Vedic Society

The Aryans lived in villages in the Early Vedic Period. The family was the basic unit of Vedic society. It was patriarchal as the oldest male member was the head of the family. He was known as the ‘Grihapati’ or ‘Kulpati’. After his death, his son became the head of the family.

  • Several families lived in a ‘grama’ or village. Many villages together formed a Visha. Many vishas collectively formed a Jana.
  • The ‘Gramini’ was the head of the village, while the vishapati was the head of a visha. Rajan was the king of a jana.
  • The king ruled with the help of his ministers. The Senani (Commander-in-Chief) and the Purohit (priest) were important ministers. The king did not have a regular army. Many tribals formed an army during wars.

In the Vedic Period, there were three assemblies that advised the kings. These were

  • The Vidhata: It performed economic, military, religious and social functions. Women actively participated in its meetings.
  • The Samiti: It was the assembly of the people. It was called on special occasions.
  • The Sabha: It was an assembly of the elders and performed advisory and judicial functions.

In the Later Vedic Period, several changes came into society. Kingship became hereditary and the Sabha and the Samiti lost their former importance. It came to be dominated by the chiefs, rich, and nobles.

Position of Women in Vedic Society

  • Women held a high place in the Vedic Society. Daughters had the freedom to choose their husbands. Widows could remarry. No evidence of child marriage has been recorded.
  • In the Later Vedic Period, the position of women declined. It was now not necessary for them to participate in yajnas. They also did not have any right to inherit property. The freedom of women was curtailed.

Caste Division in Vedic Society

  • In the Vedic Period, the caste system did not exist in its rigid form. The Vedic Society was divided into various classes on the basis of their profession. These professions later became hereditary.
  • In the Later Vedic Period, the caste system became rigid and the Vedic society came to be divided into four main castes. Brahmans occupied the top position and performed all the rituals. Kshatriyas were a warring class who occupied the second class and protected their kingdom from any external attacks. Vaishyas were farmers, traders and businessmen. Shudras occupied the lowest strata of society and were supposed to do all the menial work.

The Ashram System

  • While in the Early Vedic Period, people grew according to family traditions, life was divided into four ashramas in the Later Vedic period.
  • The first stage was the Brahmacharya which lasted up to 25 years. People were expected to acquire knowledge in gurukuls. The second stage was of the Grihastha ashram in which a man had to marry and raise children. This period lasted from 25 to 50 years.
  • Vanaprastha Ashram was the third stage which lasted 50–75 years. In this stage, he had to give up his worldly life and acquire spiritual knowledge. Sanyasa Ashram was the fourth stage in which a man had to renounce the world and go for mediation to achieve moksha or salvation.

Education in Vedic Society

  • The residences of the gurus or teachers were known as gurukuls. Education was imparted in gurukuls. They were located mainly in the outskirts of the city or in forests.
  • Teaching usually took place orally and after the completion of education, students had to give Guru Dakshina to teachers. Gurus were highly respected.
  • Vedas, Puranas, grammar, mathematics, ethics, logic, and military sciences were the main subjects. Emphasis was laid on the physical, mental, and spiritual development of students.

Food, Dress and Amusement

  • Barley was the main crop grown during this period. Rice came to be grown during the Later Vedic Period.
  • Aryans domesticated animals for milk and its products. Soma—an intoxicating drink—was consumed during religious ceremonies and festivals.
  • The clothing of the Aryans consisted of dhoti (undergarment) and vasa (upper piece).
  • Ornaments were made of gold, silver, ivory and precious stones.
  • Chariot races, horse races, dancing, singing and hunting were the main sources of entertainment for the people. People celebrated festivals and participated in sports activities and gambling.

Religious Beliefs in Vedic Society

  • People worshipped forces of nature. Indra was an important god. Agni (fire), Varuna (water), Surya (Sun), Vayu (wind) and Yama (god of dead) were some other important gods.
  • Goddesses were also worshipped by the Vedic Aryans. Some important deities were Usha (goddess of dawn), Ratri (spirit of night) and Prithvi (goddess of the Earth).
  • During the Later Vedic Period, Prajapati or Brahma, the creator became the supreme God and Agni and Indra lost their former importance. While Vishnu was worshipped as The Preserver, Shiva was regarded as The Destroyer.
  • Yagnas were held on most occasions and the simplicity of nature worship was lost. Sacrifices were also performed.
  • Later, emphasis began to be laid on penance called tapasya. The doctrines of karma, dharma and moksha began to be emphasised.
  • Religion laced with sacrifices and rituals strengthened the position of the Brahmins, and they came to be regarded as possessing divine powers.

Vedic Economy

  • The Vedic economy was mainly pastoral and references to cultivation were made in the latter part of the Rigveda. Wooden plowshares were used for the cultivation of land in the Early Vedic Period.
  • Leather making, smithery, pottery, and carpentry were other occupations of the people. People involved in this work were considered of low status.
  • In the Later Vedic Period, cultivation became the primary occupation of the people and iron plowshares began to be used. The land now became the main source of wealth.
  • The generation of agricultural surpluses led to the expansion of trading activities. Towns and cities developed around the markets.
  • Many trading guilds were formed in the Later Vedic Period.
  • Although coins were introduced at this time, the barter system still prevailed.
  • Domestication of animals, crafts in various metals, carpentry, pot making, and fisheries were some other occupations of the people.
  • Women were engaged in spinning, weaving, knitting, and dyeing.

Also, Read Sources of the Vedic Period

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