Prehistoric period :- Races and culture
The distant past when there was no paper or language or the written word, and hence no books or written document, is called as the Prehistoric period. It was difficult to understand how Prehistoric people lived until scholars began excavations in Prehistoric sites.Piecing together of information deduced from old tools, habitat, bones of both animals and human beings and drawings on the cave walls scholars have constructed fairly accurate knowledge about what happened and how people lived in prehistoric times.Paintings and drawings were the oldest art forms practiced by human beings to express themselves using the cave wall as their canvas.
The drawings and paintings can be catagorised into seven historical periods. Period I, Upper Palaeolithic; Period II, Mesolithic; and Period III, Chalcolithic. After Period III there are four successive periods. But we will confine ourselves here only to the first three phases. Prehistoric Era art denotes the art (mainly rock paintings) during Paleolithic Age, Mesolithic Age and Chalcolithic Age.
Paleolithic Age Art
The prehistoric period in the early development of human beings is commonly known as the ‘Old Stone Age’ or ‘Palaeolithic Age’.
We did not get any evidence of paintings from lower or middle paleolithic age yet. In the Upper Palaeolithic period, we see a proliferation of artistic activities. Subjects of early works confined to simple human figures, human activities, geometric designs, and symbols. First discovery of rock paintings in the world was made in India (1867-68) by an Archaeologist, Archibold Carlleyle, twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain (site of oldest rock paintings in the world). In India, remnants of rock paintings have been found on the walls of caves situated in several districts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Bihar, and Uttarakhand. Some of the examples of sites early rock paintings are Lakhudiyar in Uttarakhand, Kupgallu in Telangana, Piklihal and Tekkalkotta in Karnataka, Bhimbetka and Jogimara in Madhya Pradesh etc. Paintings found here can be divided into three categories: Man, Animal, and Geometric symbols.
Mesolithic period Art:
- The largest number of paintings belongs to this period.
- Themes multiply but the paintings are small in size.
- Hunting scenes predominate
- Hunters in groups armed with barbed spears pointed sticks, arrows, and bows.
- Trap and snares used to catch animals can be seen in some paintings.
- Mesolithic people loved to point animals.
- In some pictures, animals are chasing men and in others, they are being chased by hunter men.
- Animals painted in a naturalistic style and humans were depicted in a stylistic manner.
- Women are painted both in nude and clothed.
- Young and old equally find places in paintings.
- Community dances provide a common theme.
- Sort of family life can be seen in some paintings (woman, man, and children).
Chalcolithic period Art:
- Copper age art.
- The paintings of this period reveal the association, contact and mutual exchange of requirements of the cave dwellers of this area with settled agricultural communities of the Malwa Plateau.
- Pottery and metal tools can be seen in paintings.
- Similarities with rock paintings: Common motifs (designs/patterns like cross-hatched squares, lattices etc)
- The difference with rock paintings: Vividness and vitality of older periods disappear from these paintings.
Some of the general features of Prehistoric paintings
- Used colours, including various shades of white, yellow, orange, red ochre, purple, brown, green and black.
- But white and red were their favourite.
- The paints used by these people were made by grinding various coloured rocks.
- They got red from haematite (Geru in India).
- Green prepared from a green coloured rock called Chalcedony.
- White was probably from Limestone.
- Some sticky substances such as animal fat or gum or resin from trees may be used while mixing rock powder with water.
- Brushes were made of plant fiber.
- It is believed that these colours remained thousands of years because of the chemical reaction of the oxide present on the surface of rocks.
- Paintings were found both from occupied and unoccupied caves.
- It means that these paintings were sometimes used also as some sort of signals, warnings etc.
- Many rock art sites of the new painting are painted on top of an older painting.
- In Bhimbetka, we can see nearly 20 layers of paintings, one on top of another.
- It shows the gradual development of the human being from period to period.
- The symbolism is inspiration from nature along with slight spirituality.
- Expression of ideas through very few drawings (representation of men by the stick like drawings).
- Use of many geometrical patterns.
- Scenes were mainly hunting and economic and social life of people.
- The figure of flora, fauna, human, mythical creatures, carts, chariots etc can be seen.
- More importance for red and white colours.
Proto-historic period is the age nearest to the historical period. In so far as India is concerned the civilisation of the Vedic period is the proto-historic period. The hymns composed by the Vedic priests had perfected a poetic technique. These hymns were praise of their gods and were sung at sacrifices. These were not reduced to writing but were handed down by words of mouth.
Even when the art of writing was widely known to the Indians, hymns were not committed to writing. The period of the Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads, says Prof. Basham, “is a sort of a transition from prehistory to history”. Naturally it falls in the proto-historic period of Indian history that is nearest to the historical period. But as Prof. Basham points out, If history, as distinct from archaeology, is the study of the human past from written sources, then Indian history begins with the Aryans. The Rig Veda and the great body of oral religious literature which follow it in the first half of the first millennium B.C. belong to the Hindu tradition. The Vedic hymns are still recited at weddings and funerals, and in the daily devotion of the brahman. Thus they are part of historical India, and do not belong to her buried pre-historic past.
But it cannot be denied that the Vedic period is not within the really historic period of India, for it is only the matter of religion about which we are fully informed. About other matters or events we have only indirect and vague references. Thus the Vedic Age of Indian history has to be regarded as the period immediately preceding the historical period; hence it belongs to the proto-historic period of India, a period which marks the transition from pre-historic to historic period of the Indian History.
Early Stone Age- Hunters and Gatherers
Hunter-gatherer societies are – true to their astoundingly descriptive name – cultures in which human beings obtain their food by hunting, fishing, scavenging, and gathering wild plants and other edibles. Although there are still groups of hunter-gatherers in our modern world, we will here focus on the prehistoric societies that relied on the bounty of nature, before the transition to agriculture began around 12,000 years ago. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers often lived in groups of a few dozens of people, consisting of several family units. They developed tools to help them survive and were dependent on the abundance of food in the area, which if an area was not plentiful enough required them to move to greener forests (pastures were not around yet). It is probable that generally, the men hunted while the women foraged.
