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VEDIC AGE - ANCIENT INDIAN HISTORY
Origin Theories Facts Advent and Expansion Early, Later Vedic Period & Vedas of "Vedic Age"
Posted By Careericons Team
Introduction to Vedic Society :
The Vedic period, or Vedic age (1500 – 600 BCE), In this time period during the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age of Indian history. Where the Vedic literature, including the Vedas (1300–900 BCE), was composed in the northern Indian subcontinent, between the end of the Urbanized Indus Valley Civilisation and the second urbanisation which began in the central part of the Indo-Gangetic Plain around 600 BCE.
The Vedas are liturgical texts which are now formed the basis of modern-day Hinduism, which also developed in the Kuru Kingdom. The Vedas (4vedas) contain details of life during this period that have been interpreted to be historical and constitute the primary sources (archaeological findings) for understanding the period.
These are clearly documented alongside the corresponding archaeological records, allowing for the evolution of the Vedic culture & tradition to be traced and inferred.
The Vedic Society - Features
The Vedas were composed and orally transmitted with precision in this period in two stages as Early & Later Vedic periods. The Vedic society was patriarchal and patrilineal. Early Indo-Aryans were a Late Bronze Age society centred around the Punjab region, organised into tribes rather than kingdoms, and primarily sustained by a pastoral way of life.
Around 1200–1000 BCE, Vedic culture spread towards the eastern part of the fertile western Ganges Plain or Gangetic Plains. Most importantly Iron tools were adopted, which allowed for the clearing of forests (Deforestation) and the adoption of a more settled way of agricultural life with domestication. The second half of the Vedic period was characterised by the emergence of small towns, kingdoms, and a complex social differentiation distinctive to India, and the Kuru Kingdom's codification of orthodox sacrificial ritual.
During this time, the central Ganga Plain was dominated by a related but non-Vedic culture, of Greater Magadha. The end of the Vedic period witnessed the rise of true 16 cities based on larger states (called Mahajanapadas) as well as sramaṇa religious movements (including Jainism and Buddhism) which challenged the Vedic orthodoxy.
After the decline or destruction of the Indus Civilization, a new civilization came into existence, but between these two major events, there must have been a gap period about which we know nothing.
The Indus civilization declined between 1750 B.C. to 1500 B.C. and so the Aryans are supposed to have migrated from Central Asia into the Indian Subcontinent in several stages from 2000 B.C. - 1500 B.C. Moreover, the Aryans were the founder of Vedic culture. The Vedic Age is described in two time periods as Early Vedic Age (1500–1000 BC) & Later Vedic Age (1500–1000 BC). Lets discuss in detail.
EARLY VEDIC AGE (1500–1000 BC)
The Aryans During the second-millennium bc, Indo-European-speaking semi-nomads, called Aryans, migrated in different phases. These pastoralists spoke what can be identified as an early form of Sanskrit. The language had close similarities to other Indo-European languages like Avestan in Iran and ancient Greek and Latin. The Aryans belonged to the region near the Caspian Sea in central Asia. Perhaps, they entered India through the Khyber Pass around 1500 bc in multiple phases looking for new pastures.
Zend Avesta, the holy book of Iran suggests that there is a possibility of entry of some Aryans to India through Iran. The word 'Aryan' has been derived from 'ar', which meant 'foreigners' or 'strangers' during the Vedic times. We find the first mention of the term Aryans in the Bagharkai Peace Treaty concluded in 1350 BC between the kingdoms of Mitanni and Hittites, to which the Aryan gods Varuna, Indra, Mitra and Nasatya were the witnesses.
REGIONS OF EARLY VEDIC AGE
The Aryans initially settled down in the region of Punjab and migrated towards the east and spread all over the Gangetic plain later on. The region occupied by the Aryans, extending from Afghanistan to Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, was termed Sapta Saindhav which means the Land of the Seven Rivers.
CHARACTERISTICS FEATURES OF EARLY VEDIC AGE
The Aryans introduced a new language; a new set of anthropomorphic gods; a new social system based on the religion and philosophy of varnashrama dharma. It is very difficult to offer a precise translation of the concept of varnashrama dharma; however, it is based on three fundamental concepts:
- Varna: Originally referred to the colour of skin, but later it was taken to mean social class.
- Ashrama: It refers to the stages of life such as youth, family life, detachment from the material world and renunciation.
- Dharma: It means duty, righteousness or sacred cosmic law.
