Vedic Culture

The Vedic Age marks a new phase in ancient Indian History which began with the arrival of the Aryans in India around 1500 BC. It lasted for almost a thousand years, in the course of which a number of economic, social, political and religious developments took place.

The Vedic Age is accordingly divided into two periods of about equal duration - Early Vedic Period and Later Vedic Period.


Vedas are the most important source of information on the Vedic Age. The Early Vedic period is known mainly from the Rig Veda, which was the first Veda to be composed. For this period, when the Vedic tribes lived in northwest part of the subcontinent including Punjab and Afghanistan, we do not have much archaeological evidence. This was probably because the Early Vedic people generally led a nomadic life and did not stay for long at any place.

Their economy was mainly pastoral. Cattle-rearing was the chief means of livelihood. Horses, goats and sheep were also important. A little agriculture was also practiced. Family, clan and tribes (called Janas) were the social units, and there were no castes. The chief of the tribe was called Raja. Popular assemblies of all members of the Janas, called Sabhas and Samitis, had an important say in public affairs. A number of deities were worshipped, Indra being the most important of them.

The Later Vedic period is known in much greater detail from the vast corpus of Later Vedic literature as well as from archeological material. The Later Vedic literature comprised of the following books, that is, the three Vedas - Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. There were also commentaries on all the four Vedas called Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

 A large number of sites belonging to this period have also been excavated. They are all marked by a typical pottery called Painted Grey Ware (PGW), and so are known as PGW sites. 

During the Later Vedic period, there was a large scale eastward movement of the Aryan communities to Indo-Gangetic Doab and Upper Ganga plains. Towards the end of the period, three important kingdoms came up further East: Kashi, Koshala and Videha. Agriculture was now the main occupation, and number of crops including rice, wheat and sugarcane were grown.

Crafts also multiplied, iron weapons and tools were introduced. People now led a settled life in villages. Castes began to emerge and crystallise in the form of four Varnas - Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The powers of the king and his men increased, and those of the assembly were proportionately undermined. Sacrifices now became very elaborate. The importance of the god Indra receded; new gods such as Prajapati figured prominently. Towards the end of this period, a reaction to the sacrificial ritual could also be observed which we find mentioned in the Upanishads.

Post-Vedic Age

In the 6th century BC there came up large territorial states in northern and eastern India known as the Mahajanapadas. There were sixteen such states namely Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Kashi, Koshala, Malla, Kuru, Panchala, Vatsa, Avanti, Kamboja, Gandhara, Assaka, Chedi, Matsya, and Shurasena.

Among them Magadha, Kosala and Avanti were the most powerful. The extension of agriculture, growth of trade and industries, rise of territorial states and beginning of urbanization gave rise to new forces in the society. Thus, the 6th century BC was also a period of socio-religious transformation. People expressed their dissatisfaction against the ritualistic Brahmanism and Vedic sacrifices. There emerged numerous sects and reformatory movements.

This period called the Ancient Period in History saw the rise of two important religions called Jainism and Buddhism.