Vedic Period (Vedic Age): The Aryans, Vedic Literature – Indian History

Origin of Aryans - Vedic Period/Age
Vedic Period (Vedic Age)

Vedic Period (Vedic Age or The Aryans): Many historians have given various theories regarding the original place of the Aryans. However, the Central Asian theory, given by Max Muller, is the most accepted one. It states that the Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people and originated from area around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.

The Aryans entered India probably through the Khyber Pass (in Hindukush Mountains) around 1500 BC. The holy book of Iran ‘Zend Avesta‘ indicates entry of Aryans to India via Iran.

  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak (called Martin Luther of  Modern India) tells that they came from Arctic Region.
  • Dayanand Saraswati tells that they came from Tibet. (mention in his book Satyarth Prakash)
  • Bhagwan Das Didwani tells that their home were the India.
  • Avinash Chandra Das tells that their home were Sapta Saindhav Region.



The early Aryans settled in Eastern Afghanistan, modern Pakistan, Punjab and parts of western UP. The whole region in which the Aryans first settled in India is called the Land of Seven Rivers or ‘Sapta Sindhava‘ (The Indus and its five tributaries and the Saraswati).



Monarchial form, tribe was known as Jan and its king as Rajan. He was the leader in battle and protector of tribe. His office was not hereditary and was selected among the clan’s men. The Rajan was not an absolute monarch, for the government of the tribe was in part the responsibility of the tribal councils like sabha, samiti, gana and vidhata. Even women attended sabha and vidhata.

Many clans (Vish) formed a tribe. The basic social unit was the Kula or the family and Kulapa was the head of the family.

The king was assisted by a number of officers of which Purohita was the most important. Next important functionary was the Senani (leader of the army), although there was no regular or standing army. The military technique of the early Aryans was much advanced. The Aryans succeeded everywhere because they possessed chariots driven by horses.

There was no regular revenue system and the kingdom was maintained by the voluntary tribute (Bali) of his subjects and the booty won in battle.

Villages were headed by Gramini who used to represent village in sabha and samiti. Later, Gramini was handed Over the charge of Vrajapati also (an officer who enjoyed authority over the pasture ground).

Social Life of Vedic Period


When the Aryans entered India there was already a class division in their tribal structure. As they settled among the dark aboriginals, the Aryans seem to have laid greater stress than before on purity of blood, and class divisions hardened, to exclude those dasas who had found a place in the Aryan society, and those Aryans who had intermarried with the dasas and adopted their ways. Gradually, the tribal society got divided into three groups –warriors, priests and commoners. Later, the fourth dasas or shudra – was also added.

The term varna was used for color, the Aryans being fair, the dasas dark.

Family was the basic unit of society. The family was patriarchal in nature. But women enjoyed equal power with men. Marriage was usually monogamous and indissoluble, but there are few instances of polyandry, levirate and widow-marriage. There are no examples of child-marriage. The marriageable age seems to have been 16 to 17.

The word Arya came to refer to any person who was respected. Aryans were fond of soma, sura, food and dresses. Soma was drunk at sacrifices and its use was sanctified by religion. Sura was purely secular and more potent, and was disapproved by the priestly poets.

The Aryans loved music, and played the flute, lute and harp. There are references to singing and dancing, and to dancing girls. People also delighted in gambling. They enjoyed chariot racing. Both men and women wore ornaments.

Rivers of Rig Veda


Modern Names Rigvedic Names
Indus Sindhu
Jhelum Vitasta
Chenab Asikni
Ravi Purushni
Beas Vipasa
Sutlej Sutudri
Gomati Gumal
Kurram Krumu
Ghaggar Drisshdvati
  • Beside these rivers with specific names, the Rigveda also mentions Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati and other rivers.


Their bronze smiths were highly skilled, and produced tools and weapons much superior to those of Harappan culture. There were artisans like carpenters, weavers, cobblers, potters, etc..

Aryans followed a mixed economy-pastoral and agricultural-in which cattle played a predominant part.

Most of their wars were fought for cow (most important form of wealth). Cattle were in fact a sort of currency, and values were reckoned in heads of cattle (man’s life was equivalent to that of 100 cows), but they were not held sacred at this time. The horse was almost as important as the cow.

Standard unit of exchange was cow. At the same time coins were also there (gold coins like Nishka, Krishnal and Satmana).

  • Gavyuti was used as a measure of distance and Godhuli as a measure of time.
  • Lived in fortified mud settlements.
  • Physicians were there called ‘Bhishakas‘.
  • The staple crop was yava, which meant barley.


