Later Vedic Age

(1000 BC – 600 BC)

Introduction To Later Vedic Age

    Later Vedic Age witnessed the complete subduing of the fertile plains watered by Yamuna, Gangas and Sadanira by the Aryans. The settlements now reached the Deccan region across the Vindhyas till the north of Godavari. The period that followed Rig Vedic Age (1500 BC – 1000 BC) is known as Later Vedic Age (1000 BC -600 BC).

New compositions were created e.g. the Samhitas which are of 3types:

  • the Samveda Samhita,
  • the Yajurveda Samhita,
  • the Atharvaveda Samhita
  • This period also witnessed the creation of Brahmanas and the Upanishads of all the four Vedas and later on the two great epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

All these later Vedic texts were compiled in the Upper Gangetic basin in 1000—600 B.C. During the period represented by Later Samhitas the Aryans covered the whole of Northern India, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas.

The Aryans further moved towards east in the Later Vedic Period. The Satapatha Brahmana refers to the expansion of Aryans to the eastern Gangetic plains. Several tribal groups and kingdoms are mentioned in the later Vedic literature.

Formation Of Kingdoms

Later Vedic Age
Later Vedic Age Kingdoms

One important development during this period is the growth of large kingdoms.

  • Kuru and Panchala kingdoms flourished in the beginning. Parikshat and Janamejaya were the famous rulers of Kuru kingdom. Pravahana Jaivali was a popular king of the Panchalas. He was a patron of learning.
  • After the fall of Kurus and Panchalas, other kingdoms like Kosala, Kasi and Videha came into prominence. The famous ruler of Kasi was Ajatasatru.
  • Janaka was the king of Videha with its capital at Mithila. His court was adorned by scholar Yajnavalkya.
  • Magadha, Anga and Vanga seem to be the easternmost tribal kingdoms.
  • The later Vedic texts also refer to the three divisions of India – Aryavarta (northern India), Madhyadesa (central India) and Dakshinapatha (southern India).

March Of Aryans

The spread of Aryans over the whole of India completed before 400 B.C. Of the new kingdoms in the east, the most important were Kurus, Panchalas, Kasis, Kosalas and Videhas.

Gradually the Aryans moved towards South India. It is believed that their southern movement began during the period of Brahmana literature, about 1000 B.C. and went on steadily till they reached the southernmost extremity of the Peninsula in or sometime before fourth century B.C.

The great grammarian Katyayana who flourished in the fourth century B.C had knowledge about the countries of south such as Pandya, Chola and Kerala. But the Aryan colonization in the South was not as complete as in the north. With the progress of the Aryans in Northern India, their centre of civilization was shifted towards east. The territory between Saraswati and Ganga was the seat of Aryan civilization.

The life of the people of the Later Vedic Society was not as simple as that of the preceding Rig Vedic Society. Several large Kingdoms grew during this period, and they kept fighting with each other. Caste System was slowly gaining its momentum. The position of women was degrading and evil practices such as dowry came into practice. Besides Agriculture, people started to opt for several new occupations to make their living.

Political Organisation Of Later Vedic Period

  • During the Later Vedic Age popular assemblies lost much of their importance and royal power increased at their cost. In other words , chiefdom gave way to kingdom. Formation of large kingdoms made the king more powerful. For all practical purposes , kingship became hereditary.
  • The Vidhata completely disappeared.
  • Sabha and Samiti continued to hold ground, but their character changed and they were no more representative of the will of the majority.
  • Women were no longer permitted to attend the assemblies , which came to be dominated by nobles and Brahamanas.
  • The term Rashtra indicating ‘territory’ first appeared in this period.


  • The institution of Gotra appeared in the Later Vedic Age.
  • Literally meaning cowpen, Gotra signified descent from a common ancestor.
  • The gotra has beeb regarded as a mechanism for widening the socio-political ties, as new relationships were forged between hitherto unrelated people.
  • People began to practice Gotra exogamy. In other words , marriage between persons belonging to the same Gotra was prohibited.

Social Organisation During Later Vedic Age

Later Vedic Age
Later Vedic Age

        Society in the Later Vedic Age came became increasingly complex and came to the divided into four Varnas – Brahmanas , Kshatriyas , Vaisyas and Sudras.

  1. Brahamanas: The growing cult to sacrifice enormously added to the power of Brahmanas , who performed various rituals and sacrifices for their clients. In the beginning, they were merely one of the sixteen classes of priests , but later on they overshadowed others.
  2. Kshatriyas: They constituted the warrior class. Obviously majority of the rulers belonged to this class.
  3. Vaisyas: They were the agriculturists, cattle-rearers,traders , artisans and metal workers, which formed the bulk of population. In some texts , the Kshatriyas are represented as living on the tributes collected from the Vaisyas.
  4. Sudras: They were the lowest in social hierarchy and were meant to serve the upper three Varnas.

