Vedic Age Later Vedic Period/ Painted Grey Ware Phase (1000-600 B.C.) Vedic Literature
• The Vedic civilization is named after the Vedas, especially the Rig Veda, which is the earliest specimen of the Indo-European language and the chief source of information on the history of this period.
• The Vedic Civilization flourished along the river Saraswati, in a region that now consists of the modern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab.
• Later, they moved into Indo-Gangetic plains.
• They were mainly a cattle-keeping people, and were mainly in search of pastures.
• By 6th century B.C., they occupied the whole of North India, which was referred to as Aryavarta.
• This period between 1500 B.C and 600 B.C is divided into the Early Vedic Period or Rig Vedic Period (1500 B.C -1000 B.C) and the Later Vedic Period (1000B.C – 600 B.C).
• Many historians have given various theories regarding the original place of the Aryans, however, largely accepted view is the Central Asian Theory given by Max Muller.
• It states that the Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.
• The holy book of Iran ‘Zend Avesta’ indicates entry of Aryans to India via Iran.
• A section of Aryans reached the frontiers of the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC and first settled in Punjab and it is here, in this land, where the hymns of Rigveda were composed.
• The Aryans lived in tribes and spoke Sanskrit, which belonged to the Indo-European group of languages.
EARLY VEDIC AGE OR RIGVEDIC AGE (1500 – 1000 B.C.)
Area of Settlement
• The geographical area covered by the early Aryans is indicated from certain allusions in the Rigveda, which seems to have been limited to an area extending from Afghanistan to the Gangetic valley.
• The former region was occupied by the Aryans is from the mention of rivers like the Kubha (Kabul), the Suvastu, situated north of Kabul.
• The Sindhu , identical with the Indus, is the river par excellence of the Rigvedic Aryans and is repeatedly mentioned, so also are its five tributaries – the Vitasta (Jhelum), Asikni (Chenab), Parushni (Ravi), Vipasa (Beas) and the Sutudri (Sutlej).
• Similarly, Dirsadvati (Chantang) is named, but the Sarasvati, now lost in the sands of Rajasthan, was first of the Rigvedic river as its banks witnessed the development of Vedic rituals and cult of sacrifices.
• The Yamuna is twice mentioned and the Ganga only once.
• They knew the Himalayas as one of its peak ‘Mujavat’ – a source of some plant and probably in Kashmir, is directly mentioned.
• They knew nothing about the Vindhyas and were not familiar with the sea.
SALIENT FEATURES OF THE EARLY VEDIC PERIOD
• The basic unit of political organization was kula or family and Kulapa was the head of the family.
• Several families joined together on the basis of their kinship to form a village or grama.
• Villages were headed by Gramini who used to represent village in Sabha and Samiti.
• A group of villages constituted a larger unit called Visu. It was headed by Vishayapati.
• The highest political unit was called jana or tribe.
• There were several tribal kingdoms during the Rig Vedic period such as Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus and Purus.
• The head of the kingdom was called as Rajan or king. He was the leader in battle and protector of tribe.
• The Rig Vedic polity was normally monarchical and the succession was hereditary.
• However, the Rajan was a kind of chief, and he did not exercise unlimited power, for he had to reckon administration with the tribal councils like Sabha, Samiti, Gana and Vidhata.
• There were two popular bodies (tribal organizations) called the Sabha and Samiti. The former was a council of elders and the latter, a general assembly of the entire people.
• Even women attended Sabha and Vidhata.
• The king was assisted by a number of officers of which Purohita was the most important.
• The Rigveda did not mention any officer for administering justice.
• Spies were employed to keep an eye on unsocial activities such as theft and burglary.
• The titles of the officials do not indicate their administration of territory. However, some officers seem to have been attached to territories. They enjoyed authority in the pasture grounds and settled villages.
• The officer of pasture ground was called ‘prajapati”, who led the heads of the families called ‘kulapas’ or the heads of the fighting horses called ‘gramanis’ to battle.
• In the beginning, the gramani was just the head of a small tribal fighting unit. But when the unit settled, the gramani became the head of the village and in course of time he became identical with Prajapati.
