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Economic and Social Life in “Later Vedic Period”

21-JUL-2015 18:25

    The period that followed Rig Vedic Age is known as Later Vedic Age.

    1. Economic Life in Later Vedic Age
    • The Vedic texts refer to sea and sea voyages. This shows that now sea-borne trade was carried on by the Aryans.
    •  Money lending was a flourishing business. The references to the word Sreshthin indicates that there were rich traders and probably they were organized into guilds.
    • The Aryans did not use coins but specific weights of gold were used for purposes of a gold currency- Satamana, Nishka, Kosambhi, Hastinapur, Kashi and Videha were regarded as renowned trade centres.
    • Bullock carts were used to carry goods on land. For foreign trade boats and ships were used.
    • The use of silver was increased and ornaments were made out of it.
    • The society was divided into the four Varnas: the Brahamanas, Rajanyas or Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
    • Each Varna had its own set of functions to perform which were enforced ritually. Everyone was assigned a Varna by birth.
    • The Brahmanas were one of the sixteen classes of priests but later overshadowed other priestly groups. They were considered the purest of classes and performed sacrifices for themselves as well as others.
    • The Kshatriyas were the class of rulers and kings and their function was to protect the people as well as maintain law and order over the rest of the society.
    • The Vaishyas were the common people who participated in trade, agriculture and cattle rearing etc. they were the main tribute-payers to the king.
    • While all these three Varnas were accorded a high status and entitled to wear the sacred thread, the Shudras were not granted the same privilege and were discriminated against.
    • Patriarchy was the law of inheritance, i.e. the property was passed on from father to son. Women were generally given a lower position.
    • People practiced Gotra exogamy. Persons belonging to the same Gotra or having the same ancestor could not marry.
    • Four stages of life or Asramas according to the Vedic texts were: Brahmachari or student, Grihastha or householder, Vanaprastha or partial retirement and Samyasa or complete retirement.
    • Early Vedic Aryans were organised into tribes rather than kingdoms. The chief of a tribe was called a Rajan. The autonomy of the Rajan was restricted by the tribal councils called Sabha and Samiti.
    • The Rajan could not accede to the throne without their approval. Sabha was a meeting of great men in the tribe, whereas, Samiti was a meeting of all free tribesmen.
    • Some tribes had no hereditary chiefs and were directly governed by the tribal councils. Rajan had a rudimentary court which was attended by courtiers (Sabhasad) and chiefs of septs (Gramani).
    • The main responsibility of the Rajan was to protect the tribe. He was aided by several functionaries, including the Ppurohita (chaplain), the Senani (army chief), Dutas (envoys) and spash (spies).  Purohita performed ceremonies and spells for success in war and prosperity in peace.
    • The Rajan was seen as the custodian of social order and the protector of Rashtra (polity).
    • Hereditary kingship started emerging and competitions like chariot races, cattle raids, and game of dice, which previously decided who was worthy of becoming a king, became nominal. Rituals in this era exalted the status of the king over his people. He was occasionally referred to as Samrat (supreme ruler).
    • Rajan's increasing political power enabled him to gain greater control over the productive resources. The voluntary gift offering (Bali) became compulsory tribute, however, there was no organised system of taxation. 
    • By the end of the later Vedic age, different kinds of political systems such as monarchical states (Rajya), oligarchic states (Gana or Sangha), and tribal principalities had emerged in India.
    • The most important Vedic gods, Indra and Agni, lost their importance, and in their place, Prajapati, the creator, was worshipped.
    • Some minor gods became prominent, such as Rudra, the god of animals and Vishnu, the preserver and protector of mankind.
    1. Social Life in Later Vedic Age
    2. Administrative Setup
    3. Later Vedic Gods

     Rituals and Philosophy

    • Sacrifices became more important than prayers and they assumed both public and domestic character. While people performed sacrifices within the family, public sacrifices included the king and the community.
    • Yajna or Havana (burning incense) was the major part of their religious duty. The daily Yajnas were very simple and were performed by the family members themselves.
    • Besides these daily Yajnas they performed special Yajnas on festival days. Sometimes animals were sacrificed on these occasions.

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