More Facts

  • The upper  three Varnas were known as the Dvijas ( twice born). This status was not accorded to the Sudras.
  • The upper three Varnas were entitled to ‘upanayana’ or investiture with the sacred thread.
  • Education began with upanayana ceremoney. Sometimes the girls were also initiated . The age of  upanayana  was 8 years for Brahamana, 11 for Kshatriyas , and 12 for Vaisyas.
  • Certain sections of artisans such as Rathakara or chariot-maker enjoyed high status and were entitled to the sacred thread ceremoney.
  • In Aitariya Brahaman, the Brahamana has been described as a seeker of livelihood and an accepter of gifts, removable at will. The Vaisya has been described as one who pays tribute, and is to be opposed at will. While the Shudras has been termed as the servent of anther, to be made to work at will and to be beaten at will.
  • In Later Vedic Age, polygamy was prevalent and there were instances of child-marriage.
  • In general the term Nagara appears for the first time in the Later Vedic Age ,showing faint beginnings of town life.


Various types of pottery known :

  1. Black and Red ware  B. Black Slipped ware  C. Plain Grey ware   D. Red ware.
  2. Red ware was most popular.
  3. However, the most distinctive type of pottery was Painted Grey Ware.

Regions  and  Kings

  • Eastern King – Samrat
  • Western King – Suvrat
  • Northern King – Virat
  • Southern King – Bhoja
  • King of middle country – Raja

Later Vedic Literature

  • The word Veda is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘vid’ meaning, to know i.e. knowledge par excellence.
  • Vedic texts are divided between Sruti ( based on hearing), which is distinct from Smriti ( based on memory).
  • Overall the Four Vedas and the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads form a class of literature known as Sruti.
  • Similarly Ramayan, Mahabharat, Puranas, Narad Smriti, Manu Smriti etc. come under the category of Smriti.
Later Vedic Age
Later Vedic Texts


          Although The Brahmans are the prose commentaries on various Vedic hymns. They explain the Vedas in an orthodox way. Brahmanas explain the hidden meaning behind the hymns. They are ritualistic by nature. They are expressive of the cause ( hetu), etymology ( nirvachana) , censure ( ninda) ,  doubt ( samshaya) and injunction ( vidhi).

The Brahmanas are a collection of ancient Indian texts which explain the social and religious significance of Vedas. They are primarily a digest incorporating myths, legends, the explanation of Vedic rituals and in some cases philosophy. Each Brahmana is attached to a particular Veda and thus form a part of the Sruti Literature.

The Brahmanas are particularly noted for their instructions on the proper performance of rituals, as well as explain the symbolic importance of sacred words and ritual actions in the main text. Brahmanas lack a homogeneous structure across the different Vedas, with some containing chapters that constitute Aranyaks or Upanishads in their own right.

Undeniably each Vedic school has its own Brahmana. Thus numerous Brahmana texts existed in ancient India, many of which have been lost. A total of 19 Brahmanas are extinct at least in their entirety.

Final Codification

The dating of the final codification of the Brahmanas and associated Vedic texts is controversial, which occurred after centuries of verbal transmission. The oldest is dated to about 900 BCE, while the youngest Brahmanas (such as the Shatapatha Brahmana), were complete by about 700 BCE. According to Jan Gonda, the final codification of the four Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and early Upanishads took place in pre-Buddhist times (ca. 600 BCE).

Rig Veda

  • It is derived into 10 Books or Mandalas. Books 2nd to 7th are considered the oldest. Book 1st ,8th and 10th seem to be later additions.
  • A collection of 1028 hymns of a number of priestly families.
  • Written between 1700-1500 B.C. when Aryans were still in Punjab.
  • Books 2nd to 7th are earliest and are also called as family books. They are attributed to Gritsamada , Visvamitra , Vasudeva , Atri, Bhardwaj , Vashishtha , Kanva and Angiras.
  • The 9th Mandala is dedicated excluvisely to Soma.
  • The 10th Mandala contains the famous purushsukta hymn that explains the origin of four Varnas.
  • Gayatri Mantra is the most sacred hymn of Rig Veda.

    Yajur Veda

  • A ritualistic Veda.
  • It is divided into Shukla Yajurveda and Krishna Yajurveda.
  • Atharvaveda mentions beliefs and practices of non-Aryans.
  • In Atharvaveda , Sabha and Samiti are described as uterine sisters the two daughters of prajapati.
  • Written in prose it deals with procedure for performance of sacrifice and contains rituals as well as hymns.

   Sama Veda 

  • Sam Veda derivs its roots from Saman, Which means a melody.
  • A collection of melodies.
  • A collection of 1603 hymns. Except 99 ,all others were derived from Rig Veda.

  Atharva Veda

  • A collection  of  711  hymns , it is divided into 20 Kandas.
  • It is the latest Veda.
  • Atharva Veda is a book of magical formulae.
  • It contains charms and spell to ward-off evil and disease.
  • Its content throws light on the practices of non-Aryans

The Upanishads

The word Upanishad is a combination of 2 words namely ‘Upa’ and ‘Nishad’. ‘Upa’ means come and sit near your teacher and ‘Nishad’ means destroy your delusions about reality. Since the Upanishads are a refinement of the Vedas and anti-ritualistic, they are considered as the repositories of the central concepts of Hinduism. They are also profoundly influenced by Buddhism and Jainism. Thus their ultimate teachings are about ‘moksha’ or salvation.


The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta, (i.e end of Vedas) variously interpreted to mean either the “last chapters, parts of the Veda ” or “the object, the highest purpose of the Veda”. The concepts of Brahma (Ultimate Reality) and Atman (Soul, Self) are central ideas in all the Upanishads, and “Know your Ātman” their thematic focus. The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions. Of the Vedic corpus, they alone are widely known, and the central ideas of the Upanishads are at the spiritual core of Hindus.

Thus, so far more than 200 Upanishads are known to us of which the first few are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads. The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyaks and were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down orally. Finally, early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, some in all likelihood pre-Buddhist (6th century BCE), down to the Maurya period. 

More Facts

Of the remainder, some 95 Upanishads are part of the Muktika canon, composed from about the last centuries of 1st-millennium BCE through about 15th-century CE. New Upanishads, beyond the 108 in the Muktika canon, continued to be composed through the early modern and modern era, though often dealing with subjects which are unconnected to the Vedas.

Along with the Bhagvad Gita and the Brahmasutras, the mukhya Upanishads (known collectively as the Prasthanatrayi) provide a foundation for the several later schools of Vedanta, among them, two influential monistic schools of Hinduism.

Snippets On Upanishads

  • The term Upanishada indicates knowledge acquired by sitting close to the teacher . They consisted of discussions on several problems such as the creation of the universe , the nature of God , the origin of  mankind etc.
  • They are anti-ritualistic and define the doctrine of karma ( Action) , Atman ( Soul) and God ( Brahma).
  • They are spiritual and philosophical in nature.
  • They are called the Vedanta or the end of Vedas. They advocate Jnana Marga and are anti-ritualistic in nature.
  • There are 108 Upanishadas. Generally, the period from 800 to 500 BC is known as the period of Upanishadas.
  • The Aitareya and Kaushitaki Upanishads belong to Rig Veda.
  • Chhandogya and Kena Upanishad belong to Sama Veda.
  • Taittiriya , Katha and Svetasvatara Upanishad belong to the Krishna Yajur Veda.
  • Brihadaranyaka and Isa belong to the Shukla Yajur Veda.
  • Prasna , Mundaka and Mundukya belong to the Atharva Veda.


         In order to understand the Vedic Literature , it was necessary to learn vedangas or the limbs of Vedas. These are treatises on science and arts. They are:

  1. Shiksha ( Phonetics)
  2. Kalpa ( Ritual)
  3. Vyakarana ( Grammer)
  4. Chhand ( Metrics)
  5. Nirukta ( Etymology)
  6. Jyotisha ( Astronomy)
  7. Yaska’s Nirukta ( 5th century BC) is the oldest Indian linguistic text.
  8. Panini Wrote Ashtadahyayi ( 4th Century BC) on Vyakaran.


Later Vedic Age
4 Ashramas
  • The ashrama system is found mentioned for the first time in the Aitareya Brahmana.
  • Meant mainly for regulating the life of the male members of the higher castes , they consisted of four stages.
  • Brahmacharya or student life.
  • Grihastha or life of the householder.
  • Vanaprastha or partial  retirement and
  • Sanyas or complete retirement ( ascetic life).
  • Full recognition of the fourth stages was done only in the post-Vedic period.


