Vedic Period: Early Vedic and Later Vedic Age, Vedic Civilization

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Vedic Period is a significant period of ancient Indian history. It spans from 1500 – 600 BCE. Scholars put the Vedic civilization between the 2nd and the 1st millennia B.C.E., extending until the 6th century. It is called Vedic Age or Vedic Period because, during this period, the Vedic literature and the Vedas came into existence in the Indian subcontinent. The Vedas were inspired by the day-to-day life of the people & the culture that was followed in the Vedic Age.

The Vedic Period is the period between the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. The Vedic Civilization was the second largest after the great Indus Valley Civilization. The associated culture of the Vedic period was concentrated inside the Indian subcontinent’s north or northwest areas. During its early stages, different ancient Indian empires were formed.

What is Vedic Age?

The period between 1500 – 600 BCE is termed the Vedic Age. The age got its name because the four main Vedas were composed during this Vedic Period. It was divided into two – The Early Vedic Period & the Later Vedic Period.

The Indo-Aryans who communicated in the Indo-European language were supposed to be the creators of the Vedic text. The original Aryans’ homeland is a questionable topic to date. The Aryans initially occupied the Indo-Gangetic Plains, which gave birth to the Vedic Age. Many believe that the era from the Vedic age to the present day represents the world’s oldest continuous civilization.

Vedic Civilization

The early Aryans in the early Vedic period are said to have located their base adjacent to the river Indus & its tributaries in the western part of the country. Whereas the later Aryans in the Later Vedic Period are said to have moved to the eastern parts of the country, such as up to Bengal. They could manage this with the help of iron and fire tools.

The Aryans have been believed to lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle which is a step down from what the Indus Valley people used to have. Indus Valley Civilization was an example of advancement and urbanization. During the research, this Vedic Civilization was divided into two sections:

  • Early Vedic Period (1500-1000 BCE)
  • Later Vedic Period (1000-600 BCE)

Overview of the Vedic Period

Vedic period identification is connected to the disputed Aryan invasion theory. As per this theory, the Harappan civilization or Indus Valley of Northern India was founded by Dravidians. Then, about 1,500 B.C.E., softer conquerors called the Aryans pushed these same Dravidians south.

  • Invaders are said to have started in Iranian regions; some moved west. As a result, Indo-European languages descended from the same parent tongue are linguistic siblings. Moreover, this theory parallels the contents of the Vedas with Zoroastrianism.”
  • The total lack of any customs or tales describing such an incursion is an objection against such a theory, which has been derived from the linguistic work of F. Max Müller.
  • According to the invasion theory, Vedic period literature began as an oral history created outside India. Feuerstein, Kak, Frawley, and others think the invasion of Aryan was simply an “academic purpose.”
  • Aryans, who inhabited the Indus Valley over several millennia, derived their Sanskrit language from earlier Indo-European languages.”
  • Edward Pococke, a 19th-century writer who might or might not be connected to the sixteenth-century orient and bore the same name, suggested a different theory.
  • Pococke argued that the Greek language is indeed a derivation from Sanskrit, so Sanskrit individuals who speak this language, Indians, should have dwelt in Greece, and” they “should have primitive colonists.”
  • Pococke argues that “language,” “philosophy,” “religion,” in addition to the “rivers” and “mountains,” in addition to her “subtle kind of intellect” and “politics,” all indicate that Greek was “invaded and conquered from India.”

Historical Restoration of the Vedic Age

The reconstruction of Vedic civilization is based on literary sources. In linguistic terms, Vedic period texts can be categorized chronologically as follows:

Rigvedic Period Texts

Although becoming the earliest of the surviving Vedic texts, the Rigveda maintains several joint Indo-Iranian components in language and content. These are not found in other Vedic texts.

  • Its creation must have lasted centuries; if not for the oldest books, it should have been finished by the year 1000 B.C.E.
  • Possibly, this period relates to the Gandhara Grave Culture, or Cemetery H civilization of Punjab, and the Ochre Coloured Porcelain culture (OCP) to the east.
  • The continuity of the Indus Valley society is not commonly acknowledged archaeologically or culturally. There is no widely recognized archaeological or cultural proof of the Indus Valley society’s continuity. “Veda” literally means “learning in the Vedic age.

Language of Mantra of Vedic Period

This phase involves the mantra mix prose languages of Atharvaveda, and Rigveda Khilani, this same Samaveda Samhita (which contains over 75 chants not present inside the Rigveda), as well as the chants of a Yajurveda. Several of these texts were based on the Rigveda that has changed due to complete change or reinterpretation.

Significant changes include the replacement of vishva with sarva and the spreading of the kuru-verbal stem. This is the early Iron Age in northwest India, related to a Black and Red Ware (B.R.W.) culture and the Kurus kingdom, which originates around the tenth century B.C.E.

