Aryans and Vedic Period in India – Ancient Indian History

Aryans - Art-and-science

Aryans and Vedic period in India can, in a way, be regarded as a continuation of the Indo-Iranian phase of the aryan civilization. There is no book in any Indo-European or Aryan language as old as the Rig Veda, the sacred book of the Aryans. It ‘stands quite by itself, high up on an isolated peak of remote antiquity’. Beyond this literary source there is no material evidence for the period 1500-600 B.C. except some copper tools and weapons. The Zend Avesta, the scripture of the Iranians, though later than the Veda, contains illustrative matter of value.

Aryans and Vedic Period in India

Aryans - Vedic Sage

The Date of the Rig Veda and Aryans

Many diverse opinions have been expressed about the date of the Rigveda. After the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro the consensus of opinion among scholars gives the Vedic period — that is, the period during which the hymns of the Rigveda were composed–1500–1400 B.C. But there are some authorities who date it much later. The discovery of the Mitanni document of about 1380 B.C.  with the names of the Rigveda gods has influenced scholars to date the Rigveda somewhere between 1500–1400 B.C. Some of the earlier hymns may have been composed outside India before 1500 B.C. and so some date roundabout 2000 B.C. for those hymns appears to be not improbable.

THE VEDA’s in Indo Aryan Religion

According to the orthodox view the sruti, consisting of the four Veda – the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda is the final authority in the Indo-Aryan Religion, and they form in their entirety THE VEDA, the perfect knowledge, revealed by Brahma, seen by the rishis and clothed in words by them for the benefit of the Aryan peoples.

Aryans - Four Vedas Rig veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharvana Veda

In this section we are concerned with the historical materials contained in the Rigveda, which has come down to us in the samitha (collection) of 1017 (or 1028) hymns arranged in ten books of unequal size. The hymns for the most part are prayer to and invocations of the devas. The Rigveda is the book of that, the priest who pours offerings into the fire and is the knowledge of the laudatory verses, to be  recited aloud at the time of the sacrifice.

Books Ⅱ-Ⅶ, each attributed to a different priestly family,form the nucleus, Book x differs much from the rest in its metrical form and linguistic details; it shows a more developed religious and philosophical outlook as it was the latest addition. The bulk of the collection was composed in the region of the Punjab south of the modern Ambala and along the upper course of the river Sarasvati, which at that time flowed broad strong to join the Indus below the confluence of the Sutlej, but now is a small stream losing its way in the desert sand of Rajasthan. The general collection of all these hymns, doubtless with some changes in the languages of the older hymns, was made at a considerably later period, but long before the age of the grammarian Panini (600-500 B.C.).


When the Aryans reached the Kabul district of Northern Afghanistan, the last links between them and the Iranians may have been severed. Through the natural passes of the mountains the main branch of the Aryans reached the Punjab. Tribe followed tribe in detachments at fairly long intervals. The Land of the Five Rivers did not fall into the  hands of the immigrants without a deadly struggle. The dark-skinned dasyus or dasas who lived in fortified cities put up a tough fight but in the end were defeated and enslaved, some of their settlements being destroyed by fire.

Aryans - Indus river valley ancient india

Occasionally, serious frictions occurred between different tribes of  the Aryans that competed for territorial possession. The advance of the Aryans masses from the heights of the Afghan frontier to the Jumna can be traced. The later Vedas often mention the Jumna, the most western tributary of the Ganges, while the Ganges itself is mentioned only once or twice. This shows that in the Vedic period, the Aryans had not expanded to the east far beyond the Jumna. The Vedic poets knew the Himalayas but not the lands south of the Jumna and they did not mention the Vindhyas.


Aryans - Kings in War Art before aryan Invasion

The one outstanding historical event of the period is the contest named the “Battle of the Ten Kings’. Sudas, king of the Bharatas, the tribe that dwelt on the upper reaches of the Saraswati river, belonged to the Tritsu family. This family had Visvamitra for its purohita; but Sudas appointed Vasishtha to that office. Visvamitra, thus superseded, took his revenge by leading against the Bharatas ten allied tribes. Five of these tribes known as the panchajanya are Anus, Dhruhyus, Turvasus, Yadus and Purus ; the rest were dwellers of regions Parushni, the modern Ravi. the Bharatas routed their enemies. But Sudas victory seems to have led to no territorial conquests.

Soon after this battle Sudas had to meet other enemies to the east of his kingdom, which extended over the country later known as Brahmavarta. Among the enemies from the east were Ajas (goats), and Sigrid (horse-radishes); probably, the tribes bearing such names were totemistic non-Aryans.

