February 9

The Later Vedic Age : The Age of Transition

The history of the later Vedic period is mainly based on the Vedic texts compiled after the age of the Rig Veda. The phase after the composition of the Rig Veda, i.e., 1000- 500 BCE is known for the composition of the Samhitas, followed by a composition of a series of text known as Brahamanas. This was also the age of the painted grey ware and use of iron.

The collection of Vedic hymns or mantras is known as the Samhitas. The Rig Veda Samhita is the oldest Vedic text. For recitation, the mantras of the Rig Veda were set to a tune known as the Sama Veda. Later the Yajurv Veda and the Atharva Veda were also composed. The Yajurv Veda contains rituals to accompany the recitation of hymns while the Atharva Veda contains charms and spells to ward off diseases and evils, throwing light on the beliefs and practices of the non- Aryans. The Brahamanas contain the ritualistic formulae and explain the social and religious meanings of rituals. Around 700 inhabited sites have been discovered known as the painted grey ware sites because the people here used earthen bowls and dishes made of painted grey pottery. They also used iron weapons

The texts show that the Aryans expanded from Punjab over all of Western UP covered by the Ganga-Yamuna doab. The Bharatas and Purus, the two major tribes, combined and formed the Kuru people. The authority of the Kuru-Panchala people spread over Delhi and the upper and central parts of the doab. They established their capital at Hastinapur in the Meerut district.

Towards the end of the later Vedic period in around 500 BCE, the Vedic people spread in large numbers from the doab further east to Koshala in eastern UP and Videha in north Bihar. Here they had to contend against people who used copper implements and black and red earthen pots. In western UP, the people possibly used pots of ochre or red colour along with copper implements. Many Munda words found in the later Vedic texts suggest that the later Vedic people also encountered Munda speakers in this area. The Vedic people succeeded in the second phase of expansion because they were familiar with the use of iron weapons and horse drawn chariots.


As a pure metal, iron was first used in Mesopotamia in 5000 BC and later in Anatolia in the third millennium BCE. In the Indian subcontinent, iron is attributed to Lothal and to some sites in Afghanistan in Harappan times. Pure iron at some sites in Rajasthan and Karnataka in the copper-stone age has been reported. Iron can thus be placed in the second half of the second millennium BCE. It was used in eastern Punjab, western UP, MP, and Rajasthan. Weapons such as arrowheads and spearheads were commonly used. Towards the end of the Vedic period the knowledge of iron spread in eastern UP and Videha. The metal has been referred to as shyama or Krishna ayas (black metal) in the later Vedic texts



During the later Vedic period, rice and wheat became their chief crops

Agriculture was the chief means of subsistence of the later Vedic people. Later Vedic texts contain mention of six, eight, twelve, and even twenty-four oxen yoked to the plough. Agriculture was primitive but widely prevalent. The Shatapatha Brahamana speaks at length about the ploughing rituals. Gautama Buddha is depicted ploughing with oxen in a Bodh Gaya sculpture. There is also reference of Sita’s father Janaka and krishna’s brother Balarama who used plough. 

The Vedic people initially largely produced barley, but during the later Vedic period, rice and wheat became their chief crops. Wheat became the staple food of the people in Punjab and western UP. Rice has been called vrihi in the later Vedic texts. Remains of rice have been found at Hastinapura and Atranjikhera. Various kinds of lentils were also produced by the later Vedic people.


The later Vedic period saw the rise of diverse arts and crafts. There is reference of smiths and smelters. Since the later Vedic people were familiar with the use of copper from the very outset, we find the existence of coppersmiths. Weaving was confined to women. Leather work, pottery, and carpentry made great progress. 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 most distinctive pottery was the painted grey ware. It consisted of bowls and dishes used either for rituals or for eating or for both, mostly by the emerging upper orders. Glass hoards and bangles found in the painted grey ware layers may have been used as prestige objects by a few people. Jewellery is also mentioned in the later Vedic texts. All these indicate the cultivation of specialised crafts.


