upper garment was called adhivasa and the lower garment was called Vasa. Another undergarment called nivi was used probably by females only. An embroidered garment called pesas seems to have been used by female dancers. A special garment was worn by the bride at a marriage ceremony.
According to R.S. Sharma, cotton- plant was not known to Rig-Vedic Aryans and therefore, they did not use cotton- cloth. But other scholars have maintained that both cotton and woolen garments of different colours were used at that time. Probably, the Aryans had discovered cotton during the later period of the Rig-Veda. Sometimes, garments were made of animals’ skins also.
Several kinds of ornaments, both of gold and precious stones, were worn by members of both the sexes. Ear-ring, finger-ring, armlet, necklace etc. were normally worn by men as well as women. The Kurira was some kind of head- ornament worn specially by brides. Nishka, Rukma and Mani were other popular ornaments.
Both men and women oiled and combed their hair, which was plaited or braided. Women kept long hairs while men mostly kept short hairs. The men grew beards and moustaches, but sometimes also shaved them.
By this time, the Aryans had not built up cities. They lived in villages. The houses were built of clay and bamboo. Roads were built up and carts and chariots were the popular means of transport and communication though riding on horseback was also much in vogue.
The chariot race, hunting, gambling and dicing, dancing and music were the main sources of entertainment of the Aryans. Music, both vocal and instrumental, was well known. The drum, the lute and the flute was very much familiar to them. Both men and women enjoyed themselves in festive assemblies with music and dance.
The Aryans, on the whole, led a merry and easy-going life but they also observed dutiful and moral life. Truth, honesty, good thoughts, good deeds, helping the poor, hospitality to guest, etc., were observed by them while theft, robbery, telling lies, sorcery, witchcraft, seductions were not only denounced but were punishable offences. They prayed to God-Agni to urge them on to holy thought and to God-Varuna to loosen the bonds of sins committed by them.
By this time, the Upanayana-ceremony i.e. initiation of studies of a child by producing him before the teacher, had not become popular. The father provided early education to his children at home and afterwards they were sent to live with their teacher for further studies. The instructions were provided orally by the teacher and the students had to memorise them. The Aryans had no art of writing at this stage. Probably a script came to be used by them only near about 700 B.C. The basic aim of education was the development of mind and character-building.
5. Economic Life:
The Aryans followed a mixed pastoral and agricultural economy. They ploughed their fields by means of pair of oxen bound to the yoke though, in later stages, they used heavy ploughs drawn by six, eight, twelve, and even twenty-four oxen. There are references to artificial waterways which make it certain that the system of irrigation was known to them.
Their other chief source of income was cattle rearing. Rather, it would be much proper to say that, in early stages, the primary occupation of the Rig-Vedic Aryans was cattle-rearing because we find heavy impact of tribal organization on their early social and political set up. It was only afterwards that agriculture got priority over cattle-rearing.
The cow occupied an important place in it and was used as a means of exchange and value as well. It as well as other domesticated animals were regarded as property. The horse was also greatly valued. Other domesticated animals were sheep, goats, asses, oxen and dogs.
Hunting also served a useful economic purpose. They hunted lions, bear, buffaloes, deer, birds and antelopes. They also used nets to capture them. The plough was of wood but its use was, certainly, a novelty at that time. They used means of irrigation as well and dug out deep wells for that purpose.
The Aryans had not discovered iron during the Rig-Vedic age.
Another important occupation was weaving, both in cotton and wool, which supplied garments to the people. Other professions were those of priest, carpenter, goldsmith, leather-worker, physician, butcher, dancer, musician, etc.
Dr R.S. Sharma has expressed the view that sea-trade was not carried on by the Rig-vedic Aryans. They, being constantly busy in wars, were not able to produce so much as would have left sufficient surplus for export. But Dr R.C. Mazumdar and B.M. Apte have opined that these people engaged themselves in sea-trade and had trade relations with Babylon and other countries in Western Asia. However, all scholars agree that internal trade was carried on both by river and land.
The Aryans had no coins and barter system was pursued for the exchange of commodities. However, cow had become a unit of value and a medium of exchange. There is reference to one more medium of exchange called nishka which was probably a piece of gold of a fixed weight and was used as a sort of currency.
On the whole, having natural facilities for agriculture and cattle breeding, the Aryans enjoyed a prosperous economic life.
Thirty-three gods have been referred to in the Rig-veda. Among them the male-gods enjoyed predominance. There was no hierarchy and no recognised chief among them though Indra was the most prominent god as nearly one-fourth of the total hymns of the Rig-veda have been sung in his prayer. The basis of the religion was the worship of nature in its various forms as all of their gods represented one or another phenomenon of nature.
Broadly, the Rig-vedic gods were classified into the following three categories:
(a) The terrestrial gods, such as Prithvi, Agni. Brihaspati. Soma. etc.
(b) The atmospheric gods, such as Indra, Rudra, Marut, Vayu, Parjanya, etc., and,
(c) Celestial gods, such as Surya, Usha, Savitri, Vishnu, Moon, Varuna., etc.
