Features of the Vedic Society

Features of the Vedic Society:

Early Phase–

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.

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.

There was no caste division.

Occupation was not based on birth.

Varna or colour was the basis of initial differentiation between the Vedic and non-Vedic people.

Thus the Rigveda mentions arya varna and dasa varna.

Later, dasa came to mean a slave.

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.

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.


Later Phase–

The family remains the basic unit of the Vedic society.

The later Vedic family became large enough to be called a joint-family with three or four generations living together.

The rows of hearths discovered at Atranjikhera and at Ahichchhtra (both in western Uttar Pradesh) show that these were meant for communal feeding or for cooking the food of large families.

The institution of gotra developed in this period.

This means that people having common gotra descended from a common ancestor and no marriage between the members of the same gotra could take place.

Monogamous marriages were preferred even though polygamy was frequent.

Some restrictions on women appeared during this period.

Women had to stay with her husband at his place after marriage.

The participation of women in public meetings was restricted.

The four varnas in which society came to be divided were the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras.

The growing number of sacrifices and rituals during the period made the brahmanas very powerful.

The kshatriyas, next in the social hierarchy, were the rulers.  They along with brahmanas controlled all aspects of life.

The vaishyas were engaged in agriculture as well as in trade and artisanal activities. The brahmanas and the kshatriyas were dependent on the tributes (gifts and taxes) paid to them by the vaishyas.

The shudras, the fourth varna were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They were ordained to be in the service of the three upper varnas. They were not entitled to the ritual of upanayana samskara (investiture with sacred thread necessary to acquire education).

The other three varnas were entitled to such a ceremony and hence they were known as dvijas.

This can be construed as the beginning of the imposition of disabilities on the shudras as well as the beginning of the concept of ritual pollution.

Another important institution that began to take shape was ashrama or different stages of life.

Brahmacharya (student life), grihastha (householder), and vanaprastha (hermitage) stages are mentioned in the texts.

Later, sanyasa, the fourth stage also came to be added. Together with varna, it came to be known as varna-ashrama dharma.