(Sample Material) UPSC IAS Mains History (Optional) Study Kit "The Vedic Culture"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains History Study Kit

Subject: History (Optional)

Topic: The Vedic Culture

The cities of the Harappan Culture had declined by 1500 B.C. Consequently, their economic and administrative system had slowly declined. Around this period, the speakers of Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit, entered the north-west India from the Indo-Iranian region.

Rivers Mentioned in Rig Veda

Initially they would have come in small numbers through the passes in the northwestern mountains. Their initial settlements were in the valleys of the north-west and the plains of the Punjab. Later, they moved into Indo-Gangetic plains. As they were mainly a cattlekeeping people, they were mainly in search of pastures. By 6th century B.C., they occupied the whole of North India, which was referred to as Aryavarta. This period between 1500 B.C and 600 B.C may be divided into the Early Vedic Period or Rig Vedic Period (1500 B.C -1000 B.C) and the Later Vedic Period (1000B.C -600 B.C).

Original Home of the Aryans

The original home of the Aryans is a debatable question and there are several views. Different scholars have identified different regions as the original home of the Aryans. They include the Arctic region, Germany, Central Asia and southern Russia. Bala Gangadhara Tilak argues that the Aryans came from the Arctic region on astronomical calculations. However, the theory of southern Russia appears to be more probable and widely accepted by historians. From there, the Aryans moved to different parts of Asia and Europe. They entered India in about 1500 B.C. and came to be known as Indo-Aryans. They spoke the Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit.

Vedic Literature

The word ‘Veda’ is derived from the root ‘vid’, which means to know. In other words, the term ‘Veda’ signifies ‘superior knowledge’. The Vedic literature consists of the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The Rig Veda is the earliest of the four Vedas and it consists of 1028 hymns. The hymns were sung in praise of various gods. The Yajur Veda consists of various details of rules to be observed at the time of sacrifice. The Sama Veda is set to tune for the purpose of chanting during sacrifice. It is called the book of chants and the origins of Indian music are traced in it. The Atharva Veda contains details of rituals.
Besides the Vedas, there are other sacred works like the Brahmanas, the Upanishads, the Aranyakas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Brahmanas are the treatises relating to prayer and sacrificial ceremony. The Upanishads are philosophical texts dealing with topic like the soul, the absolute, the origin of the world and the mysteries of nature. The Aranyakas are called forest books and they deal with mysticism, rites, rituals and sacrifices. The author of Ramayana was Valmiki and that of Mahabharata was Vedavyas.

Rig Veda

• It is divided into 10 Books or Mandalas. Books II to VII are considered the oldest. Book I, VIII and X seem to be later additions.
• A collection of 1028 hymns of a number of priestly families.
• Written between 1700-1500 B.C. when Aryans were still in Punjab.
• Books II to VII are earliest and are also called as family books. They are attributed to Gritsamada, Visvamitra, Vasudeva. Am. Bhardwaj, Vashishtha. Kanva and Angiras.
• The IX Mandala is dedicated exclusively to Soma
• The X Mandala contains the famous Purushsukta hymn that explains the origin of four Varnas.

Yajur Veda

• A ritualistic Veda.
• It is divided into Shukla Yajurveda and Krishna Yajurveda.
• Atharvaveda mentions beliefs and practices of non-Aryans.
• In Atharvaveda, Sabha and Samiti are described as uterine sisters – the two daughters of Prajapati.
• Written in prose, it deals with procedure for performance of sacrifices and contains rituals as well as hymns.

Sama Veda

• Sam Veda derives its roots from Saman. which means a melody.
• A collection of melodies.
• A collection of 1603 hymns. Except 99, all others were derived from Rig Veda.

Atharva Veda

• A collection of 711 hymns, it is divided into 20 Kandas.
• It is the latest Veda.
• Atharva Veda is a book of magical formula.
• It contains charms and spells to ward-off evil and disease.
• Its content throws light on the practices of non-Aryans.

Chief Priests

The chief priests who were engaged in performing the sacrifices were –

a. Hotri - the Invoker, he recited hymns from Rigveda.
b. Adhvaryu - the executor, he rected hymns from Yajurvada.
c. Udgatri - the singer, he recited hymns from Samveda.
d. Brahman - Atharvveda

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Although the hymns are attributed to rishis, pious Hindus have always laid stress upon their divine origin. Thus, the Vedas are called apaurusheya (not created by man) and nitya (existing in all eternity) while the rishis are known as inspired seers who received the mantras from the Supreme deity.