Indra, Varuna, Agni, Soma, and Surya were definitely prominent gods among them. Indra was the most powerful god whose exclusive weapon was Vajra. He was regarded primarily a god of rain and thunderstorm but now most scholars believe that he was the god of light.
Now Parjanya is regarded as the god of rain and Marut as the god of thunderstorm. Varuna was the god of power and un-holder of moral order. Agni was the god of food and the mouth of all gods with which they ate the goods offered to them in sacrifice. Surya was the god of light and Soma, the popular drink of the Aryans, was also assigned a place among the gods.
The religion of the Aryans was pre-eminently ritualistic and the worship of gods was looked upon as the first duty of man. Performance of Yajnas, prayer to gods and sacrifice of various articles, food and animals, formed the basic contents of their religious rituals by which they tried to please gods and expected honour, wealth, power and comforts of life in return. Though the Aryans had many gods yet, on philosophical basis, they were monist. They had started to believe in a supreme God, the ultimate power, of which other gods were different manifestations.
The Aryans had contemplated life after death and believed in the existence of hell and heaven but they did not attach much importance to life after death. They loved this life and prayed to their gods to make their life prosperous and happy.
That this life is false (Maya) and miserable was not their concept so far. The principle of Karma, that is, the law of good or bad effects flowing from good or bad conduct is binding on gods and mortals alike, was yet not well established but was recognised by them.
Thus, the Rig-vedic religion possessed certain features as follows:
I. The religion was utilitarian as the Aryans always expected power and prosperity by pleasing their gods.
II. The Aryan-gods were liberal and they provided them everything if pleased.
III. Amongst gods, the male-gods occupied a predominant position.
IV. There was absence of image-worship.
V. The religious attitude was optimistic towards life. The joys and pleasures of this life attracted them more than the life after death in heaven.
VI. The priestly class was yet not effective in religion as most of the religious rites were performed by the master of the house, Grahpati himself.
VII. The principles of Karma and that of the transmigration of soul, that is, the soul never dies and takes rebirth every time after the death of an individual unless it gets Nirvana, were yet not well established.
Thus, the Rig-vedic period has its own distinct features which distinguishes itself from the later Vedic period and has its own importance. Describing the importance of Rig-veda, Dr R.C. Mazumdar writes, “The Rig-veda is, therefore, justly regarded as a source-book of first rate importance for the study and appreciation of the gradual development of Hindu culture, and no wonder it is revered by three hundred million Hindus today as the holiest of the holy.”
The Later Vedic Civilization:
The period from 1000 to 600 B.C. is regarded as the period of later Vedic age. It also covers the period of the epics, the age of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Attempts of some earlier authorities to create an “Epic Age” in the history of India, as distinct from the later Vedic Age, are quite unconvincing.
There is no distinct Epic age in Indian history. Probably, the great war of Mahabharata took place near about 850 B.C. while the story of the Ramayana refers to the penetration of the Aryans towards the South earlier than that period.
Similarly, probably the heroes of the Mahabharata have some historical justification to be different rulers of various kingdoms. It is not certain that Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was a king of Kosala though, of course, his father- in-law, Janaka, king of Videha is accepted as an historical figure. However, in every case the period of the Epics is covered within the period of the later Vedic Age and there is no reason to treat it separately from historical and cultural point of view.
The archaeological sources of this period are practically nil so far. Very recently sites of the ancient cities of Hastinapur, Alamgirpur, Batesar etc. have been excavated, the lowest level of which has been fixed at between 1000 and 700 B.C , the time of the later vedas. Only a few copper implements, some iron-arms and tools, traces of houses of unbaked bricks and a little of painted grey pottery- have been unearthed. Remains of such pottery have also been found in the valley of the Sarasvati river in the east.
But these findings help us very little. Besides, there are several scholars who have opined that these remnants discovered at these places and several other places scattered all over India do not belong to the later Vedic-age but to village-civilizations existing in India during the later Chalcolithic age and wherein iron was also know n to inhabitants of some places.
These civilizations existed in India even after the destruction of the Harappa- civilization and prior to the entry of the Aryans in India. Therefore, the main sources of this period are still almost entirely sacred texts, later Vedas, viz., Brahmanas, Aranvakas and Upanishads.
1. Geographical Extension:
During this period the Aryans penetrated towards the East up to Bengal and the far South. By 400 B.C., the Aryans had moved to farthest corner of India even in the South. We, however, find references to independent existence of certain clans like the Andhras, the Shabars, the Pulinda, etc. in south India which remained free from the influence of the Aryan culture.
Therefore, we conclude that primarily the later Vedic civilization was limited only to north India. However, the centre of their culture and civilization moved from the West to the East and the territory between the rivers Sarasvati and the Ganges became the seat of their civilization while the Punjab and the North Western provinces lost their importance. Brahmana texts the Satapatha and the Aitareya refer to the Aryans of Punjab as of impure descent.
