UPSC History The vedic period - Early vedic period, Later vedic period and sangam period NCERT Extracts – The Later Vedic Period (c. 1000-500 B.C.)

NCERT Extracts – The Later Vedic Period (c. 1000-500 B.C.)

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  • The History of the later Vedic period is based mainly on the Vedic texts which were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda.
  • The collections of the Vedic hymns or mantras were known as the Samhitas.
  • The Rig Veda Samhita is the oldest Vedic text.
  • For purpose of recitation, the prayers of the Rig Veda were set to tune, and this modified collection was known as the Sama Veda Samhita.
  • In addition to Ac Sama Veda, in post-Rig Vedic times two other collections were composed. These were - the Yajur Veda Samhita and the Atharva Veda Samhita.
  • The Yajur Veda contains not only hymns but also rituals which have to accompany their recitation.
  • The Atharva Veda contains charms and spells to ward off evils and diseases. Its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the non-Aryans.
  • The Vedic Samhitas were followed by the composition of a series of texts known as the The rahmanas texts are full of ritualistic formulae and explain the social and religious meaning of rituals.                                
  • All these later Vedic texts were compiled in the upper Gangetic basin in 1000-500 B.C.


Painted Grey Ware (PGW)


  • In the same period and in the same area, digging and exploration have brought to light nearly 700 sites inhabited for the first time. These are called Painted Grey Ware (PGW)) sites because they were inhabited by people who used earthen bowls and dishes made of painted grey pottery.
  • The texts show that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over the whole of western Uttar Pradesh covered by the Ganga-Yamuna doab.
  • The Bharatas and Purus combined and thus formed the Kuru people.
  • In the beginning they lived between the Sarasvati and the Drishadvati rivers.
  • The Kurus occupied Delhi and the upper portion of the doab, the area called Kurukshetra or the land of the Kurus.
  • Gradually they coalesced with a people called the Panchalas who occupied the middle portion of the doab.
  • They set up their capital at Hastinapur situated in the district of Meerut (Uttar Pradesh).
  • The Mahahharata war is supposed to have been fought around 950 B.C. between moved to Kaushambi near Allahabad.
  • The Panchala kingdom, which covered the modem districts of Bareilley, Badaun and Farukhabad of Uttar Pradesh, was famous for its philosopher kings and brahmana and theologians mentioned in later Vedic texts.
  • In eastern Uttar Pradesh and north Bihar the Vedic people had to contend against a people who used copper implements and the black and red earthem pots.
  • The Vedic people succeeded in the second phase of their expansion because they used iron weapons and horse drawn chariots.


 The PGW: Iron Phase Culture and Later Vedic Economy


  • Around 1000 B.C. the use of iron appeared in eastern Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • Excavations show that iron weapons such as arrow-heads and spear-heads came to be commonly used in western Uttar Pradesh from about 800 B.C. onwards.
  • With iron weapons the Vedic people may have defeated the few adversaries that may have faced them in the upper portion of the doab.
  • The metal itself is called shyama or krishna ayas in the later Vedic texts.
  • Agriculture was the chief means of livelihood of the later Vedic people.
  • Later Vedic texts speak of six, eight, twelve and even twenty-four oxen yoked to the plough. This may be an exaggeration.
  • The Shatapatha Brahmana speaks at length about the ploughing rituals.
  • Janaka, the king of Videha and father of Sita, lent his hand of the plough.
  • Balarama, the brother of Krishna, is called Haladhar or wielder of the plough.
  • The Vedic people continued to produce barley, but during this period rice and wheat became their chief crops.
  • For the first time the Vedic people came to be acquainted with rice in the doab. It is called vrihi in the Vedic texts.
  • Rice also appears at Ataranjikhera in Etah district (UP) around the same time.
  • The later Vedic period saw the rise of diverse arts and crafts.
  • Copper was one of the first metals to be used by the Vedic people.
  • Copper objects have been found in Painted Grey Ware sites. They were used mainly for war and hunting, and also for ornaments.
  • The later Vedic people were acquainted with four types of pottery - black-and-red ware, black-slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware.
  • The last type of pottery was most popular with them and has been found almost all over western Uttar Pradesh.
  • Agriculture and various crafts enabled the later Vedic people to lead a settled life.
  • Although the term nagara is used in later Vedic texts, we can trace only the faint beginnings of towns toward the end of the later Vedic period.
  • The Vedic texts also refer to the seas and sea voyages. This suggests some kind of commerce which may have been stimulated by the rise of new arts and crafts.
  • Agriculture became the primary source of livelihood and life became settled.
  • Equipped with diverse arts and crafts, the Vedic people now settled down permanently in the upper Gangetic plains.


Political Organization


  • In later Vedic times Rig Vedic popular assemblies lost importance, and royal power increased at their cost. The vidatha completely disappeared.
  • The sabha and samiti continued to hold the ground, but their character changed.
  • They came to be dominated by chiefs and rich nobles. Women were no longer permitted to sit on the sabha, and it was now dominated by nobles and brahmanas.
  • The formation of bigger kingdoms made the chief or the king more powerful.
  • In the beginning each area was named after the tribe which settled there first.
  • At first Panchala was the name of a people, and then it became the name of a region.
  • The term rashtra, which indicates territory, first appears in the period.
  • Traces of the election of the chief or the king appear in later Vedic texts.
  • The king's influence was strengthened by rituals.
  • He performed the rajasuya sacrifice, which was supposed to confer supreme power.
  • He performed the ashvamedha, which meant unquestioned control over an area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted.
  • He also performed the vajapeya or the chariot race, in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen. All these rituals impressed the people with the increasing power and prestige of the king.
  • During this period collection of taxes and tributes seems to have become common.
  • They were probably deposited with an officer called sangrihitri.
  • But even in later Vedic times the king did not possess a standing army.
  • Tribal units were mustered in times of war and according to one ritual for success in war, the king had to eat along with his people (vis) from the same plate. 


