Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/Vedic

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What country did they live in?[edit]

Vedic India

The Vedic people lived in about 3000 BC in what is present day India and Pakistan. The civilization was established from the plains of the Ganges River (India) to the Indus River (India-Pakistan)The people who developed vedic civilization are known as Aryans. The notable contribution of the Aryans can be traced from their litreature, which is well known as vedic litreature. such an ancient and varied litreature is not to be found in any other part of the world. the life of the earliest Aryan is represented in the Rigveda which was composed in 1500 B.C.

What did their buildings look like?[edit]

The early Vedic people led a nomadic lifestyle, meaning that they moved from place to place. Later, as agriculture became more important, they began to settle down. They lived in huts made of straw and later built houses out of wood.The early vedic Aryans lived in the valleys of Sindhu, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Bias, Sutlej and Saraswatirivers in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.

What did they eat?[edit]

Dinner might have been warm tasty wheat bread served with barley or rice. It would appear they were very good farmers. They grew barley, peas, melons, wheat, and dates. Farms raised cotton and kept herds of sheep, pigs, zebus (a kind of cow), and water buffalo. Fish were caught in the river with fish hooks! Each town had a large central storage building for grain. Crops were grown, and the harvest stored centrally, for all in the town to enjoy.

What did they wear?[edit]

At first,in very ancient times clothing was made out of animal skin. Later cotton, silk and other different plant based yarns and gold, silver and copper threads were used.

Clothing generally consisted two pieces of fabric, one wrapped around the upper body, and the other wrapped around the lower body. Men wore different types of pants, Dhotis, loin cloths and different varieties of shirts, scarves and stoles. A wide range of headdress and turbans were used.

File:Sari fabric.jpg
Sari fabric.

Women had a greater choice in clothing. They also wore dhotis and sometimes wore turbans too. When the dhoti was worn, it was also worn with a blouse (choli), and a scarf. Also available to wear was the sari, a length of fabric wrapped around the body with the loose end thrown over the shoulder. Cholis were worn with saris. Finally, gold and other precious stones worn by men and women have been found. There were a wide range of ornaments for both men and women. A wide range of accessories were used by both men and women including handbags and shoulder bags.

The people used to dress according to their age, profession, and social status.

What did their writing look like?[edit]

The Vedic people wrote in Sanskrit. The Rig Ved, the oldest of the four Veds (see below), was composed in what is known as Vedic Sanskrit before writing was introduced to India. Later, writing was introduced, and classical Sanskrit began to emerge.

File:Rigveda MS2097.jpg
The Rig Veda, written in Sanskrit.

The Sanskrit language is one of the world's oldest languages, and is related to many modern-day languages in the Indo-European group of languages. These languages, including English, have words that are related to Sanskrit words. Here are some of these words:

English French German Sanskrit (transliteration) Sanskrit (original)
eight huit acht
father père Vater pitr, pitha िपत
idea idée Ahnung
mother mère Mutter matr, matha मतृ
wind vent Wind

What religious practices did they follow?[edit]

The early Aryans were worshipers of the forces of nature which they considered as their deities. the chief deities were Varun, Agni, Usha and Aditya. the idea of 'Ekam Sat' [god is one and one alone] formed the basis of their religion that God is omnipresent. the universe is emanated from the 'sat'.Worship of God by any name and in any form ultimately reaches the 'Ekam Sat'.Tolerance is deeply rooted in Indian psyche. The Vedic religion was the source of some of the world's oldest religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. The religion was centered around the Brahmins (priests), who made sacrifices to the gods, took care of the religious needs of society and maintained the temples. Priests were given a very important place in society. They were guided by the Vedas, a collection of sacred "revealed" texts containing mantras, hymns, and sections on meditation, mysticism, and philosophy. There are four vedas - Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana.

People worshiped with the help of the Brahmins. They performed sacrifices and chanted verses. They prayed for children (especially male children), cattle, and wealth.

Some rituals and sacrifices included:

  • The drinking of Soma, a drink made by pressing juice from the stalks of a certain mountain plant. The exact plant is unknown.
  • Fire rituals, such as:
    • The Agnihotra, a ritual involving prayer to Agni, the fire god.
    • The Agnicayana, a ritual which takes twelve days to perform, during which a great bird-shaped altar is built out of more than a thousand bricks.
    • The Agnistoma or fire sacrifice.
  • The Ashvamedha.
  • The Purushamedha or human sacrifice.
  • Rituals concerning demonology and magic.

The main gods of the Vedic religion were Indra[king of Gods], Agni (fire), and Soma. Lesser gods included Varuna[god of rain], Surya (the Sun), Mitra, and Vayu (the wind). Goddesses included Ushas (the dawn), Prithvi (the Earth) and Aditi. Rivers, especially the Sarasvati, were also considered goddesses.