2. Political Organization:
The progress of the Aryans all over India led to changes in dynasties and structural changes in the constitution and organisation of states. The ideal of imperialism or universal empire crept up and attempts were made by powerful rulers to build up extensive empires.
The frequent references to Asvamedha and Rajasuya yajnas in religious texts testify it. Therefore, small states gave way to large and powerful states and many of the famous earlier tribes lost their importance and new ones took their place.
The famous tribes of Rigvedic age like Bharatas and Purus disappeared and their place was taken up by Kurus and Panchalas and after the war of Mahabharata even the Kurus lost their importance and its place was taken by royal dynasties of Kosala, Kashi, Videha, Kalinga, etc. Another important change was that the states were now organised not on the basis of tribes but on territorial extension.
Certainly, the finding of iron in this age must have helped in building up of large kingdoms. Iron-armament of this age have been found mostly at the excavations at Hastinapur, Alamgirpur, Atranji-khera, Batesar etc., which were in the territory called Kuru-Panchal at that time and we also find that mostly the rulers of this very territory had performed Asvamedha yajnas.
(i) The King:
With a few exceptions states were monarchical. There are a few references to elected kings, otherwise mostly the office was hereditary. The Aitareya-Brahmana puts forth the view that king was elected by common consent primarily to lead his followers in war while the later Samhitas and Brahmanas stated that the king had divine origin.
This demonstrates that even in those remote days Indians had a scientific spirit of inquiry into the origin of political institutions. During this period large kingdoms were established and efforts were being made by powerful rulers to build up big empires. These circumstances increased the power, glory and prosperity of kings.
King was the head of the state and was above law but he was not a despotic ruler. He ruled according to laws of Rajya-Dharma and his powers were limited by advice given by popular assemblies and his councilors. Kings had built up extensive kingdoms.
They performed Rajasuya and Asvamedha yajnas which proved that they always attempted extension of territories of their kingdoms. It enhanced the power, prestige and prosperity of the king. The king was regarded above law. The Atharva veda described that let the Rashtra be in the hands of the king and let Varun, Brah spati, Indra and Agni strengthen it.
The Tatiriya Samhita and the Satapatha Brahmana have also referred that the king got the Rashtra after performing complete religious rituals and he is its protector. Several other texts of this period refer to the divine origin of the king as well. All this helped in enhancing the power and prestige of the king during the later Vedic age. However, the increase in the powers of the king had not diminished his duties towards his subjects in any way.
The duties of the king included administration, justice, protection of the weak against the strong, extension of kingdom, leading the army in wars and making constant efforts for the welfare of his subjects. The king was not the owner of the land though he had a right to dispossess anybody of his land. The subjects paid Bali, Sulk and Bhag as taxes to the king. These taxes roughly constituted l/6th of their income.
(ii) The Officials:
The Purohita, the Senani and the Gramani were still prominent officers of the king. Besides, we find other important officials like Suta (Charioteer), Samgrahitri (treasurer), Akshavapa (superintendent of dicing), Takshan (carpenter), Rathakara (chariot-maker), Kshattri (chamberlain) Bhagadugha (collector of taxes or distributor of food) and several others also whose exact functions can not be ascertained.
These officials were known as Ratnins or Virs. The presence of these officials and other references regarding administration indicate that the administrative machinery was efficiently organized to look after large kingdoms.
(iii) Law and Punishment:
It is was nearly the same as during the Rig-vedic period. Punishments were severe. Private vengeance was permitted to serve the ends of justice. Theft, robbery, adultery, abduction, killing of a man, treachery and drinking intoxicating liquor were offences punishable with death. The sense of justice was high. In certain cases the offenders were turned out of the state, fined or put to physical torture.
Individual ownership of land for the purpose of cultivation was recognized. However, neither women nor the Sudras had any right to property.
(iv) Military Organisation:
By this time, the Aryans had improved their military organisation and arms as well. Besides, cavalry, charioteers and infantry, elephants were also used in wars now and. besides the use of bow and arrow, swords, clubs etc. the Aryans had, probably, developed certain types of fire-arms as well.
(v) Sabha and Samiti:
The popular control in the affairs of the states was exercised as in the Rig-vedic period, through two popular Assemblies, the Sabha and the Samiti. But as the power of the king was on the increase, the influence of these assemblies had diminished. A.L. Basham writes, “The old tribal assemblies are still, from time to time, referred to but their power was waning rapidly, and by the end of this period the king’s autocracy was in most cases only limited by the power of Brahmanas, the weight of tradition, and the force of public opinion, which was always of some influence in ancient India.”
However, it did not mean that the king had become anthoritarian. The king always attempted to get the co-operation of these assemblies. The Satapatha Brahmana mentions these assemblies as daughters of Prajapati (the lord of all creatures).
In the later period, the council of Brahmanas also wielded good influence over the king. Panini has referred to a council of ten Brahmanas to assist the king in administration, justice, religion and politics. He has regarded the king as ‘power of the council.’
3. Social Life:
During the later Vedic period important changes took place in the Aryan society.
