HomeGeneral KnowledgeVEDIC PERIOD- Ancient India Study Notes

VEDIC PERIOD- Ancient India Study Notes

Rig Vedic Period (1500-1000 BC)

  • The Rig Vedic period marks the beginning of Vedic civilization, initiated by the migration of Aryan people into the northwestern part of India.
  • The Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoral people believed to have originally lived in the Steppes, a region stretching from Southern Russia to Central Asia.
  • The area where the Aryans first settled in India was known as the Land of 7 Rivers or Sapta Sindhawa. This region encompassed the Indus River and its five tributaries, as well as the Saraswati River.
  • During this period, a significant event known as the Dasrajan War, or the Battle of the 10 Kings, took place. It was a conflict between Sudas, the Bharata king of Tritsus, and an alliance of ten other kings. This battle occurred on the banks of the river Parushni (now known as the Ravi River), and Sudas emerged as the victor.

Political Organization in the Rig Vedic Period

  • The political organization during the Rig Vedic period was primarily based on a tribal system of governance with a strong military element.
  • The basic unit of society and governance was the tribe, referred to as a “Jana,” with its leader known as the “Rajan.”
  • While the position of king (Rajan) was often hereditary, there are also mentions of instances where kings were chosen through elections conducted by the tribal assembly known as the “Samitis.”
  • Other tribal assemblies mentioned in the Rigveda included the “Sabha,” “Vidatha,” and “Gana.”
  • At the village level, leadership was held by a “Gramani.”
  • In the day-to-day administration, the King received assistance from several key individuals, including the “Purohita” (most important advisor or priest), a “Senani” (military commander), and the “Gramani” (village head). These individuals played crucial roles in advising and supporting the king in governing the tribe.

Society in the Rig Vedic Period

  • People’s loyalty during the Rig Vedic period was primarily directed towards their tribes, referred to as “Jana.” The concept of established kingdoms or territories had not yet taken shape.
  • Women in this society enjoyed a degree of freedom and respect.

Religion in the Rig Vedic Period

  • The religion of this period was rooted in the worship of nature, with Indra being the most important divinity. Indra was often referred to as “Purandara,” which means the breaker of forts.
  • Soma was another significant deity, regarded as the God of plants.
  • People worshipped these divinities mainly for blessings related to Praja (children), Pashu (cattle), food, health, and wealth. There were no temples or idol worship during this time.

Economy in the Rig Vedic Period

  • There was no regular revenue system, and kingdoms were maintained through voluntary tribute known as “bali” and through the spoils of battles.
  • The primary occupation of the Aryans was pastoralism, while agriculture played a secondary role.
  • Cattle, particularly cows, held great significance and were even used as a standard unit of exchange.
  • The Rig Vedic period also saw the use of gold coins, including Nishka, Krishnal, and Satmana.
  • The staple crop of this period was barley, known as “Yava.”

Rigvedic Terms and Their Meanings:

  1. Dasyus: The original inhabitants of India.
  2. Ayas: Copper or bronze.
  3. Vajrapati/Kalapas: An officer with authority over a large tract of land.
  4. Gramini: The head of the village.
  5. Gavisthi: Refers to fighting hordes or the search for cows, often associated with warfare over cattle.

Rigvedic Rivers and Their Names in the Rigveda:

  1. Indus: Known as “Sindhu.”
  2. Kurram: Referred to as “Krumu.”
  3. Jhelum: Mentioned as “Vitasta.”
  4. Chenab: Known as “Asikni.”
  5. Ravi: Referred to as “Parushini.”
  6. Beas: Known as “Vipas.”
  7. Sutlej: Referred to as “Sutudri.”
  8. Gomati: Known as “Gomal.”
  9. Saraswati: Mentioned as “Sarasvati.”
  10. Ghaggar: Referred to as “Drishadavati.”

Later Vedic Period (1000-500 BC)

  • During the Later Vedic period, the Aryans expanded their influence from Punjab to cover the entire region of Western Uttar Pradesh, including the Ganga-Yamuna Doab.

Political Organization:

  • The role of the king (Samrat) became more prominent during this period, and tribal authority began to transform into territorial authority.
  • The king’s position was strengthened through rituals like the Ashwamedha and Vajapeya Yajnas.


  • Society during this period became clearly divided into four varnas: Brahmana (priests and scholars), Kshatriya (warriors and rulers), Vaishya (merchants and farmers), and Shudra (laborers and servants).
  • The position of women deteriorated during this time, and the institution of Gotra (descent from common ancestors) appeared for the first time.


  • Towns and settled life began to emerge during this period.
  • Agriculture became the primary livelihood, with wheat and rice (referred to as “vrihi” in later Vedic texts) becoming staple crops.
  • New occupations such as ironsmithing, coppersmithing, and jewel work emerged. Weaving was reserved for women.


  • Prajapati became the supreme God during this period, followed by Rudra (associated with animals) and Lord Vishnu (the preserver and protector of people).
  • Idolatry began to develop during the Later Vedic period.
  • Pushana, who looked after cattle, was considered the ‘God of Shudras.’
  • Sacrifices took precedence over prayers and became more important in religious practices during this time.

Vedic Literature

The Vedas:

  1. Rigveda: The oldest Indo-European language text, consisting of a collection of hymns. It contains 1028 hymns divided into 10 mandalas (books). The 10th Mandala contains the Purushasukta hymn, which explains the concept of the four varnas (social classes), while the 3rd Mandala contains the Gayatri mantra, a praise of the Sun God.
  2. Samaveda: A collection of melodies and chants, often associated with the Dhrupad raga.
  3. Yajurveda: Contains hymns and rituals/sacrifices.
  4. Atharvaveda: Contains charms and spells used to ward off evils and diseases.

