Salient features of later Vedic culture: political life, social life, economic life, and religious life

Salient features of later Vedic culture: political life, social life, economic life, and religious life

Dr.Santosh Kumar Sain

The Rigvedic period or the early Vedic period, which lasted from about 1500 BC to 1000 BC. Based on the characteristics of the changes that followed, the period after that has been called the later Vedic period. In this article, we will study the main features of the later Vedic culture: political life, social life, economic life, and religious life. For detailed and comprehensive knowledge, do read the article till the end.

Salient features of later Vedic culture: political life, social life, economic life, and religious life
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Later Vedic Period – Nature and Features of Political Life

The most important change in the political system of the post-Vedic period was - the former small peoples (Jana) now united as political units and converted into Janapadas. At this time the word nation was also used for the first time. As Puru and Bharat together became 'Kuru' (Puru+Bharat=Kuru), and Turvas and Krivi together became 'Panchala' (Turvasha+Krivi=Panchala). This also increased the rights and power of the king. Now the control of the Sabha and the Committee has ended over him. This does not mean that these institutions became unimportant because in the Atharvaveda the Sabha and the Samiti are called 'the two daughters of Prajapati'. Vidath, the oldest institution of the Rigvedic period, first ended in the later Vedic period.

Origin of the King

Salient features of later Vedic culture: political life, social life, economic life, and religious life
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The description of the theory of the origin of the king is first found in the Aitareya Brahmana. As a result of the increase in authority, the names of the kings of different directions began to differ. In the middle country, he was called King, emperor in the east, Swarat in the west, Virat in the north, and Bhoj in the south. The king who conquered all four directions was called Ekrat.

Many types of states are also mentioned in Aitareya Brahmin like -

Bhaujya- The ruler of this state was called Raja.

Maharajya – The ruler here was called Samrat.

Vairajya - where there is no king means republic. ,

The Atharvaveda mentions a king Parikshit, who was the deity of the land of death. The names of many kings are mentioned in the Upanishads such as Ashwapati of Kekaya, Ajatashatru of Kashi, Janaka of Videha, Udvalaka Aruni of Kuru, and Pravarana Jaivali of Panchal, etc. King Ashwapati of Kekaya district was a philosopher in this. The famous dialogue between the king of Kuru district (capital Asandivat) Udvalak Aruni and his son Svetaketu about the inseparableness of Brahma and Atman is found in Dogya Upanishad.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad reveals that the father of Udvalaka Aruni went to the Panchala king Pravaha to acquire Panchagni knowledge and received an education. It is mentioned in Chandogya Upanishad that Uddalak Aruni, Panchagni, and Vaishwanar went to Kekaya King Ashwapati to get an education.

It is learned from the Shatapatha Brahmana that Yajnavalkya received education from King Janaka. The Shatapatha Brahmana reveals that King Janaka defeated the Brahmins in a philosophical conference. In return, Brahmins gave him the title of Rajanya Bandhu and because of Brahma knowledge, he was also called Brahmin. Similarly, it is mentioned in Chandogya Upanishad that Maharishi Balaki Gargya had received education from Kashi King Ajatashatru.

Coronation - The coronation of the king was accomplished by the Rajasuya Yagya. The detailed description of Rajasuya Yajna is found in Shatpath Brahmin. At the time of Rajasuya Yajna, the king used to offer oblations to the gems, expressed respect towards them, and hoped for support. The king was anointed with 17 types of water in Rajasuya Yagya.

Ratnin – These were the high officials of the state who were related to the elite class. They were also called Ratnin because they used to wear gems in their ears.

A maximum of 12 Ratnin are mentioned in Shatpath Brahmin. These were the following -

1. Senani (Fighter)-This was the most prominent Rutnin.

2. Purohit (Priest) - Its place was second.

3. Yuvraj- Son of the King.

4. Mahishi-was the Queen. (Mukhy Rani),

5. Sut -The charioteer of Raja.

6. Gramini -Village headman.

7. Kshatta-Pratihari or Gatekeeper

8. Sangrahita- Archive Treasurer.

9. Bhagduk-tax collecting officer.

10. Akshwap-King's friend in Dyutkrida

11. Palagal - Ancestor of Jester and companion of king and officer of the forest.

Apart from this, there is mention of Sthapati (Chief Justice), Takshan (Carpenter), and Kshatri (Kanchuki).