The following features distinguished it from the Rig-vedic period:
(i) The Varna or Caste-System:
In this age, the term Varna is used definitely in the sense of caste without reference to colour of the skin. The system of caste, whose beginnings may be traced in four-fold classification of society in the Rig- vedic age was perfected during this period in various directions. The Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas emerged as the two leading classes. The Brahamanas claimed superiority over all other Varnas but the Kshatriyas remained their contenders.
Later on, however, these two Varnas compromised with each. Both the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas in no way participated in productive activities of society but desired to draw maximum economic advantage to themselves. Probably, the primary cause of their rivalry was the economic one. Therefore, they thought it wise to compromise among themselves by which Brahmanas were provided superior social status and Kshatriyas were gradually accepted owners of the land.
Therefore, we find that, during this period, though the king was not regarded as the owner of the land, yet, got the right to dislodge anybody from his land. The Vaisyas, as the remaining Aryans were called, were, no doubt, much superior to the Sudras, but their position was steadily deteriorating while the position of the Sudras had definitely gone down.
However, untouchability had not yet reared its ugly head. Sub-castes and other caste divisions were, of course, coming up. The tradition of gotra which meant that a man should normally marry a woman of equal birth, i.e., within his caste but not within the same gotra, was also developing.
Yet, the caste-system had not become rigid by that time. The caste of an individual was not solely determined by birth and the professions normally laid down for the different castes were not scrupulously followed in practice. The same way, barring the Sudras, there was no prohibition to interdining and intermarriages among different castes. A man of an upper class could marry a woman of lower class. However, a male of a lower class could not marry a woman of an upper class.
(ii) The Four Asramas:
During this period, life span of 100 years of a man was divided into four equal parts of 25 years each and different duties were assigned to him in different parts of life. A man was expected to remain with his teacher for studies up to the age of 25 years, from 25 to 50 years of age he was expected to marry and remain a householder, from 50 to 75 years of age he was expected to live in the jungle as an ascetic with his wife and from 75 to 100 years of age he was expected to pass his life alone as a hermit.
These orders or Asramas were called Brahmacharya, Grahastha, Vanprastha and Sanyas respectively and for each order certain definite and different duties were assigned to the individual.
For example, during the first order the primary duties of an individual were to get education, to obey his teacher and observe celibacy; during the second order, he had to earn his livelihood, get married, rear children, and honour guests; during the third order, he had to observe celibacy and concentrate on philosophic meditation; and, during the fourth order, he had to observe religious rituals and try to attain Nirvana.
By dividing the life of an individual into these four orders, the Aryans had beautifully attempted to combine both the material and spiritual progress of man during one’s life time. Normally, every individual was expected to pass through these four orders but it was one’s free will to make a choice of any order any time once he had crossed the first one i.e., Brahmacharya.
This organisation of the four orders was unique feature of the Aryan society. It provided an individual not only an opportunity to satisfy his physical desires and spiritual ambitions but also to benefit society with the knowledge, experience and sacrifice of ascetics and hermits.
(iii) Position of Women:
The society was still free from many of those evils from which women suffered afterwards. Marriage was regarded a sacred bond and its main purpose was to rear children. Woman was the mistress of the house as wife and enjoyed a respectable position in the household. According to the Satapatha Brahmana she is half her husband and completes him. The marriage of women normally took place after puberty and they had the right to choose their husbands.
Normally monogamy was prevalent but polygamy also prevailed. But the practice that a woman could have several husbands was only nominal and that too was limited to a few places and certain sections of society. Child marriages were absent and widows had a right to remarry.
The practice of Sati was not prevalent though a few instances confined to royal families are there. Parda- system was absent and women participated in educational and social functions. They participated in dancing, singing and other fine arts and also maintained a high position even in the learned world.
Women like Gargi and Maitreyi participated in scholarly discourses and were highly respected as learned scholars. In certain cases women enjoyed a privileged position. As compared to Smritis, Dharma-Sutras held liberal opinion regarding women. The Vasistha Dharma Sutra states that a woman is not to be abandoned by her husband in any case.
It states, “A wife shall not be abandoned even though she be quarrelsome or tainted by sin, or have left the house, or have suffered criminal force, or have fallen in the hands of thieves.” The same way, an outcast father was to be abandoned by the son but not the mother and while the son of an outcast father was declared outcast the daughter was not declared so.
Yet, in general, the status and dignity of women were lowered during the later period of this age particularly during the age of Smritis. Many religious ceremonies, formerly left to the wife, were now performed by priests. Their participation in political assemblies was also stopped and while the birth of a son was welcomed, the birth of a daughter was regarded as a source of misery.
The sale of a daughter was known though it was dis-favoured. Dowries were also given. Certain virtues, different from man’s were assigned to woman. According to the Aitareya Brahmana a good woman is one who does not talk back.
The Satapatha Brahmana states that an ideal woman is one who dines after her husband. The Maitrayani Samhita classed woman with dice and wine as one of the three chief evils and the Gautam-Dharam-Sutra advised that a girl should be married before the age of puberty.
