Origin of Vedic Culture

Origin of Vedic Culture

Aryans as a Race versus Linguistic Group

  • The term Aryan denotes a linguistic group and not a race. Their language Vedic Sanskrit has definite relationship with major languages of Europe and Asia. Scholars call this group of languages as Indo-European and the people speaking these languages as Indo-Europeans or Indo-Aryans.
  • On this basis, it is postulated that Aryans spoke common language, shared a common home and dispersed in all directions including India. However, there are no written / archaeological evidences on Aryan migration and this historical fact has been established on the basis of comparative philology
  • Vedic Sanskrit is thus one of the oldest languages, originated outside India and gradually became the primary literary language of the Hinduism. The oldest Sanskrit literature dates back to 1500 BC, while classical Sanskrit language dates back to 4th century BC (Panini’s Grammar).
  • We note here that there are 6000 languages in the world spoken today. They have been classified into various language family groups. The dominant language family of northern part of Indian subcontinent is Indo-Aryan which is a sister branch of the Iranian family. Both these branches are considered to belong to the larger family of families called Indo-European. Sanskrit is the longest established language of this entire family.
  • The above discussion makes it clear that Aryans were not some sort of people belonging to a superior race. The Nazis grossly misappropriated the term “Aryan” for a race for a sinister objective. Hitler segregated the population of Germany on the basis of whether they were superior Aryans or inferior Jews or Gypsies.
  • The key reason of this historic distortion was the writings of the European scholars of 19th century who were too much fascinated with the term “Aryan”. They lived at a time when European imperialism dominated the world. They were obsessed with the desire to explain to the world that the Europeans were superior people, and this superiority of mind, body and their scientific prowess owed to their Aryan origin. This coupled with some important linguistic research in India during late 18th century gave rise to a misconception about the racial superiority of the Aryans and the intellectuals of both India and Europe were preoccupied with the glory of Aryans.

Aryans: Original Home Controversy

  • The Aryan migration theory says that the groups of nomadic tribal people from regions outside Indian sub-continent started migrating towards India around 1700 BC. These people are called Rig-Vedic Aryans because they brought with them the earliest portion of collection of hymns as Rig-Veda.
  • These people mixed with the non-Aryans and a new society was born with mix Aryan and Non-Aryan cultural elements; and eventually Aryan elements increasing occupying a central place. Because of absence of written / archaeological evidences on Aryan migration the scholars have depended on comparative philology mainly to make these postulations.


Original home of Aryans

  • Max Muller – Central Asia
  • Swami Dayanand Saraswati – Tibet
  • Mayor – Pamir Plateau
  • Hurz Feld – Turkistan
  • J C Rod – Bactria
  • Lokmanya Tilak – Arctic region


Central Asia as Aryan Home

  • As per this, the original home of the Aryans was in the Eurasian steppes lands north and east of Black Sea and extending towards Caspian Sea. Sometime during the third millennium BC, due to climatic and environmental changes, the groups of people from these areas migrated to variety of zones outside their original homeland.
  • Max Muller, a German scholar of comparative philology propounded the Central Asian home theory of Aryans. Apart from philology, scant resources of archaeology and examination of oral traditions also support this theory.
  • These people domesticated horse and had developed wheeled vehicles so make the migration easier. However, these people did not come in a mighty torrent to spread with force of arms. The migration was slow, gradual and mostly peaceful. They spoke a variety of languages and dialects. When they settled into different areas, their language and culture mixed and original vocabulary was augmented and modified.
  • This theory also tried to explain the further expansion of Aryans in India. In around 2000BC, there were two areas in which Aryans settled. First was in Afghanistan from modern Kabul to Peshawar while second was Kandahar. The Rig- Vedic Aryans moved from there about 1400 BC, crossing the various rivers and proceeding towards either the Swat valley or Punjab. This entire region including Afghanistan, Swat valley, Punjab and Indo- Gangetic watershed is collectively referred once as Sapta Sindhava, the land of the seven rivers.


The Rig-Veda – Avesta Link

  • It has been established that the between 1700 BC and 1400 BC, two peoples Avestan and Rigvedic co-existed in same area. They represent the two most important arms of the Indo-Iranian tradition as a whole. They had common culture, mythology and rituals before they separated. They worshipped a number of Gods together. Both shared the tradition of composing hymns in praise of their gods. Both have revered the nature gods such as wind, sun, sky etc. Some of the earliest prayers of both of them are similar. Sanskrit is close to the language of Yashts, the earliest hymns of Avesta {sacred text of Zorastrians}. Both groups shared a common habit of drinking juice of fertility plant {probably Ephedra spp) called Soma in Rig-Veda and Haoma in Avesta. Similarly, the symbolic importance of fire in the rituals of both groups is also notable. Thus, taking into account the similarities in mythology, language, religious practice, beliefs etc. it can be safely concluded that the traditions of Avesta and Rig-Veda emerged from a single common source.


Tibet Home Theory

  • In Satyarth Prakash, Swami Dayanand Saraswati propounded that the original home of the Aryans was Tibet.
  • Logic given was that sun and fire was worshipped in Tibet due to extreme cold; and the flora and fauna mentioned in Rig-Veda were found in Tibet. This theory was bought by only a few, however, Nazis took is seriously and sent an expedition to Tibet to get some clues.


Arctic Home Theory

  • Lokmanya Tilak in his book “The Arctic Home in the Vedas” propounded that North Pole was the original home of Aryans during pre-glacial period.
  • He used Vedic hymns, Avestic passages, Vedic chronology and Vedic calendars and compared them with the geological, astronomical, and archaeological evidences to to conclude that the primordial cradle of the Aryan race was North Pole, before the changed climatic conditions forced them to move southward into present-day Europe, Iran, and India.


Analyzing the Revisionist Arguments

  • Though there have been considerable evidences that Aryans were migrants, yet an aggressive campaign of revisionism launched by some writers that Indian Civilization is purely Indian.
  • First argument towards this is that Indus Valley Civilization and Vedic Aryan Culture are one and same; and it was in fact the Saraswati Culture as evident from settlements discovered along or in the direction of now dried up Saraswati River. However, this argument countered on the basis that nowhere in the Rig-Vedic texts there is a mention of cities of Indus or Saraswati. In fact, the Indus Valley Culture came into light only in 19th century and it was not even recognized in India until then. Second argument is that the Vedic books don’t discuss any of the foreign lands of west, neither Iran nor Central Asia not Afghanistan from where the Aryans are supposed to come. However, this argument is countered that the texts have obliquely given reference to the places, rivers, animals, etc. of that land.


Archaeological Evidences

  • As mentioned above, there are not many archaeological evidences to clearly prove the migration of Aryans. However, there are three documents which contain references to Aryan names.
  • Interestingly, none of these comes from Iran or Afghanistan or Central Asia but from Mesopotamia.
  • Firstly, in the documents of the Kassite rulers of Babylon (c. 1750 BC–1170 BC) there is reference of two gods’ viz. Suriya (sun god) and Marutta (god of war) and a King called Abiratta (Abhiratha).
  • Secondly, there was a Mittani Kingdom in the North-West of Babylon in 1500 to 1300BC in which some documents list the names of princes and noblemen. Some of them are Indrota (Indra), Sauksatra, Purusa etc.
  • Thirdly, the most important evidence comes from the Boghazkoi tablet inscription found in eastern Turkey. These inscriptions record the details of a treaty signed in around 1350BC between the losers Mittani and victors Hitties. Both the sides have listed their Gods. The Gods of Mittani are Indra, Varuna, Nasatya etc. which are clearly Rig-Vedic. In Rig-Veda, these Gods have been assigned the task of overseeing the treaties.


The Extent of Vedic Civilization: Sapta Sindhu, Brahmavarta and Aryavarta

  • From their original home in Central Asia, the Aryans moved towards South-west in around 2000 BC and settled mainly in two areas in modern Afghanistan. First was the region between modern Kabul and Peshawar while another was Kandahar which was linked Quetta via the Bolan Pass. In around 1400 BC, they further crossed various rivers and proceeded either towards Swat Valley or towards Punjab and Indo-Gangetic plains. This entire region including Afghanistan, Swat Valley, Punjab and Indo-Gangetic watershed has been referred in Rig-Veda once as the Sapta Sindhava or Sapta Sindhu (the land of seven rivers).


