THE VEDIC CIVILIZATION History Notes for UPSC Examination

THE VEDIC CIVILIZATION, Early Vedic or Rigvedic Period, Later Vedic Period, PaintedGrey Ware Phase, Important Vedic Rituals, Vedic Literature, Rig veda, Samveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Smritis, Vedangas, Ancient India history notes UPSC, history optional Subject notes UPSC, Ancient India history notes IAS, history optional Subject notes IAS

THE VEDIC CIVILIZATION, Early Vedic or Rigvedic Period, Later Vedic Period, PaintedGrey Ware Phase, Important Vedic Rituals, Vedic Literature, Rig veda, Samveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Smritis, Vedangas, Ancient India history notes UPSC, history optional Subject notes UPSC, Ancient India history notes IAS, history optional Subject notes IAS

• We know about the Aryans in India from the various Vedic texts, especially the Rig Veda, which is the earliest specimen of the Indo-European language and the chief source of information on the history of this period.
• 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 around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.
• They entered India probably through the Khyber Pass (in the Hindukush Mountains) around 1500 B.C.
• The holy book of Iran ‘Zend Avesta’ indicates entry of Aryans to India via Iran.
• The early Aryans did not have to look routes to Indian sub-continent; for the Harappans had crossed the high passes of the Hindukush and
reached the middle course of the Amu Darya where they had set up a trading post at Shortughai.
• In the Rigvedic period, the nobles were advised to eat from the same vessel as the vis for success.
• Metal came to be known as Ayas and Iron as Krishanayas (Black Metal).
• The Vedic texts may be divided into two broad chronological strata: the Early Vedic (1500-1000 B.C.) when most of the hymns of the Rig Veda were composed and the Later Vedic (1000-600 B.C.) when the remaining three Vedas and their branches were composed.

Early Vedic or Rigvedic Period (1500-1000 B.C.)

• The Rig Veda is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Varuna and other gods by various families of poets and sages.
• From Rigveda, we come to know that there were 33 gods that time who were divided into three categories viz., heavenly gods, atmospheric god, and earthly gods. Varuna, Surya, Aditi, Savitri were heavenly gods. Indra, Rudra, Maruts etc. were atmospheric gods. Agni, Soma, and Prithvi were earthly gods.
• Four rivers of Afghanistan are clearly described in the Rigveda. These are: Kubha, Krumu, Gomati (Gomal), Suvastu (swat).
• It consists of ten Mandala or books of which Book II to VII is the easiest portion. Book I and X seem to have been the latest additions.
• In the Rigvedic period, the dead man’s soul is said to depart to the waters of the plants.
• Since the Aryans came through the mountains, which were considered the dwelling places of their gods, these are repeatedly mentioned in the Rigveda. Meru, a mountain beyond the Himalayas, is a happy divine abode in the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
• 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 for several Gods and even for social classes.
• The history of the later Vedic period is based mainly on the Vedic texts which were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda. These include the three Vedas – Samveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda and the Brahamanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads and the Sutras.
• The collection of the Vedic hymns or mantras were known as Samhitas.
• For purposes of singing, the prayers of the Rigveda were set to tune and this modifi ed collection was known as the Samveda Samhita.
• The Yajurveda contains not only the hymns but also the rituals which have to accompany their recitation.
• The Atharvaveda is completely different from the other three Vedas. It contains charms and spells to ward off evils and diseases. Its contents throw light on the beliefs and practices of the non-Aryans. Atharvaveda is the most valuable of the Vedas after the Rig Veda for the history and sociology.
• All the Vedic literature is together called the Shruti and they include apart from the four Vedas, the Brahamanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.
• The Brahamanas are a series of texts that followed the Vedic samhitas. Each Veda has several bhramanas attached to it. These are ritual texts.
• Brahamanas attached to the Rigveda are Aitareya, Kaushitaki (composed by Hotri priest). Brahamanas attached to Samveda are Jamini, Tandyamasha, Panchavis, Chhandogya (composed by Udgatri priest). Brahamanas attached to Yajurveda are Satpatha Brahmana (composed by Adhvaryu priest). Brahamanas attached to Atharvaveda are Gopatha Brahamana.
• The Brahamanas throw light on the socio-political life of the Aryans and form a sort of explanation of their religion, especially sacrifi ce. They also contain ritualistic formulae for the respective Vedas and its priests.
• The Aranyakas are forest books that are treaties on mysticism and philosophy and are concluding portion of the Brahamanas. They explain the metaphysics and symbolism of sacrifi ce. They lay emphasis not on sacrifi ce but on meditation. They are infact opposed to sacrifi ce and many of the ritualistic practices. Their stress is on moral virtues. They form a bridge between the way of the works (karma-marga, advocated by the Brahamanas) and the way of knowledge (gyan-marga, advocated
by the Upanishads). Some important Aranyakas are Aitreya Aranyaka, Kaushitaki Aryanka and Taittiriya Aranyaka.
• The Upanishads contain philosophical speculations. They are generally called Vedanta which means the end of the Vedas. One reason is that they came at the end of the Vedic period or that they were taught at the end of the Vedic instruction. These texts were compiled around 600 B.C. and criticized the rituals and laid stress on the values of right belief and knowledge. They emphasized that the knowledge of the self and the atma should be acquired and the relation of atma with Brahma should be properly understood.
• The ten Upanishads are: Ishopanishat, Kenopanishat, Kathopanishat, Parshnopanishat, Mandukopanishat, Koushikopanishat, Thaittariyopanishat, Chandogyopanishat and Brihadaranyaopanishat. These are commentaries appended to the Aranyakas and deal mainly with philosophy and religion.
• The Smriti are the auxiliary treatises of the Vedas or their supplements. It refers to that literature that has been passed on from one generation to the other. Manusmriti written by Manu is the oldest of all the Smritis.
• The Puranas are 18 in number, of which the Bhagawat Purana and Vishnu Purana are the most important.