(iv) Food, Garments, Ornaments, Entertainments, etc.:
Rice, wheat, barley and eatables made from them, milk and its various products like ghee (clarified butter), butter, dahi (sour milk), fruits and vegetables formed the staple diet of the Aryans. Flesh of sheep, goat and ox, the common sacrificial victims, was also a fairly common diet. It appears that the killing of cow gradually came into disfavour. Sura and Soma were still the common drinks.
There was improvement in the quality and variety of garments. Not only cotton and wool but now silk was also used for making garments. Skins of animals were also used as garments. Besides Vasas, Adhivasas and Nivi we now find the use of turban, undergarment and over-garment also. Shoes were also used by the people.
Both men and women wore different ornaments. Besides gold and precious stones, the Aryans had started to use silver ornaments as well.
The science of medicine had progressed. The Atharvaveda has mentioned that various diseases such as consumption, dysentery, ulcer, headache, jaundice, etc. Fractures, wounds and snake-bite were also attended to by physicians.
Music, both vocal and instrumental, dancing, dicing, hunting and chariot- racing continued to be the principal means of entertainment of this age. However, horse-racing was also added to them as a favourite amusement.
The Aryans had built up cities during this period. Indraprastha, Hastinapur, Kosambi and Banaras had grown up as principal cities though not so big as the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.
The Aryans still practised high moral virtues. Good deeds and good behaviour formed the basis of their lives.
Education was not the responsibility of the state. It was provided independently by teachers in their Asrams maintained by them outside cities and villages though, of course, kings and rich people gave learned teachers large donations in the form of land, cows etc. The education of a child started with Upanayana (initiation) ceremony. Henceforth he had to live with his guru (teacher).
He got free boarding and lodging at his house and in return did personal service to him and paid his fee (guru-dakshina) after the completion of his studies. Study of vedic texts, service to the teacher and observance of celibacy were the principal duties of a student.
Normally, the study period continued for twelve years. The art of writing had become known to the Aryans but so far literary education was provided only orally. Probably, the Aryans developed their script by nearly 700 B.C. because we find that by 500 B.C. it was in perfect use.
Physical and moral training was emphasized along with literary education while arms training was provided to those who desired it. Arithmetic, logic, astrology, grammar, medicine and language were other important subjects of study besides religion and philosophy. Women were free to get education and there were women teachers also. Of course, music and dance were their main subjects of study but there were no restrictions on them to get the sort of education they wanted.
However, female education seemed to be restricted to women of upper castes and rich families. Sanskrit was the language of the Aryans but it was the language of learning and not the spoken language of the masses.
There were many great centres of learning under famous teachers at that time. The students were taught both by percepts and examples of the teacher. Discourses and discussions were the principal methods of teaching and learning and the formation of character and development of personality formed the backbone of the educational system.
4. Economic Life:
The Aryans had progressed and prospered economically. The growth of cities was one of the best proofs of it. Agriculture was still their principal occupation and great improvement was made in this regard. The Aryans had come to know about iron and heavy ploughs were made from it. Even twenty-four oxen were used to drag heavy and large ploughs. They used artificial means of irrigation and also manures to increase the fertility of their lands.
Two crops were produced in a year. Wheat, barley, rice, cotton and various pulses were their principal agricultural products. The land under plough was regarded the personal property of the farmer while the pasture-land was the property of the village. The peasants paid 1/10 to 1/6 of the produce as revenue to the state.
Cattle-rearing was their another important occupation. Cow, ox, sheep, goat, dog, horse and donkey were their favourite domesticated animals. Besides, elephant was also tamed during this age.
The hunter, the fisherman, the potter, the goldsmith, the jeweller, the metal-worker, the blacksmith, the carpenter, the weaver, the basket-maker, the ropemaker, the washerman, the haircutter, the dancer, the musician, the astrologer, the physician etc., represented other various occupations.
Both internal and foreign trade had progressed. There is no doubt that now sea-borne trade was carried on by the Aryans. The repeated reference to the word Sreshthin indicates that there were rich traders and, probably, they were organised into guilds.
Money-lending was also a flourishing business. However, the Aryans had not started to use coins. Instead, satamana, and nishka which were gold pieces of a certain definite weight were used as units of value and means of currency.
The Aryans had now more extensive knowledge of different kinds of metals. Besides, gold, bronze and copper, they used silver and iron also.
5. Religion and Philosophy:
Changes of far greater significance took place in religion and philosophy during this period. Hindu religion and philosophy are largely the heritage of the later Vedic age and it has been correctly remarked that the organisation of Hinduism is the main achievement of the later Vedic age.
In this period many of the old gods of Rig-Veda became comparatively unimportant while others rose in popularity. Gods like Indra, Varuna, Agni and Surya lost their greatness while Rudra or Shiva, Vishnu or Narayana and Brahma or Prajapati became the most respected gods.
