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History - Pre-historic and Vedic Civilisation

Ancient geographers referred to Himalayas, as also their less elevated off­shoot—the Patkai, Lushai and Chittagong hills in the east and the Sulaiman and Kirthar ranges in the west— as Himavat.

Jambu-dvipa was considered to be the inner­most of seven concentric island-continents into which the earth, as per Hindu cos­mographers, was supposed to have been divided. The Indian sub-continent is said to part of Jambu-dvipa.

Sapta sindhavah is the name of the country of the Aryans in the Vedas.

In the ancient litera­ture, there are references of India being divided into five divisions. In the centre of the Indo-Gangetic plains was the Madhya-desh, stretching from river Saraswati, which flowed past Thanesar and Pehowa (present-day Haryana) to Allahabad and Varanasi. The western part of this area was known as Brahamrishi-desh, and the entire region was roughly equivalent to Aryavrata as described in the grammar of Patanjali. To the north of Madhya-desh lay Uttarap­atha and to its west Aparan­ta (Western India), to its south Dakshinapath or Dec­can and to its east Purva­desh. The term Dakshinapath was in some ancient works restricted to the upper Dec­can, north of river Krishna and far south was termed as Tamilakam or the Tamil country.

The Negritos were the first human inhabitants of India. Originally, they came from Africa through Arabia, Iran and Baluchistan. They have practically disappeared from the soil of India, except in Andaman Islands.

The Munda languages belong to the Austro-Asiatic family and are to be found at present in the eastern half of Central India, southern bor­der of the Himalayas and Kashmir and the territory east of Nepal.

Prakit was the single language of Indian sub-con­tinent in third century B.C. Sanskrit came into being a few centuries later.

The term Paleolithic is derived from two Greek words meaning Old Stone. This name is applied to the earliest people as the only evidence of their existence is furnished by a number of rude stone implements.

Paleolithic men in India are also known as Quartzite men from the fact that majority of chipped stones found in different parts of India are made of hard rock called quartzite.

Paleolithic paintings have been found in caverns at Singanpur near Raigarh in Madhya Pradesh, as also in Kaimur ranges and some places in Mirzapur district.

With the advent of age of metals, in Northern India, copper replaced stone as ordinary material for tools and weapons. And, it took several centuries for iron to replace copper. In Southern India, however, the Iron Age immediately succeeded the Stone Age.

The Indus civiliza­tion existed in the same peri­od as those of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.
Mohenjodaro was discovered by R.D. Banerjee in 1922 and Harappa by R.B. Dayaram Sahni. Later on, the work was taken over by Sir John Marshall, Director-General of Archeology.
The fertile surround­ing region of Mohenjodaro is called Nakhlistan or the Garden of Sind.
It is presumed that Iron was not known to the Indus Valley civilisation as not a single scrap of iron has been found in the excava­tions at various sites.

Developed city-life, use of potter’s wheel, kiln-burnt bricks, and vessels made of copper and bronze are some common and dis­tinctive features of all the civilizations of the pre-his­toric period.
The use of mud mor­tar was common during Indus Valley civilisation. Gypsum and mud were used for plaster. In case of drains, gypsum and lime mortar was used.

The most important feature of houses of Mohen­jodaro is the presence in them of one or more bath­rooms, the floors of which were fully laid and connect­ed by means of drainage channels with the main street.

More than 500 seals have been discovered at var­ious places inhabited by peo­ple of Indus Valley civiliza­tions. These were made of terra-cota.

The seals and paint­ed pottery of the Indus Val­ley show the figures of Pipal and Acacia trees. They were regarded as celestial plants and were supposed to be inhabited by divine spirits.

The people of Indus Valley also practiced the worship of Lings and Yoni symbols. The likelihood that both Shiva and Ling worship have been inherited by Hindus from the Indus Valley is rein­forced by the prevalence of the bull (the vehicle of Shiva) or bull-like animals amongst the seal-symbols.

The pottery of Indus Valley was generally wheel-made and was painted red and black.

The Dravadians are thought to have come to India from eastern Mediter­ranean. At one time the Dravadian culture was spread throughout India.

Puja ceremonies along with flowers, leaves, fruits and water were per­formed by Dravadians.

Aryans were accustomed to Homa rites or sacrificial fire. Infact, the word puja has been derived from a Drava­dian root called Puru, which means “to smear”.

The Dravadian lan­guage is still spoken by the Brahui people of Baluchis­tan.

As per the theory propagated by late Bal Gangadhar Tilak the original home of Aryans was the Arc­tic region. However, the most widely accepted view is that the Aryans originated from Central Asia. The view which is accepted in West is that original home of Aryans was in South-East Europe.

In the early vedic period river Ravi was known as Parushni, river Jhelum as Vitasta, Chenab as Asikni, Beas as Vipas and Sutlej as Sutudri.

