Antiquity and stratification of the Vedic literature; Society, economy and religion during Early (Rig-Vedic) period.

Although the Rig Veda deals with devotional work of religious nature, yet it gives a vivid picture of the early Vedic civilization. The Vedic Civilization is best understood from the social life, political organisation, economic life and religious beliefs. The Kula or family was the basic unit of Rig-Vedic society. The Kula was headed by a Kulapa, who was usually the eldest member. Society was essentially patriarchal and birth of son was desired repeatedly. Status of women was equal to men in the early Rig-Vedic society. Both polygamy and polyandry were in vogue.

The Evolution of Varna System

Social strata used to exist in the Harappan civilization also. Similarly, there was a threefold division of society {priests, rulers and producers} in the Iranian society also. However, what happened in Indian sub-continent was unique and extraordinary. In the evolution of Kingship in the later Vedic era, the priests (Brahmans) and rulers (Khsatriyas) consolidated their respective position in the society. The producers split into two groups. The free peasants and traders formed the group Vaishya while the slaves, laborers, artisans degraded to fourth group Shudra. This was based on occupation initially but later got rigid on the basis of birth. Despite of a small population, the people got compartmentalized into these four groups as per Varnashrama Dharma.

Marriage and women

Despite of the patriarchal character of the family, the position of women was much better in the Rig Vedic period than in later times. They could attend assemblies and offer sacrifices along with their husbands. Five women have been mentioned as composers of hymns out of which Ghosha, Lopamudra and Apala are famous. Girls were normally married off after puberty (between the age of 16 and 17). Unmarried girls grew up in the home of their parents. Some unmarried woman like Visvavara and Apala offered sacrifices on their own. There are also evidences of widow remarriage in the Rig-Veda.


In the early Rig-Vedic era, entire instruction was given orally. Art of writing does not seem to have developed yet. In the well-known Gayatri mantra there is a prayer to Savitri for the stimulation of the intellect. There were women teachers. Many of them possessed the highest spiritual knowledge. Maitreyi and Gargi were gifted scholars. Rishis who composed hymns founded their own schools separately to teach their pupils and every person among the vis was entitled to learn Vedic mantras. In the later-Vedic phase, with the development of Varnashrama, education began with an investiture ceremony (upanayan). Since Upanayan was confined to three upper Varnas, the sudras were not entitled to education. Sometimes girls were also encouraged. When teacher was satisfied with the student, last sermon called snatakopadesa (kind of convocation) was delivered.



Institution of Gotra

Gotra or cowpen was a mechanism for widening social ties a new relationship was established between hitherto unrelated people. It is possible that animals were herded in common and such a place was known as gotra and from this it acquired the character of an exogamous institution.

Amusements and entertainments

Music, both vocal and instrumental, was well known. Vedic Aryans played on the Vina and flute Vana to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. Few claim that Dhrupad of Indian classical music originated in Vedic Era. Dancing was common. The chariot race was a favourite sport and source of entertainment. Chariot race was a symbolic source of political authority of the king. The fascination of gambling and the ruin caused by its addiction find mention in the Rig-Veda.

House holding

The Griha sutra prescribes a code of conduct, which gives a fairly good idea of the manners and etiquette of the later-Vedic age. A guest (atithi) was welcomed at all times and special guests, like the guru, the king, and the father-in-law, etc. were given special treatment. Respect for the elders self-restraint, moral purity, abstinence of all kinds and faithfulness were some of the virtues. Cleanliness was a passion. Daily bath, washing of the feet and hands every now and then, and purifying the atmosphere with Vedic  mantras were a part of ritual when ritualism  acquired special  significance in the later-Vedic age. It became one of the many sources of the development of hierarchy and the supremacy for the Brahmanas.

Eating Habits

The main cereal produced by the early Rig-Vedic people was Yava or barley. Wheat (Godhuma) appears in later Vedic texts only. Yava was also a generic term for various kinds of cereals. ilk, Milk products and cattle meat belonged to their food habits. Alcoholic / Non-alcoholic drinks were known and common. Soma and Sura are two popular liquors. Sura may be a kind of beer or wine.

Dress code

Two pieces of cloth were normally worn- the upper garment was called uttariya and the lower one was known as antariya. The dress for the male and the female did not differ much.

Health and hygiene

Everyone aspired for and everyone was blessed to live for a hundred years. Epilepsy was common and it affected the children as well. Superstitions and magical charms were employed to cure the diseases. Miraculous cures are ascribed to the twin-gods, the Ashvins, who are the great healers of diseases and experts in the surgical art. They were divine physicians who restored eyesight and cured the blind, sick and maimed.


Rig Vedic Economy

Rig Vedic economy was primarily pastoral. They domesticated Pashu (which included cattle, horse and even human beings), as opposed to Mriga, i.e. wild animals. Cattle was synonymous with wealth and a wealthy person was called Gomat. Cattle was so important that the terms of battle  were derived  from Gau itself, such as Gavisti, Gosu, Gavyat, Gavyu. Godhuli was a measure of time. Gopa and Gopati were epithets given to the king. Duhitri was the term used for daughter because she used to milk the cow. One of the four categories of gods was known as Gojata, i.e. cowborn. When the Vedic people encountered buffalo, they called it Gauri and Gavala or cow-haired. The cattle obtained in raids were divided among the families. Cattle formed an important item of donation and it may also have formed a part of bali, the tribute given to the raja by the clan or Vis members. The cattle in general and cow in particular was the main medium of exchange during the Rig Vedic period. The economy was based upon agriculture. The people were well acquainted with the sowing, harvesting, threshing and various agro seasons. The people were pastoral, Cow was revered but the cows, and bulls were sacrificed too. The gifts to the priests were in terms of number of Cows and women slaves but NOT in measurements of lands.

Crafts and Metallurgy

All kinds of crafts were practiced. There were potters, Chariot makers, carpenters, and weaver and leather workers. The metal work was known  as follows: Copper was known as “Ayas” Gold was known as Hiranya Iron was also known as was known as Shyama or Krishna Ayas.


There were no places of worship like temples. There are no indications in the Rig-Veda of any “temples reared by mortal hands” and consecrated as places of worship. On the contrary, every householder, every patriarch of his family, lighted the sacrificial fire in his own home and poured libations of the Soma juice and prayed to the gods for happiness to his family, for abundant crops and wealth and cattle, for immunity from sickness, and for victory over the black aborigines. Natural phenomena were conceived as the expression of some spiritual different appearances of various gods.

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