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The Vedic Civilisation – Later Vedic Period

The period that followed the Rig Vedic Age is known as the Later Vedic Age. This age witnessed the composition of three later Veda Samhitas, namely the Samveda Samhita, the Yajurveda Samhita, the Atharvaveda Samhita; as well as the Brahmanas and the Upanishads of all the four Vedas and later on the two great epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. All these later Vedic texts were compiled in the Upper Gangetic basin in 1000—600 BC.

During the period represented by Later Samhitas the Aryans covered the whole of Northern India, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas.

Spread of the Aryans

The spread of Aryans over the whole of India completed before 400 B.C. Of the new kingdoms in the east, the most important were Kurus, Panchalas, Kasis, Kosalas and Videhas.

Gradually, the Aryans moved towards South India. It is believed that their southern movement began during the period of Brahmana literature, about 1000 B.C.; and went on steadily till they reached the southernmost extremity of the Peninsula in or sometime before the fourth century B.C.

But the Aryan colonization in the South was not as complete as in the north. With the progress of the Aryans in Northern India, their centre of civilization was shifted towards the East. The territory between the Saraswati and Ganga Rivers was the seat of Aryan civilization.

Political Organisation


Rise of Big States

With the progress of Aryan settlements in the eastern and southern parts of India, the small tribal states of the Rig Vedic period were replaced by powerful states.

Many famous tribes of the Rig Vedic period like the Bharatas, Parus, Tritsus and Turvasas passed into oblivion and new tribes like the Kurus and Panchalas rose into prominence. The land of the Yamuna and Ganga in the east became the new home of the Aryans and rose into prominence.

Growth of Imperialism

With the emergence of big kingdoms in the Later Vedic Age, the struggle for supremacy among different states was of frequent occurrence. The ideal of “Sarbabhauma” or universal empire loomed large in the political horizon of ancient India. Sacrifices like Rajasuya and Asvamedha were performed to signify the imperial sway of monarchs over the rivals. These rituals impressed the people with the increasing power and prestige of the king. The Rig Vedic title of “Rajan” was replaced by impressive titles like Samrat, Ekrat, Virat, Bhoja, etc. These titles marked the growth of imperialism and feudal ideas.

Origin of Kingship

There were two theories regarding the origin of kingship. The Aitareya Brahmana explained the rational theory of election by common consent of origin of kingship.

And the Taittiniya Brahman explained the divine origin of kingship. It explained how Indra, “though occupying a low rank among the gods, was created their king by Prajapati.”

Growth of Royal Power

The king had absolute power. He became the master of all subjects. He realized taxes like “bali”, “sulka” and “bhaga”.

The Satapatha Brahmana described the king to be infallible and immune from all punishment. The “Sabha” of the Rig Vedic Period died. The king sought the aid and support of the Samiti on matters like war, peace and fiscal policies. There are references to the Samiti sometimes, in the context of electing or re-electing a king.

The authority of the government in the later Vedic period was perhaps more democratic in the sense that the authority of the leaders of the Aryan tribes was recognized by the king. However in spite of the existence of the popular assemblies, the powers of the King went on increasing, due to the growth of large territorial states.

The growth of royal power was largely reflected in the enlarged outrage of the king. In the work of administration the king was assisted by a group of officers who were known as Ratnins (Jewels). They included the Bhagadugha (collector of taxes), the Suta (charioteer), the Akshavapa (superintendent of gambling), the kshattri (chamberlain), the Govikartana (king’s companion in the chase), the Palogala (courtier) the Takshan (Carpenter), the Rathakara (Chariot marker) in addition to the ecclesiastical and military officials like the Purohita (chaplain) the senani (general), and the Gramani (leader of host or of the village).

In the Later Vedic Period, the Gramani was both a civil and military officer. Gramanis weres the medium through which the royal power was exercised in the village. Adhikritas were the village officers, and were lowest in the rank.

The king administered justice. Occasionally, he delegated his judicial power to Adhyakshas. In the villages, Gramyavadins (Village judges) and Sabhas (courts) decided the cases. Punishments for crimes were severe.

The father was the head of the property of the family. In case of inheritance of property, the law of primogeniture was applied. By this rule the eldest son would inherit the property of the deceased father. Neither the women nor the sudras had any right to property.

Social Organisation

The later Vedic society came to be divided into four varnas called the Brahmanas, Rajanyas or Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras.

Brahmanas conducted rituals and sacrifices for their clients and for themselves, and also officiated at the festivals associated with agricultural operations.