Suta and Gramani have been called Kartri (kingmakers). One name of the king was Vishmatta (Vishko eater) because he used to collect tax from Vish (Vaishya).


Ashwamedha Yagya, Vajpeya Yagya, Agnishtom Yagya, and Sautramani Yagya were also prevalent in the later Vedic period like Rajasuya Yagya.

Ashwamedha Yagya – This was a yagya related to the expansion of the kingdom, in which a horse was released.

Vajpayee Yagya- This was a kind of chariot race, in which the king's chariot used to be at the forefront. In the later Vedic period, the king started collecting taxes from his subjects. This was called sacrifice, fee, or share. It is noteworthy that in the Rigvedic period, sacrifice was a voluntary gift given to the king. In the post-Vedic period, the tax collecting officer was called Bhagdudh and the treasurer was called Sankarta. It is mentioned in the Shatapatha Brahmana that only the Vaishya class used to pay tax. Its quantity was 1/16 part. Due to the sacrifice (tax) given by Vaishya to another, he got the name Anyasya Balikrit and Anyasyadya (one who is consumed by others).

Judicial system

In the later Vedic period, the king was the supreme authority of justice. In the texts of this period, the word Gramvadin is mentioned, it means that the dispute of the village was done in the village itself. Judicial work was also done by the assembly.

  The death sentence could not be given to a Brahmin. Water tests and fire tests were prevalent for criminal convictions. In the later Vedic period, the king did not maintain any permanent army. In times of war, groups of soldiers from the tribe were recruited and according to a ritualistic ritual, the king had to eat on the same plate as his brothers (vish) in order to win the war.

Features of Social Life

The Varnashram system is the basis of the Indian social system of the later Vedic period. Although the foundation of the caste system had been laid in the Rigvedic period, it was fully established only in the later Vedic period. There were four varnas in the society – Brahmins, Rajanyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Due to the increase in the ritual of Yagya and rituals, the power of Brahmins increased immensely.

There were 7 priests in the Rigvedic period, while their number increased to 17 in the later Vedic period. Out of these, the one who had knowledge of Brahma was called Brahmin. The Brahmins performed religious ceremonies and sacrifices for their hosts and for themselves. They represented the Yajmans in festivals related to agricultural works, worshiped the gods for the victory of the king in the war, and in return received Abhayadan from the king.

The Aitareya Brahmana shows that the position of the Kshatriyas in the later Vedic period was superior to that of the Brahmins. This passage from the Aitareya Brahmana states "The Brahmin is the seeker of sustenance and the giver of charity, but the king can remove him whenever he wishes." It is clearly indicative of the superiority of the Kshatriyas.

Vaishya Varna originated from the word 'Vish'. This section of society used to pay taxes, hence its names were other-forced and other-legal. The biggest aspiration of the Vaishyas was to become a villager.

The status of Shudras was low in society. Their function was to serve the other classes. The caste system had not yet been established, but their Upanayana ceremony was stopped. This adversely affected his education. In the texts of this period, Shudras have also been called servants of all three classes (Anyasyapreshya, they can be uprooted arbitrarily (Kamotya) and can be killed at will (Yathakamvadhyah), which is a sign of their falling position in society).

The charioteer had a high position in the later Vedic society. His Upanayana Sanskar was also done like the above three varnas.

In this way, it can be said that caste discrimination was not prevalent in the later Vedic period. The authority of the father increased at the family level. He could disinherit his son. The practice of primogeniture became dominant in the royal family.

Condition of women in the later Vedic period

The status of women declined in the later Vedic period as compared to the Rigvedic period. It is also mentioned in contemporary literature.

In Aitareya Brahmin, the daughter is considered to be the cause of all sorrows. In the Maitrayani Samhita, women are counted among the three major evils along with pasa and sura.