Geographical Spread

• The early Aryans settled in eastern Afghanistan, modern Pakistan, Punjab and parts of western U.P. The whole region in which the Aryans fi rst settled in India is called the Land of Seven Rivers or Sapta Sindhava (the Indus and the fi ve tributaries and the Saraswati).

Political Organization

• The political organization was of monarchial form. The tribe was known as Jan and its king as Rajan. He was the leader in battle and protector of the tribe. His offi ce 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 sabhas, samitis, gana and vidhata. Even women attended gana and vidhata only.
• Many clans (Vish) formed a tribe. The basic social unit was the Kula or the family and the Kulapa was the head of the family.
• The king was assisted by a number of offi cers of which Purohita was the most important. Next important functionary was the Senani (leader of the army) even though there was no regular or standing army. The military technique of the 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 voluntary tribute (Bali) of his subjects and booty won in battle.

Social Life

• The term Varna was used for colour, the Aryans being fair and the Dasas dark.
• Family was the basic unit of society and was patriarchal in nature. But women enjoyed equal power with men. Marriage was usually monogamous and indissoluble, but there are a 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.
• Both dowry and bride price were recognized during the Early Vedic period.
• 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 sacrifi ces and its use was sanctifi ed by religion. Sura was purely secular and more potent and was disapproved by the priestly poets.
• Throughout the Vedic period, education was imparted orally. Unlike the Harappans, the Aryans do not seem to have a system of writing.
• The Aryans loved music and played the flute, lute and harp. There are references to singing and dancing girls. People also delighted in gambling. They enjoyed chariot racing. Both men and women wore ornaments.


• Their bronze smiths were highly skilled and produced tools and weapons much superior to those of Harappa 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 the time. The horse was almost as important as the cow.
• Standard unit of exchange was the 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.
• Reference to money lending first occurs in Shatapatha Brahmana, which describes a usurer as Kusidin.
• Lived in fortifi ed mud settlements.
• Physicians were then called ‘Bhishakas’.
• The staple crop was ‘yava’ which meant barley.


• The Aryans personifi ed 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 and was also associated with storms and thunder).
• The second position was held by Agni (fi re-god). He is considered an intermediary between gods and men.
• Varuna occupied the third position. He personified water and was supposed to uphold the natural order (Rta). He was ethically the highest of all Rigvedic gods.
• Soma was considered to be the god of plants. Maruts personifi ed 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.
• Aryans didn’t worship animals – only gods in man’s form.
• The Asvamedha sacrifice concluded with the sacrifi ce of 21 sterile cows.
• From Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we get the first exposition of the doctrine of transmigration of soul.

Later Vedic Period/PaintedGrey Ware Phase (1000-600 B.C.)

Geographical Spread

• They reveal that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over the whole of western U.P. 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 B.C.
• In Later Vedic period, many great cities like Videha, Kaushambhi, Kasi, Ayodhya, Hastinapur and Indraprashtha etc. had sprung up.

