Early Veda and Vedic Society


1.      Formative period of Religions and Societies: 2500 BCE – 800 BCE

2.      Origins of Hinduism in two ancient cultural complexes:

a.       Indus valley civilization (c.2500 BCE to 1500 BCE)

b.      Aryan culture (developed during 2nd millenium BCE)

c.       Rigveda first written down (1200 BCE)


3.      The Indus valley civilization: a developed urban culture, origins back to 7000 BCE

a.       Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, 40 miles apart

b.      High standard of living: urban planning; water technology (drainage, rubbish chutes, wells)

c.       Agrarian (rich aluvial soil): grain as basis of economy.  Large store-houses;

d.      Trade w/Middle East, Gujarat

e.       Little known about polity or religion: the “facelesss civilization”

f.       Language: Ancestor of present Dvaridian languages?

4.      The Aryans: arya means “noble” or “honorable”

a.       Indo-European speaking > Vedic Sanskrit > Classical Sanskrit

b.      Nomadic, superior war technology (metalurgy, chariots, horses)

2.      Vedic Society

a.       The Purusa Sukta and the four classes (Embree p. 17)

b.      The twice-born castes (upper three) access to the vedic tradition; subjugatin of dasas

c.       Hierarchical organization based partly on purity

3.      Vedic Religion

a.       Devas: Many supernatural beings – some more important than others; some related to natural phenomena, others not.

b.      Agni: pervades world as heat, identified with sacred cow, the sun, dawn, fire hidden in the stomach. Particularly the sacrificial fire.  Transports dead to realm of yama; transports and purifies all offerings to realm of the gods.

c.       Soma: link between human and divine, brings ecstasy and understanding of the divine realms.  Identified with Agni and with the moon, which contains ambrosia of immortality (amrita)

a.       Indra: empowered by soma, destroys obstacles with thunderbolt. Destruction of the snake Vritra

4.      Vedic Sacrifice

a.       Acts and worship in the sacrifice have hidden ties with cosmic realities.  

b.      The priest, by manipulating these tokens, can bring about desired effects in the outer world.  Priest knows  secret correspondences between symbols in ritual and cosmic powers to which they refer.

c.       Decreasing emphasis on the gods and increasing emphasis on efficacy of the ritual itself




Indus Valley Civilization



Purusha Sukta







Brahmans (Brahmins)