Some new deities also arose and the number of gods increased. Many of them were assigned places as Dikpala, Gandharva, Yaksya etc. Yaksyanis and Apsaras were also recognised. Besides, the various gods lost their contact with nature which was the basis of their origin. Instead, gods were considered primarily as heroes and killers of demons.
Elaborate rituals and performance of different Sanskaras were emphasized during this period and therefore, Yajna and sacrifices became the most important religious duty of the Aryans. The simple religious ceremonies which could and were performed by Grahpati gave place to complicated rituals which could be performed only by priests.
The main spirit behind the prayer was lost. Instead, emphasis was placed on right performance of rituals and correct pronunciation of Mantras or prayers. It was believed that by these means it was possible not only to please the gods but also to control them to get the desired results.
Yajnas were performed and different sort of sacrifices given to gain success in different fields of life. By this time a new attitude to the sacrifice had developed and it had become a supernatural mystery. Amongst different Yajnas and sacrifices, four of them deserve special notice.
The one was Vratya stoma-yajna by means of which non-Aryans were assigned a place amongst the Aryans: the second was the Rajsuya-yajna which was performed at the coronation of the king and marked the beginning of a period of wars for conquests; the third was the Asvamedha- yajna which again marked the beginning of a period of conquest by great kings and which finished with the sacrifice of the Yajna-horse; and the fourth was the Purushmedha yajna which ended with the sacrifice of the yajna-Purusha or male after a year.
The one basic reason which had resulted in elaborate rituals was to maintain the supremacy of the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas in the society. The rituals could be performed by the Brahamanas alone. They, therefore, got a special status in the society. The Kshatriyas also supported performance of the rituals and Yajnas because that gave them religious sanction in keeping their power and superiority in society against other Varnas.
Similarly a man was expected to perform different samskaras during his lifetime. At least forty samskaras, beginning from his conception in the mother’s womb upto his death, were performed by every individual and every Samskara was an occasion for a yajna and family-festival.
The elaborate rituals, yajnas and sacrifices created a reaction and led to the philosophy of Tap as emphasized mainly by Aranyakas. Tapas, to a considerable extent, was a substitute for sacrifices in yajnas. It meant meditation of God accompanied by physical tortures to one’s ownself in various forms with a view to attaining Nirvana.
However, another section of the people emphasized the attainment of Nirvana through Gyana or true knowledge. The Upanishads declared that Nirvana is possible only by acquiring true knowledge and laid down the doctrine that ‘he who knows God, attains God, nay he is God!’
The basic philosophy of the Upanishads is that ‘the universe is Brahman (God), but the Brahman is the Atman.’ The Upanishads held that, of course, good deeds, yajnas, sacrifices etc. could provide an individual a good life in future but could not help one in the attainment of Nirvana or Moksha which could be possible only by Gyana.
The concepts of hell and heaven, and those of Brahman, Nirvana, transmigration of soul and Karma grew up and were perfected during this period. Brahman or God is one; to attain Him is the highest goal of life: the soul does not die but is reborn again and again in various forms until it attains Nirvana; and, the principle of Karma, i.e., every individual gets the results of one’s Karma (deeds) of one’s present life in one’s next life are all heritage of later Vedic age to modern Hindus.
It has been opined by many scholars that Hinduism is a synthesis of religion particularly of the Aryans and non-Aryans during the later Vedic Age. It is correct to a great extent. The Aryans, no doubt, successfully defeated those non- Aryans with whom they came in contact in India but did not destroy them altogether.
Instead, they accepted them within their society though, of course, as Sudras or Dasas. The Aryans were also free to marry the females of the non- Aryans which led to mixing of blood between the two and helped in bringing about synthesis of ideas, particularly in religion.
Some scholars say that the religion of magic and spells of the Atharvaveda were the results of the influence of the religion of non-Aryans on the religion of the Aryans. This might be true. But, further attempt to justify that his influence brought about deterioration in the religious ideals of the Aryans in unwarranted.
The synthesis between the religion of the Aryans and non-Aryans was definitely there but the philosophy of the Brahmanas, the Aranvakas and the Upanishads which developed later on, justify not deterioration but progress and further enlightenment of the religion of the Aryans.
In fact, a grand compromise with the non-Aryans religion and customs was forced on the conquering Aryans by the circumstances. The old Vedic religion, which was entirely ritualistic and the special possession of particular tribes, gave place to that all-embracing system of toleration or synthesis which we call Hinduism and which shelters within its bosom every form of belief and practice that will agree to its few general conventions.
The clearest evidence of this synthesis in religion between the Aryans and non-Aryans is the reduced status of a few most important gods of the Rigvedic age in the later Vedic and post-vedic age. The Varuna is reduced to the position of a Dikpala and the most powerful god of the Rigvedic age, Indra became a constant petitioner for protection to new and more powerful gods, Siva and Vishnu.
Among these new gods, Siva or Mahadeva is definitely a god who became prominent because of the synthesis of the Aryans and the non-Aryans. The snake-worship and the worship of Siva as Linga (phallus) are other important examples of this synthesis. Besides, origin of different female gods, their acceptance as wives of different gods and their worship in different forms is another clear evidence of the influence of non- Aryans on the religion of the Aryans.
