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India Vedic Period (2000BC-700BC) Art And Culture

Krishnakali Dasgupta

India Vedic Period (2000BC-700BC) Art and Culture – 

The Late Bronze Age period between 200o BC to 700BC displays ample archeological evidence of thriving tribal cultures all over mainland India, but material gathered from these sites are inadequate to paint their full socio-cultural picture. In contrast, a huge compendium of orally transmitted hymnal literature (involving fire sacrificial rituals) named Rig Veda, its three auxiliary Sama, Yajur and Atharva Vedas and the following Vedic inspired compositions of the period have survived. They speak volumes on Socio-cultural identity of the Vedic people. 

The Rig Vedic tribes of the Sindh-Punjab region were a multi-clan tribal coalition of semi-nomadic, non-urban, pastoral society, who predominantly practiced cattle rearing along with limited farming. The survival of the tribes depended heavily on the prowess of the warriors of the who used copper and bronze weaponry (bows and arrows, quivers, swords, javelin, battle-axe) and rode spoked wheeled chariots pulled by fast horses, wearing metallic armours and helmets. The ploughman’s hymn speaks of the plough and the heavenly furrow making agriculture sacred, with ‘Yava’ and ‘Dhanya vija’ as crops. Three primary craftsmen, the smith, the carpenter, and the weaver met the needs of the early Vedic village.

The Rig Vedic literature reflects a lively society with various types of entertainment. People wore sheep-wool spun, silk and animal skin clothing (upper and lower garments, shawls, turban) (cotton is omitted) with Boar skin-shoe/ sandals. Gold, silver, semi-precious stone jewelry (necklaces, breastplates, earrings, bracelets, anklets, head ornaments and crowns) and conch-shell amulets were worn. Gold Niska appeared to be a standard weight in the form of an ornament later used as currency.  They consumed intoxicating drinks like the ritualistic ‘Soma’ during fire-rituals or the ‘Sura’ for relaxation and indulged in dice-games and chariot-racing.  Cattle and hunted games were eaten on special occasions.
Music and dance were performed by professionals. The Veena, lute, flute and harp were played along with cymbals, drums and conches. Sama Veda delineates all variations of the Heptatonic scale making the Indian classical Ragas, while the Rig Veda hymns use matured poetic meters. Portions of it are written as dialogues, encouraging early ‘drama’ forms (Pururava-Urvashi, Yama-Yami sukta). Detailed geometric calculations are mentioned for building complex multi-layered fire-altars (falcon shaped, tortoise shaped, lotus shaped, chariot wheel, circular, triangle, hexagonal etc) with equi-sized bricks, laying foundations for texts on architecture and design.

Women could learn the Vedas or become warriors during the Rig Vedic period, but not become a priest or host of a Yagna. The textile industry flourished on female expertise. Monogamy was encouraged and child marriage was not practiced. 

The later Vedic literature (1000BC onwards), chronicles eastward movement of the Vedic tribes, implementation of iron for ploughs and arms, and massive expansion in crafts to include embroiderer, dyer, jeweler, leather craftsmen, mat and basket maker, potter, washerman, cook, boatman, charioteer, bowstring maker, horse attendant, elephant keeper, moneylender, astrologer etc.

Archeologically, the Vedic period corresponds to the Chalcolithic (Copper-stone) Period in India. The major Chalcolithic sites are Jhukar, Ahar, Kayatha, Malwa, Jorwe, Hallur etc. Simple square or circular dwellings of mud or wattle and daub (or pit dwelling) and wheat, barley, rice, legumes, oilseed, fruit remains are found. Mass graves cultures arose in North-western region (Gandhara grave, Cemetery-H) versus a characteristic Megalithic grave culture in the peninsula. Copper hoards found from Haryana to Tamil Nadu yield harpoons, antennae swords, hatchets, celts, double-edged axes and enigmatic anthropomorphic figurines. Granite rock paintings from Andhra and Karnataka depict humped long horned cattle, wild animals, dancers, footprints and abstract designs. 

Following a mixed Ochre, Black and Red, and Buff pottery phase, a fine, smooth, fast wheel Grey ware painted with simple geometric designs (PGW) became pan-Indian. Eventually, advent of iron tools (daggers, spears, swords, knives, arrowheads, bangles, sickles, hoes, celts, hammers, ploughshares, trident etc) led to massive expansion of agriculture, ushering the era of river valley settlements that continue till today.

References :

1.       A History of Ancient and Medieval India. Upinder Singh. 2018 impression. 

2.      The Wonder that was India. A.L. Basham. 3rd edition. 

3.      The Vedas. Roshan Dalal. 2014. 

4.      The Civilisation of India. R.C. Dutt.1995

5.      Chalcolithic cultures of India. (Lecture). Dr. Anil Kumar. (Ancient Indian History and Archeology, Univ.of Lucknow.

6.      History and Culture of the Indian People, Volume 01, The Vedic Age. Ed R.C. Majumdar. 9th Edition

7.       A People’s History of India. I. Habib, V.K. Thakur. 8th Edition. 

8.      https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Vedic_period

9.      https://www.swarganga.org/articles/details.php?id=7

10.   https://www.harappa.com/content/wheels-indian-rock-art


Glossary of Vedic Terms:

Ayas (Metal), Rathas(Chariot), Ashva (Horse), Shuna (plough), Sira (ploughman), Sita (heavenly furrow), Karmara, (blacksmith), Takshan (carpenter), Vyay (weaver) , Urna-sutra (Sheep-wool spun cloth), Tarpya (silk), Nivi and Vasa (lower garment), Adhivasa (upper garment), Drapi (shawl), Peshas (embroidered garment), Ushnisha(Turban), Hiranya (Gold), Shankha (conch-shell), Pravarta (earrings),Waan (lute), Venu (flute), Gargar (Harp), patah (cymbals), dundubhi (drums), Krishna ayas – (Iron), Peshaskari (embroiderer), Rajayatri (dyer).


Dr. Krishnakali Dasgupta leads the Art and Culture track in India Discovery Center's project on "Evolution of Indian Culture: Pre-history to 1947AD"

More information and updates on the project are available at


More information on India Discovery Center is available at     https://www.indiadiscoverycenter.org


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