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Vedic Age: Study Notes

The Vedic Age was a period in ancient India from about 1500 to 600 BC. It was the next major civilization in India after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Vedas, a collection of sacred texts, were composed during this period, giving the age its name. The Vedas are also the chief source of information about the Vedic Age.

The Vedic Age began with the arrival of the Indo-Aryans, a group of people who migrated to India from Central Asia. The Indo-Aryans brought with them their own language, culture, and religion. They settled in the northern Indian subcontinent and gradually assimilated with the local population.

The Vedic Age was a time of great change and innovation. The Indo-Aryans introduced new technologies, such as the horse and the chariot, and new agricultural practices. They also developed new religious ideas, such as the concept of karma and reincarnation.

The Vedic Age was a formative period in Indian history. It laid the foundation for many of the cultural and religious traditions that are still practiced in India today.

  • The Vedic people were a pastoral people who lived in villages. They were skilled warriors and horsemen.
  • The Vedic religion was polytheistic, with a belief in many gods and goddesses. The most important gods were Indra, the god of thunder and rain, and Agni, the god of fire.
  • The Vedas are a collection of hymns, prayers, and rituals. They are considered to be sacred texts by Hindus.
  • The Vedic Age ended with the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the 6th century BC.
  1. Timeline of the Vedic Age:

    • The Vedic Age is generally dated from around 1500 BC to 600 BC.
  2. Transition from Indus Valley Civilization:

    • The Vedic Age followed the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization by around 1400 BC, marking a significant transition in ancient Indian history.
  3. Role of the Vedas:

    • The name “Vedic Age” is derived from the Vedas, which were composed during this period.
    • The Vedas serve as the primary and authoritative source of information about this era, providing insights into its culture, religion, and social life.
  4. Arrival of the Aryans:

    • The Vedic Age began with the arrival of the Aryans or Indo-Aryans, who played a central role in shaping the culture and society of this period.

The Indo-Aryan migration and the emergence of the Vedic civilization 

  1. Aryans as Semi-Nomadic Pastoral People:
    • The Aryans were a semi-nomadic pastoral people, relying on cattle herding and agriculture for their livelihood.
  2. Debate Over Aryan Homeland:
    • The exact homeland of the Aryans is a matter of debate among scholars.
    • Some theories suggest they originated around the Caspian Sea in Central Asia, while others propose the Russian Steppes or even the Arctic region.
  3. Vedic Age and Indo-Gangetic Plains:
    • The Vedic Age began with the Aryan occupation of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, where they settled and laid the foundation for Vedic culture.
  4. Meaning of “Arya”:
    • The term “Arya” signifies “noble” and was used by the Aryans to describe themselves.
  5. Language: Sanskrit:
    • The Aryans spoke Sanskrit, which belongs to the Indo-European language family.
  6. Rural, Semi-Nomadic Lifestyle:
    • In contrast to the urbanized Indus Valley people, the Aryans led a more rural and semi-nomadic way of life.
  7. Entry into India Through Khyber Pass:
    • It is believed that the Aryans entered the Indian subcontinent through the Khyber Pass, which is a mountain pass in the Hindu Kush range.

The Indo-Aryan migration and their subsequent settlement in the Indo-Gangetic Plains played a crucial role in shaping the Vedic civilization, which gave rise to the religious and cultural traditions found in ancient India’s Vedic texts. The movement of the Aryans into India marked a significant transition in the region’s history.

Early Vedic Period (1500 BC – 1000 BC)

Geographical Context:

  • The Aryans initially inhabited the region known as “Sapta Sindhu” (Land of the Seven Rivers), with seven major rivers, including the Sindhu (Indus) and Saraswati, forming the backdrop of their civilization.

Political Structure:

  • The political structure was characterized by a monarchical form of government, led by a king known as “Rajan.”
  • Society was organized into patriarchal families, with the “Jana” as the largest social unit in Rig Vedic times.
  • Tribal assemblies known as “Sabhas” and “Samitis” played a role in governance.
  • Examples of tribal kingdoms included the Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus, and Purus.

