(Last Updated on : 01-11-2010)
The picture of that primitive society somewhat faded away with the emergence of the Later Vedic period. Not only cattle rearing but it is with the introduction of agriculture social life in the later Vedic era gained a remarkable facet. The caste system was followed in this age too.
Caste system in Later Vedic Society
It is said that caste system was derived from the Vedic institution of the four-fold order, Chaturvarna. The institution of the four orders was the result of an economic evolution accompanied by political causes. Aryans
always looked at the spiritual and psychological aspects of social ideas and institutions. Human society was an attempt to express in life the Cosmic Purusha.
From this attitude came the tendency to make everything in society a sacrament, religious and sacrosanct. Thus the symbolic idea of the four orders expresses the Drive as power, the Divine as production, enjoyment, and mutuality, the divine as service, obedience and work. Next, out of this idea there developed a firm social order based upon temperament and psychic type with a corresponding ethical discipline and secondarily upon the social and economic functions. The primary idea behind the four Varnas is spiritual and religious.
Gradually the emphasis is shifted from the inner to outer or external aspects; the body becomes more important than the person. Faculty and capacity gave place to birth as the determinant of the caste of a person.
There are ceremonies prescribed before birth, at birth, at the naming of the new born child and so on. Marriages are classified into eight types. They are the Brahma, Prajapatya, Arsha, Daiva, Gandhaiva, Asura, Rakshasa and Paisachft. Every householder is to perform daily Pancha mahayajnas, the five great sacrifices. The social system rested on Varnasramadharma based on caste and Ashram. Thus the caste system began and developed in this age. In the later Vedic period intermarriages were restricted, change over from one Varna to another was rare.
Economy of Later Vedic Society
The economic basis began to disintegrate birth, family, customs and remnants, deformations, new accretions of fanciful religious sign and ritual became the riveting links of the system of caste in the iron age of the old society. There is a continuous growth and progress during this age. Agriculture and pastoral pursuits developed immensely. Many kinds of grain such as rice, barley, beans and sesame were grown. New occupations like fishing, fire-ranging, cloth-washing, butchering, making of jewels and cutting of hair sprang up and developments occurred in the realm of industry. Architectural skill is displayed in the construction of the Fire-altar and shaped like a large bird with outspread wings. Women were also employed in the industry. Metal-industry was in much advanced stages.
Law in Later Vedic Society
The source of law was the Vedas and other scriptures. There was also respect for group and regional laws and conventions. The communities legislated for themselves. Autonomy was enjoyed by trade guilds and corporations. Taxes and inheritance came under civil law. In criminal law, the chief crimes treated are assault, adultery and theft. Women were not independent in regards to sacrifice or inheritance.
Position of Women in Later Vedic Society
In this period only sons could perform sacrifice and the daughters were deprived of this right and the birth of a daughter began to be looked down upon as an inauspicious event by the parents. But the sacred thread ceremony was performed even of daughters. The girls were married at an advanced age.
A man was considered incomplete without his wife. The wife herself supervised all domestic work. She had full control over her family members namely father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. 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 Yajurveda. 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 and like this.
It can be summed up that the later Vedic society caste distinctions played a major role. Economy did progress at a significant pace. Rituals and other traditional practices were followed religiously with no major deviations being seen. The position of women did improve to some extent as compared to previous ages.