Rig Vedic Society ( Early Vedic Society and Civilization)
Family Life of Rig Vedic Aryans
The Rig Vedic society of the Early Vedic Civilization was patriarchal. The foundation of society was the family. The families or kulas were ruled by male members. The head of the family or kula was called as kulapa. The eldest male member of the family was usually the kulapa.
The families were generally joint and were large. They consisted of many members like the grand-parents, parents, brothers, brother’s wives, children and sisters.
The parents had great authority over the children. Sometimes the father physically punished the son for disobedience and extravagance. But the relation between the father and the son was generally very warm.
Position of Women during the Early Vedic Period
The Rig Vedic families being patri-lineal, birth of a male child was always desired. A couple without son was deplored like poverty. Adoption of sons was welcomed.
Female child had no right to perform funeral rite of the father. But when female child was born, she was by no means neglected, nor was her education denied. Female scholars like Ghosha, Vishwavara and Apala were known in the Rig Vedic Society Age. Few Vedic hymns were composed by them. The wife could take part in the religious rites with the husband during the Rig Vedic Period. She was the queen of the house, lording over the husband, children, aged father-in-law and the household servants. There was no Purdah system.
Woman had the liberty of free participation in festivals. Girls were usually married after attaining the age of puberty. But child marriage was not unknown. Free choice on the part of both the bride and bridegroom was permitted.
Marriage of love was not unknown. Undesirable son-in-law had to pay the bride’s price. Both dowry and bride-price were recognized. Girls having physical defects had to be provided with dowries during their marriage.
Polygamy was practiced but polyandry was very rare. But monogamy was the general rule during the Early Vedic Period. Widow Remarriage was permitted. The custom of marrying the brother’s widow was prevalent. Women were not independent in the eye of Rig Vedic law. They had to remain under the protecting care of their male relations. In a male dominated Rig Vedic Society, women as usual could not expect equality with the male members.
Idea of Morality and Female Education during Rig Vedic Period
In the Rig Vedic society standard of female morality was generally of a high order. But the standard of morality of the male people as usual was not so praiseworthy. Incest was condemned in EarlyVedic society. Men practiced polygamy. We do not know whether Sati system existed in the Rig Vedic Age. Perhaps it was in vogue restrictively among upper class people.
Dress of Rig Vedic Aryan
The Rig Vedic people of Early Vedic Society wore generally cotton and woolen garments; sometimes deer skins were also used for dress. The men wore generally one lower and one upper garment called Vasa and Adhivasa. The women in addition to the above two used an under garment called “Nivi”.
The Rig Vedic ladies used gold ornaments of various types. Sometimes these ornaments were studded with precious stones. Women wore long hairs, which were combed, oiled, and then plaited in folds.
Houses, Food and Drink:
The Rig Vedic houses of Early Vedic Civilization were large structures where the whole family used to live. Usually thatched roofs and mud built walls made the houses. The daily food of the Rig Vedic people consisted of barley, rice, beans, vegetables, milk, milk-products and cakes.
They also ate non-vegetarian foods like fish, birds, goats, bulls, horses etc. Ox, goat meat and mutton were eaten. But cow meat was not touched. Slaughter of cow was discarded. The Rig Vedic Aryans drank intoxicating liquor called Sura made of corn and Soma prepared from the juice of some plant.
Amusements and Script:
When serious business would not occupy their attention, the people of Rig Vedic Society would pass their time in various amusements like dicing, singing or playing on lute. The women would practice dancing. Dicing became almost a vice in the Aryan society. The virile people would pass their time in boxing, hunting and chariot race.
The Aryans used many musical instruments like the drum, flute, harp and cymbals. They had minute knowledge of sound, tana, and raga. The Aryans did not develop a script till 700 B.C. The Early Vedic Aryans preferred oral learning and Avritti.
Caste System during Rig Vedic Period
There is a controversy among scholars about the extent of caste system in the Rig Vedic Civilization. According to orthodox view caste system existed even in the Rig Vedic Age. The Purusha Sukta of Rigveda gave birth of the four castes. But many eminent scholars reject the theory that caste system existed in the Rig Vedic Age. They hold that the Purusha Sukta is a late hymn. According to this school, in the Rig Vedic Age caste system was never very rigid and it was not probably hereditary too. There is a hymn in Rigveda where the composer of a hymn says that he was a bard, his father was a physician and his mother was a grinder of corn. Thus there was no hereditary profession.
Marriage was not perhaps limited to particular class. Caste was mainly occupational. There are some instances which show that even priesthood was not hereditary in this period. In the Rig Vedic Society there was no prohibition on inter-dining and inter-marriage among various castes. Though there was no clear cut caste division in the Rig Vedic Society , class division and division according to colour of skin were in vogue.
Four Stages of Life
During the later part of the Rig Vedic Age the ideal of Four Ashramas developed. Boys of the higher classes had to live as students in the house of teachers or Guru for a number of years. They learnt grammar, prosody, composition of poetry and the Vedas at the house of the teacher. They were called Brahmacharins as they lived an austere life at the Guru Kula or house of the Guru. After they completed the life of a Brahmacharina they would become Grihasthas or house-holders, when they would marry. Next they would adopt the life of Vanaprastha (forest hermit) and finally they became Sannyasins or (ascetics).