The word janapada first occurs in some later Vedic texts called Brahamanas

The word janapada first occurs in some later Vedic texts called Brahamanas. Due to the prevalence of agriculture and various crafts, people were able lead a settled life. Widespread painted grey ware sites have been found not only in western UP and Delhi but also in the adjoining parts of Punjab and Haryana, the Madra area, and in the Matsya area. These settlements lasted from one to three centuries. In later Vedic period people hardly knew the use of burnt bricks and lived in mud brick houses and wattle and daub houses erected on wooden poles. The farmers lived a settled life, however they generally cultivated with the wooden ploughshare and so were unable to produce enough to feed those engaged in other occupations. 

Hastinapur and Kaushambi seem to be primitive towns of this period. There is also reference to seas and sea voyages and hence some form of commerce was stimulated.

The later Vedic phase registered a great advance in the material life of the people. Agriculture became the primary source of livelihood and life became settled and sedentary. Many people began to settle permanently in the upper Gangetic plains as this area was fertile enough for the peasants to produce enough to maintain themselves. They were also able to spare a marginal part of their produce for the support of chiefs, princes, and priests.


In this period the Rig Vedic assemblies lost importance and royal power increased. The vidatha completely disappeared; the sabha and samiti continued but their character changed. They were now controlled by chiefs and rich nobles and women were no longer permitted to sit in the sabha. It was dominated by warriors and brahamanas. 

The formation of large kingdoms increased the powers of the chiefs or king. The term rashtra which indicates territory first arouse during this period. The concept of controlling people also appeared. The term rajya which meant sovereign power emerged.

The concept of election appeared, and the individual considered to have the best physical and other attributes was elected raja. He received voluntary presents called bali from his ordinary kinsmen or common people called the vis. The post of the king became hereditary and was generally passed to the eldest son.

King performed the rajasuya sacrifice which was supposed to confer supreme power on him. He performed the ashwamedha which meant unquestioned control over an area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. He also performed the vajapeya or the chariot race in which the royal chariot drawn by a horse was made to win against his kinsmen.

During this period, collection of taxes and tributes became common. They were probably collected by an officer called sangrihitri. In the discharge of his duties the king was assisted by the priest, the chief queen, and a few other high functionaries. At the lower levels the administration was run by village assemblies. These assemblies also tried local cases. The king did not have a standing army.


The Vedic Aryans introduced the varna system encapsulating brahamana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and shudra

The Vedic Aryans introduced the varna system encapsulating brahamana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and shudra.

The brahamana conducted rituals and sacrifices and also officiated at the festivals associated with agricultural operations. The vaishya constituted the common people and were assigned functions such as agriculture, cattle breeding, etc. The Kshatriyas were warrior people and the shudras performed the remaining functions. He was referred to as the servant of another.

All the three higher varnas enjoyed a common privilege: they were entitled to upanayana or investiture with the sacred thread according to the Vedic mantras. The fourth varna was deprived of the sacred thread ceremony and the recitation of the gayatri mantra. Similarly, women were also deprived of both, the gayatri mantra and the upanayana. Thus, the imposition of disabilities on the shudras and the women began from the later Vedic period.

The family shows the increasing power of the father who could even disinherit his son. In royal families, the right of primogeniture was getting stronger. Male ancestors came to be worshipped and females were generally assigned lower positions. Women were thought to be lower and inferior to men.

The institution of gotra appeared in the later Vedic times. It signified descent from a common ancestor. The post Vedic texts also speak of four ashrams: brahmachari or student, grihastha or householder, vanaprastha or hermit, and sanyasi or ascetic who completely renounced the worldly life.

Brahmanas, Shudra, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Vedic Age


The two outstanding Rig Vedic gods Indra and Agni lost their former importance. Prajapati the creator came to occupy the supreme position in the later Vedic period. Rudra and Vishnu became important in the later Vedic times and signs of idolatry appeared. Some objects began to be worshipped as symbols of divinity.

Some social orders began to have their own gods, like Pushan supposed to tend to cattle became an important god of the shudras.

Sacrifices became far more dominant and assumed both, a public, and domestic character. Public sacrifices involved the king and the entire community while private sacrifices were performed by individuals at their home. The sacrifice was known as the yajamana. 

Towards the end of the later Vedic period a strong reaction arose against priestly domination, against cults and rituals. As a result, the Upanishads were compiled which criticised the rituals and laid stress on right belief and knowledge. Brahma emerged as the supreme entity. The later Vedic period saw important changes like beginning of territorial kingdoms called janapadas. It also laid ground for the formation of new religions i.e., Buddhism and Jainism. 

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