Social System in Later Vedic Age

The key changes in later Vedic era included evolution of territorial sovereignty; development of Varnashrama dharma, degradation of Sabha and Samitis, degradation of women, sedentary life, private possession of land, rigidity of the society etc.

General Changes

The Sabhas and Samitis continued to hold the ground; however the women were not allowed to sit in Sabha. Brahmins and Nobles took the place.

The King became important and territorial authority became important. The term Rastra which indicated a territorial country got prominent in the later Vedic Age.

Ashvamedha Yagya was considered to authorize the unquestioned authority over an area where the Royal Horse could run. The levy of taxes started and became prominent and the officer responsible for this function was sangrihitri. The standing army was not possessed by the king even in Later Vedic period and gramas mustered in times of war.

Changes in Economy

The life became sedentary and the domestication of animals and cultivation increased. Cattle were still the currency and principle movable property. The idea of private possession of lands started taking shape. Ironsmiths, weavers, jewelers, dyers, potters, are the new classes of artisans. Trade was also boosted.

The Gold piece of specific weight Satamana was used as a currency rate. Use of Gold  as currency is mentioned in Satapatha Brahman. Nishka was another popular currency. The other matellic coins were Suvarna and Krishnala. Barter system still existed. Money lending as a trade was prevalent. Money lenders were called Kusidin.

The Four Varnas

The society was now divided into 4 varnas viz. Brahmans, Kahstriyas, Vaish and Shudras. Each of them was assigned its duty. The vaishyas were  common people who were responsible for producing the agricultural commodities and rearing of the cattle. The engaged in trade and were called vaniks.  Nagara was used for the first time, which meant a city and beginning of town life.

Types of Marriages in later Vedic Ages

There were several kinds of marriages in later Vedic era listed in below table:

Marriage TypeDescription
Brahma VivahMarriage of a girl with the boy of same Varna with Vedic rites and rituals
Daiva VivahWhen father donated his daughter to a priest as a part of Dakshina.
Arsa VivahA token bride-price of a Cow and a Bull was given
Prajapati VivahMarriage without dowry
Gandharva VivahIt was a kind of love marriage or swyamavara type
Asura VivahMarriage by Purchase
Paisach VivahSeduction of a girl while sleeping or mentally unstable due to a drink.
Rakshasha VivahMarriage by abduction
Anuloma and Pratiloma Vivah

The marriage of a man of higher Varna with a girl from lower Varna was called “Anuloma Vivah”. It was allowed by the sacred texts. The marriage of a girl of higher Varna with a man of a lower Varna was called “Pratiloma Vivah” and it was NOT allowed in the texts. However, as it goes, the intermarriage between Varnas led to new castes. Vashishtha mentions below examples:

  • The offspring of a Sudra and a Brahman woman becomes a Chandala.
  • That of a Sudra and Kshatriya woman, a Vaina.
  • That of a Sudra and Vaisya woman, an Antyavasayi.
  • The son begotten by a Vaisya on a Brahman woman becomes a Ramaka.
  • The son begotten by a Vaisya on a Kshatriya woman, a Paulkasa.
  • The son begotten by a Kshatriya on a Brahman woman becomes a Suta.
  • Children begotten by Brahmans, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas on women of the next lower, second lower, and third lower castes become respectively Ambashthas, Ugras, and Nishadas.
  • The son of a Brahman and a Sudra woman is a Parasava.

Four Purushartha

Purushartha refers to a goal, end or aim of human existence. The Four Purushartha of Hinduism are as follows:

  • Dharma: Dharma is given the foremost rank in the scriptures. Today, it coresponds to religious, social and/or moral righteousness
  • Artha: material and/or financial means of living
  • Kama : pleasure including sensual pleasures
  • Moksha: Liberation; or renunciation as well as detachment

The Hindu Philosophy says that Dharma is the gateway to Moksha.

Ashrama System

Four stages of the lifespan of 100 years were not established in the early Vedic era. They were well established in the later Vedic era and 4 Ashrams were:

  • Brahamcharya Ashram: The first 25 years were set for student life
  • Grihastha Ashram: The age from 25 to 50 years was kept for having a family and discharging the worldly duties such as giving birth to children and raising them
  • Vanaprastha Ashram: Age from 50-75 years was fixed for partial retirement and living life in forests.
  • Sanyas Ashram: The last age of 75-100 years was fixed for complete retirement from the world.

The fourth ashram has not been mentioned in early Vedic texts. The Sanyas ashram is mentioned in Jabala Upanishad.

Sacrifices & Rituals

  • Rajsuya: This sacrifice conferred supreme power to King.
  • Asvamedha: Authorized the King an unquestioned control over an area.
  • Vajapeya: It was a chariot race in which the Royal Chariot was to win race against the kinsmen. This elevated the Raja to a Samrat.
  • Garbhdharana: The conception ceremony.
  • Pumsayam: Ritual to procure a male child.
  • Sementonayam: Ritual to ensure safety of the child in womb.
  • Jatakarma: Birth ceremony performed prior to cutting the umbilical chord of the newborn infant
  • Culakarma: performed in 3rd year of the baby’s life
  • Upnayana: performed in the eighth year to confer dvija status.

Important Terms in Vedic Era

Vedic Term Meaning
AghanyaNot to be killed
Agnyadheyaceremony which preceded the public rituals in Vedic Era.
Akshavapaaccounts officer
AmajuLifelong unmarried girl
BhishakaDoctor or Vaidya
DuhitriMilker of cow and also a daughter
Gavishtia fight for cows.
Gocarmana measure of distance
GotraA kinship unit
Jansaya GopaTribal Chief
Kinsmen of the KingSajata
Purapatiresponsible for defense.
RathakaraChariot maker
SamgavanA measure of time
SatdayaCompensation for manslaughter
Takshan / Teshtricarpenter
Varatraleather strap of the Plough

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