The Rig-Vedic and Post-Rig-Vedic Polity (1500 BCE-500 BCE)

by R.U.S. Prasad (Harvard University)

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The book critically examines and assesses the literary evidence available through Vedic and allied literature portraying the nature of Vedic polity, the functionalities of its various institutions, and the various social and religious practices. The book is not a narrative but critically examines the nature of changes in a host of these areas that occurred at each stage of Vedic polity from early Vedic period to post Ṛig-Vedic period. It outlines in historical perspective the various stages involved in the development of Vedic polity and Vedic canon and how the two processes have gone along together. It contains extensive discussions on political system and institutions, religious and social practices as they obtained during the Rig-Vedic and post Rig-Vedic periods. It provides a fresh approach to the cult of sacrifice and fire rituals practiced by Vedic Aryans along with an in-depth analysis of the Vedic view of Nationalism, Sovereignty and State as discernible from Vedic texts .The book also features an extensive discussion on the institution of kingship, administrative machinery, role of various entities in the polity including the Purohita, the Sabha and the Samiti, position of women, Varna system and features of tribal kingdoms, such as the Kuru-Panchalas and Kosala-Videhas. Isolating political and social aspects from the essentially religious character of Vedic literature, an attempt has been made to show with due corroboration that the tribal polity was not deficient in political content contrary to the stance of some scholars to depict Vedic Aryans as apolitical and inward looking.

The present book partakes both the current and previous scholarship on the subject but breaks a new path with its exclusive focus on the Rig-Vedic and Post Rig-Vedic polity, together with a balanced and objective assessment of their features. It brings all the relevant and connected issues on to one platform, and deals with them in a holistic manner. Its unique features include:

• The “Vedic Grid”: a graphical representation and tabulations of the characteristics of each of the about 50 Vedic tribes, including information on the location of their habitat, their time line, the names of their chieftains and their linkage with priestly clans.
• A special focus on the Second Urbanization taking place in the Gangetic valley between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. It explains how towards the end of the later Vedic period, the polity underwent a change in political, social and economic spheres which blossomed later during the period of Mauryas.
• Two appendices dealing with the theories of Aryan migration and the relationship of the Vedic Aryans with the Harappa culture and what can be ascertained by Vedic literature.

i) Acknowledgements;
ii) Foreword
iii) Abbreviations
iv) Glossary
v) Preface

Chapter I - Introduction
Vedic Age
Dating of the Ṛ̣gveda
Time-line of the later Vedic texts
Composition of the Ṛgveda and other Vedic texts
Possible locations

Chapter II - Sources and Methodology;

Chapter III - Development of Vedic Canon and Vedic Polity;

Chapter IV - Vedic Concepts of Nationalism and Sovereignty

Chapter V - Vedic Rāṣṭṛa;

Chapter VI - Important Ṛgvedic tribes:
a) Anus;
b) Druyus;
c) Purus;
d) Turvasas;
e) Yadus;
f) Other Rig-Vedic tribes;

Chapter VII - Vedic Grid

Chapter VIII - Post Ṛgvedic tribes;

Chapter IX - Political System and Institutions during the Ṛgvedic and Post Ṛgvedic Periods
a) Institution of Kingship
b) Origin of Kingship
c) Selection or election of a King
d) Deposition of a King
e) The King’s Consecration
f) The King’s duties
g) Subsidiary Political Institutions and Administrative Apparatus

Chapter X - The Ṛgvedic and Post Ṛgvedic Social Practices
a) Social Characteristics
b) Status of Women
c) Varṇa System

Chapter XI - Vedic Values and Religious Practices
a) Concept of Ṛta
b) Cult of Sacrifice

Chapter XII - Tribal Kingdoms
a) TheKuru-Pan̄cāla Ascendancy
b) Kosala-Videha Realm

Chapter XIII - Features of the Post Ṛgvedic Period

Chapter XIV - Second Urbanisation

Chapter XV- Summary and Conclusions.

Appendix I: Vedic Aryans - Migrants or Indigenous; Vedic Aryans and the Harappan Culture.
Appendix II: A Brief Outline of Vedic Literature- The Ṛgveda, The Yajur-Veda, The Sạ̄ma-Veda, The Atharva-Veda, The Brāhmaṇas, The Āraṇyakas, The Upaniṣads, The Sūtras.