The Yajnavalkya-Gargi dialogue mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, while on the one hand, it shows that some women in the society could attain the highest education, it also indicates that there may have been limits to that too. During a debate, Yajnavalkya told Gargi not to argue too much, otherwise his head would be broken.

It does not mean at all that the condition of women had worsened in the later Vedic period because, in Shatpath Brahmin, a woman has been called 'Ardhangini'.

In the later Vedic period, the Upanayana ceremony of women was stopped, they were stopped from participating in assembly and Vidtha. Now even at an early age, they started getting married (child marriage). They did not already have the right to property. The Niyog system was prevalent, whereas the Sati system and Purda system were not prevalent. Many learned women are also mentioned in this period. Yajnavalkya's two wives were Maitreyi and Katyayani, Gargi, Subhala, Vedavati, Kritsani, etc. among other prominent Vidushi women. 

Origin of the Gotra system

The gotra system was established in the later Vedic period. The original meaning of the word gotra is - Gosht - or the place where the cattle of the entire clan were reared, but later its meaning became a community of people born from the same original man, then the practice of marrying outside the gotra started. Accordingly, intermarriage between people belonging to the same gotra or original Male was prohibited.

Rise of the ashram system

The ashram system was established in the later Vedic period. Only three ashrams are mentioned in later Vedic texts. The fourth ashram (sannyasa) did not become well-established in the later Vedic period. Ashram means to rest after hard work. The life of a Hindu was divided into four parts and linked to different ashrams. Jabalopanishad first mentions all four ashrams together, whereas in Chhandogya Upanishad only three ashrams are mentioned. Methodical information about the ashram is obtained from the Dharmasutras. Among all these ashrams, Grihastha Ashram is considered to be the highest. It was prevalent in all classes.

1. Brahmacharya Ashram (up to 25 years) - In this ashram man used to get intellectual development, knowledge, and education. Brahmacharya Ashram was the period of Vidyadhyan which started with the Upanayana Sanskar. According to the Baudhayana Dharmasutra, the Upanayana Sanskar of a Brahmin child was performed at the age of 8 years in spring through Gayatri Mantra. The Upanayana ceremony of a Kshatriya child was performed in the summer season at the age of 11 years by the Trishtup mantra. Similarly, the Upanayana Sanskar of Vaishya child was performed in autumn at the age of 12 years by Jagati Mantra.

Mainly the child used to get an education till the age of 25, there were many celibates who used to get an education till the age of 25, they were called Naishthik. A celibate who receives education for a certain period of time is called Upakurvan.

Those girls who lived in the ashram and received education throughout their life were called Brahmavadini, while the girls who received education till marriage was called Sadyovadhu.

2. Grihastha Ashram (from 25 years to 50 years) – Grihastha Ashram is considered the best among all the ashrams. It was valid in all varnas of society. Man used to get freedom from three debts only in Grihastha Ashram. It was in this ashram that there was a law of Panch Mahayagya and Trivarga.

After getting an education, the Samavartan Sanskar was performed in the Guru's ashram only. After this, the brahmachari used to enter the Grihastha ashram, and the word Khatvarudh was used for those brahmacharis who went back without performing the Samavartan samskaras.

Tri-Runa – A man was required to be indebted to three debts –

     1. Rishi Rina (loan)-Study of Vedic texts.

     2. Pitra Rina (Loan) - the origin of a son.

     3. Dev Rina ( loan) -Getting Yagya etc. done.

Panch Mahayagya - Panch Mahayagya was performed in Grihastha Ashram itself.

(1) Brahma Yagya or Rishi Yagya - Vedas were studied in this. Through this Yagya, a person used to express his gratitude to the ancient scholars and sages.

(ii) Dev Yagya - In this yagya, the gods were pleased by worshiping them, etc.

(iii) Pitra Yagya - This was done for the peace of dead ancestors. In this, oblations, shradh, etc. were performed to the ancestors.

(iv) Bhoot Yagya - Through this Yagya, ghosts, etc. were pacified.

