Ancient Indian History - Vedic Society


  • Occupation of individuals was the basis of classification of a society in the Rig Vedic period.

  • It was divided into four varnas, namely

    • Brahmanas (teacher and priests);

    • Kshatriya (rulers and administrators);

    • Vaisya (farmers, merchants, and bankers); and

    • Sudra (artisan and laborers).

  • There was complete freedom and mobility for the adoption of a profession.

  • Trades and occupations did not assume a hereditary character in the society (till now).

Salient Features of Vedic Society

  • The family was the smallest unit of a society. It was primarily monogamous and Patriarchal.

  • Child marriage was not in fashion.

  • There was freedom of choice in marriage.

  • A widow could marry the younger brother of her deceased husband.

  • The wife was a partner of the husband in all religious and social ceremonies.

  • The father's property was inherited by son.

  • The daughter could inherit it only if she was the only child of her parents.

  • Right to property was known in moveable things like cattle, horse, gold, and ornament and so also in immoveable property like land and house.


  • The teacher was given great respect.

  • The school was in the home of the teacher where he taught the particular sacred texts.

  • The texts were in the first instance learnt by pupils repeating the words taught by their teacher.

  • A great importance was attached to enunciation and pronunciation.

  • Oral learning was the method of training.

  • Students were given intense training and learning to memorize and preserve the huge mass of Vedic literature.

Food and Drinks

  • The important part of the diet was milk and its products like curd, butter, and ghee. Grains were cooked with milk (kshira-pakamodanam).

  • Chappati (bread) of wheat and barley was eaten mixed with ghee.

  • People used to eat the meat of birds, wild animals (like boar, antelopes, and buffalo), and fish.

  • The meat of animals such as sheep, goat, and buffalo etc., which were sacrificed on ceremonial occasions, was also eaten.

  • The cow was mentioned as aghnya i.e. not to be killed. The Vedas prescribe a penalty of death or expulsion from the kingdom to those who kill or injure cows.

  • Sura and Soma i.e. alcoholic drinks were also consumed, though their consumption had been condemned.

Economic Life

  • Agriculture, cattle rearing, and trade and commerce were the main economic activity of the Rig Vedic people.

  • People had domestic animals like cows, sheep, goats, asses, dogs, buffalos etc.

  • Oxen were used for ploughing and drawing carts and horses for drawing the chariots.

  • The plough was drawn by the oxen at times in a team of six, eight, or even twelve.

  • The grains were harvested with sickles.

  • Manure was used for high yield; irrigation was also practiced.

  • Excess of rains and drought is mentioned as damaging the crops.

  • The grains are collectively called ‘Yava’ and ‘Dhanya.’

  • Some other occupations were pottery-making, weaving, carpentry, metal working, leather-working, etc.

  • Initially, copper was the only metal that was used and the general term 'ayas' had been used for this. In a later period, terms like ‘lohit ayas’ and ‘syam ayas’ were used for copper and iron respectively.

  • The trade and traders (vanik) were also known in the Rig Vedic era.

  • The practices of exchange of goods (Barter Economy) were in trend. It has been found that ten cows were quoted as the price for an image of Indra.

  • The use of money can be traced in the mention of a gift of 100 nishkas.

  • Money-lending was also popular. It is mentioned that an eighth or a sixteenth part of one being paid either as an interest or part of the principle.

  • The sea is mentioned in the context of trade and ocean wealth, like pearls, and shells.