  • The Aryans personified the natural forces and looked upon them as living beings.
  • The most important divinity was Indra who played the role of warlord (breaker of forts Purandar, also associated with storm and thunder).
  • The second position was held by Agni (fire-god). He is considered as an intermediary between gods and men.
  • Varuna occupied the third position. He personified water and was supposed to uphold the natural order. He was ethnically the highest of all Rigvedic gods.
  • Soma was considered to be the god of plants.
  • Maruts personified the storms.

Some female deities are also mentioned, like Aditi and Usha, who represented the appearance of dawn.

Didn’t believe in erecting temples or idol worship. Worshipped in open air through yajnas.


(Painted Grey Ware Phase)


They reveal that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over the whole of western Punjab over the whole of western UP covered by the Ganga-Yamuna doab.

In the beginning, they cleared the land by burning; later with the use of iron tools which became common by 1000-800 BC.


Tiny tribal settlements were replaced by strong kingdoms. Powers of the king, who was called Samrat increased. Importance of assemblies declined. Women were no longer permitted to attend assemblies. The term ‘rashtra‘ indicating territory first appeared in this period. A regular army was maintained for the protection of kingdom.

References of Priest (Purohita), Commander in chief (Senapati), Charioteer (Suta), treasurer (Sangrahita), tax collector (Bhagdugha), chief queen (Mahist) and the game companion (aksavapa).


The four fold division of society became clear-initially based on occupation, which later became hereditary: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (Warriors), Vaishyas (agriculturists, cattle-rearers, traders) and Shudras (servers of the upper three).

  • Women enjoyed freedom and respect but their status deteriorated compared to earlier time.
  • The institution of  ‘gotra‘ appeared in this age first time. Gotra signified descent from Common ancestors.
  • In this time also, Chariot racing was the main sport and gambling was the main pastime.

Types of Marriages

  • Brahma: Moriage of a duly dowered girl to a man of the same class.
  • Daiva: Mariage in which a fatiher gave his daughter to a sacrificial priest as part of his fees.
  • Arsa: Mariage in which a token bride-price of a cow and a bull was paid to the daughter’s father.
  • Prajapatya: Marriage in which the father gave the girl without dowry and without demanding bride-price.
  • Gandharva: Mariage, offen clandestine, by the consent of the two parties.
  • Asura: Marriage by purchase
  • Rakshasa: Marriage by capture.
  • Paishacha: Marriage involving the seduction of a girl while sleeping, etc:
  • Anuloma marriage was the mariage of a higher varna man with a lower varna woman.
  • Pratiloma marriage was the marriage of a lower varna  man with a higher varna woman.

Important Vedic Rituals

  • Asvamedha: A king performed this sacrifice, which meant control over the area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. The ceremony lasted for three days at the end of which the horse sacrifice was performed.
  • Vojapeya: A chariot race was performed in which the king must win the race (it was fixed). It was meant to re-establish a king’s supremacy over his people.
  • Rajasuya: A sacrifice ceremony which conferred supreme power on the king.


The later Vedic people used four types of pottery- black and red ware, black-slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware.

Red ware was most popular with them, and has been found almost all over western UP. However, the most distinctive pottery of the period is known as Painted Grey Ware, which comprised bowls and dishes, used either for rituals or for eating by the upper classes.


Rituals and formulae became prominent in the cult of sacrifice. Indra and Agni lost their importance. Prajapati (the creator) became supreme. Vishnu came to be conceived as the preserver and protector of the people.

Some of the social orders came to have their own deities, e.g., Pushan, responsible for well being of the cattle, became the god of the shudras.

Towards the end of the period, began a strong reaction against sacrificial cults and rituals with the composition of the Upanishads, which valued right belief and knowledge more than anything else.

Vedic Literature



The word ‘Veda‘ comes from the root ‘vidi‘, signifying knowledge. Vedas are also known as Shruti (to hear) as they were passed from generation to generation through verbal transmission.

They are four in all – Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The first three Vedas are collectively known as ‘Trayi‘ or ‘trio‘. Each Veda is further divided into Samhitas.


  • Oldest religious text in the world.
  • Must have been composed around 1700 BC.
  • A collection of hymns. Were recited at the time of sacrificial rites and other rituals with utmost devotion.
  • Contains 1028 hymns (1017 + 11 valakhilyas) and is divided into 10 mandalas.
  • II to VII are the earliest mandalas, each of which is ascribed to a particular family of seers (Rishis)- Gritsamada, Visvamitra, Vamadeva, Atri, Bharadvaj, and Vashistha.
  • VIII mandala is ascribed to the Kanvas and Angiras.
  • X is the compilation of Soma hymns.
  • I and X are considered the later additions.
  • The X mandala contains the famous Purushsukta which explains that the 4 Varnas (Brahmans, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) were born from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the creator, Brahma.
  • Words in Rig Veda: Om (1028 times), Jan (275 times), etc.
  • 250 hymns are dedicated to Indra while 200 are dedicated to Agni.
  • The third mandala contains the Gayatri Mantra (addressed to sun).
  • Saraswati is the deity river in Rig Veda.