The seven rivers of Sapta Sindhu

  • The Nadistuti sukta of Rig-Veda mentioned ten rivers viz. Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Sutudri, Parusni, Asikni, Marudvrdha , Vitasta , Arjikiya and Susoma.
  • The Shutudri is old name of Sutlej, Parushni of Ravi, Asikni of Chenab and Vitasta of Jhelum. Apart from these 10 rivers, the Kubha River (Kabul), Suwastu (Swat) Kramu (Kurram) & Gomati (Gomal) Rivers have also got place in Rig-Vedic texts.
  • Thus, any of these might be the seven rivers of Sapta Sindhava region. Another set of scholars believes that Sindhu and Saraswati were most sacred rivers of that era. They argue that the hymns in praise of Saraswati are some of the oldest composed 8000 years ago. As per this argument, Sapta Sindhu region comprised of river Saraswati, Indus and five tributaries of Indus viz. Sutudri (Sutlej), Parusni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Vitasta (Jhelum) and Vipas (Beas) river. This term is also found in Avesta.
  • The Sapta Saindhavas country of the Rig Vedic period was bounded by the Himalayas and modern Tibet in the east, Turkistan in the north, Afghanistan, in the west and the Aravallis in the south.
Rigvedic Name Modern Name
Sindhu Indus
Vitasta Jhelum
Askini Chenab
Purushni Ravi
Vipasha Beas
Sutudri Satluj
Gomal Gomati
Krumu Kurram
Drishadwati Ghaggar
Suwastu Swat




  • The geographical regions mentioned in Rig-veda include Sapta Sindhuva, Panchanada, Madhydesa and Praki. These were perhaps the first references to the emergence of regions.
  • The geographical location of these regions suggests that the Indo- Aryans preferred to settle down along the banks of Indus and its tributaries (Panchanada).
  • Further south-east, the land between Saraswati and Drishadvati (Ghagghar) was called Brahmavarta. On the periphery of these plains lie the alluvial basins of the Gomti (Gomal), Krumu (Kurrum) and Kubha (Kabul) in afghanistan. This was the geographical extent of the Vedic Aryan settlements. The further southward migration led them to Madhyadesa region.



  • In the later scriptures, the country of Aryans is also designated as Aryavarta. The boundaries of Aryavarta included parts of Modern Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and northern India up to Vindhyan mountains. Rig-Vedic Aryans had not established settlements in the southern India.
  • The Ganga and the mountains of the Vindhya were the barriers not easy to cross in those days.


Geographical entities in Rig-Vedic Texts

  • A total of 31 rivers have been mentioned in Rig-Vedic hymns, most of which belong to Indus, Ganga and lost Saraswati system. The rivers south to Vindhyas have not been mentioned.
  • Among mountains, they have mentioned Himalayas, Arjika, Mujavant, Silament (Suleman range) etc. They have not mentioned the land south of Yamuna, not even Vindhya or Satpura ranges.
  • The Shatapatha brahamana mentioned eastern and western oceans.
  • Further, Vedic Aryans were rural and nomadic, so no important cities have been mentioned. The places were known only by name of the tribes which controlled them.



Outline of Vedic Literature

  • The glory of Aryans is in their literature. The Vedic texts were composed in Sanskrit and orally transmitted for many centuries before they were finally written down. During this transition from oral to written versions, the language also evolved from what was known as Vedic Sanskrit to Classical Sanskrit.


Shruti and Smriti

  • The Vedic literature is broadly divided into two categories viz. Shruti and Smriti. Shruti (that was heard) literature was initially transmitted orally before it was finally written down. It is considered authoritative, canonical, eternal / divine and unquestionable truth.
  • Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads together form the Shruti literature and make the central canon of Hinduism. These also make the four components of Vedic literature.
  • Smriti is what is remembered, supplementary and may change over time. The entire body of Classical Sanskrit literature is Smriti including Vedangas, Shatdarshana, Puranas, Itihasas (epics), Upavedas, Trantras, Agamas and Upangas.
  • They are authoritative to the extent that they conform to the bedrock of Shruti. However, there is not a distinct divide between Shruti and Smriti. Both can be represented as a continuum.


Shruti Literature



  • The four Vedas viz. Rig-Veda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda come under the Shruti literature and are bedrocks of entire Vedic literature. The basic material or mantra text of each of the Vedas is called Samhita.
  • Samhita is literally a compilation. Some post Vedic texts are also known as Samhitas such as Ashtavakra Gita, Bhrigu Samhita, Brahma Samhita, Deva Samhita, Garga Samhita, Kashyap Samhita, Shiva Samhita and Yogayajnavalkya Samhita.



  • Brahmanas are prose texts explaining the meaning of hymns of Vedas, giving their applications and stories of their origin and composers.



  • Aranya means forest. Aranyakas were written in forests for the hermits and students of the Vedas. They are actually the concluding parts of Brahamans and their content focuses on philosophy and mysticism rather than rites, ritual and sacrifices. Their stress is on moral values. They form a bridge between Karma of Brahamans and Gyana of Upanishads.



  • Upanishad means to sit down near someone. They denote students sitting near their Guru to learn. Thus, Upanishads are treatises of teachings of Gurus to their pupils. They specify philosophical knowledge and spiritual learning. The main motto of the Upanishads is “Knowledge Awards Salvation”.
  • Upanishadas are called the end of Vedas (Vedanta) because they denote the last phase of Vedic period and also reveal the final aim of Veda.


Smriti Literature


  • Vedangas are six auxiliary disciplines associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas. They include Shiksha (Phonetics), Kalpa (Ritual Canon), Vyakaran (Grammar), Nirukta (explanation), Chhanda (Vedic meter) and Jyotisha (Astrology)



  • The six āstika (orthodox) schools of thought of Hinduism are called Shatdarshana or six philosophies. These include Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimansa and Vedanta. Currently, only Vedanta and Yoga are in tradition.



  • Puranas are compilations of ancient legends and consist of history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography. They have served as sources of historical facts of early period but are coloured with exaggerations, and also represent a corrupt form of Hindu Philosophy. Due to this, for historians, they are neither trustworthy proofs for reconstruction of Ancient Indian History nor helpful in fixing the boundaries of the empires. They also don’t provide authentic information about the administration of ancient dynasties.


Itihasas (epics)

  • The Four Itihasas or Epics are Valmiki-Ramayana, Yogavasishtha, Mahabharata and Harivamsa.
  • These embody all that is in the Vedas, but only in a simpler manner. Due to their simplicity like a novel, they are called the Suhrit-Samhitas or the Friendly Treatises. {Conversely, Vedas are called the Prabhu-Samhitas or the Commanding Treatises with great authority}.
  • Itihasas explain the great universal truths in the form of historical narratives, stories and dialogues. These are very interesting olumes and are liked by all, from the inquisitive child to the intellectual scholar.



  • Upaveda is literally “applied knowledge”. These are supplementary Vedas on technical subjects.
  • These include:
    • Āyurveda: Deals in Medicine and associated with the Rigveda
    • Dhanurveda: Deals in Archery and associated with the Yajurveda
    • Gāndharvaveda: Deals with Music and Dance and associated with the Samaveda.
    • Shastrashastra: Deals with military technology and associated with the Atharvaveda


Trantras Agamas

  • Tantra literature is considered to be first spoken by Lord Shiva to his consort Parvati.
  • The Tantra has three divisions viz. Agama, Yamala and Tantra. Tantra is also a function of diety worshipped and has three parts viz. saiva, vaishnava and shakta. The ancient texts list total 64 Tantras.



  • Agamas are part of all the main religions of India viz. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Folk religions.
  • In context with Hinduism, Agama refers to a collection of ideas pertaining to matters like construction of temples, idol creation and conduct of worship of the Deity.


Dharma Sastras

  • The four dharmasutra collectively make the Dharamashashtras of Smriti Literature. These include Dharma sutras {guidelines to live a Dharmic life}, Grhya sutras {guidelines for family life}, Srauta sutras {guidelines for performing rituals} and Sulba sutras {mathematical principles for construction of various altars}.


Important Facts to be remembered about Vedic Shruti Literature


On Rig-Veda

  • Rig-Veda is oldest literature of the world and is known as “First testament” of mankind.
  • The famous Gayatri Mantra comes from third Mandala of Rig-Veda.
  • The first hymn (1.1) of Rig-Veda is dedicated to Vedic God Agni.
  • One entire Mandala (ninth) is dedicated to the Vedic beverage Soma.
  • The Nadistuti sukta is hymn dedicated to 10 rivers of contemporary India.
  • The Nasadiya Sukta talks about the origin of the Universe and is part of 10th Mandala. This Sukta states a paradox “not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent exist then”. This particular statement has attracted a lots of commentaries in both Indian and western theology.
  • There are two branches of Rig-Veda viz. Shakala Shakha and Vatkal or Bhashkala Shakha.
  • Two Brahmans of Rig-Veda are Aitreya and Kaushitaki.


