Tuesday, May 26, 2020

600-400 BC : Origin & teachings of Budhism and Jainism

563- 483 BC: Budha, the enlightened one. (Note: Both birth and death dates are approximate and also often debated ; latest archaeological findings from Lumbini, his birthplace, posits a much earlier date of around 560 BC than the previously thought 490 BC)

Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini, close to today's Indo-Nepal border, in the royal palace of the kshatriya Shakya clan sometime around 560 BC. India of that time was spiritually open, thriving and was the hotbed of some of the most venerated spiritual thinking for humanity. He would go on to become Budha, the enlightened one. It is said he got enlightenment while meditating under a tree in Bodh Gaya (in today's Bihar in India) at the age of 35. He passed away in Kushinara, in todays Uttar Pradesh in nothern India around 483 BC, at the age of 80, 45 years after he got enlightenment. His impact on Indian and global spiritual sphere would remain almost unassailable. Not only did he collate his ideas of enlightenment and true happiness into what would later become the religion of Budhism, he impacted Vedic thinking of the day. It is obvious that some of his teaching had long lasting impact on Hinduism, starting with some of the ideas in Upanishads especially around renunciation and mokhsa. Fact that Gautama lived at a time Upanishads were being written makes it impossible that there was no give and take of ideas between his teachings and teachings of Upanishads. One might even say his teachings in prakrit (Pali) as against Sanskrit (the language of the Vedic priests) and the huge following of laymen he created in North India inspired Vedic hinduism to change - move from vedic rituals to one of deep contemplation & thinking as evidenced in Upanishads, move to incorporate local myths and languages into vedic fold, and invite its followers to think about life after death - especially the path of moksha as against the path of rebirth. Concept of Karma, was also likely developed during this time through learnings from both Budhism and sanatana dharma.

His core teachings / truths were laid down as  : Suffering exists (it is real and universal), there is a cause for it (attachment), there is an end to suffering (through Nirvana), and eight fold path to attain nirvana (around wisdom, virtue and meditation)

599-527 BC : Vardhamana Mahavir and Jainism

Similar to Gautama, Vardhamana was born into a royal family around 600 BC. As a contemporary of Budha, his teachings have many similarities with Budhism. He established Jainism which a major focus on shramana way of life - life of monks. He was, like Budha, opposed to the ritualistic aspects of Vedic religion of his time. He was also instrumental in further developing concepts of karma and moksha. The ultimate goal behind practicing the teachings of Lord Mahavira is to attain freedom from the cycle of rebirth as human life is representative of pain, misery and vices. According to him, the accumulation of bad karma leads to the repeated cycle of rebirth. He preached that the real path leading to attainment of liberation from the cycle of Karma is through Samyak Darshana (right faith), Samyak Jnana (right knowledge) and Samyak Charitra (right character).

The impact these sages had on Indian spiritual and social space is unique - it touched upon almost all spheres of life - religious, social, class distinctions, royal patronage, women empowerment, non-violence, food preferences (esp vegetarianism which was almost unknown in India till then). Their exchange of ideas with Sanatana Dharma, a.k.a Hinduism, has led to some of the deepest spiritual awakening in India of yore. Some would go to the extend of saying they transformed, albeit indirectly, Hinduism from being a predominantly ritualistic vedic religion to one of deep philosophical thoughts.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Thoughts and content of Upanishads

At the outset, one must confess it is almost impossible to write about all that is in the Upanishads and synthesize it to a single post. First of all, I have only very basic Sanskrit knowledge and second of all I have not read all the Upanishads. Equally important, is that fact that there are so many immensely deep ideas in Upanishads that it is beyond my intelligence level to synthesize them to any degree of honesty and comprehensiveness.

For people interested in understanding Upanishads in detail, I can only refer them to Sankara bashyam - where Sankaracharya wrote commentaries on the Upanishads. We don't really know if he got hold of the Upanishads the way they were originally written since he wrote the commentaries around ~730-750 AD where as the earliest Upanishads were written around 600 BC.

Some of the noteworthy content themes for me are being noted below.