  • Derived from the root ‘Saman‘, i.e., ‘melody‘.
  • It is a collection of melodies.
  • It has 1603 verses but except 99 all the rest have been borrowed from Rig Veda.
  • Contains ‘Dhrupada Raga‘.


  • Deals with the procedure for the performance of sacrifices.
  • There are two main texts of Yajur veda:
  • White Yajurveda (or Shukla Yajurveda);
  • Black Yajurveda (or Krishna Yajurveda).
  • The former contains mantras and the latter has commentary in prose.


  • Entirely different from other 3 vedas.
  • Divided into 20 kandas (books) and has 711 hymns.
  • Most of them dealing with magic (along with personal problems of people).


They explain the hymns of the vedas in an orthodox manner. Each veda has several Brahmanas attached to it.

  1. Rigveda: Kaushetki and Aitreya
  2. Yajurveda: Taitriya & Shatpatha
  3. Samveda: Panchvish & Jemineya
  4. Atharvaveda: Gopath

The most important is ‘Shatapatha Brahmana‘ attached to Yajurveda, which is most exhaustive and important of all. It recommends ‘One hundred Sacred Paths’.


  • Called forest books, written mainly by the hermits living in the jungles for their pupils.
  • These are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas.
  • Deals with mysticism and philosophy. Opposed to sacrifice and emphasize ‘Meditation‘.
  • Form a bridge between ‘Way of work‘ (Karma Marg) which was the sole concern of the Upanishads,
  • and the ‘Way of knowledge‘ (Gyan Marg) which the Brahmanas advocated.
  • There are seven Aranyaks in all, namely (i) Aitreya Aranyakas, (ii) Sankhayan Aranyak, (iii) Taittiriya Aranyak, (iv) Maitriyani Aranyak, (v) Madhyandini Vrihadaranyak, (vi) Talvakar Aranyak and (vii) Jaimini.


  • The word ‘upanishad’ means ‘to sit down near someone‘ and denotes a student sitting near his Guru to learn.
  • Called Vedanta (the end of the Vedas) firstly because they denote the last phase of the Vedic Period and secondly, because they reveal the final aim of the Vedas.
  • They are the main source of Indian philosophy.
  • There are 108 Upanishads.
  • They also condemn the ceremonies and the sacrifices.
  • They discuss the various theories of creation of the universe and define the doctrine of action (Karma).


  • Explains rules and regulations in the Vedic life.
  • Main are Manusmriti, Naradsmriti, Yagyavalkyasmriti and Parasharsmriti.


Six Vedangas are Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chhanda and Jyotisha.

  1. Shiksha deals with pronunciation.
  2. Kalpa with rituals.
  3. Vyakarana with grammar.
  4. Nirukta with etymology.
  5. Chhanda with meter.
  6. Jyotisha with astronomy.


There are 6 schools of Indian philosophy known as Shad-Darshana. These are given by 6 philosophers of Ancient India:

  1. Nyaya (Analysis) Darshana: Gautama.
  2. Vaishesika Darshana: Kanada Rishi (referred atom as kan/anu).
  3. Sankhaya Darshana: Kapila
  4. Yoga Darshana: Patanjali.
  5. Purva Mirhansa: Jaimini
  6. Uttara Mimansa: Badaryana or Vyasa (wrote Mahabharata, classified vedas, composed the puranas and also gave vedantic philosophy).


There are four upavedas:

  1. Dhanurveda (deals with art of warfare) (Upaveda of Yajur Veda).
  2. Gandharvaveda (deals with art & music) (Upaveda of Sama Veda).
  3. Shilpaveda (deals with architecture) (Upaveda of Atharva Veda).
  4. Ayurveda (deals with medicine) (Upaveda of Rig Veda).


Though the two epics – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana- were compiled later, they reflect the state of affairs of the Later Vedic Period.

  1. The Mahabharata, attributed to Vyasa, is considered older than the Ramayana and describes the period from the tenth century BC to the fourth century AD. It is also called Jaisamhita and Satasahasri Samhita and has one lakh verses.
  2. The Ramayana, attributed to Valmiki, has 24,000 verses. Its composition started in the fifth century BC and passes through five stages; the fifth stage ended in the twelfth century AD.


  • Value of Brahmins increased as they only could perform religious ceremonies.
  • Led to religious monopoly.
  • Puranas or old stories (18 in no.) contain the popular myths of these times.
  • People revolted against this.

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