The Aryans and
the Vedic Age
Decline of the Indus River Valley
civilizations
– Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were the largest
cities
– Civilizations participated in long-distance
trade
– Possible causes:
• Monsoons destroyed irrigation and farming
prospects
• Invasions
• Long distance trade collapsed
Aryans
• 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
development
Aryans
• 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
system
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
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The Aryans and the Vedic Age