(Last Updated on : 26/07/2010)
Later Vedic civilisation was marked by the evolvement of agriculture as the main economic activity. Agriculture made its presence felt in this era, as a sharp decline in the traditional occupation of cattle rearing was witnessed. A number of changes came hand in hand with this massive growth in agriculture. A number of kingdoms arose as an obvious outcome with the increasing importance of land and long distance trade. The later Vedas comprising the Arayankas as well as the Upanishads throw considerable light on the social conditions of later Vedic civilisation.
Society in Later Vedic Civilisation
In the later Vedic age, huge social changes took place. Besides the four major castes, various sub-castes emerged. In the society, Brahmins and the Kshatriyas enjoyed a superior position. A warrior class emerged in the society due to continuous war with the non Aryans. Brahmins
and the Kshatriyas
jointly governed the society. Arya Vaishyas
were considered as the inferior class and they were mainly engaged in agriculture. Caste system in later Vedic period was completely rigid. Architecture was also developed during this period.
In the Vedic age, both Brahmanas
and Kshatriyas encouraged education. The texts of the Later Vedic period mentioned many kings who were masters of knowledge, which they imparted to Brahmana. For example, Janaka
of Videha, Ajatashatru
of Kasi, Ashvapati of Kaikeya and Pravahana of Panchala were great scholars. But as a rule Brahmanas were the teachers. During this period women did not take part in religious ceremonies, or political assemblies. The wife took food after the husband had taken his meals. Women have been classed with wine and gambling in the Yajur Veda
. This shows that their position in society was deteriorating. But even in this period, there are many references to women teachers, possessing high spiritual knowledge. Education was rather redefined during this period. The subjects of study included the four Vedas, Grammar, Mathematics, Mineralogy, Logic, Ethics, Brahma-Vidya, Biology, Military Science, Astronomy, and Medicine.
Religion in Later Vedic Period
Religion in the later Vedic period underwent a colossal change. Worship of nature's different forces was very popular during this civilisation. Different names and attributes were given to different gods representing the diverse forces of the nature. As the mysteries of the nature were revealed to the Vedic Aryans, they had a belief that some divine forces worked behind them. The elaboration of sacrificial religion and its ritual led to a growth of priesthood, which now expanded from the Rigvedic seven to seventeen priests. The Rig Vedic Aryans worshipped many Gods. Different Gods were manifestations of different aspects of the creator. Sacrifice or yajna was the central feature of religious rites of the Rig Vedic Aryans. Domestic sacrifices were the general rule. Community sacrifices or sacrifices offered by Kings were grand festivals. The Aryans had concept to ethics, virtue and sin.
Economy in Later Vedic Civilisation
Economy in the later Vedic period was dependant on agriculture. From the literary sources, it has been found that agriculture was more developed than in the Rigvedic period. Vedic Aryans lived in a village but with the passage of time, city life became more general. Peasant owners generally cultivated the land and improved methods of ploughing, manuring and sowing were introduced. Rice
and barley were the major crops cultivated in that period. Cotton
growing was also in vogue. Various domesticated animals were used in ploughing. In course of time, volume and trade increased tremendously. Maritime and inland trade were highly developed. Trade in leather, textile, leather goods and dress materials were considered profitable. Further, in the later Vedic period metals like tin, gold, iron and lead were used heavily. Specialisation in industry also developed in this age. Crafts and industries formed a significant part of the economy of later Vedic civilisation. Plates and ornaments of silver were made in this period. The use of iron revolutionised the processes of cultivation and resulted in surplus food production, which led to the growth of many towns. During this period articles of tin and lead were also made in a huge manner. Carpenters also made ships with two oars. Thus, it proved that carpenters craft was well developed during this period. Carpentry was considered as a lucrative profession. In this period besides woollens, cloth was also made with linen and hemp but there is no reference to cotton clothes at that time. There are also references of some other crafts in the literature of this period and these can be mentioned as followed making of bows, liquor, baskets, ropes, dyeing, sewing and mat making, etc. The traders sold their articles by barter system in this period. They dealt in cloth, bed covers, skin of goats etc.
Political Set Up in Later Vedic Civilisation
The Vedic texts of this period refer to kings who aspired to be emperors. The words used for these kings are Rajadhiraja, Samrat and Ekarat. After completing their conquests they performed sacrifices such as Vajapeya Rajasuya or Asvamedha. The texts also mention some of these great kings by name. In this period undeniably the power of the king increased a good deal. But he could not become an autocrat. The king could be forced out if he did not rule according to the rules laid down in the sacred books for the welfare of the people. The Atharva Veda
refers to the king's election, expulsion, re-election and restoration. Another check on the king was the oaths of loyalty to the law and constitution of the realm. The king was also dependent on his ministers who are called kingmakers in some texts of this period. They are responsible for giving good or bad suggestion to the king. The power of the kings gradually increased in the later Vedic period. With the growth of imperialism two theories regarding origin of kinship appeared.
The Atharva Veda mentions only four kingmakers namely the bard or Suta, the charioteer or Rathakara, the village headman or Gramani and the subordinate rulers or Rajas but other texts mention as many as twelve kingmakers altogether. The increases in the number of ministers also show that the powers of the king had greatly increased during this period. The Sabha and Samiti also exercised some checks on the autocracy of the ruler. It was the duty of the King to attend the Sabha and he had to seek the support of the Samiti to make his position firm on the throne.
The Aryans extended to the Ganga Yamuna Valley and to places like Kosala and Videha. The concept of tribal monarchy was replaced by the concept of territorial monarchy, sovereignty or Sarbabhauma concept during the later Vedic civilisation.