UPSC History The vedic period - Early vedic period, Later vedic period and sangam period NCERT Extracts - The Ring Vedic Period History

NCERT Extracts - The Ring Vedic Period History

Category : UPSC

Advent of the Aryans


  • It is difficult to say that all the earliest Aryans belonged to one race, but their culture was more or less of the same type. They were distinguished by their common language.
  • They spoke the Indo-European languages
  • Originally, the Aryans seem to have lived somewhere in the steppes stretching from southern Russia to Central Asia.
  • Their earliest life seems to have been mainly pastoral.
  • Agriculture being a secondary occupation. Their society was male-dominated.
  • Although the Aryans used several animals, the horse played the most significant role in their life. Its swiftness enabled them and some allied people to make successful inroads on West Asia from about 2000 B.C. onwards.
  • We know about the Aryans in India from the Rig Veda.
  • The term Arya occurs 36 times in this text, and generally indicates a cultural community.
  • The Rig Veda is the earliest text of the Indo-European languages.
  • It is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna and other gods by various families of poets or sages.
  • It consists often mandalas or books, of which Books II to VII form its earliest portions.
  • Books I and X seem to have been the latest additions.
  • The Rig Veda has many things in common with the Avesta, which is the oldest text in the Iranian language.
  • The two texts use the same names tor several gods and even for social classes.
  • The earliest specimen of the Indo-European language is found in an inscription of about 2200 B.C. from Iraq.
  • Later such specimens occur in Hittite inscriptions in Anatolia (Turkey) from the nineteenth to the seventeenth centuries B.C.
  • Aryan names appear in Kassite inscriptions of about 1600 B.C. from Iraq and in Mitanni inscriptions of the fourteenth centuries B.C. from Syria. But so far no such inscriptions have been found in India.
  • A little earlier than 1500 B.C. the Aryans appeared in India. We do not find clear and definite archaeological traces of their advent.
  • The earliest Aryans lived in the geographical area covered by eastern Afghanistan, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab and fringes of western Uttar Pradesh.
  • Some rivers of Afghanistan such as the river Kubha, and the river Indus and its five branches, are mentioned in the Rig Veda.
  • The Sindhu is the river par excellence of the Aryans, and it is repeatedly mentioned.
  • Another river, the Saraswati, is called naditama or the best of the rivers in the Rig Veda.
  • It is identified with the Ghaggar-Hakra channel in Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • Rig Vedic description shows it to be the Avestan river Harakhwati or the Helmand river in south Afghanistan from where the name Saraswati was transferred to India.
  • The whole region in which the Aryans first settled in Indian subcontinents called the

          Land of the Seven Rivers.

  • The Aryans migrated to India in several waves. The earliest wave is represented by the Rig Vedic people, who appeared in the subcontinent in about 1500 B.C.
  • They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called the dasas, dasyus, etc.
  • The Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by a chief called Divodasa, who belonged to the Bharata clan.
  • Possibly the dasyus in the Rig Veda represent the original inhabitants of the country, and an Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadasyu.
  • The Aryan chief was soft towards the dasas, but strongly hostile to the dasyus. The term dasyuhatya, slaughter of the dasyus, is repeatedly mentioned in the Rig Veda.


 Tribal Conflicts


  • In the Rig Veda Indra is called Purandara which means that he was the breaker of forts.
  • According to tradition, the Aryans were divided into five tribes called panchajana but there might have been other tribes also. The Aryans fought amongst themselves.
  • The Bharatas and the Tritsu were the ruling Aryan clans, and they were supported by priest Vasishtha. The country Bharatavarsha was eventually named after the tribe Bharata, which appears first in the Rig Veda.
  • The battle that was fought between the Bharatas on the one hand, and the host of ten chiefs on the other is known as the Battle of Ten Kings.
  • This battle was fought on the river Parushni, identical with the river Ravi, and it gave victory to Sudas and established the supremacy of the Bharatas.
  • Of the defeated tribes, the most important was that of the Purus. Subsequently the Bharatas joined hands with the Purus and formed a new ruling tribe called the Kiiru|
  • The Kurus combined with the Panchalas, and they together established their rule in the upper Gangetic basin where they played an important part in later Vedic times.


Material Life


  • They owed their success in India to their use of horses, chariots and also possibly some better arms made of bronze.
  • The Rig Vedic people possessed better knowledge of agriculture.
  • They were acquainted with sowing, harvesting and threshing, and knew about the different seasons.                            
  • There are so many references to the cow and the bull in the Rig Veda that the Rig Vedic Aryans can be called predominantly a pastoral people.
  • Most of their wars were fought for the sake of cows.
  • The terms for war in the ring Veda is gavishthi or search or cows.
  • The cow seems to have been the most important form of wealth.
  • Gifts made to priests they usually consist of cows and women slaves.
  • The Rig Veda mentions such artisans as the carpenter, the chariot-maker, the weaver, the leather worker, the potter, etc.
  • The word samudra mentioned in the Rig Veda mainly denotes a collection of water.
  • Aryans did not live in cities.
  • A site called Bhagwanpura has been excavated in Haryana and in all these cases Painted Grey Ware has been found.
  • They date assigned to the Bhagwanpura finds ranges from 1600 B.C. to 1000 B.C. which is also roughly the period of the Rig Veda.
  • A thirteen-roomed mud house has been discovered at Bhagwanpura.
  • Cattle bones have been found in good quantity in all these sites, and in Bhagwanpura horse bones have also been found.