On Yajurveda

  • It contains rituals for yajnas and is ascribed to Advaryus who prepared ground for Yajnas. It is world’s oldest prose literature.
  • Two branches Shukla and Shyama. Shyama is older than Shukla and has no separate Brahman.
  • Shukla is newer and has three Brahmanas attached to it viz. Kathaka, Taittiriya and Shatapatha Brahmana
  • Dhanurveda is Upaveda of Yajurveda.


On Sam Veda

  • Samaveda contains the rhythmic compilation of Hymns for Rig-Veda. The 1549 hymns are there to be sung at the Soma Sacrifice by a special class of Brahamins called Udgatris.
  • Gandharveveda is Upaveda of Samveda.
  • Panchavisha, Shadvisha and Jaiminiya Brahmanas are attached to


On Atharvaveda

  • Atharvaveda is chronologically the latest Veda. It describes the popular beliefs and superstitions of the humble folk.
  • It contains the magic spells, incorporates much of early traditions of healing and magic that are paralleled in other Indo-European literatures.
  • It is ascribed to Atharvans and Angiras.
  • Gopatha Brahman is linked to Atharvaveda.
  • Atharvaveda has no Aranyakas appended to it.


On Aranyakas

  • As we discussed earlier, they were created in forests and are for students and hermits. They make a bridge between the Karma of Brahmana and Gyana of Upanishads.
  • There are no Aranyaka appended to Atharvaveda.


On Upanishads

  • Upanishad means to sit down near someone and denotes a student sitting near his guru to learn. They specify philosophical knowledge and spiritual learning and their main motto is “Knowledge Awards Salvation”.
  • Upanishads are also called Vedanta, because they reveal the final aim of Vedas.
  • Oldest Upanishads are Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya.
  • Latest Upanishad is Muktikā Upnishad recorded by Dara Shikoh in 1656.
  • Dara Shikoh, the unlucky son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan is known to have translated fifty Upanishads into Persian.
  • There are 108 Upanishads, of which 11 are predominant and called Mukhya Upanishads.


Important Trivia on Upanishads

Four Mahavakyas

The four Mahavakyas or great statements are from Upanishads. They are as follows:

  • Prajnanam Brahma
    • This means consciousness is Brahman. It comes from Aitareya Upanishad of Rig-Veda. This Mahavakya implies that the consciousness is subtlest texture of the cosmos and is present and active everywhere.
  • Ayam Atma Brahma
    • This means self or Atman is Brahman. It comes from the Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharva Veda.
  • Tat Tvam Asi
    • This means “Thou art That”. It comes from the Chandogya Upanishad of the Samveda. It’s too much mystical statement and has been interpreted by different schools differently. In its simplest meaning, it says that self in its pure form is identical with the original reality.
  • Aham Brahmasmi
    • This means “I am Brahman”. This statement comes from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad of the Yajurveda.


Asato Ma Sadgamaya

  • This Upanishada belongs to the Shatpath Brahman and contains the famous shlokaa asto ma sadgamaya tamaso ma jyotirgamaya mrtyorma amrtam gamaya” This shloka means “lead us from the unreal to the real, lead us from darkness to light, lead us from death to immortality“.



  • It was translated by Max Müller in 1879. It was rendered in verse by Edwin Arnold as “The Secret of Death”. The central story is immortality and covers the story of encounter of Nachiketa, son of sage Vajasravasa, with Yama, God of death.



  • This Upanishad deals with the Para Vidya and Apara Vidya. The Para Vidya is knowledge that leads to Self Realization, Apara Vidya deals with everything else or the material knowledge.


Mundaka Upanishad

  • Mundaka Upanishad is notable as the source of the phrase Satyameva jayate (3.1.6)



  • Mandukya is the Shortest Upanishad. It contains twelve verses expounding the mystic syllable Aum, the three psychological states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, and the transcendent fourth state of illumination.



  • Six pupils interested in knowing divinity or Brahman come to sage Pippalada and requests him to clarify their spiritual doubts. Therefore, this Upnishad is in Question Answer format.

Important Notes on Smriti Literature



  • Vedangas are six auxiliary disciplines associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas. They are as follows:


Shiksha (Phonetics)

  • Its aim is the teaching of the correct pronunciation of the Vedic hymns and mantras. The oldest phonetic textbooks are the Pratishakyas (prātiśākhya), describing pronunciation, intonation of Sanskrit, as well as the Sanskrit rules of sandhi (word combination), specific to individual schools or Shakhas of the Vedas.


Kalpa (Ritual Canon)

It contains the sacrificial practice and systematic sutras. There are three kinds of Sutras part of Kalpa:

  • Śrautasūtras, which are based on the Shruti, and teach the performance of the great sacrifices, requiring three or five sacrificial fires Smartasūtras,or rules based on the Smriti or tradition. The Smartasūtras have two classes viz. Grhyasutras, or domestic rules: They are basically treating the rites of passage, such as marriage, birth, namegiving, etc., connected with simple offerings into the domestic fire.
  • Dharmasutras or customs and social duties:The Dharmasūtras are the first four texts of the Dharmasastra tradition and they focus on the idea of dharma, the principal guide by which Hindus strive to live their lives. The Dharmasūtras are written in concise prose, leaving much up to the educated reader to interpret. The most important of these texts are the sutras of Āpastamba, Gautama, Baudhāyana, and Vasi__ha. The Dharmasūtras can be called the guidebooks of dharma as they contain the rules of conduct and rites as practiced in the Vedic schools. They discuss about the duties of people at different stages of life like studenthood, householdership, retirement and renunciation. These stages are also called āśramas. They also discuss about the rites and duties of kings, judicial matters, and even personal practices like the regulations in diet, offenses and expiations, daily oblations, and funerary practice.



Vyakaran (Grammar)

  • Vyakaran includes the Aṣṭādhyāyī, of Panini. Most of the work of very early Indian grammarians ranging to 8th century BC is lost. There are 4 parts of Panini’s Grammar:
    • Śivasūtra: Contains phonology (notations for phonemes specified in 14 lines)
    • Aṣṭadhyāyī: Contains morphology (construction rules for complexes)
    • Dhātupāṭha:Contains list of roots (classes of verbal roots)
    • Gaṇapāṭha: Contains list of classes of primitive nominal stems


Nirukta (explanation)

  • It is traditionally attributed to Yāska, an ancient Sanskrit grammarian. It deals with etymology, particularly of obscure words, especially those occurring in the Veda


Chhanda (Vedic meter)

  • It measures and divides Vedic Mantras by number of padas in a verse, which is called Padas. Number of padas divides each verse, hymn, or mantra and number of syllables divides each pada. There is a distinct taxonomy on this basis.
  • For example a Gayatri Chhanda has 3 padas of 8 syllables containing 24 syllables in each stanza. Similarly, Anuṣṭup has 4 padas of 8 syllables containing 32 syllables in each stanza.
  • Anustup is the typical shloka of classical Sanskrit poetry


Jyotisha (Astrology)

  • It describes rules for tracking the motions of the sun and the moon and the foundation of Vedic Jyotish.



  • Hindu philosophy is traditionally divided into six āstika (orthodox) schools of thought, or darśanam, which accept the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures. The āstika schools are:
  1. Samkhya, an atheistic and strongly dualist theoretical exposition of consciousness and matter.
  2. Yoga, a school emphasizing meditation, contemplation and liberation.
  3. Nyaya or logic, explores sources of knowledge (Nyāya Sūtras).
  4. Vaisheshika, an empiricist school of atomism.
  5. Mimā_sā, an anti-ascetic and anti-mysticist school of orthopraxy.
  6. Vedanta, the last segment of knowledge in the Vedas, or the ‘Jnan’ (knowledge) ‘Kanda’ (section). Vedanta came to be the dominant current of Hinduism in the post-medieval period.


Of the historical division into six darsanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, survive.


School Author Beginning Main Book
Nyaya Gautama 6th Century BC Nyayasutra
Vaisheshika Kanad 6th Century BC Vaisheshika sutra
Sankhya Kapil 6th Century BC Sankhya sutra
Yoga Patanjali 2nd Century BC Yoga sutra
Poorva Mimansa Jaimini 4th  Century BC Poorva Mimansa Sutra
Uttara Mimansa or Vedanta Badrayan or Vyas 4th  Century BC Uttara Mimansa Sutra



  • Literally means recursion. It is based on texts known as the Nyaya Sutras, which were written by Aksapada Gautama from around the 2nd century AD.
  • Nyaya Sutras say that there are four means of attaining valid knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and verbal testimony.