Straight off the bat, it is important to realise that the variety between hunter-gatherer societies throughout time was so high that no single, all-compassing set of characteristics can be attributed to them. The earliest hunter-gatherers showed very different adaptations to their environment than groups at later points in time, closer to the transition to agriculture. The road towards increasing complexity – something we tend to consider to be the hallmark of ‘modernity’ – is a difficult yet interesting one to trace. Tools, for instance, became ever more developed and specialised, resulting in a large set of shapes that allowed hunter-gatherers to become better and better at exploiting their environment.
Our genus of Homo first developed within the massive space that is Africa, and it is there that hunter-gatherers first appeared. There are a few hotspots where the land clearly provided decently lush living opportunities and where the remains of often several different groups of humans living there at various times have been found. In southern Africa sites such as Swartkrans Cave and Sterkfontein show more than one occupation, although they are a lot younger than sites in eastern Africa, where in or near Ethiopia the earliest known stone tools made by humans – dated to c. 2,6 million years ago – have been found. One of the oldest sites is Lake Turkana in Kenya: it was already home to our presumed ancestors the Australopithecines, to which the famous Lucy belongs, and it continued to be a popular spot for a very long time indeed.
From humans’ early start in Africa to spilling out across Eurasia and later the rest of the world, all this exploration across vastly different terrains was done while living off the land by hunting and gathering what it had to offer. The amount of food, looking at both flora and fauna, directly impacted the amount of people an environment could feasibly support. If food was abundant, resident groups of hunter-gatherers were more likely to stay in the same place, find ways to effectively store their food, and protect their territory against competing groups. Alternatively, if there was not enough food in a group’s direct vicinity, it meant they had to move around and lead more nomadic lifestyles in order to sustain themselves. If this sounds like too much of a piece of cake, imagine that the environment with both its terrain and its weather (think of droughts or huge storms) regularly tried to kill these early humans, with the assistance of animals that had bigger teeth and claws than they did. Luckily, prehistoric societies were made up of groups or bands of a few dozens of people, usually representing several families, that helped each other survive mother nature.
Mesolithic Period- Food producers
The period of the earth’s history called the Stone Age was filled with remarkable achievements, made by early humans who roamed the globe following large animals around for food and for clothing. These early nomadic humans called hunter-gatherers needed tools and weapons that would be strong enough to take down animals much larger than what our minds can imagine today.
We call this time the Stone Age because of the tools that early humans used during the period that were crafted from stone. The period began in different places around the world, earlier in places like Africa (2.5 million years ago), and later in places like China (1.7 million years ago).
The first part of the Stone Age was called the Paleolithic Age, also known as the Old Stone Age when the world was particularly cold. You could also call this period the Ice Age, when most of the world was covered in ice. Early humans would have needed large animals for their fur in order to make clothing to keep warm and survive.
During these years in India, early humans were still hunter-gatherers, but the tools they used were much more advanced. Although tools and weapons were made from stone, they were used for more technologically advanced purposes, like constructing large structures. In India during the Paleolithic Age, early humans lived in cave-like dwellings. By the Mesolithic Period, Indians were creating structures to express their religion and culture. Caves were still used as dwellings, but by the time the period was over, they had progressed into much more sophisticated constructions. Some archaeologists classify parts of the Mesolithic Age along with the last part of the Paleolithic Age in India called the Upper Paleolithic Age, which ended in 8,000 BCE. This overlap is due to the fact that the sites that have been excavated from both periods are very similar. Nonetheless, by the time India moved into the Mesolithic Age, their world was not only warmer, but more advanced – as can be seen in the different sites that mark the period.
One distinction between Mesolithic Age sites in India from those in some other parts of the world is that there is evidence that the Neolithic Age had already begun. This New Stone Age would see the world introduced to agriculture and the domestication of animals, which allowed mankind to stop their hunting and gathering. In India, Mesolithic sites show evidence that Indians were already beginning the first stages of farming and animal husbandry of sheep as early as 6,000 BCE. The Mesolithic sites of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan show that Indians were still hunting for food and fishing, but they also show some crude forms of farming as they slowly but surely figured out how to work the land. One famous civilization in India was called Harappa, and there is evidence that there may have been a trade network or some form of established communication between this major population hub and other areas like Bagor and Rajasthan. These were not the only areas that were being populated during the Mesolithic Age in India, as the subcontinent was a hotbed of life even during prehistoric times.
Chalcolithic age in India is the first metal age. Metals like copper and its alloy bronze are melted at low temperature. The important sites of this period are the Indus valley sites. The Chalcolithic culture of Central, Eastern and Southern regions of India show altogether different features. The Chalcolithic culture represents the farming communities that existed during 2000-700 BC. Four cultural trends have been identified: Kayatha, Ahar or Banas, Malwa and Jorwe. The Chalcolithic people of Harappa use bricks extensively. The walls were made of mud wattle. The plan of the houses was either circular or rectangular. They had only one room, but multi roomed houses also existed. The houses were plastered with cow dung and lime. People of Chalcolithic age subsisted on farming and hunting-fishing. Cattle, sheep, goat buffalo and pig were reared. Thereafter they were killed for food. Crops like barley and wheat were cultivated. Other crops that were cultivated are Bajra, Jowar, Millets, Ragi, Green pea, lentil, green gram, black gram. Fish and animal flesh also formed an important part of the diet of the Chalcolithic people. Hunting was one of the important occupations. Wheel made fine pottery which is considered as the speciality of the Chalcolithic culture. Most of them used to be given fine slip of red, orange colour. Pottery used to be decorated with linear, curvilinear and intricate designs which were mainly in black pigment. Floral, vegetal, anima, bird and fish motifs were also used. The Black and Red ware made its first appearance in the Chalcolithic sites.