Tribal Polity


  • The administrative machinery of the Aryans in the Rig Vedic period worked with the tribal chief in the centre, because of his successful leadership in war. He was called rajan. It seems that in the Rig Vedic period the king's post had become hereditary.
  • The rajan was a kind of chief, and he did not exercise unlimited power, for he had to reckon with the tribal organization. The tribal assembly was called the samiti.
  • The king was called the protector of his tribe.
  • He protected its cattle, fought its wars and offered prayers to gods on its behalf.
  • Several tribal or the clan-based assemblies such as the sabha, samiti, vidatha, gana are mentioned in the Rig Veda. They exercised deliberative, military and religious functions.
  • Even women attended the sabha and vidatha in Rig Vedic times.
  • But the two most important assemblies were the sabha and the samiti.
  • The most important functionary seems to have been the purohita.
  • The two priests who played a major part in the time of Rig Veda are Vasishtha and Vasishtha was conservative and Vishvamitra was liberal.
  • Vishvamitra composed the gayatri mantra to widen the Aryan world.
  • The next important functionary seems to be the senani.
  • Probably the chiefs received from the people voluntary offerings called bali.
  • The Rig Veda does not mention any officer for administering justice. But it was not an ideal society. There were cases of theft and burglary and especially the theft of cows.
  • Spies were employed to keep an eye on such unsocial activities.
  • The officer who enjoyed authority over a large pasture ground was called vrajapati
  • He led heads of the families called kulapas, or the heads of the fighting hordes called gramanis, to battle.
  • In the beginning, the gramani was just the head of a small tribal fighting unit.
  • The king did not maintain any regular or standing army, but in times of war he mustered a militia whose military functions were performed by different tribal groups called vrata, gana, grama, sardha.                          
  • It was a tribal system of government in which the military element was strong.


Tribe and Family


  • Kinship was the basis of social structure, and a man was identified by the clan to which he belonged, as can be seen in the names of several Rig Vedic kings.
  • People gave their primary loyalty to the tribe, which was called jana.
  • The term jana occurs at about 275 places in the Rig Veda, and the term janapada or territory is not used even once.
  • The people were attached to the tribe, since the kingdom was not yet established.
  • Another important term which stands for the tribe in the Rig Veda is vis; it is mentioned 170 times in that ext.
  • It seems that family in early Vedic phase was indicated by the term griha.
  • It was a patriarchal society. The birth of a son was desired again and again.
  • And people prayed to the gods especially for the brave sons to fight the wars.
  • In the Rig Veda no desire is expressed for daughters, though the desire for children and cattle is a recurrent theme in the hymns.\
  • Women could attend assemblies. They could offer sacrifices along with their husbands.
  • The institution of marriage was established, although symbols of primitive practices survived. We have some indication of polyandry.
  • We also notice the practice of levirate and widow remarriage in the Rig Veda.
  • There are no examples of child-marriage, and the marriageable age in the Rig Veda seems to have been 16 to 17.


Social Divisions


  • The factor which contributed most to the creation of social divisions was the conquest of the indigenous inhabitants by the Aryans.
  • The Dasas and the dasyus, conquered by the Aryans, were treated as slaves and shudras.
  • Varna was the term used for colour, and it seems that the Aryan language speakers were fair and the indigenous inhabitants were dark in complexion.
  • The tribal chiefs and the priests acquired a larger share of the booty, and they naturally grew at the cost of their kinsmen, which created social inequalities in the tribe.
  • Gradually the tribal society was divided into three groups - warriors, priests and the people - on the same pattern as in Iran.                                
  • The fourth division called the shudras appeared towards the end of the Rig Vedic period, Slaves were given as gifts to the priests. They were mainly women slaves.
  • In the age of the Rig Veda differentiation based on occupations had started.
  • But this division was not very sharp. We hear of a family in which a member says: I am a poet, my father is a physician, and my mother is a grinder. Earning livelihood through different means we live together".
  • Unequal distribution of the spoils of war created social inequalities, and this helped the rise of princes and priests at the cost of the common tribal people.
  • But since economy was mainly pastoral and not food-producing, the scope for collecting regular tributes from the people was very limited.
  • Tribal elements in society were stronger and social divisions based on collection of taxes or accumulation of landed property were absent.
  • The society was still tribal and largely egalitarian.


Rig Vedic Gods


  • The Aryans found it difficult to explain the advent of rains, the appearances of the sun and the moon, and the existence of the rivers, mountains, etc.
  • So they personified these natural forces and looked upon them as living beings to whom they gave human or animal attributes,
  • The most important divinity in the Rig Veda is Indra.
  • Indra was called Purandara or breaker of forts.
  • Indra played the role of a warlord, leading the Aryan soldiers to victory against the demons. Two hundred and fifty hymns are devoted to him.
  • He is considered to be the rain god and thought to be responsible for causing rainfall.
  • The second position is held by Agni (fire god) to whom 200 hymns are devoted.
  • In Vedic times Agni acted as a kind of intermediary between the gods on the one hand, and the people on the other.
  • The third important position is occupied by Varuna who personified water.
  • Varuna was supposed to uphold the natural order, and whatever happened in the world was thought to be the reflection of his desires.
  • Soma was considered to be the god of plants, and an intoxicating drink.
  • The Maruts personify the storm.
  • This we have a large number of gods, who represent the different forces of nature in one form or another, but are also assigned human activities.
  • We also find some female divinities such as Aditi, and Ushas who represented the appearance of the dawn. But they were not prominent in the time of the Rig Veda.
  • In the patriarchal set-up, the male gods were far more important than the female.
  • The dominant mode of worshipping the gods was through the recitation of prayers and offering of sacrifices.
  • Prayers played an important part in Rig Vedic times.
  • Offerings of vegetables, barely, etc. were made to gods.
  • But in Rig Vedic times the process was not accompanied by any ritual.
  • They did not worship gods for their spiritual uplift or for ending the miseries of existence. They asked mainly for praja (children), pashu (cattle), food, wealth, health etc.



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