Are some of them famous even today?[edit]

Perhaps the most famous of the Vedic people is a grammarian by the name of Pānini. He was born around 5 BCE. He is known for formulating the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology (the study of the structure of word forms) known as the Aṣṭādhyāyī. Among Western linguists (people who study languages), he has a reputation of perfectly describing these rules. In fact, computer scientists have used these rules to teach computers the Sanskrit language! The grammars used to describe programming languages, called Backus-Naur form grammars, are very similar to Pānini's grammar rules.

According to some traditions, the mathematician Pingala was the younger brother of Pānini. He was the first mathematician to describe a binary numeral system, the Fibonacci series and Pascal's triangle. Perhaps the most famous would be Aryabhatta, who is credited with the discovery of "zero", without which, no major scientific or mathematical breakthrough would have been possible. A series of books called Vedic Mathematicsa has been published which show how to use formulas that lead to short methods of calculations which in modern mathematics are complicated. The Vedas contain knowledge in all branches of science.

What is left of them today?[edit]

Hinduism[edit]

The influence of the Vedic people can be seen in Hinduism, which arose from the ancient Vedic religion. It is not possible to place a date on the actual origin of Hinduism. The practices and traditions that have culminated into what is today known as Hinduism are estimated by some scholars to have begun from 3102 BC to 1300 BC. It can be said with some justification that Hinduism is the world's oldest religion. Hinduism of today is essentially the "Sanatana Dharma" of the Vedic times - the philosophy of how to lead the proper, productive, useful life. The name Hindu is in fact a more recent artifact, the result of the interactions with and invasions by East Asian, Central Asian and European warrior clans. More generally, it is thought that the name "Hindu" was used by ancient outsiders to describe the peoples east of the "Sindhu" river which flows through the present-day Punjab regions of India and Pakistan.

Hindus (people who follow Hinduism), believe in Dharma, Karma, and Moksha. Very simply, Dharma is a way of life - to align the human body, mind, and soul in harmony with nature. Karma literally translates to action. Vedic and post-vedic philosophy places tremendous importance on Karma, because that is the only thing that a person has control over. Karma is the sum of everything a person has done in his or her life. The concept of karma is similar to the concept of reaping what you sow. Good deeds result in good results, while bad deeds yield bad results. Moksha is liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. The word Moksha is used to describe the final goal of all intelligent life - merging one's essential spirit (atman) to become one with the universal spirit (Brahman).

Hindus also believe in the gods and goddesses of the Vedic people. Even though there have been many influences on Hinduism and the underlying philosophies over the ages, it is believed that the Sanatana Dharma has essentially continued the same way it was in Vedic times.

In the early Aryan age the four vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and athrvanaveda were composed. Rig veda is the first book composed. In the later Vedic age the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharatha were written.

Caste System[edit]

The Vedic people categorized people's roles in society into four categories - the four "varnas". The four categories were the labor class (Shudra), merchant class (Vaishya), warrior class (Kshatriya) and the priestly class (Brahmin). Over time this categorization led to misinterpretation and exploitation and became what is today called the Hindu caste-system.

The Brahmins became the highest caste. They were the priests and holy men. Next were the Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers. The Vaishyas were the merchants and businessmen. Last were the Shudras, the servants and labourers. In addition to the above four castes, those who performed "unclean" jobs, were deemed to be outside the caste system and were the "untouchables" - those within the caste system did not have direct contact with them. Mahatma Gandhi called them harijans - children of God. They today call themselves dalits - the oppressed.

The caste system was originally based on division of labour, but over time was used to control religious and social life as well. Although the caste system is now outlawed in India, its effect is still felt in daily life. Discrimination against lower castes still exists, and many dalits still live in poverty. However, the Indian government has set up programs to educate them and help them out of poverty.

The importance of cows[edit]

Just as they were sacred to the Vedic people, cows are also sacred to Hindus. In Hinduism, all animals are held sacred and the cow especially so. Thus Hindus don't eat the meat of the cow. There is a regional holiday called Mattu Pongal (literally Cow Pongal in Tamil), which is a thanksgiving day for cows. In addition, there is a tradition which holds that a divine cow named Kamadhenu - the giver of countless boons - is considered to be the mother of all Hindu Gods..

Sanskrit[edit]

The ancient language of the Vedas is still taught in Indian Schools. The roots of most of the modern north-Indian languages, including Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati, lie in Sanskrit.

Although there is no community of native speakers today, Sanskrit hymns are still used in most Hindu rituals. Sanskrit is still the spoken language in the town of Mattur in Shimoga District, Karnataka State in India. Even languages from the South-India like Malayalam originated from Sanskrit and Tamil influence. Spoken Sanskrit scholars are becoming extinct, but an organisation called Samkritha Bharathi is slowly reviving the language, with its free Sanskrit camps and classes.