Early Vedic Period And Later Vedic Period
What is the difference between early vedic period and later vedic period?
The early Vedic period is marked by the infiltration of Aryan peoples into the Indian sub-continent and their interaction with the Dravidian people. Aryans spread into the Ganges River valley about 1000 B.C.E. About that time, they developed the use of iron tools and weapons. They used iron axes to clear forests for agriculture; and as their agricultural practices flourished, their population grew immensely. As their populations grew, their political structure evolved also. The local chiefdoms became kingdoms ruled by kings in permanent cities. These kings depended on the services of professional administrators to handle the day to day tasks of governance. Still, they did not establish large states. Only in the 4th century B.C.E. did any Aryan state equal the size of Harappan society.
During the early Vedic age, the Aryans placed substantial reliance on sacrifice of animals to their gods. It was believed that during sacrifice, the gods visited earth, and joined worshipers in eating and drinking. Since the presence of the gods was deemed beneficial, sacrifice became almost non-stop. A proper household would have the Brahmins offer sacrifices not less than five times per day; a process that was expensive and time consuming.
In time, the practice grew old and the people disenchanted. A number of people began retreating to the woodlands to live as hermits and contemplate the relationship between people, the world, and the gods. A number of them were inspired by Dravidian practice. The Dravidians had worshiped spirits associated with fertility and the generation of new life. They had also believed that human souls took on a new physical form after death, either as another human, or even as a plant or animal.
The combination of Dravidian and Aryan religious ideas culminated in the Upanishads, (literally, "sitting in front of," as a student sits in front of a master to receive instruction,) a group of religious works that appeared over a period of time. The Upanishads taught that individual humans were in fact part of a greater universal soul known as the Brahman. The Brahman was unchanging and universal, whereas human existence was in a constant state of flux. The individual soul lived in a cycle of reincarnation, in which he would die and be reborn as another person, animal, or plant. This reincarnation was known as karma. This cycle was not completely desirable, as it involved a continuation of the suffering and death all humans encountered. The ultimate goal was to break the cycle and enter into a permanent union with Brahman, sort of a "heavenly state."
The teachings of the Upanishads either purposely or inadvertently justified the caste system, as one in a higher caste was believed to have lived a virtuous life in his previous existence, and vice versa. They spoke against gluttony, vice, materialism and failure to consider one’s relationship with Brahman; and also encouraged personal integrity. A healthy respect for all living things, animal and human, was also encouraged. Even though animals represented souls who had suffered from their past life, they should not be caused additional suffering; therefore a vegetarian diet became the norm for all who practiced the religion.
I think that one can point to many fundamental differences between early and later Vedic periods. I would say that one of the most pressing differences is that of class and caste. The earlier Vedic period did not feature much in way of social stratification. The lack of primacy placed on these divisions in early Vedic society is noteworthy, all the divisions in society lived in relative egalitarian status with one another. The emergence of differences in way of social superiority was something that came about in the later Vedic period. Not surprisingly, the later Vedic period featured less collective decision making and less of an emphasis on social inclusion of voice in the political decision making process. In the later Vedic period, the monarch as figurehead and power broker became more evident in the political setting of the time period. The reasons for this are many. Yet, one of these has to be considered the growth of economies of scale in the later Vedic period. Trade and bartering became primary sources of material wealth in the later Vedic period, which translated into the emergence of "higher" and "lower" distinctions in society.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial