Rig Vedic Period

(1500 BC – 1000 BC)


Rig Vedic Period is that period of Indian History which has profound implications on contemporary Indian society. A characteristic feature of the Rig Vedic Period is the composition of Rig Veda. It is difficult to say that all the earlier Aryans belonged to one race, but their culture was more or less as of the same type. It is generally agreed that Aryans originally lived somewhere in Steppes  stretching from southern Russia to central Russia. The consensus of opinion is that originally they lived somewhere in the East of Alps i.e Steppes stretching from Southern Russia to Central Asia. On their way to India, Aryans first appeared in Iran and a little later than 1500 BC they appeared in India.

Rig Vedic Period
Rig Vedic Period

Evidences From Inscriptions

Evidently, Kassite Inscription of about 1600 BC and Mittani Inscription of 1400 BC found in Iraq bear some Aryan names , which suggest that from Iran a branch of Aryans moved towards west. The Rig Veda has many things in common with the Avesta – the oldest text in Iranian language. Rig Veda  is the earliest specimen of any Indo-European language. Certain names of animals such as dogs, goats, horses etc,. And names of certain plants such as Maple, Pine etc are similar to one another in all the Indo European languages. According to Rig Veda, early Aryans first settled in the region called ‘Sapta-Sindhava’ or the land  of seven rivers encompassing the present East Afghanistan, Punjab and Western UP.

Early Aryans were semi-nomadic and kept large herds of cattle. Their earliest life of Rig Vedic period seems to be pastoral, agriculture being a secondary occupation. As they settled down in villages , they also became cultivators, using ox to draw their ploughs. They were ruled by warriors, who depended upon priests to perform the rituals to protect their  crops and cattle, and insured victory in war. The Indian subcontinent got its name Bharat Varsha after the Bharata tribe, which was the strongest one. During the later vedic phase , the Aryans moved away from their early settlements to the Ganga-Jamuna Doab. The  Ramayana has partly unfolded the tale of the Aryan advent into the south.

Original Home of Aryans

  • Central Asia — Max Muller
  • Tibet — Dayanand Saraswati
  • German Plain — prof. Penka
  • Pamirs — Mayor
  • Turkestan — Hurz Feld
  • Bactria — J . C. Rod
  • Steppes — Brand stein
  • Germany — Penka and Hert
  • Hungary — Giles
  • Southern Russia — Nehring
  • West Baltic —Mach
  • Arctic Region — B. G. Tilak
  • Central India —- Rajbali Pandey
  • Kashmir — L .D. Kala
  • Sapta Sindhu —- A. C. Das

Rivers Mentioned in Rig Veda

Old Name                                      New Name

Gomati                                               Gomal

Krumi                                                 Kurram

Kubha                                                 Kabul

Suvastu                                              Swat

Drishadvati                                        Ghaghar/ Chitang

Satudri                                                Saltuj

Vipas                                                   Beas

Parushni                                              Ravi

Asikni                                                   Chenab

Vitasva                                                 Jhelam

Words Mentioned Rig Veda

Word                  Times Mentioned

Om                      1028

Ashva                  315

Jana                     275

Gau                      176

Vis                        171

Brahmana           14

Kshatriya               9

Yamuna                 3

Sudra                     1

Vaishya                  1

Rajya                      1

Kulpa                      1

Ganga                     1

Samudra                 1

Metals Known

Gold   —-   Hiranya

Iron     —-   Shyama ( Krishna Ayas)

Copper  —- Ayas

Celebration of life in the Rig Vedic Period

   The Aryans were a wild , turbulent people and had few of the taboos prevalent in later India. They were much addicted to inebriating drinks , of which they had at least two , soma and Sura . Soma was drunk at sacrifices and its use was sanctified by religion. Sura was purely secular and more potent , and was disapproved by the priestly poets. The Aryans loved music, and played the flute, lute and harp , to the accompaniment of cymbal and drums. People also delighted in gambling . They enjoyed chariot races.