List of Tables
List of Maps

Dr. R.U.S. Prasad is currently engaged in post-doctoral research as an Associate in the Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University. This book is culmination of more than three years of research at Harvard where he works with Professor Michael Witzel which was interspersed with research work in India. His research challenges the perception of some scholars that Vedic texts focus primarily on the religious and metaphysical aspects of Indian mind. Leveraging the robust framework of time and place, Dr. Prasad brings out the political and social aspects of the Aryan expansion as it transformed from a tribal, pastoral society to the emergence of the Kuru- Pancalas, the first large confederacy and beyond. Dr. Prasad holds a Doctorate degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India and a Master’s degree in History and Economics from Patna University, India.

His other notable research engagements include Stanford University, where he was a visiting research fellow at the Stanford Center for International Development (SCID) where he also contributed two Working Papers which were published by SCID. Dr. Prasad has held a variety of assignments under the Government of India including that of Secretary to Government of India as also as a Member of Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal. He has worked as Expert/Consultant for two Switzerland based United Nations (UN) specialized agencies, viz. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Universal Postal Union (UPU). He is widely travelled and has participated in many international conferences as leader of Indian delegation. He has also written a book titled ‘Resolving Disputes in Telecommunications- Global Practices and Future Challenges’ which was published by Oxford University Press, India in 2011.

"R.U.S. Prasad rightly introduces the Vedic corpus as a 'legacy of perennial value for mankind'. As depicted by his excellent scrutiny of the Rig-Vedic and Post-Vedic polity, the Vedic corpus constitutes world-wide also the most comprehensive and perseverative documentation of various facets early state formation of one of the great civilizations of mankind. The work constitutes a systematic study and breakdown of the vast literary evidence of the Vedic corpus and comprises a 'construction of a Vedic grid' with detailed graphic representation. Thus it epitomises, too, a unique documentation of the socio-political development of early India in the second and early first millenniums BCE. It comprehends the successive development stages from the early settlement of the semi-nomadic Aryan tribes and the emergence of the Brahmana-Kshatriya dominated varna society in the Punjab and the Ganga-Yamuna doab to the rise of the first north Indian historical kingdoms in the Gangetic plain on the eve of Buddha's age."

Prof. Hermann Kulke (Emeritus)
Kiel University, Germany

"It has always been a temptation to view ancient documents and social configurations through lenses provided by later texts and social mores. When the ancient document is a sacred text, like the Rig Veda, this propensity is magnified by theological imperatives. In the case of ancient India in particular, the historical view has been clouded by the fog of nationalist discourse. Dr. Prasad clear and comprehensive book on the political structures of the Rig-Vedic and Post Rig-Vedic times lifts that fog and presents with clarity the changing and vibrant landscape of ancient Indian society and political formations. This will be fruitful reading especially for those who want an accessible yet accurate and comprehensive introduction to ancient Indian society."

Patrick Olivelle
University of Texas at Austin

"Prasad traces the development of systems of governance from early to late Vedic times, paying careful attention to correlating the development of power structures with early tribal movements and dynamics, shifting geographical horizons, and changes in modes of production and sustenance as these unfold through the diachronic textual strata reflected in the early sources. An important study that enhances our understanding of early Indian polity."

Edwin Bryant, Professor of Hinduism
Rutgers, State University of New Jersey.

"Dr. R.U.S. Prasad has made an excellent grid to show the relation of many Vedic tribes with particular places and periods by his laborious examination of various Vedic texts. By this he is successful in elucidating the development of Vedic society from the pastoral/tribal polity in Panjab to the agrarian/super-tribal state in the Gangetic plain. A welcome addition to research in ancient state formation."

Noboru Karashima, Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo

"My initial interaction with Dr. R.U.S. Prasad concerned the research he conducted as a visiting scholar at the Stanford Center for International Development on the resolution of disputes in the telecommunications sector. At that time, I would never have guessed that his true scholarly passion, as revealed in his most recent manuscript, involved an era of much greater antiquity. His investigation of the changes in the Vedic polity that occurred during the many stages from the early Rig-Vedic to the post Rig-Vedic period (1500 BCE-500 BCE) displays a breadth of scholarship as astonishing as it is impressive."

Nicholas C. Hope, Stanford University

Bibliographic Information

Book Title
The Rig-Vedic and Post-Rig-Vedic Polity (1500 BCE-500 BCE)
Number of pages
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Publication date
July 2015