Polished stone tools were also used in this period also. Metals like Copper and its alloys were used in making axes, chisels, knives, fishhooks, pins, rods. Personal ornaments made of beads of semiprecious stones like chalcedony, jasper, agate, carnelian were used. During the Chalcolithic period, the dead used to be buried in the place where they resided.
Prior to the emergence of the ancient cities of Indus Valley character many of the adjoining southern and eastern regions show evidence of village settlements. These are entirely different from those recorded from Baluchistan and Afghanistan for the same period.
In the Rupen river estuary of north Gujarat the evidences uncovered at Prabhas Patan is quite revealing. The first occupation here is dated to C 2900 B.C. and is named as ‘Pre-Prabhas’ period. Unfortunately a very clear picture of the culture is not known. The pottery is mostly gritty and sturdy. These are mostly red or gray ware with incised chevron decorations, although a solitary example of bright red, burnished slip is also present.
Nagwada is another site from near Baroda which shows the culture during this phase. The period I, which is dated to C. 3000 to 2600 B.C., is probably the earliest evidence of human movement from Sindh to Gujarat before the rise of I.V.C. This phase is mostly recognised by ceramics of hard pink to red fabric. The pottery shapes often compare with those known from pre-urban period of Amri in Sindh.
Thus, we see that from Mundigak to Kot Diji there are numerous early farming communities settled at different nooks of valleys which developed their own characteristic features. The entire episode can be roughly taken to have stayed from 3100 to 2100 B.C., i.e. for approximately 1000 years. Almost all of these sites show ceramic similarity with the Iranian sites on the one hand and Harappans on the other.
It will, therefore, be logical to assume that origin of Harappa may have links with these hill cultures. This relation can be visualized as mere confederation of these ‘tribes’ as authors of separate cultures or a mere bringing together of the artisans of these cultures under a different and more powerful social organization.
It is a culture which earned its name mainly from its ceramic specialty. It is found spread all over Maharashtra and may have evolved slightly later than the Malwa in Madhya Pradesh (1300 B.C. -1400 B.C.). Inamgaon in Maharashtra provides us with maximum amount of cultural indicators for this period. It is a culture which had adapted to dried inland regions and heavily depended on irrigation, the evidences of which have been found.
Wheat, barley and rice may have been cultivated in the initial stages but later stages adapted mainly to millets. Initially rectangular huts were used but eventually in the later phases these were all round in structure. At this stage the Jorwe of Maharashtra start showing numerous similarities with the Deccan Chalcolithic features.
The famous Jorwe ware is red or orange surfaced either matt surfaced or barnished with geometric designs executed in black. Carinated vessels with spouts fixed at various angles form one of the characteristic types. Carinated bowls and lotas are the other forms. Beads of agate, carnelian, gold, copper and even ivory have been recorded. Copper objects include axes, fish hooks and bangles.
It is argued that increasing aridity forced many of the early Jorwe settlements to either migrate to the Malwa region or adapt by changing their food habits around 1300 B.C. Thus, many Malwa regions show their final phases heavily influenced by Jorwe ceramics. Some of them might have migrated to the Deccan region.
Southern Chalcolithic Group
Crossing Narmada one enters into the rugged plains of south India. Barring the coastal strips the inland regions are extremely rocky and dry. The main two rivers that drain the region are Godavari and Krishna (as one move from north to south) with their numerous tributaries.
These tributaries originate in the Western Ghats which extend fairly deep across the breadth of the Peninsula (almost two third of the breadth along Pune-Hyderabad axis i.e., 18˚N). Most of the prehistoric occupations during Neolithic to Chalcolithic occur in these mountainous area.
The tributaries of Godavari show Chalcolithic colonization between 2000 B.C. – 1100 B. C. which we have just got introduced to. Let us for our convenience refer to them as the Malwa-Jorwe group. The tributaries of Krishna, however, maintained altogether a different tradition.
If the available radio-carbon dates are to be relied, these were occupied from as early as 2400 B.C. and continued to survive without any significant change till iron arrived. Many authors, as such, like to consider them with the development of Neolithic cultural phase. More than one hundred such sites have been reported so far and these are spread over Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu.
This ancient site belongs to the district of Pune in Maharashtra. It is situated on the right bank of the river Ghod which is an affluent of Bhima and in turn of Krishna. The site is spread over an area of 5 hectares and is thus probably one of the largest Chalcolithic settlements of Maharashtra. The site was excavated by Deccan College and this brought to light an extensive settlement from 1600 B.C. and continuing till 700 B.C. The site yielded a sequence of three cultures and these are Malwa, Early Jorwe and Late Jorwe. The first settlers at the site were the people from Malwa region who occupied the site around 1600 B.C. Around 1400 B.C. a new culture termed as Early Jorwe occupied the same area. It is significant to note that elsewhere in Maharashtra Jorwe culture appears only around 1300 B.C.
No discussion of Chalcolithic India, especially in the north, can be complete without considering a large number of finds from the Gangetic valley which have come to be nick-named as the copper-hoard (as these were mainly found in caches). These have been found from surface without any other cultural items and are distributed from N W Pakistan in the west to Bengal in the east and Tamilnadu in the south. No possibility of any dating for these has so far been found. A thick water-logged pottery termed O C P or Ochre Colour Pottery is suspected to be associated with these copper objects on circumstantial ground. Further, since the same O C P type is claimed from more than one site as occurring before Iron, Copper hoard culture is taken to represent a late Harappan and pre-Iron culture. But this is still very tentative and not substantiated by any direct evidence.