They prayed for the success of their patron in war, and in return the King pledged not to do any harm to them. Sometimes, the Brahmanas came into conflict with the rajanyas, who represented the order of the warrior-nobles, for position of supremacy. Towards the end of the Vedic period, they began to engage in trade. All the three higher varnas shared one common feature, they were known as Dvijas (twice born), i.e., they were entitled to upanayana or investiture with the sacred thread according to the Vedic mantras.

The fourth varna was deprived of the sacred thread ceremony, and with this began the imposition of disabilities on the shudras.

Outside the caste-system, there stood two important bodies of men, namely Vratyas and Nishadas.

According to the Aitareya Brahmana, in relation to the prince, the Brahmana is described as a seeker of livelihood and an acceptor of gifts but removable at will.

A Vaisya is called tribute-paying, meant for being beaten, and to be oppressed at will.

The worst position is reserved for the shudra. He is called the servant of another.

Certain section of artisans such as rathakara or chariot-maker enjoyed a higher status, and were entitled to the sacred thread ceremony.

The term “Nagar” appears for the first time, showing the joint beginnings of town life.

Women were generally giver a lower position. Although some women theologians took part in philosophic discussions and some queens participated in coronation rituals, ordinarily women were thought to be inferior and subordinate to men.


Eight types of marriage were prevalent in the later Vedic age. Of these, four (Brahman, Daiva, Arsa and Prajapati) were generally approved and were permissible to Brahmans. These were religious marriages and were indissoluble.

  1. Anuloma Marriage: Marriage of a man below his varna was called Anuloma. It was sanctioned by the sacred texts.
  2. Pratiloma Marriage: It was the marriage of a girl or women to one lower than her own varna. It was not sanctioned by the sacred texts.
  3. Gotra System: The institution of gotra appeared in later Vedic times. Literally, it means the “cow-pen” or the place where cattle belonging to the whole clan are kept. The gotra has been regarded as a mechanism for widening the socio-political ties, as new relationships were forged between hitherto unrelated people. People began to practise gotra exogamy. No marriage could take place between persons belonging to the same gotra or having the same ancestor.

The Eight Type of Marriages:

BrahmaMarriage of a girl to a man of the same Varna with Vedic rites and rituals
DaivaThe father gives the daughter to the sacrificial priests as part of fee or dakshina.
ArsaA token bride-price of a cow and a bull is given.
PrajapatiMarriage without dowry and bride-price.
GandharvaMarriage by the consent of two parties, often clandestine. A special form of it was swayamvara or self choice.
AsuraMarriage by purchase.
PaisachaIt is seduction of a girl while asleep, mentally deranged or drunk, hence it can hardly be called a marriage.
RakshasaMarriage by Capture

Important Vedic Rituals



Ashvamedha is a horse sacrifice ritual followed by       the Śrauta tradition of Vedic religion.

It was used by ancient Indian kings to prove their imperial sovereignty. A horse accompanied by the king’s warriors would be released to wander for a period of one year. In the territory traversed by the horse, any rival could dispute the king’s authority by challenging the warriors accompanying it.

After one year, if no enemy had managed to kill or capture the horse, the animal would be guided back to the king’s capital. It would then be sacrificed, and the king would be declared as an undisputed sovereign.


Vajapeya is a Soma Yajna, though it certainly involves minor animal sacrifice too. It is done by the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas and is one of the greatest Soma yajnas of its kind. The surname of some Brahmins “Bajpai” or “Vajpayee” derives from this yajna.


Rajasuya was a yajna or sacrifice, performed by the ancient kings of India who considered themselves powerful enough to be an emperor. It is described in detail in the Mahabharata.

Rajasuya, like the Ashwamedha,  would occur after the return of the generals of the king (in most cases his  own kinsmen, like his brother or son) from a successful military  campaign.

After conquering the kings of other kingdoms and collecting tribute from them, the general would invite the vanquished kings to attend the  sacrifice ceremony. All the vanquished kings would in effect consider the performer of these sacrifices as an emperor.

In case of Rajasuya, there is no horse involved. The generals planned their route themselves. Rajasuya sacrifices were rarer than Ashwamedha sacrifices, since they were riskier and costlier.



Upanayana  is one of the traditional saṃskāras, that marked the acceptance of a student by a guru (teacher) and an individual’s entrance to a school.

The tradition is widely discussed in ancient Sanskrit texts of India and varies regionally.

Garbhadhana: A ceremony which is performed to promote conception in women.

Pumsayam: This ritual is performed to procure a male child

Semontonayam: It is a ritual performed to ensure the safety of the child in the womb.

Jatkarma: It is a birth ceremony performed before the cutting of the umbilical cord.

Culakarma: It is a ritual, also known as tonsure, performed for boys in their third year.

Upanayana: It is an initiation ceremony to confor dvija(twice horn) status of boys of the higher varnas in their eight year.

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