The word Veda comes from the root vid, to know. It means knowledge in general. It is specially applied to branch of litera­ture which has been handed down by verbal transmis­sion and is declared to be sacred knowledge or Sruti.

Hindus consider the Vedas to be revealed books and give them the titles of Apaurusheya (not made by man) and nitya (Eternal).

According to Kau­tilya, “The three Vedas, Sama, Rig and Yajus consti­tute the triple Vedas. These together with Atharvaveda and the Itihasa Veda are known as the Vedas.” The ordinary definition of the Veda does not include Itihasa.

The Veda consists of four different classes of liter­ary compositions: (a) the Mantra constitutes the old­est division of Vedic litera­ture and is distributed in four Samhitas or collections known as the Rik, Sama, Yajus and the Atharva; (b) Brahmanas are the second class of Vedic works. They are mainly prose texts con­taining observations on sac­rifice; (c) Aranyakas or forest texts are books of instruction to be given in the forest or writings meant for wood-dwelling hermits; (d) Lastly there are the Upnishads which are either imbedded in the Aranyakas or form their supplements. The above named literary works are classed as Sruti, or reve­lation, and constitute the Vedic literature proper.

The Brahamanas are the first specimens of praise in the world. They mark the transition from the Vedic to later Brahmanical social order.

The Vedangas are class of compositions that are regarded less authorita­tive than Sruti and are styled Smriti. The Vedangas are six in number: Siksha (phonet­ics), Kalpa (ritual), Vyakaran (grammar), Nirukt (etymolo­gy), Chhand (metrics) and Jyotish (astronomy).

In Vyakarana, Nirukt and Chhand we have the great work of Panini, Yask and Pingal.
The Nyaya Darsana was written by Gautam. According to it, Tarka or log­ic is the basis of all studies. Knowledge can be acquired by four methods: Pratyaksha or intuition, Anumana or inference, Upma or compari­son and sadba or verbal testi­mony.

The basis of the political and social organisa­tion of the Rig Vedic people was patriarchal family. The successive higher units were styled gram, vis and jan.

The Purus and the Tritsus were two of the most famous Rig-Vedic clans. The names of their prominent rulers are recorded in Rik-Samhita.

In the Rig-Vedic period the foot soldiers were called Patti and warriors who fought from chariots were called Rathins.

The foundation of the political and social struc­ture in the Rig-Vedic age was the family.
Visvavara, Ghosha and Apala were some lead­ing women seers of Rig-Vedic times.

Agriculture was the principal occupation of the villagers in Rig-Vedic times.

The standard unit of value in Vedic period was a cow, but necklets of gold (nishka) also served as a means of exchange.

Rik Samgita is a col­lection of lyrics from early vedic age which consists of hymns in praise of different gods. These are grouped into books termed as ashtakas or mandalas.

Rig Vedic people did not possess the art of writing and early literature of Aryans was known to be transmitted orally.

The early Vedic reli­gion has been designated by the name of henotheism or kathenotheism (a belief in single gods, each standing out as the highest). Father Dyaus, the shinning god of heaven, and mother Prithvi, the earth goddess, are among the old­est of the vedic deities.

The worship of Varuna, the encompassing sky, in the early Vedic age is one of the first roots of the later doctrine of Bhakti.

An important char­acteristic of Vedic mythology is the pre-dominance of the male element. Thus, Vedic civilisation presents a con­trast to the prehistoric cul­ture of Indus Valley, where the mother goddess is co­equal with her male partner.

Sacrifices occupied a prominent place in Vedic rit­uals. These included offer­ings of milk, grain, ghee and juice of the Soma plant.

Before the close of the later Vedic period, the Aryans had thoroughly sub­dued the fertile plains of Yamuna, upper Ganga and the Gandak. The centre of the Aryan world was the areas stretching from Saraswati to the Gangetic plains and occupied by Kurus, the Pan­chals and some adjoining tribes. It was from this region that Brahmanical civilisation spread to the out­er provinces, to the land of the Kosalas and the Kasis drained by the Sarayu and the Varnavati, to the swamps of east of Gandak colonised by the Videhas, and to the valley of Wardha occupied by the Vidarbhas.

The Aryan culture was taken to South India by Agastya.

Most important tribe of Rigvedic period was the Bharatas, after whom India has been named in the Con­stitution. The two most important rulers of Bharatas were Divodas and Sudas. Sudas is famous for his victo­ry in the Battle of Ten Kings.

The most distin­guished among the tribes of later Vedic period were the Kurus and Panchals, with their capitals at Asandivat and Kampila, respectively.

Balhika-Pratipiya, Parikshit and Janamejaya were powerful Kuru kings who figure prominently in early epic legends.

The reign of Pan­chals was home to several theologians and philoso­phers like king Pravahana-Jaivali and sages like Aruni and Svetaketu.