The inherent idea of the varnashrama dharma was that present happiness and future salvation depend on one's ethical or moral conduct. Both society and individuals must follow different but righteous courses appropriate for everyone.
1. POLITICAL SYSTEM OF THE EARLY VEDIC AGE
- The fundamental unit of the Vedic State was the family (kula).
- Vedic people lived in villages (grams).
- Each village was headed by a chief or a gramani. They elected panchayat to manage the affairs of the village.
- A cluster of villages was called the vis (district or clan) and a group of vis was termed as jana (tribe).
- Each tribe was managed by a hereditary chieftain or the king (Rajan), who was responsible for the protection and welfare of the persons living in his tribe.
- The chieftain managed only his Jana (tribe) and did not have any specified territory. The Rajan had two assemblies—sabha, involving elders and samiti, the national assembly. He was not an autocrat.
- His powers were restricted by the 'will of people' that they expressed in the sabha or samiti. Vidatha was a tribal assembly.
- The king was obliged to lead the tribe in battle and protect them. People rendered him obedience and voluntary gifts or bali in return.
- An Aryan raja or king was primarily a military leader who took a share of the booty after successful cattle raids or battles.
- The king, however powerful and authoritative, avoided conflicts with the priests, whose knowledge and austere religious life surpassed others in the community.
2. SOCIAL STATUS OF EARLY VEDIC AGE
- The Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoralists, following a joint family system, living in groups and speaking Sanskrit.
- The head of the family was the father and he was called the grihapati.
- Women were respected individuals in society.
- They dressed simply.
- They pursued outdoor activities such as dancing, wrestling, boxing, etc.
- They generally build their houses of wood.
- The fundamental unit of the Aryan society was family.
- A cluster of families made up a village, and many villages constituted a tribal unit.
- Child marriage was not very common.
- Parents' involvement in the selection of a spouse, and dowry and bride price were very common.
- They wished for the birth of a son as he could tend the cattle, bring laurels in battle, perform sacrifices, inherit property, and continue the family name.
- Monogamy was practised, although polygamy was not uncommon.
- Ritual suicide of widows was expected at a husband's death. This might have led to the practice known as sati later on.
3. ECONOMIC SYSTEM OF THE EARLY VEDIC AGE
- The economy of the Aryans was largely rural-based.
- They had the knowledge of agriculture and it was their main occupation.
- The Rig Veda mentions artisans such as potters, weavers, carpenters, leather workers, chariot makers, etc.
- They also knew metal work.
- Cattle breeding was another source of livelihood. Cattle were the chief measure of wealth and a wealthy man who owned many heads of cattle was known as gomat.
- In the Rig Veda, gavyuti is used as a measure of distance and Godhuli as a measure of time.
- The use of fire and stone tools is also mentioned in the Rig Veda.
- Permanent settlements and agriculture led to trade and other occupational differentiation. As lands along the Ganga (Ganges) were cleared, the river became a trade route, the numerous settlements on its banks acting as markets.
- Trade was initially restricted to local areas, and barter was an essential component of trade.
- Cattle were the unit of value in large-scale transactions, which further limited the geographical reach of the trader.
- The custom was law, and kings and chief priests were the arbiters, perhaps advised by certain elders of the community.
4. RELIGIOUS SYSTEM OF THE EARLY VEDIC AGE
Being lovers of nature, Aryans worshipped the sun, water, fi re, etc. Lighting the sacred fi re, that is, Yajna or havan was an essential part of their religion. They are said to have been the originators of the Hindu religion.
5. RELIGIOUS BOOKS FOUND IN THE EARLY VEDIC AGE
Though archaeology does not provide proof of the identity of the Aryans; there is no dispute over the issue of their evolution and spread across the Indo-Gangetic Plain.
A body of sacred texts: the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Upanishads and the Puranas is the source of modern knowledge of the Aryan culture.
The sanctity accorded to these texts and their preservation over several centuries—through oral tradition—has made them part of the living Hindu tradition. These texts guide in piecing together Aryan beliefs and actions.
The Aryans followed their tribal chieftain or raja. They remained engaged in wars with each other or with other ethnic groups.
They gradually became settled agriculturalists having consolidated territories and distinguished occupations.
They were skilful in using horse-drawn chariots. They also had knowledge of astronomy and mathematics.
All this gave them a military and technological advantage that forced others to accept their customs and religious beliefs. By around 1000 bc, Aryan culture had spread over most of the northern parts of India, and in the process embraced much from other cultures that existed before them.