Samhita Prose

In this era, the Vedic canon’s collection & compilation begins. This period is reflected by the Brahmana division of the Black Yajurveda (M.S., K.S., T.S.).

Prose from Brahmana: This era comprises the four Vedas’ Brahmanas, in addition to the Aranyakas, and oldest Upanishads (B.A.U., Chu, and J.U.B.) as well as the earliest Shrautasutras (B.S.S., VadhSS).

Sutra Language of Vedic Age

The most recent stage of Vedic Sanskrit, spanning about 500 B.C.E., which contains the Rauta and Grhya Sutras, as well as specific Upanishads (e.g., Kathy, Maitri). Apart from the five prose Upanishads, everyone is post-Buddhist. In North Bihar, Videha is an established third political party.

Epic & Paninian Sanskrit

Epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, along with Panini’s Classic Sanskrit, date back to after 500 B.C.E. During this period, Northern Black Polished Ware (N.B.P.) spread rapidly throughout northern India. This era also includes the earlier Gautama Buddha, the Pali Prakrit idiom of the Buddhist era, and the Vedanta.

Until the end of the Vedic age, historical records appeared and remained sparse through the Indian Middle Ages. Language, political changes, and economics herald the ending of Vedic India. Classical Sanskrit begins with Panini’s grammar, which marks the end of the codification of the Sutra texts. The conquest of the Indus Valley by Darius I in the early 6th century B.C.E. marks the start of outside impact, which persisted in the Indo-Greek kingdoms. In 150 BCE, new waves of migration emerged (Abhira and Shaka), then Kushan, and then the Islamic Sultanate.

Early Vedic Period

The period spanning from 1500 BC to 1000 BC is considered the Early Vedic Period. This period is also known as the Rig Vedic Period. The only source of evidence for this period and its culture is the Vedic literature which includes the ‘Rig Veda’.

Both the divisions of the Vedic Civilization have been made based on the divisions of the texts or volumes of the Rig Veda. It is also said that the Rig Veda is the oldest Veda and possesses many striking similarities with the oldest Iranian text called the Avesta. Let us see the various characteristics of the Early Vedic Period with respect to different parameters.

Geographical Structure of Early Vedic Age

Aryans in the early stage, settled themselves in modern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan, Punjab, and some parts of west Uttar Pradesh. The region where Aryans were settled was called the ‘Sapta Sindhu’ which means the Land of Seven Rivers. These were River Indus (Sindhu) & its tributaries – Vipash (Beas), Parushni (Ravi), Vitasta (Jhelum), Asikni (Chenab), Shutudri (Satluj) & Saraswati.

Political Organization in Early Vedic Period

The early Aryans had a system of monarchy where they had a king or ‘Rajan’ for the tribe called ‘Jana’. The king or the Rajan was the one responsible for the protection of his people. The king or the Rajan had a Purohit which was the most important post followed by a Senani, the second important post.

  • The kingdom had Sabha, Samiti, Gana & Vidhata as councils for which the king was also responsible.
  • Women were allowed to attend the Gana & the Vidhata councils.
  • The ‘Kula’ was the primary social unit.
  • The army of the Aryans was advanced having horse-driven chariots.

Social Scenario in Early Vedic Period

During the early Vedic Age, the family was given much importance and was considered the basic unit of society which was majorly patriarchal in nature. Having said that, women were given equal rights and privileges. They were allowed to attend the council meetings.

  • Monogamy was encouraged but some signs of polygamy were seen in the royal families.
  • No evidence of child marriage has been found.
  • There have been signs of education being imparted on an oral basis.
  • Love for music, dance & singing has also been discovered in the early Vedic Age, and women poets also existed back in the day.

Religious Beliefs in Early Vedic Period

  • No sign of temples or idol worship has been found in the early Vedic Period.
  • Aryans believed in worshipping through yajnas in the open air.
  • There were 33 gods that are said to have been divided into categories.
  • The Aryans worshipped the natural forces and personified them, treating them as living beings.

Economy of Early Vedic Period

The early Aryans had an agriculture-based economy and were into cattle-rearing. They mainly had a mixed type of economy which was both Agricultural and Pastoral.

  • A cow was considered sacred at that time, as the most important sign of wealth.
  • The cow was the accepted unit for exchange apart from gold coins called Nishkas.
  • Barley (Yuva/Java) was the staple crop of the early Vedic Period.
  • Rivers were used as the medium of transportation.

Later Vedic Period

The Later Vedic Period spans from 1000 BC to 600 BC. It is also known as the Painted Grey Ware Phase. During this period, the Aryans evidently shifted base and moved towards the east direction occupying Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Kosala) and Western Uttar Pradesh along with Bihar.

