Early Veda: Gods, Priests and the Fire Sacrifice


1.      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)


2.      The Indus valley civilization: a developed urban culture, origins back to 5000 BCE and earlier

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?

3.      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 (see Fisher) – found in the earliest Vedic text, the Rigveda

b.      The twice-born castes (upper three) access to the vedic tradition; subjugation of Dravidians into a four caste

                                                   i.      Priests (Brahamanas)

                                                 ii.      Warriors and rules

                                                iii.      Agriculturalists and merchants

                                               iv.      Servants

3.      Vedic Gods (examples):

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)

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

4.      Two Dimensions of Vedic Religon: Sacrificial and Visionary

a.       Sacrificial

                                                   i.      Acts and worship in the sacrifice appease the gods, ensure order in the world

b.      Visionary

                                                   i.      “Seers” (rishis) receive direct vision of the divine, sometimes through the use of Soma



  1. Veda
  2. Aryans
  3. Indus Valley Civilization
  4. Rigveda
  5. Purusha Sukta
  6. The four castes
  7. rishi
  8. Brahmanas