• The king did not maintain any regular army but in times of war he mustered a militia whose military functions were performed by different tribal groups called vratas, grama, gaha, sradha, etc.
• By and large, the military system was strong. The military technique of the early Aryans was much advanced. The Aryans succeeded everywhere because they possessed chariots driven by horses.
• There was no regular revenue system and the kingdom was maintained by the voluntary tribute (Bali) of his subjects and the booty won in battle.
• The Rig Vedic society was patriarchal.
• The basic unit of society was family or graham. The head of the family was known as grahapathi.
• Marriage was usually monogamous and indissoluble, but there are few instances of polyandry, levirate and widow-marriage.
• Polygamy was prevalent among the royal and noble families. There was no child marriage and the practice of sati was absent.
• The wife took care of the household and participated in all the major ceremonies.
• Women were given equal opportunities as men for their spiritual and intellectual development.
• There were women poets like Apala, Viswavara, Ghosa and Lopamudra during the Rig Vedic period. Women could even attend the popular assemblies.
• Aryans were fond of food, dresses, soma and sura.
• Both men and women wore upper and lower garments made of cotton and wool.
• A variety of ornaments were used by both men and women.
• Wheat and barley, milk and its products like curd and ghee, vegetables and fruits were the chief articles of food.
• The staple crop was ‘yava’, which meant barley.
• Soma was drunk at sacrifices and its use was sanctified by religion. Sura was purely secular and more potent, and was diapproved by the priestly poets.
• Chariot racing, horse racing, dicing, music and dance were the favourite pastimes.
• The Aryans loved music, and played the flute, lute and harp. There are references to singing and dancing, and to dancing girls.
• People also delighted in gambling.
• As they settled among the dark aboriginals, the Aryans seem to have laid greater stress than before on purity of blood, and class divisions hardened, to exclude those dasas who had found a place in the Aryan society, and those Aryans who had intermarried with the dasas and adopted their ways.
• Gradually, the tribal society got divided into three groups warriors, priests and commoners. Later, the fourth division called dasas or shudra was also added.
• The fourth division appeared towards the end of the Rig Vedic period because it is mentioned for the first time in the tenth book of the Rig Veda.
• The term varna was used for color, the Aryans being fair and the dasas being dark.
• The social divisions were not rigid during the Rig Vedic period as it was in the Later Vedic Period.
• The Aryans came to India as semi-nomadic people with a mixed pastoral and agricultural economy, in which cattle-rearing played an important role.
• Cattle formed their most valued possessions and chief form of their wealth.
• The cow was in fact a sort of currency and values were reckoned in heads of cattle. Importance of the cow can-be measured from the fact that many early linguistic expressions were associated with cattle.
• Word for battle came to be known as ‘gavishth’ , literally, a search for cows.
• Those who lived in the same cowshed came to belong to the same ‘gotra’, which later indicated a common ancestor.
• The daughter was known as ‘duhitri’, milker of the cow.
• The cow is described in one or two places in Rigveda as `aghnya’, not to be killed; but this may imply only its economic importance.
• It was not yet held sacred. This indicates that cow was the most important form of wealth.
• Whenever gifts were made to priests, it was in terms of cows and never in terms of measurement of land.
• Gavyuti was used as a measure of distance and Godhuli as a measure of time.
• Of the other animals reared by the Aryans, the horse was the most important of them.
• The horse was essential for movement, to speed in war and it drew the chariots.
• Among other domestic animals, the early Aryans knew the goat and sheep which provided wool, their chief textile.
• Of the wild animal, lion was known earlier than tiger. The elephant was look upon with curiosity.
• Since domesticated animals seem to have been tended by common herdsmen, it has been suggested that they were under the common ownership of the members of the tribe.
• With the knowledge and use of iron they were able to clean forests and bring more lands under cultivation.
• There were artisans like carpenters, weavers, cobblers, potters, etc.
• Carpentry was an important profession and the availability of wood from the forests cleared made the profession profitable. Carpenters produced chariots and ploughs.
• Workers in metal made a variety of articles with copper, bronze and iron.