THE VEDAS IN THE EARLY VEDIC AGE
These are the most sacred books of early Aryans. As per many historians, the Vedas were composed between 1500 bc to 400 bc.
These give vivid descriptions of the life of the Aryans and are supposed to contain a divine mission. They were passed on orally from generation to generation; they were rendered in the script during the Gupta period.
There were four Vedas and the Brahmanas concerned with these Vedas are:
- Rig Veda (Brahamani Aitaraya and Kaushitika) - Book of Hymns
- Sama Veda (Brahamana Jaminya and Tandyamaha) -Book of Melodies and Chants
- Yajur Veda (Brahamana Satpatha) - Book of Sacrifice
- Atharva Veda (Brahamana Gopatha) - Book of Magical and Technical Formulae.
The Vedas have counted among one the oldest literature in the world. The legends claim that the Vedas were preserved in the oral form from time immemorial till their compilation into four Samhitãs at a much later date.
- Rig Veda (Brahamani Aitaraya and Kaushitika) - Rig Veda is also known as the book of Hymns. It contains 1,028 hymns (1,017 + 11 Valakhilyas divided into 10 Mandalas); and, 8 Astikas written by seers such as Atri, Agnirases, Bhardwaj, Gritsamad, Kanva, Viswamitra, Vamdeva and Vasistha in the form of prayers to gods like Vayu, Agni, Indra, Varuna, etc.
- Sama Veda (Brahamana Jaminya and Tandyamaha) - Sama Veda is also known as the book of Melodies and Chants; and, it deals with music.
- Yajur Veda (Brahamana Satpatha) - Yajur Veda is also known as the book of Sacrifices; and, deals with sacrifices, rituals and formulae.
- Atharva Veda (Brahamana Gopatha) - Atharva Veda is also known as the book of Magical and Technical Formulae. It deals with medicine. It also contains descriptions about goldsmithy, blacksmithy, organised agriculture, etc.
Important Observations about Vedic Literature
- The entire Vedic literature is regarded as Sruti and apart from the four Vedas, it includes Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.
- Vedas reveal the beliefs, customs and culture of the Aryans, these beliefs were markedly different from the beliefs during the previous ages. Vedic texts are regarded as sruti (i.e., what is heard) - directly revealed to the authors by the gods and not smriti (i.e., what is remembered).
- The author of Vedas includes Rishis such as Madhuchandra Vaisvamitra, Gurutsamida, Atri, Bhardwaj, Kanva, Kashyap, Rushikas, Vamadeva, Yami Vaivasvatai, Sasvathi etc.
- The accepted chronological order of the four Vedas is: Rigveda → Yajurveda → Samaveda → Atharvaveda. This chronological order has been mentioned in the Upanisadic texts such as Chãdogyopnisad and Brhadaranykopanisad.
- Max Muller, aper philological estimation (his calculations were based on the development of the Greek language); classified the Vedic period into three parts:
- The period of the original texts or Samhitas
- The period of the commentarial text or the Brahmanas
- The period of the philosophical part of the Vedas or the Upanisads
According to Max Muller, the Upanisads are the latest in the whole Vedic literature.
- Scholars have always faced the problem of determining the date of the entire gamut of Indian works of literature which were pre-Buddhist. Even the pre-Buddhist term is incorrect because some of this literature could have been composed in the post-Buddhist period.
- This literature only includes Vedic literature, but also a major part of the other Indian literature which is known as classical literature. These have no definite date of production. Even the dates of many Sanskrit authors are known approximately. For instance, the date of the famous Sanskrit author Kãlidãsa remains uncertain to date.
- The Vedic doctrines were composed between 600 bc and ad 100. These are also called the six philosophies of Vedic Hinduism.
SIX SYSTEMS OF THE INDIAN PHILOSOPHY
The Six Systems of the Indian Philosophy are Nyaya, Vasiseshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa. Each of these systems differs in one way or the other in terms of its concepts, phenomena, laws and dogmas.
Each system has its own founder as well. Each system of Indian philosophy is called a Darshana. Thus, the Sanskrit word 'Shad-Darshna' refers to the six systems of philosophy.
Gautama is known as the founder of the Nyaya system of philosophy. Nyaya belongs to the category of Astika Darshanas. Astika Darshanas realise the significance of verbal testimony or the authority of the Vedas. Gautama, who is also called Akshapada is thought to have lived during the mid-fifth century bc.