The Aryan society being patriarchal, the worship of female gods which is widely prevalent among modern Hindus clearly justifies the deep influence wielded by matriarchal society of the non-Aryans on the Aryan society and religion.
The same way, the most popular gods of the Hindus, Brahma (Prajapati) Vishnu and Siva are the gods who were accepted as the most powerful gods by the Aryans during the later Vedic age and were the result of the synthesis of religion between the Aryans and the non-Aryans.
Thus, it is mostly accepted that Hinduism as a synthesis of religions between the Aryans and the non-Aryans is a heritage of the later Vedic age though, of course, none denies that changes in Hindu religion constantly took place even afterwards.
The Caste-System in the Period of Vedic Civilization:
Division of individuals based on differences in disposition, capacity and character is a common feature of every society but the evolution of the caste-system postulating hereditary orders, rigidity of social intercourse and yet sharing the life of the community is peculiar to the organisation of the Hindu society.
In other communities, the principal feature determining class and status are wealth and professions but among the Hindus caste and, thereby, class and status are determined by birth and, while in others it may change, among the Hindus it would not change.
No body hopes to raise his caste in India but everyone stands in danger of lowering it. However, the most extraordinary characteristic of the Indian institution of caste is denial of certain civil and religious rights to a large number of people.
When the Aryans first came to India they were divided into three social classes the warriors, the priests and the common people. However, there was no consciousness of caste, professions were not hereditary, nor were there any rules limiting marriages within these classes, or taboos on interdining.
The three divisions simply helped social and economic organization. But when the Aryans came in contact with non-Aryans in India who were of a dark complexion and whom they called Dasas or Dasvus and gave them a place in their society they divided it into two parts primarily on the basis of the colour of the skin. Actually, the Sanskrit word for caste is Varna which means colour.
However, it was maintained that the division was on the basis of knowledge or ignorance of the Vedas. Those who had the knowledge of the Vedas were called the dvija (twice born). These were the Aryans. Those who had no knowledge of the Vedas were called advija. These were non-Aryans. Later on caste-system evolved on the basis of professions.
The priestly class was called the Brahmana. Its main profession was to study, to teach and to perform religious ceremonies and rituals. The warrior class was called the Kshatriva. The trading and agriculture class was called the Vaisya. All the Aryans were accommodated within these three classes. Non-Aryans and those of mixed Aryan-Dora blood were called the Sudras who were assigned the lowest rank in the society and were expected to serve the upper three classes.
Initially, it was called Varna-system. In the earlier Vedic age, this fourfold division of the society was not rigid Interdining and marriages of upper class males with females of lower class than theirs were permitted. In the later vedic age too, the system did not become rigid. The prohibition of interdining among the different classes was not even thought of and intermarriages between different classes were in vogue.
The marriage of three upper classes with the Sudras is was indeed disfavoured but not positively prohibited. The position of the Sudras certainly deteriorated but as yet they were not reduced to the position of abject humiliation nor was the supremacy of the Brahmanas unquestioned.
The fourfold division of the society by the Aryans was magnanimous and had practical utility. In all other contemporary civilizations the conquerors either destroyed the conquered absolutely or made them their slaves. The Indian Aryans alone put forth a different example. They gave the conquered a place in their own society though, of course, it was inferior to theirs.
Originally this fourfold division was practised liberally, professions formed the basis of distinctions among individuals, interdining and intercaste marriages were permitted and even change in caste could be possible.
This helped in building up a society in which the synthesis between the Aryans and non-Aryans took place and the Hindu society was built up in which both the Aryans and non-Aryans participated. The system provided individuals the facility to acquire status in the society according to their capabilities but also kept their destructive attitudes within limits so that solidarity of the society was maintained.
However, the system underwent changes with the passage of time. Even by the end of the Vedic period each of the four original orders had evolved itself into a separate distinct order. Slowly the system became rigid, particularly during the period of Sutras when it was defended on the basis of religion and other different reasons.
A late hymn of the Rigveda, known as the Purushasukta, had described that when the gods divided Purusha (the creator), the Brahmana was his mouth, the Rajanya was made his arms, the Vaisya was his thighs and the Sudra sprang from his feet.
This hymn was interpreted afterwards for the support of this system and also for the distinctions and priorities of ranks within it. However, it was not found sufficient. Kapila defended it and fixed the ranks of various orders in priority on the basis of differences of nature among individuals.
He divided human nature into three distinct parts and made it the basis of the division of society into different castes. He maintained that people of Satvik nature or Gunas were assigned the place of Brahmanas, people of Rajas nature that of the Kshatriyas while people of Tamas nature were accepted as Vaisyas and Sudras.
It was an attempt to provide a rational explanation of the system. Further, the principles of transmigration of soul and karma were also interpreted to support the system. It was held that the soul takes rebirth every time till it attains salvation and one’s status or caste in society in this life is determined by God on the basis of one’s Karmas (deed) in one’s former life. Therefore, it was argued that salvation of one’s soul depended on the due observance of one’s caste dharma (duty).
