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Examine the changes in society, Economy and polity from the early Vedic to the Later Vedic period.

 Archaeological evidence from the Vedic period depicts that the Vedic society indulged in a pastoral form of occupation where cattle rearing was the major means of subsistence. From the array of cattle ‘cow’ was revered the most, this we understand from the many references to the cow in the ‘Rigveda’ depict the socio-religious terms which were derived from the word ‘Gau’ i.e. Cow for e.g. Kinship units were called– ‘gotra’. Godhuli referred to a measure of time. It is understood that agriculture was not as dominant as cattle rearing, which could be because of unfavourable climatic conditions, or not so highly due loped implements. Hence, the people in the Vedic period performed shifting cultivation, this in turn suggests that the people were either nomadic or semi-nomadic. Consequently, the economy was simple with no concept of private property, but gifts were an important part of tributes and presentations during ceremonies. Economy had not developed to a stage of trade and commerce.

The people of Vedic period more deeply religious by nature and their religions was simple prayers and hymns which were recited and passed on to generations orally. They served the natural forces like the wind, ravi, thunder, they did perhaps because their livelihood depicted on these natural factors and they had not control over them. The Gods in the vedic period more dominantly role for e.g. Jadra was the God of strength.

Agni, the God of fire, sacrificed everything hence it was an important part of weddings and Yajnas. Varuna personified water and hence was a symbol of sustenance of life. Yamuna was the God of death. We see these gods are followed and reviewed till date. The Vedic religion was simple in the sense that since the people were dependent on Nature they would offer sacrifices to the specific God and ask to be granted material gains. For the purpose of sacrificing they used older animals which were of no use to them any more. In this way they eliminated the extra burden. Thus, the Vedic religion was a Patriarchal pastoral society.

The first striking feature of the Early Vedic Society is that it was not based on the caste system, in fact the king, priests, artisans, etc. all formed an integral part of a clan network. The tribes had common interests and common threats and they stood united to sort out any obstacle. The king of the tribe over looked the walking of the tribe and this post was not hereditey but based on selection among the clansmen.

The society was patriarchal and so the birth of a son was considered important and a must hence many prayers and sacrifices were offered to the respective Gods in order obtain a son. But alongside we see that women were equally important–they were educated, they had access to assemblies, also there are mentions of women reciting and writing religious hymns.

The Early Vedic Society was economically stratified as we do find references to such people possessing extravagant items like chariots and numerous cattle etc. But the people were self-sufficient because there is no mention of beggers or wage earners. All occupational groups complemented one another and accommodated a kind of market. For weavers, smiths, carpenters, leatherworkers, priests, chariot makers. However, the chariot makers enjoyed a special social status.

The writers of Rigveda describe a group who were different from them, who they addressed as Dasas and Dasyus. They were dark, full lipped and snub nosed with a hostile speech. Also they were rich in cattle. Another group mentioned as the ‘Panis’ was also rich in cattle. The Dasas and Panis fought and befriended each other time and again. The presence of different groups in the same area indicates that the society was heading towards the ‘Verna system’.

Religion of Early Vedic People : The religious ideas of the Vedic people are reflected in the hymns of the Rigveda. They worshipped the natural forces around them (like wind, rain, water, thunder, fire etc.) which they could not control, and invested nature with divinity conceived in human forms, which were mostly masculine. Very few female deities were worshipped. The religion thus reflected the patriarchial society and was that of primitive animism.

The Vedic religion was sacrificial. Sacrifices or Yajnas were performed.

– to invoke gods

– in order to grant boons

– victory in battle

– acquisition of cattle, sons, etc.

Hymns and prayers were recited in these Yajnas and were generally performed by priests. The ritual of sacrifices led to growth in the knowledge of Mathematics and animal anatomy. Religion was not based on magico-ritual formulae but rather stressed on direct communication with the gods through sacrifices and hymns. Gods were not worshipped for the spiritual upliftment of people but were invoked to grant material gains.

The ‘Raja’ enjoyed a superior position in the Early Vedic Society. He was assumed to be important because he fought and led the wars.

Thus Rajas were divided into two categories are Rajanyas, those who fought battles and the second vis, who formed the junior lineage.

Raja was the chief of the tribe and was considered to be the protector of the tribe. The position of Raja was not necessarily hereditary, sometimes he was also selected from amongst his housemen.

The Early Vedic Society was a tribal society. The society was not divided along caste lines, and even the Rajas, the Purohitas, the artisans were parts of the clan networks. Inter-tribal conflicts were frequent and were mostly related to cattle raids and cattle thefts. The chief of the tribe was the raja or gopati. He was leader in the battle and protector of tribe. His office was not based on heredity and he was selected from the clansmen. Many clans formed a tribe. The clans settled in villages or grama. The basic social unit was the Kula, or the family and the Kulapa i.e. one who protects the family denoted the eldest male member or the head of the family. Society was patriarchal but women had also important position in it. They were educated and had access to assemblies. They had rights to choose their partners and could marry late. Education was imparted orally but the tradition of education was not well developed. Various occupational groups such as those of weavers, smiths, priests etc. are also mentioned in society. However, there is no reference of beggars and wage earners. The society was economically stratified.

