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The Aryans and
the Vedic Age
Decline of the Indus River Valley
– Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were the largest
– Civilizations participated in long-distance
– Possible causes:
• Monsoons destroyed irrigation and farming
• Invasions
• Long distance trade collapsed
• Root of the word is arya meaning “noble”
or “pure”
• Spoke an early form of Sanskrit
– This Indo-European language is closely
related to Persian, Latin, Greek and modern
Romance languages
– Nazis glorified Aryans as a superior race because
they were credited with this important language
• Where did they come from?
– Most scholars argue that the Aryans
descended upon North India through the
Hindu Kush around 1500 BC
– Some scholars now think that they arrived
much earlier, and perhaps descended from
the Harappan
Aryans and Vedas
• Vedas
– A collection, in multiple volumes, of hymns,
rituals, and philosophies
• The vedas include stories that attempt to
explain how the world was created, who
the gods are, etc.
– Thought to be the earliest written texts
Aryans and Vedas
• Rig Veda
– The earliest Veda
– Originally was recited orally and passed down
generation to generation
– Children began learning the Rig Veda at an
early age, would learn to chant each syllable
in perfect order
Aryans and Vedas
• Portrays Aryans as fierce warriors with
military skill
• Aryans did not spread through India
quickly, did not carry out well organized
military campaigns
• Aryans were a collection of tribes who
gradually, over generations of warring with
each other came to power in North India
Aryans and Social Order
• Each tribe was headed by a raja, or chief
• Priests were next in importance
– They learned complicated rituals
– Rituals typically focused on honoring or
appeasing the gods
Aryans and Social Order
• Warrior class
• Farmers
• Non-Aryans made up the lowest class
– They were not slaves
– They were only allowed to perform the most
menial tasks
Early Indian Society
• 1000-500 BC
• Tribal rajas were no longer necessary
because tribal life was in decline
• Kings controlled large pieces of territory
• The Aryan-influenced areas extended all
the way to the Ganges River
Caste System
• The system of dividing society into
hereditary groups that limited interaction
with each other, especially marriage
between castes
• The hierarchical strata into which Indian
society was divided is called varna
Caste System
Brahmans (priests)
Kshatriya (warriors and officials)
Vaishya (merchants and artisans)
Shudra (peasants and laborers)
Dalit, or untouchables – outside the caste
Outcasts [Harijan]  Untouchables
The castes
upper class
They are the priestly class, who
are entitled to study the Vedas,
which are the sacred
scriptures, and perform rites
rituals for themselves and for
They are the men between the
gods and the people. They are
expected to show excellent
behavior and spend their lives
in the pursuit of divine
knowledge and preservation
the traditions of Hinduism.
They are the warrior class, who
are commanded to protect the
people, give gifts to the
Brahmins, offer sacrifices to
gods and ancestors, study the
Vedas, and dispense justice.
It was their responsibility to
protect the caste system and
the social order and lavish the
priests with generous gifts at
every opportunity.
The castes
middle class
They are the merchant and
peasant classes, who are
expected to tend cattle, offer
sacrifices, study the Vedas, trade,
lend money and farm the land.
They had the right to perform and
participate in certain Vedic rituals
but they were not allowed to marry
women of higher castes.
The castes
The are the laboring class, whose
only duty is to serve the other three
They were not required to observe
any Vedic rituals. They were not
allowed to study the Vedas or even
hear the sacred chants.
They were not allowed to eat food
in the company of higher castes or
marry their women.
also called Untouchables
The lowest of the sudras were called
harijan or the untouchables. They
were outside of the caste system
because of their religious practices,
rites and unclean habits.
In ancient times they were not
allowed to enter a village or city
during day time or walk in the same
street where men of other castes
Even their shadow was considered
impure and seeing an untouchable
was considered bad luck.
So they lived mostly on the edges
of society, unknown and uncared
for, and working in graveyards or
as hunters, butchers and
professional cleaners of human
Leprosy: A disease that still exists, but
used to be considered a sign of unclean
spirits. Those infected were shunned.
It is a bacterial infection that causes open
skin scores, and nerve damage.