Social Organization


  • The later Vedic society came to be divided into four varnas called the brahmanas, rajanyas or kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras.
  • The growing cult of sacrifices enormously added to the power of the brahmanas.
  • The rise in importance of the brahmanas is a peculiar development which is not found in Aryan societies outside India.
  • The vaishyas constituted the common people, and they were assigned to do the producing functions such as agriculture, cattle-breeding etc.
  • Towards the end of the Vedic period they began to engage in trade,
  • The vaishyas appear to be the only tribute-payers in later Vedic times.
  • All the three higher vamas shared one common feature: they were entitled to upanayana or investiture with the sacred thread according to the Vedic mantras.
  • The fourth vama was deprived of the sacred thread ceremony and the recitation of the gayatri mantra and with this began the imposition of disabilities on the shudras.
  • Aitareya Brahmana, is a text of the later Vedic period. In this text, Shudra is called the servant of another, to be made to work at will by another, and to be beaten at will.
  • Generally the later Vedic texts draw a line of demarcation between the three higher orders on the one hand, and the shudras on the other.
  • Certain sections of artisans such as rathakara or chariot-maker enjoyed a high status, and were entitled to the sacred thread ceremony.
  • Women were generally given a lower position.
  • Although some women theologians took part in philosophic discussions and some queens participated in coronation rituals, ordinarily women were thought to be inferior and subordinate to men.
  • The institution of gotra appeared in later Vedic times. Literally it means the cow-pen or the place where cattle belonging to the whole clan are kept.
  • But in course of time it signified descent from a common ancestor. People began to practise gotra exogamy.
  • Ashramas or four stages of life were not well established in Vedic times.
  • In the post-Vedic texts we hear of four ashramas-that of Brahmachari or student, Grihastha or householder, Vanaprastha or hermit and Sannyasin or ascetic who completely renounced the worldly life.
  • Only the first three are mentioned in the later Vedic texts; the last or the fourth stage had not been well established in later Vedic times though ascetic life was not unknown.
  • Even in post-Vedic times only the stage of the householder was commonly practised by all the vamas.


Gods, Rituals and Philosophy


  • In the later Vedic period the upper doab developed to be the cradle of Aryan culture under brahmanical influence. The whole of the Vedic literature seems to have been compiled in this area in the land of the Kuru-Panchalas.
  • The cult of sacrifice central of this culture was accompanied by rituals and formulae.
  • The two outstanding Rig Vedic gods, Indra and Agni, lost their former importance.
  • Prajapati the creator, come to occupy the supreme position in the later Vedic pantheon.
  • Some of the other minor gods of the Rig Vedic period also came to the forefront.
  • Rudra, the god of animals, became important in later Vedic times.
  • Vishnu came to be conceived as the preserver and protector of the people who now led a settled life instead of a semi-nomadic life as they did in Rig Vedic times.
  • In addition, some objects began to be worshipped as symbols of divinity; signs of idolatry appear in later Vedic times.
  • As society became divided into social classes, such as brahmanas, rajanyas, vaishyas and shudras, some of the social orders came to have their own deities.
  • Pushan, who was supposed to look after cattle, regarded as the god of the shudras.
  • People worshipped gods for the same material reasons in this period as they did in earlier times. However, the mode of worship changed considerably.
  • prayers continued to be recited, but they ceased to be the dominant mode of placating the gods.
  • Sacrifices became far more important, and they assumed both public and domestic character. Public sacrifices involved the king and the whole of the community.
  • Sacrifices involved the killing of animals on a large scale.
  • The guest was known as goghna or one who was fed on cattle.
  • Sacrifices were accompanied by formulae which had to be carefully pronounced by the sacrificer. The sacrificer was known as the yajamana, the performer of yajna,
  • These formulae and sacrifices were invented, adopted and elaborated by the priests.
  • The brahmanas claimed a monopoly of priestly knowledge and expertise.
  • They invented a number of rituals, some of which were adopted from the non-Aryans.
  • Cows were usually given as sacrificial gifts, gold, cloth and horses were also given.
  • Sometimes the priests claimed portions of territory as dakshina, but the grant of land as sacrificial fee is not well established in the later Vedic period.
  • The Shatapatha Brahmana states that in the ashvamedha, north, south, east and west all should be given to the priest.
  • Towards the end of the Vedic period began a strong reaction against priestly domination, against cults and rituals, especially in the land of the Panchalas and Videha where, around 600 B.C., the Upanishads were compiled.
  • Upanishads - Upanishads were philosophical texts that criticized the rituals and laid stress on the value of right belief and knowledge.
  • They emphasised that the knowledge of the self or atman should be acquired and the relation of atman with Brahma should be properly understood.
  • The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the earliest Upanishads contains a list of successive generations of teachers and students, many of whom were designated by metronymics.
  • Brahma emerged as the supreme entity, comparable to the powerful kings of the period.
  • Some of the kshatriya princes in Panchala and Videha also cultivated this type of thinking and created the atmosphere for the reform of the priest-dominated religion.
  • The later Vedic period saw certain important changes.
  • We find the beginnings of territorial kingdoms.
  • Wars were fought not only for the possession of cattle but also for that of territory.
  • The famous Mahabharata battle is attributed to this period.
  • The predominantly pastoral society of early Vedic times had become agricultural.
  • The tribal pastoralists came to be transformed into peasants who could maintain their chief with frequent tributes. The shudras were still a small serving order.
  • The tribal society broke up into a varna-divided society. But Varna distinction could not be carried too far. 

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