  • It was proposed by Maharishi Kanaad. It postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms. The school deals in detail with “Padarth” or Matter.



  • Samkya or Samkhya means Enumeration. The founder of the Sankya school of Philosophy was Maharishi Kapil. The school denies the “existence of God” and postulated that there are two realities Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is the consciousness and Prakriti is the phenomenal realm of matter.



  • Founder of this school of Philosophy was Patanjali. Yuj means “control” and Yoga also mean to “add”.
  • Rāja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Hatha Yoga are its main branches.
  • The Yogasutras of Patanjali which mainly postulate the Raj Yoga , date back to Mauryan Period while Hathayoga was introduced by Yogi Swatmarama.
  • The major difference between Raj Yoga and Hathayoga is that Raja Yoga aims at controlling all thought-waves or mental modifications, while a Hatha Yogi starts his Sadhana, or spiritual practice, with Asanas (postures) and Pranayama. So RajYoga starts from Mind and Hathyoga starts from Body.



  • Mimansa means investigation or enquiry. The primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close theology of the Vedas.
  • It has two divisions, Poorva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa. Uttar Mimansa is treated as Vedanta. The poorva Mimansa was postulated by Jamini. The ideology of Poorva Mimansa was to counteract the challenge by Buddhism and vedanta which marginalized the Vedic sacrifices. This school got momentum in Gupta period and reached its climax in 7-8th century. Sabara and Kumaril Bhatta were two main interpretators. It was one of the major forces to decline Buddhism in India , but later itself was eclipsed by Vedanta.



  • Vedanta means Veda end or the purpose or goal of the Vedas. It was given by Badrayana or maharishi Vyasa who is one of the 7 chiranjivis and wrote “Mahabharta“.


Difference between Nyaya and Vaisheshika

  • Vaisesika is allied to the nyaya system of philosophy. Both systems accept the liberation of the individual self as the end goal; both view ignorance as the root cause of all pain and misery; and both believe that liberation is attained only through right knowledge of reality.
  • There are, however, two major differences between Nyaya and Vaisesika.
    • First, nyaya philosophy accepts four independent sources of knowledge — perception, inference, comparison, and testimony — but vaisesika accepts only two — perception and inference.
    • Second, nyaya maintains that all of reality is comprehended by sixteen categories (padarthas), whereas vaisesika recognizes only seven categories of reality. These are: dravya (substance), guna (quality), karma (action), samanya (generality), visesa (uniqueness), samavaya (inherence), and abhava (nonexistence).
    • The term padartha means “the object denoted by a word,” and according to vaisesika philosophy all objects denoted by words can be broadly divided into two main classes— that which exists, and that which does not exist. Six of the seven padarthas are in the first class, that which exists. In the second class, that which does not exist, there is only one padartha, abhava, which stands for all negative facts such as the nonexistence of things.



  • Vedanta means Veda end or the purpose or goal of the Vedas. It was given by Badrayana or Maharishi Vyasa, who is one of the 7 chiranjivis and wrote “Mahabharta”.



  • Its proponent wes Adi Sahnakara and his Guru Gaudapada. The essence of this Vedanta is that “Brahman is the only reality, and the world, as it appears, is illusory.”



  • Its proponent was Rāmānuja. The basic theory is that “jīvātman is a part of Brahman, and hence is similar, but not identical. Brahman, matter and the individual souls are distinct but mutually inseparable entities”. Vishishtadvaita advocates Bhakti to attain God.



  • The proponent of the Dvaita was Madhwāchārya. This theory is also known as Tatvavādā – The Philosophy of Reality. It identifies God in the Brahman (Universe) and its incarnations such as Vishnu and Krishna. It says that all individual souls (jīvātmans) and matter as eternal are mutually separate entities.



  • The theory of Dvaitādvaita was given by Nimbarka. It is based upon the early school of Bhedābheda of Bhaskara. It says that jīvātman is at once the same as yet different from Brahman. The jiva relation may be regarded as dvaita from one point of view and advaita from another. This school identifies God in Krishna.



  • The proponent of Shuddhādvaita was Vallabha. It says that World is Leela of God that is Krishnaand he is Sat-Chid-Aananda. It identifies Bhakti as the only means of liberation. Vallabha was also a famous saint of Pushti Marg. He won the famous debate of Brahmavad over Shankars.


Achintya Bhedābheda

  • The proponent of Achintya Bhedābheda was Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a follower of the Dvaita vedanta of Sri Madhwacharya. The doctrine of Achintya Bhedābheda or inconceivable and simultaneous one-ness and difference states that the soul or energy of God is both distinct and non-distinct from God and he can be experienced through a process of long devotion.
  • It identified God in Krishna. This Philosophy is followed by ISKCON.


Purnādvaita or Integral Advaita

  • The proponent of Purnādvaita was Shri Arubindo. He propounded this doctrine in his “The Life Divine”. synthesized all the exant schools of Vedanta and gave a comprehensive resolution integrating cues from the Western metaphysics and modern science.
  • Sri Arubindo is known to be one, who restored the umbilical cord of the Vedantic exegesis with the Vedas.


Modern Vedānta

  • The proponent of Modern Vedānta was Swami Vivekananda. His phislosophy says that the conditions of abject poverty should be removed; only then will people be able to turn their minds toward God.


School of Philosophy Propounder
Advaita Adishankar
Vishishtadvaita Ramanuja
Dvaita Madhawacharya
Dvaita advaita Nimbarka
Shuddha advaita Vallabha
Achintya Bhedabheda Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Purnadvaita Shri Aurobindo
Modern Vedanta Swami Vivekananda


Vedic Religion, Polity and Society


Rig Vedic Gods

  • Aryans were solely theists and their contemplation about life and the world was from the spiritual standpoint.
  • The Vedic Aryans believed in the concept of one in many evident from the quote “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti“, which means that which exists is ONE sages call it by various names.


Worship of Nature

  • Rig-Vedic Aryans worshipped the forces of nature, but at the same time believed in the basic unity of nature. They worshipped many gods not in fear of nature but to gain nature’s favour. All the natural phenomena such as the sky, thunder, rain, air were believed to be guided by their presiding deities, while natural devastations were taken to be an expression of their wrath. The hymns of the Rig- Veda were mainly sung for the glorification of the gods in order to appease them. God was regarded as the ruler, ordainer of the period of life, protector of men and giver of happiness.
  • There were no places of worship like temples or objects of worship like Idols. Natural phenomena were conceived as the expression of some spiritual different appearances of various gods. For the different appearances of the sky different deities were imagined, such as Varuna, Indra, Mitra, Dyus. Most of these natural events were personified and it was the birth of first mythology in the world.


Dyus-Pitr, Mithra, Varuna

  • The Aryans looked up to the bright sky and worshipped it under the name of Dyu or This term is equivalent to the Greek Zeus and the first syllable of the Jupiter. It is also similar toTiu of the Saxons and the Zio of the Germans. These common names under which the sky-god was worshipped by the different cultures of ancient times prove that the sky was worshipped under these names by the primitive Aryans in their original home.
  • So, earliest divine power in Vedic literature is Dyaus. Dyaus was referred as Dyaus Pitr, which later became Ju-piter. Pitr means Prithvi and Dyaus was coupled with prithivi and the two Dyaus-Prithivi are the universal parents.
  • Rig-Vedic Aryans called the sky of day as Mithra corresponding to the Zend Mithra; and they called the sky of night Varuna, corresponding to the Greek Ouranos.
  • Varuna, apart from being the god of the sky, is also the god of law of nature Varuna is also lord of the Patal Loka (nether world). He is one of the most prominent gods in the Rig-Veda, and lord of the heavens and the earth.


Indra and Marut

  • While the Hindu Aryans of the Punjab continued to worship the ancient sky-god under the ancient names of Dyu, Mitra, and Varuna, they paid special homage to the sky that rains, which they called Indra.
  • Rise of rivers and the luxuriance of crops depend on the rain-giving sky; and in course of time, Indra became the most prominent deity in the Vedic society.
  • Indra was conceived as a warlike deity, battling with the clouds, called Vritra, to obtain copious torrents of rain for man, and fighting with the demons of darkness, called Panis, to restore to the world the light of the morning.
  • The Maruts or storm-gods were supposed to help Indra in his contest with the reluctant clouds, for in India the first showers of the rainy season are often attended with storms and thunder.
  • Thus, Indra was the most important divinity and was lord of war. 250 hymns have been devoted to only Indra in Rig Veda, which is highest for any of the Gods. His other names are:
    • Car-warrior (Rathestha)
    • A winner ( Jitendra)
    • Soma Drinker (Somapa).
    • Indra is mentioned as son of Dyaus. He killed a demon Vritra, so he is known as Vritrahan.
    • He destroyed the forts of Dasyus, so also known as Purandhar.
    • He held the thunderbolt (Vajra) with which he destroyed the enemies. His wife is Indrani or Sachi (energy).