Political Organization

• Tiny tribal settlements were replaced by strong kingdoms.
• The earliest legend on the origin of kingship occurs in the Aitareya Brahmana, one of the Later Vedic texts, perhaps of the 8th or 7th century B.C.
• During the Rigvedic period the Aryans had built only small kingdoms, as they were always busy fi ghting the non-Aryans. But now they had crushed the resistance of the non-Aryans and had established such powerful kingdoms as Kuru, Panchala, Kosala, Magadha, Kasi and Anga.
• Powers of the king who was called the Samrat increased. Importance of assemblies declined. Women were no longer permitted to attend assemblies and the term ‘Rashtra’ indicating territory fi rst appeared in this period.
• The establishment of vast empires led to the growth of the royal power.
• The Sabha and the Samiti were now not powerful enough to check the power of the kings. The offi ce of the monarch had now become more or less hereditary.
• A regular army was maintained for the protection of the kingdom.
• In the Rigvedic period we hear of three main assistants of the king, i.e., the Purohita, the Senani and the Gramini. But now in addition to these offi cials many new assistants of the king were present. References of Priest (Purohita), Commander in chief (Senapati), Charioteer (Suta), Treasurer (Sangrihita), Tax collector (Bhagdugha), Chief queen (Mahisi) and the Great companion (Aksavapa).

• The centre of gravity was the king and not the priest. If there was any difference between the ruler and the priest, it was the priest who yielded.
• Kings of various grades are mentioned in the Vedic hymns. For example, the Rajaka was inferior to a Raja who in turn was inferior to a Samrat.
• Political affairs, religious and social matters were discussed by the speakers in the local assemblies. These speakers sought the help of spells and magic herbs to stimulate their eloquence in debate (Pras) and overcome their rival debaters (Pratiprasita).

Social Life

• 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 signifi ed descent from common ancestors.
• In this age also Chariot racing was the main sport and gambling the main pastime.
• The excavations at Hastinapur in Meerut, dating back to about 900 B.C.-500 B.C. have revealed settlements and faint beginning of town life. It may be called a proto-urban site.
• Later Vedic period, especially from around 800 B.C.- 500 B.C., is also the Sutra period. Sutra means formula. Grihasutra contained social rituals including sixteen sanskaras through which individual had to pass from conception to cremation.
• Woman was now gradually losing her position of importance in the religious and social sphere. The king and the nobility had now begun to marry more than one wife and the birth of a daughter was now regarded as source of misery.
• Higher education was, however, imparted to women. The re-marriage of a widow was prevalent and the practices of sati, child-marriage, purdah and child infanticide were not heard of.
• Now in place of four main varnas many new castes were born, leading to the complexities of the caste system.
• The life of an ordinary man was now, however,
divided into four stages popularly known as the
four Ashramas.

Types of marriages

• Brahma: Marriage of a duly dowered girl to a man of the same class.
• Daiva: Marriage in which the father gave his daughter to a sacrifi cial priest as part of his fees.
• Arsa: Marriage 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 any dowry and without demanding bride price.
• Gandharva: Marriage often 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 marriage of 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 sacrifi ce 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 sacrifi ced was performed. The Asvamedha sacrifi ce concluded with the sacrifi ce of 21 sterile cows.
• Vajapeva: A chariot race was performed in which the king must win the race (it was fi xed). It was meant to re-establish the supremacy of the king over his people.
Rajasuya: A sacrifi ce ceremony which conferred supreme power on the king.
• Ratnahavimsi: A part of Rajasuya ceremony where different royal offi cials (ratnins) invoked different gods and goddesses.
• Upanayana: An initiation ceremony to confer dvija status to boys of the higher varnas in their eighth year.
• Pumsayam: A ceremony to procure a male child.
Garbhadhana: A ceremony to promote conception in women.
• Culakarma: A ceremony, also known tonsure performed for boys in their third year.
• Semontannayam: A ceremony to ensure the safety of the child in the womb.
• Jatkarma: A birth ceremony performed before the cutting of the umbilical cord.


• Though the Later Vedic phase has been identifi ed with the Painted Grey Ware pottery culture, but the fact is that this type of pottery constitutes only about 3-15% of the total pottery found.

• The later vedic people used four types of pottery: black and red ware, black-slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware.
• Red ware for commoners was most popular and has been found almost all over western U.P. 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 upper classes.


• During Later Vedic period, Krishnala berry was unit of weight and this probably led to the use of coinage. The Nishka replaced cow as a unit of value. The Satamana mentioned in the Brahmanas was a piece of gold weighing a hundred Krishnalas.
• Rigveda mentions only gold and copper or bronze but Later Vedic texts mention tin, lead, silver and iron.
• In addition to the cultivation of barley, wheat and rice, many new grains such as sesame (Tila) and beans began to be cultivated during this period and great progress was doubtlessly made in the methods of cultivation


• Rituals and formulae became prominent in the cult of sacrifi ce.
• According to the scheme of four stages, life did not begin with one’s physical birth, but with the second birth which was after the investiture ceremony or Upanayana. The age of Upanayana was 8 years for Brahmanas, 11 years for Kshatriyas, and 12 years for Vaishyas.
• Shatpatha Brahmana says that east, west, north, south; all should be given to priests as fee.
• Indra, Varuna, Surya 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 special 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 the sacrifi cial cults and rituals with the composition of the Upanishads which valued right belief and knowledge more than anything else.

