Ancient Civilizations Society and Economy in the Vedic Period
Development of specific caste system was one of the most far-reaching changes which occurred during the Vedic period. A caste system is a result of struggles with non-Aryans people known as Dasyu who presumably spoke an alien language, had a darker skin tone and worshiped strange gods and are believed to be India’s earlier inhabitants as well as of struggles between the Aryans themselves. The development of the caste system was also greatly influenced by religion and economy of the Vedic period.
The four varnas which came to be regarded as four classes of Indian society were first mentioned in Rigveda where are described the Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (kings, aristocracy, warriors), Vaishyas (agriculturists, traders) and Sudras (farmers, craftsmen, labourers). The fact that the highest social class – the Brahmans consisted of priesthood or those who possessed the magical or divine knowledge and not of aristocracy clearly indicates the importance of religion in Vedic society as well as its influence on the system of four varnas which was attributed to divine creation. The Kshatriyas – the ruling and military class were the second highest varna, while agriculturists and traders belonged to the third of four classes known as Vaishya. Sudras comprising servants and labourers who were meant to serve the other three varnas were on the bottom of the social hierarchy. Members of Sudra are traditionally believed to be non-Aryan inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent who were subdued by the Aryans.
Society in the Vedic period was in addition to four varnas further divided into jatis or the actual castes. The term jati literally means births what clearly indicates the fact that one became a member of certain jati at birth. There are thousands of jatis which preserved their “purity” with endogenous marriages.
The Vedic period also saw the transition from nomadic pastoralism to settled village communities in which agriculture grew more prominent especially after the introduction of iron and migration into the Ganges valley in the 8th century BC. However, cattle dominated the economy during the Vedic period and was closely associated with wealth.