• Their bronze smiths were highly skilled, and produced tools and weapons much superior to those of Harappan culture.
• Spinning was another important occupation and cotton and woolen fabrics were made. Goldsmiths were active in making ornaments.
• The potters made various kinds of vessels for domestic use.
• Trade was another important economic activity and rivers served as important means of transport. Trade was conducted on barter system.
• In the later times, gold coins called nishka, Krishnal and Satmana were used as media of exchange in large transactions.
• Possibly they lived in some kind of fortified mud settlements. At a site in Haryana (Bhagwanpura), a thirteen-room mud house has been discovered, which might have been a house for a large extended family or for a tribal chief.
Rig Vedic Mythology
• The earliest religious ideas of the Aryans were those of a primitive animism where the focus was around them, which they could not control or understand, were invested with divinity and were personified as male or female gods.
• The Vedic Aryans were primarily worshippers of nature.
• The early gods of the Aryans, like those of the Greeks, were atmospheric gods and predominantly male. There was no fixed order of seniority among the gods.
• In the traditional classification of gods, there has been a three-fold division.
(1) Terrestrial Gods in which Prithvi, Brihasapati, Agni and rivers are important.
(2) Intermediate or Madhyamsthana gods in which Indra, Prajanya and Rudra are prominent.
(3) Celestial or Dyusthana gods, among which Varuna, Usha, Surya, Savitri and Vishnu are important.
• Among these gods, Indra was the god of strength, foremost in battle, always ready to demolish dragons and demons. He has been called ‘Pirrandar’ or ‘breaker of ports.’ He is also the god of rain and thunder. Rowdy and amoral, Indra is described as fond of feasting and drinking. The largest number of hymns, 250 in number, were addressed to Indra.
• To Agni, 200 vedic hyms were addressed. He dominated the domestic hearth and marriages were solemnised in the presence of fire. Fire was the purest of the five elements and was held in particular esteem. Fire also acted as a kind of intermediary between the gods on the one hand and the people on the other. The oblations offered to Agni were supposed to be carried in the form of smoke to the sky and thus transmitted to the gods.
• Varuna, the upholder of cosmic order, personified waters. Whatever happened in this world was thought to be the reflection of his desires. Of all the Aryan gods, Varuna was ethically the highest. Varuna was so pure and holy that performances of sacrifice would ensure his disfavour. He abhorred sin or that which was not conformable to ‘rita.’
• Surya (sun), Savitri (god to whom the famous gayatri mantra is addressed) and Pushan (guardian of roads, herdsmen and straying cattle) were the principal solar deities.
• Sonra was originally a plant from which a patent drink was produced which was consumed only at sacrifices and which caused the most invigorating effects. The god Sonia was identified with this intoxicating juice.
• Yama was the god of death and held a prominent place.
• Rudra was a remote god, dwelling in mountains and generally an object of fear. But he was the guardian of healing herbs.
• Tvastri was the Vedic vulcan god.
• Aryanyani was the guardian of forests and Vayu, the wind-god.
• Besides this, the cosmos, was also personified by large variety of celestial beings.
• Some female gods like Ushas and Aditi are also mentioned, but they are far less important than the male gods.
• Ushas was the goddess of appearance of dawn and Aditi was the mother of all the gods. Demi-gods were Gandharvas, Maruts and Vishvedevas.
• The dominant mode of worshipping gods was through the recitation of prayers and offering of sacrifices. Prayers were of more importance during this period and were made both collectively and individually. Originally, every tribe or clan had a special god and prayers were offered in chorus by members of the whole tribe.
• There were no temples and no idol worship during the early Vedic period.
• God’s favour could also be won through sacrifices. A number of domestic and public sacrifices are mentioned in the Rigveda.
• Agni and Indra were invited to partake of sacrifices made by the whole tribe (Jana).
• Offerings of vegetables, barley, etc. were made to gods.
• In Rigvedic times, the process was not accompanied by any ritual or sacrificial formulae. Magical power of the words was considered not so important as it came to be in later Vedic times.
• Real development of a sacrificial cult took place in the second phase of Aryan expansion in India.