He was the first philosopher to stress the importance of the valid means of knowledge and hence, the Nyaya system of philosophy is said to have laid the firm foundation for the development of the Science of Hindu logic. Gautama's Nyaya System of Philosophy is called by names such as Nyaya Sastra and Tarka Sastra.
The Vaisheshika System of Indian Philosophy was founded by Kanada or Uluka. That is why it is called Aulukya Darshana. Vaisheshika System followed the Nyaya System very closely and hence, experts in the study of philosophy offen combine the two schools as Nyaya-Vaisheshika.
The Vaisheshika System recognises seven 'Padarthas' or categories which are: substance, quality, action generality, particularity, the relation of inherence and non-existence.
Sage Kapila founded the Samkhya System of Philosophy. The Samkhya system laid the firm foundation for the Advaita Vedanta later on. The dogmas put forth by Kapila were further expounded by his disciples Asuri and Panchashikha.
The Samkhya system accepts only three Pramanas or the valid means of acquiring knowledge. They accept Pratyaksha or perception, Anumana or inference and Shabda or verbal testimony. The Samkhya Sutras compiled by Kapila were commented on later by Ishvara Krishna in the fifth century AD.
The Yoga System of Philosophy was founded by Patanjali. He authored the Yoga sutras or the aphorisms of Yoga. Yoga aims at the final state of spiritual absorption through eight component parts together called Ashtanga Yoga.
According to Patanjali, the eight limbs of yoga are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. All eight are jointly called Raja Yoga. The Yoga System of Philosophy accepts three fundamental realities namely Ishwara, Purusha and Prakriti or the Primordial matter.
Patanjali names some obstacles to the path of Yoga. They are called 'Antarayas' and they include Vyadhi (illness), Styana (apathy), Samsaya (doubt), Pramada (inadvertence), Alasya (lazyness), Avirati (incontinence), Bhrantidarshna (wrong understanding), Alabdha Bhumikatva (nonattainment of mental plane) and Anavasthitatva (instability).
5. Purva Mimamsa
The Mimamsa Darshna believes firmly in the performance of rituals and supports the view that the body is perishable but the soul survives even after the death of the body and it reserves the right to enjoy the fruits of the rituals in heaven. The school firmly believes in the preservation of the effect or the fruits of the rituals by a remarkable power. This philosophical system of Purva Mimamsa was founded by Jaimini.
He accepts two types of knowledge namely Pratyaksha (immediate knowledge) and Paroksha (mediate knowledge). Mimamsa does not speak about the existence of God. Performance of daily duties or the Nitya Karmas is the ultimate goal of man.
6. Uttara Mimamsa
The Philosophical System of Uttara Mimamsa does not have a specific founder because it is a conglomeration of three different schools of thought namely Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita. The Philosophical system of Uttara Mimamsa is otherwise called Vedanta. All three schools of Vedanta had different teachers. Adi Sankara was the head of the Advaita system, Ramanuja was the architect of the Visishtadvaita system and Madhva was the head of the Dvaita system of Vedanta Philosophy. It is important to note that all three teachers accepted Vedas as a valid means of knowledge.
The Upanishads At the end of the Vedic period, we notice that there was a strong reaction against the domination of priests, cults and rituals, particularly in the regions of the Panchalas and the Videha. In this background, from about 800 to 500 bc the Upanishads were compiled. The Upanishads were philosophical texts that criticised the rituals and stressed the value of right belief and knowledge. They also criticised the ceremonies and sacrifices. The Upanishads are the major source of Indian philosophy. There are nearly 108 Upanishads. Of these, 10 have been greatly appreciated at a global level because they deal with the philosophy and theology of the Aryans.
These ten Upanishads are Ishopanishat, Kenopanishat, Kathopanishat, Parshnopanishat, Mandukopanishat, Koushikopanishat, Thaittariyopanishat, Aittareyopanishat, Chandogyopanishat and Brihadaranyakopanishat.
These are in form of commentaries attached to the Aranayakas and are associated mainly with philosophy and religion. The Brahmanas present the socio-political life of the Aryans. They also explain their religion, particularly the sacrifices. They also involve ritualistic formulae for the respective Vedas and the priests. The Aranyakas These are the forest books on mysticism and philosophy and are the last parts of the Brahmanas. They are associated with the metaphysics and symbolism of sacrifice. They do not emphasise sacrifice but meditation. They oppose sacrifices and a number of the early rituals. They stress moral virtues. They form a bridge between the way of work (karma) and the way of knowledge (Gyan).
