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Social Life of Later Vedic Aryans (Vedic Period)

Filed under: History Ancient History Vedic Period on 2021-06-28 13:23:18
The later Vedic society was divided into four varnas called the Brahmanas, Rajanyas or Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. (Know more about the Varna system). The growing cult of sacrifices greatly added to the Brahmanas’ power. They conducted rituals and sacrifices for their clients and for themselves, and also officiated at the festivals associated with agricultural operations. All the three higher varnas had a common feature – they were entitled to Upanayana or investiture with the sacred thread according to the Vedic mantras. The fourth varna was deprived of the sacred thread ceremony. This period saw the start of the enforcement of disabilities on the Sudras. The prince, who represented the Rajanya order, tried to assert his power over all the other three varnas. According to Aitareya Brahmana, in relation to the Prince, the Brahmana is described as a seeker of livelihood and an acceptor of gifts but removable at will. A Vaisya is called tribute paying, and the worst position is reserved for the sudra. He is called the servant of another, to be made to work at will by another and to be beaten at will.
 In the family, a patrimonial (authority of father) system developed and women were generally given a lower rank. Although some women theologians took part in philosophical discussions and some queens participated in coronation rituals, generally, women were thought of as inferior and subordinate to men. There are references to Sati and child marriages as well. According to Aitareya Brahmana, a daughter has been described as a source of misery.
The institution of gotra appeared in the later Vedic age. Literally, it means the “cow pen” or the place where cattle belonging to the whole clan is kept, but over time, it signified descent from a common ancestor. No marriage could take place between persons belonging to the same gotra or having the same ancestor. Caste exogamy was widely practised. There is mention of Chandrayana penance for men marrying women of the same gotra. Gotras were named after legendary seers like Kashyapa, Bharadvaja, Gautama, Bhrigu, among others.
Ashrams or four stages of life were not well established in Vedic times. In the post-Vedic texts, we hear of four Ashrams- Brahmachari (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (partial retirement), and Sanyasa (complete retirement from the world). But only three are mentioned in the later Vedic texts, the last one or the fourth stage had not been well established in the later Vedic times.
In later Vedic age, certain craft groups like Rathakaras enjoyed a special status and had the right to wear the sacred thread.
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