SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, RELIGIOUS & POLITICAL LIFE
- Caste system
In the early Vedic age there was no caste system. Member of same family took to different arts, crafts and trades. People could change their occupation according to theor needs or talents. There was hardly any restriction in intermarriage, change of occupation. There was no restriction on taking of food cooked by the Sudras. A alte hymn of the Rig Veda known as Purushasukta refers to four castes. But many scholars reject the theory that caste system exsted in Rig Veda age. According to them Purushasukta is a late hym and caste system was never rigid and hereditary.
Most important change was the evolution of caste system. Various sub castes evolved in addition to the traditional four castes. The Brahamanas emerged as the most important class. They retained a high standard of excellenece and knew the details of the rituals. Their main occupations were study of the Vedas, Performing Yajna and ceremonies like coronation and receiving donations.
The kshatriyas were the fighting class in the society. War, conquest, protection and defense of kingdom and a sound administration of the state were the principal look out of this caste,
The third weas the Vaisyas and people of their caste engaged in animal husbandry, Agriculture, trade and business.
The last caste was the Sudra and its mebers were exclusively to serve the other three castes. The Sudras were untouchable. They had no right to approach the sacred fire. They were further denied the rite of burning the dead body.
In the Rig-Vedic age great importance was given to education. There were Gurukulas which imparted education to the disciples after their sacred-thread ceremony. Entire instruction was given orally. The Vedic education aimed at proper development of mind and body. The disciples were taught about ethics, art of warfare, art of metal and concept of Brahma and philosophy, and basic sciences like agriculture, animal husbandry, and handicrafts. Many changes came in the field of education during the later Vedic period. The curriculum came to include study of the Vedas, Upanishads’ philosophy, grammar, rhyme and Mathematics. There the pupils learnt as per the above curriculum. They also were given teaching in basic education like cattle-breeding, agriculture, manufacture of articles and preparation of medicines. Each pupil gave some donation to his teacher (Gurudakshina) at the end of the tutelage. Teaching was normally imparted in Sanskrit. The teacher helped his pupils to be humble, intelligent, well-behaved and erudite.
- Position of women
In the early Vedic age women enjoyed an honored place in the society. The wife was the mistress of the household and authority over the slaves. Prada system was not prevalent in the society. Sati system was also not prevalent in the Vedic society. The education of girls was not neglected. The girls were married after attaining puberty. The practice of ‘Swayamvara’ was also prevalent in the society. Monogamy was the general Practice. Polygamy was, of course, practiced and it was confined only to Rings and chiefs. Remarriage of widows was permitted. The women were not independent persons in the eye of the law. They had to remain under the protecting care of their male relations.
The women lost their high position which they had in the Rig Vedic Age. They were deprived of their right to the Upanayana ceremony and all their sacraments, excluding marriage, were performed without recitation of Vedic mantras. Polygamy prevailed in the society. Many of the religious ceremonies, formerly practiced by the wife, were now performed by the priests. She was not allowed to attend the political assemblies. Birth of a daughter became undesirable—for she was regarded as a source of misery. The custom of child marriage and dowry crept in. The women lost their honored position in the society.
The Aryans ate both vegetable and animal foods. Rice, barley, bean and sesamum formed the staple food. They also ate bread, cake, milk, ghee, butter, and curd together with fruits. Fish, birds, goats, rams, bulls and horses were slaughtered for their food. Slaughter of cow was prohibited. They also drank intoxicating liquor, known as sura, a brandy made from corn and barley and the juice of soma plant.
In the later Vedic age rice became staple food of the people. Gradually the practice of eating meat was declined. Killing of cow was looked with disfavor.
The Aryans wore dresses made from cotton, wool and deer skin. The garments were also embroidered with gold. Both men and women wore gold ornaments. The women used ear-rings, neck-lace, bangles, anklets. These ornaments were sometimes studded with precious stones. Both men and women oiled and combed their hair which war plaited or braided. The men kept beard and moustache but sometimes also shaved them.
In the later vedic age Wool was used in addition to cotton.
Rig-Veda shows, that agriculture was the principal occupation of the people. They ploughed the field by means of a pair of oxen. Rig-Veda even mentions that twenty four oxen were attached to a plough share at the same time to plough the land. The ploughed land was known as Urvara or Kshetra. Water was supplied into the fields by means of irrigation canal. Use of manure was known to them. Barley and wheat were mainly cultivated. Cotton and oil seeds were also grown. Rice was perhaps not extensively cultivated. Agriculture was their main source of income.
Agriculture was the principal occupation of the people. Improved method of tilling the land by deep ploughing, manuring and sowing with better seeds were known to the Aryans. More lands were brought under cultivation. The cultivator yielded two harvests a year. Varieties of crops like rice, barley, wheat, maize and oil seeds were raised. But the cultivator was not free from trouble. Dangers of insects and damage of crops through hail-storm very badly affected the land of kurus and compelled many people to migrate.
Apart from agriculture and animal husbandry Aryans had also other occupation. Weaving was the most important occupation. We learnt about weavers of wool and cotton together with the workers in the subsidiary industries of dying and embroidery. The carpenters built houses, chariots, wagons and supplied household utensils and furniture. Then there were blacksmiths who supplied various necessaries of life, from fine needles and razors to the sickles, ploughshares, spears and swords. The gold smiths made ornaments like ear-rings, bangles, necklaces, bands etc. The leather-workers made bow-strings and casks for holding liquor. The physicians cured diseases. The priests performed sacrifices and composed hymns and taught them to the disciples.