Aditi, Sun, Savithri

  • Next to the sky, the sun was the most prominent object of the worship of the ancient Hindus. Aditi was the limitless light of sky, and her sons, the Adityas were the suns of the different months of the year. Surya was coterminous with Greek Helios, the Latin Sol, and the Teuton Tyr.
  • Savitri is another name of the same deity Sun, and the sacred hymn, the Gayathri Mantra, which is still repeated every morning by pious Hinuds all over world; is a verse dedicated to Savithri.
  • Please note that Vishnu, which in later Hindu mythology has become a name of the Supreme Preserver of all beings, was a name of the sun in the Vedic age. The rising sun, the sun at Zenith, and the setting sun were considered the three steps of Vishnu striding across limitless space.



  • Fire or Agni was an object of worship. No sacrifice to the gods could be performed without oblations or offerings to the fire, and Agni was therefore considered to be the priest among the gods. But Agni is not only the terrestrial fire in the Rig Veda; he is also the fire of the lightning and the sun, and his abode was in heaven. The early sage Bhrigus discovered him there, and Atharvavan and Angiras, the first sacrificers, installed him in this world, as the protector of men.
  • Thus, Agni is the God of fire and acceptor of sacrifices. He was considered an intermediary between Gods and men. 200 hymns have been devoted to only Agni in Rig Veda while Agni is mentioned in 218 hymns.


Vayu and Rudra

  • Vayu or the wind is sometimes invoked in the Rig Veda. The Maruts or storm-gods are often invoked, as we have seen before, and are considered the helpers of Indra in obtaining rain for the benefit of man.
  • Rudra, the loud-sounding father of the Maruts, is the Thunder, and in later Hindu mythology, this name has been appropriately chosen for the Supreme Destroyer of all living beings.


Soma & Brihaspati

  • Agni, or fire, received special homage because he was necessary for all sacrifice. The libation of soma juice was similarly regarded sacred, and Soma was worshipped as a deity. Similarly, the prayer, which accompanied the libations or offerings, was also regarded as a deity, and was called Brahamanaspati.
  • In later Hindu mythology, Brahman is selected as the name of the Supreme Creator of all living beings.
  • Soma was prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant, and the Soma God was god of the plants. 123 hymns are dedicated to Soma and most of them are from Soma Mandala.


Agni Soma Cult

  • Apart from lightning the Holy Fire, the Soma-drinking was another mark of the Arya cult, which may therefore be called ‘the Agni-Soma cult-‘ Soma is a product of the Himalayan regions, so that when the cult moved down to the plains, Kirata (huntress) girls from the Himalayan hills supplied it to Brahmanas. The use of Soma, like the worship of Agni indicates the Himalayan region as the place where the Agni-Soma cult first originated.


Soma & Haoma

  • The fermented juice of the plant called Soma appears to have been the only intoxicating drink used in Vedic times. So much were the ancient Aryans addicted to this drink, that Soma was soon worshipped as a deity both in India and in Iran (under the name Haoma in the latter country), and we find one entire Mandala, or Book, of the Rig-Veda, dedicated to this deity.



  • They are various Vedic gods taken together as a whole headed by Indra. 70 hymns are dedicated to Visvedevas in Rig-Veda.


Ashwins or Ashwinikumars

  • Light and Darkness naturally suggested to the early Aryans the idea of twin gods. The sky (Vivasvat) is the father, and the Dawn (Saranyu) is the mother of the twin Ashwins and the legend goes on to say that Saranyu ran away from Vivasvat before she gave birth to the twins.
  • There is a similar legend in Greek mythology, where and Erinnys (corresponding to Saranyu) ran away from her lover, and gave birth to Areion and Despoina. The original idea is that the Dawn and Gloaming disappears, and gives birth to Light and to Darkness.
  • Please note that later, Aswins lost their original character and simply became the physician gods, responsible for healing of the sick and the wounded, tending mortals with kindness. There are other twins Yama and Yami, who are kids of same parents – the Dawn and Sky. They also acquired different chareters in Rig Veda.


Yama & Yami

  • Yama is considered to have been the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence, he became the ruler of the departed. He is the guardian of the world of Dead.
  • His twin sister is Yami and both Yama and Yami are Children of Surya. Yamini means Night and Yami is also known as Yamuna.



  • Usha has been described as far – extending, many – tinted, brilliant Dawn, whose abode is unknown. She harnesses her chariots from afar and comes in radiance and glory. She is the young, the white-robed daughter of the sky, and the queen of all earthly treasures. She is like the careful mistress of the house who rouses everyone from his slumbers and sends him to his work. Yet she is radiant as a bride decorated by her mother for the auspicious ceremony, and displaying her charms to the view.
  • Such are the fond epithets and beautiful similes with which the Hindu Aryans greeted the fresh and lovely mornings of a tropical sky.


Other Rig Vedic Gods

  • Pusan: The guardian of the Jungle Paths and Roads.
  • Aditi – Goddess of Eternity
  • Gandhrava – Divine Musicians
  • Rbhus – three semi divine deities of Rig-Veda.
  • Rudra – Archer of Gods
  • Aranyanai – Goddess of Forests
  • Usha – Goddess of Dawn
  • Prithvi – Goddess Earth



  • Apsaras are dancers of the celestial courts, however, Rig Veda mentions Apsara as the wife of Gandharva. Rig Veda allows for the existence of more than one Apsara. The maiden Apsara is Urvashi who became the wife of king Pururavas, first king of the Somavamsha.
  • Narrative of Urvashi and Pururavas is found in the Rigveda (X.95.1-18) and the Shatapatha Brahmana (XI.5.1)




Comparison of the Greek Dieties and Ancient Hindu Dieties

  • There was an essential difference between the Hindu gods of the Vedic age and the Greek gods of the Homeric age. The first thing we should note that the Sanskrit language is nearer and closer than the Greek to the original Aryan tongue, yet Hindu conceptions go nearer to the original Nature-worship of the primitive Aryans. The Gods of Homeric Greeks have attained a marked individuality and the characters are so individualistic that “nature” almost escapes.
  • But the Hindu Gods are still the powers of Nature and show manifestations of Nature. For example, we can identify Indra with Rains easily but cannot identify Zeus with Sky. Therefore, we can say that Hindu conceptions are more true to their original sources.


Rig-Vedic Polity

During Rig-Vedic era, the basic unit of power lied within a patriarchal family (Kula). The head of the family was a Kulapa. A group of such families called grama, which was controlled by a village headman Gramini. The groups of the villages belonged to a clan V (is) and many clans made a community called Jana.


Concept of King

  • The Chief of this tribe Jana was Rajana. Rajana was not a king in real sense, but a protector of the tribe and the cattle wealth.
  • In fact there was no real state territory or structure or even a real King.
  • Since Rajan was the leader of the people and not ruler of any territory, he is called Jan asya gopa or Gopati Janasya A Rajana fought wars on behalf of his Jana. These wars were for control of cattle wealth and not possession of territory. Thus, the concept of land territory was absent in early Rig-Vedic period.
  • This is the reason that while term Jana appears many times in Rig-Veda, Janapada does not appear even for once. The territorial aspect of the state is thought to have appeared in later Vedic age only. Initially, the various regions were known after the names of the tribes which controlled them and later they developed into various Janapadas.

Grama and Sangrama

  • The Grama was not essentially a village but a group of families who kept on migrating. So, again, the concept of a settled village was absent in early Vedic era. A grama can also be called a militaristic tribal unit.
  • A war or battle between Gramas was called Sangrama. In a grama, the duty to manage pastoral land was of a Vrajapati, who also led the battles.
  • Thus, both Gramini and Vrajapati were either same person or equivalent grama level heads.


The Rig-Vedic Tribes

  • We know about at least 33 tribes belonging to Early and later Vedic era from Rig-Veda.
  • The most important source of these tribes is the Dasrajana or the battle of ten Kings.
  • According to Rigveda, this battle happened between Sudas of Bharata tribe and the confederacy of ten well-known tribes viz. Puru, Yadu, Turvasa, Anu, Druhyu, Alina, Paktha, Bhalanas, Shiva and Vishanin. This bloody battle was fought on the banks of Purushni (Ravi) and Bharata emerged victorious in it.