Later Vedic period was neither purely agrarian, nor was it well advanced in iron technology. The rich iron ore mines of Bihar were not exploited and the smelting Iron technology was primitive. However, the evidences suggest a change from pastoral society to a sedentary agrarian society. The socketed iron axes were widely in practice and were used in clearing the forests and the Gangetic Doab for cultivation purpose. Iron tipped plough shares and hoes increased the efficiency of the agricultural implements boosting agricultural activities.

Thus it is believed that the knowledge of iron technology was an important factor for the development of agrarian economy.

The evidences of the Later Vedic period suggest a transition from a pastoral society to a sedentary agrarian society. It was initially believed that during this period use of socketed axes for cleaning of forests and iron-tipped plough shares increased the efficiency of agricultural implements, and furthered agricultural activities. Scholars believed that knowledge of Iron technology was an important factor for development of agrarian economy.

However, it is known now, that the Later Vedic period was neither purely agrarian, nor was it well advanced in Iron technology. The technology of smelting iron was primitive. Use of iron was restricted to making weapons. Iron technology had practically no role in subsistence related activities.

The Later Vedic society was not as simple as the Early Vedic society, now the society was not equal it had the Kshatriyas and Brahmans at top of the hierarchy and then came the Vaisyas and last were the Sudras. This is clearly narrated in an hymn where the society was divided on basis of parts of the human body. i.e.

the Brahman was the mouth
Kshatriya was personified by arms
Vaisya became the thighs
Sudra was born of the feet.

The Brahmans were placed highest because they were the only ones to recite hymns, perform rituals and ceremonies in other words they could communicate with the Gods on behalf of the society.

But the ‘Varna system’ was not rigid by nature and so it did not stop a non-Kshatriya from working towards and claiming a Kshatriya status nor Brahmanas from claiming a political stand.

Marriages took place between couples belonging to different ‘Gotra’ i.e. descent. The families were patriarchal and thus the ‘Grihapati’ had a special status as it was he who ordered the sacrifices, decided the finances etc. Women are mentioned at rituals and ceremonies by they were not involved in any major decision making or performing of rituals.

It is in the Later Vedic society that a man’s life and the path he should choose were laid out for him. A man’s life was divided into four stages :

(i) Brahmachari – student

(ii) Grihast – householde

(iii) Vanaprasthi – partial retirement from household.

(iv) Sannyasi – Complete retirement from household.

Now a more organised social structure began to emerge which capsulated politics, economics, religion, family, etc.

Family in Later Vedic Phase : In this phase Grihapati had acquired a special status. The position of house holder had also acquired economic importance. The Grihapatis were wealthy and their ritual role was that of a Yajamana. Women were considered subordinate to men, and were not involved in any major decision making, with only a few exceptions of the presence of some women philosophers and a few queens participating in coronation rituals.

Our knowledge of the state of religion in the Later Vedic age is mainly based on information derived from the Sama Veda and Yajur Veda. There are references to sacrifices becoming an all important part of religion. Since they were performed publically where the entire community participated and also privately to fulfil personal needs. The purpose of sacrifices was mainly to promote fertility of the soil and prosperity of the King.

With time these rituals became more complicated and required experts i.e. trained professionals to perform them. As religion became more ritual based it asked for a special class of priests to perform a specific ‘Yajna’. These sacrifices became mystical and mysteriously powerful. Performing Yajnas almost became a scientific procedure which required different set of priests performing different stages of the same ritual.

The Early Vedic period saw the rise in importance of Ruddra and now it was Vishnu who was believed to be the creater and protector of the Universe. There was a change in the status of the deities, some which were important in the Early Vedic period has now lost importance or become gods of the Sudras. Nature was no longer personified and prayed to save the life of people had become sedentary from pastoral.

In the Atharvaveda we see a radical change in the way people viewed religion, it became a complex body which covered various aspects of life like disease, health, harmony, prosperity, etc. There is a reference to charms and chants which could cure or cause chavoc in lives of our friends or foes. Towards the end of this phase we see religion taking on a philosophical bend where more stress was laid on cleaning of the soil since it was changeless and indestructable. Religious ceremonies and rituals were thought to be a waste of time and money. Hence, in the Later Vedic period we see religion adopting an educational, philosophical outlook.

The Changing Gods in Later Vedic Phase: Two prominent Early Vedic gods, Indra and Agni lost their importance. Prajapati the creator became important. Ruddra a minor deity in the Rigveda, became important now and Vishnu was conceived as the creator and protector of the universe. Pushan who protected cattle in the former period now became the god of the Sudras. The changing status of the deities are in indication of the change in the character of the tribes from pastoral groups to sedentary agriculturist groups. The Early Vedic gods who represented natural phenomenon were slowly discarded and the personification of natural elements as divine beings became very complex.

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