(v) Manushya Yajna or Nri-Yajna - Its purpose was to serve the guests. Varga – The knowledge of the attainment of the Trivarga i.e. Dharma, Artha, Kama was learned from the Grihastha Ashram.

3. Vanaprastha Ashram: (from 50 to 75 years) - When a man got rid of the works of worldly life, then he used to turn towards the worldly life. Therefore, Vanaprastha was a means of liberation from material life, but still, the person's relationship with society remained.

4. Sannyas (from 75 years to 100 years) - Sannyas means 'complete renunciation'. In this man used to give up his house completely for the purpose of attaining salvation.

Knowledge, living, and entertainment- There was no significant change in the food, living, and entertainment of the Aryans as compared to the Rigvedic period. Aryans now got the knowledge of rice, salt, fish, elephant, tiger, etc.

Characteristics of Economic life

In the later Vedic period, there was more stability in the life of the Aryans than in the Rigvedic period, archaeological evidence like - P.G.W. (Painted Gray Ware), N.B.P.W. (Northern Kali Pali Le Mridbhand), etc. are obtained, that is why the importance of agriculture increased in the later Vedic period and animal husbandry decreased. The main reason for all this was the use of iron.

In later Vedic texts, iron has been called Shyam Ayas or Krishna Ayas. The earliest evidence of iron is obtained from Atranji Kheda in Etah district around 1000 BC. Its use brought a revolution in the agriculture sector.

Agriculture - Agriculture was the main occupation of the Aryans in the later Vedic period. It is known from the Shatapatha Brahmana that up to 6, 8, 12, and 24, oxen were used in the plow. In Shatpath Brahmin, the words Karshan or Krishantah for plowing, Vapan or Vapantah for sowing, Sunan or Lunantah for harvesting, and Mrin or Mrinantah for Mandai have been used. Evidence of barley, rice, and wheat has been found from Antranjikheda, while remains of rice and wild sugarcane have been found from Hastinapur (Meerut district).

The word Seer for plow and Karish for cow dung manure has been used. In this period the words Brihi and Tandul for rice, Godhum for wheat, Shali for paddy, Maash for urad, Sharisaka for mustard, Shyamank for sawa, Umpa for linseed, Shan for sugarcane, Ichchu for flax, etc. Has been used.

During this period canals have also been mentioned for the first time in the Atharvaveda along with ponds and wells in the means of irrigation of agriculture. Atharvveda mentions mantras to protect crops from excessive rain and drought. The crop was mainly of two types-

1. Krishtipachya - The crop produced by farming.

2. Akrishtapachya - The crop that is produced without cultivation.

Animal Husbandry- Cow, bull, sheep, goat, donkey, pig, etc. animals were mainly reared in the later Vedic period. Elephant rearing had also started, for this the word Hasti or Varan is found. The one who controls the elephant was called Hastip. In places other than Yagyas, those who slaughter cows were punished with death.

The list of businesses of this time has been given in the Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taittiriya Brahmin. The main businessman of the later Vedic period was Kulal (Kumbhakar). The person in the business of cane was called Vidalkar. goldsmith (Swarnkar), Manikar (gem (Mani) dealer), Kantkikar (bamboo article maker), Rajju-Sarj (rope spinner), Ayastap (metal smelter), Rajyitri (cloth dyer), Charmakar (leather worker), etc Names are also found.

The names of some metals are also found in this period, such as Krishnaayas for iron, Lohit-ayas for copper, ayas for copper or bronze, Rukum or Rupya for silver, sis for lead and Trapu for Ranga. In the Vajasaneyi Samhita, the words Dasa, Dhivar, Kaivarta, etc are found for fishermen.

In Vrihadaranyaka Upanishad, the word Shresthin and Aitareya Brahmana mention the word Shresthya, from which the category of traders can be estimated.

In the Taittiriya Samhita, the word Kusid for a loan (Rina), and in Shatapatha Brahmana, the word Kusidin for the lender is found.

The basic unit of distribution was the red grain (lal dana) of Rattika or Gunja. In literature, it has been called Tulabeej. The Dronas of various units of measurement like Nishka, Shatman, Paya, Krishnal, etc. were used to measure grains.

