India History - The Vedic Period (ca. 1000-500 BC)
The Vedic Period (ca. 1500-500 BC) is named for the Vedas, a group of political and religious texts written in Sanskrit. This period between 1500 BC and 600 BC may be divided into the Early Vedic Period or Rig Vedic Period (1500 BC-1000 BC) and the Later Vedic Period (1000 BC - 600 BC).
In this period, a group known historically as Indo-Aryans (also Aryans) came to control much of northern India. Most scholars argue on the basis of linguistic and archaeological evidence that people speaking languages in the large Indo-European family entered India from Central Eurasia in the second millennium BC; others have argued against this view. The languages of the Aryans were ancestral to such modern South Asian tongues as Hindi. These newcomers were most likely animal herders at first. They may have arrived in India in scattered bands, later intermarrying with the older populations.
The Aryans further moved towards east in the Later Vedic Period. The Satapatha Brahmana refers to the expansion of Aryans to the eastern Gangetic plains. Several tribal groups and kingdoms are mentioned in the later Vedic literature. One important development during this period is the growth of large kingdoms. Kuru and Panchala kingdoms flourished in the beginning. Parikshat and Janamejaya were the famous rulers of Kuru kingdom. Pravahana Jaivali was a popular king of the Panchalas. He was a patron of learning. After the fall of Kurus and Panchalas, other kingdoms like Kosala, Kasi and Videha came into prominence. The famous ruler of Kasi was Ajatasatru. Janaka was the king of Videha with its capital at Mithila. His court was adorned by scholar Yajnavalkya. Magadha, Anga and Vanga seem to be the easternmost tribal kingdoms. The later Vedic texts also refer to the three divisions of India – Aryavarta (northern India), Madhyadesa (central India) and Dakshinapatha (southern India). In the Vedic period, new commercial towns arose along the Ganges, India's second great river system.
In the family, the power of the father increased during the Later Vedic period. There was no improvement in the status of women. They were still considered inferior and subordinate to men. Women also lost their political rights of attending assemblies. Child marriages had become common. According the Aitreya Brahmana a daughter has been described as a source of misery. However, the women in the royal household enjoyed certain privileges.
Vedic Period - Political Developments
Larger kingdoms were formed during the later Vedic period. Many jana or tribes were amalgamated to form janapadas or rashtras in the later Vedic period. Hence the royal power had increased along with the increase in the size of kingdom. The king performed various rituals and sacrifices to strengthen his position. They include Rajasuya (consecration ceremony), Asvamedha (horse sacrifice) and Vajpeya (chariot race). The kings also assumed titles like Rajavisvajanan, Ahilabhuvanapathi, (lord of all earth), Ekrat and Samrat (sole ruler).
In the later Vedic period, a large number of new officials were involved in the administration in addition to the existing purohita, senani and gramani. They include the treasury officer, tax collector and royal messenger. At the lower levels, the administration was carried on by the village assemblies. The importance of the Samiti and the Sabha had diminished during the later Vedic period.
Iron was used extensively in this period and this enabled the people to clear forests and to bring more land under cultivation. Agriculture became the chief occupation. Improved types of implements were used for cultivation. Besides barley, rice and wheat were grown. Knowledge of manure was another improvement. Industrial activity became more varied and there was greater specialization. Metal work, leather work, carpentry and pottery made great progress. In addition to internal trade, foreign trade became extensive. The Later Vedic people were familiar with the sea and they traded with countries like Babylon. A class of hereditary merchants (vaniya) came into existence. Vaisyas also carried on trade and commerce. They organized themselves into guilds known as ganas. Besides nishka of the Rig Vedic period, gold and silver coins like satamana and krishnala were used as media of exchange.
In the beginning of the 6th century BC, the northern India consisted of a large number of independent kingdoms. Some of them had monarchical forms of government, while some others were republics. While there was a concentration of monarchies on the Gangetic plain, the republics were scattered in the foothills of the Himalayas and in northwestern India. Some of the republics consisted of only one tribe like the Sakyas, Licchavis and Mallas. In the republics, the power of decision in all matters of state vested with the Public Assembly which was composed of the tribal representatives or heads of families. All decisions were by a majority vote. The Buddhist literature Anguttara Nikaya gives a list of sixteen great kingdoms called ‘Sixteen Mahajanapadas’. They were Anga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala, Vajji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Asmaka, Avanti, Gandhara and Kambhoja. Jain texts also contain references to the existence of sixteen kingdoms.
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