The Brahmanas:

  • The Brahmanas are texts that provide explanations for the hymns of the Vedas. They contain ritualistic formulae and explanations of the social and religious meanings of the rituals. Each Veda has several Brahmanas attached to it:
    • Rigveda: Kaushitaki and Aitareya Brahmanas.
    • Yajurveda: Taittiriya and Satapatha Brahmanas.
    • Samaveda: Panchvish and Jemineya Brahmanas.
    • Atharvaveda: Gopatha Brahmana.

The Aranyakas:

  • The term “Aranya” means the forest. Aranyakas are a category of texts known as the “Forest Books” or “Forest Treatises.”
  • They were called Aranyakas because they were primarily written for hermits and students who lived in the forest or remote areas.

The Upanishads:

  • The Upanishads are philosophical texts that emphasize the value of right belief and knowledge. They often critique rituals and sacrifices.
  • There are a total of 108 Upanishads. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is one of the oldest among them.
  • The Upanishads are also known as “Vedanta,” which means the “end of the Vedas” or “the conclusion of the Vedas.”


  • Smritis are texts that explain rules and regulations governing Vedic life. They provide guidelines for religious and social conduct.
  • Prominent Smritis include Manusmriti (the first law book), Naradasmriti, Yajnavalkya-smriti, and Parasharasmriti. These texts are essential sources for understanding the legal and social norms of ancient India.


Vedangas are the limbs or auxiliary sciences of the Vedas and serve as important tools for understanding and interpreting Vedic texts. There are six Vedangas:

  1. Shiksha (Pronunciation): Shiksha deals with the correct pronunciation and phonetics of Vedic chants. It is crucial for preserving the accuracy of Vedic recitations.
  2. Kalpa (Rituals): Kalpa encompasses the rules and procedures for conducting Vedic rituals and ceremonies. It provides guidelines for various sacrifices and rituals.
  3. Vyakaran (Grammar): Vyakaran focuses on the study of grammar and syntax. It helps in understanding the correct usage of words and sentences in Vedic texts.
  4. Nirukta (Etymology): Nirukta deals with the etymology of Vedic words and their meanings. It aids in the interpretation of Vedic verses.
  5. Chhanda (Metrics): Chhanda is the study of Vedic meters and prosody. It involves the analysis of the rhythmic patterns and meters used in Vedic hymns.
  6. Jyotish (Astrology): Jyotish is the science of Vedic astrology and astronomy. It helps in determining auspicious times and understanding celestial phenomena.


Puranas are a genre of ancient Indian literature that deals with various aspects of mythology, cosmology, history, and religious teachings. There are 18 famous Puranas, and they provide detailed accounts of world creation, the genealogies of gods and sages, and the lineages of royal dynasties. The Matsya Purana is considered the oldest among them.


Darshana refers to the various schools of Indian philosophy. There are six classical schools of Indian philosophy, known as Shada-darshana:

  1. Nyaya Darshana (Nyaya): Founded by Gautama, this school focuses on logic and epistemology.
  2. Vaishesika Darshana (Vaishesika): Established by Kanada Rishi, it deals with metaphysics and atomism.
  3. Sankhya Darshana (Sankhya): Attributed to Kapila, this school explores dualism and the nature of reality.
  4. Yoga Darshana (Yoga): Based on the teachings of Patanjali, it emphasizes meditation, concentration, and spiritual practices.
  5. Purva Mimansa (Mimamsa): Founded by Jaimini, this school is concerned with the interpretation of Vedic rituals and texts.
  6. Uttara Mimansa (Vedanta): Attributed to Badarayana or Vyasa, Vedanta is the school of philosophy that examines the ultimate truths and teachings found in the Vedas. It is often associated with the study of Upanishads and is also known as Advaita Vedanta when interpreted by philosophers like Adi Shankaracharya.


The Upavedas are subsidiary Vedic texts that focus on specific areas of knowledge and practice. There are four Upavedas, each associated with a particular Veda:

  1. Dhanurveda (Art of Warfare): Associated with the Yajurveda, Dhanurveda deals with the science and art of warfare, including strategies, weaponry, and military tactics.
  2. Gandharva-veda (Art and Music): Associated with the Samaveda, Gandharva-veda focuses on the arts, including music, dance, and aesthetics.
  3. Shilpaveda (Architecture): Associated with the Atharvaveda, Shilpaveda pertains to the field of architecture and covers architectural principles, design, and construction techniques.
  4. Ayurveda (Medicine): Associated with the Rigveda, Ayurveda is the ancient Indian system of medicine. It encompasses holistic health practices, herbal medicine, and the treatment of various ailments.


The two major epics of ancient Indian literature are:

  1. Mahabharata: Composed by Vyasa, also known as Jaya Samhita and Satasahasri Samhita, the Mahabharata is one of the longest epic poems in the world. It contains approximately 100,000 verses and is an epic narrative that includes mythology, history, philosophy, and moral teachings. It is older than the Ramayana.
  2. Ramayana: Written by Valmiki, the Ramayana is another significant Indian epic with around 29,000 verses. It tells the story of Lord Rama, his exile, and his quest to rescue his wife, Sita, from the demon king Ravana. The Ramayana is a revered text in Hinduism and has had a profound cultural influence in South Asia.



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