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The Vedic Civilisation – Economy – Religion in the Later Vedic Period – Vedic Literature


Though they had not developed a city civilisation, and did not build in stone or brick, the Aryans were technically well-equipped. Their bronzesmiths were highly skilled, and produced tools and weapons much superior to those of the Harappan culture. Bronzesmiths, carpenters and chariot­makers are frequently mentioned in the Rigveda with much respect.

As might be expected of a people without cities, the Aryans followed a mixed economy-pastoral and agricul­tural-in which cattle played a predominant part. Indeed, most of their battles were fought in search of cows-gavisthi. Cattle were in fact a sort of currency, and values were reckoned in heads of cattle, but they were not held sacred at this time. Both oxen and cows were slaughtered for food. The horse was almost as important as the cow. Though there are references to riding, the horse is more frequently described as the motive power of the chariot-a light chariot with two spoked wheels, drawn by two horses yoked abreast, and carrying two warriors.

Among other domestic animals, the Aryans knew the goat and the sheep, which provided wool, their chief textile. The elephant is only mentioned in late hymns, and was rarely, if ever, domesticated. A divine bitch, Sarama, plays an important part in a legend, but the dog did not mean as much to the people of the Rigveda.

Agriculture, though important, seems to have been looked on as rather plebeian. There are references to ploughing, reaping and irrigation, and to different seasons.

The Aryans relied for their unit of value and means of barter on the cow. The nishka, a term later used for a gold coin, is also mentioned as a sort of currency, but at this time it was probably a gold ornament of some kind. There is no mention of a regular class of merchants or moneylenders, though indebtedness is sometimes referred to.


The later Vedic people used four types of pottery-black­ and-red ware, black-slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware. The last type of pottery was the most popular with them.

However, the most distinctive pottery of the period is known as Painted Grey Ware, which comprised bowls and dishes, used either for rituals or for eating by the upper classes.

Religion in the Later Vedic Period

The two outstanding Rig Vedic gods, Indra and Agni, lost their former importance. On the other hand Prajapati, the creator, came to occupy the supreme position in later Vedic pantheon.

Rudra, the God of animals, became important in later Vedic times and Vishnu came to be conceived as the preserver and protector of the people. In addition, some symbolic objects began to be worshipped, and we notice signs of idolatry.

Pushan, who was supposed to look after cattle, came to be regarded as the God to the sudras.

Important female deities during the Later Vedic Age were Usha (goddess of Dawn), Aditi (Mother of Gods), Prithvi (Earth Goddess), Aryani (Forest  Goddess) and Saraswati (River deity).

The mode of worship changed considerably. Prayers continued to be recited, but they ceased to be the dominant mode of placating the gods. Sacrifices became far more important, and they assumed both public and domestic character.

The Guests were known as the Goghna, or one who was fed on cattle. The priests who officiated at sacrifices were regarded generously and givendakshinas or gifts.

The Chief Priests who were engaged in performing the sacrifices were:-

  1. Hotri: The invoker, he recited hymns from the Rig Veda.
  2. Adhvaryu: The executor, he recited hymns from the Yajur Veda.
  3. Udgatri: The singer, he recited hymns from the Sama Veda

The Chief Priests received voluntary offering from the people, which were called Bali.

Vedic Literature


The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas. All the other Vedas are based upon it and consist to a large degree of various hymns from it. It consists of a thousand hymns of different seers, each hymn averaging around ten verses.

The Rig Veda is the oldest book in Sanskrit or any Indo-European language. Its date is debatable. Many great Yogis and scholars who have understood the astronomical references in the hymns, date the Rig Veda as before 4000 B.C., perhaps as early as 12,000. Modern western scholars tend to date it around 1500 B.C., though recent archeological finds in India (like Dwaraka) now appear to require a much earlier date.

While the term Vedic is often given to any layer of the Vedic teachings including the Bhagavad Gita, technically it applies primarily to the Rig Veda.

The Rig Veda is the book of Mantra. It contains the oldest form of all the Sanskrit mantras. It is built around a science of sound which comprehends the meaning and power of each letter. Most aspects of Vedic science like the practice of yoga, meditation, mantra and Ayurveda can be found in the Rig Veda and still use many terms that come from it.

