SOURCES THE VEDIC CORPUS: VEDAS, BRAHMANAS, SMIRITIS, EPICS, PURANAS AND THE UPANISHADS • VEDA: KNOWLEDGE • ARYA: NOBLE OR PURE • ARYANS: SEMI-NOMADIC TRIBES SPEAKING INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES.
THE VEDIC AGE 1500-500 BCE • Advent of Aryans • RGVEDIC PHASE 1500-1000 BCE • Age of Iron Technology • LATER VEDIC PHASE 1000-600 BCE • Impact of Aryan culture: Religion and Society • The Caste or the Varnasystem
ADVENT OF THE ARYANS:THE RGVEDIC PHASE (1500-1000 BCE) • The Aryans entered the Indian sub-continent through the Hindu Khush mountains and settled down in the land of seven rivers, also known as sapta-sindhu (or Punjab the land of seven rivers). In early years ( roughly from 1500 BCE to 1000 BCE) Aryan expansion was slow as they used stone, copper and bronze axes for clearing the forests.
THE ARYANS • The Aryans came as semi-nomadic pastoralists people living chiefly on the produce of the cattle, and for some time cattle-rearing remained their main occupation. In the Rgvedic times, the cow was the measure of value and was a very precious commodity. Thus gavishti, literally “to search for cows” came to mean to fight for cattle and lost cattle frequently led to tribal wars.
THE ARYANS • Many Rgvedic tribes are mentioned in the inter-tribal conflicts such as the Battle of Ten Kings. This battle was fought between the king Sudas of the Bharata tribe, who had dismissed his legendry priest Vishvamitra and had appointed Vashishta in his place. Vishvamitra gathered an army of ten tribes but Sudas became victorious in this battle.
THE ARYANS • But mostly, cattle stealing and land disputes were a frequent cause of inter-tribal wars. • Wars were not confined to the tribal infighting alone. The Aryans had to contend with the indigenous population of northern India and these enemies were described as Panis and Dasas..
THE ARYANS • Panis were more troublesome, as they stole cattle and the battles with the Dasas were more protracted because they were well settled in those areas. • Eventually the Dasas were defeated because later on, this term was used for the slaves in the Vedic texts.
RG-VEDIC SOCIETY • The basic social unit of Rgvedic society was gotra (lit. cowpen or cow shed). The ruling elite of each tribe had the function of not only acquiring cattle from other tribes, but also to protect the cattle that belonged to their tribe. The economic value of the cow enhanced the usual veneration to it. The later irrational attitude that cow is sacred might have originated because of this reason.
RG-VEDIC SOCIETY • As long as the society remained a tribal one devoid of any class divisions, all activities were collective and there was no specialization. Every member of the tribe participated in hunting, food gathering, waging wars, and defending his tribe from outside attacks. In this tribal setup all decisions were also taken collectively. The tribal members were represented in the village assemblies: sabha and samiti.
ADVENT OF IRON (LATER VEDIC PERIOD 1000-500 BCE) • Between the composition of Rgveda and the age of Buddha, the Aryans pushed eastwards towards the Ganges and their culture adapted to the changed conditions. • The shift of the Vedic zone from the Indus basin to the Gangetic plains implies forest clearance and permanent settling down of the Aryan tribes. The iron tools, especially, axes would have been an important tool to cut the trees.
ADVENT OF IRON • Around 800BCE the iron tools were used to clear the forest in the Gangetic doab. The sites excavated in this region reveals copper, bronze and large number of iron implements and painted grey ware pottery (PGW). • This expansion gave rise to the age of epics such as Mahabharata, which refers to endless wars and bloodshed. The transition from pastoral nomadism to territorial kingdoms took place during the later Vedic period.
LATER VEDIC PERIOD • The more permanent settlements of the tribes led to a change of occupations. From rearing herds of cattle they took to agriculture, particularly after the discovery of iron when the task of clearing the forests became a less arduous task. To begin with, the land was jointly owned by the village but with the decline of tribal units, the land came to be divided between the families and thus the concept of private property was established.
THE LATER VEDIC PERIOD • The change to agriculture led to a wider range of occupations. The carpentry was a noble profession along with other artisanal occupations like the ironsmiths, potters, tanners, and the weavers. Agriculture led to trade and the settlements along the Ganges river made the communications much easier. The more wealthy landowners, who could afford to employ people to till their land were the potential traders.