• Motive for worship was mainly for material gains such as praja (children), pasu (cattle), food, wealth, health, and for ending miseries of existence not spirtual uplift.
• The number of hymns attributed to different Vedic gods are, Indra: 250; Agni: 200; Soma: 120; Varuna: 12; Surya: 10; Pushan: 08; Vishnu: 06; Rudra: 03; Mitra: 01.
Later Vedic Age: Ancient History
• The Aryans further moved towards east in the Later Vedic Period.
• The Satapatha Brahmana refers to the expansion of Aryans to the eastern Gangetic plains.
• Several tribal groups and kingdoms are mentioned in the later Vedic literature. One important development during this period is the growth of large kingdoms.
• Kuru and Panchala kingdoms flourished in the beginning.
• After the fall of Kurus and Panchalas, other kingdoms like Kosala, Kasi and Videha came into prominence.
• The later Vedic texts also refer to the three divisions of India – Aryavarta (northern India), Madhyadesa (central India) and Dakshinapatha (southern India).
• Great changes took place in the religious, social, economic and political conditions of the people during the period when the later Samhitas – Sama, Yajur and Athrva and the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads were composed, extending from 1000 B.C. to 600 B.C.
• This age is also known as PGW iron-phase as in the same period and same area, digging and exploration have brought people who used earthen bowls and dishes made of painted grey pottery and also used iron weapons. Atranjikhera, Hatinapur, Noh, Batesar, Alamgirpur some of the later Vedic sites excavated so far.
• The later Vedic works show a wider knowledge of Indian geography, than is, found in the Rigveda.
• They mention the ‘two seas’ – the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
• Several Himalayan peaks are also mentioned.
• The Vindhya mountains are indirectly referred to the text and archaeology, shows that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over the whose of western Uttar Pradesh covered by the Ganga – Yamuna doab and even to the borders of Bengal in the east.
• They imposed themselves on the copper using people whose tools and weapons have been found in 18 hoards spread over this area and are assigned to the period 1700-1000 B.C. Their old Aryan home in the Punjab seems to have been forgotten and references to it in later Vedic texts are rare.
• The Aryans cleared the land mainly by means of fire. In a passage of the Satapatha Brahmana it is told how Agni moved eastward, burning the earth till it reached the river Sadanira, the modern Gandak, where he stopped.
• Burning may have been supplemented by the use of the iron axe for cutting the forests in some areas towards the end of the Vedic period when this metal is referred to in literature as Shyama Ayas (dark or black metal).
• Excavations at Atrajikhera (U.P.) indicate the advent of iron in western U.P. as early as 1000 B.C.
SALIENT FEATURES OF THE LATER VEDIC PERIOD
• Family continued to remain as the basis of social structure but the power of the patriarch increased, who could even disinherit his son.
• Right of primogeniture got stronger with time.
• Male ancestor worship began to be practiced and the position of women started to decline. They could not attend the Sabha and were excluded from inheritance right.
• A reference to self-immolation by the widow at the death of her husband is found, and the origin of the later practice of Sati may be traced to this period. But it is certain that this practice did not prevail on any considerable scale.
• But early marriage of girls had not yet become customary, and here and there they were allowed to attend lectures by Gurus and learning the Vedas.
• Gargi Vachaknavi is said to have attended a discussion of the sage Yajnavalkya and even to have embarrassed him by her searching questions.
• Settled life led to a further crystallization of the fourfold division of society.
• Brahmanas claimed both social and political privileges.
• With the emergence of caste system certain social norms developed.
• Marriage between the members of the same Gotra was not permitted.
• This applied especially to Brahmanas, who were by now divided into exogamous Gotra group.
• The institution of Gotra which literally means the ‘cow-pen’ or the place where cattle belonging to the whole clan are kept, appeared during this age.
• The term ‘Gotra’ first appears in Atharvaveda with the meaning of ‘a clan’. Later it came to signify descent from a common ancestor. Gotra was primarily a Brahmanical institution adopted rather half-heartedly by other twice-born classes and hardly affecting the lower orders.