Two paths for life : Samsara and samnyasa

Upanishads are the first port of call across the Vedas where a system of renunciation is developed in much depth. Most of Vedas, pre Aranyak deals with material life. What is it that humans should do so that they can amass good karmas which will help them go to heaven and be reborn in an exalted form (e.g. wise humans) rather than as say, insect or dog. This is samsara, the cycle of life. Most of the the vedic people thus far were bothered only with this life, in this material world.

With Upanishads, new path is introduced - one of moksha through samnyasa. This is moving away from the cycle of life and death and instead attain moksha , renunciation.

While the former explains what should be done to amass good Karma (at its most simplistic definition, it pertains to all human actions), the latter disassociates itself from all forms of Karma. Any form of Karma, whether good or bad, ties one up with cycle of life. Hence to escape the cycle of rebirths the best is to avoid all forms of karma, the core of renunciation philosophy that was developed during this times.

The second brahmana of brihadaranyaka upanishad, deals directly with these two paths

On the path of samnyasa it says,

'Those who thus know this (even Grihasthas), and those who in the forest worship faith and the True (Brahman Hiranyagarbha), go to light (arkis), from light to day, from day to the increasing half, from the increasing half to the six months when the sun goes to the north, from those six months to the world of the Devas (Devaloka), from the world of the Devas to the sun, from the sun to the place of lightning. When they have thus reached the place of lightning a spirit comes near them, and leads them to the worlds of the (conditioned) Brahman. In these worlds of Brahman they dwell exalted for ages. There is no returning for them"

On the existing path of samsara driven largely by householder sacrifices and rituals, it says

"But they who conquer the worlds (future states) by means of sacrifice, charity, and austerity, go to smoke, from smoke to night, from night to the decreasing half of the moon, from the decreasing half of the moon to the six months when the sun goes to the south, from these months to the world of the fathers, from the world of the fathers to the moon. Having reached the moon, they become food, and then the Devas feed on them there, as sacrificers feed on Soma, as it increases and decrease. But when this (the result of their good works on earth) ceases, they return again to that ether, from ether to the air, from the air to rain, from rain to the earth. And when they have reached the earth, they become food, they are offered again in the altar-fire, which is man, and thence are born in the fire of woman. Thus they rise up towards the worlds, and go the same round as before"
It is unclear whether there was a hierarchy between the paths but clearly renunciation was increasingly becoming a preferred form of following dharma / religion. In fact, the later Upanishads, especially the Sanyasa Upanishads, even goes on to prefer the renunciation path over the vedic householder path.

It is worth noting here that later treatises (especially dharmasastras), integrate the two paths and maps them to stages of life - life divided into brahmacharya (pre-wedding, student life), gruhasthashram (householder life), vanaprastha (forest dweller) and sanyasi (renouncer). First two, you act in accordance with path of samsara (how to lead a good householder life - learn, acquire wisdom, have sex, make children, build house, acquire wealth, do charity / rituals etc) while the focus of last stage is moksha. And third stage is preparing for the final stage while residing and contemplating in the forest. It is in some ways a hedge - do the best you can in first two stages (sat-karma) so that if you take rebirth you are at least reborn in favorable circumstances. And in the last renunciant stage do what you can to avoid rebirth altogether and achieve moksha, escaping from the cycle of birth and death.

Developing Advaita philosophy

Advaita means non-dualism. At its core it believes in oneness of all creation - all creations are one and are parts of the universal spirit (brahman). The only reality is Him and everything else is mithya / maya (non-existent, illusory).

The world has no separate existence apart from Brahman. The experiencing self (jīva) and the transcendental self of the Universe (ātman) are in reality identical (both are Brahman), though the individual self seems different as space within a container seems different from space as such.

It establishes that Brahman is nirguna (formless, without attributes) while each individual might perceive an ishvara (lord) - which is saguna (with attributes including form)

The key difference Advaita with regard to dvaita philosophy is the belief that jiva is same as brahman and saguna ishvara's perceived existence to normal humans is due to avidya (ignorance). For Dvaita, jivatma (soul within humans) and param atma (supreme soul) each has an independent existence. However, God (brahman in Upanishads) is personal in nature, saguna and controls the world and all creatures.

