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The Vedic Period

From the Vedas, the oldest known Hindu scriptures, scholars have learned about the existence of the Vedic period in ancient Indian history that followed the Indus River Valley civilization. Sal explains more about this early society.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user stuparitz
    Some religious Hindus believe the events of the Mahabharata took place 5000 years ago (3000 BCE).

    Is this compatible with modern linguistic and scientific alalyses?

    Could it be that the war at Kuruksetra, where Krishna spoke the ideas of the Bhagavad Gita, actually did happen at that time but we're not codified and recorded until thousands of years later?
    (15 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Danielle Koch
      I actually just finished reading the Penguin Classics translation of the Mahabharata!
      In that version, the editor notes that the events of the story were likely based in a historical period of conflict. However, based on analysis of the language used throughout and the tendency to go "off-topic" in the middle of narrating the story, researchers have determined that:
      a) The story was written by many individuals over a long period of time and only later attributed to a single individual (the sage Vyasa) similar to how the Iliad and Odyssey are attributed to Homer.
      b) These individuals likely altered the story over time to appeal to popular tastes/opinions or to legitimize their opinions by including it in this important story.

      Regardless of if the events in the story "really" happened, they had lasting impact on real-life people and events. Per your example, the Bhagavad Gita depicts a symbol of this society's moral compass (Krishna) providing guidance to a human who is conflicted about his role. This must have been helpful instruction during the time it was added to the story.

      Opinion: More fundamentally, the Bhagavad Gita addresses the capacity of humans to do harm, the duty of those in power to prevent harm, as well as whether the use of force is ever justified. This inspired Gandhi and other Indian revolutionaries, so I like to think that the larger story of the Mahabharatha is very real and is still happening. :)
      (8 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user deekshita
    At , why would teachers and priests be above kings? Aren't kings more important in society?
    (6 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Jack104
      First of all in ancient time the classes were given to them to distinguish their position in the society(social statues) by virtue of their occupation and treat them accordingly.

      So it is true that the KING wasn't at the highest in spite of having popularity and power as he belongs to class KSHATRIYAS(protector of the societies). Even the class includes up to the soldier's post. They vow to protect their land and rights. That's it.

      On the other hand, the class BRAHMIN(protector of the knowledge) which includes Teachers, Priests and Scholars was considered as the highest. They learn and tought the knowledge of Vedas to the society.