Social Structure:

  • Women enjoyed a respectable position in society, with participation in Sabhas and Samitis. Some women poets were recognized during this period.
  • Cattle, especially cows, held significant importance.
  • While monogamy was practiced, polygamy was observed among royalty and noble families.
  • Child marriage was not prevalent.
  • Social distinctions existed but were not as rigid and hereditary as in later periods.

Economic Structure:

  • The society was primarily pastoral and relied on cattle-rearing.
  • Agriculture was practiced, and horse-drawn chariots were used.
  • Rivers were utilized for transportation.
  • Cotton and woolen fabrics were woven and used.
  • Trade initially relied on the barter system but later introduced coins known as “nishka.”


  • The Early Vedic people worshiped natural forces by personifying them into deities.
  • Indra (associated with thunder) held a prominent position among the deities.
  • Other important deities included Prithvi (earth), Agni (fire), Varuna (rain), and Vayu (wind).
  • Female deities like Ushas and Aditi were also revered.
  • Temples and idol worship were absent during this period.

Later Vedic Period (1000 BC – 600 BC)

Geographical Shift:

  • During this period, the Aryans moved eastwards and occupied regions in western and eastern Uttar Pradesh (Kosala) and Bihar.

Political Structure:

  • Larger kingdoms, known as Mahajanapadas, formed through the amalgamation of smaller kingdoms.
  • Kings gained more power, and various elaborate sacrifices, including Rajasuya, Vajapeya, and Ashwamedha, were performed to enhance their authority.
  • The significance of tribal assemblies, Sabhas, and Samitis diminished.

Social Structure:

  • The Varna system, emphasizing social distinctions, became more distinct and hereditary.
  • Society was divided into four Varnas: Brahmanas (priests), Kshatriyas (rulers/warriors), Vaishyas (agriculturists/traders/artisans), and Shudras (servants).
  • Women’s status in society declined, with restrictions on attending public assemblies.
  • Child marriages became prevalent.
  • Sub-castes based on occupation and institutionalized Gotras emerged.

Economic Structure:

  • Agriculture remained the primary occupation.
  • Industrial activities such as metalwork, pottery, and carpentry also existed.
  • Foreign trade expanded, with connections to distant regions like Babylon and Sumeria.


  • Prajapati (the creator) and Vishnu (the preserver) gained importance as deities.
  • Deities like Indra and Agni lost significance.
  • Rituals and sacrifices became more elaborate, diminishing the importance of prayers.
  • The priestly class gained power and influence, dictating the rules of religious rites and rituals.
  • The orthodoxy of Vedic rituals contributed to the emergence of new religious movements, including Buddhism and Jainism, towards the end of this period.

Vedic literature 

  1. Etymology of ‘Veda’:
    • The term ‘Veda’ is derived from the root ‘vid,’ which signifies spiritual knowledge, the subject of knowledge, or the means of acquiring knowledge.
  2. The Four Vedas:
    • There are four primary Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda.
  3. Composition of the Vedas:
    • Rig Veda, the oldest among them, was composed during the Early Vedic Age.
    • The other three Vedas were written during the Later Vedic Age.
  4. Rig Veda:
    • Rig Veda is regarded as the world’s oldest religious text.
    • It consists of 1028 hymns and is classified into 10 mandalas (books or chapters).
  5. Yajur Veda:
    • Yajur Veda focuses on the methods and procedures for performing rituals.
  6. Sama Veda:
    • Sama Veda is dedicated to the art of music and is considered the source of Indian classical music.
  7. Atharva Veda:
    • Atharva Veda contains spells, incantations, and magical formulas.
  8. Other Vedic Texts:
    • In addition to the core Vedas, other Vedic texts include:
      • Brahmanas, which explain the meaning and significance of sacrifices.
      • Upanishads (also known as Vedantas), totaling 108 in number, are a source of Indian philosophy.
      • Aranyakas, which are books of instructions.
  9. Great Indian Epics:
    • The Mahabharata and Ramayana, two of India’s greatest epics, were also composed during the Vedic period.

Most of the languages spoken in India, Europe, and parts of America today are part of the Indo-European language family. This family is believed to have originated from a common ancestor language, which was spoken by the Aryans.

The Aryans were a group of people who migrated to the northern Indian subcontinent from the Indo-Iranian borderlands and Afghanistan around 1500 BC. They brought their language, culture, and religion with them, and these eventually spread to other parts of the world.

