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Most sources of Indian history use Vedic texts as primary sources of information while deducing life of people living in Indus and upper Ganga basins between 2nd and 1st millennium BCE. Archaeological evidence from this period is accepted only if it tallies with the accounts from the Vedic corpus. Excessive focus on texts rather than archeological finds leads to three major problems. Firstly, Vedic texts are not historical works. They were written by poets as hymns in praise of gods. Deciphering history based on these complex and ancient sources requires identification of core texts uncontaminated by later additions. Moreover, lot of historical interpretation hinges on interpretation of words and phrases which might have different in the different texts and contexts. Secondly, the Vedic corpus was primarily meant to be used by priests to perform rituals. The content of the texts might not necessarily represent the popular culture and ideas of the people of that time. Finally, the chronology of the texts is not certain. Various scholars have come up with dates between c. 6000 BCE to 1000 BCE. Many historians use a rough chronology of c. 1500 BCE to 1000 BCE. However, parts of Rig Veda can be pushed further back. While early dates of 6th millennium BCE can be ruled out because Vedas belong to chalcolithic age and as per archaeological evidence North western India was still in stone age during this period, dates of late third to early second millenium BCE are possible for the Rig Veda.(pp. 183–185)
The relationship between Indo–Aryans and Harappan culture had been a subject of vigorous debates spanning over two centuries. The issue has political implication and has therefore been used to serve various political agendas in colonial and post–colonial times. During 19th and early 20th century, in an environment where races were seen as being separate entities, frozen in time and pseudo–scientific theories were floated to justify subjugation of Asians and Africans, Aryans were seen as a superior, blue–eyed, blond haired white race particularly as a part of Nazi propaganda in Germany. However, once the prejudiced racial classifications were rejected by anthropologists Indo–Aryans were looked upon as a linguistic sub group of the Indo–European and Indo–Iranian language speakers. Homeland of the Indo–Aryans continues to be a subject of great debate. While dominant view is that Indo–Aryans migrated into India in several ways, some Indian scholars posit the origin of Aryans as indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Superior military technology, chariots and horses might have helped Indo–Aryans establish political dominance over the Indian subcontinent.(p. 186)
The composers of Rig Veda describe themselves as arya which literally means kinsmen, companion and may be derived from root ar (to cultivate).(p. 186)
The Rig Veda contains accounts of conflicts between the Aryas and the Dasas and Dasyus. The Rig Veda describes Dasas and Dasyus as people who do not obey perform sacrifices (akratu) or obey the commandments of gods (avrata). Their speech is described as mridhra which could variously mean soft, uncouth, hostile, scornful or abusive. Other adjectives which describe their physical appearance are subject to many interpretations. However, many modern scholars connect the Dasas and Dasyus to Iranian tribes Dahae and Dahyu and believe that Dasas and Dasyus were early Indo–Aryan immigrants who arrived into the subcontinent before the Vedic Aryans. Internecine military conflicts between the various tribes of Vedic Aryans such as the Battle of Ten Kings are also described.(p. 192)
Professions of warriors, priests, cattle–rearers, farmers, hunters, barbers, vintners and crafts of chariot–making, cart–making, carpentry, metal working, tanning, making of bows, sewing, weaving, making mats of grass and reed are mentioned in hymns of the Rig Veda. Some of these might have needed full–time specialists. While, metallurgy is not mentioned in the Rig Veda the word ayas and instruments made from it such as razors, bangles, axe are mentioned. One verse mentions purification of ayas. Some scholars think that ayas refers to iron and the words dham and karmara may refer to iron–welders. Economic exchanges were conducted by gift giving, particularly to kings (bali) and priests (dana), and barter using cattle as currency. While gold is mentioned there is no indication of use of coin. Panis in some hymns refers to merchants, in others to stingy people who hid their wealth. There are references to boats and oceans. The book X of the Rig Veda refers to both eastern and western oceans. War booty was a major source of wealth. Individual property ownership did not exist and clans as a whole enjoyed rights over lands and herds. Enslavement (dasa, dasi) in the course of war or as a result of non–payment of debt is mentioned. Slaves worked in households rather than production–related activities.(p. 190–191)
Rig Vedic society was relatively egalitarian in the sense that a distinct hierarchy of socio–economic classes was absent. However, rajan was at the top of political hierarchy and dasi at the bottom. People consumed milk, milk products, grains, fruits nad vegetables. Meat eating is mentioned, however, cows are labelled aghnya (not to be killed). Clothes of cotton, wool and animal skin were worn. Singing, dancing, dramas, gambling and chariot racing were sources of entertainment.(p. 190–191)
The words Brahamana and Kshatriya occur in various family books of the Rig Veda, but they are not associated with the term varna. The words Vaishya and Shudra are absent. Verses of the Rig Veda, such 3.44-45, indicate an absence of strict social hierarchy and the existence of social mobility:(p. 192)
O, Indra, fond of soma, would you make me the protector of people, or would you make me a king, would you make me a sage who has drunk soma, would you impart to me endless wealth.