      So in the ancient Indian Period "The knowledge is power." holds true!
      (15 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user David Spielmann
    A part from the swastika symbol, did the nazis also take from the hindu culture the term "Aryans"?
    (5 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      Yes, I believe so. In the early 1800's, many European "racial scientists" formulated the theory that an Aryan race, originating in the Nordic areas, took over the world but then mixed with other races, diluting their purity. The only true members left of the Master Race were in northern Europe. How did they get there? Well, it started from a misconception translated from the vedas, which led linguist Friedrich Max Müller to conclude that the early Indian civilizations had faced some sort of invasion by the Aryans. The Europeans knew that the Aryans spoke Sanskrit, which they considered to be the oldest Indo-European language. They combined all this with a misconception that the proto-indo-european homeland was in northern Europe to say that the Aryans originated in northern Europe and soon conquered the world. The only pure descendants of the Aryans were the Germanic peoples, to whom the Aryans imparted their warrior culture and overall superiority.
      Hope this helps!
      (12 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user rishikudumi
    Do we have any idea about who wrote the Vedas?
    It being a very sacred and religious text, which is also relevant in India today, 3000 years after its supposed birth, we must have some clue as to who wrote/composed it?
    (5 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Akhil
    does anyone know what the first language was?
    (4 votes)
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  • hopper cool style avatar for user Noureen Aneeze
    which came first - indus or vedic? i read in places that indus came first. Sal says that they came at the same time. my history teacher says vedic came first. I am confused !
    (4 votes)
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  • winston default style avatar for user draco1563
    How are kings lower than priests and teachers?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Someone asked this 12 days ago, and I answered it there. If you'd have set the "sort" box for "recent" and scrolled down, you'd already know this. But, I'll paste it again.
      "Caste" is almost incomprehensible to the Western mind. One's caste cannot change, no matter how much money one earns, no matter how one "marries up". That priests came from the highest caste is no surprise, because caste is religiously reinforced, and you can easily see how religion can be manipulate to justify social orders (it happens in many parts of all religions). That teachers were also from a high caste is no surprise, either, because teachers mediate knowledge. Kings, for their part, are merely rich managers, in other words, technicians of power.
      (5 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Akshay
    Sal also says that Mahabarat and Ramayana might have occured in one time frame, though both happen at two different yugas.
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user valerie
    why were teachers and priest above kings
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      "Caste" is almost incomprehensible to the Western mind. One's caste cannot change, no matter how much money one earns, no matter how one "marries up". That priests came from the highest caste is no surprise, because caste is religiously reinforced, and you can easily see how religion can be manipulate to justify social orders (it happens in many parts of all religions). That teachers were also from a high caste is no surprise, either, because teachers mediate knowledge. Kings, for their part, are merely rich managers, in other words, technicians of power.
      (3 votes)
  • starky seed style avatar for user Denim Perkins
    Why do the Indians not carry weapons?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- [Sal] First civilization that we have evidence of around modern-day India and Pakistan is the Indus Valley Civilization, and it's right around the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan and northwest India. In other videos we talk about how it really comes into being in the Third Millennium BCE, and as we enter into the Second Millennium BCE it starts to decline. We don't know exactly why it declined. Might have been climate change, drying up of a river. Might have been a natural disaster. It might have been an influence of other peoples. We're gonna talk about in this video is the next significant period in the history of South Asia, and it involves the migration or the introduction of another group of people, we believe another group of people, and that's the Indo-Aryans. Write this down. Indo-Aryans, sometimes referred to as just the Aryans, who we believe began to migrate into modern-day Pakistan and northwest India at right about the same time that the Indus Valley Civilization was declining. Some historians actually believe maybe Indus Valley Civilization declined because of them. Maybe it was some type of an invasion. Although that theory is not as widely held anymore. Some folks believe that the Indus Valley Civilization and this Indo-Aryan migration somehow merged. But this period that we're talking about, with the migration of these Indo-Aryans, this is called the Vedic Period, or the Vedic Period. It's called the Vedic Period because we learn about it from a collection of literary works that we get from that time, most famously the Vedas. Veda comes from Sanskrit, and Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas. Vedas, in Sanskrit, means: knowledge. And they're the foundation of, one, what we know about the Vedic Period, but they're also the foundation of modern Indian culture and religion. The primary pieces of the Vedas are the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda.. The Rigveda in particular is considered the oldest of the Vedas. It's believed that it was composed around the early part of that Vedic Period, between maybe 1500 BCE and around 1200 BCE. We're talking between 3,000 and 3500 years ago, while these three Vedas we believe were composed later. Now, these Indo-Aryans, it's believed, were essentially pastoralists; they were cattle herders, perhaps nomadic. But as they began to settle not just the Indus River Valley, they actually began to settle the entire Gangetic Plain, which would include this area, which would be northeast India as well as countries like Bangladesh. The Indus and the Ganges are two of the most significant rivers in India. But as they started to settle the Gangetic Plain they also became more traditional farmers. In this green here, I've highlighted when they became more farmers, and started to have more settled kingdoms, or we believe started to have more settled kingdoms. Other significant Hindu epics, we believe the events of the them happened around that late Vedic Period. The events of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Now, the Vedas and these epic poems were originally orally transmitted. But then, later, either in the late Vedic Period or after the Vedic Period was when they were actually written down. Just so you have some context here, Sanskrit is considered one of the oldest Indo-European languages we have. I'll talk more about Indo-European languages in a little bit. Because it turns out that Sanskrit is related to European languages like Greek and Latin and even Germanic languages. Sanskrit's one of the oldest, alongside Mycenaean Greek and the Hittite Language. Those were all contemporary civilizations of around this period right over here, in the Second Millennium BCE. Just so have you context, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, his life was in one of these Vedic kingdoms in the northeast of India. Now, as I mentioned, the Vedas laid the foundation for much of what we consider to be modern-day India. In fact, the first documented reference to the Indus River we have from the Vedas. The Indus Valley Civilization, we haven't been able to decipher their writing. They didn't write down the word Indus. It was in the Vedas that we have the word sindhu, and sindhu was later changed or mispronounced or pronounced differently into other words that we now associate with India. Words like Hindu, Indus, and India, they all derived from Sindhu, which was the River referred to in the Vedas, and then changed into Hindu, Indus, and things like India. Now, also in the Vedas is the first time that we have reference to a stratified social structure, and we see that with the varnas that are referred to. You could view these as social roles or classes. At the top you have the brahmins: the priests, the scholars, and the teachers. Then the next you have the kings and the warriors referred to as the kshatriyas. Then the vaishyas, who are the farmers, the merchants, the artisans. Then the shudras: the laborers. Now, some historians and Vedic scholars believe that these reference to the varnas were added after the Vedic Period to things like the Rigveda; and some believe that these weren't traditional casts, as it's sometimes perceived today, but just a reference to different social strata, that it wasn't necessarily inherited. We are not actually sure about that. But just to give you a feel of what was in the Rigveda. I encourage you to go look at the actual primary text, and there's a lot out there to read. It includes prayers; it includes praise of the gods; it includes rituals; but it also has a lot of interesting philosophy. And, for example, this is from the Rigveda. This is a hymn referred to as Nasadiya Sukta, and it's in the 10th book, the 129th hymn. I find it really interesting because it shows a fairly mature philosophical attitude. This is actually the origin hymn, and this is just a part of it. We're talking about the origin of the universe. "Who really knows? "Who will here proclaim it? "Whence was it produced? "Whence is this creation? "Gods came afterward, with the creation of this universe. "Who then knows whence it has arisen? "Whether God's will created it, or whether He was mute. "Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not. "Only He who is the overseer in highest heaven knows. "Only He knows, or perhaps He does not know." I just find it interesting because it takes a very philosophical view towards this very fundamental question of the origin of the actual universe. So the Vedic Period, very important period in India. It really lays the foundation for what we consider to be modern Hinduism, modern-day India. It starts as really a Bronze-Age civilization, but as we get into the later Vedic Period, we see them smelting iron, and creating iron tools, and things like that. And, as we'll see in the next video, the language of the Vedas, the Sanskrit, when Western scholars started to discover it, it opened up their minds as to what were the roots of many of the peoples who settle not just north India but also Europe.