The Vedic Civilization was the way of life and customs that prevailed in the Vedic period (1500-600 BCE). It existed during the Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The civilization is attributed to the Indo-Aryan tribes that lived at that time. Read here to learn more about the Vedic civilization.
The Vedic age refers to the period in India’s history between 1500 and 900 BCE when the Vedic literature, including the Vedas, was written on the northern Indian subcontinent.
It existed between the end of the Indus Valley Civilization‘s urban phase and the start of the second urbanization, which started in the Indo-Gangetic Plain’s center about 600 BCE.
The period and culture are attributed to the Indo-Aryan migrations to the Indus Valley.
Historical groups of Indo-Aryan peoples moved into north-western India following the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization, which took place around 1900 BCE and began to live in the northern Indus Valley.
- The Indo-Aryan migrations were the movement of Indo-Aryan peoples into the Indian subcontinent.
- It is believed that Indo-Aryan arrived in the area from Central Asia began after 2000 BCE and diffused slowly over the Late Harappan era, resulting in a linguistic change in the northern Indian subcontinent.
- This ethnolinguistic group spoke the Indo-Aryan languages, which are still widely spoken in North India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives today.
The Indo-Aryan migration theory is still a disputed theory- many historians are of the notion that Aryans were of indigenous origin. The origin of Aryans is widely disputed- Some claim that they originated in the Central Asian region near the Caspian Sea (Max Muller), while others believe that they came from the Russian Steppes. According to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the Aryans originated in the Arctic.
The agreed upon facts about Aryans is that they were semi-nomadic, pastoral people who lived rural life compared to the previous urban Harappans.
- They spoke the Indo-Aryan language- Sanskrit.
- The knowledge about the Aryans comes mostly from the Rigveda Samhita.
The period of Vedic Civilization (1500-500 BCE) is divided into two broad parts-
- Early Vedic Period (1500-1000 BC), also known as Rig Vedic Period
- Later Vedic Period (1000- 600 BC)
Early Vedic civilization
The Rig Vedic period is the oldest documented age around 1400-1000 BCE.
Accounts of military conflicts between the various tribes of Vedic Aryans are described in the Rigveda.
- Most notable of such conflicts was the Battle of the Ten Kings, which took place on the banks of the river Parushni (modern-day Ravi).
- The Bharata tribe, headed by their chief Sudas, engaged in combat with a coalition of ten other tribes.
- The Purus, their western neighbors, dwelt near the lower reaches of the Saraswati River, while the Bharatas lived around its upper reaches.
- The other tribes lived in Punjab to the northwest of the Bharatas. The conflict could have been sparked by the division of the waters of Ravi.
- By widening the embankments of Ravi, the confederation of tribes attempted to engulf the Bharatas, but Sudas won the Battle of Ten Kings. After the conflict, the Bharatas and Purus joined to form the Kuru tribe.
It also contains accounts of conflicts between the Aryas and the Dasas and Dasyus. Dasas and Dasyus were the people who do not perform sacrifices (akratu) or obey the commandments of gods (avrata).
- These tribal kingdoms included the Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus, and Purus.
- The ‘Rajan’ or king served as the head of the realm.
- Typically, the Rig Vedic state was a hereditary monarchy.
- There were two organizations: the Samiti (general assembly of people) and the Sabha (council of elders).
- The fundamental unit of political organization was the “kula.”
- A “grama” was made up of many related families.
- ‘Gramani‘ was the ‘grama’s’ leader.
- ‘Visu’ was the name of the group of villages commanded by ‘Vishayapati’.
- The ‘Jana’ or tribe served as the highest level of government and administration.
- In essence, the Rig Vedic civilization was patriarchal.
- The family, or “graham,” was the fundamental unit of society, and its leader was known as the “grahapathi.”
- While polygamy was observed in royal and noble households, monogamy was the norm.
- Women enjoyed the same possibilities for intellectual and spiritual growth that males had. Women poets included Apala, Viswavara, Ghosa, and Lopamudra.
- The widely attended gatherings were open to women.
- No sati, no child marriage has been mentioned in the literature.
- Social stratification was flexible.
- The Aryans of the Rig Vedic civilization were pastoral herders.
- They started farming once they had made their permanent home in North India.
- Chariots and ploughs were built by carpenters.
- Workers used iron, bronze, and copper to create a range of items.
- A significant occupation was spinning, which produced cotton and woolen cloths.
- Jewelers crafted ornaments.
- The potters produced a variety of utensils for residential usage.
- Barter was used to conduct trade initially, but eventually, significant transactions switched to using gold coins called “nishka.”
- Rivers were used as a mode of transportation.
- The Rig Vedic Aryans humanized many natural forces such as earth, fire, wind, rain, and thunder into gods to worship them.
- Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Rain), and Indra (Thunder) are a few significant Rig Vedic deities.
- “Varuna” is the defender of the laws of nature.
- ‘Aditi’ and ‘Ushas’ are female deities.
- No idol worship or temples was observed.
Later Vedic Civilization
Around 1000 BCE, the Vedic society fully transformed into settled agriculture practitioners.
The demand for horses, which were required for cavalry and sacrifice but could not be bred in India, remained a top concern for Vedic leaders and a relic of the nomadic lifestyle.
- This led to trade routes beyond the Hindu Kush to sustain this supply.
Because of the dense forest cover, the Vedic tribes had been unable to access the Gangetic plains.
- After 1000 BCE, iron axes and ploughs were widely used, making it simple to clear the rainforests.
- Due to this, the Vedic Aryans were able to expand their settlements into the Ganga-Yamuna Doab’s western region.
- Many of the previous tribes merged to become more powerful political entities.
- ‘Mahajanapadas or rashtras’ were created by the union of larger kingdoms.
- As a result, the king’s authority grew. To solidify his position, he carried out several ceremonies and sacrifices, including the Vajapeya (chariot race), Asvamedha (horse sacrifice), and Rajasuya (a consecration ceremony).
- Rajavisvajanan, Ahilabhuvanapathi (lord of the entire earth), Ekrat, and Samrat (only ruler) were the names that the monarchs adopted.
- However, the Samiti and the Sabha lost some of their significance.
- Four societal divisions—Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras—became the Varna system.
- Brahmins and Kshatriyas held positions of authority over others.
- Based on employment, several subcastes developed.
- Women had lost their political rights to attend assemblies and were now seen as inferior to and submissive to males.
- Child marriages increased in frequency.
- The removal of forests allowed for the cultivation of more land. The understanding of manure advanced.
- As a result, farming became the primary employment of those who grew wheat, rice, and barley.
- With the expansion of metalwork, leatherwork, woodwork, and ceramics, industrial activity became specialized.
- Both domestic and international trade increased significantly (they engaged in maritime trade with Babylon).
- A new class called vaniya, or hereditary merchants, emerged.
- Vaisyas who engaged in trade and business grouped to form “ganas,” or guilds.
- Coins: In addition to the “nishka,” gold coins called “satamana” and silver coins called “krishnala” were also employed as means of transaction.
- Agni and Indra became less significant.
- Rudra, the destroyer, Vishnu, the protector, and Prajapathi, the creator became significant deities.
- The rites and sacrifices grew increasingly complex.
- But prayers lost some of their significance.
- The priesthood evolved into an inherited profession. They established the guidelines for these sacrifices and rites.
- As a result, at the end of this time, there was a tremendous backlash against this priestly dominance as well as against complex sacrifices and rites. As a result, Buddhism and Jainism flourished.
Archaeology of Vedic Civilization
Archaeological evidence has been found from the phases of Vedic culture like the Ochre Coloured Pottery, the Gandhara grave, the Black and red ware, and the Painted Grey Ware.
Ochre-colored pottery was discovered in the Badaun and Bisjuar area of western Uttar Pradesh.
- This culture is considered to have been prevalent around the second half of the year 2000 BCE, during a time when the Harrapan culture was coming to an end and the Indus Valley civilization was in transition.
The term “Gandhara graves” describes the early cemetery that can be discovered in the Gandhara area, which stretches from Bajuar to the Indus.
- The burial layout and “mortuary practice” in these cemeteries appear predetermined, including rigid inhumation and cremation.
- This civilization developed in three stages: the bottom stage, during which graves are covered with enormous stone slabs, the upper stage, during which urn burials and cremations are added, and the third stage, known as the “surface” stage.
The phrase “black and red ware culture” was first used by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1946.
- In addition to portions of West Asia and Egypt, black-and-red pottery expanded throughout India during the Neolithic era and persisted until the early Middle Ages.
- As the name implies, the pottery often has a red bottom half on the outside and a black rim/inside surface.
- Red-ware pottery often falls into one of two subcategories: cooking pots or offering stands.
- The majority of these clay items were open-mouthed bowls with one side polished, painted, or slip-painted; however, a few jars, pots, and dishes-on-stands have also been discovered.
An important ceramic type known as painted grey ware has been associated with a group of people who lived in the Sutlej, Ghagger, and Upper Ganga/Yamuna Valleys.
- These people are thought to have been early Aryans who came to India at the beginning of the Vedic period.
- The painted grey ware culture is believed to have been spread by tribes that also brought iron technology to the Indo-Gangetic plains, making this pottery a significant indicator of the Northern Indian Iron Age.
-Article written by Swathi Satish