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION • The tribes were organized as patriarchal groups, and in the early stages the chief of the tribe was merely a tribal leader. As the need for protection grew, the most capable protector was elected chief, and he gradually began to assume privileges generally associated with the kings. In the beginning, the Vedic king was a military leader, whose skills in war and the defence of his tribe were essential to maintain his position as the head.
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION • These kings had no right to tax people nor claim lands for themselves, and were only entitled to a portion of booty from the successful cattle raids or battles. Later, there was a change in the position of the kings, mainly due to the emergence of the idea of divinity in kingship. The mortal kings were invested with attributes of divinity and they became the final authority in the political setup.
ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS • The tribal kingdom contained tribes (jana), tribal units (vish) and the village (grama). The nucleus of the family (kula), with the eldest member being its head (kulapa). The king was assisted by a court of elders of the tribe and by the village headmen. Even closer to him were two officers: the priest (purohita), and the military commander (senani). Spies and messengers completed the entourage of the Vedic kings.
IMPACT OF VEDIC ARYANS: RELIGION AND SOCIETY • The Vedic religion was a sophisticated version of animism, the forces which they could not control or understand were given the status of gods. The most important god was Agni (fire god) who played a central role in sacrifice and dominated the domestic life, Indra (warrior god, god of thunder and destroyer) was god of strength, Varuna and Mitra (all seeing gods) was guardians of cosmic order and Soma personified the plant whose intoxicating juice was offered as an oblation. Other gods were solar deities Surya and Savitri.
VEDIC RELIGION • The central feature of the Aryan religious life was ‘sacrifice’ or yagna. The goodwill of gods was necessary to the continuity of warring tribes, and the Aryans believed that the performance of yagnas persuaded the gods to grant them success in wars. The sacrifice was a solemn practice and the priests played an important role in these ceremonies.
VEDIC RELIGION:SACRIFICE • The ritual of sacrifice resulted in some interesting by-products. Mathematical knowledge grew, since it was necessary for the elaborate calculations required to establish the positions of the various objects in the sacrificial area. Arithmetic operations (ganit) such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, squares, cubes and roots are enumerated in the Vedic texts.
VEDIC RELIGION: ALTARS • Examples of geometric knowledge are to be found in the Upanishads, which describe the Vedic ritual altars.
VEDIC RELIGION: ALTARS • Pythagoras- the Greek mathematician and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BCE was familiar with the Upanishads and learnt his basic geometry from Sulva Sutra.
VEDIC RELIGION: CONCEPTION OF THE UNIVERSE • Early Aryan conception of the universe was a limited one. The world grew out of a vast cosmic sacrifice and was maintained by the proper performance of the sacrifices. The dead were either buried or cremated. The association of fire with purification may have led to cremation becoming more popular. Life after death was envisaged in terms of punishment for sin, and reward for virtue.
RGVEDIC PERIOD LITERATURE • Vedas: the Vedas are the oldest written religious texts in Sanskrit language and very useful in reconstructing the history of the Vedic period. They were orally transmitted by sages for centuries before being compiled and written down. • Rgveda: the oldest and basic text for all Vedic literature. • Somaveda: hymns about the soma sacrifices.
RGVEDIC LITERATURE • Yajurveda: explanation of the sacrifices mentioned in the Rgveda. It depicts the social and religious conditions of that time as well. • Atharveda: contains mostly philosophical and mystical hymns.
RGVEDIC PERIOD LITERATURE • Brahmanas: are the prose of sacrificial ceremonies. These explanatory treatises lay emphasis on ritualism. • The Vedangas: are the supplementary sections of Vedic literature and contains subjects like astronomy, medicine, war and music. • The Vedanta: the philosophy taught in the Upanishads.
RGVEDIC PERIOD LITERATURE (CONTD.) • The Upanishads: contain the main idea that constitute the intellectual aspect of Hindu philosophy. They do not lay emphasis on rites, ceremonies and austerities. The Upanishads are dated between 800 BCE to 500 BCE. They are about 100 to 150 in number. • The Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Vedangas and the Upanishads formed the shruti part of the Vedic literature, which means “directly heard from the sages.”
LATER VEDIC PERIOD LITERATURE • The Epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata. • Ramayana was written by Valmiki and portrays an ideal man god Rama and the ideal woman Sita and sacrifices made by the characters for the preservation of truth. • Mahabharata is the longest single poem (100,000 verses) in the world. The main action revolves around the famous struggle at Kurushetra between the Kauravas and the Pandyas.
