Vedic History of India
According to the studies of the historians and the archaeologists, the Vedic period in India prevailed approximately from 1500BC to 500BC. The cultural and spiritual eminence of India reached its high during this period. The most ancient and sacred texts of Hinduism were the artifacts of this ancient era.The four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda were composed and scripted during the later Vedic period. The Vedic period also saw the emergence of the Aryans in the ancient land of India. There are various references of Aryans in the Rig Veda. It is possible that the Aryans were not a separate race, but rather a reference to the educated class. It got a romanticised interpretation later, mostly by European historians and later picked up by Indian scholars. The heart of the Vedic civilization was found to be established in the north and northwestern part of India, near the river Saraswati.
The Aryan or educated class cleared the forests near the Gangetic plains and settled down to form the Vedic civilization. As agriculture gained importance in the Vedic civilization, land and cattle became very important. With the growing value of land and agriculture, society became stable along with the budding concept of personal property and power relation.
By the end of the later Vedic age, agriculture had become the main occupation of the Vedic civilization. Their involvement in agriculture led to the formation of villages. Many villages together formed a kingdom or Mahajanapad. The Vedic age witnessed the rise of many small kingdoms that were often at war with each other. These kingdoms later merged with each other to form larger kingdoms.
According to the literature of this era, the Vedic age generally was referred to16 main kingdoms or Mahajanapads. The Vedic civilization was highly organised at social as well as political level. The jana, vis and grama were political units during the Vedic civilisation. While the kingdom or ‘rashtra’ was ruled over by a king or ‘raja’, the smaller political unit ‘vis’ was ruled by ‘vispati’ and ‘grama’ was ruled by a ‘gramini’. The priest and army chief assisted the king in ruling the kingdom. A ‘sabha’ or a popular council also supported the king. It is possible that a type of electoral system had existed during the Vedic age, but there is no strong proof of it. The power of the kings seems to have increased in the later Vedic age.
The caste system had emerged during the Vedic age and seems to be a corrupt cultural practice that was later formalized. Initially, the caste system was not hereditary but later it became so. The Brahmins and Kshatriyas became very powerful in the later Vedic period and regarded themselves to belong to the higher caste.
The Vedas were composed in an age when thoughts were not preserved in written form. Therefore the Vedas were passed down from one generation to another depending upon the memory only. The Vedas were often referred to as ‘shruti literature’ because people only used to hear them.
The Rig Veda is the oldest of the four Vedas and it is also the oldest recorded Indian literature. The Rig Veda consists of religious hymns dedicated to the deities. It has ten books or mandalas, a concept very central to the Buddhist religion.
The Yajur Veda contains prose mantras that were recited while performing sacrifices to God or Yagna. Each mantra was required to accompany a sacrificial rite or ritual.
Sama Veda is also known as the Veda of melodies. It contains hymns of Rig Veda that are tuned for singing. It served as the songbook for priests.
The fourth Veda Atharva Veda contains spells to ward off the demons and diseases and is least related to rituals and sacrifices.
Other Vedas were also composed during this age. The current practice of Yoga exercises practiced all over the world are a derivative of Vedic literature. All of the major peaceful religions of the world; Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are interpretations of Vedic literatures. The major theme of the Vedic literatures was that it recognised the place of mankind in the entire universal scheme and sought to temper his ego accordingly. Vedic religions realized that not doing so can bring out the animal instincts in mankind and turn them into destructive and selfish beasts.
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