In western UP Bisauli, Rajpur Parsu, Mathura, Etawa and Saharapur are some of the areas where Copper hoards have been recorded from more than one spot. These are usually grouped within a single cultural area and referred to as copper hoards of Doab region. As opposed to these Khunti, Hami Saguna Mahisadal and Sonpur from W. Bengal and Bihar form the eastern group of Copper hoards. Likewise the central Indian region especially near Jabalpur-Nagpur strip yields another outlier of these copper objects. Gungeria in Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh is one of the richest of such sites.
In the southern section the Copper hoards are generally distributed in the areas of concentration of the Neo-Chalcolithic sites like Brahmagiri, Tekkalkota, Piklihal, Hallur, etc. Typologically these Copper hoards do show some geographical variations but these are more with regards to relative frequencies of the types than otherwise. Except for the enigmatic anthropomorph most of the types are recorded with same marginal variation from either Harappan or west Asian Chalcolithic centres. This can conveniently lead us to assume some Harappan antecedent for the Copper hoard rather than taking them as the weapons of the destroyer of the Harappans and thus alluding to the all-pervading ‘Aryan bogie’ for our explanation. At this state of our present knowledge it could also be a strong possibility that the Copper hoard cultures were completely contemporaneous with the late Harappans and were politically governed from the Harappan urban centers.
A radio-carbon date from an excavated site belonging to this culture alone can solve our problem. Finally, one must admit that in our consideration of Chalcolithic India the Gangetic valley represent perhaps the only region which is still not fully understood. From the middle Ganga region (North Bihar) to lateritic W Bengal we enter into what can be best designated as Black-and-Red ware zone with a very late Neo-Chalcolithic feature.
Ochre Coloured Pottery
The earliest evidence of pottery manufacture comes from the site of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan, dated to 6500 BC. One of the characteristic features of the Chalcolithic period is a well-developed ceramic industry. They produced fine painted and plain and coarse pottery for a variety of purposes. Besides, the people of the Ahar and Narahan cultures also produced Black-and-Red wares. Pottery manufacture was an important craft of the Chalcolithic period and all the three techniques- handmade, slow turned table and fast wheel were in use simultaneously. The fine pottery was made from fine and pure well levigated clay whereas to produce the coarse variety, tempering materials such as fine sand, chopped grass, rice husk, cow or donkey dung, etc. were mixed in the fine clay. Invariably the fine ware was treated with various shades of red colour slip over which were executed painted decorations in black or other dark colours and then fired at 750°C. All the colours were prepared of the naturally occurring haematite rock. Usually the fine wares were fired in closed kilns with long fire chambers at the base, the evidence of which is found at sites like Inamgaon (Dhavalikar et al., 1988), Kaothe (Dhavalikar et al., 1990), Balathal (Shinde, 2000), etc. The Black-and-Red ware was possibly fired in closed kilns, but possibly the pots were kept in up-side-down (called the inverted firing technique) in the kilns for firing, different from the one used for firing other wares. Various geometric and naturalistic patterns were decorated on the upper half of the outer surface of the pottery. In case of wide mouthed pots such as bowls, they were executed on the inner surface too.
The most common shapes include bowls, lotas, carinated wide mouthed spouted pots and small to medium globular pots. Small to medium sized globular pots were used for cooking, whereas large sized ones for storage purposes. A number of sites have produced evidence of pottery manufacture and one of the best examples of a pottery workshop was reported from the site of Inamgaon. It included terracotta and stone dabbers, antler and bone points, pounders, fragments of haematite for preparing colour, pebbles probably for burnishing, and specifically designed circular kilns with long fire chambers. A number of sites including Balathal and Gilund in Mewar, Kaothe in the northern Deccan, Navdatoli in central India, etc. have produced convincing evidence of pottery manufacture. A study of site catchment analysis of selected sites clearly demonstrates that the locally available clay, mainly from riverbeds was used for pottery making (Dasgupta, 2004). Since most of the potters still use technology that is similar to the Chalcolithic, the study of the modern pottery technique including clay preparation, shaping of pots, surface treatment and decorative patterns, firing techniques and post-firing decorations, etc. will enable reconstruction of the Chalcolithic pottery manufacture technology in the subcontinent.
Later Vedic Period
The period that followed Rig Vedic Age is known as Later Vedic Age. This age witnessed the composition of three later Veda Samhitas namely, the Samveda Samhita, the Yajurveda Samhita, the Atharvaveda Samhita as well as Brahmanas and the Upanishads of all the four Vedas and later on the two great epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. All these later Vedic texts were compiled in the Upper Gangetic basin in 1000—600 B.C. During the period represented by Later Samhitas the Aryans covered the whole of Northern India, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas.
The spread of Aryans over the whole of India completed before 400 B.C. Of the new kingdoms in the east, the most important were Kurus, Panchalas, Kasis, Kosalas and Videhas.
Gradually the Aryans moved towards South India. It is believed that their southern movement began during the period of Brahmana literature, about 1000 B.C. and went on steadily till they reached the southernmost extremity of the Peninsula in or sometime before fourth century B.C.
The great grammarian Katya Yana who flourished in the fourth century B.C had knowledge about the countries of south such as Pandya, Chola and Kerala. But the Aryan colonization in the South was not as complete as in the north. With the progress of the Aryans in Northern India, their centre of civilization was shifted towards east. The territory between Saraswati and Ganga was the seat of Aryan civilization.
With the progress of Aryan settlements in the eastern and southern part of India, the small tribal states of Rig Vedic period replaced by powerful states. Many famous tribes of Rig Vedic period like Bharatas, Parus, Tritsus and Turvasas passed into oblivion and new tribes like the Kurus and Panchalas rose into prominence. The land of the Yamuna and Ganga in the east which became the new home of the Aryans rose into prominence.