In the generation after Sudas, Trasa Dasyu (Terror to the Dasyus) of the Purus was another notable king of the Rigvedic age. In the succeeding age both Bharatas and Purus seem to disappear and the Kurus emerge as the rulers of the old land of the Bharatas and much of the northern Ganges-Jumna Doab. all this shows that after the battle of the Parushni the Bharatas and the Purus merged, and his process of fusion, whereby tribes become people or nations must have gone on all through the Vedic period. There were also alliances between the Aryan tribes and the native chieftains. In course of time there should have been a number of inter-marriages at least among ruling families.


The word arya is properly applied only to the Indo-Iranians who migrated into India. Aryan is the anglicized form of Arya. The  names, dasyus or dasas may refer to their eventual fate in Aryan eyes, and be related to the root of das to lay waste; the dwellers in the waste land after conquest. Before the discovery of Harappa, Indra’s destruction of fortified cities was regarded as legendary. Now the tendency among European scholars is to extol the dasyus as highly civilized city-dwellers and speak disparagingly of the Aryans as ‘barbarians’. There is no gainsaying the fact that the Aryans were well within the fringe of civilization at the time they came to India, though they were not city-dwellers.

The dasyus or dasas differed from the Aryans in their colour (varna), speech and religious practices. Most of them must have been reduced to slavery. There is  evidence in the Rigveda to show that slaves were regarded as a form of wealth. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that there was perpetual war between the native dasyus and the invading Aryans. There was a good deal of give and take. The combination of influences of these peoples soon shaped itself  into a unity of national style that has been handed down from generation to generation to the present day.

Aryans and Dasyus


It rested on the patriarchal monogamous family, though polygamy was not unknown, particularly among the princes. There were few restrictions on marriage ; only brother and sister or father and daughter could not marry. Child marriage was unknown and there was much freedom in the choice of the partner. Dowries and bride prices were both common. Marriage was apparently an indissoluble sacrament, for no reference to divorce or the remarriage of widows occurs in the Rigveda. Parental control over children was mild and affectionate. It was usual for an aged father to hand over the control of the family into the hands of the eldest son.

Aryans - Parenting during Aryans

There was plenty of land and population at that time was scanty. The vedic Aryans knew how to measure fields. But the Rigveda throws no clear light on the tenure by which land was held. Above the family there was the grama which literally means ‘horde’ or ‘group’. The grama was at first perhaps composed of related families. The vis (canton) and jana (people) were terms applied to groups higher than grama. There was a similar organisation in Iran, Greece, Italy, Germany and Russia. It is said that grama in the Rigveda first meant a sept and later a village. Gotra is regarded as a name of an exogamous sept, especially of brahmanas. The exact meaning of vis and its relation to grama and gotra are however disputed ; the word often occurs in the plural (visah) in the sense of subjects.

The distinction between holy power (brahma), kingly power (kshetra), and commonalty (vis) is well known from the hymns of the Rigveda. To this list the Hymn of Purusha in the tenth book of the Rigveda adds the sudra embodying labour. Opinion is divided is divided on how far these distinctions were strictly hereditary in the beginning. These four aspects of the functions of groups composing a society are fundamental to the social polity of any age, in any country. All ancient Indian sources make a sharp distinction between the two terms varna and jati. The former is much referred to but the later very little and where it appears in literature it does not always imply the comparatively rigid and exclusive social groups of later times.


Rule was exercised by chief’s who bored the title of rajan, a word with which the Latin rex (king) is connected. Occasionally the rajan is called vanaspati, a name which stresses his patriarchal relation to the tribe. There was a relic of the primitive Aryan democracy in the shape of a tribal council composed of elders or wise men. But the requirements of war tended to increase the power of the king and make monarchy hereditary. The king’s revenue consisted chiefly of the gifts of the people, tributes from conquered tribes and booty taken in war.

The king dwelt in fine building. He had a rudimentary court and was attended by sabhasad (courtiers) and gramani (chief of septs). The two chief officers of the State were the senani, leader of the army and the purohita, chief of priests, who by his sacrifices ensured the prosperity of the tribe in peace and its victory in war. The people looked on the king primarily as a leader in war, responsible for the defence of the tribe. He was in no sense the priest-king of some of the early cultures. He had no religious functions except to order sacrifices to the good of the tribe and to support the priest who performed them. Popular assemblies are mentioned under the names of smiti and sabha but their functions are not clear.

Aryans were the first to discover Two-wheeled-plough

The Aryans were among the first people to introduce the idea of quick transport by means of ox-drawn two-wheeled chariots. The Aryan Chariot is described in such great detail that the modern coach- builder could turn out a good replica of Indira’s vehicle.