  • The Rajan could not have an elaborate administrative machinery because the nature of the Rig-Vedic economy. An economy in which the surplus was very small, the Rajan received only Bali, e. offering to a prince or to a god from the conquered people. However these tributes were neither regular and nor stipulated and hence cannot be called a tax.


Military & Spy functionalities

  • There was no regular standing army. The military functions were invested in the Vedic assemblies. All the three persons viz. the Vrajapati, Kulapa (head of the family) and the Gramani functioned as military leaders. The Rajan held the Spies called Spasa to keep an eye on the conduct of the people. Ugra and Jivagribha were two officials probably meant for dealing with the criminals. The Madhyamasi seems to have acted as a mediator in disputes. There was no code of law in the early Vedic era.


The Earliest Tribal Assembly – Vidhata

  • Vidatha appears for 122 times in the Rig-Veda and seems to be the most important assembly in the Rig Vedic period. Vidatha was an assembly meant for secular, religious and military purpose. The Rig-Veda only once indicated the connection of woman with the Sabha whereas Vidatha is frequently associated with woman women actively participated in the deliberations with men.
  • Vidatha was the earliest folk assembly of the Aryans, performing all kinds of functions- economic, military religious and social. The Vidatha also provided common ground to clans and tribes for the worship of their gods.


Sabha & its Sabhavati

  • The term Sabha denotes both the assembly (in early Rig-Vedic) and the assembly hall (later Rig-Vedic). Women called Sabhavati also attended this assembly. It was basically a kin-based assembly and the practice of women attending it was stopped in later-Vedic times. Rig-Veda speaks of the Sabha also as a dicing and gambling assembly, along with a place for dancing, music, witchcraft, and magic. It discussed pastoral affairs and performed judicial and administrative functions and exercised judicial authority.



  • The references to samiti come from the latest books of the Rig-Veda showing that it assumed importance only towards the end of the Rig-Vedic period.
  • Samiti was a folk assembly in which people of the tribe gathered for transacting tribal business. It discussed philosophical issues and was concerned with religious ceremonies and prayers.
  • References suggest that the Rajan was elected and re-elected by the Samiti.


The differentiations between Sabha and Samiti

  • In the beginning, there was no difference between the Sabha and the Samiti. Both were called daughters of Prajapati. Both were mobile units led by chiefs who kept moving along with the forces. The only difference between Sabha and Samiti seems to be the fact that Sabha performed judicial functions, which the Samiti did not. Later, the sabha became a small aristocratic body and samiti ceased to exist.


The Gana or the Republic

  • A Gana was an assembly or troop. The leader of the gana is generally called Ganapati .


The Parisad

  • The early parisad seems to be a tribal military assembly, partly, matriarchal and partly patriarchal.
  • However, the variety of the references leads to the non-Vedic character of the parisad. In later-Vedic period, it tended to become partly an academy and partly a royal council dominated by the priests, who functioned as teachers and advisers.


Changes in Polity in later Vedic Era

  • In the later Vedic period, groups of communities became part of a region or a state (janapada). The idea of kingship evolved gradually from clan chieftainship. By the end of the Vedic period, king’s authority was beginning to derive less from the support of such assemblies than from his own success in the struggle for power. Gradually, the hereditary element crept in with the further consolidation of power by the rajas. From this point, the role of courtiers became important.
  • In the later Vedic era, the main office holders included chief priest (purohit), commander-in-chief (senani), treasurer (samagrahitri), collector of taxes (bhagadugha) and keeper of the king’s household (kshata).
  • Slowly, the legitimisation of the king’s power started getting confirmed by a lengthy and elaborate rituals of sacrifice (yajna) conducted by the priests. This way, the alliance between priest and King became the fundamental feature of the Indian polity. It also later led to social stratification.


Important Officials


Official Rig Vedic Title

King Rajan

Priest Purohita

Commander Senani

Officer in Charge of Pastoral Lands Vrajapati

Police Officers Jivagribha

Spy Spasa

Head of the Village Gramini

Head of the family Kulapa also called Dampati


Official Rig Vedic Title

Mediator in Disputes Madhyamasi

Tax Colllector Bhagadugha

Treasurer Sangrahitri

Chief Queen Mahishi

Charioteer Suta

Messenger Palagala

Accountant Akshvapa



Rig-Vedic Society

  • The Kula or family was the basic unit of Rig-Vedic society. The Kula was headed by a Kulapa, who was usually the eldest member. Society was essentially patriarchal and birth of son was desired repeatedly. Status of women was equal to men in the early Rig-Vedic society. Both polygamy and polyandry were in vogue.



The Evolution of Varna System

  • Social strata used to exist in the Harappan civilization also. Similarly, there was a threefold division of society {priests, rulers and producers} in the Iranian society also. However, what happened in Indian sub-continent was unique and extraordinary. In the evolution of Kingship in the later Vedic era, the priests (Brahmans) and rulers (Khsatriyas) consolidated their respective position in the society. The producers split into two groups. The free peasants and traders formed the group Vaishya while the slaves, laborers, artisans degraded to fourth group Shudra. This was based on occupation initially but later got rigid on the basis of birth. Despite of a small population, the people got compartmentalized into these four groups as per Varnashrama Dharma.


Marriage and women

  • Despite of the patriarchal character of the family, the position of women was much better in the Rig Vedic period than in later times. They could attend assemblies and offer sacrifices along with their husbands. Five women have been mentioned as composers of hymns out of which Ghosha, Lopamudra and Apala are famous.
  • Girls were normally married off after puberty (between the age of 16 and 17). Unmarried girls grew up in the home of their parents. Some unmarried woman like Visvavara and Apala offered sacrifices on their own. There are also evidences of widow remarriage in the Rig-Veda.



  • In the early Rig-Vedic era, entire instruction was given orally. Art of writing does not seem to have developed yet. In the well-known Gayatri mantra there is a prayer to Savitri for the stimulation of the intellect. There were women teachers. Many of them possessed the highest spiritual knowledge.
  • Maitreyi and Gargi were gifted scholars. Rishis who composed hymns founded their own schools separately to teach their pupils and every person among the vis was entitled to learn Vedic mantras.
  • In the later-Vedic phase, with the development of Varnashrama, education began with an investiture ceremony (upanayan). Since Upanayan was confined to three upper Varnas, the sudras were not entitled to education. Sometimes girls were also encouraged. When teacher was satisfied with the student, last sermon called snatakopadesa (kind of convocation) was delivered.


Institution of Gotra

  • Gotra or cowpen was a mechanism for widening social ties a new relationship was established between hitherto unrelated people. It is possible that animals were herded in common and such a place was known as gotra and from this it acquired the character of an exogamous institution.


Amusements and entertainments

  • Music, both vocal and instrumental, was well known. Vedic Aryans played on the Vina and flute Vana to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. Few claim that Dhrupad of Indian classical music originated in Vedic Era. Dancing was common. The chariot race was a favourite sport and source of entertainment. Chariot race was a symbolic source of political authority of the king. The fascination of gambling and the ruin caused by its addiction find mention in the Rig-Veda.


House holding

  • The Griha sutra prescribes a code of conduct, which gives a fairly good idea of the manners and etiquette of the later-Vedic age. A guest (atithi) was welcomed at all times and special guests, like the guru, the king, and the father-in-law, etc. were given special treatment. Respect for the elders selfrestraint, moral purity, abstinence of all kinds and faithfulness were some of the virtues. Cleanliness was a passion.
  • Daily bath, washing of the feet and hands every now and then, and purifying the atmosphere with Vedic mantras were a part of ritual when ritualism acquired special significance in the later-Vedic age. It became one of the many sources of the development of hierarchy and the supremacy for the Brahmanas.


Eating Habits

  • The main cereal produced by the early Rig-Vedic people was Yava or barley. Wheat (Godhuma) appears in later Vedic texts only. Yava was also a generic term for various kinds of cereals.
  • Milk products and cattle meat belonged to their food habits. Alcoholic / Non-alcoholic drinks were known and common. Soma and Sura are two popular liquors. Sura may be a kind of beer or wine.


Dress code

  • Two pieces of cloth were normally worn- the upper garment was called uttariya and the lower one was known as The dress for the male and the female did not differ much.


Health and hygiene

  • Everyone aspired for and everyone was blessed to live for a hundred years. Epilepsy was common and it affected the children as well. Superstitions and magical charms were employed to cure the diseases. Miraculous cures are ascribed to the twin-gods, the Ashvins, who are the great healers of diseases and experts in the surgical art. They were divine physicians who restored eyesight and cured the blind, sick and maimed.