Political Organization in Later Vedic Age

In the later Vedic Period, the smaller tribal settlements were replaced by stronger and larger kingdoms like Mahajanapads. With this, the king became more powerful, and the importance of assemblies was reduced comparatively.

  • An army was formed for the protection of the kingdom.
  • Women were not allowed to attend the council meetings anymore.
  • The use of the word ‘Rashtra’ was done for the first time in this period to represent a territory.

Geographical Structure

As discussed above, the Aryans in the later Vedic Age moved towards the western UP from Punjab.

  • The Aryans should have initially cleared the whole land by burning it.
  • They also used iron tools that became common by 1000-800 BC.
  • There are signs of several significant cities coming into existence then, such as Kaushambhi, Kasi, Ayodhya, Hastinapur, Indraprastha, etc.

Economy in Later Vedic Age

As in the early Vedic Age, the Later Vedic Period also adopted Agriculture as its main occupation.

  • There are signs of foreign trade attempted with far-off regions such as Babylon & Sumeria.
  • Due to the presence of iron tools, industrial work was also done, such as metalwork, pottery & carpentry.

Social Picture of Later Vedic Age

There is evidence that social distinction started coming into existence between various kinds of people that existed in the later Vedic Period, which was called the Varna system. It started becoming hereditary rather than based on occupation.

  • The Varna system gave birth to castes such as Brahmana (top caste of priests), Kshatriyas (rulers), Vaishyas (working class – traders, artisans, etc.), and Shudras (serving the three classes).
  • Women were no more allowed to take part in the Sabha & Samitis.
  • Child marriage also came into existence.

Religion in Later Vedic Period

The later Vedic Period also believed in worshipping gods, just like in the Early Vedic Age. The two most important gods were the Prajapati, the creator, and the Vishnu, the preserver.

  • Due to the Varna system of social distinction, the Brahmanas, or the priests, garnered more importance and power, taking over the rituals.
  • Prayers lost their importance, and more sacrifices were encouraged in the later Vedic Period.
  • There is evidence of Buddhism and Jainism coming into existence when the era approached its end.

Also, check the difference Between Early Vedic Period and Later Vedic Period for better understanding.

Vedic Culture and Literature

The Vedic Period or the Rig Vedic Period got its name and context from the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda was the only form of Vedic literature that existed. It was the only way to know about this period. It consisted of all information about the Vedic culture. The Rig Veda is the oldest religious text in the world.

  • There were a total of four Vedas– Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
  • Apart from the Rig Veda, which was written in the Early Vedic Period, the remaining three Vedas were written in the Later Vedic Age.
  • The Rig Veda is a collection of 1028 hymns and has been categorized into 10 mandalas.
  • As the name suggests, Yajur Veda explains the different ways of performing religious rituals.
  • Sama Veda is related to Indian music.
  • Atharva Veda is related to magical formulae and magic spells.
  • The two largest and most important epic tales of Mahabharata & Ramayana were also written in the Vedic Period.

Dasas and Dasyus in Rig Vedic Period

The Vedic individuals are famous as Aryans. Rajan was the term given to the leader of each tribe. Rajan was selected as the group’s leader among its members. Dasas and Dasyus are essential topics for UPSC exam.

  • The Rig Veda is the oldest, divided into ten Mandals, and contains 1028 hymns in the Sanskrit language. The melodies in it were composed in honor of the deities of nature, Indra & Varuna.
  • This explains why the Vedic people were mainly concerned with livestock and agriculture rearing, and the Vedic people valued natural forces such as rainfall, wind, and sun. As a consequence, individuals were worshipped and treated as Gods.
  • Dasa has 54 hymns plus 63 verses, while Dasyus has 65 hymns & 80 verses.
  • The Rig Vedic culture recognizes the conflict between the Dasas & Dasyus and Aryans. It portrays Dasas and Dasyus as individuals who do not perform sacrifices or accept the Commandments of God. Their language is referred to as ‘Mishra.’ Dasas and Dasyus were ancient Indo-Aryan immigrants to the globe who arrived long earlier than Vedic Aryans.
  • Non-Aryans are alluded to as Dasas and Dasyus inside the Rig Veda.

Sabha and Samiti in Vedic Period

Both Sabha and Samiti are referred to as Prajapati’s daughters. Both were movable corps headed by chiefs who moved with the army.

Sabha in Vedic Age

Sabha indicates the congregation (during the early Rig Vedic period) and the conference hall (During the later Rig Vedic period). Sabhavati women also were represented at this assembly. However, it was mainly a kin-based gathering, and women also were not allowed to attend until later in Vedic times.

