The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the root ‘vid’, which meansto know. In other words, the term ‘Veda’ signifies ‘superiorknowledge’. The Vedic literature consists of the four Vedas – Rig,Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The Rig Veda is the earliest of the fourVedas and it consists of 1028 hymns. The hymns were sung in praiseof various gods. The Yajur Veda consists of various details of rules
to be observed at the time of sacrifice. The Sama Veda is set totune for the purpose of chanting during sacrifice. It is called thebook of chants and the origins of Indian music are traced in it. The Atharva Veda contains details of rituals.
Besides the Vedas, there are other sacred works like theBrahmanas, the Upanishads, the Aranyakas and the epics Ramayanaand Mahabharata. The Brahmanas are the treatises relating to prayerand sacrificial ceremony. The Upanishads are philosophical textsdealing with topic like the soul, the absolute, the origin of the worldand the mysteries of nature. The Aranyakas are called forest booksand they deal with mysticism, rites, rituals and sacrifices. The authorof Ramayana was Valmiki and that of Mahabharata was Vedavyas.
Rig Vedic Age or Early Vedic Period (1500 – 1000 B.C.)
During the Rig Vedic period, the Aryans were mostly confinedto the Indus region. The Rig Veda refers to Saptasindhu or the landof seven rivers. This includes the five rivers of Punjab, namelyJhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej along with the Indus andSaraswathi. The political, social and cultural life of the Rig Vedicpeople can be traced from the hymns of the Rig Veda.
The basic unit of political organization was kula or family.Several families joined together on the basis of their kinship to forma village or grama. The leader of grama was known as gramani. Agroup of villages constituted a larger unit called visu. It was headedby vishayapati. The highest political unit was called jana or tribe.
There were several tribal kingdoms during the Rig Vedic periodsuch as Bharatas, Matsyas, Yadus and Purus. The head of thekingdom was called as rajanor king. The Rig Vedic polity wasnormally monarchical and the succession was hereditary. The kingwas assisted by purohitaor priest and senanior commander ofthe army in his administration. There were two popular bodies calledthe Sabha and Samiti. The former seems to have been a council ofelders and the latter, a general assembly of the entire people.
The Rig Vedic society was patriarchal. The basic unit of societywas family or graham. The head of the family was known asgrahapathi. Monogamy was generally practiced while polygamywas prevalent among the royal and noble families. The wife tookcare of the household and participated in all the major ceremonies.
Women were given equal opportunities as men for their spiritualand intellectual development. There were women poets like Apala,Viswavara, Ghosa and Lopamudra during the Rig Vedic period.Women could even attend the popular assemblies. There was nochild marriage and the practice of sati was absent.
Both men and women wore upper and lower garments madeof cotton and wool. A variety of ornaments were used by both menand women. Wheat and barley, milk and its products like curd andghee, vegetables and fruits were the chief articles of food. The eatingof cow’s meat was prohibited since it was a sacred animal. Chariotracing, horse racing, dicing, music and dance were the favouritepastimes. The social divisions were not rigid during the Rig Vedicperiod as it was in the later Vedic period.
The Rig Vedic Aryans were pastoral people and their mainoccupation was cattle rearing. Their wealth was estimated in termsof their cattle. When they permanently settled in North India, theybegan to practice agriculture. With the knowledge and use of ironthey were able to clean forests and bring more lands undercultivation. Carpentry was another important profession and theavailability of wood from the forests cleared made the professionprofitable. Carpenters produced chariots and ploughs. Workers inmetal made a variety of articles with copper, bronze and iron.Spinning was another important occupation and cotton and woollenfabrics were made. Goldsmiths were active in making ornaments.The potters made various kinds of vessels for domestic use.
Trade was another important economic activity and riversserved as important means of transport. Trade was conducted onbarter system. In the later times, gold coins called nishka were usedas media of exchange in large transactions.
The Rig Vedic Aryans worshiped the natural forces like earth,fire, wind, rain and thunder. They personified these natural forcesinto many gods and worshipped them. The important Rig Vedicgods were Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Vayu (Wind), Varuna (Rain)and Indra (Thunder). Indra was the most popular among them duringthe early Vedic period. Next in importance to Indra was Agni whowas regarded as an intermediary between the gods and people.
Varuna was supposed to be the upholder of the natural order. Therewere also female gods like Aditi and Ushas. There were no templesand no idol worship during the early Vedic period. Prayers wereoffered to the gods in the expectation of rewards. Ghee, milk andgrain were given as offerings. Elaborate rituals were followed duringthe worship.