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Ancient History / Vedic Civilization

Vedic Religion and Society

Vedic religion has seen many changes from Rig Vedic period to Later Vedic period. In Rig Vedic religion, worshiping the god was done through prayers whereas in Later Vedic religion, it was done through rituals and Idolatry was started during this period. Caste divisions got started in Later Vedic society which was absent earlier.

Rig Vedic Religion

  • Rig Vedic religion is dominated by worship of natural forces. 33 Gods were mentioned in Rig Veda and all are natural forces. Gods were given a human form.

    Even genders were given to natural forces. Malevolent forces were given male form and benevolent forces were given female form.

    Some of the Gods and Goddesses were Indra (God of weather and war God), Agni (God of fire), Varuna (Water God), Vayu (Wind God), Savitri (Goddess of Light), etc.

  • Worshiping was done through prayers and offering the Gods with food and drinks (e.g. Soma drink). God Indra was fond of Soma drink.

  • There was no idolatry present and there were no temples.

  • The purpose of worship was for worldly comforts, material comforts and to get Praja (children) and Pashu.

Later Vedic Religion

  • Worship of natural forces got receded and worship of Trimurti was started. Trimurti is a combination of three Gods, namely Prajapati (Brahma or Creator), Vishnu (Protector) and Rudra (Destroyer).

  • Methods of worship were also got changed. Rituals replaced prayers. Cows and Bulls were killed indiscriminately. Devotee and God were disconnected.

  • Religion became non-materialistic and it became spiritualistic and speculative like what is there afterlife.

Rig Vedic Society

  • It was a patriarchal joint family system. The head of the family unit was called Kulapa.

  • It was a class divided society with flexibility. Three classes of people were there namely priestly class, warrior class and commoner class.

    Social mobility was allowed among the people. Professional movement among the classes was also allowed. Inter dining and inter class marriages were allowed.

  • Gender equality was present in which women were given complete liberty. Along with polygamy, polyandry was also allowed.

  • No child marriages were there. Education was imparted to women also. There were 20 women scholars present at that time.

  • Sati was mentioned in Rig Veda. Sati used to be performed but women were not thrown into fire. Just they used to act symbolically as if jumping into the funeral pyre but actually they will not jump into the fire.

  • There was no reference of widow remarriage in Rig Veda. Niyoga (Levirate) system was practiced in Rig Veda. In this system, the widow is allowed to remarry the brother of the deceased person.

Later Vedic Society

  • Varna/caste system was developed during this period. There was no mobility among the castes and it was completely closed system.

    Professions were very rigid. People of first three varnas were called "Dvija" and the fourth varna was called "Ekaja". Inter dining was banned.

  • Anuloma marriages (in which upper caste/class man marries a woman of lower caste/class) were allowed but not Pratiloma marriages (in which lower caste/class man marries a woman of upper caste/class).

  • Gender discrimination became a reality. There was social subordination of women. Sati was a reality in Later Vedic society.

  • Child marriages were being allowed. Puranas say that the girl should have the age that is equal to one third of the age of the boy.

In Vedic religion, those who support rituals are called Brahmanas (orthodox) and those who oppose are called Sramanas (heterodox). Buddhism and Jainism are heterodox religions.

Extra Information

Origin of Aryans

  • Scholars like A.C. Das, Ganganath Jha and Dr. Sampurnanand believe that Sapta Sindhu is the origin of Aryans. Sapta Sindhu is the region surrounded by seven rivers, namely Saraswati, Indus (Sindhu), Chenab (Askini), Jhelum (Vitasta), Ravi (Parushni), Sutlej (Shutudri) and Beas (Vipasa).

  • Dayananda Saraswati says that Aryans came from Tibet.

  • Bala Gangadhar Tilak believes that Aryans came from Arctic region.

  • Max Muller believes that Aryans came from Central Asia. It is the most satisfactory or acceptable theory.

  • Some European historians believe that Germany is the original home of Aryans.