Let us now look at select shlokas from a variety of the principal Upanishads to get a gist of Vedantic thought 


Isha Upanishad, IU, one of the shortest Principal Upanishads, but well know), writes thus

iśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yatkiñca jagatyāṃ jagat |
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam ||

All that there is (in this world) is abode of the Lord (is enveloped/pervaded by the Him)
Renouncing possessions, enjoy (in this knowledge), do not desire any other wealth

Essentially pointing to the fact that everything there is, is Brahman - why would you hence want to possess anything ? You can enjoy this life without being desirous of any other wealth once you have this knowledge - when you are Brahman and everything else is also Brahman, why would you lack anything that you would be desirous of possessing anything outside of you.

Tatvam Asi

Chandogya Upanishad (CU), one of the oldest of the principal Upanishads says thus (Chapter.6.8)

Tat Tvam Asi Svataketo (तत्त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो) 

That thou (O! Svataketu) art

The pupil Svataketu returns after 12 years of rigorous study, quite pleased with himself. His father asks him if he know the truth of reality. When Svataketu expresses his lack of knowledge of It, his father explains the same to him, ending in the famous advise "That which is the subtlest, the Self within all, That is the truth.That thou (O! Svataketu) art ".

Each human is the unchanging reality. Names, attributes, positions changes but who we really are, that essence is the unchanging truth - your true identity. Svataketu's father is asking him to remove from his mind self attributes - I'm tall, I'm learned, I'm rich, I'm this or that - and come back to his true identify - that which Is. The true unchanging identity, the subtle essence present in all beings.

Aham brahmasmi

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (BU), along with CU above, it is one of the oldest Upanishads and probably one of the most studied. Chapter 1, 4.10

Aham Brahmasmi

On a passage that explains how only Self existed in the beginning and everything else verily sprung from it, BU says that "I'm Brahman, the ultimate reality".

"Verily in the beginning this was Brahman, that Brahman knew (its) Self only, saying, 'I am Brahman.' From it all this sprang" (This here refers to all that exists). It further goes one step ahead and says "Thus, whatever Deva was awakened (so as to know Brahman), he indeed became that (Brahman); and the same with Rishis and men".

Even gods are enlightened when they understand that they are brahman. Same goes for all learned rishis and ordinary men. Essentially, real awakening or enlightenment happens only when one understand that every man himself is the brahman, the ultimate reality. This chapter in BU extols the Advaita philosophy (which will only later be developed into a systemic structure) "Now if a man worships another deity, thinking the deity is one and he another, he does not know".

Once you know your Self is one with Ultimate reality (brahman), then you are never incomplete. You don't have to desire for "other" to complete yourself - whether it be a wife, wealth, possessions. 

BU Chapter 1, 4 Brahman ends with the following

"In the beginning this was Self alone, one only. He desired, 'Let there be a wife for me that I may have offspring, and let there be wealth for me that I may offer sacrifices.' Verily this is the whole desire, and, even if wishing for more, he would not find it. Therefore now also a lonely person desires, 'Let there be a wife for me that I may have offspring, and let there be wealth for me that I may offer sacrifices.' And so long as he does not obtain either of these things, he thinks he is incomplete. Now his completeness (is made up as follows): mind is his self (husband); speech the wife; breath the child; the eye all worldly wealth, for he finds it with the eye, the ear his divine wealth, for he hears it with the ear. The body is his work, for with the body he works. This is the fivefold sacrifice, for fivefold is the animal, fivefold man, fivefold all this whatsoever. He who knows this, obtains all this". 

Poorna mantra

IU and BU both commonly has the mantra as follows

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते ।

पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

ओँ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Which can be translated literally as "That is full. This is full. Fullness emerges from fullness. If fullness is removed from fullness, fullness is retained / shall remain. Let there be peace, peace, peace".

It can be interpreted in many ways but the most common understanding is one of merging one's self with infinity / Brahman. Our self is nothing but a part of the infinite brahman. 

Dvaita interpretation : Both jiva atman (individual soul within each human) and param atman (supreme soul) are complete in itself. Not only that, they are also identical - both being infinite. The jiva atman is made from param atman. Even after that param atman remains infinite. 

Advaita interpretation : That (brahman) is infinite, this (atman) is infinite. This came from that. But even after this emerged from that, that remains infinite.