Rig Vedic Polity

  • The chief was the protector of the tribe of Jana.
  • However, he did not possess unlimited powers for he had to reckon with the tribal  Assemblies.
  •  Sabha, Samiti, Vidhata and Gana were the tribals Assemblies. Of these, Vidhata was the oldest. These assemblies exercised deliberative , military and religious functions.
  • The two most important Assemblies were the  Sabha and Samiti. Samiti was general in nature and less exclusive than Sabha.
  • Women attended Sabha and Vidhata in Rigvedic times.
  • There were a  few non-monarchical states ( ganas), which are described whose head was Ganapati or Jyestha.

Rig Vedic Gods

Rig Vedic Period

     The early Vedic religionn was naturalistic Evidently , there were neither temples nor idols. The mode of prayer was recitation of mantaras. Sacrifice was offered for Praja (children), Pasu ( cattle) and Dhana ( wealth) and not for  spiritual upliftment or misery.

  • 250 hymns are attributed to Indra.
  • He was the Aryan warlord and also controlled the weather.
  • Has been called Purandar or destroyer of forts.
  • He was the proverbial Rain God ( prajanya), responsible for causing rainfall.
  • He was associated with thunder and storm and bore the thunderbolt ( Vajra) , with which  he destroyed his enemies.
  • He was rowdy and amoral, fond of drinking and feasting.
  • He has been addressed by various names – Ratheshtha, Jitendra, Somapa , Purandra, Vritrahan and Meghayan.
  • He was the upholder of Rta or cosmic order and whatever happened in the world was  thought to be reflection of his desire.
  • As an administrator of the cosmic law ( Rta), he regulated all activities in the world. It is he who has spread out the earth and set the sun in motion.
  • He is therefore called the world sovereign and is also regarded as the lors of human morality.
  • His worship gives the earliest signs of Bhakti.
  • In every hymm for Varuna, there is an appeal for forgiveness.
  • About 200 hymns on the Rig Veda are attributed to Agni.
  • He was the intermediatery between Gods and men. He consumed the sacrificial offerings and carried them to Gods.
  • He dwelt in heaven in the form of lightning. On earth he existed in many forms.
  • He dwelt in the domestic hearth.
  • A  sort of Adam – The first man to die, who became the gurdian of the world of dead.
  • The God of plants . An intoxicant drink was also Soma. The Soma ascrifice was an important Vedic rituals.
  • He is the special God of Brahamans, who referred to him as their patron deity.

The Sun Gods

Surya :   Similar to that of the Greek God Helios.

Savitri :  The famous Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitri.

Pusan :   His main function was that of guarding of roads, herdsmen and cattle.

Vishnu :  A relatively minor God at that time.

Other Gods of Rig Vedic Period

Vayu : Wing God

Dyaus : Father of Heaven

Aditi : Mother of Surya

Maruts : Storm spirits

Gandharvas : Divine musicians

Ashvins : Healers of diseases and expert in surgecal are.

Ribhus : Gnomes

Apsaras : Mistresses of Gods.

Yama : Lord to dead, first man to die.

Rudra : An archer God , whose arose brought disease.

Rig  Vedic Society

Rig Vedic Period
  • Based on kinship, the early Aryan society was essentially tribal and egalitarian.
  • People owed their primary loyalty to their tribes , which  was called Jana.
  • The family was essentially patriarchal and birth of son was desired.
  • The family was a large unit , indicated by a common word for son , grandson , nephew and one word for paternal and maternal grandfather.
  • Rashtra ( kingdom) had not come into existence.

Later Vedic Gods

  • Indra  and Varuna lost their previous importance and Prajapati attained the Supreme position.
  • Rudra and Vishnu became more important than before.
  • Pushan became the God of Shudras.
  • Brahmin monopoly over divine knowledge was established.
  • An eleborate system of Yajnas developed. Among the important ones were Rajasuya, Ashvamedha and Vajapeya.