The Indo-European language family is the largest language family in the world, with over 400 living languages. It is divided into several branches, including:

  • Indo-Iranian (spoken in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan)
  • Germanic (spoken in Europe and North America)
  • Romance (spoken in Europe)
  • Slavic (spoken in Eastern Europe and Russia)
  • Celtic (spoken in parts of Europe)
  • Hellenic (spoken in Greece)
  • Albanian
  • Armenian

The Indo-European languages are all related to each other, and they share many similarities in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. This is because they all descended from the same ancestral language.

  • The arrival of the Aryans in India had a profound impact on the subcontinent. They introduced new technologies, such as the horse and the chariot, and new agricultural practices. They also developed new religious ideas, such as the concept of karma and reincarnation.
  • The Aryans’ language, Sanskrit, became the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent. It was the language of the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism, and it was also used in government and administration. Sanskrit eventually gave rise to the many modern Indo-Aryan languages of India, such as Hindi, Bengali, and Marathi.

The spread of the Indo-European languages is a testament to the cultural and linguistic influence of the Aryans. Their languages are spoken by billions of people around the world today, and they continue to play an important role in many cultures.

Comparison of various social aspects between the Early Vedic period and the Later Vedic period

Early Vedic Period:


  1. The family, also known as the kula, was the basic unit of society.
  2. It had a patriarchal structure and followed the joint family system.
  3. The head of the family was known as the kulapa.
  4. Only sons had the right to inherit their father’s property.

Social Groups:

  1. The Rig-Veda mentions Dasas, Dasyus, Nahusas, and Panis as distinct groups.
  2. The Dasas were described as dark and of hostile speech, living in fortified strongholds.
  3. The Panis were wealthy in cattle treasures.
  4. The Dasyus were said to be tamed and subdued by the Aryans.


  1. Monogamy was practiced.
  2. Marriageable age for girls was around 16 or 17 years.
  3. No evidence of child marriage.


  1. Gurukuls existed where students stayed with their guru (teacher) at his house.
  2. Subjects taught included science, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, grammar, ethics, and law.

Position of Women:

  1. Women enjoyed a status equal to men.
  2. Women could attend assemblies.

Division of Society:

  1. Division into Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisya, and Sudra was based on occupation and not hereditary.

Later Vedic Period:


  1. Patriarchal families continued.
  2. Birth of a daughter was often considered a source of misery.
  3. The head of the family had the right to disinherit his son.
  4. Male ancestors were worshiped.

Social Groups:

  1. The Varna system became prominent.
  2. A more rigid caste system emerged, with privileges for Brahmanas and Kshatriyas.


  1. Polygamy prevailed.
  2. Marriage from the same gotra (descent from a common ancestor) was no longer permitted.
  3. Widow remarriage was discouraged but not completely stopped.
  4. Women had a lower, subordinate position.


  1. Education of women from the higher class was restricted.

Position of Women:

  1. Women were given a lower, subordinate position.
  2. They were not allowed to participate in assemblies.

Division of Society:

  1. The caste system became rigid, with Brahmans and Kshatriyas enjoying privileges
Aspects Early Vedic Period Later Vedic Period
Family – Basic unit: Kula – Patriarchal families
– Joint family system – Birth of a daughter often viewed as a source of misery
– Head of family: Kulapa – Right to disinherit sons
– Monogamy practiced – Male ancestors worshiped
– Marriageable age for girls: 16-17 – Polygamy prevalent
– No evidence of child marriage – Marriage from the same gotra not permitted
– Widow remarriage discouraged, though not stopped
Education – Gurukuls existed – Education of women restricted for higher classes
– Subjects: Science, mathematics,
astronomy, astrology, grammar,
ethics, and law
Position of Women – Women’s status equal to men – Women given a lower, subordinate position
– Women could attend assemblies – Not allowed to participate in assemblies
Social Groups – Mention of Dasas, Dasyus, Nahusas, – Varna system prominent
and Panis – Rigid caste system
– Dasas described as dark, hostile, – Brahmanas and Kshatriyas enjoyed privileges
and fortified stronghold dwellers
Division of Society – Division based on occupation – Caste system became rigid
rather than hereditary – Privileges for Brahmanas and Kshatriyas



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