The Vedic household was patriarchal and patrilineal. The institution of marriage was important and different types of marriages— monogamy, polygyny and polyandry are mentioned in the Rig Veda. Both women sages and female gods were known to Vedic Aryans. However, hymns attributable to female sages are few and female gods were not as important as male ones. Women could choose their husbands and could remarry if their husbands died or disappeared.(p. 193)
Hymns of the Rig Veda divide the universe into three realms— sky (dyu), earth (prithvi), and the middle realm (antariksha) and associate 33 deities called devas (literally shining, luminous) with them. The devas are anthropomorphic personifications of natural phenomena and some of them have complex personalities. Of the devas, Indra is the most frequently invoked deity in the Rig Veda. He is depicted as a vigorous, strong, great warrior, a bountiful god, and a soma drinker. Tvastar is mentioned as his father and thunderbolt as his weapon. Among the many battles described between him and the demons, the battle with the serpent demon Vritra is the most important. After the demon is slain by Indra's thunderbolt the waters stashed by him are released.
The god who had insight the moment he was born, the first who protected the gods with his power of thought, before whose hot breath the two halves tremble at the greatness of his manly power— he, my people, is Indra.
Agni another deity often invoked with Indra represents the many aspects of fire including the heat generated by tapas (austerity). As a sacrificial fire, Agni serves as the intermediary between humans and gods. Varuna is associated with kshatra (secular power). He is an all seeing god who punishes the evil–doers. Other devas mentioned include Vayu, the wind god, Ashvins, twin gods of war and fertility, and Surya, the sun god. Vishnu is mentioned, infrequently, as a benevolent god. The myth of Vishnu's three gigantic strides to envelop the universe is mentioned in the Rig Veda. Rudra, whose attributes are similar to the puranic god Shiva, is portrayed as a deity to be feared for his great capacity for destruction. Apart from the devas, the Rig Veda also mentions other supernatural entities like asuras (demons), gandharvas (celestial musicians), apsaras (celestial nymphs, wives of gandharvas), rakshasas (demons), yatudhanas (sorcerers), and pisachas (spirits of the dead).(pp. 195–7)
Rituals of fire sacrifice called yajna were used to propitiate and worship deities. The sacrifices involved pouring of oblations such as milk, ghee, and grain into the sacrificial fire accompanied with chanting of sacred formulae (mantra). The simpler yajnas could be performed by householder, the complex ones required various kinds of specialized priests.(p. 195)
Vedic literature comprises three distinct categories of literary works. The Samhitas are collections of hymns, prayers, sacrificial formulae, charms, and litanies. The Brahmanas are extensive prose writings on mystical and practical significance of hymns in the Samhitas. They also contain theological discussions on sacrificial rites. The Aranyakas and the Upanishads embody meditations and philosophical speculations of ascetics and hermits on the soul, god, and the world.
|Rig Veda||Rigveda Samhita||Aitareya Brahmana||Aitareya Upanishad|
|Kaushitaki Brahmana||Kaushitaki Upanishad|
|Sama Veda||Samaveda Samhita||Panchavimsha Brahmana|
|Chandogya Brahmana||Chandogya Upanishad|
|Yajur Veda||Krishna Yajurveda Samhita||Taittiriya Brahmana||Taittiriya Upanishad|
|Shukla Yajurveda Samhita||Shatapatha Brahmana||Isha Upanishad|
|Atharva Veda||Atharveda Samhita||Gopatha Brahmana||Mundaka Upanishad|
The vedic texts themselves contain no memory of migration. It is therefore likely that the Aryan and non–Aryan groups merged to together to create a composite vedic culture.(p. xxvii) Agriculture dominated the economic activity in the vedic society around the Ganges valley during c. 1000–600 BCE. There is also evidence of pottery, textile and metal work. Chiefdoms arose in this period which controlled crafts and commerce, collected taxes, exercised military and judicial power. By the sixth century BCE, these political units consolidated into large kingdoms. The process of urbanization had begun in these kingdoms in Northern India and commerce and travel, even over regions separated by 1,600 km (990 mi) such as Gandhara and Videha, had become easy. New institutions and ideas like asceticism and celibacy had started developing. In this backdrop verses of the Upanishads were composed.(pp. xxvii–xxix) Five of the ten major Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka, Chhandogya, Kausitaki, Tattiriya and Aitreya, were composed between c. 800–500 BCE.
- Basham, A. L. (2008). The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims. Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan. ISBN 978-1-59740-599-7.
- Olivelle, Patrick (1998). Upanis̥ads. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-283576-5.
- Werner, Karel (1994). The Yogi and the Mystic: Studies in Indian and Comparative Mysticism. Curzon Press. ISBN 978-0-7007-0272-5.
- Kumar, S.K. Kiran (2002). Psychology Of Meditations: A Contexual Approach. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-7022-932-2.