In a first of its kind, this book attempts a comprehensive account of the old Vedic society with particular focus on the physical conditions of life during the Bronze Age in north western South Asia. Based primarily on textual evidence, the narrative relates wherever necessary to the known archaeological information from the area.
With territorial kingdoms, walled urban places, specialized production of craft goods, large scale trade by land and sea, a broad spectrum service sector and a high end surplus producing peasant economy supporting all of these situates the Aryan discourse on an entirely different platform. The book shows that the Aryans of the Rgveda with diverse forms of speech, physical features and funerary behaviour were far from the monolithic concept of a single people and a single culture.
Hopefully, the book will help readers to escape the broad misinformation long circulating in history texts for schools, general readers and specialists. Extensive citations are also intended to enable interested readers to access the text on their own and ascertain for themselves what is true and what is false.
R.N. Nandi is a former Professor of History at Patna University. His publications include State Formation, Agrarian Growth and Social Change in Feudal South India, AD 600-1200 (2000); Aryans Revisited (2001); Ideology and Environment: Situating the Origin of Vedic Culture (2009).
This book is the third in a series of studies on old Vedic society as outlined in the hymns of the 1Zgveda. The first of these studies (Nandi, 2001) emphasized the need to revisit the discourse from a holistic perspective and dislodge many of the misinformed ideas circulating in certain writings. The next work (Nandi, 2009) was much more multidimensional in scope in terms of both interpretative logic and intensive data recovery from all relevant disciplines bearing on the subject, a task not taken earlier. A major thrust of this work was to explain the origins of an ideology of nature worship as outlined in the Rgveda and firmly situate the text in the Bronze Age universe of the Indo-Iranian subcontinent. With historical and geographical parameters of the old Aryan society settled for good, it is time to have a good look at the Aryan world of matter, not studied earlier on the spectrum of a monograph.
Understandably, the central focus of this book is on the physical infrastructures which sustained and promoted production, accumulation and distribution of social goods. With territorial kingdoms, fortified urban spaces, high end agricultural production, an elaborate water management system, organized craft production and long distance trade by land and sea besides a thriving service sector, the discourse all together reaches a different discursive platform. Needless to say that all these processes required an overarching power structure for a smooth run. The citadels, variously described as pur, durga, vrtra and vrjana which ensured the security of life and resources constituted the hub of a powerhouse in a particular locality. Since a power elite could not have erected massive walled settlements without an expansive territory to generate and multiply all types of resources from different sectors, trade, agriculture, craft shops, pastures, forests, hill tracts and coastal colonies, large and small territorial kingdoms would automatically be around. A well-organized distribution mechanism is also on view ion the basis of copious textual references to long distance trade by land and sea.
The dispensation functioned perfectly well during the high tide of an interactive city-based global order. But with the breakdown of the world system throughout the civilized space, signs of unrest became visible, be it the capture of citadels, fights for fertile agricultural land, destruction of drainage works and increasing perils of long distance journeys whether by sea or land. All these aspects of the old Vedic society have naturally demanded separate chapters. The two concluding chapters of this book pick up their thread from the introductory segment which deals at length with the plurality of old Vedic society in terms of ethnic, linguistic, physical and cultural divergences and, accordingly undertake detailed examination of linguistic diversities and the diversity of funerary behavior in the entire area.
In the matter of text study I have depended on the interpretation of Sayaha. But where the commentator has provided more than one interpretation to a stanza, I have exercised my own judgment to select the one that falls in line with the context and the narrative.
Like in the two earlier works, the main basis of text study in this book has been the four volume 13gveda Sarnhita with the commentary of Sayana, edited by F. Max Muller and first published in 1890-2. Text citations and other references appear in the main narrative and not in the form of footnotes. The text citations are in the order, mandala, sakta and like 10.12.3. The list of references is confined to works actually cited rather than all the readings bearing on this book. Though not mentioned, these other readings have been immensely beneficial in weaving the fabric of the present narrative. In the course of my investigation I have received valuable help from friends and acquaintances. I thank them all.
The Meaning of Arya Contrary to the common perception of a homogeneous and monolithic ethno-linguistic community, the Arya of the 1Zgveda represented a loose association of diverse and disparate ethno-cultural groups at the same or different levels of social formation, interactive or unrelated, each with a separate identity but all thriving together under a common religious umbrella. Though the point was made more than two decades ago (Nandi, 1993), it seems to have been a little too unconventional to shake off path dependency in this specific area of study. The plurality of the Arya, however, seems well recognized in certain informed writings. According to one opinion, the term Arya represented a broad religious ideology, which could accommodate any one who subscribed to it (Erdosy, 1989: 41). However, Erdosy does not explain why the ideology should have originated where and when it did. Another scholar holds that as a sociological expression, the term 'Aryan' denotes all those who took part in the concerned sacrifices and festivals (Kuiper, 1991, 96). There are clear indications that the Vedic speakers of the Rgveda knew Sanskrit, and interacted with Dravidian and Munda speakers (Kuiper, 1948; 1955; 1962). There may have been other ethnic or linguistic groups subscribing to the ideology but not always identifiable.