With the growth of civilization, the volume of trade and commerce had increased by leaps and bounds. Both inland and overseas trades were developed. Inland trade was carried on with the Kiratas inhabiting the mountains. They exchanged the herbs for clothes, nattresses and skins. The people became familiar with the navigation of the seas. Regular coinage was not started.
The coins which were in circulation were “Nishka”, “Satamana” and “Krishnala”. The unit value of goods was a gold bar called “nishka” weighing three hundred and twenty ratis, which was also the weight of a satamana. A ‘Krishnala’ weighed one rati, i.e. 1.8 grams. There was a class of merchants called ‘Pani’ who controlled the trade. References to “ganas” or corporations and the “sreshthins” clearly speak of the formation of guilds or corporations for facilitating trade and commerce. Usuary and money lending was also practiced in this period.
- Transport and communication
The chief means of transport by land were rathas (Chariots) and wagons drawn by horses and oxen. Riding on horseback was also in vogue. Travelling was common though roads were haunted by taskara (highway men) and forests were infested by wild animals.
The house had many rooms with a special place for ‘Grahapatha’ fire which was kept continuously burning. Houses were made of wood. The Taittiriya Aranyakas refer about a special type of house known as ‘Dhandhani’ (treasure house). The Atharvaveda mentions about ‘Patninam Sadan’ (women’s apartment). The means of transport and communication developed with the growth of trade and commerce.
Aryans lead a simple religious life. They continued to follow the faith and rituals which were prevalent among them before they arrived in India. They worshipped forces of nature. The number and importance of the goddesses was less as compared to the gods. The deities worshipped by the Rig Vedic Aryans were fairly numerous and they have been grouped under three heads-
Terrestrial Gods – Prithvi, Agni and Soma
Celestial Gods – Dyaus, Varuna, Surya
Atmospheric Gods – Indra, Vayu, Parjanya
To please these Gods Rig Vedic Aryans offered prayers and sacrifices. Milk, grain and ghee were offered in Yajnas. In these yajnas animal sacrifices were performed. Each sacrifice was performed by a Hotri priest who used to chant the Vedic hymns. The Aryans did not build temples to worship their gods; nor did they prepare idols of these gods. The Rig Vedic people believed in life after death.
In the later vedic age The Rig Vedic gods, Varun, Indra, Agni, Surya, Usha etc. lost their charm. The people worshipped them with less zeal. New gods like Siva, Rupa, Vishnu, Brahma etc. appeared in the religious firmament of the Later Vedic Period. The grandeur of the Rigvedic gods passed into oblivion, though we find in Atharvaveda the omniscience of Varuna or the beneficence of the Earth goddess. Certain less important duties of the Rigvedic Period now became popular with the Common People. One of them was Rudra who already bore the epithet of Siva. Verysoon Rudra came to be worshipped as ‘Mahadeva’ (great god) and the lord of animate beings (Pasupati). Vishnu, the preserver rose into Prominence during this period. He occupied the place of Varuna, as the most sublime among the celestials. To attain his “Paramapada” (highest step) became the goal of the rishis. The worship of vasudeva was also started. He was regarded as Krishna Vasudev, the incarnation of Vishnu. Semi divinities like Apsara, Nagas, Gandharbas, Vidyadharas etc. also came into being. This age also witnessed the beginning of the worship of Durga and Ganesh.
- Rituals and sacrifices
In the Rig Vedic age yajnas were a simple affair which every householder could do. But in the later Vedic age sacrifice became an important thing in worship. Now the priestly class devoted their energy to find out the hidden and mystic meaning of the rites and ceremonies.
People had a firm belief that gods must submit to the sacrifice if properly performed. Vedic hymns were regarded as charms to be used in sacrifice. The belief that gods were satisfied by Yanjas led to a rise in the number, variety of sacrifices which were prescribed for every householder. In fact every Aryan performed a number of sacrifices under the supervision of the Brahmana priest.
The polity of the Early Vedic period was basically a tribal polity with the tribal chief in the centre. The tribe was called Jana and the tribal chief was called Rajana. Rajana looked after the affairs of the tribe with the help of other tribal members and two tribal assemblies i.e. Sabha and Samiti. Sabha is consisted of elder members of the tribe, whereas the Samiti which mainly dealt with policy decisions and political business.Women are allowed to participate in the proceedings of Sabha and Vidhata. In day to day administration the king was assisted by the two types of Purohita i.e. Vasishtha and Vishwamitra. The King did not maintain any regular army as there was no Kingdom as such. In fact Rig Vedic King did not rule over the kingdom, but over tribe.
The Political system of the later Vedic period was shifted towards Monarchy. Now, the King ruled over an area of land called Janapada. The King started maintaining an army and the Bureaucracy also got developed. The Kingship was being given the status of the divine character and also this period witnesses the emergence of the concept of King of Kings.
The Rig Vedic popular assemblies lost their importance and royal power increased at their cost. The Vidhata completely disappeared. The Sabha and Sarnia continued to hold the ground, but their character changed.
The Sabha became more important than the Sarnia. They came to be dominated by the chiefs and the rich nobles. Women were not allowed to attend the Sabha which was now dominated by the nobles and the Brahmana’s.