The Vedic Age was between 1500 BC and 600 BC. This is the major civilization that occurred in ancient India after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization by 1400 BC. The Vedas were composed in this period and this gives this age the name. The Vedas are also the chief source of information about this era. The Vedic Age started with the coming of the Aryans or Indo-Aryans. Since our knowledge of the early Aryans is based on these Vedas, the culture of this period is referred to as the Vedic Culture.
The word Veda means sacred spiritual knowledge. These Vedas were considered infallible as they imparted the highest spiritual knowledge. Initially, the Vedas were transmitted orally.
The word 'Veda' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Vid' which means 'to know. The Vedas are essentially a compilation of prayers and hymns, offered by different families of poets and sagas to various gods. These four Vedas are also 'Samhitas' (a collection), in the sense that they represent the oral tradition of the time.
Since the hymns were meant to be read, learnt and transmitted orally, they were not written when they were better composed. Due to this reason, none of the Samhitas can be dated with absolute certainty. Each Samhita represents a collection through a period over a few centuries.
Types of Vedas
- The Rig Veda
- The Sama Veda
- The Yajur Veda
- The Atharva Veda
The only extant Vedic materials are the texts known as the Vedas, which were composed and handed down orally over about 10 centuries, from about the 15th to the 5th century BCE. The Vedic corpus is composed of archaic Sanskrit. The most important texts are also the oldest ones. They are the four collections (Samhitas) that are called the Veda, or Vedas.
The Rigveda, or ‘Veda of Verses’, the earliest of those, is composed of about 1000 hymns addressed to various deities and mostly arranged to serve the needs of the priestly families who were the custodians of that sacred literature.
The Samaveda, or ‘Veda of Chants’, is made up of a selection of verses—drawn almost wholly from the Rigveda—that are provided with musical notation and are intended as an aid to the performance of sacred songs.
The Yajurveda, or ‘Veda of Sacrificial Formulas’, contains prose formulas applicable to various rites, along with verses intended for a similar purpose.
A few centuries after the decline of the Harappan civilisation, a new culture flourished in the same region and gradually spread across the Ganga-Yamuna plains. This culture came to be known as the Aryan culture. The Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people.
The Vedic Age started with the Aryan occupation of the Indo-Gangetic Plains. The word Arya means ‘Noble’. They spoke Sanskrit, an Indo-European language. They led a rural, semi-nomadic life as compared to the Indus Valley people who were urbanised. It is believed that they entered India through the Khyber Pass.
Early Vedic Period (1500 BC - 1000 BC)
Initially, the Aryans lived in the land known as “Sapta Sindhu” (Land of the Seven Rivers). These seven rivers were: Sindhu (Indus), Vipash (Beas), Vitasta (Jhelum), Parushni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Shutudri (Satluj) and Saraswati.
The Political structure included a monarchical form of government with a king known as Rajan. In the patriarchal families, Jana was the largest social unit in Rig Vedic times. The hierarchical division of the social grouping was done as kula (family) – grama – visu – Jana. The Tribal assemblies were called Sabhas and Samitis. Examples of tribal kingdoms: Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus and Purus.
Women in society enjoyed respectable positions. They were allowed to take part in Sabhas and Samitis. There were women poets too (Apala, Lopamudra, Viswavara and Ghosa). Cattle, especially cows, were an important commodity. In the early Vedic society monogamy was practised but polygamy was observed among royalty and noble families. Child marriage was prohibited and social distinctions existed but were not rigid and hereditary.
The economy of the early Vedic period included pastoral and cattle-rearing people who practised agriculture and had horse chariots.
Later Vedic Period(1000 BC – 600 BC)
The Kingdoms like Mahajanapadas were formed by amalgamating smaller kingdoms. To enhance the position, the King's power increased and various sacrifices were performed by him. The Sacrifices were Rajasuya (consecration ceremony), Vajapeya (chariot race) and Ashwamedha (horse sacrifice).
With the evolving period, the Varna system of social distinction also became more distinct. It became less based on occupation and more hereditary. The four divisions of society in decreasing social ranking were: Brahmanas (priests), Kshatriyas (rulers), Vaishyas (agriculturists, traders and artisans), and Shudras (servers of the upper three classes).
The position of women in society diminished as they were not permitted to attend sabhas and samitis. Many social changes emerged such as gotras were institutionalised, child marriages became common, new sub-castes based on occupation created.
Agriculture was the chief occupation in the later Vedic period with industrial work like metalwork, pottery and carpentry as the secondary occupations. There was foreign trade with far off regions like Babylon and Sumeria.
Individuals worshipped Prajapati (creator) and Vishnu (preserver) as the prime gods whereas Indra and Agni lost their significance. The importance of prayers diminished and rituals and sacrifices became more elaborate. The priestly class became very powerful and they dictated the rules of the rites and rituals. Due to this orthodoxy, Buddhism and Jainism emerged towards the end of this period.
When people today learn about India's ancient Vedas they discover a tradition perhaps 5000 years old, guided by illumined seers living in harmony with nature, chanting arcane mantras, and performing mysterious fire rituals. This image of the Vedic world appears fascinating but is also difficult to understand, suggesting perhaps a mystical fantasy more than any deeper reality.
It is India as a culture and civilization of knowledge, both scientific and spiritual, both inner and outer, culminating in the supreme science of consciousness. Such a Vedic knowledge-based civilization is more than information technology, though it can work with it and possibly transform it. Vedic knowledge is post-industrial and post-modern, one could say, though it comes to us from the dawn of history, its vision is beyond time and space.