This doctrine of caste-dharma laid on every individual the obligation to do one’s duty to oneself and to society in that station of life, that is caste, in which it has pleased Providence to place him or her. It was upheld that ‘better is one’s own duty, though defective, than another’s well-performed’, and ‘death in performing one’s own duty is preferable, performance of the duty of others is dangerous’. Thus, the system and its gradation, that the Brahmanas were first in social status, the Kshatriyas stood second, the Vaisyas stood third and the Sudras at the lowest level was defended on various grounds.
The continuance of caste was secured by its being made hereditary; the system became rigid; intercaste marriages and interdining were stopped; caste distinctions and divisions went on increasing; the absorption of foreigners within the Hindu society and multiplication of professions led to the formation of various subcastes or jatis and, thereby, further fragmentation of the Hindu society. Eventually, the fourfold division of the Aryan society that is Farwa-system lost its relevance and in the day-to-day working the Hindu society accepted the sub- caste system that is jati-system or the caste-system of the present times.
This present caste-system has the following basic features:
1. The social status of an individual is decided by his or her birth, that is, by the caste in which he takes his or her birth.
2. His profession is determined by his caste.
3. Intercaste marriage and interdining are prohibited.
The absence of a power which could frame social laws, foreign invasions and domination, backwardness in education and lack of intellectualism and narrow- caste interests are some of the reasons which have nourished this caste-system in its present form. It. has divided and sub-divided the Hindu society into thousands of sub-castes called Jatis.
In India, at present there are at least 3,000 castes or sub-castes among whom social intercourse, particularly interdining and intermarriages, are prohibited. Besides, the system has kept a large section of the people in India even outside the fold of the society. This section is called the untouchables in India.
This caste-system which exists even at present in India is a big obstacle in social unity, national solidarity, individual freedom, intellectual and economic progress and therefore, in the progress of India in every sphere of its national life.
On the contrary, it helps in maintaining social, religious and economic injustices and is responsible for mutual caste hatred and conflicts. Thus, a system which at first was instrumental in evolving a socio-economic system on the basis of class collaboration and the rule of law has been turned into a system to perpetuate social injustice and even tyranny.
However, in modern times the caste system has become weak and it would be in the interests of India if it is completely given up. It is impossible to support it on the basis of religion, reason or social justice. In the Bhagvata Gita Lord Krishna has expressed, “I have created different varnas on the basis of Karmas and capabilities.”
Thus, he himself did not mean to create castes on hereditary basis. K.M. Panikkar has argued that the present caste-system is the result of the joint family-system in India and it cannot be supported either on the basis of religion or reason. Most of the modern Indian scholars, philosophers and social reformers have also severely criticized this system.
Various factors have contributed to the weakening of this system. Western ideas, modern education, changing economic circumstances, modern social, economic and political ideologies and the Independence struggle in India have attacked it from all sides.
Industrial development and the developing urban life are also destroying it because it is not possible to adhere to this system in city- life. In fact, there is no place for this system in a society which is trying to seek social justice for its members.
It has been opposed by all enlightened sections of the Indian society. All Hindu religious and social reformers of the nineteenth century in India like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand and Swami Vivekanand led a crusade against this system. Swami Vivekanand argued that it had no concern whatsoever with Hindu religion. He said, “Beginning from the Buddha to Ram Mohan Roy, every one made the mistake of holding caste to be a religious institution.”
In the twentieth century Mahatma Gandhi (M.K. Gandhi), the father of the Indian nation, constantly made efforts to eliminate casteism and untouchability. Yet, the greatest challenge to caste-system has been put up by Communism.
While all other political philosophies, in one way or other, have made compromise with it and, ultimately, have tried simply to reform it, Communism is one which is not prepared to compromise with social and religious traditions of the Hindu society including the caste-system. Instead it has openly and directly attacked each of them and therefore, has participated in weakening this system to a great extent.
The Indian constitution has also helped in weakening this system. The Fundamental Rights assigned to Indian citizens do not discriminate between citizens on the basis of caste. The Directive Principles of State Policy aim to build up Indian society on the basis of equality and social justice wherein there will be no place for caste-system based on inequality of citizens. Untouchability has been declared illegal and the 25th article of the Constitution declares that the state would endeavour to frame laws in order to build up a society based on social equality.
All these efforts are commendable and they point out that there is no future of caste-system in India. Yet, universal education, enlightened public opinion and abolition of poverty and large economic inequalities from among the Indian masses are a few pre-requisites for complete elimination of not only this system but all other social evils of the Indian society.
Unless reason replaces faith, the Indian masses will not develop the courage to fight against injustice prevalent in every field of their society, and reason can prevail over faith only by enlightenment and economic equality in the society. In that case the elimination of caste-system and also all other injustices of the society would not be an ideal but a necessity of the Indian people which would lead them to progress in every field of their lives.