With the emergence of big kingdoms in the Later Vedic Age the struggle for supremacy among different states was of frequent occurrence. The ideal of Sarbabhauma or universal empire loomed large in the political horizon of ancient India. The sacrifices like Rajasuya and Asvamedha were performed to signify the imperial sway of monarchs over the rivals. These rituals impressed the people with the increasing power and prestige of the king. The Rig Vedic title of “Rajan” was replaced by the impressive titles like Samrat, Ekrat, Virat, Bhoja etc. These titles marked the growth of imperialism and feudal ideas.
There were two theories regarding the origin of kingship. The Aitareya Brahmana explained the rational theory of election by common consent of origin of kingship. Side by side the Taittiniya Brahman explained the divine origin of kingship. It explained how Indra, “though occupying a low rank among the gods, was created their king by Prajapati.”
The king had absolute power. He became the master of all subjects. He realized taxes like “bali”, “sulka” and “bhaga”. The Satapatha Brahmana described the king to be infallible and immune from all punishment. The sabha of the Rig Vedic Period died. The king sought the aid and support of the Samiti on matters like war, peace and fiscal policies. There are references to the Samiti sometimes electing or re-electing a king.
The authority of the government in the later Vedic period was perhaps more democratic in the sense that the authority of the leaders of Aryan tribes was recognized by the king. However in spite of the existence of the popular assemblies the powers of the king went on increasing due to the growth of large territorial states and the evolution of an official hierarchy.
The growth of the royal power was largely reflected in the enlarged outrage of the king. In the work of administration the king was assisted by a group of officers who were known as Ratnins (Jewels). They included the Bhagadugha (collector of taxes), the Suta (charioteer), the Akshavapa (superintendent of gambling), the kshattri (chamberlain), the Govikartana (king’s companion in the chase), the Palogala (courtier) the Takshan (Carpenter), the Rathakara (Chariot marker) in addition to the ecclesiastical and military officials like the Purohita (chaplain) the senani (general), and the Gramani (leader of host or of the village).
In the Later Vedic Period Gramani was both a civil and military officer Gramani was the medium through which the royal power was exercised in the village. According to Frasna Upanishada Adhikrita was the village officer and was lowest in the rank. The king administered justice. Occasionally he delegated his judicial power to Adhyakshas. In the villages, Gramyavadin (Village judge) and Sabha (court) decided the cases. Punishments for crimes were severe.
The father was the head of the property of the family. In case of inheritance of property the law of primogeniture was applied. By this rule the eldest son would inherit the property of the deceased father. Neither the women nor the sudras had any right to property.
Most important change was the evolution of caste system. Various sub castes evolved in addition to the traditional four-castes. The Brahmanas and Kshatriyas emerged as the two leading castes out of the general mass of population, known as vaisyas. The vaisyas were superior to the sudras but their position was steadily deteriorating. The Aitaraya Brahmana clearly indicates the absolute dependence of vaisyas on the two higher classes. The Sudras were held in great contempt.
The Brahmanas of the later Vedic age were the intellectual and priestly class. The Brahmanas retained a high standard of excellence and knew the details of the rituals. The kshatriyas were the fighting class in the society. War, conquest, administration of the kingdom was the principal duties of this class. By their superior learning some kshatriyas raised themselves to the status of a Brahmana. They composed hymns and performed sacrifices and also challenged the supremacy of Brahmanas.
Two Kshatriya kings Janak and Viswamitra attained the status of Rishi. For a long time the kshatriyas resisted the supremacy of the Brahmanas and claimed that the priest was only a follower of the king. Vaisyas were engaged in trade, industry and agriculture, and animal husbandry. They are debarred from the privileges which were enjoyed by the Brahmanas and kshatriyas. However the richer people among the vaisyas known as Sresthin were highly honored in the royal court.
The condition of the Sudras was very miserable. They had to serve the other three castes. They were untouchables. They had no right to approach the sacred fire, i.e., perform sacrifice, or to read the sacred texts. They were further denied the rite of burning the dead body. The structure of the caste system became hereditary.
The women lost their high position which they had in the Rig Vedic Age. They were deprived of their right to the Upanayana ceremony and all their sacraments, excluding marriage, were performed without recitation of Vedic mantras. Polygamy prevailed in the society. Many of the religious ceremonies, formerly practiced by the wife, were now performed by the priests. She was not allowed to attend the political assemblies. Birth of a daughter became undesirable—for she was regarded as a source of misery. The custom of child marriage and dowry crept in. The women lost their honored position in the society.
Like political and social conditions, the economic condition of the Aryans of the later Vedic period also underwent significant changes. Due to the emergence of caste system various occupations also appeared.
The Aryans of the later Vedic period lived in the villages. In the villages small peasant owners of land were replaced by big landlords who secured possession of entire villages. Agriculture was the principal occupation of the people. Improved method of tilling the land by deep ploughing, manuring and sowing with better seeds were known to the Aryans. More lands were brought under cultivation.
The cultivator yielded two harvests a year. Varieties of crops like rice, barley, wheat, maize and oil seeds were raised. But the cultivator was not free from trouble. Dangers of insects and damage of crops through hail-storm very badly affected the land of kurus and compelled many people to migrate.
With the growth of civilization, the volume of trade and commerce had increased by leaps and bounds. Both inland and overseas trades were developed. Inland trade was carried on with the Kiratas inhabiting the mountains. They exchanged the herbs for clothes, nattresses and skins. The people became familiar with the navigation of the seas. Regular coinage was not started.
The coins which were in circulation were “Nishka”, “Satamana” and “Krishnala”. The unit value of goods was a gold bar called “nishka” weighing three hundred and twenty ratis, which was also the weight of a satamana. A ‘Krishnala’ weighed one rati, i.e. 1.8 grams. There was a class of merchants called ‘Pani’ who controlled the trade. References to “ganas” or corporations and the “sreshthins” clearly speak of the formation of guilds or corporations for facilitating trade and commerce. Usuary and money lending was also practiced in this period.