Weaving was done only by women. Tremendous progress was made in leather, clay, and wood crafts. The people of the later Vedic period were familiar with four types of earthenware, black, red ware, black polished ware, painted gray ware, and red ware. Redware was most prevalent among them and has been found almost all over western Uttar Pradesh, but painted gray ware is their paramount characteristic. Bowls and plates have been found in them. Whose behavior was probably used in religious acts or in food or in both works by the people of the emerging higher castes. Crow's funds and bangles have also been found in painted gray ware. These would be used only by a select few as prestige-enhancing items.

Trade - The later Vedic Aryans had knowledge of the sea. The literature of this period describes both the Western and Eastern seas. There is also a discussion of ocean and sea travel in Vedic texts. This indicates some kind of commerce and trade. This trade was still based on the barter system. Coins were not yet in regular circulation.

Overall, there was a huge progress in the material life of the people in the later Vedic phase. Now the Vedic people settled permanently in the northern Gangetic plains. Even now people lived in houses made of mud bricks and thatched reeds supported on wooden poles. The word city has come in the later Vedic texts, but coming to the end of the later Vedic period, we get only a faint impression of the beginning of the cities. Hastinapur and Kaushambi were just pregnant cities. These can only be called proto-urban sites.

Religious life

Mainly three changes are visible in the religious life of the Aryans of the post-Vedic period.

1. Changes in the importance of deities

2. Change in the mode of worship

3. Change in religious motives

1. Changes in the importance of deities - Prajapati, the god of creation, got the highest position in the later Vedic period. The two former gods Vishwakarma and Hiranyagarbha got absorbed in them. Rudra and Vishnu are considered to be the two other major deities of this period. Rudra was the god of animals, and people started considering Vishnu as their protector and protector.

It is mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana that Rudra originated from the form of all the gods. In the Vajasaneyi Samhita, the spirit was called Girish, Girtri, and Vritivash. It is mentioned in the Atharvaveda that Prajapit made Rudra the lord of all directions. In this period, Varuna was considered only the god of water, while Pushan now became the god of Shudras.

The beginning of idol worship can be seen in the later Vedic period itself, but the practice of idol worship is believed to be from the Gupta period.

2. Change in the way of worship- There was a great difference in the way of worship in the post-Vedic period. The hymns went on as before, but the performance of Yagya became more important. Both public and domestic forms of Yagya became prevalent. Animal sacrifices were offered on a large scale in the Yagya, due to which livestock declined. The guests were called Godhan because they were fed beef.

Mantras were recited along with Karma in Yagya. The one who performed the Yajna was called Yajman. These yajnas were created, adopted, and expanded by the priests, who were called Brahmins. Cows, female slaves, gold, cloth, and horses were given as Dakshina for the yajna. It has been said that the priest who performed the Rajasuya Yagya used to get 240,000 cows as Dakshina, but the giving of land as Dakshina to the Yagya did not become prevalent in the later Vedic period.

However, it is said in the Shatapatha Brahmana that in the Ashwamedha Yagya, the priest should be given all four directions North, South, East, and West. This can be taken to mean that the priests wanted to grab as much land as possible. It is also mentioned in one place that when the land was given to a Brahmin, it refused to go into the hands of a Brahmin.

Yagya - There were three types of Vedic Yagya-

1. The first type of Dainiks (Daily) are those which were called Grihakarmani, they were done at the time of birth, marriage, and death, etc. Panch Mahayagya, Sanskar, etc. were important in this.

2. In the second category are those sacrifices that were performed on special occasions or festivals. In this, Darsha Yagya, Agnihotri Yagya, Sautramani Yagya, Poornamas Yagya, and Chaturmas Yagya were prominent.

3. In the third category came those Mahayagyas which went on for many days. Along with the king, the public also participated in it. These were very expensive. Somayagya or Agnishtom Yagya, Ashwamedha Yagya, Vajpeya Yagya and Rajasuya Yagya were important in this.

Agnihotri Yagya- This Yagya was performed along with worship in the morning. It is described as the destroyer of sins and the boat leading to heaven.

