The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the root ‘vid’, which means to know. In other words, the term ‘Veda’ signifies ‘superior knowledge’. The Vedic literature consists of the four Vedas – Rig veda, Yajur veda, Sama veda and Atharva veda. The Rig Veda is the earliest of the four Vedas and it consists of 1028 hymns. The hymns were sung in praise of various gods. The Yajur Veda consists of various details of rules to be observed at the time of sacrifice.
The Sama Veda is set to tune for the purpose of chanting during sacrifice. It is called the book of chants and the origins of Indian music are traced in it. The Atharva Veda contains details of rituals. Besides the Vedas, there are other sacred works like the Brahmanas, the Upanishads, the Aranyakas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Brahmanas are the treatises relating to prayer and sacrificial ceremony. The Upanishads are philosophical texts dealing with topic like the soul, the absolute, the origin of the world and the mysteries of nature. The Aranyakas are called forest books and they deal with mysticism, rites, rituals and sacrifices. The author of Ramayana was Valmiki and that of Mahabharata was Vedavyas.
Rig Vedic Age or Early Vedic Period (1500 – 1000 B.C.)
During the Rig Vedic period, the Aryans were mostly confined to the Indus region. The Rig Veda refers to Saptasindhu or the land of seven rivers. This includes the five rivers of Punjab, namely Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej along with the Indus and Saraswathi. The political, social and cultural life of the Rig Vedic people can be traced from the hymns of the Rig Veda.
Political Organization during the Rig Vedic Period
The basic unit of political organization was kula or family. Several families joined together on the basis of their kinship to form a village or grama. The leader of grama was known as gramani. 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. The Rig Vedic polity was normally monarchical and the succession was hereditary. The king was assisted by purohita or priest and senani or commander of the army in his administration. There were two popular bodies called the Sabha and Samiti. The former seems to have been a council of elders and the latter, a general assembly of the entire people.
Social Life of People during the Rig Vedic Period
The Rig Vedic society was patriarchal. The basic unit of society was family or graham. The head of the family was known as grahapathi. Monogamy was generally practiced while polygamy was prevalent among the royal and noble families. 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. There was no child marriage and the practice of sati was absent.
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 eating of cow’s meat was prohibited since it was a sacred animal. Chariot racing, horse racing, dicing, music and dance were the favourite pastimes. The social divisions were not rigid during the Rig Vedic period as it was in the later Vedic period.
The Rig Vedic Aryans were pastoral people and their main occupation was cattle rearing. Their wealth was estimated in terms of their cattle. When they permanently settled in North India they began to practice agriculture. With the knowledge and use of iron they were able to clean forests and bring more lands under cultivation. Carpentry was another 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. 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 were used as media of exchange in large transactions.
The Rig Vedic Aryans worshiped the natural forces like earth, fire, wind, rain and thunder. They personified these natural forces into many gods and worshipped them. The important Rig Vedic gods were Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Rain) and Indra (Thunder). Indra was the most popular among them during the early Vedic period. Next in importance to Indra was Agni who was regarded as an intermediary between the gods and people. Varuna was supposed to be the upholder of the natural order. There were also female gods like Aditi and Ushas. There were no temples and no idol worship during the early Vedic period. Prayers were offered to the gods in the expectation of rewards. Ghee, milk and grain were given as offerings. Elaborate rituals were followed during the worship.