[Answered] Describe the social life of the later Vedic people. How was it different from the Rig Vedic life?

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Social life of later Vedic people. How it differed from Rig Vedic life? Conclusion. Way forward.

The period that followed Rig Vedic Age is known as Later Vedic Age. This age witnessed the composition of three later Veda Samhitas namely, the Samveda Samhita, the Yajurveda Samhita, the Atharvaveda Samhita as well as Brahmanas and the Upanishads of all the four Vedas and later on the two great epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This period saw significant changes in social life as compared to Rig Vedic period.

Social life of later Vedic people:

  1. Caste Society: Most important change was the evolution of caste system. Various sub castes evolved in addition to the traditional four-castes. The Brahmanas and Kshatriyas emerged as the two leading castes out of the general mass of population, known as vaishyas. The vaishyas were superior to the shudras.
  2. Education: A vast mass of Vedic literature as well as a highly developed intellectual life speaks abundantly about a well planned system of education in the later Vedic Period. After the Upanayana or sacred thread ceremony and initiation to studies the students were sent to the Gurukula for their education. They had to live in the house of the teacher (guru) and lead the chaste life whose principal duties were study and service to the teacher.
  3. Position of women: The women lost their high position which they had in the Rig Vedic Age. They were deprived of their right to the Upanayana ceremony and all their sacraments, excluding marriage, were performed without recitation of Vedic mantras. Polygamy prevailed in the society. Many of the religious ceremonies, formerly practiced by the wife, were now performed by the priests. She was not allowed to attend the political assemblies. Birth of a daughter became undesirable as she was regarded as a source of misery. The custom of child marriage and dowry crept in.
  4. Food and Dress: In the later Vedic age rice became staple food of the people. Gradually the practice of eating meat was declined. Killing of cow was looked with disfavour. Wool was used in addition to cotton.
  5. Economic Condition: Like political and social conditions, the economic condition of the later Vedic period also underwent significant changes. Due to the emergence of caste system various occupations also appeared.
  6. Agriculture: The later Vedic period people lived in the villages. In the villages small peasant owners of land were replaced by big landlords who secured possession of entire villages. Agriculture was the principal occupation of the people. Improved method of tilling the land by deep ploughing, manuring and sowing with better seeds were known to the Aryans. More lands were brought under cultivation.
  7. Trade and Commerce: With the growth of civilisation, the volume of trade and commerce had increased by leaps and bounds. Both inland and overseas trades were developed. Inland trade was carried on with the Kiratas inhabiting the mountains. They exchanged the herbs for clothes, mattresses and skins. The people became familiar with the navigation of the seas. Regular coinage was not started. The coins which were in circulation were “Nishka”, “Satamana” and “Krishnala”. The unit value of goods was a gold bar called “nishka”.
  8. Occupation: The emergence of caste system brought varieties of means of livelihood. There are references about money lenders, chariot makers, dyers, weavers, barbers, goldsmiths, iron smiths, washer men, bow makers, carpenters, musicians etc. The art of writing probably developed in this period. The use of silver was increased and ornaments were made out of it.
  9. Religious Condition: During the later Vedic period the religious spirit underwent a great change. Religion was overshadowed with rites and rituals. New gods and goddesses emerged during this period. The Rig Vedic gods, Varun, Indra, Agni, Surya, Usha etc. lost their charm. The people worshipped them with less zeal. New gods like Siva, Rupa, Vishnu, Brahma etc. appeared in the religious firmament of the Later Vedic Period.

Rig Vedic vs later Vedic life:

Rig Vedic Social life Later Vedic life
The Early Vedic economy was mainly pastoral and cow was the most important form of wealth. Agriculture had primary importance in the life of the later 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. The later Vedic society came to be divided into four varnas called the brahmanas, rajanyas or kshatriyas, vaishyds and shudras.
In the Early Vedic polity the tribal chief or the Rajan and the priest or the Purohita had important positions. The growing cult of sacrifices enormously added to the power of the brahmanas.
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. New gods like Siva, Rupa, Vishnu, Brahma etc. appeared in the religious firmament of the Later Vedic Period.

Though there was no well defined political hierarchy in the Early Vedic set up, the tribal polity was not completely egalitarian. 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.

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