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The Vedic civilization is the earliest civilization in Indian history of which we have written records that we understand. It is named after the Vedas, the earliest Hindu texts. The Vedic texts have astronomical dates that some have claimed go back to the 5th millennium BC. The use of Vedic Sanskrit continued up to the 6th century BC.
The early Aryans
The origin of the Vedic civilization and its relation to the Indus Valley civilization remains highly controversial. See the Aryan Invasion Theory. The texts describe a geography that some believe to be north India, and others believe describes Central Asia. Our knowledge of the early Vedans comes mainly from the Rigveda, the earliest of the Vedas, which is primarily a collection of religious hymns; therefore, our understanding of the actual, temporal details of early Vedic life is limited.
The grama (village), vis and jana were political units of the early Vedans . A vis was probably a subdivision of a jana and a grama was probably a smaller unit than the other two. The leader of a grama was called gramani and that of a vis was called vispati. Another unit was the gana whose head was a jyeshta (elder).
The rashtra (state) was governed by a rajan (king). The king is often referred to as gopa (protector) and samrat (supreme ruler). He governed the people with their consent and approval. It is possible that he was sometimes elected. The sabha and samiti were popular councils.
The main duty of the king was to protect the tribe. He was aided by two functionaries, the purohita (chaplain) and the senani (army chief; sena: army). The former not only gave advice to the ruler but also practiced spells and charms for success in war. Soldiers on foot (patti) and on chariots (rathins), armed with bow and arrow were common. The king employed spasa (spies) and dutas (messengers). He often got a ceremonial gift, bali, from the people.
Society and economy
Rig Vedic society was characterized by a nomadic lifestyle with cattle rearing being the chief occupation. The Vedans kept herds of cattle and cows were held in high esteem. Milk was an important part of the diet. Agriculture was of equal importance and went hand in hand with cattle rearing. It grew more prominent with time as the community settled down. The cow was also the standard unit of barter; coins were not used in this period.
Families were patrilineal, and people prayed for abundance of sons. Education of women was not neglected, and some even composed Rig Vedic hymns. Marriage for love as well as for money was known. The concept of caste and hereditary nature of profession was based on one's capability. Society is divided into four major varna i.e. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Those who are outside these caste structure are known as adivasis or Tribals .
The food of the early Vedans consisted of parched grain and cakes, milk and milk products, and various fruits and vegetables. Consumption of meat was common. A passage in the Rig Veda describes how to apportion the meat of a sacrificed horse. Beef was also eaten, even by Brahmins, although this practice gradually declined since the cow was a valuable resource: it is often described as aghnya (that which should not be killed) due to the rise of Buddha and the Advaita and Vishisthadvaita Philosophies of Adi Shankara during 600-500 B.C. era.
Literature and Religion
Vedic or Hindu literature consists primarily of the Vedas; but also includes Shruti and various Smriti texts. The Vedic rites were meant to help the participant transform; this was primarily accomplished via sacrifices (such as the agnihotra).Hindu society is divided into caste and sub-castes. These are decided by occupation and birth.
Astronomical references in the Vedas help provide some broad approximations that help date the beginning of the tradition. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the seasons shift with relation to the fixed zodiac at a rate of about a month every two thousand years. Some Vedic notices mark the beginning of the year at the vernal equinox in Orion; this was the case around 4500 BC.
The rishis saw the universe as going through unceasing change in a cycle of birth and death, potentially free yet, paradoxically, governed by order. This order was reflected in the bandhu (connections) between the planets, the elements of the body, and the mind. At the deepest level, the whole universe was bound to, and reflected in, the individual consciousness.
The place of sacrifice represents the cosmos. The three fires used stand for the three divisions of space. The course of the sacrifice represents the year, and all such ritual forms part of continuing annual performances. The rite culminates in the ritual rebirth of the yajamana (sacrificer), which signifies the regeneration of his universe. It is sacred theatre, built upon paradoxes of reality, where symbolic deaths of animals and humans, including the yajamana himself, may be enacted.
The Vedic gods represent the cognitive centers of the self. Vedic science is the science of consciousness. These have evolved into the Hindu paths of Yoga and Vedanta, which is a religious path that is the 'essence' of the Vedas.
The Vedic pantheon is considered to consist of thirty-three different gods, which are placed, in groups of eleven, into one of the three different categories: 1) Agni, terrestrial; 2) Indra, atmospheric; and 3) Surya, celestial that mirrors the body, prana, and atman division of the individual. Since one aspires to reach the inner being through the prana (atmosphere), many Vedic hymns extol Indra.
See also: Gayatrimantra
The Vedic or Hindu religion presents a unitary view of the universe with God seen as immanent and transcendent in the forms of Ishvara and Brahman, respectively. Brahman is projected into various deities in the human mind. The main deities were Indra, Varuna, Surya (the Sun), Mitra, Vayu, Agni and Soma. Goddesses included Prithvi, Aditi, Ushas and Sarasvati. Deities were not viewed as all-powerful. The relationship between the devotee and the deity was one of transaction. Each deity had a specific role; at any given point, a particular deity was considered superior to the others.
The mode of worship was performance of sacrifices and chanting of verses (see Vedic chant ). The priests helped the common man in performing rituals. People prayed for abundance of children, cattle and wealth.
The later Vedic period
The transition from the early to the later Vedic period was marked by the emergence of agriculture as the dominant economic activity and a corresponding decline in the significance of cattle rearing. Several changes went hand in hand with this. For instance, several large kingdoms arose because of the increasing importance of land and its protection. We now discuss several aspects of later Vedic/Hindu life in detail.
Several small kingdoms and tribes merged to form a few large ones which were often at war with each other. 16 mahajanapadas (great kingdoms) are referred to in some of the literature. By this time the Aryan tribes had spread from their original home in the west to much of the east and the south. The power of the king greatly increased. Rulers gave themselves titles like ekarat (the one ruler), sarvabhumi (ruler of all the earth) and chakravartin (protector of land). Note that in early Vedic times he was called gopa, protector of cows. The kings performed sacrifices like rajasuya, (royal consecration) vajapeya (drink of strength) and ashvamedha (horse sacrifice). The coronation ceremony was a major social occasion. Several functionaries came into being in addition to the purohita and the senani of earlier times. The participation of the people in the activities of the government decreased.
The concept of varna and the rules of marriage became more rigid, but not yet watertight. The status of the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas increased greatly. The Brahmanas propagated specialization of an extreme order, and also restricted social mobility as an itellectual beaureau in fields of science,war,literature,religion and the environment. The proper enunciation of verses was considered essential for prosperity and success in war and harvests. Kshatriyas amassed wealth, and commissioned the performance of sacrifices.Kshatriyas administered the state,maintained society and the economy of a kingdom.They also developed into a Law enforcement force to maintain law and order to ensure prosterity.They presided over an assembled court of intellectuals and warriors.They distributed the finances of their treasuries, with respect to acts and deeds.They also maintained budgets of the kingdom with the assistance of ministers.
- R.C. Majumdar and others. An Advanced History of India, MacMillan, 1967.
- The Secrets of the Vedic Disciplines of Yoga, Vastushastra & Ayurved
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