Vedic Literature

A few centuries after the decline of the Harappan civilization, a new culture flourished in
the same region and gradually spread across the Ganga-Yamuna plains. This culture came
to be known as the Aryan culture. There were significant differences between this culture
and the culture which preceded it.
Aryans settled on the banks of rivers Indus (Sindhu) and Saraswati (which is now non
existent). They composed many hymns in honour of the gods and goddesses they
worshipped. These were compiled in four Vedas – the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda
and Atharva Veda. The word veda means knowledge of the sacred spiritual knowledge.
These vedas were considered infallible as they imparted the highest spiritual knowledge.
Initially the Vedas were transmitted orally. Since our knowledge of the early Aryans is
based on these Vedas, the culture of this period is referred to as the Vedic Culture. Scholars
divide the vedic period into the earlier and later Vedic period. The earlier is represented by
the Rig Veda while the latter by all other Vedic literature including the Brahmanas, Aranyakas
and Upanishads. Two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Puranas, though
compiled much later, also throw light on the life and society of an earlier period. For this
period archaeological evidence has also been found in some areas of Uttar Pradesh.

Society and religion
Though Aryan society was patriarchal, women were treated with dignity and honour. The family
was the smallest social unit; several families (kula) made a village (grama) and several
villages formed a vis. A number of villages formed a tribe or jana which was ruled by a
chief called rajan. His chief function was to protect the tribe from external attack and
maintain law and order. He was assisted by the members of two councils called sabha and
samiti. The Purohita performed religious functions while the senani looked after military
activities. There was no concept of the state or kingdom at this stage. Although the post of
Rajan had become hereditary, he could be removed from power if found weak and inefficient
or cruel.
Towards the later Vedic period, society was divided into four varnas – Brahamanas,
Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. This was also called the Varna-Vyavastha. To begin
with it denoted categories of people doing different kinds of functions but with the passage
of time this division became hereditary and rigid. The teachers were called Brahmans, the
ruling class was called Kshatriyas, farmers, merchants and bankers were called Vaishyas
while the artisans, craftsmen, labourers were called Shudras. Moving from one occupation
to another became difficult. Simultaneously, the Brahmans also occupied a dominant position
in the society