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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Ancient History Topper Notes: Vedic Period

Vedic Period (1,500 BC – 6 AD)

Rig Veda was written during the early Rig Vedic period, whereas Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda was written during the later Vedic period.

Early Vedic PeriodLater Vedic Period
Tribe (leader is elected)State (Janapada)
Pastoral/nomadic lifestyle (agriculture not main activity)Agriculture: settled life
No hierarchy (free to undertake any occupation)Complex varna system developed
Nature worship, mantra recitation (w/o intermediaries-Brahmans-free to practice) Rituals dominated by priestly class

Sir William Jones: 1st President of Royal Society of Bengal + first person to mention Sanskrit’s similarity to European languages

Max Mueller: Translated Vedas + first to mention that Aryans came from Central Asia

  • Aryans did not invade, they came searching for grasslands, came as migrants.
  • Aryan was not a race but a linguistic minority.
  • Aryans did not push local groups southwards, but merged traditions and created a new composite culture.

Vedic Literature

– Hymns, rituals, sacrifices performed by Brahmans
– Philosophy
– Not composed by any single person

Rig Veda: Hymns for Vedic gods
Sama Veda: Written in musical mode (can be referred to as the first musical book)
Yajur Veda: Introduction of sacrifices
Atharva Veda: non-Aryan traditions, charms & spells, first book on medicine (non-scientific)

– Vedas were known as Shrutis (orally heard, memorized, passed on until put into writing)

Parts of Vedic Literature

Samhita (Hymns)
Brahmana (Rituals & Sacrifices)
Aryanakas (Philosophy)
Upanishad (Philosphy)


– Ceremony-specific rituals for Brahmans

Kalpa (rituals) — For example, Sulva Sutra considered as first book on Geometry
Shiksha (Phonetics-reading mantras with correct pronunciation)
Vyakarana (Grammar)
Jyotisha (Jyotisha)
Chhanda (metrics)
Nirukta (Etymology)

Smriti (Dharma Shastra) — BC 200 – AD 600

– rules of social conduct
– Manusmriti: basis of modern Hindu law, first book translated into English
– Yagya Valkhya Smriti: gives some right to widows


– Easy and simple rules of worship.
– Kathas, pilgrimage
– Also deals with paintings and political history
– Bhagvatam Purana


– Last part of Vedas
– Indian philosophy
– Concepts of Karma, Atma, Moksha, Brahma

Early Vedic Period

– Near Sapta Sindhu
– Chalcolithic period
– Tribes: elected leader called Rajan (had to depend on local assemblies-Sabhas)
– No taxation system. However, there was Bali system: voluntary offering by the people to the king
– Ochre-colored pottery: poor level of pottery (indicator of level of society)
– Condition of women better: married post maturity, educated when young, no purdah system, some were composers of Hymns
– There was the mobility in lifestyle
– Indira is a prominent god (Agni and Varuna were also mentioned)

Later Vedic Period

– Tax on agriculture; 1/6th of produce
– Rajan seated on the basis of power
– Painted Grey Ware (stronger pottery)
– Evidence of Rice and Wheat
– Plough was pulled by oxen
– Condition of women deteriorated: marriage age was reduced, no education, kept out of religious affairs
– Varna system developed (concept of Dwija Born)

– Civilization shifted eastwards from Punjab area
– Availability of iron (iron-age in India)
– Period of agricultural surplus: Vaisyas became dominant: felt suffocated within Brahmanical structure: supported growth of Jainism and Buddhism
– Rise of Mahajanapadas (16): some monarchy, some republics: Magadha became prominent Mahajanapada: Others included Kosal, Vatsa, Avanti, Vajji (a republic)
– Vajji: a republic; confederation of 8 tribes (Licchavi as an important tribal group: Mahavira was associated with this tribe)
– Sresthi (local rich merchants) + Sarthva (leader of caravan traders)
– Sreni/Girda: a homogenous group of merchants dealing with one particular commodity (elected their leader)
– Beginning of coins: Punchmarked coins (known as Pana/Karsapana in literature): composition is of copper & silver
– Pottery: Northern Black Polished Ware (of high quality)
– Philosophies like Charvaka/Lokayata & Ajivika developed

Charvaka/Lokayata Philosophy

– Only recorded philosophy of that time to not believe in the concept of aatma or transmigration of soul + known as philosophy or materialism/hedonism


– Founded by Gosala
– Belief in Niyati (destiny)
– Bindusara was follower of this philosophy

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