The Cow

  • The cow seems to be the most important form of wealth.
  • Most wars were fought for cows.
  • The term for war in Rig Veda is Gavishithi or search for cows.
  • Duhitri is a word for daughter , which literally means one who milks cows.
  • The terms Aghanya, or not to be killed has been used for cow. This indicated cow’s economic importance.
  • Primarily a military leader, the king fought for cows and not for territories.
  • Guests were called Goghana , which indicates that beef was slaves and them.
  • The gift made to priests usually consisted of cow and women slaves and never of land.

Female Deities

Usha : Goddess of dawn.

Aditi  : Mother of Gods

Prithivi : Earth Goddess

Aryani : Forest Goddess

Saraswati : The River deity.

Position of Women in Rig Vedic Period

  • Women held respectable position in society. They could attend tribal assemblies. They took part in sacrifices alongwith their husbands. There are no examples of child marriage and the marriageable age for girls was 16 to 17 years.
  • We also get evidence of window remarriage and practice of Niyoga ( levirate) in which a childless window would co-habit with her brother-in-law until the birth of a son.
  • Monogamy was the established practice. However, polygamy and polyandry were also known.

Important Rituals

Rig Vedic Period
Rig Vedic Period
  • Rajasuya : The king’s influence was strengthened by rituals. He performed this sacrifice , which was supposed to confer supreme power on him.
  • Asvamedha : A king performed the Ashvamedha, which meant unquestioned control over the area in which the royal horse ran uninterrupted. The ceremony lasted for 3 days at the end of which horse sacrifice was performed.
  • Vajapeya : A king performed the Vajapeya or the chariot race , in which the royal chariot was made to win the race against his kinsmen ( a case of match-fixing). The ritual lated for 17 days and was belived not only to restore the strength of the middle-aged king but also to elevate him from the position of Raja to that of Samrat.

Social Divisions In The Rig Vedic Period

  • When the Aryans first came to India , there was no consciousness of caste ,nor were the professions hereditary. The word ‘Varna’ is used in the Rig Veda with refrences to only the Aryan or Dasa having respectively, fair or dark complexion, but never with refrences to the Brahmana or Rajanya ( Kshatriya).
  • Quadruple division of society made its formal appearance only at one place in the Tenth Mandala of Rig Veda ( purushsukta hymn). The term Shudra is mentioned for the first time in the Tenth Mandala of Rig Veda.
  • The Ashrama system had not developed fully till the Later Vedic period.

Types of Marriage

  1. Brahma : Marriage of a duly dowered girl to a man of the same class.
  2. Daiva : The father gives a daughter to a sacrificial priest as a part of his fee.
  3. Arsa : A token bride-price of a cow and bull is given in place of the dowry.
  4. Prajapatya : The father gives the girls without dowry and without demanding the bride-price.
  5. Gandharva : Marriage by the consent of the two parties ( love marriage).
  6. Asura : Marriage in which the bride was bought from her father. It was looked down upon with disfavour by all sacred texts, though  Arthashatra allows it without criticism.
  7. Rakshasa : Marriage by capture , was practised especially by warriors.
  8. Paishacha : Marriage by seduction.

            Of these eight forms the  first four were generally approved and were permissible to Brahmans. Daiva marriage was considered ‘the ideal’. The other forms were looked down upon with varying degrees of diafavour. Gandharva marriage , which often might amount to no more than a liaison, was suprisingly respected. A special form of the Gandharva marriage was the Swayamvara.

Administrative Officers

  • Purohita  — Chief priest
  • Senani — The leader of the army
  • Vrajapati – Officers who enjoyed authority over pasture ground.
  • Kulapas — Heads of families led by Vrajapati.
  • There was no officers for tax collection , nor we do hear of any officers for administering justice.
  • Spies (Spasa) were employed to watch over anti-social activities like theft and burglary.
  • The chief received from people voluntary offering called Bali.

Chief Priests

The chief priests who were engaged in performing the sacrifices were :

  1. Hotri: the Invoker, he recited hymns from Rigveda.
  2. Adhvaryu: the executor ,he recited hymns from Yajurveda.
  3. Udagtri: the singer he recited hymns from Samveda.

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