Atleast, both interpretations agree on the final line - Let there be peace, peace, peace :-)

Pavamana mantra ; prayer for purification

Brihadarnyaka has another famous mantra that is commonly recited in school morning prayers in India and also for many other occasions. (Chapter 1, 3rd Brahmana)

Asato ma sad gamaya; tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; mrtyor ma amrutam gamaya

The straight forward interpretation of this is as follows

Take me from unreal to real (verily the truth)
Take me from from darkness to light
Take me from death to immortality

BU on this chapter though is focused on bringing immortality and verily says all the three lines are around helping sacrificer attain immortality. Context is very complex starting with a fight between devas and asuras - simplistically good and evil. Breath helps Devas win over asuras and thus establishes the primacy of breath over other senses. The brahmana goes on to call breath, Angirasa ayasa. Ayasa = of the mouth ; angirasa (rasa of the anga = sap of the limbs, that which gives life to limbs). Further one breath is called brihaspati (lord of speech). It then gives the sacrificer mantras for purification including this one for immortality. 


Monday, May 11, 2020

600-300 BCE : Principal Upanishads composed

Important note : I'll use the term Hinduism/Hindu from now on instead of the technically correct terms like Dharma, Sanatana Dharma etc. As long as we remember that there was nothing called Hinduism/Hindu during these times and that it is a much later manifestation, it helps in avoiding being too pedantic. Funnily enough even if Krishna, a key character in Mahabharata (who would later become a storied Godhead in Hindu pantheon), were to be asked if he were a Hindu, he would not even have understood the question. 

Historical context

Vedic people move east and further south. Magadha emerges as the largest Mahajanapada few hundred years after the Mahabharata war. Despite the apocalyptic war (TBC, will explore the real breadth of war and deaths later in 300 BCE when we discuss about the literature), Indian population by 600 BCE had become the largest in the world (According to Greek historian Herodotus). The substantial surplus created by rice cultivation in the fertile alluvial plains of Gangetic plains produced many "urban" societies. People, relatively wealthy due to surplus, also moved far and wide - intermixing of various thoughts and cultures all across South Asia. It is in this milieu that Upanishads were composed.

This society in which Upanishads were composed could not have been more different from the Old vedic times in which first vedas were composed up in Punjab plains - open spaces, people living in forests, sleeping under stars, temporary shelters, no fixed housing, horses galore.

One could almost see a nostalgia of the Vedic past (from Punjab and prior to that the open steppe spaces beyond Hindu Kush) in much of Aranyaks and Upanishads - students and teachers living in forests, sleeping under stars, temporary hutments discussing about meaning of life and such other topics pretty cut off from every day city life that most Vedic people by now had accustomed into around the gangetic plains.

Upanishads are typically regarded as the last bit of Shruti scriptures of Hindu philosophy. The usage comes from the assumption that this was the last bit of knowledge that were "seen" by mantra drashtas - enlightened Rishis. Everything that comes after the last of  Upanishads are counted as Smriti, that which is remembered and put to text by humans, and hence not derived directly from the god. A practical difference of Shruti and Smriti was that, in ancient times at least, the Shrutis were never written down (passed on from generation to generation through only oral rendition) where as Smritis were not so (you could write it down, though epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata were sung over generations before being put to text)

Upanishads are also known as Vedanta, the end of Vedas. On one front, it is the end of Shruti scriptures and on the other it is regarded as the last append of Veda samhitas (after Brahmanas and Aranyakas)

It is, however, not quite easy to date Upanishads. It is even more difficult than dating Mahabharata. This is primarily because there is no one understanding among all scholars as to what all constitutes Upanishads. Since it denotes the end of Vedas and Shruti, there is a constant pressure to add something new to it - many composers would love their own composition to be added to the Upanishadic body of works so as it give it the sanctity of "words from the very mouth of god". Everyone wanted to board the last train !

But if you take most of the largest and well known works of Upanishads, one can approximately say they were composed sometime after Mahabharata war and before AD. Generally, scholars give a wide range of 800-300 or 600-300 BCE when they were written.

Structure of Principal Upanishads

Depending on which Veda it is appended to, we can broadly bucket Upanishads also into 4 or 5, if one were to split Yajurveda into the Black - Krishna and White (Shukla) ones.