The emergence of caste system brought varieties of means of livelihood. There are references about money lenders, chariot makers, dyers, weavers, barbers, goldsmiths, iron smiths, washer men, bow makers, carpenters, musicians etc. The art of writing probably developed in this period. The use of silver was increased and ornaments were made out of it.
Religious and cultural life
During the later Vedic period the religious spirit underwent a great change. Religion was overshadowed with rites and rituals. New gods and goddesses emerged during this period.
The Rig Vedic gods, Varun, Indra, Agni, Surya, Usha etc. lost their charm. The people worshipped them with less zeal. New gods like Siva, Rupa, Vishnu, Brahma etc. appeared in the religious firmament of the Later Vedic Period. The grandeur of the Rigvedic gods passed into oblivion, though we find in Atharvaveda the omniscience of Varuna or the beneficence of the Earth goddess.
Certain less important duties of the Rigvedic Period now became popular with the Common People. One of them was Rudra who already bore the epithet of Siva. Very soon Rudra came to be worshipped as ‘Mahadeva’ (great god) and the lord of animate beings (Pasupati).
Vishnu, the preserver rose into Prominence during this period. He occupied the place of Varuna, as the most sublime among the celestials. To attain his “Paramapada” (highest step) became the goal of the rishis. The worship of vasudeva was also started. He was regarded as Krishna Vasudev, the incarnation of Vishnu. Semi divinities like Apsara, Nagas, Gandharbas, Vidyadharas etc. also came into being. This age also witnessed the beginning of the worship of Durga and Ganesh.
During this period the rites and ceremonies of Vedic religion were elaborated and became complex. In the Rig Vedic age Yanjas were a simple affair which every householder could do. But in the later Vedic age sacrifice became an important thing in worship. Now the priestly class devoted their energy to find out the hidden and mystic meaning of the rites and ceremonies.
People had a firm belief that gods must submit to the sacrifice if properly performed. Vedic hymns were regarded as charms to be used in sacrifice. The belief that gods were satisfied by Yanjas led to a rise in the number, variety of sacrifices which were prescribed for every householder. In fact every Aryan performed a number of sacrifices under the supervision of the Brahmana priest.
The Later Vedic Period prescribed a code of righteous conduct. The Brahmins had spread the belief that, “man is born with certain rinas or debts” which he must repay in his life. He has to repay the debts to his gods, to the rishis, to the munis, to men, to the ancestors and to the lower creatures. And he redeem himself from these debts, if he worships the gods and performs Yajnas study Vedas, performs funeral ceremonies and Sraddha, etc. One should perform all these duties with selflessness. The first requisite of a good life were prayers and good works. One should restrain himself from the sins like theft, adultery, and murder.
The Later Vedic age witnessed the emergence of a new intellectual thought. The people thought deeply about the problems of creation, life and death and arrived at the conclusion that there is one ‘Brahma’ (one Unchanging Principle) beyond the universe—the creator and controller of the whole order.
It is the universal soul or the Absolute “that dwelleth in everything that guideth all beings within, the Inward guide, Immortal.” After the death of a person his soul passes into another body and again into another and this process continues till it can be liberated from all its imperfections and merged in the Universal Soul. This is the doctrine of transmigration of souls.
The Aryans had also faith in the doctrine of Karma. It lays down that all actions, good or bad, reap their proper fruits. Souls have to be born again and again and bear the fruits of the actions (Karma) of their previous lives. There is also doctrine of ‘Moksha’. It is a state of birth-lessness and deathlessness at a point when a soul is liberated from the cycle of births and deaths and mingled into the universal soul.” It was essential for a man to attain moksha. All these are embodied in the Upanishad which were composed in the Later Vedic Period.
The later Vedic Aryans developed the concept of ascetic ideal of life as the rites and ceremonies were not the only means of attaining success in this world or bliss in heaven. So there developed the ideas of Tapas and Brahmacharya (celibacy) leading to the same or even more important results. Tapa means meditation, accompanying by physical tortures.
An ascetic person renounced the worldly life and retired to the solitude and exercised all the ascetic practices with the belief that they would not only obtain heaven, but also develop, “mystic, extra-ordinary and superhuman faculties.” This asceticism was widely practiced in the Epic age.
The Aryans of Vedic age had reached the highest stage of civilization. This age had excelled in every walks of life. All the valuable things in man’s life—philosophy, religion, science and code of conduct were all developed in the Vedic age. In fact Aryans served as the torch-bearers of Indian civilization throughout the ages.
Age of Epic and Dharma Shastras
Although, the theoretical text of Arthasastra initiated inductive reasoning and a greater realism into political thought, the Dharma Sastras are basically deductive in nature. The shastras in Sanskrit Hindu literature are the texts of spiritual and legal duty. Shastra factually means “rule, command, code of laws, science,” and these works focus on many different subjects, including the three principal goals for human beings: dharma (law), artha (wealth, profit, business, or property), and kama (passion, desire, pleasure). The Dharmashastra is related to dharma. It is a concept that integrates the nature of the world, eternal or cosmic law, and social law, applied to rituals and life-cycle rites, procedures for resolving disputes, and penalties for defilements of these rules.
Dharmasastra is a genus of Sanskrit texts, and refers to the treatises (shastras) of Hinduism on Dharma. The Dharmashastras are the ancient law books of Hindus, which advocate moral laws and principles for devout duty and righteous conduct for the followers of the faith. They also shaped the guidelines for their social and religious code of conduct Hindus in the past where Hindu monarchs enforced the laws as part of their religious duty. However, looking to the heterogeneity and complex nature of Indian society from the earlier times, it is difficult to state how seriously these laws were imposed by the ruling classes among all sections of society. However, the Dharmashastras highlighted upon the social and religious conditions of ancient India, family life, gender and caste based distinctions, and principles of ancient jurisprudence. It can be find in them rudiments of many principles and practices of social and religious aspects of modern Hindu civilisation.
