Later Vedic Aryans


Historical outline of this period has been reconstructed from the material contained in the three remaining Vedas, prose commentaries on the Vedas called the Brahmana literature with the addition of the Aranyakas (forest books) and the Upanishads (philosophical treatises). The history of this period is religious and fragmentary.

In the later Vedic era, civilization expanded towards Ganges Valley that proved to be the true beginning of the Hindu civilization in India. Since Indus and Ganges are geographically located in different areas, the Aryans’ religion, standard of values and lifestyle also started changing. 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.

Politically, several large kingdoms emerged due to the increasing significance of land and its security. By this time of 500 BC, Aryan tribes had spread from their original home in the west to much of the east and the south. The late Vedic period historically indicates sixteen mahajanapadas (great kingdoms) wherein the kings posed to be more and more potent, prevailing and powerful and chose for themselves titles like ekarat (the one ruler), sarvabhumi (ruler of all the earth) and chakravartin (protector of land). They performed sacrifices like rajasuya, (royal consecration) vajapeya (drink of strength) and ashvamedha (horse sacrifice). The coronation ceremony was of prime importance and a major social occasion. The concept of varna and the rules of marriage became more rigid, but not yet watertight. The status of the Brahmanas further increased as they propagated their specialization of an extreme order, claiming themselves as intellectual bureaus in the fields of science, war, literature, religion and environment. Proper enunciation of verses was deemed essential for prosperity and success in war and harvests. Brahmanas amassed wealth, and commissioned the performance of sacrifices. Ubder the patronage of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas administered the state and developed into a Law enforcement to maintain law and order to ensure posterity. 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.

In Ganges Valley a new religion was found. Its basis consisted in the formulation of the principle of Varnashrama – dharma – the social code which recognized the four casts (varna, literally color which originally divided the Aryans from the Dasya), through which an individual, particularly a Brahmin had to pass during the course of his life. Ideally he had to go through the life of a student, a householder, a vanaprastha (forest life away from family involvement) and a sanyasa (recluse). By and by dharma became a permanent feature of the later day Hindu society.

In the new environment, the Rigvedic gods like varuna, Indra, etc. lost their immediate value. Now new name to Prajapati (lord of creation) began to be applied to this concept of a Supreme Being. Very soon it became synonymous with Brahma. Then there was another god Vishnu (sustainer) and Shiva (destructor). This concept of trinity replaced the pantheon of early Vedic era. The core of Upanishadic philosophy lies in the search of Truth, to which generic term Brahma as well as Atma came to be applied. There is also a concept of transmigration of soul according to which the body dies but the soul lives and transmigrates from one body to another.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 03, 2005