The Vedic Literature
The Vedas

• The word ‘veda’ comes from the root ‘vidi’ signifying knowledge.
• Vedas are also known as ‘Shruti’ (to hear) as they were passed from generation through verbal transmission.
• Harappa is known in Vedas as ‘Haryupriva’.
• They are four in all – rigveda, samaveda, yajurveda and atharveda.
• The fi rst three Vedas are known as ‘Tyari’ or ‘trio’. Each veda is further subdivided into Samhitas.
• The phrase ‘Arya’ and ‘Shudra’ appearing in the Vedic literature perhaps meant only to distinguish those who were theoretically qualifi ed for the fi recult from those who were not.

Rig veda

• Oldest religious text in the world. Must have been composed around 1700 B.C.
• A collection of hymns. Were recited at the time of sacrifi cial 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, Bhardwaj and Vashistha. VII Mandala is ascribed to the Kanvas and Angiras. IX 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 four varnas (Brahmans, Ksatriya, 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 the sun/Savitri – goddess associated with Surya).
• Saraswati is the deity river in Rig Veda and is referred to 8 times while the Sindhu/Indus is referred to 18 times.
• There is a reference to prison (urva) in the Rigveda and also to fetters of iron. Ordeal of the red-hot axe is mentioned only once in the Chhandogya Upanishad as part of criminal procedure.


• 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’ which is the oldest of the ragas.


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


• Entirely different from three other Vedas.
• Divided into 20 kandas (books) and has 711 hymns
– mostly dealing with magic (along with personal problems of people).
• Atharvaveda refers to king as protector of Brahmanas and eater of people.
• From the point of view of Vedic rituals, Atharvaveda is the most important.

The Brahamans

• They explain the hymns of the Vedas in an orthodox manner.
• Each Veda has several Brahmans attached to it.
• The most important is ‘Satpatha Brahmana’ attached to Yajurveda which is the most exhaustive and important of all. It recommends ‘One Hundred Sacred Paths’.

The Aranyakas

• Called ‘forest books’, written mainly by the hermits living in the jungles for their pupils.
• These are the concluding part of the Brahmanas.
• Deals with mysticism and philosophy. Opposed to sacrifi ce and emphasized 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.

The Upanishads

• The word means ‘to sit dowm 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 sacrifi ces.
• They discuss the various theories of creation of the universe and defi ne the doctrine of action (karma).
• Mandukyu Upanishad is the source of ‘Satya Mevya Jayate’.


• Explains rules and regulations in the vedic life.
• Main a r e M a n u s m r i t i , Na r a d s m r i t i , Yagyavalkyasmriti and Parasharsmriti.
• Dharmasutras contain social laws popularly known as ‘Smriti’. Earliest Dharmasutra is the Manusmriti which is also called Manav Darshan.


• Six Vedangas are Shiksha which deals with pronunciation, Kalpa which deals with rituals, Vyakarana which deals with grammar, Nirukta which deals with etymology or phonetics, Chhanda which deals with meter and Jyotisha which deals with astronomy.


• The period that lies between the Rigvedic period and the rise of Buddhism in India i.e., 2000 to 700 B.C. has been designated by some as the Later Vedic Period and by some as Epic Age.
• Though the two epics – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were compiled later, they refl ect the state of affairs of the later Vedic Period.
• The Mahabharata, attributed to Vyasa is considered older than the Ramayana and describes the period about 1400 B.C.; compiled from the tenth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. It is also called Jaisamhita and Satasahasri Samhita and has one lakh verses and is divided into eighteen books with the Harivansa attached to it at the end.
• The Ramayana attributed to Valmiki has 24,000 verses. Its composition started in the fi fth century B.C. and passes through fi ve stages; the fi fth stage ending in the 12th century A.D.

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THE VEDIC CIVILIZATION, Early Vedic or Rigvedic Period, Later Vedic Period, PaintedGrey Ware Phase, Important Vedic Rituals, Vedic Literature, Rig veda, Samveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Smritis, Vedangas, Ancient India history notes UPSC, history optional Subject notes UPSC, Ancient India history notes IAS, history optional Subject notes IAS