• All Brahmanas were believed to have descended from one of the Rishis or legendary seers after whom the gotras were named. They were eight in number – Vasishtha, Bhrigu, Gautama, Bhardwaj, Attri, Vishvamitra, Agastya and Kashyapa.
• Marriage monogamy remained the general rule. Eight types of marriages are listed for the first time
• Brahma – It was marriage of a duly dowered girl to the man of the same varna with Vedic rites in the presence of Agni.
– Daiva – In this marriage the girl is given by her father to the sacrificial priest in lieu of his fees.
– Prajapati – In this marriage the father gives the girl without dowry and without demanding bride-price.
– Arsa – In this type of marriage the father of the girl takes a token bride-price of a cow and a bull.
– Asura – It is marriage by purchase.
– Gandharva – It was marriage by mutual consent and elopement. A special form of it was the Swayamvara or self – choice.
– Rakshasa – It is marriage by capture, practiced especially by the warrior class.
– Paisacha – It is the seduction of a girl while asleep, mentally deranged or drunk; hence it can harldy be called a marriage.
• Of these eight forms, only first four were generally approved and permissible to the Brahmanas.
• Members of the higher Varnas could marry Shudra women. But marriage between men of the lower orders and women of the higher classes was discountenanced.
• Marriage of a man in his own Varna or below his Varna was called Anuloma. It was sanctioned by the sacred texts.
• Marriage of a women in lower than her own Varna which was called Pratiloma was frowned upon and not sanctioned by the sacred texts.
• The idea of Ashrams also developed. The earliest clear reference to the four Ashrams or four stages of life, viz., that of Brahmachari or student, Grihastha or householder, Vanaprastha or hermit and Sanyasi or ascetic who completely renounced the worldy life is found in the Jabala Upanishad.
• The Chandogaya Upanishad clearly refers to the first three Ashrams. But after completing the first stage, one was free to pursue any of the latter three.
• The material and social developments of the later vedic age were amply reflected in the contemporary political system.
• Kingship was no longer tribal. Its territorial character came to be established.
• In a passage of the Atharvaveda the Rashtra (territory) is said to have been held by the king and made firm by the king Varuna, and the gods Brihaspati, Indra and Agni.
• The expression like ‘kingdom for ten generations’ suggests strengthening of hereditary succession of the king with increasing royal power.
• The territorial aspect of kingship is clear from a text, which enumerates ten forms of government prevalent in different parts of the country.
• Unlike the earlier period, kings did not rule over nomadic tribes moving from one place to another but over territories. Now the wars were fought not for cows but for territories.
• Formation of wider territory based kingdoms increased the royal power. Sabha and Samiti lost its importance and Vidatha completely disappeared.
• The king’s influence was strengthened by the rituals like Rajasuya, Ashvamedha, Vajepeya, etc.
• On account of the assured income from the taxes, the king could appoint many officers.
• There was beginning of a faint administrative offices like 12 Ratnins (jewel-bearers), whose houses the king visited at the time of coronation in order to offer oblations to the appropriate deity there.
• A rudimentary taxation system began with ‘Sangrhitri’ as treasurer of taxes and ‘Bhagaduha’ as tax collector.
• But even during this period, the king did not posses a standing army and tribal units were mustered in times of war.
• Several kingdoms came to be established. In the Kuru-Panchala region (Delhi-Meerut area), the Kurus ruled from Hastinapur where excavations have revealed settlements belonging to the period 1000-700 B.C. To the east of the Ganga – Yamuna confluence, there existed the kingdom of Kosala.
• East of the Kosala was the kingdom of Kashi in the Banaras region. Another kingdom was Videha.
• Its kings bore the title Janaka, which is mentioned more than once in the later Vedic literature. South of Videha on the southern side of the Ganga was the kingdom of Magadha, then of little importance.
• Simultaneously with the transition from pastoral to agricultural economy there seems to have arisen several new arts and crafts.
• With the discovery of iron, though very few agriculture tools made of iron have been found, agriculture became the chief means of livelihood, but largely remained primitive.
• People continued to produce barley, but, rice and wheat became their chief crop.
• Rice was called ‘Vrihi’ and its use was recommended in rituals.