Darsha and Purnmas Yajna - These Yagya were performed on Amavasya and Purnima respectively. Agni and Indra are the presiding deities in Darsha Yagya, while Agni and Soma are in Purnmas.

Chaturmas Yagya - It was performed every four months when the season changed. Animals were sacrificed in this Yagya. In this, sacrifices were made to the gods like Agni, Soma, Pushan, Savita, etc.

Sautramani Yagya – The term is derived from the word Sutraman (a good protector), which is an epithet of Indra. Animals and Sura were sacrificed in this Yagya.

Purushmedha Yagya - This Yagya used to last for five days. Those who do this would have been Brahmins or Kshatriyas. Men were sacrificed in this. A maximum of 25 Yupes (Yagya Stambh) were constructed in this.

Panchpashu Yagya – 5 animals were sacrificed in this. Among the five animals, there was a human being along with a sheep, goat, horse, and bull.

Ashwamedha Yagya - This was the most important Yagya. This was used by the king to increase the extent of his empire. This Yagya used to last for two or three days but its preparation was done for a year. Four ritualists, four queens, and their 400 retinues took part in it. Some horses were sacrificed along with 600 bulls at the end of the year. This Yagya was completed by donating 21 barren cows and giving dakshina to the interests.

Rajasuya Yajna - It was related to the coronation of the king. Varuna and Indra were anointed in this Yagya. In this Yajna, sometimes two lakh forty thousand cows were given to the chief priest.

Vajpeya Yagya-The king used to organize this Yagya to show his power. Races were organized in this.

In the later Vedic period, each Veda had its own priest. These priests had assistants. The priest who looked after all these (sacrificial rituals) was called Brahmin or Ritwij.

Veda Purohit Assistant
Rigveda Hota (pronounced) Mantravarana, Acchavak, Gravvita
Samaveda Udgata (singing) Pratihota, presenter Subrahmanyam
Yajurveda Adhvaryu (Karmakandi) Pratishtha, Unnota, Neshtha
Atharvaveda Brahma (sacrificial overseer) row5 col 3

1. Change in religious objectives – The principle of reincarnation is mentioned for the first time in Shatapatha Brahmin. Now the transcendental aims became more important with the laconic aims of the Aryans.

Upanishad response

At the end of the Vedic period, there was an Upanishad reaction against the dominance of priests and sacrificial rituals, the ultimate development of which is visible in the Jain and Buddhist movements.

The Upanishad thinkers described the Yajnadi rituals as such a weak boat, by which this life-like Bhavsagar cannot be crossed. He propounded the path of knowledge with the objective of salvation. This knowledge path was to experience the dualism between Brahman and Atman.

Science and Technology - Vedas, Brahmin texts, and Upanishads give enough information about various sciences of this period. The scholars of that time were familiar with mathematics and its different branches i.e. Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, and Astrology.

The Vedic people knew how to make squares equal in area to triangles, and circles, and could calculate the sum and difference of squares. The knowledge of zero was known to the people at the time of Rigveda itself and because of this, large numbers could be recorded. The place value of each number and its absolute value were known. They were familiar with cubes, cube roots, squares, square roots, etc., and also used them.

Development of Astrology

Astrology had developed in the Vedic period. Vedic people knew the movement of celestial bodies i.e. planets, constellations, etc., and used to calculate their position at different times. This helped them to make accurate almanacs and predict the timing of solar and lunar eclipses.

They also knew that the earth revolves on its axis and revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the earth. He also tried to calculate the time of revolution of celestial bodies and their distance from the Sun. The results of his calculations are almost the same as those now derived by modern methods.


After studying the later Vedic period, it becomes clear that the importance of religion continued to increase and the Brahmins took maximum advantage of it. They strengthened their social and economic status through sacrifices and rituals. Through the varna system, society was divided into four varnas. The position of the Shudra varna became very low and he was deprived of learning and accumulation of wealth and he became completely dependent on the grace of Dwijas. Overall, this period was a period of religious as well as economic and political progress, in which people were now converted into Janapadas and the king now became all-powerful.

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