Origin of Dharma Sutras: A Sutra is a style of writing treatise by utilizing the fewest possible words to ensure brevity and easy memorization. The Dharma Sutras along with Srauta Sutras and Grihya Sutras comprises the Kalpa, one among the six Vedangas, the auxiliary of the Vedas.
– The Srauta Sutras deal with the great Vedic sacrifices of Havis (oblation) and Soma and other religious matters.
– The Grihya Sutra deal with domestic ritual. They contain minute rules for the performance of various ceremonies (samskaras) marking every important epoch of an individual’s life from conception to cremation.
– The Dharma Sutras deal with social usage and customs of everyday life. In them we see the beginning of civil and criminal law. The important Dharma Sutras are the Gautama Sutra, Baudhayana Sutra and Apastamba Sutra to name a few.
Historical review: The shastras, including the Dharmashastra, are categorized as smriti, a word indicating “what is remembered,” as distinct from the Vedas and the Upanishads which are shruti, “what is heard.” The Vedas and the Upanishads are deliberated to be divinely perceived that is, the early seers were held to have perceived eternal truths and the Dharmashastra, as well as other smriti texts, are the thoughts and explanations of Hindu scholars in response to the shruti books. Chronologically, the sutras of the Dharmahshastra follow sometime after the Vedic period, but these works have been extremely difficult to date. Most researchers agree that the first three sutras from which selections are included in this volume, Gautama, Apastamba, and Vasishtha, fall sometime between the 6th century B.C. and the 1st century B.C. From the time of their composition, the works of the Dharmashastra had vital role in influencing Hindu culture and law. In fact, the shastras were still being cited in cases of legal contracts as late as the mid-19th century in some regions of India.
The Dharma-shastras asserted to be divine in origin and to have been transmitted by ancient saints who cannot be recognized as historical figures. Manu is found as early as the Rg Veda (c, 1200 BCE), where he is pronounced as Father Manu, ancestor of the human race. In the Satapatha Brahmana of around 900 BCE, Manu is evidently the father of mankind when he follows the advice of a fish and builds a ship in which he alone among men survives the great flood. Afterwards, he worships and performs penance and a woman, Ida or Ila, is produced and he starts mankind with her. Manu was also the first king and the first to spark the sacrificial fire. As the inventor of social and moral order, he is the rishi who discloses the most authoritative of the Dharma-shastras. Manu’s text, the Manusmrti or Manava Dharma-shastra is the earliest of the Dharma-shastras. Its date is unclear, being somewhere between 200BCE and 100 CE. It probably reached its present form around the second century CE. In the section of the text on rajadharma, the king’s dharma, there are passages on Hindu law. It was these passages which were first noted by Western scholars and so the text became known as the Laws of Manu.
The Manusmrti gives importance to the ruling groups of invading peoples such as the Sakas, Pahlavas, and the Greeks, who were called the Yavanas. In this, the Manusmrti was cooperative with the new social realities to the theoretical pattern. Yavanas, Sakas, Pahlavas and other foreign trespassers are described by Manu as lapsed ksatriyas, of the warrior class. These warriors had lost their status for not following dharma, but by performing appropriate expiatory sacrifices and acknowledging the brahmans as religious leaders they could come into the fold of the orthodox community. During fourth century CE, the writing of mature Dharma-shastras was fully thriving. In this period, the rules of caste were being systematically enforced by brahmanical dynasties for the first time after centuries of foreign rule.
There were other aspects of Manu’s text which brought theory with actual practice and social reality. In his theory of mixed castes, he developed a system of combination between the four classes (varnas), producing the many castes (jati). Already occupational groups or guilds had set up closed patterns of endogamy characteristic of a jati, so Manu was fitting his theory to the facts.
It is debated whether the Dharma-shastras highlighted an ideal picture that did not correspond to real life. However, the Dharma-shastras, though stylised and systematised, were collections of existing customs and practices that provided the overall theoretical framework for everyone to practise their traditionally recognised ways of life.
In the period of first centuries A.D. the text Dharma Sutra texts were reworked in verse form, and the social and religious regulations of the orthodox brahman culture were systematized. These codes are accepted as authentic guides to law, custom, and duty. Since many centuries, they attained a stature comparable to that of the Vedic hymns, although it is not possible to assess whether any of the law codes were purposely employed as guidelines supported by coercive sanctions. In the beginning of sixteenth century, there were several streams of religio-cultural creativity among Bengali Hindus. One of these was Raghunandan Siromani in the field of Dharma-shastra. He may have been a contemporary of Caitanya in Mayapur.
Dharma in Hinduism is a very extravagant concept with different meanings. Its primary aim is to guarantee the orderly development of creation and existence, by preserving their foundational structure, supporting mechanism, values, order and regularity. Hinduism described as one of the self-appointed duties of God is to shield the worlds and beings by enforcing the Dharma that is specific to each of them. The rules of Dharma are world-wide in the sense that their primary source is God only. However, variations rise in their implementations as they are applied at different levels and in different worlds according to the duties, roles and responsibilities suggested to each of them.
Dharma is everlasting, but its enforcement and observance are subject to variations according to the progression of time. Hence, they are subject to change. They are also applicable to beings who are bound to either duty or mortality, but not to those who are liberated forever. In the liberated state, the souls (muktas) enjoy eternal power in the world of Brahman, where there are no limits and no laws, but only all-knowing awareness, and vast existence that is not subject to any laws or limitations. In that eternal and infinite state, each soul governs itself, exists by itself, bound to nothing, complete, perfect and very much like God in a state of unity.
The Dharma Shastras were predestined for people who are assured to the worldly world, because of their ignorance, immoral karma, delusion and desires, and who engage in desire-ridden actions. For such people, guidance is required for differentiating the legal act from the unlawful, and performing such duties that flow directly from God which will ensure the orderly development of the world and preservation of the moral, social and political order.
