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Later Vedic Culture: Social Organization

Social Organization

  • The social transformation in the Later Vedic Period is much more clearly reflected in the references in the Vedic texts.
  • The social divisions of varna became more established.
  • Teaching was seen as the occupation of the Brahmanas.
  • The wives of Brahmanas and cows were given important status.
  • Rajanya refers to kshatriyas and they were the warriors and rulers who received bali as tax.
  • Striking changes took place in the Varna System.
  • There was an increase in the privileges of the two higher classes, the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas at the cost of the Vaisyas and Sudras.
  • In the Panchavimsa Brahmana, the Kshatriya is placed first, higher than the Brahmana but in the Satapatha Brahmana, the Brahmana is placed higher than Kshatriya.
  • In later Vedic society the importance of the purohita (priest) is stressed, as mentioned in the Vedic texts.
  • The Kshatriyas challenged Brahmanical supremacy and their exclusive privilege of entering the asramas, a regulated four stage life namely brahmacharya, grihasta, vanaprastha and sanyasa.
  • The outcome of this was the birth of Jainism, Buddhism and Ajivakam.
  • The system of four Varnas had taken deep root and became rigid in the course of time.
  • The popularity of rituals helped the Brahmanas to attain power.
  • Brahmanas became important and the kings supported them, although they had conflicts with Rajanyas, the warrior nobles.
  • The concept of dvija (twice-born) developed and the upanayana (sacred thread) was limited to the upper sections of the society.
  • This ceremony marked the initiation for education.
  • The fourth varna was denied this privilege and the Gayatri mantra could not be recited by the Sudras.
  • Women were also denied upanayana and Gayatri mantra.
  • The king asserted his authority over the three varnas.
  • The Aitreya Brahmana refers to the Brahmana as the seeker of support and he could be removed by king from his position.
  • Certain craft groups managed to attain higher status.
  • For example, the Rathakaras, the chariot makers, had the right to wear the sacred thread.
  • Vaisya referred to the common people. They were involved in agriculture, cattle breeding and artisans. Later they became traders. Vaisyas paid tax to the kings.
  • Some social groups were placed in ranking even below the Sudras.
  • However, cross varna marriages did happen.
  • The idea of gotra emerged in the later Vedic period.
  • Gotra literally meant ‘cowpen’ and it referred to a group of people from a common ancestor.
  • Persons of the same gotra were considered as brothers and sisters and could not therefore intermarry.
  • Several unilineal descent groups existed with common ancestors.
  • Several related clans formed the tribe.


  • The household became more structured, which means it became more organised.
  • The family was an important social unit.
  • The family was patriarchal with patrilineal descent.
  • The relations within the family were hierarchical.
  • Polygyny (taking many wives) was prevalent.
  • Several household rituals were also developed for the welfare of the family.
  • The married man with his wife was the yajamana.
  • The concept of asramas, referring to various stage of life, was not well established in this time.
  • While brahmacharya, grihasta and vanaprastha are mentioned, sanyasa had not developed.


  • The status of women declined as the society became more structured and the patriarchal family became more important.
  • In the family the father was the head.
  • The right of primogeniture was strong.
  • Though women had participated in rituals in the Rig Vedic period, they were excluded in the later Vedic period.
  • Daughters are spoken of as a source of trouble.
  • Their work was to look after the cattle, milking animals and fetching water.

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