The Vedic period or Vedic age was from 1500 – 600 BCE. The period overlapped with the end of Indus valley civilization to the second urbanization, which started in 600 BCE. This period gets it name from Vedas, which were written describing the life in this time period. And is a main source of knowledge to understand that period.
Vedic culture started off as tribal and pastoral one (1200 – 1100 BCE) starting mainly from Punjab and it spread towards the Ganges becoming agricultural and settled.
It is commonly accepted that Vedic age started around second millennium BCE. Groups of Indo-Aryan people migrated to northwest India and started living in the northern Indus valley. Knowledge about Aryans can be gathered from Rigveda, the oldest layer of Vedas (1500 – 1200 BCE).
Early Vedic Period (1500 – 1200 BCE)
Rigveda contains accounts of conflicts between Vedic Aryas and the Dasas. Dasas are described as people who do not perform sacrifices or obey the commandments of God. One of the most notable accounts of military conflict between them was “the Battle of Ten Kings” which took place on the banks of the river Ravi.
Later Vedic Period (1100 – 500 BCE)
The period shows transition of Vedic people to settled agriculture along the western plains of river Ganges. In this period Varna system was developed. It refers to the social classes in which the society was divided.
- Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers.
- Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators.
- Vaishyas: traders and agriculturists.
- Shudras: labors and service providers.
During this time agriculture, metal, production as well as trade flourished. Upanishads were also completed during this time.
Early in the Vedic age, castes were absent. But the political hierarchy was defined by rank, “rajan” at the top and “dasi” at the bottom.
Institution of marriage was also present. In Rigveda – polygyny, monogamy and polyandry are mentioned. Women could choose their husbands and they could remarry also, if their husbands died and disappeared. Though wife enjoyed a respectable position but she was subordinate to her husband.
Later in the vedic age. The society was divided among four groups based on the “Varna” hierarchy. Households became important during this time. The relations between father and son, husband and wife were defined hierarchically. And women were relegated to subordinate and docile roles.
Early Vedic period was organized into tribes rather than kingdoms. And the head of the tribe was called “Rajan”. The autonomy was restricted by “sabha” and “samiti”. These bodies were responsible for the governance of the tribe.
In later Vedic period, the tribes has consolidated themselves to form smaller kingdoms. They had capital and an administrative system to govern. The “rajan” was the custodian and protector of the social order. “Rajan” was often referred to “samrat”, a supreme ruler. With the increase of influence and power of “Rajan”, “sabha” and “samiti” slowly declined.
There are references in Rigveda to the leveling of fields, seed processing and storage of grans. Barter happened with cattle as the unit of currency. Copper and bronze were used to make instruments. Early Vedic is called the “bronze age” and the late Vedic period is mentioned as the “iron age”.
Agriculture dominated the economy along the Ganges valley. Usage of iron implements in agriculture increased during this period. Wheat, rice and barley were cultivated. Occupations as carpentry, leather work, tanning, pottery, jewellery, wine making, dying also arose.
The vedic forms of belief are the precursors to modern Hinduism. The worship was with the performances of sacrifices. It included the chanting of hymns from Rigveda. AN essential element was the fire in which oblations were poured as it was believed that anything offered into the fire would reach God. People also prayed for abundance of rain, cattle, sons, long life. Many concepts of Indian philosophy like “dharma” , “karma” can be traced back to Vedas.