The Smriti The Smritis are the additional treatise or the supplementary of the Vedas. Smritis refer to the literature that has been carried on from one generation to the other. It is a derivative word and considered less authoritative than 'Shrutis', which is considered authorless and literally means that 'which is heard'. Manusmriti is the most important of all the smritis.
It deals with the laws of inheritance, duties of things and their subjects Manusmriti or 'Laws of Manu', served as a foundational work on Hindu law for the ancient Indian society. The Puranas There are 18 Puranas in totally. The Bhagawat Purana and Vishnu Purana are the most important. They offer religious and historical information about the Aryan Civilisation and involve legends, rituals, tradition and moral codes.
LATER VEDIC AGE (1000–600 BC)
From the original settlements of Aryans in the Punjab region, they gradually began to penetrate eastwards, clearing dense forests, and establishing tribal settlements along the Ganga and Yamuna (the whole of eastern Uttar Pradesh) plains between 1500 and 800 BC.
By approximately 500 bc, most of northern India was inhabited and had been brought under cultivation, facilitated by the increasing knowledge of the use of iron implements, including ox-drawn ploughs, and spurred by the growing population that provided voluntary and forced labour.
As riverine and inland trade flourished, many towns along the Ganga became centres of trade, culture and luxurious living. Increasing population and surplus production provided the bases for the emergence of independent states with fluid territorial boundaries over which disputes frequently arose.
REGIONS OF THE LATER VEDIC AGE
- The history of the later Vedic period is based mainly on the Vedic texts that were compiled during the post-Rig Vedic era.
- These texts reveal that Aryans expanded from Punjab to the Ganga–Yamuna Doab.
- On excavating these regions, archaeologists have found the remains of a few cities of this period out of which Hastinapur, Ahichatra and Kausambi form prominent examples.
LIST OF CHARACTERISTICS OF LATER VEDIC SOCIETY
1. POLITICAL SYSTEM OF LATER VEDIC PERIOD
- This period was more developed than the early Vedic period; the tiny, early tribal settlements were replaced by strong kingdoms.
- The rudimentary administrative system headed by tribal chieftains was transformed by a number of regional republics or hereditary monarchies that devised ways to appropriate revenue and conscript labour for expanding the areas of settlement and agriculture farther east and south, beyond the Narmada River.
- These emergent states collected revenue through officials and built new cities and highways.
- The powers of the king, who was called Samrat, increased phenomenally; the importance of assemblies declined.
- A regular army was maintained for the protection of the kingdom.
- The formation of wider kingdoms made the king more powerful.
- The Rajanyas, who based their power on their role as protector of their tribes in the Vedic period now came to be known as Kshatriyas.
- There are also references to,
- the priest (Purohita),
- commander-in-chief (Senapati),
- charioteer (Suta),
- treasurer (Sangrahita) and
- tax collector (Bhagdugha).
- The other important members of the royal court were the crowned queen (Mahisi), the chamberlain (Ksatlar) and the game companion (Aksavapa). By 600 bc, 16 such territorial powers—including the Magadha, Kosala, Kuru and Gandhara—stretched across the North Indian plains from modern-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh.
- The right of a king to his throne, no matter how it was gained, was usually legitimised through elaborate sacrificial rituals and genealogies concocted by the priests who ascribed divine or superhuman origins to the kings.
- The famous Aitareya Brahmana classification of rulership was Samrat in East, Svarat in West, Viral in North, Bhoja in South and Raja in central India.
2. SOCIAL SYSTEM OF THE LATER VEDIC PERIOD
- Growth of big cities like Ayodhya, Indraprastha and Mathura were seen.
- Women enjoyed freedom and respect but, in comparison to the early Vedic period, their overall status deteriorated.
- A daughter came to be regarded as a source of misery. Women could not attend sabha; they were excluded from inheritance and along with Sudras could not own property.
- The necessity of a trained class of people who could perform accurately the elaborate and complicated ceremony of the yajnas led to the growth of a distinct body of learned men who came to be known as Brahmanas, and gradually with an increase in numbers, formed a distinct class in society, highly respected on account of their association with religious duties.
- There was an advance in the knowledge of metals. In addition to gold and 'ayas' (copper or iron), there is mention of tin, lead, silver, etc.
3. ECONOMIC SYSTEM OF THE LATER VEDIC PERIOD
- In addition to agriculture and cattle rearing, trade and industry also gradually began.