The Upanishads

The word Upanishad means, ‘be seated at feet of Guru to receive teaching.’ Upanishads constitute Vedanta (Vedaanta), end of Vedas. Upanishads represent spiritual teachings and investigations which are a common reference point for all subsequent Indian philosophy. Upanishadic tradition has its roots in mystical experience but it seeks rational and intelligible expression and invites testing of its conclusions. The term Upanishada indicates knowledge acquired by sitting close to the teacher. They consisted of discussions on several problems such as the creation of the universe, the nature of God. the origin of mankind etc. They are anti-ritualistic and define the doctrine of Karma (Action), Atman (Soul) and Gad (Brahma). They are spiritual and philosophical in nature.They are called the Vedanta or the end of Vedas. They advocate J nana Marga and are anti-ritualistic in nature.
There are 108 Upanishads. Generally, the period from 800 to 500 BC is known as the period of Upanishads. The Aitareya and Kaushitaki Upanishads belong to Rig Veda. Chhandogya and Kena Upanishad belong to Sama Veda. Taittiriya, Katha and Svetasvatara Upanishad belong to the Krishna Yajur Veda. Brihadaranyaka and Isa belong to the Shukla Yajur Veda. Prasna, Mundaka and Mundukya belong to the Atharva Veda.


• There were some sages dwelling in the forests who explained the Vedic scriptures to their pupils in the form of Aranyakas (Aranyaka means belonging to the forest) and they came to be known as “forest texts”.
• They explain metaphysics and symbolism of sacrifice.
• They are the forest books and were taught in the forests due to their magical powers.
• They form the concluding part of Brahmanas.


The Brahmanas are the prose commentaries on various Vedic hymns. They explain the Vedas in an orthodox way. They explain the hidden meaning behind the hymns They are ritualistic by nature They are expressive of the cause hetu). etymology (nirvachana), censure ninda). dount (samshaya) and injunction (vidhi).


In order to understand the Vedic Literature, it was necessary to learn-Vedangas or the limbs of Vedas. These are treatises on science and arts. They are
a. Shiksha (Phonetics)
b. Kalpa (Ritual)
c. Vyakarana (Grammar)
d. Chhand (Metrics)
e. Nirukta (Etymology)
f. Jyotisha (Astronomy)

  • Yaska’s Nirukta (5th century BC) is the oldest Indian linguistic text.
  • Panini wrote Ashtadhyayi (4th Century BC) on Vyakaran,


Mahabharata is older compared to Ramayana and possibly reflects the state of affairs from 10th Century BC to 4th Century A.D. Originally Mahabharata consisted of 8800 verses and was called Jayasamhita’. These were raised to 24000 and came to be known as Bharata. The final compilation brought the number of verses to 100,000 and came to be known as Mahabharata. The Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses which were raised to 12000 and finally to 24.000. Composition of Ramayana started in 5th century BC. It passed through several stages and attained its present form as late as 12th century AD.


The strikingly varied nature of the contents of Puranas seems to be the result of diverse materials: tales, anecdotes, songs and ballads, traditional lore etc. These include mythology, cosmogony, various legends, genealogical accounts, folk beliefs, law codes and miscellaneous topics. The Puranic literature is thus a unique outcome of the ever-continuing synthesis of various socio-economic formations operative between the 5th century BC and the 12th century AD. Every addition in the Puranic literature brought in its train numerous new deities with images and temples, pilgrimages and vows, sects etc. The change in the mode of worship (from sacrifice to worship of idols), visual appeal of the denies as against the worship of ideas, the fact of idol worship being more satisfying than yajna or sacrifice, revulsion to the violence and bloodshed involved in animal sacrifices-all these explain the socio-religious- economic transformations taking place in the Aryan society.


These are the treatises dealing with Vedic rituals on one hand, and with customary law on the other They are written in a laboriously compressed style, sometimes approaching the structure of algebraic formulas, unintelligible without the help of authoritative commentaries.
With a view to conveying to the future generations the ancient and contemporary literature, the Aryan sages invented a special concise method called the Sutra style. Thus the massive Vedic texts were condensed into short, terse formulae, which could be easily remembered and transmitted orally - from father to son or from Guru to Shisya. Most of the Vedic literature was handed down orally in this manner.

The Sutra literature is divided into three classes: (a) Srauta Sutras -dealing with large public sacrifices. (b) Griha Sutras: dealing with rituals connected with birth, naming, marriage etc. (c) Dharma Sutras - explain social and local customs. which later on became the basis of Manu Smriti.

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