Society and Lifestyle
Note: This article is based on the findings and analysis of Mandala VI only, and therefore only partially captures the society and lifestyle mentioned on the Rig Veda.
The early Rig Vedic Arya tribes were predominantly pastoral. The importance of cattle to these people can be gauged from just one hymn, 28, of Mandala VI of the Rig Veda. This is a hymn composed in praise of Cows, in contrast to Vedic Gods.
Verse 1 says:
THE Kine (cattle) have come and brought good fortune: let them rest in the cow-pen and be happy near us.
Here let them stay prolific, many-coloured, and yield through many morns their milk for Indra.
The fortunes of these people have a direct co-relation of their possession of cattle. The cattle were sheltered in separate cow-pens and it was important that were cared for – “happy near us”. Their breeding in prolific numbers would have mattered as well, given that the cattle were the “wealth” of these people. Verse 6 enforces this thought further, “Prosper my house, ye (the cows) with auspicious voices. Your power is glorified in our assemblies”.
Tending well to their cattle is paramount, as suggested by verse 7:
Crop goodly pasturage and be prolific drink pure sweet water at good drinking places.
Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you.
The caretakers, made an effort to provide proper water, and guarded them from thieves and other that could cause them harm.
In Verse 3, it is clear that cattle rearing is their occupation. “The master of the kine (cattle) lives many a year with these (the cows), whereby he pours his gifts (milk and ghee) and serves the Gods (during a sacrifice)”.
In the same verse, their concern over protecting their wealth is conveyed. The Gods are propitiated that “These (the cows) are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them”. And then again, in verse 4, “These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is”.
Below is a re-construction of the various aspects of society such as occupations, culture, food, clothing, housing, science and technology based on relevant material in Mandala VI.
Animal Husbandry, particularly cattle rearing, was without question an important occupation. But what about agriculture? The lack of sufficient mention of words related to agriculture or agriculture produce such as wheat, rice, pulses, etc. is often cited in academic circles as proof of the unimportance of agriculture to the Rig Vedic people.
This may not be the case, for the following reasons. First, the books, as we have seen elsewhere, were written/composed by familiy of seers. So it is their world-view and in their world-view, cattle was wealth, not agriculture produce. Their occupation might have been cattle rearing, not farming. What was not important to them, did not find mention. Second, we know that farming around the early civilizations was well established as early as 6000 BCE. It is unlikely, that the people of the Rig Veda did not cultivate their grains, a “dairy produce” based diet is highly unlikely to have helped them live healthy lives.
Evidence of the importance of fertile land can be found in RV 6.020.01 and RV 6.025.04.
GIVE us wealth, Indra, that with might, as heaven o’ertops the earth, o’ercomes our foes in battle
Wealth that brings thousands and that wins the corn-lands, wealth, Son of Strength! that vanquishes the foeman.
With strength of limb the hero slays the hero, when bright in arms they range them for the combat.
When two opposing hosts contend in battle for seed and offspring, waters, kine, or corn-lands.
RV 6.025.04 is very clear – there were battles for “urvarasu” (fertile land, translated as corn-lands) as much as battles for offspring, water and cattle.
Were the fertile lands that people fought for used for the purpose of farming or pasture lands, there is no clear indication.
Artisans & Craftsmen
We know that the Rig Veda people drove chariots and were aware of travel over waterways by boats.There had to be artisans who manufactured these. There is ample mention of jewelry as well, so there would have been craftsmen to fashion them.
Other skilled labour would include charioteers – although most chariots would have been self driven, there are references where skilled charioteers drew archers
Religious Practices – Prayers to Agni
Prayers to Agni, may have been offered twice a day – at dawn and then dusk. Evidence of this is available in RV 6.005.02.
At eve and morn thy pious servants bring thee their precious gifts, O Priest of many aspects,
On whom, the Purifier, all things living as on firm. ground their happiness have stablished.
RV 6.004 may have been an invocation to Agni at dawn and RV 6.003 in the evening/dusk.
The key verses which indicate that this may be so are reproduced below:
May Agni, radiant Herald of the morning, meet to be known, accept our praise with favour.
Dear to all life, mid mortal men Immortal, our guest, awake at dawn, is Jatavedas.
Bright God, whose look is free from stain like Surya’s, thou, swift, what time thou earnestly desirest,
Hast gear to give us. Come with joy at evening, where, Child of Wood, thou mayest also tarry.
Food, Clothing and Housing
Evidence of their dietary habits and dependence of cattle based food products can be found in verse 6.028.06, “O Cows, ye fatten e’en the worn and wasted, and make the unlovely beautiful to look on”. Good beauty tip there for the ladies, any takers?
We find evidence of weaving, either cotton or wool or both, in verse 6.009.02. The mention of warp and woof clearly establishes this.
I know not either warp or woof, I know not the web they weave when moving to the contest.
Whose son shall here speak words that must be spoken without assistance from the Father near him?
People lived in houses (grha), that much we know, but what were the forms and natures of the houses they lived in, at least these verses do not inform us. The Pusan Hymns, 6.053.02 and 6.054.02 contain the references:
Bring us the wealth that men require, a manly master of a house,
Free-handed with the liberal meed.
May we go forth with Pusan who shall point the houses (grham) out to us,
And say to us, These same are they.
Sports & Entertainment
The first clear evidence of horse racing appears in RV 4.015.06. Whether the races were held for the purpose of entertainment or between tribes with cattle as wager, needs to be determined.
Day after day they dress him, as they clean a horse who wins the prize.
Dress the red Scion of the Sky.
Verse 34 in Mandala II has even a ritual associated with the washing of horses before or after the races – “ukshante”.
They drip like horses in the racings of swift steeds; with the stream’s rapid cars they hasten on their way.
Maruts with helms of gold, ye who make all things shake, con e with your spotted deer, one-minded, to our food.
Science & Technology
From the early Rig Vedic times, we find usage of simple implements such as awls, to more advanced weaving technology using warps and woofs. They undoubtedly build chariots and although there is mention of boats/ships, whether the Vedic people actually manufactured them or were aware of their usage by other non-Arya tribes, still needs further investigation.
For more details on the above and information on their concepts of time, numerical systems, read the article: Vedic – Science & Technology.