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Early Vedic period

The Early Vedic period (1500-1000 BCE) also known as the Rigvedic period includes the family books (Mandal 2-7). The word Veda has been derived from the word ‘vid’ which means to know/knowledge. The literature of the Vedic period gives a detailed account of the Geographical, Political, Social, and Economic conditions of the society and is classified as shruti and smriti.

There are four Vedas, the Rig Veda was compiled during the early Vedic period, and the other three Vedas in the later Vedic period.  Every Veda generally has four parts Brahmanas, Aranyaka, Samhita, and Upanishad.

The Rig Veda is divided into 10 mandals (books) comprising 1028 hymns. Mandals 2-7 are the earliest mandals and the remaining 1,8, 9, and 10 were written later. Rig Ved is included in the UNESCO world cultural intangible heritage. Aittareya and Kaushitaki are the Brahmanas of the Rig Ved.


Rishis doing Yajna

Geography

  • The geographical spread of early Rig Vedic people covers present-day eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and western Uttar Pradesh. 

  • The creation of the universe is mentioned in the Nasadiya Sukta and rivers in Nadistuti in the 10th Mandal of the Rig Veda. 

Polity

  • The political structure was similar to the monarchical form but the Gopati(chief) was elected by the assembly called samiti. 

  • Tribal assemblies were used to help the Rajan (king) in administration. 

  • No system of Taxation but voluntary offerings were taken. 

  • The battle of 10 kings, is recounted in the 7th Mandal. 

Economy 

  • The economy was mainly pastoral but they were also familiar with agriculture. We find mention of cattle used for ploughing.

  • Shifting agriculture was practiced. 

  • They did not use iron but were familiar with the Ayas (Copper) and bronze. 

  • Limited crafts such as Takshan(Carpenter), Hiranakara(Goldsmith), Vaptri(Barbers), potters, Grinders, etc are mentioned.

Society

Female Rishika displaying high position of women in Vedic society
  • The active participation of women in Sabha and Samiti signifies the political hold of women and reflects their egalitarian nature.

  • Women were allowed to learn and write Vedas and after taking part in the Upanayana ceremony (Thread Ceremony) women were considered the Dwija(Twice Born). 

  • Monogamy was generally practiced and there are instances of polyandry and polygamy. Women were allowed to choose their partner (Swayamvar). 

  • There are few instances of Widow remarriage and no instances of sati, purdah, and child marriage.

 Religion

  • The nature of worship was Henotheism and Kathenotheism. There was neither temple worship nor idol worship. They personified natural forces and divided divinities into 3 categories i.e., Prithvisthana, Madhyamsthana, and Dyusthana. 

  • Rig Vedic God and goddesses include Indra, Agni, Varuna, Soma, Yama, Rudra, Surya, Pushan, Aditi, Prithvi, Usha, and Savitri (Gayatri Mantra is attributed to the 3rd Mandal). 

The education, Political inclusion, Socio-cultural practice, and condition of women of the Rig Vedic period have influenced many reformers such as Swami Dayanand Saraswati who gave the slogan “Go back to the Vedas”.


Guru teaching his Shishyas in Gurukul

References:

  • A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India, Upinder Singh

  • Ancient and Medieval India, Poonam Dalal Dahiya

  • Higher Secondary First year, Tamil Nadu Board

  • Prateek Nayak Notes

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