During the second millennium before the common era, a number of migrations carried out by seminomads speaking an Indo-European language took occurred. These preliterate pastoralists were known as Aryans and spoke an early version of Sanskrit. Sanskrit has significant philological parallels with other Indo-European languages, including Avestan in Iran, ancient Greek, and Latin. The epithet “Aryan” meant “pure” and spoke to the purposeful efforts of the invaders to preserve their tribal identity and heritage while keeping a social distance from the previous inhabitantss.
It is widely accepted that the Aryans evolved and extended their civilization over the Indo-Gangetic Plain, despite the fact that archaeology has not produced evidence that can definitively prove who the Aryans were. A body of sacred texts is the foundation for modern knowledge of the early stages of this process. These sacred texts include the four Vedas, which are collections of hymns, prayers, and liturgy; the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, which are commentaries on Vedic rituals and philosophical treatises; and the Puranas, which are historical narratives of ancient India (traditional mythic-historical works). Because of the respect bestowed upon these books and the method that has been used to ensure their survival over the course of many millennia, namely an uninterrupted oral tradition, they are considered to be a part of the ongoing Hindu heritage.
Aryan practises and beliefs may be pieced together with the help of these holy books, which give direction. The Aryans were a pantheistic people who followed their tribal chieftain or raja. They frequently fought wars with one another as well as with other ethnic groups that were not native to their land, but they were also slowly transitioning into agriculturalists with consolidated territories and differentiated occupations. Because of their expertise in the use of horse-drawn chariots, as well as their understanding of astronomy and mathematics, they had a military and technical advantage over their contemporaries, which ultimately led to the acceptance of their social traditions and religious beliefs (see Science and Technology, ch. 6). Around the year 1000 B.C., the Aryan civilization had already established itself over the majority of India that is to the north of the Vindhya Range and had, as a result, adopted many aspects of the preceding cultures.
A new language, a new pantheon of anthropomorphic gods, a patrilineal and patriarchal family structure, and a new social order founded on the theological and philosophical rationales of varnashramadharma were all things that the Aryans brought with them. The concept of varnashramadharma, the bedrock of Indian traditional social organisation, is built on three fundamental notions: varna (originally, “colour,” but later taken to mean social class—see Glossary), ashrama (stages of life such as youth, family life, detachment from the material world, and renunciation), and dharma. Although precise translation into English is difficult, this is the foundation of Indian traditional social organisation (duty, righteousness, or sacred cosmic law). The underlying belief is that one’s ethical or moral behaviour is directly responsible for one’s present happiness as well as one’s future salvation; as a result, both society and individuals are expected to pursue a diverse but righteous path that is deemed appropriate for everyone based on one’s birth, age, and station in life. [Case in point:] The original three-tiered society, which consisted of the Brahman (priest; see Glossary), the Kshatriya (warrior), and the Vaishya (commoner), eventually expanded into four in order to absorb the subjugated people, who were known as the Shudra (servant), or even five when the outcaste peoples were taken into consideration.
The large and patriarchal family was the fundamental social institution of Aryan culture. A village was made up of a cluster of connected households, while a tribal unit was made up of many villages working together. Child marriage, as it was done in later ages, was unusual; nonetheless, the partners’ participation in the choosing of a match, as well as the dowry and bride-price, were commonplace. The birth of a boy was reason for celebration since in the future he would be able to care for the herds, bring glory to the battlefield, give sacrifices to the gods, inherit property, and carry on the family name. Even if polygamy was not common practise at the time, subsequent works do make reference to polyandry and monogamy as acceptable alternatives. It was common practise for widows to commit ritual suicide after the death of their husbands. This may have been the origin of the later tradition known as sati, in which the widow would actually set fire to herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband.
The establishment of permanent communities and agricultural practises paved the way for vocational specialisation in a variety of fields. As more and more land along the Ganga (or Ganges) was cleared, the river became into a commercial route, and the various villages that sprang up on its banks served as marketplaces. Trade was originally only allowed to take place in the immediate vicinity, and bartering was an integral part of the process. Large-scale transactions often included cattle as the unit of value, which further limited the geographical reach of traders. The custom was the law, and the kings and high priests were the arbiters, with maybe some of the community’s elders providing them with advice. An Aryan raja, sometimes known as a king, was mainly a military commander who, at the completion of successful livestock raids or wars, was entitled to a portion of the plunder. Although the rajas had been successful in establishing their authority, they took great care to avoid conflicts with the priests as a group. Recognizing that the priests were superior to the rest of the community in terms of their religious observance and knowledge, the rajas were willing to compromise their own interests in favour of those of the priests.