Rig Vedic Economy

  • Rig Vedic economy was primarily pastoral. They domesticated Pashu (which included cattle, horse and even human beings), as opposed to Mriga, i.e. wild animals. Cattle were synonymous with wealth and a wealthy person was called Gomat.
  • Cattle was so important that the terms of battle were derived from Gau itself, such as Gavisti, Gosu, Gavyat, Gavyu. Godhuli was a measure of time. Gopa and Gopati were epithets given to the king. Duhitri was the term used for daughter because she used to milk the cow. One of the four categories of gods was known as Gojata, i.e. cowborn. When the Vedic people encountered buffalo, they called it Gauri and Gavala or cow-haired. The cattle obtained in raids were divided among the families. Cattle formed an important item of donation and it may also have formed a part of bali, the tribute given to the raja by the clan or Vis members. The cattle in general and cow in particular was the main medium of exchange during the Rig Vedic period.
  • The economy was based upon agriculture. The people were well acquainted with the sowing, harvesting, threshing and various agro seasons. The people were pastoral, Cow was revered but the cows, and bulls were sacrificed too. The gifts to the priests were in terms of number of Cows and women slaves but NOT in measurements of lands.


Crafts and Metallurgy

  • All kinds of crafts were practiced. There were potters, Chariot makers, carpenters, and weaver and leather workers. The metal work was known as follows:
    • Copper was known as “Ayas”
    • Gold was known as Hiranya
    • Iron was also known as was known as Shyama or Krishna Ayas.



  • There were no places of worship like temples. There are no indications in the Rig-Veda of any “temples reared by mortal hands” and consecrated as places of worship. On the contrary, every householder, every patriarch of his family, lighted the sacrificial fire in his own home and poured libations of the Soma juice and prayed to the gods for happiness to his family, for abundant crops and wealth and cattle, for immunity from sickness, and for victory over the black aborigines. Natural phenomena were conceived as the expression of some spiritual different appearances of various gods.


Changes in life in Later Vedic Age

  • The key changes in later Vedic era included evolution of territorial sovereignty; development of Varnashrama dharma, degradation of Sabha and Samitis, degradation of women, sedentary life, private possession of land, rigidity of the society etc.


General Changes

  • The Sabhas and Samitis continued to hold the ground; however the women were not allowed to sit in Sabha. Brahmins and Nobles took the place.
  • The King became important and territorial authority became important. The term Rastra which indicated a territorial country got prominent in the later Vedic Age.
  • Ashvamedha Yagya was considered to authorize the unquestioned authority over an area where the Royal Horse could run. The levy of taxes started and became prominent and the officer responsible for this function was The standing army was not possessed by the king even in Later Vedic period and gramas mustered in times of war.


Changes in Economy

  • The life became sedentary and the domestication of animals and cultivation increased. Cattle were still the currency and principle movable property. The idea of private possession of lands started taking shape. Ironsmiths, weavers, jewelers, dyers, potters, are the new classes of artisans. Trade was also boosted.
  • The Gold piece of specific weight Satamana was used as a currency rate. Use of Gold as currency is mentioned in Satapatha Brahman. Nishka was another popular currency. The other matellic coins were Suvarna and Krishnala. Barter system still existed.
  • Money lending as a trade was prevalent. Money lenders were called Kusidin.


The Four Varnas

  • The society was now divided into 4 varnas viz. Brahmans, Kahstriyas, Vaishya and Shudras. Each of them was assigned its duty. The vaishyas were common people who were responsible for producing the agricultural commodities and rearing of the cattle. The engaged in trade and were called
  • Nagara was used for the first time, which meant a city and beginning of town life.


Types of Marriages in later Vedic Ages

There were several kinds of marriages in later Vedic era listed in below table:


Marriage Type Description

Brahma Vivah Marriage of a girl with the boy of same Varna with Vedic rites and rituals
Daiva Vivah When father donated his daughter to a priest as a part of Dakshina.


Arsa Vivah A token bride-price of a Cow and a Bull was given


Prajapati Vivah Marriage without dowry


Gandharva Vivah It was a kind of love marriage or swyamavara type


Asura Vivah Marriage by Purchase


Paisach Vivah Seduction of a girl while sleeping or mentally unstable due to a drink.


Rakshasha Vivah Marriage by abduction



Anuloma and Pratiloma Vivah

  • The marriage of a man of higher Varna with a girl from lower Varna was called “Anuloma Vivah”. It was allowed by the sacred texts.
  • The marriage of a girl of higher Varna with a man of a lower Varna was called “Pratiloma Vivah” and it was NOT allowed in the texts.
  • However, as it goes, the intermarriage between Varnas led to new castes. Vashishtha mentions below examples:
  • The offspring of a Sudra and a Brahman woman becomes a Chandala.
  • That of a Sudra and Kshatriya woman, a Vaina.
  • That of a Sudra and Vaisya woman, an Antyavasayi.
  • The son begotten by a Vaisya on a Brahman woman becomes a Ramaka.
  • The son begotten by a Vaisya on a Kshatriya woman, a Paulkasa.
  • The son begotten by a Kshatriya on a Brahman woman becomes a Suta.
  • Children begotten by Brahmans, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas on women of the next lower, second
  • lower, and third lower castes become respectively Ambashthas, Ugras, and Nishadas.
  • The son of a Brahman and a Sudra woman is a Parasava.


Four Purushartha

  • Purushartha refers to a goal, end or aim of human existence. The Four Purushartha of Hinduism are as follows:
  • Dharma: Dharma is given the foremost rank in the scriptures. Today, it coresponds to religious, social and/or moral righteousness
  • Artha: material and/or financial means of living
  • Kama : pleasure including sensual pleasures
  • Moksha: Liberation; or renunciation as well as detachment

The Hindu Philosophy says that Dharma is the gateway to Moksha.





Ashrama System

Four stages of the lifespan of 100 years were not established in the early Vedic era. They were well established in the later Vedic era and 4 Ashrams were:

  • Brahamcharya Ashram: The first 25 years were set for student life
  • Grihastha Ashram: The age from 25 to 50 years was kept for having a family and discharging the worldly duties such as giving birth to children and raising them
  • Vanaprastha Ashram: Age from 50-75 years was fixed for partial retirement and living life in forests.
  • Sanyas Ashram: The last age of 75-100 years was fixed for complete retirement from the world.


The fourth ashram has not been mentioned in early Vedic texts. The Sanyas ashram is mentioned in Jabala Upanishad.


Sacrifices & Rituals

  • Rajsuya: This sacrifice conferred supreme power to King.
  • Asvamedha: Authorized the King an unquestioned control over an area.
  • Vajapeya: It was a chariot race in which the Royal Chariot was to win race against the kinsmen. This elevated the Raja to a Samrat.
  • Garbhdharana: The conception ceremony.
  • Pumsayam: Ritual to procure a male child.
  • Sementonayam: Ritual to ensure safety of the child in womb.
  • Jatakarma: Birth ceremony performed prior to cutting the umbilical chord of the newborn infant
  • Culakarma: performed in 3rd year of the baby’s life
  • Upnayana: performed in the eighth year to confer dvija status.


Important Terms in Vedic Era

Vedic Term Meaning

Aghanya Not to be killed
Agnyadheya ceremony which preceded the public rituals in Vedic Era.
Akshavapa accounts officer
Amaju Lifelong unmarried girl
Bhagadugh Carpenter
Bhishaka Doctor or Vaidya
Charmana Blacksmith
Datra Sickle
Duhitri Milker of cow and also a daughter
Gaura Buffalo
Gavishti a fight for cows.
Gocarman a measure of distance
Gotra A kinship unit
Hiranyakara Goldsmith
Jansaya Gopa Tribal Chief
Sajata Kinsmen of the King
Kulala Potter
Purapati responsible for defense.
Rathakara Chariot maker
Samgavan A measure of time
Sarabha Elephant
Satdaya Compensation for manslaughter
Sira Plough
Sita Furrows
Spas Spies
Takshan / Teshtri Carpenter
Varatra leather strap of the Plough
Vrihi Rice