10 Upanishads from the Rigveda
19 Upanishads from the Shukla-Yajurveda
32 Upanishads from the Krishna-Yajurveda
16 Upanishads from the Samaveda and
31 Upanishads from the Atharvaveda.

13 of them are regarded as core to Hinduism by vedic scholars (Called Mukhya or Principal Upanishads)

(A) Upanishads of the Rigveda :
(1) Aitareya Upanishad,
(2) Kaushitaki Upanishad

(B) Upanishads of the Shukla-Yajurveda:
(3) Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,
(4) Isha Upanishad

(C) Upanishads of the Krishna-Yajurveda:
(5) Taittiriya Upanishad,
(6) Katha Upanishad,
(7) Shvetashvatara Upanishad,
(8) Maitrayaniya Upanishad

(D) Upanishads of the Samaveda:
(9) Chandogya Upanishad,
(10) Kena Upanishad

(E) Upanishads of the Atharvaveda:
(11) MundakaUpanishad,
(12) MandukyaUpanishad,
(13) Prashna Upanishad.

Content of Upanishads

Unlike Samhitas (and most other early Vedic literature), Upanishad speak more about knowledge and less about rituals (move from karma kanda to jnana kanda, sphere of action to sphere of knowledge). Already in Aranyaks (literally meaning, pertaining to forest), we can see a shift in focus from material livelihood based rituals to much more philosophical discussions fit for forest dwelling monks /sadhus. While ancient Vedas pertained more to humans living in villages and going about their everyday life, the Aranyaks and subsequently Upanishads are more philosophical in nature - delinked from questions of every day material life. For this reason, many believe Upanishads are the real throbbing heart of Hinduism.

It is also worth noting the historical context under which Vedantic philosophies started finding favors. On one side, Vedic rituals were losing meaning for spiritual seekers among the vedic people and on the other side these times witnessed birth of Gautama Budha and Mahavira. They established Budhism and Jainism - two religions seeking answers to deep spiritual questions like meaning of life, obtaining nirvana etc- through creation of monastic orders. While vedic teachings thus far were meant for everyday village life, it lacked probing spiritual questions. Budhism and Jainism helped meet some of these needs and this in turn likely led to Vedantic thoughts getting prominence within the Hindu fold.  Hence one could say this was in many ways the golden time of Indian philosophy - which would go on to inspire millions of adherents across Asia and rest of the world.

Unfortunately, very few present day Hindus ever read the beautiful Upanishads given the complex philosophy involved and lack of easy to understand translations in regional languages. Also one must accept that there is no way to over simplify the philosophy and at some point one needs to accept that it is not for everyone.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

1000-600 BCE: Painted Gray Ware culture and Mahabharata war dating

1900-1200 BCE Late Harappan, early Vedic cultural association with pottery 

The excavations show usage of Ochre Colored Pottery in Northern India during the times of 1900-1200 BCE. These were less artistic and fine compared to the sophisticated IVC culture which used burnished, smooth surfaced, polished ware pottery.

However from around 1200-600 BCE, excavations show the Vedic people as belonging to the PGW (Painted Gray Ware) culture. The Rig Vedic sites have PGW but iron objects are absent. Hence it is considered a pre-iron phase of PGW. On the other hand, the Later Vedic sites are considered iron-phase of PGW.

Most of the places mentioned in Mahabharata has now been excavated with wide presence of PGW cultures in almost all key places in the epic (Hastinapur - now Meerut, Indraprastha-now Delhi), Kurukshetra -same name now, Gandhara (Kandahar, Afghan), Magadha (now in Bihar), dwaraka (under ocean now), Virata (now Jaipur), Mathura (same name now).

This has led to historians and scholars to place the dating of Mahabharata at around the time of 600-1000 BCE. Also most likely the war did not happen in early vedic times since Iron was not found. It had to happen in the Iron age given the weaponry used, chariots used etc. All these points towards late vedic age as time of the war. Though it is never easy to give an exact date, it is now more or less agreed that the war happened sometime in 600-1000 BCE time period.

What can be understood with reasonable probability are

1. It could not have happened before or during OCP times (before 1900 or in 1900-1200 BCE) simply because only two of the major Mahabharata sites gives any proof of well settled life in the OCP layer excavations. Also bronze age could not have produced the types of weapons and janapadas with their own kings systems as explained in Mahabharata.

