The Aryans and
the Vedic Age
Decline of the Indus River Valley
– Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were the largest
– Civilizations participated in long-distance
– Possible causes:
• Monsoons destroyed irrigation and farming
• Invasions
• Long distance trade collapsed
• Root of the word is arya meaning “noble”
or “pure”
• Spoke an early form of Sanskrit
– This Indo-European language is closely
related to Persian, Latin, Greek and modern
Romance languages
– Nazis glorified Aryans as a superior race because
they were credited with this important language
• Where did they come from?
– Most scholars argue that the Aryans
descended upon North India through the
Hindu Kush around 1500 BC
– Some scholars now think that they arrived
much earlier, and perhaps descended from
the Harappan
Aryans and Vedas
• Vedas
– A collection, in multiple volumes, of hymns,
rituals, and philosophies
– The vedas include stories that attempt to
explain how the world was created, who the
gods are, etc.
– Thought to be the earliest written texts
Aryans and Vedas
• Rig Veda
– The earliest Veda
– Originally was recited orally and passed down
generation to generation
– Children began learning the Rig Veda at an
early age, would learn to chant each syllable
in perfect order
Aryans and Vedas
• Portrays Aryans as fierce warriors with
military skill
• Aryans did not spread through India
quickly, did not carry out well organized
military campaigns
• Aryans were a collection of tribes who
gradually, over generations of warring with
each other came to power in North India
Aryans and Social Order
• Each tribe was headed by a raja, or chief
• Priests were next in importance
– They learned complicated rituals
– Rituals typically focused on honoring or
appeasing the gods
Aryans and Social Order
• Warrior class
• Farmers
• Non-Aryans made up the lowest class
– They were not slaves
– They were only allowed to perform the most
menial tasks
Early Indian Society
• 1000-500 BC
• Tribal rajas were no longer necessary
because tribal life was in decline
• Kings controlled large pieces of territory
• The Aryan-influenced areas extended all
the way to the Ganges River
Caste System
• The system of dividing society into
hereditary groups that limited interaction
with each other, especially marriage
between castes
• The hierarchical strata into which Indian
society was divided is called varna
Caste System
Brahmans (priests)
Kshatriya (warriors and officials)
Vaishya (merchants and artisans)
Shudra (peasants and laborers)
Dalit, or untouchables – outside the caste
Caste System
• Brahman
– Aryan priests who supported the growth of
royal power
– The only caste that was permitted to perform
important, sacred, daily religious rituals
Caste System
• Untouchables
– Were not permitted to participate in or be near
religious rituals
– It is believed that people ended up in this
caste as a result of bad karma that
accumulated in previous lifetimes
– Perform(ed) the most menial jobs

The Aryans and the Vedic Age