Comparison of the Harappa and Vedic Civilizations

  • The sources of information of the Harappan civilization are mainly archaeological, while the Vedic culture is mostly known from the literary sources.
  • Harappans are said to have been the original inhabitants of India while the Aryans are believed to have come to India from central Asia.
  • The Harappan civilization was urban in nature, Vedic culture was rural and pastoral. At best the Rig Vedic Aryans lived in fortified places protected by mud walls; and these cannot be regarded as towns in the Harappan sense.
  • In the Indus civilization trade, internal and external, crafts as well as industries were the main sources of economy, Vedic Economy was initially postoral and later became based upon agriculture and cattle rearing.
  • The agricultural operations, including the ploughing of fields, were better known to the later-Vedic people.
  • Indus people did not know the use of iron. It was purely a copper-bronze culture, while the Vedic culture in its later phase is replete with references to iron.
  • The horse, which played a decisive role in the Aryan system of warfare, was not known to the Indus people. A few bones of horse and terracotta figure of a horse-like animal have been unearthed from surkotada.
  • Indus people were basically peace loving. Their arms (swords, daggers, arrow-heads, spears) were primitive in nature. Aryans were warlike people and were conversant with all kinds of traditional arms and armour and had devised a full-fledged science of war.
  • Aryans worshiped Varuna, Indra, aditi and a large number of other deities which stood for the principal phenomena of nature. They performed sacrifices and offered milk, ghee, etc. to their Gods. The Harappans worshipped Pashupati, mother goddess, animals , snake and nature. The fire-altars were discovered from only one Harappan site at Kalibangan.
  • The Harappans practiced earth burials whereas the Aryans practiced cremation.
  • Harappan pottery called black or red pottery was wheel made and very distinctive in nature. The distinctive Aryan pottery is known as PGW (painted grey ware).
  • The Harappans were short statured, black in complexion, Aryans were tall, well-built and handsome.
  • The Harappans ate all birds and animals including cow and calf. They ate wheat, barley and bread. The Aryans preferred Barley, milk and its products, specially ghee or butter and enjoyed Soma drink.
  • Cotton was the basic fabric of the Harappans while the Aryans put on woollen garments
  • Vedic Sanskrit is the mother of all non-Dravidian languages , Indus script still remains undeciphered.
  • It was quite clear that Indus people were literate whereas the Vedic people were illiterate (In terms of writing) because there is not a single word for writing in any of the Vedic texts.


Concept of Rita and Dharma

  • Dharma is so called, because it holds; Dharma holds the people. Etymologically, Dharma is derived from the root Dhr—to hold—and its meaning is ‘that which holds’ this world.
  • Rita is predecessor to Dharma and is the Original Rig Vedic concept which refers to the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Rita is described as that which is ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of the natural, moral and sacrificial orders.
  • In Rig Veda, Rita appears as many as 390 times. Rita has been characterized as “the one concept which pervades the whole of Rig-Vedic thought.
  • In the early Rig Vedic era, Rita was abstract; slowly the universal principle started mingling with the anthropomorphic tendencies of the Vedic period. In due course of time, it became associated with the actions of individual deities.
  • The Rita became associated with Varuna, the omniscient, all pervading sky God. Adityas became the Chariotters of Rita. Varuna became the friend & keeper of Rita. Varuna became the universal Power, which maintained Rita and was celebrated as having “separated and established heaven and earth, spreading them out as the upper and lower firmaments, himself enthroned above them as the universal king, ordering the immutable moral law, exercising his rule by the sovereignty of Rita”. (James 1969)
  • Eventually Dharma overshadowed Rita in the later Vedic Era. While Rita encompassed the ethical principles with a notion of cosmic retribution, Dharma was said to be a path to be followed as per the ordinances of Rita. Failing to follow this path meant appearance of various forms of calamity and suffering. Committing to the path of Rita was “Dharma” so we can say that Dharma was originally conceptualized as a subordinate component Rita Dharma became a very useful instrument in framing religious, moral and social regulations, that interest in it and discussion of its applications to social and moral order eclipsed all discussions of metaphysical and theological ideas.
  • There was also an important change in later Vedic and Epic Era. The notion of Dharma shifted emphasis away from nature as executor of Rita and now it became more or less an individual duty to uphold the Dharma through one’s actions. This was called Karma. Karma is what one does to uphold the Dharma and thus, the emphasis from the natural order vanished and it became essentially related to the pains and pleasures one experiences in life, and this tried to explain the gross inequality and injustice in the world. So, Karma was somewhat opposite to Rita as well as Dharma. Karma became the central piece of Hindu philosophy in later Vedic era.


The Concept of Sapta Rishi

  • Saptarshi or the seven sages are mentioned at many places in Vedic Literaure. The term “Saptarishis” is NOT mentioned in Vedic Richas but they are enumerated in different Later Vedic texts, Upnishads and Brahmanas, They are considred to be the patriarchs of Vedic Religion.
  • Ursa Major constelleation is coterminous with Sapta Rishi. Ursa Minor is coterminous with Laghu Sapta Rishi. There is one more star slightly visible within the Saptarishi and it is called Arundhati.
  • The first list of the seven sages was given by Jaiminiya Brahman. The rishis are Vasistha, Bharadvaja, Jamadagni, Gautama, Atri, Visvamitra, and Agastya
  • The second list is given in Brihadaranyaka Upnishad which mentions the names as Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vasiṣṭha and Kaśyapa, and Atri.
  • Gopath Brahmana enlists the 7 sages as follows: Vasiṣṭha, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Gautama, Bharadvāja, Gungu, Agastya, and Kaśyapa.
  • The role played by the Saptarishis in the birth of Kartikeya, has been vividly described in Kumarsambhava of Kalidasa.
  • Rishi Agastya was one of the legendary sage, about whom a lot of traditions prevalent. His greatest feat was the reconciliation of Indra and the Maruts after Indra had been annoyed at his proposing to give the Maruts an offering to the exclusion of Indra. This feat is the subject of three hymns of the Rigveda. Agastya married Lopamudra, and appears in a strange dialogue with Lopamudra in Rigveda. In the Rigveda, this appears to show him as an ascetic who finally yields to temptation.


The story of Agastya and Lopamudra

  • Lopamudra is also known as Kaushitaki and Varaprada,there is one hymn in the Rigveda is attributed to her. Lopamudra was created by sage Agastya with the most graceful parts of animals such as eyes of the deer etc. She spread the fame of the Lalita sahasranama (the thousand names of the Divine Mother). The meaning of word Lopamudra is “loss of beauty” which refers to the loss caused to the animals in her creation. Agastya created her, secretaly introduced her to the palace of Vidarbha King, and later when she grew up asked the king to return her as his wife.


Metals known to Aryans

  • In Rigveda, Agni has been referred to as Ayodamstra which means “one that with teeth of Ayas”, the teeth refer to flames of Agni.
  • The Vajanseyi samhita notes that Gold was Hiranya, Iron was Syama (also Syama Ayas), Lead was sisa, Tin was Trapu, Lohita Ayas was Copper, because of its red color.


Some Notable Trivia

  • Kathopnishad deals with the dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama “Satyamev Jayate” India’s motto comes from “Mundaka Upnishad”
  • Aitareya Brahman establishes Superiority of Brahmins.
  • Shudra word comes in 10th Mandala of Rig-Veda, so this term also belongs to later vedic age.
  • In the later Vedic period, divine royal theory started. The king in the center was called Raja, Samrat in East, Swarat in West, Virat in North and Bhoj in South.
  • Coins were used in Later Vedic Age
  • Most mentioned River is Indus, Most revered river is Saraswati.
  • The marriage of a widow to brother or relative of the deceased was known as “Niyoga”.
  • Rishi Agastya is known for Aryanization of South India.
  • Jabala Upnishad mentions the 4 Ashrams for the first time.
  • Swastika is said to be not only pre-Vedic but also Pre-Harappan and it existed from Baluchistan, Indus Valley and even Turkmenistan. It is NOT an exclusive Aryan Symbol.
  • Vaishya as a Varna has NO mention in Rig-Veda
  • Yavyavati is another name for Ravi in Rig-Veda.
  • Agni was a God which was worshipped by Aryans as well as Ancient Iranians.
  • A hymn in Rig Veda is devoted to Lopamudra. She was wife of Rishi Agastya and credited with spreading the fame of the Lalita sahastranama. Her other names are Kaushitaki and Varaprada.
  • Gargi was daughter of Rishi Vachaknu and is mentioned in the Sixth and the Eighth Brahmana of Brhadaranyaka Upanishad
  • Atranjikheda is the place where largest deposits of the Iron weapons have been found.
  • The literal meaning of Aryamnah Pantha word is “Aryaman’s Way” and is an expression which occurs in the Brahmanas and denotes the “Milky way”
  • In early Vedic era, there was no distinct theory of Kingship and King (Rajan) was generally a tribal chieftain. This chieftain was the holder of the established order and moral rule which was called Dhratavatra.
January 1, 2018

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