February 7

The Arrival of Indo-Aryans and the Rig Vedic Age

After the end of the Harappan civilisation the Indo- Iranians, comprising the Indo- Aryans and Iranians moved towards India from Central Asia. The Aryans migrated to India in several waves. The earliest wave is represented by the Rig Vedic people. The Rig Veda is assigned to roughly 1500 BCE and the cultural contents seem to cover Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This age is significant for agriculture and pastoralism which became the significant means of livelihood, and for the new definitions of society that were laid with the composition of the Rig Veda.

Aryan, Vedic,

Source: By Avantiputra7 - Own work by Avantiputra7; see references section for used material, CC BY-SA 3.0


The entire land in which the Aryans first settled was known as sapt sindhu or the Land of the Seven Rivers.

The earliest Aryans lived in the geographical area covered by eastern Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier Province, Punjab and the fringes of western U.P. The entire land in which the Aryans first settled was known as sapt sindhu or the Land of the Seven Rivers.

The Rig Veda, the Zend Avesta and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, provide evidence of the Aryans. The term Arya occurs 36 times in the Rig Veda which also contains many Munda and Dravidian words. They represent agriculture and pastoralism as the principal sources of livelihood. People lived in a temperate climate and domesticated horses which they used for riding and for driving carts. The use of spoked wheels, bows, and arrows came into existence, and we find prevalence of a male dominated society. They buried the dead but also practiced cremation. The culture of agni and soma prevailed.

The characteristic features of the Aryans include:


The horse, or asva, is regarded as an essential trait of the Aryan culture. The term asva in the Rig Veda and other books appears in Sanskrit, Avestan, Greek, Latin, and other Indo- European languages. The term asva occurs 215 times in the Rig Veda. No other animal has been mentioned so frequently. The Rig Veda contains two complete hymns in praise of the horse.


The pit dwelling can be associated with Aryan culture. The practice of pit dwelling prevailed in Burzahom near Srinagar in Kashmir and in Haryana. 


Along with underground houses, the use of birch wood seems to be an Aryan feature. Sometimes the subterranean dwellings were covered with birch wood. The birch is called bhurja in Sanskrit and it has been mentioned in six Indo-European languages.


Like the use of horse, cremation was also an Aryan trait. The Harappans practiced earth burial, which underwent a distinct change in their later phase. In the Indian subcontinent, the earliest evidence of this practice by the horse users occurs in the Swat valley in the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE.


The fire culture is considered to be a special trait of the Indo- Aryans. The fire altar or vedi is mentioned in the Rig Veda and fire worship is very important in the Avesta.


Animal sacrifice was an important Aryan ritual. It may have evolved because of the need for non-vegetarian food. It symbolised the provision of the requirements of this world in the next world. Horse sacrifice was typical of the Indo-Europeans, particularly of the Vedic people. Two hymns are devoted to the horse sacrifice in the 10th book of the Rig Veda. Apart from this buffalo sacrifice also became an important ritual in the worship of the various forms of goddess Shakti. 


The culture of soma called haoma was confined to the Vedic people. A plant called ephedra is considered to be soma. Similarly, the svastika, an ancient symbol formed by a cross with equal arms is conceived to be a mark of Aryanism.

The description of Aryans has been vividly given in the Rig Veda. It is the earliest known text of the Indo-European languages and is written in Sanskrit. It is a collection of prayers offered to Agni, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and other gods. It consists of ten mandalas or books, of which books II to VII form the earliest parts. Books I and X seem to have been the latest additions. The Rig Veda has many things in common with the Avesta, which is the oldest text in the Iranian language.

The Aryans migrated to India in several waves. The earliest wave is represented by the Rig Vedic people. They came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called the dasas, dasyus, etc. the Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadasyu.



The Aryans were divided into five tribes called panchajana comprising the Yadu, Turvasha, Puru, Anu, and Druhyu.

The Indo-Aryans were engaged in two types of conflicts. First, with the pre-Aryans and second, they fought among themselves. The Aryans were divided into five tribes called panchajana comprising the Yadu, Turvasha, Puru, Anu, and Druhyu. The Bharatas and the Tritsu were the ruling clans and were supported by the priest Vasishtha. The Bharata ruling clan was opposed by a host of ten chiefs, five of whom were heads of Aryan tribes and the remaining five of the non-Aryan tribes. The battle between the Bharatas and the host of ten chiefs is known as the Battle of Ten Kings. It was fought on the river Parushni identified as the river Ravi and gave victory to Sudas, establishing the supremacy of the Bharatas. Later the Bharatas joined hands with the Purus and formed a new ruling tribe called the Kurus.


The administration in the Rig Vedic period had a tribal chief called Rajan. It seems that in this period the king’s post had become hereditary. However, the king did not exercise unlimited power. The king was elected by the tribal assembly called the samiti. The duty of the king was to protect the cattle of his tribe, fight several wars, and offer prayers to God on the tribe’s behalf.

Several tribal or kin-based assemblies namely the sabha, samiti, vidatha, and gana are mentioned in the Rig Veda that exercised deliberative military and religious functions. Even women attended the sabha and vidatha in the Rig Vedic times.

The king was assisted in his religious duties by a priest or purohita. The two important priests of this period were Vasistha and Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra composed the gayatri mantra.

Next in rank to the king was the senani or the head of the army. He used spears, axes, swords, etc. The people made voluntary offerings to the rajan called bali.

The officer who enjoyed authority over a large stretch of land or pasture ground was called vrajapati. He led the heads of families called kulapas to battle. The head of the fighting hoards was called gramani. The people’s primary loyalty was to the tribe called jana.  We also hear of vis which was further divided into gramas or smaller tribal units organised to fight.

The family in the early vedic phase was denoted by the term griha. It was a patriarchal family headed by the father. The birth of a son was repeatedly desired, and no desire was expressed for daughters. Women could attend assemblies and offer sacrifices along with their husbands, but they could not perform sacrifices in their own right. Nor do they appear as givers or receivers of dana or dakshina. The institution of marriage was established and there are some indications of polyandry. We also notice the practice of levirate and widow remarriage in the Rig Veda. There are no examples of child marriage, and the marriageable age seems to have been 16 to 17.

The household was the basic unit of labour, and we find references to slavery. A slave had no rights, power, autonomy, or honour. He was considered the property of the master and was obliged to perform all kinds of services.

There occurred some consciousness of the physical appearance of people in north-western India in about 1500-1000 BCE. Varna was the term used for colour and the Rig Veda mentions the arya varna and the dasa varna. Gradually the tribal society was divided into three occupational groups, warriors, priests, and the common people. The fourth division called shudras appeared towards the end of the Rig Vedic period.


The Rig Vedic people had a superior knowledge of agriculture. We find mentions of the ploughshare and people were acquainted with sowing, harvesting, and threshing, and knew about the different seasons. The Rig Vedic people can also be called as predominantly pastoral people. The term ayas used for copper or bronze shows that metal working was known.


Due to the patriarchal society, the male gods were given more importance than the female goddesses

The most important divinity in the Rig Veda is Indra also called Purandara or destroyer of dwelling units. 250 hymns have been devoted to him. The next in importance is Agni who has 200 hymns devoted to him. The third in preference is Varuna who personified water. Soma was considered to be the god of plants and an intoxicating drink is named after him. The Maruts personify the storm and there are many hymns devoted to river Sarasvati.

There are some women divinities too such as Aditi and Usha who represent the appearance of dawn, but they were not prominent at the time of the Rig Veda. Due to the patriarchal society, the male gods were given more importance than the female goddesses. The dominant mode of worshipping was through recitation of prayers and performance of sacrifices.

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