The Dharmashastras are not products of divine revelations like the Vedas. Therefore, they are susceptible to the imperfections to which the human mind is prone. Yet, we cannot cast them away as mere intellectual works of limited vision. They were shaped with care to provide guidance from a divine perspective. In them, people will find a sincere attempt to provide practical solutions to possible social disorder, disarrangement, and moral confusion. In them people will find divine wisdom as purified by the human mind and filtered by perceptive intelligence. Hence, they are considered smriti rather than sruti. They signify the collective wisdom of spiritual teachers, scholars, rulers, and law makers who were instrumental in their creation and implementation. The law books prescribed best possible solutions to each class of beings to chase the four principles of dharma, artha, kama and Moksha, but in doing so they were not completely free from the caste predilections that favoured a few social classes. They deceive a veiled attempt by clever minds to ensure status quo and preserve the social, economic and political privileges of select castes.
With the use of authority of God and religion, the Dharma Shastras attempted to ensure the order and regularity of the world on an ongoing basis, but in that they were not completely successful as it is evident from the decline of their jurisdictional power following the decline of the power of Hindu rulers in the Indian subcontinent. Nonetheless, on the positive side, they created a framework to imagine ideal human conduct and standards to distinguish the right from the wrong. They laid down elaborate rules to oversee human conduct and instil fear of moral and temporal power.
Some of the laws and principles of unfairness prescribed in the Dharma Sutras are bound to offend the sensibilities of present day educated Hindus, who have been heavily influenced by modern western education and brought up upon the values of equality, fraternity, individual liberty and social and moral justice. Many verses in them stand in contrast to these modern values and sound retrogressive. Therefore, when people study them, suspend their judgment and weigh the knowledge from an academic or historical standpoint as a work in progress. It is reckless to use them as a reference to rationalise any social or gender inequality in current society or make an argument that people must draw inspiration from them to regulate their social conduct. People may take from them a few principles that are still valid in the present day world and observe them in their life, but they may not use it as a reasonable point to argue their universal version.
The Gautama Dharmasutra, most ancient the texts of the Dharmashastra, possibly composed sometime between 600 and 400 B.C.. It was concerned with the sources of dharma, standards for both students and the uninitiated, the four stages of life, dietary rules, penance, rules concerning impurity, and many other regulations and rituals for Hindu life.
The Dharmasutra of Apastamba was possibly composed between 450 and 350 B.C. It is an extensive work with many aphoristic verses and meticulously detailed rituals for daily life. Some of the noticeable subject matter includes rules about marriage and married life, forbidden foods and dietary regulations, ritual purity, property laws, rebirth, and various penances. This sutra details various methods of self-destruction that will exculpate violators of certain Hindu laws fornication with the wife of a religious teacher, drinking alcohol, theft, or murder of a high-caste man and relieve them of their impurity. It also includes contrary rules, including a ban of self-killing.
The Vasishtha Dharmasutra was possibly written between 300 and 100 B.C. This sutra is famous for its sections on adoption, but it also concerns justice, legal testimony, inheritance, interest rates, and other matters of social law. Several issues surrounding suicide are raised in the text, including penances for those who contemplate suicide or fail in an attempt at self-killing; these are unpermitted suicides. As in the Apastamba sutra, which it echoes, suicide can also be an act of expiation for unlawful behaviour, restoring one to purity after death.
The Manu-Smrti is the ancient and most prominent of the Dharma Sastras. The Laws of Manu are perhaps the most famous part of the Dharmashastra. It was written in the later part of the Epic Period and often given separate recognition because of their unique metrical style. The Laws of Manu communicated extensive regulations for many aspects of Hindu life, including rules governing religious offerings, purifications, rites, and many other religious and social practices. This code, like Hindu thought generally, differentiates between unpermitted and permitted suicides. In Book V, suicides are grouped with heretics, those who fail to perform the appropriate religious rites, and those of mixed caste: libations may not be offered to them. In Book VI, the code compares the person who is alive to a servant awaiting payment from his master, explaining that one should neither “desire to die” nor “desire to live.” In many of their other passages, however, the Laws of Manu emphasize the value of leaving the body and becoming free of its pains and torment, as well as achieving full liberation from worldliness and desire. Books VI and XI indicated the means by which the Brahmana or renouncer should separate himself from his body. Based on the teaching of the four stages of life, developed in the text in detail, the Laws of Manu hold that, after one has become old and passed through the three previous stages of life celibate religious discipleship, married householder status, and, after one’s grandchildren are born, retirement to the forest. One should simply walk in a northeasterly direction in this version, without food or water until one dies. It is in this stage that one becomes a sanyasin, attaining the highest level of spirituality. This expedition that ends in death is often called “the Great Departure.”
As a broad social code, Manu Smrti served as an authoritative conductor for Hindu jurisprudence for a long time in Indian social history. In terms of authority and admiration, it has important place next only to the Vedas from which it derives its authority. It is usually considered as the most influential work on Hindu law. To elaborate sacred law, the treatise includes, in addition to the sacred tradition, individual conscience and the example of virtuous men. Allowance must be made for local custom, and past usage must be considered in the settling of legal clashes. The king is assumed to be divinely created and ordained to shield the people from a cruel state of nature, but the absolutism of the European divine right argument is not found in the conception. The king embodies the virtues of eight deities; his authority is derived from the divine nature of his office and the significance of his crucial role in the preservation of the social order, as well as from the supernatural origin of his person. It is said that such descriptions of monarchy as found in the Manu-Smrti and the Mahabharata are attuned only with hereditary kingship. Caste distinctions are also made the product of divine decree as well as the result of social necessity. Brahman dominance is described and justified in the most exaggerated terms. In the Manu-Smrti and most of the law books, punishment increased in severity as social status weakened.
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