Compare the Social and Economic Conditions of the Rigvedic and Later Vedic Periods.

Social and Economic Conditions of the Rigvedic and Later Vedic Periods.

The Early Vedic economy was mainly pastoral and cow was the most important form of wealth. Agriculture had secondary importance in the life of the Early Vedic people. The Early Vedic society was tribal and basically egalitarian. Clean and kinship relations formed the basis of the society and family was the basic social unit. Social division based on occupations had started but there was no caste division. In the Early Vedic polity the tribal chief or the Rajan and the priest or the Purohita had important positions. Among several tribal assemblies the Sabha and the Samiti played very important roles.

Though there was no well defined political hierarchy in the Early Vedic set up, the tribal polity was not completely egalitarian. The Early Vedic people personified the natural forces, e.g. wind, water, rain, etc. and worshipped them as god. They worshiped god not through any abstract philosophical concept but for material gains. There was growing importance of sacrifices in the Vedic religion. What we must remember is that this society was not static but dynamic. Between about 1500 B.C. and society was constantly evolving and newer elements in the economic, social, political, and religious sphere operating to transform its structure.

The later Vedic society came to be divided into four varnas called the brahmanas, rajanyas or kshatriyas, vaishyds and shudras. The growing cult of sacrifices enormously added to the power of the brahmanas. Brahmanas conducted rituals and sacrifices for their clients and for themselves, and also officiated at the festivals associated with agricultural operations. But when the two upper orders had to deal with the lower orders they made up their differences.

From the end of the later Vedic period on it began to be emphasized that the two should cooperate to rule over the rest of society. The vaishyas constituted the common people, and they were assigned to do the producing functions such as agriculture, cattle-breeding, etc. Some of them also worked as artisans. All the three higher varnas shared one common feature: 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, Generally the later Vedic texts draw a line of demarcation between the three higher orders on the one hand, and the shudras on the other. In the family we notice the increasing power of the father, who could even disinherit his son. The institution of gotra appeared in later Vedic times. Ashrantas or four stages of life were not well established in Vedic times. In the post-Vedic texts we hear of four asramas.

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