In the bardic circles, the term Arya, which appears in nearly 37 passages was signified as respectable, noble, faithful, devoted or righteous. None of these meanings has any ethnic significance. If anything, the term meant a righteous person, who strictly followed a religious ideology. Those who subscribed to the ideology of Daiva worship were recognized as Arya or noble and those who did not, were denounced as Dasyu or enemy. This is the precise import of a passage (1.51.9) in which Indra is implored to recognize the Aryas who are the followers of right conduct and the Dasyus or the enemies who are non-believers (avratan) or the followers of false doctrines (apavratan) and to destroy the latter for the sake of the former (anuvrataya). As such, a Dasa, a Vrtra, a Pani, a Pakhta, a Bhalana, a Siva or a Visanin, all of whom represented divergent ethnic groups, could become an Arya, physical features and dialect being of little consequence in this ideological overarching. These peoples continued to speak their respective dialects and follow their lifestyles and even retain their ethnic names after subscribing to the ideology of Daiva worship and patronizing a particular bardic family. The point can be illustrated by referring to a passage of the Sixth Book which states that dasas were converted into Arya (yaya dasani aryani kara, 6.22.10). Sayana's explanation of dasani as karmahina ni (devoid of righteous action) and of aryani as karmayuktani (endowed with righteous action) seems appropriate. This seems to have been the manner in which many friendly ethnic chiefs like Sudas and Divodasa became followers of Arya religious ideology. Several danastuti passages in honour of a Paktha (Pakthoon) chief appearing in the Eighth Book or a Parthian chief in the Sixth Book or a Persian chief also in the Sixth Book fall in place. Compared to this, non-friendly hostile chiefs and peoples were either eliminated or captured and reduced to a lowly position. If neither could be achieved, they were simply denounced as irreligious or bad people and enemies of the first order. However, differentiation within the Arya ranks may have surfaced as new peoples joined in and replenished the cult in their own way like in the case of all major religions of the world.
Although conflicts between the Arya and their enemies centered around the politics of space and influence, the dividing line was always a religious one. This is evident from a large number of invectives used by bardic composers in relation to their non-believing opponents. To this category belong terms like adeva (without Gods, 5.61.6), amanta (mindless, 10.22.8), aradhas (uncharitable, 5.61.6), atratar (not protecting, 5.61.6), ayajnyan (not sacrificing, 7.6.3), as raddhan (disrespectful, 7.6.3), amitra (unfriendly, 1.133.1), anindra (disrespectful of Indra, 1.133.1) and akarma (non-sacrificing, 10.22.8). Other categories are also on view like apavratan (followers of false beliefs; 1.51.9), anyavratan (practising other rituals; 10.22.8) and anrtadeva (worshippers of false gods, 7.104.14) and Sisnadeva (worshippers of the phallic god, 7.21.5; 10.99.3).
Even the language was not as homogeneous as it seems to be in the first appearance. A closer examination of the textual material reveals that apart from a more or less frozen liturgical dialect, there was a vernacular Vedic dialect which stood half-way between the liturgical dialect and the different non-Vedic ethnic dialects in disparate regions. The vernacular Vedic dialect developed variant forms in each of these regions though the variations may have been limited to a few lexical, structural and phonological features resulting from the long process of bilingualism between the speakers of vernacular Vedic dialect and those of the non-Vedic ethnic dialects. The Kanva poets of the Eighth Book already spoke a variant of Vedic dialect which is noticeable in their compositions. These variations were confined to declensional deviants of both roots and radicals. Puru, who like Kanva belonged to the Swat Valley and likewise exposed to the influence of a local dialect was also denounced by the purists of the Vedic speech as pururn mrdhravacam (7.18.13) meaning Puru who spoke a perverted dialect. The presence of variant forms within the Vedic dialect is also evident from the expression vivaca carsariaya (6.31.1; 6.33.2), vivaca meaning diverse speech forms and carsanaya, a plural of carsarii always used to signify the Vedic speaking community. If viva ca carsartaya meant diverse forms of Vedic speech, vivaca mrdhravaca and vivaca ativa (10.23.5) signified diversity of non-Vedic dialects. Non-vedic dialects were also characterized as vadhrvaca (7.18.9) or unproductive speech. The expression relates to a speech form, which, if applied to the prayer liturgy would produce no results.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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