The people of Early Rig Vedic Society mainly lived in the villages. The houses were built of wood or reed straw and contained a number of apartments. There were fortified places called Puras. People used to take shelter in these places during danger of invasion. Pura did not necessarily mean a town or a city in the Rig Vedic Period. Cities and towns were very few in this age. The word “Saradi” is also used as an adjective to Pura. The meaning is that most of the invasions took place in autumn or Sarat Kala. The people used to live in Puras or fort-like fortified places for fear of invasion during autumn. Hence it was called “Saradi”.
Occupation and Ownership of Land:
According to some scholars when the Rig Vedic Aryans first entered India they had a pastoral economy. Cattle rearing, particularly cow keeping was their principal occupations. Gradually they look to agriculture and it became one of their principal occupations. Ultimately agriculture and cattle rearing became two principal occupations of the Rig Vedic Aryans.
There is a controversy whether the Rig Vedic Aryans knew the use of iron plough-shares. There are many historians who believe that the Rig Vedic Aryans practiced deep ploughing with iron plough-shares. Iron implements were used for cutting forest and converting them to arable land. Oxen were used to draw ploughs.
The word “Krishti” comes from ploughing the land. That the Rig Vedic Aryans irrigated their fields by water wheels. The word “shir” in Rigveda means plough-share. Food grains like paddy and barley were grown. The word “breahi” indicates paddy. But many scholars believe that paddy and wheat (Breahi and Godhuma) are not clearly mentioned in the Rigveda that the Aryans learnt paddy farming in India from the non-Aryans.
Scholars also differ about the system of ownership of land. Dr. H. C. Raychowdhury has suggested that pasturing lands remained under community ownership, while homestead and farming lands were under private ownership. Kosambi on the other hand thinks that all types of land were under community ownership. However towards the end of the Rig Vedic Age when tribal system began to collapse land came under family ownership.
The Rig Vedic Aryans regarded cows and bullocks as their most valuable possessions. Herds of cattle were daily led to the pasture. The ears of the cattle were marked with various signs to denote ownership. Cow was the measure of value. It was called “Godhana” or wealth of cow. Cow milk was a principal food of the Aryans. Ghee for sacrifices was made out of cow-milk. The Rig Vedic Aryans reared houses which were used during war and for transport of goods etc.
Weaving of cotton and wool was the principal industry of the Rig Vedic Aryans. Both men and women were engaged in this industry. The carpenter made chariots, ploughs, wagons, houses. Carpentry was a lucrative profession. The blacksmiths made weapons and house-hold implements and the goldsmiths made ornaments. There are some historians who however think that iron was not used by the Aryans. The potter made utensils and the leather worker made water-casks, bow-strings etc. The physicians cured diseases; and the priests performed sacrifices, composed hymns and taught them to the disciples.
Trade and Commerce:
The Rig Vedic people of Early Vedic Society carried trade among members of the same tribe and also with other tribes. Sometimes traders made journey to distant lands for larger profit in trade. The cutting of the jungles and the expansion of Aryan settlement in Eastern India increased the volume of trade. The banks of the Yamuna and the Indus tributaries were dotted with Aryan villages. Perhaps trade between them was carried along the river route. Trade by land route was also carried.
The chief means of transport by land were Rathas (chariots) and wagons drawn by horses and oxen. The principal media of trade was barter. Cow was regarded as unit of value. Gradually pieces of gold called “nishka” were used as means of exchange. Commerce was generally managed by a class of people called Pani. They were probably non-Aryan people. The Aryans regarded them as very clever people.
We do not know definitely whether the Aryans had overseas trade with the West-Asian countries. The Harappans had an extensive trade with West-Asia. Whether the Aryans were able to continue it is not certain. As the Aryan civilization in the Rig Vedic Age was less industrial and less urban than that of the Harappans, it may be presumed that the Aryan trade was local in character. There are some scholars who hold that the Rigveda refers to some vast trade which cannot be anything but external trade.
The Rig Vedic hymns refer to a kind of ship with hundred oars (Sata-anitra) which could play only on the seas. The Rigveda mentions “the mana” which was the ancient Babylonian coin. Unless the Aryans had a contact with West Asia which could be established only over the sea, the Aryans could not have any familiarity with the Babylonian coin. But the scholars who oppose this view point out that the evidences which are mentioned are very scanty and weak. No concrete archaeological proof of West Asian trade of the Aryans has yet been discovered. Secondly, Sata-anitra may be a large boat for plying the Indus and Yamuna and poetically described as “Sata-anitra”. That the only possible route through which the Aryans of the Rig Vedic Age could sail to Western Asia was the Indus confluence. But the Rigveda never mentions this region.
However, the Rig Vedic economy was not very advanced. Trade was carried by barter. The gold coin Nishka could never be used as a medium of daily exchange. There was no copper coin for daily use. The means of transport was chariot and cart. Though a section of Aryans made surplus agricultural production by using the Sudras as slaves, the surplus was anything but impressive. There was still a trend of tribal economy. Aryan tribes fought with each other for possession of cattle and water. There was still no such surplus production and its exploitation by a class who can be called capitalists. Slavery and caste system was in a nebulous stage.