The Puranas: are the legends connected with the epics and the law books. They are 18 in number and Vishnu Purana, for example, treat subjects like primary creation, secondary creations, genealogies of gods and history of ancient dynasties.
LATER VEDIC PERIOD LITERATURE • Dharmashastra: is the science of “dharma” and is a set of texts, which teach the eternal immutable dharma found in the Vedas. Dharma- Shastras can be divided into three categories: rules for conduct, rules for legal procedure and rules for penance. Dharma- Shastas prescribe rules for everyone in the society so that each person can live according to dharma.
LATER VEDIC PERIOD LITERATURE • The Manusrmiti is the earliest law book compiled around 1st century C E. • The Epics, Puranas and the Dharmashastras are the part of smirti literature which means “the remembered version of the sayings of the sages”.
THE CASTE AND CLASS DISTINCTIONS • When the Aryans came to India they were divided into three classes, the warriors or aristocracy, the priests and the common people. There was no consciousness of caste, as it is clear from remarks such as ‘a bard am I, my father is a leech, and mother grinds corn’. Professions were not hereditary nor there any rules limiting marriages within these classes.
THE CLASS DISTINCTIONS • The three class divisions merely facilitated social and economic organization. The first step in the direction of caste (as distinct from class) was taken, when the Aryans came into contact with the indigenous people of North India. They called them Dasas and described their physical features as inferior to them. Initially the division was between the Aryans and non-Aryans.
THE CLASS DISTINCTIONS … • Dvija castes (the first being the physical birth and the second the initiation into the caste status), consisted of kshatriyas (warrior and aristocracy), the brahmans (priests), vaishyas (cultivators). The fourth caste:shudras, were not dviyja born and they the Dasas and those of mixed Aryan and Dasa origins.
JATIS OR SUB-CASTES • This vertical division of the society made it easier in later centuries to accept new ethnic groups into the caste system. • There were four castes and any changes in the society, economy led to further additions by according the new entries a sub-caste or jati.
THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM: IDEAL OR REALITY • The actual mechanism of caste was not a formal division of society into four groups. The first three caste were probably a theoretical framework evolved by the Brahmans, into which they systematically arranged various professions. • With the transition from pastorialism to settled agrarian economy, specialization of labor,
CASTE SYSTEM • gradually became a marked feature of Aryan society. The clearing of the forests and new settlements led to the emergence of a trading community engaged in the supply and exchange of goods. There was thus a natural separation between the agriculturists, those who cleared and colonized the land, and the traders, those who established
CASTE SYSTEM • the economic links between the settlements, the latter coming from the class of wealthier landowners who could afford economic speculation. • The priests were not slow to realize the significance of such a division of society and the supreme authority which could be invested in the highest caste, that’s why they gave religious sanction to these caste distinctions.
PURUSHA SUKTA • Rgvedic hymn in chapter X: hymn # 95 known as the Purusha sukta provided a mythical origin of these castes:
EXCERPTS FROM PURUSHASUKTA • 11 When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make?What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made.His thighs became the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced.
THE CASTE OR VARNA SYSTEM • These class divisions or caste system were also known as varna (which means colour) that distinguished the Aryans from the non-Aryans. • The continuance of caste was secured by its being made hereditary, and in order to be born in a higher caste or different one has to get through the cycle of birth and rebirth or
SAMSARA CONCEPT • Samsara. Under the influence of karma, the soul moves upwards and downwards on the wheel of rebirth, the round of birth, death and rebirth undertaken by all living beings. It is a cycle of transmigration from one living form into another.
SAMSARA • All worldly existence is subject to the cycle of samsara, which is thought of as having neither beginning nor end. Accordingly, the goal of human life is to be free or liberated from repeated births and deaths. The concept of samsara was first mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
SAMSARA • “When a caterpillar has come to the end of a blade of grass, it reaches out to another blade, and draws itself over to it. In the same way the soul, having coming to the end of one life, reaches out to another body, and draws itself over to it…” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4.3-6a
THE DOCTRINE OF KARMA • The philosophical justification of the caste system became to be evolved in the doctrine of karma. One’s birth into a high or low caste was determined by one’s action in previous life. The natural law of the society was the maintainence of the social order, in fact the caste system. • Later on, the concept of karma was broadened into four categories
THE GOALS OF LIFE…. • Artha: fulfillment of duty by doing well in one’s profession. • Dharma: following the prescribed rules and norms of one’s caste. • Kama: satisfying the sensual desires in a just manner. • Moksha: the stage of attaining freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.