  • Interestingly there were some sages dewlling in the forests who explained the Vedic scriptures to their pupils in the form of Aranyakas. ( Aranyaka means belonging to the forest) and they came to be known as ‘forest  texts’.
  • They explain  metaphysics and symbolism of sacrifice.
  • They are the forest books and were taught in the forests due to their magical powers.
  • By the same token they form the concluding part of Brahmanas.


There are four upvedas

Ayurveda : Dealing with medicine.

Dhanurveda : Dealing with the art of the warface.

Gandharvaveda : Dealing with music.

Shilpaveda ; Dealing with art and literature.


  • Mahabharata is older compared to Ramayana and possibly reflects the state of affairs from 10th Century BC to 4th Century AD.
  • Originally Mahabharata consisted of 8800 verses and was called ‘Jayasamhita’. These were raised to 24,000 and came to be known as Bharata. The final compilation explicitly brought the number of verses to 100,000 and came to be known as Mahabharata.
  • The Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to 12000 and finally to 24,000.
  • Composition of Ramayana started in 5th century BC. It passed through several stages and attained its present form  as late as 12th century AD.

Six System of Philosophy

  1. Nyaya ( Analysis)  : Gautam
  2. Vaisesika ( Atomic Characteristic)  : Kanada
  3. Sankhya ( Enumeration)  : Kapil
  4. Yoga ( Application)  : Patanjali
  5. Purva Mimansa ( Enquiry)  :  Jaimini
  6. Uttar Mimansa ( Vedanta)   : Vyasa

Kalpa Sutras

       These  are the treatises dealing with

Vedic rituals on one hand , and with customary law on the other. They are written in a laboriously compressed style. Sometimes approaching the structure of algebraic formulas, unintelligible without the help of authoritative commentaries. In order to convey to the future generations the ancient and contemporary literature , the Aryan sages invented a special concise method called the Sutra style. Thus the massive Vedic texts were condensed into short , terse formulae , which could be easily remembered and transmitted orally – from father to son or from Guru to Shisya . Most of the Vedic literature was handed down orally in this manner. The Sutra literature is divided into three classes :

  1. Srauta Sutras – dealing with large public sacrifices.
  2. Griha Sutras – dealing with rituals connected with birth , naming , marriage etc.
  3. Dharma Sutra – explain social and local custome , which later on became the basis of Manu Smriti.

Later Vedic Religion

  • Towards the end of the Vedic Age , a section of society began to resent priestly domination . The Upanishads criticised the cult of rituals and sacrifices and laid stress on Right Belief and Right knowledge.
  • They emphasized that knowledge of self ( Atman) should be acquired and relation of Atman with  Brahma ( God) should be properly understood.
  • Deeds of one ligfe affected the next. This gave the theory of Karma.

Dharma –Shastras

            Dharma-Shastras are the later Vedic Age or Epic Age treatises on ethical and social philosophy. They deal systematically with the proper conduct of life and describ social, ethical and religious obligations. The Dharma-Shastras are , in fact,  another name for Smritis which are the law books, written in the sloka metre. The chief among them are  the:

  • Manav Dharma Shastras
  • Vishnu Dharma Shastras
  • Yajnavalkya Smriti
  • Narad Smriti

Manav Dharma Shastras or Manu Smriti it is the oldest and most famous. Its author Manu supposed to be the first king and the first lawgiver. Later on , some minor Smritis and commentaries like the Mitakshara were compiled. These books are not merely accounts of civil and criminal laws of the time but they also cover all aspects of the daily life of the individual. They throw considerable light on the social and political life of the age – the caste system, Ashramas of life , economic conditions as also state of professions , arts and crafts , architecture and the working of administration.


The strikingly varied nature of the contents of Puranas seems to be the result of diverse materials, tales, anecdotes , songs and ballads , traditional lore etc. These include mythology , cosmogony, various legends , genealogical accounts , folk beliefs , law codes and miscellaneous topics. The  Puranic literature is thus a unique outcome of the ever-continuing synthesis of various socio-economic formation operative between the 5th ventury BC and the 12th century AD.

Every addition in the Puranic literaure brought in its train numerous new deities with images and temples, pilgrimages and vows, sects etc. The change in the mode of worship ( from sacrifice to worship of idols), visual appeal of the deities as against the worship of ideas , the fact of idol worship being more satisfying than yajna or sacrifice , revulsion to the violence and bloodshed involved in animal sacrifices all these explain  the socio-religious-economic transformations taking place in the Aryan society.

The Puranas may be regarded as a unique record of the outcome of continual clash and friction, readjustment and mobilization, conservatism and the accommodating spirit of the Indian society, keen to come to terms with evolving ethos.

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