With the decline of the Harappan Civilization around 1900 BC; the evidences of new people are found which are known as Aryans or Indo-Aryans.
The origin of the Aryans is still controversial because many scholars believed that the Aryans migrated from central Asia. However, some scholars still argue that the Aryans were the indigenous people of India and that they did not come from outside because the ‘Rig Veda’ book compiled by Aryans does not give inkling of any migration of Aryans from any other area.
The Vedic civilization is divided into phases- Rig Vedic or early Vedic period (1500-1000 BC) and later Vedic period (1000-600 BC).
Rig Vedic period:
The Aryans initially lived in the region known as the ‘Sapta-Sindhu’ or ‘Land of Seven Rivers’, the area of seven rivers which included Sindhu (Indus), Vitasta (Jhelum), Asikni (Chenab), Parushni (Ravi), Vipash (Beas), Shutudri (Sutlej) and the Sarasvati. The early Aryans were Pastoral and nomadic. A cattle rearing was the main occupation of early Aryans. The family was the basic unit of the Rig Veda society which was patriarchal in nature. The family was part of a larger grouping called vis or clan. One or more than one clans made jana or tribe.
The jana was the largest social unit in Rig Veda. The Rigvedic society was largely an egalitarian society where women enjoyed respectable position. She could take part in the proceedings of the tribal assemblies called sabha and samiti. The village was headed by Gramini who used to represent village in sabha and samiti. A large number of words are derived from the word gau meaning cow. A wealthy person was known as gomat and the daughter called duhitri which means one who milks the cow.
The word gaveshana literally means search for cows, but it also means battle, since many battles were fought over cattle. The cows were thought of as providers of everything. Prayers are offered for increase in the number of cattle. All the above and many more references show that a cattle breeding was the most important economic activity of the RigVeda Aryans. There was no caste division. Occupation was not based on birth. However, certain differences did exist during the period. Varna or colour was the basis of initial differentiation between the Vedic and non-Vedic people.
Later Vedic period:
The later Vedic period is the name given to the period when the three later veda Samhitas, namely the Arthvaveda, Samaveda and Yajurveda as well as the Brahmanas and Upanishads were composed. During the later Vedic period Aryans, gradually moved eastward and occupied western and eastern U.P. (Kosala) and north Bihar (Videha) covered by the Ganga-Yamuna doab. During this phase, agriculture became the mainstay of the Vedic people. Many rituals were introduced to initiate the process of agriculture. It also talked about the ploughing with yokes and oxen’s. Use of iron tools also became common by 1000-800 B.C. The tribal settlements were replaced by strong kingdoms known as janapadas. At the end of the RigVeda the society divided into four classes based on the Varna system which was initially based on occupation later became hereditary. The Brahmans were at the top in the Varna hierarchy and the growing number of rituals and sacrifices made them more powerful. The kshatriyas, next in the social hierarchy, were the rulers. The vaishyas, were engaged in agriculture as well as in trade and artisanal activities. The shudras, were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They were ordained to be in the service of the three upper varnas. Women were no longer permitted to attend assemblies. The later Vedic people also used potteries which were of four kinds- black and red ware, black-slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware.
The most important source of Vedic literature are Vedas, through which we come to know about the early life of Aryans. The word Veda originated from the root ‘vid’ signifying knowledge. Therefore, ‘Veda’ means the sacred knowledge contained in the texts known as Vedic text. The Vedic text consists of three successive classes of literary creations those are: i) Vedas, which are the collection of hymns, prayers, charms, litanies and sacrificial formulae. ii) The Brahmanas, which contain details about the meaning of hymns, their application, stories of their origins. Brahmanas are also known as shruti or ‘hearing’, as they passed from generation to generation through verbal transmissions. iii) Aranyakas and Upanishads, the Aranyakas (literally forest treatises) and the Upanishads (sitting down beside) are mainly appendices to the Brahmanas. These are also known as the Vedanta (end of the Veda) and contain philosophical discussions.
The Vedas are categorised into four parts namely, the Rig Veda- collection of 1028 hymns divided into 10 mandals. The 10th Mandal contains the famous Purushsukta which explains the four Varnas (Brahmans, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra), Samveda- collection of songs mostly taken from Rig Veda, Yajurveda- collection of sacrificial formulae, and Atharvaveda- collection of spells and charms. Rig Veda is the earliest compositions and hence depicts the life of the early Vedic people in India.
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