The Early Vedic Society

There has been a continuous increase in the population during the later Vedic period due to the expansion of the economy based on agriculture. The family was the basic unit of the Rigvedic society. It was patriarchal in nature Monogamy was the usual norm of marriage but the chiefs at times practiced polygamy. Marriages took place after attaining maturity. After marriage the wife went to her husband’s house. The family was part of a larger grouping called vis or clan. One or more than one clans made jana or tribe. The jana was the largest social unit. All the members of a clan were related to each other by blood relation. The membership of a tribe was based on birth and not on residence in a certain area. Thus the members of the Bharata tribe were known as the Bharatas. It did not imply any territory. The Rigvedic society was a simple and largely an egalitarian society. There was no caste division. Occupation was not based on birth. Members of a family could adopt different occupations. However certain differences did exist during the period. Varna or colour was the basis of initial differentiation between the Vedic and non-Vedic people. The Vedic people were fair whereas the non-Vedic indigenous people were dark in complexion and spoke a different language. Thus the Rigveda mentions arya varna and dasa varna. Here dasa has been used in the sense of a group different from the Rigvedic people. Later, dasa came to mean a slave. Besides, certain practices during this period, such as concentration of larger share of the war booty in the hands of the chiefs and priests resulted in the creation of some inequalities within a tribe during the later part of this Vedic phase. The warriors, priests and the ordinary people were the three sections of the Rigvedic tribe. The sudra category came into existence only towards the end of the Rigvedic period. This means that the division of society in the early Vedic period was not sharp. This is indicated by the following verse in the Rigveda: “I am a poet, my father is a physician and my mother grinds grain upon the stone. Striving for wealth, with varied plans, we follow our desires like cattle.” The women in society enjoyed respectable position. She was married at a proper age and could choose a husband of her own choice. She could take part in the proceedings of the tribal assemblies called sabha and samiti.

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