The Sabha is also described in Rigveda as a dicing and gambling assembly and a venue for dancing, music, witchcraft, and magic. It debated pastoral issues, performed judiciary and administrative functions, and exercised legal power.

Samiti in Vedic Period

The considerations to Samiti arrive from the most recent books of the Rig-Veda of the Vedic age, suggesting that it grew important until the end of the Rigvedic period. Samiti was a tribal council wherein members of the tribe gathered to conduct tribal business. It covered philosophical issues as well as religious ceremonies and prayers. According to the sources, Rajan was elected or re-elected by the Samiti.

Dissimilarities between Sabha and Samiti

The sole difference between Sabha and Samiti is that Sabha performed judicial functions, whereas Samiti did not. Eventually, the Sabha degenerated into a minor aristocratic body, and the Samiti disappeared.

What is the Rig Vedic Period?

The Rig Veda, or the Rig Vedic period, is mainly a compilation of religious songs that reference but do not analyze various myths or tales. This document may be the oldest literary work in the world.

Many elements are inherited from pre-Vedic, shared Indo-Iranian society in the oldest hymns, especially in books 2-7, the Soma Mandala, which is even older. It is difficult to determine when the “Rig Vedic period” began since it emerged seamlessly from the preceding age. Also, because the society described is semi-nomadic, it is not easily localized and represents tribes that were constantly on the road in its initial stages.

Organisational Structure in Vedic Age

The grama (Waggon train), vis, or Jana were early Vedic age Aryan political entities. A Vish was a division of a Jana or “Drishti,” and a great grandma was the lowest measurement unit between the two. The Grama’s leader was called Gramani, and the Vish’s leader was recognized as a Vishapati. A Rajan (chief, ‘king’) governed the Rashtra (polity). Generally, kings are called Gopas (protectors) and Samrat’s (supreme rulers).

Economy and Society in Vedic Age

In the Vedic scriptures, marriage regulations and varna (class) were rigid (RV 10.90). The Brahmins & Kshatriyas had more excellent classes as compared to the Vaishyas and Shudras.

  • Many types of rituals were performed by the Brahmins, including writing poetry and preserving sacred texts. They served as intellectual leaders while limiting social mobility between the varnas in fields such as science, military, art, religion, and the environment.
  • Proper diction of poems in the ritual was thought to be essential for prosperity & victory in battle or harvest. As a result, Kshatriyas acquired wealth (cattle), and many commissioned sacrifices were to be made.

Religious Practices in Vedic Period

Vedic beliefs have been the originators of modern Hinduism. The four Vedas are the best-known texts from the Vedic period, but the Brahmanas, oldest Shrautasutras, older Upanishads, and Aranyakas, are also regarded as Vedic. 16 or 17 Shrauta priests and purohits conduct rituals and sacrifices according to the Vedas.

The rishis, the authors of the Rustic black hymns, were regarded as gifted poets & seers. The worship manner was the sacrifice, which incorporated reciting Rigvedic verses, singing Samans, and maffle mantras (Yajus). In Vedic society, priests conducted rituals for three upper varnas, rigorously excluding Sudras. The people are begging for rain, livestock, sons, long lives, and even entrance into ‘heaven.’

Vedic Period UPSC

The Vedic period UPSC is a crucial topic from the Ancient Indian History of the IAS exam syllabus. It saw the advent of four Vedas that gave a sneak peek into the Vedic Age & its culture. It is an important topic for UPSC aspirants as well. We advise the candidates to be thorough with their knowledge and take down the Vedic Age notes to score well in the UPSC examination. Referring to the UPSC IAS previous year papers will also give you an edge in your exam preparation.

Vedic Period Questions

Practicing these sample questions on the Vedic Age topic will help you to get an idea of the question pattern of the UPSC exam. Check out the questions and answer these:

Q1. What is Vedic Literature called? [A] Smriti, [B] Shruti, [C] Sanhita, [D] Vedanga

Answer: (Option B) Shruti

Q2. Which is the most powerful impact of Vedic culture on Indian history? [A] Rigidification of the caste system, [B] Progress of Philosophy, [C] Perception of a new world, [D] Development of culture

Answer: (Option A) Rigidification of the caste system.

UPSC Articles
42nd Amendment Act Mauryan Empire
Ashoka Inscriptions and Major Rock Edicts Medieval History of India
National Education Policy Ordinance Making Power of the President
Regulating Act 1773 Reserve Bank of India
Measurement of National Income Appointment and Removal of Supreme Court Judges
e-Governance Mansabdari System
International Monetary Fund IMF Right to Constitutional Remedies
Our Apps Playstore
SSC and Bank
Other Exams
GradeStack Learning Pvt. Ltd.Windsor IT Park, Tower - A, 2nd Floor, Sector 125, Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201303
Home Practice Test Series Premium