• The term for wheat was ‘Godhume’.
• Plough became large and heavy and sometimes required as many as 24 oxen to draw it. Manure was known.
• The rise of new arts and crafts may have led to rudimentary commodity production and trade.
• In this period the Vaishyas engaged in trade. Reference to moneylending first occurs in the Shatapatha Brahmana, which describes a userer as ‘Kusidin’, though definite evidence of the use of money is wanting.
• The term Niska occurring in contemporary literature has often been taken to mean a coin. But so far no actual specimens of the coins of the Vedic period have come to light.
• Bali, Sulka, Bhaga were the main heads of taxation to be paid to the king.
• Knowledge of metals advanced. In addition to gold and Ayas (probably he Rigveda, there is mention of tin, lead, silver and iron.
• From around 1000 B.C. onwards iron was in Western Uttar Pradesh.
• However, the largest numbers of iron tools have been found from Atranjikhera, Noh, Batesar, Hastinapur, etc.
• Most of the iron tools were weapons and only a few of them were agricultural tools.
• The term ‘Nagara’ used in later Vedic texts may indicate the faint beginning of towns towards the end of the period.
• People lived in mud-brick houses or wattle – and – daub houses erected on wooden poles.
• The later Vedic people were acquainted with four types of pottery – black-and-red ware, black-slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware – the last being most popular with them. However, the most distinctive pottery of the period is known as Painted Gray Ware.
• The list of subjects for study show a wide range of knowledge embracing not only Vedas, Itihas (history) Puranas and grammar, but also astronomy, military sciences, dialectics and knowledge of portents.
• The ritual of sacrifice also added to the knowledge of elementary mathematics, which was needed to establish the positions of the various objects in the sacrificial arena.
• Sulnasutras, which prescribed various kinds of measurements for the construction of sacrificial altars marks the beginnings of the study of geometry and mathematics.
• Development of character constituted the main aim of the educational system.
• In the domain of religion, elaborate cult of rituals and sacrifices developed.
• Elaborate sacrificial rites undermined the importance of the Rigvedic gods, some of whom like Indra and Agni faded into the background.
• Prajapati (the Creator) came to occupy the supreme position.
• The priests became the chief beneficiaries of the sacrifices and consequently gained in power.
• Cattle were slaughtered at sacrifices, often in large numbers. Animal bones with cut marks found in course of excavations at Atranjikhera are mostly of cattle.
• Public rituals led to the decimation of the cattle wealth, whose importance for the developing agricultural economy can hardly be overestimated.
• The first reaction to this ritualistic religion and Brahmanical dominance came from Upanishads, which reflect a wider spirit of inquiry prevalent towards the end of the Vedic period – especially in the land of the Panchalas and Videhas.
• The Upanishad thought centres round the idea of soul (Atman) and not sacrifice (Yajna).
• It emphasizes the relation between Atma and Brahma. Creation is aid to have grown out of the primeval desire of the World Soul.
• In the Upanishads, we find the first clear exposition of belief in the passage of human soul from life to life. Souls were thought of as being born to happiness or sorrow according to their conduct in the previous life. From this evolved the theory Karma (action), which preached that the deeds of one life affected the next. This doctrine sought to provide and explanation of human suffering, and became fundamental to most later Indian thought.
• With rising royal pretentions and priestly ambitions, there took place a great development in the sacrificial cult.
• Several new lengthy royal sacrifices developed and instructions for their meticulous performance occupied much of the later Vedic literature.
• The Rajasuya was the royal consecration supposed to confer supreme power on a king.
• The Vjapeya (drink of strength) sacrifice lasted for seventeen days to a year, and was believed not only to restore the strength of a middle-aged king but also to raise him from a simple Raja to a Samrat, a monarch who owed allegiance to none but controlled several kings. This ritual comprised the chariot race, in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen.
• Most famous and significant of the complex royal sacrifice was the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) which lasted for three days, although the preparatory ceremonies extended over a year or even two. A specially consecrated horse was set free to roam at will for a year, escorted by a chosen band of 400 warriors so that any king trying to capture the animal might be combated. The horse was brought back to the capital at the end of the year and sacrificed along with 600 bulls. This gave an unquestioned control over an area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted.