The Aryan economy of the Rigvedic age was essentially agrarian and pastoral. It included the growing of a grain crop; only one word is used for corn-Yava, which means barley but it may be taken to imply several species of cultivated grain. There are references to ploughing, reaping and winnowing. A few other references may be interpreted as showing that the Aryans of his time knew something of irrigation. Stock-breeding receives more attention from the poets than agriculture. Perhaps they looked upon agriculture as rather plebeian. Herds were differentiated by nicks cut in the ears, a custom which survived in Wales to the last century.

Aryans - Agriculture was key factor for Aryan Economy

Milk evidently formed an important item of diet, either fresh or as curds or butter. Beefs seems to have been freely eaten. In respect of food the Rigvedic Aryans had few of the taboos of later India. They were much addicted to two kinds of drink, soma and sura. Soma was drunk at sacrifices and its use was sanctified by religion. Sura is a secular drink disapproved by the priestly poets.

The Aryans loved music, and played the flute, lute and harp to the accompaniment of cymbals and drums. They used the heptatonic scale, which is thought by some to have originated in Sumeria. In the hymns there are references to singing and dancing and to dancing girls. Besides religious music Aryans had war music each with features of its own.

The dress was of two or three garments of wool, skins being also used sometimes. Ornaments of gold were worn by both men and women and worn in coils by men and women. Shaving was known but beards were common.



Briefly stated, the early Aryan religion was a kind of Nature worship. The Aryans supposed that the forces of Nature were being directed by personalities not very different-except that they were far more powerful–from themselves. Here and there are instances of animal forms of Nature were given the name, devas, from the Sanskrit root div, meaning to shine.

Dyaus Pitar was the sky-father and his consort Prithivi personified the earth. Dayus, it may be noted, was worshipped by other members of the Aryan or Indo-European family. For Dyaus Pitar is the Zeus Pater of the ancient Greeks, the Jupiter of the Romans, and the Tiw of the forefathers of the Anglo-Saxons, whose name is preserved in Tuesday. Closely connected with Dyaus was goddess Aditi beyond the earth, beyond the sky; she was frequently implored for blessings on children and cattle, for protection and forgiveness, and came to be regarded as the mother of all the gods.

The ‘big three’ of the Vedic Pantheon are Agni, the god of fire, Indra, the war-god and god of the atmosphere and the weather, the Varuna, ‘the universal encompasser, the all embracer’ who was looked upon as the expression of the spirit of order in the universe. The sun supposed to be a separate divinity, under the name of Surya, but even he was not so important as Agni who was Light itself. Hundreds of hymns are addressed to Agni, more indeed than to any other god. In the popular estimation Indra was perhaps the most important for as the captain of the invading host he overthrew the cities of the enemies. Almost as important was Varuna for he knows everything and sees everything. Varuna was the highest approach made by the vedic poets to the conception of a god of Righteousness.

Ushas, the goddess of the drawn, the counterpart of the Greek Eros and the Latin Aurora, is indeed the nicest. Some twenty hymns are addressed to her, which in vivid phrases show how she hurries along, rousing the world from sleep. Yama was the first man to die  and the god of the dead and the mysterious underworld in which dwell the spirit of the departed. Of the rest of the thirty-three, we need not mention more than Vayu, the god of the Wind; the Maruts, or Storm-gods who were allies of Indra, and the Asvins, the twin sons of Surya, who also rode across in the sky in a golden car drawn by birds or horses, preparing the way for Ushas.



The hymns of the Rigveda clearly show the high development of the art of poetry. There are fine specimens of lyric poetry, notably in those addressed to Ushas. A few poems of a secular character are also found such as the lament of the gambler. The language of the Rigveda is clearly that of the priesthood, not that of common speech. The priesthood maintained tradition of transmitting the Veda by word of mouth from one generation to another and defending it against neologisms. But contacts with pre-Aryan inhabitants were inevitable and to this should be attributed the presence in the Vedic language of several words and sounds, particularly cerebrals, unknown to other Indo-European languages.

From the fall of Harappa to the middle of the third century B.C., no Indian-written material has survived. There is no reference to writing in the Vedas. This negative evidence, however, is not wholly conclusive; it is not unlikely that some form of script may have been used by merchants. The script of Harappa could not have died when so much of its culture survived. The script of Asokan inscriptions could not have sprung up suddenly without a development through some centuries.

Reference to mansions supported by a thousand columns and provided with a thousand doors may indicate the advance of architecture in Rigvedic India. Allusions to images of Indra probably show the beginnings of sculpture. Quite a number of diseases and ways of healing them are found mentioned as also the use of metal legs as a substitute for natural ones. This is all the evidence we have for the Rigvedic Aryans knowledge of medicine and surgery.

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