The fame of the land of the Panchals as centre of Brahmanical learning was eclipsed by the Videhas, whose king Janak won the title of Samrat. The Videhan monarchy fell shortly before the rise of Buddhism. Its overthrow was followed by the rise of the Vajjian Con­federacy.

The kings of several regions gave themselves var­ious titles. While the kings of middle country were called raja, the eastern kings were titled Samrat, the southern Bhoj, those in the west Svarat, and the rulers of the northern realms were called Virat.

The taxes collected from people in the later Vedic age were referred to as bali and sulka.
During late Vedic period, Vratyas and the Nishads were two important bodies of men outside the regular castes. The Vratyas were Aryans outside the pale of Brahminism. They appear to have had some special connection with the people of Magadha and the cult of Shiv. The Nishads were non-Aryan people who lived in their own villages and had their own rulers. They were probably identi­cal with modern Bhils.

Shortly before the rise of Buddhism there were sixteen great nations that occupied the territory from Kabul valley to the banks of Godavari. These were: Anga (East Bihar), Magadha (South Bihar), Kasi (Benaras), Kosala (Oudh), Vriji (North Bihar), Malla (Gorakhpur district), Chedi (between Yamuna and Nar­mada), Vatsa (Allahabad region), Kuru (Thanesar, Delhi and Meerut districts), Panchal (Bareilly, Buduan and Farrukhabad districts), Matsya (Jaipur), Surasena (Mathura), Asmak (on the Godavari), Avanti (in Mal­wa), Gandhara (Peshawar and Rawalpindi districts) and Kamboj (South-west Kashmir and parts of Kafiristan).

The Vriji people were regarded by the Bra­haman law-givers as Vratyas or degraded Ksha­triyas. The Vrijis had no monarch, but a popular assembly of elders who car­ried on the business of the State. This type of polity was known as Gana or republic. The Mallas also had a simi­lar constitution.

The four kingdoms of later Vedic age who grew most powerful were: Avanti, Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha.

The kingdom of Avanti had its capital at Ujjain in modern Malwa.

One prominent ruler of Vatsa territory was Udayana, a scion of the Bharat race.
Kosala had its capi­tal at Ayodhya and was ruled by a dynasty that claimed descent from illus­trious Ishvaku, famed in Vedic and epic traditions.

The Kosalas extend­ed their boundaries in sever­al directions, including Nepalese Tarai, but their ambitious designs were frus­trated by Magadha power.

Gargi and Maitreyi were two prominent intellec­tual women of late Vedic period.

Magadha and Anga were two kingdoms which the Aryans could not Brah­manise thoroughly and came to possess a mixed population. Kikatas were prominent non-Aryans who lived in Magadha. They were known for their wealth. There was a dislike for Mag­adha in the Rigveda and the same dislike was continued even during the period of later Vedic civilisation.

In the sixth and fifth century B.C. the throne of Magadha was occupied by a line of kings styled Saisuna­gas in the Purans, an appella­tion derived from Sisunaga, the first king of the line in the Puranic list.

The Buddhist writ­ers, however, put Sisunaga much lower in the list of Magadha kings and split the line into two distinct groups. To the earlier of the two groups they give the name Haryanka, whose most remarkable king was Sreni­ka or Bimbisara.

The Ashtadhyayi of Panini is a book on Sanskrit grammar.

Khari, Patra, Vista, Satamana, Adhaka, Achita, Purusha and Dishta were different kinds of weights and measures used in later Vedic age.

Taxila or Tak­shashila was a great centre of learning in late Vedic peri­od. It was famous for the teaching of medicine, law and military science.

India and Persia have very ancient relations. There are many common gods in the Rig Veda and the Zinda Avesta. The Iranian gods Mithra, Yima and Vere­traghna have their counter­part in the Indian Mitra, Yama and Indra Vritrahan.

The Boghaz-Koi inscriptions of about 1400 B.C. refer to certain contracts made between the King of the Hittites (in Persia) and the King of Mitani. In those inscriptions same gods are mentioned as the protectors of these contracts.

The continuance of strong influence of Persia upon India in the Vedic age is indicated by prevalence of the Kharoshti script, a vari­ety of Aramaic, in the provinces near the Frontier, by the long continued use of the Persian title Satrap, by the form of the Ashoka inscriptions and by the architecture.

Sanskrit is a branch of a linguistic tree known as Indo-European. The trunk of the tree was a common tongue probably spoken in the region north-west of the Black Sea about 2500 B.C.
The Upanishads probe into the nature of universe and the human soul, and the relation of each to the other. They make no absolute state­ments of right and wrong, of creation, the gods or man; instead, they specu­late, seeking always to find truth, as opposed to stating it, and offering a wide range of possibilities.

A rudimentary administrative system was prevalent during the Vedic period. The tribal kingdom (rashtra) contained tribes (jana), tribal units (vish) and villages (grama). The nucle­us was the family (kula), with the eldest male member as its head (kulapa).


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