• The other was Vratystoma through which the people of non-Vedic fertility cult like Nishadas and others who did not follow the Vedic rites were brought in the Vedic fold.
Vedic Literature: Ancient History
The Knowledge about the Aryans in India is known from the various Vedic texts, specially the Rigveda, which is the earliest specimen of the Indo-European language and the chief source of information on the history of this period. Vedic literature have been traditionally held sacred, for it is believed to have derived from divine sources. The Vedas are believed to have been eternal. Various sages, who are known as their authors, said to have received them directly from god. Transmitted orally from generation to generation, the Vedas were not committed to writing until very late. The Vedic texts may be divided into two broad chronological strata: the early Vedic. (1500-1000 BC) when most of the hymns of the Rigveda were composed; the later Vedic (1000-600 BC) when the remaining three Vedas and their branches were composed. All the vedic literatures are together called Shruti and they include apart from the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads.
Vedas- The four Vedas come under the Shruti category and are considered sacred scriptures.
• Rig-Veda is known as the oldest religious text in the world. It is also known as “First testament” of mankind. Rig-Veda is neither a historical nor a heroic poem but is mainly a collection of hymns by a number of priestly families. These were recited at the time of sacrificial rites and other rituals with utmost devotion. The Rig Veda contains 1028 hyms, divided into 10 mandals. Six mandals (from 2nd to 7th mandals) are called Gotra/Vamsha Mandals (Kula Granth). The 1st & 10th mandalas are said to have been added later. The 10th mandala contains the famous Purushasukta which explains the 4 Varnas-Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya & Shudra. The Hymns of Rig Veda were recited by Hetri.
• Saman” means melody and Sam Veda contains the Rythmic compilation of Hymns for Rigveda. It ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rigveda. The Sama Veda (book of chants) had 1549 hymns. All hymns (excluding 75) were taken from the Rig Veda. The Hymns of the Sama Veda were recited by Udgatri. This Veda is important for Indian music.
• Yajus” means “sacrificial formula” and Yajurveda is the book of sacrificial prayers. It contains the rituals of the Yajnas. World’s oldest prose literature of the Indo-Europeans is contained in Yajurveda. Its hymns were recited by Adyvaryus. It is divided into parks-Krishna Yajur Veda & Shukla Yajur Veda. In contrast to the first two which are inverse entirely, this one is in both verse & prose.
• Atharva-Veda is entirely different from the other three Vedas and is chronologtically the last of the four. Atharvaveda contains the magic spells, incorporates much of early traditions of healing and magic that are paralleled in other Indo-European literatures. For a very long time it was not included in the category of the Vedas.
The Brahmanas are a series of texts that followed the Vedic Samhitas . Each Veda has several Brahmanas attached to it. These are ritual texts. The sole object of the authors of the Brahmanas was to speculate on and mystify minute details of Brahmanical sacrifices without explaining them. The Brahmanas throw light on the socio-political life of the Aryans and form a sort of explanation of their religion, especially sacrifice. They also contain ritualistic formulae for the respective Vedas and its priests.
The Aranyakas are forest books that are treaties on mysticism and philosophy and are the concluding portion of the Brahmanas. They explain the metaphysics and symbolism of sacrifice. They lay emphasis not on sacrifice but on meditation. They are in fact opposed to sacrifices and many of the early rituals. Their stress is on the moral virtues. They form a bridge between the way of works (karma-marga, advocated by the Brahmanas) and the way of knowledge (fan-marga, advocated by the Upanishads). The Aranyakas are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas and deal with mysticism and symbolism. It was believed that their contents were so secret in nature that they would spell danger if taught to the uninitiated. So they were to be studied in forest, and hence called forest texts (Ararryakas). Some important Aranyakas are Aitereya Aranvaka, Kaushitaki Aranyaka and Taittiriya Aranyaka.