- References to corporations (ganas) and older men (sresthins) indicate the organization of merchants into guilds. Niska, Satamana and Krisanala were used as convenient units of value.
- Niksa was probably a lump of gold of a definite weight while Krisanala weighed one ratti.
4. RELIGIOUS OF LATER VEDIC PERIOD
- This was also called the Brahminical age, which came very close to modern Hinduism.
- There was a remarkable development in the domain of religion and philosophy.
- The simple ceremony of worship gave place to elaborate sacrifices, a complicated procedure.
- Some old deities like Varuna and Prithvi passed into insignificance, while new ones like Rudra and Vishnu rose to eminence.
- In the later period, Samhita and Brahmana sacrifices dominated the scene.
- The doctrines of Karma, Maya, transmigration, and identity of the individual soul with the universal soul, were the foundations of the different systems elaborated by later writers and which find their first expression in the Upanishads.
5. VARNA SYSTEM IN LATER VEDIC PERIOD
Originally the Aryan society was divided into three castes:
- Brahmin (priest)
- Kshatriya (warrior)
- Vaishya (commoner)
It eventually expanded to four to absorb the subjugated people (These people could have included Dravidians and original inhabitants of India if the Aryan migration theory is accepted) - Shudra (servant) - or even five, when outcasts were included.
Thus, the Hindu society was divided into four major Varnas namely:
- Brahmins (priestly class)
- Kshatriyas (military class)
- Vaishyas (business or trading class)
- Shudras (labour class)
OVERALL HIGHLIGHTS OF THE VEDIC PERIOD
(i) Early Vedic Period or Rigvedic Period
- In the Rig Veda, the word 'Varna' is used to refer to the colour of skin and hair of two different races viz, the Aryans and the Dãsas (aboriginal people). But nowhere is the word Varna used for caste or class in the Rig Veda. The development of caste could have happened later.
- The SatapathaBrãhmana, on the other hand, describes the four classes of society (divided on the basis of occupation) as the four Varnas.
- The Brhaspati hymn in the fourth mandala of Rig Veda mentions about two classes viz, the Brahmin and the Ksatriya.
- Another hymn prayer offered to Asvins presupposes the division of Aryans into three groups- Brahmin, Ksatriya and Vaisya.
- RigVeda has no mention of the concept of 'untouchability', this was most definitely a later development.
- The concept of the SankaraVarna or mixed castes was not known in the early Vedic period.
(ii) Later Vedic Period (Comprising Epic Period)
- The Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, the principal Brahmanas and Upanisads, the principal Aranyakas and the two epics viz., Ramayana and Mahabharata are the main sources of information from this period.
- This period saw the further development of the concept of the caste system.
- Like the Brahmins and the Ksatriyas, the Vaisyas were entitled to upanayana or investiture with the holy thread. Hence, the word 'Dwija' includes the three higher Varnas or castes.
- Sudra was regarded as the servant of another, he was to be evicted at will and to be slain at will.
- As per Bhagavad Gita, Varnas were created by God on the basis of guna (quality) and karma (one's own action).
Post-Vedic Period (comprising Buddhist period, Sutra period and Smrti period)
- The caste system became more rigid and reached its peak just before the advent of Buddhism.
- The strict structure dividing the four castes was enumerated in numerous sub-castes.
- Buddha refutes the Vedic myth of the divine origin of the Varna hierarchy and the supremacy of the Brahmins.
- During this period, Ksatriyas were at the apex of the social structure and some sub-castes were classified as despised and below the rank of the Sudras.
- In Kautilya's Arthasastra also, Brahmins had the highest status in the social hierarchy; Ksatriyas had political power and were responsible for keeping order in the country and observing Varna laws.
The Epic Age
It was the epic age in which the Aryan tribes established themselves all over North India. The land between the Himalayas and the Narmada River was divided into 16 independent states. Information about the socio-religious life of the people is derived from the two great epics of this period—the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The victory of good over evil is epitomised in the epic Ramayana (The Travels of Rama or Ram in the preferred modern form), while another epic, Mahabharata (Great Battle of the Descendants of Bharata), spells out the concept of dharma and duty.
- The Mahabharata records the feud between the Aryan cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, which culminated in an epic battle in which both gods and mortals from many lands allegedly, fought to the death.
- The Ramayana recounts the kidnapping of Sita, Rama's wife, by Ravana, the demonic king of Lanka (Sri Lanka), and her rescue by her husband (aided by Hanuman and the Vanar Sena) and Rama's coronation, leading to a period of prosperity and justice.
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