Sam Veda

The Samveda is the Veda of melodies and chants. It is an ancient Vedic  sanskrit text, and part of the scriptures of Hinduism. One of the four Vedas, it is a liturgical text whose 1,875 verses are primary derived from the Rigveda. Three recensions of the Samaveda have survived, and variant manuscripts of the Veda have been found in various parts of India.

While its earliest parts are believed to date from as early as the Rigvedic period, the existing compilation dates from the post-Rigvedic Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit, c. 1200 or 1000 BCE, but roughly contemporary with the Atharvaveda and the Yajurveda.


The Yajurveda is the Veda of prose mantras. An ancient Vedic Sanskrit text, it is a compilation of ritual offering formulas that were said by a priest while an individual performed ritual actions such as those before the yajna fire.

Yajurveda is one of the four Vedas, and one of the scriptures of Hinduism. The exact century of Yajurveda’s composition is unknown, and estimated by scholars to be around 1200 to 1000 BCE, contemporaneous with Samaveda and Atharvaveda.

Atharva Veda

The Atharva Veda (Atharvaveda from ‘atharvāṇas’ and veda meaning “knowledge”) is the knowledge storehouse of atharvāṇas, the “procedures for everyday life”. The text is the fourth Veda, but has been a late addition to the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism.

The Atharvaveda is composed in Vedic Sanskrit, and it is a collection of 730 hymns with about 6,000 mantras, divided into 20 books. About a sixth of the Atharvaveda text adapts verses from the Rigveda, and except for Books 15 and 16, the text is in poem form deploying a diversity of Vedic matters. Two different recensions of the text – the Paippalāda and the Śaunakīya – have survived into modern times.

Reliable manuscripts of the Paippalada edition were believed to have been lost, but a well-preserved version was discovered among a collection of palm leaf manuscripts in Odisha in 1957.



The Upanishads are the philosophical works in a conversational form. Philosophy of nature & the fate of soul, procedures of meditation & the nature of God are the principal themes discussed in the Upanishads.

They have been acknowledged as the concluding part of the Vedas, which form the Vedanta. The Sanskrit term implies “sitting down beside” The Upanishads are summarized in one phrase “Tat Tvam Asi”(That thou art) by Advaita Vedanta, which believes in the ultimate truth “Brahma”.

The Upanishads open with the word “aum”, considered to be a divine word that underlies the philosophy of existence of being in one self. There are 11 principal (mukhya) Upanishads- Aryanaka, Brhadarnaka, Isha, Taiterreya, Katha, Chandogya, Kena, Mundaka, Mundyaka, Prasna, Svetasvatara.

The Older Upanishads are traced back to have some connection with Vedic Charanas.


Vedic literature is primarily of two types, Sruti and Smriti. The Veda is called Sruti and is the highest authority.

The other texts are called Smritis, and they derive authority from the Sruti. The Sruti is apaurusheya (eternal and authorless), and Smritis are the words of seers.

Smritis could be broadly classified as:

  1. Vedangas: Subjects required to understand various aspects of the Veda.
  2. Upavedas: Arts and sciences.
  3. Upangas: Understanding of dharma and debating it.
  4. Darsanas: Windows to truth.


“Vedangas” literally mean the limbs of the Vedas. They are six in number. Just like the limbs of the body, they perform various supportive and augmenting functions in the study, preservation and protection of the Vedas and the vedic traditions.

The six Vedangas are Siksha, Chhanda, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Jyotisha and Kalpa. These subjects were an integral and essential part of ancient vedic education system, aimed to promote an all round development of the students with a better understanding of the Vedas and vedic practices.

Of these six subjects, Siksha deals with the study of sounds and pronunciation associated with each syllable; Chhanda with the mastery of rhyme and meter; Vyakarna with the study of word and sentence structure; Nirukta with the meaning of complex words and phrases; Jyotisha with the study of heavenly bodies to find an auspicious time for the performance of the rituals; and Kalpa with the ethical, moral and procedural percepts associated with the performance of rituals as a way of life.


In history as the Indians understand it, the Later Vedic Period is the Epic Age. The great literary, heroic epics of Indian culture, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, though they were composed between 500 and 200 BC, were probably originally formulated and told in the Later Vedic Period.

Both of these epics deal with heroes from this period and demonstrate how Aryan cultural values, as we can understand them from the Rig Veda, are being transformed by mixing with Indus culture.

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