The Upanishads contain philosophical speculations. They are generally called Vedanta which means the end of Veda. One reason is that they came at the end of the Vedic period or that they were taught at the conclusion of Vedic instruction. These texts were compiled around 600 BC and criticised the rituals and laid stress on the value of right belief and knowledge. They emphasised that the knowledge of the self or alma should be acquired and: the relation of alma with Brahma should be properly understood. Towards the end of the Vedic period we notice a strong reaction against priestly domination and against cults and rituals, especially in the land of the Panchalas and the Videha, where around 800 to 500 BC the Upanishads were compiled. These philosophical texts criticised the rituals and laid stress on the value of right belief and knowledge. They also condemn the ceremonies and sacrifices. The Upanishads are the main source of Indian philosophy.
There are about 108 Upanishads, of which 10 have attracted worldwide attention as they deal with the philosophy and theology of the Aryans.
These 10 Upanishads are: Ishopanishat, Kenopanishat, Kathopanishat, Parshnopanishat, Mandukopanishat, Koushikopanishat, Thaittariyopanishat, Chandogyopanishai and Brihadaranyakopanishat.
The Smriti are the auxiliary treatise of the Vedas or their supplementary. It refers to that literature which has been passed on from one generation to the other. Famous smritis are:
• Manu Smriti (Pre-Gupta period), the oldest smriti text, Commentators: Vishwarupa, Meghatithi, Gobindraj, Kulluk Bhatt.
• Yajnvalkya Smriti (pre-Gupta period), Commentators: Vishwarupa, Vijnyaneshwar, Aparaka (a king of Shilahar Dynasty)
• Narad Smriti (Gupta Period),
• Katyayana Smriti (Gupta period).
• Vedengas- Vedangas are six auxiliary disciplines associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas.
a) Shiksha (phonetics) -‘Pratishakhya’- the oldest text on phonetics.
b) Kalpa sutras (Rituals)
c) Vyakarana(Grammar) – ‘Ashtadyayi’ (Panini)-the oldest grammer.
d) Nirukta (Etymology) – ‘Nighantu’ (Yask)-a collection of difficult vedic words (the oldest dictionary)
e) Chhanda (Metrics) – ‘Chhandasutras’ (Pingal)-famous text.
f) Jyotisha (Astronomy) – ‘Vedanga Jyotisha’ (Lagadh Muni)-the oldest jyotisha text.
• Puranas- They are late descriptions of ancient legends and consist of history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography. They are colored with superstitions and also represent a corrupt form of Hindu Philosophy. 18 major Puranas are there. The Matsya Purana is the oldest Purana text. The other important Puranas are the Bhagavata, the Vishnu, the Vayu & the Bhrahamnda. They describe genealogies of various royal dynasties.
• Upveda means applied knowledge and are traditional literatures which contain the subjects of certain technical works. They are as follows:
a) Ayurveda: Deals in Medicine and associated with the Rigveda
b) Dhanurveda: Deals in Archery and associated with the Yajurveda
c) Gandharvaveda: Deals with Music and Dance and associated with the Samaveda
d) Shastrashastra: Deals with military technology and associated with the Atharvaveda.
• Mahakavyas (Epics): There are mainly two Mahakavyas (Epics):
a) The Ramayana (Valmiki) is known as ‘Adi Kavya’ (oldest epic of the world). At present, it consists of 24,000 shlokas i.e. verses (originally 6,000, later-12,000, finally-24,000) in 7 Kandas, i.e., sections. 1st & 7th Kands were latest additions to the Ramayana.
b) The Mahabharata (Ved Vyasa) is the longest epics of the world. At present, it consists of 1,00,000 shlokas, i.e., verses (orgininally-8,800- Jay Samhita, later-24,000-Chaturvinshati Sahastri Samhita/Bharata, finally-1,00,000-Shatasahastri Samhita/Maha Bharata) in 18 Parvans, i.e, sections, plus the Harivamsa supplement. Bhagavad Gita is extracted from Bihshma parva of Mahabharata. Shanti Parvan is the largest parvan (chapter) of the Mahabarata.
• The Sutras- There are three Sutras:
a. Srouta Sutras deal with Vedic sacrifices;
b. Griha Sutras deal with the duties of a family man;
c. Dhanna Sutras deal with social laws and duties.