2. Mahabharata tells about many Janapadas (anga, vanga, kosalam, avanti, gandharam,kalingam, chedi, panchalam) which joined either the Pandavas or the Kauravas faction. Could not have happened before 1000 BCE. (No janapadas originated before this time). 12 of the 16 Janapadas participated in the Mahabharata. (These Janapadas originates around 1000-800 BCE, stabilizing by 600 BCE) . Good samples and proofs of iron, agri wares, weapons / arrow heads in PGW layers across many of these.

3. By 600 BCE Magadha emerges as the main Mahajanadapa - and one of the first large states of India. However, Magadha has no special mention in times of Mahabharata. Hence it could not have happened after 600 BC.

It is worth noting that some historians / astrologers have, based on star signs mentioned in Mahabharata and understanding of Yugas in Indian mythology have put the date of Mahabharata as sometime around 3000-3100 BCE. It's now almost widely accepted that this is impossible given that even IVC hadn't matured, even Rigveda was not written and Iron age was still many centuries away. Hence a sophisticated war like Mahabharata which involved widely spread Mahajanapadas (even as far eastern as Anga - which was gifted by Duryodhana to Karna) could not have happened so early in India history. Aryans come east into the Gangetic plains after Rig veda was composed which itself is around 1700-1500 BCE. Hence it is impossible for Mahabharata to have happened in 3000 BCE.

Monday, May 04, 2020

1000-600 BCE : The great Mahabharata War

1000-600 BCE

Aryans increasingly creates chiefdoms across the northern Indian plains. These typically consists of King's palace, surrounded by a handful of villages, then grazing lands for King's herd of cows and horses - beyond these it was typically rivers or forests. Kings were called vishampati or gopati - meaning protector of people and cows. The word King is loosely used here since the chiefs were not quite comparable to our present day understanding of the word King. Many would say the first King ever in India was in Magadha post 600 BC by the name of Bimbisara or even later during the Mauryan empire (Chandragupta Maurya, 230 BC). At best they were large chiefs - something akin to a chief of villages.

However, it might be noted that during the 1000-600 times also Magadha was a relatively large, prosperous kingdom due to the fertile lands between Ganges and river Son. While Magadha was growing in clout, further up in North Western plains two families entered a feud. Cousins named Pandavas, 5 in number (from their father Pandu) and Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra, younger brother of Pandu) , far more numerous than Pandavas, engaged in a war for ownership of their hereditary land. Many chiefdoms in Northern India took sides - some due to relationships, some due to political exigencies and some others to avenge past sins done unto them.

This war paved way for what would, in a few thousand years, become the largest epic that mankind has ever seen - the great Mahabharata, totaling over 100,000 verses (called also Shat sahasra samhita - literally, combination of 100,000 verses) - over 4 times the combined length of Iliad and Odyssey, and four times the length of the second largest Indian epic named Ramayana (which is a fantasy written by author named Valmiki in poem form - regarded by many as Aadi Kavya, the first poem). 

I'll explore the Epic in more detail when we come to 300 BC since that is when it started taking its current form, written down in modern Sanskrit. Suffice to say, this time period marked the ground work of the epic. Though it is the seed of the epic, during these times, it was little more than 8000 verses and was named Jaya. It was sung by suta, class - a group of people who used to follow the warrior classes in war and provide entertainment at the end of the war day post sunset. They used to sing songs in praise of war heroes. Jaya originated among the Suta class as a war victory song, in the memory of this large Kuru war which was subsequently won by Pandavas.

Subsequently it became Bharata, story of the Bharata clan and then around 300 BC - 300 AD time period it became the 100,000 verses strong Mahabharata, which added onto the core story various branches, clan details, family genealogies, philosophy, etc. From a short victory song, it became the master epic as we know it today over many centuries, probably compiled by various learned men, probably all from the family of Vyasa. (meaning- editor or compiler in Sanskrit) Likely a clan which was responsible for updating the archive named Mahabharata.

Friday, May 01, 2020

1100-600 BCE: Populating Gangetic plains and composing Brahmanas

1100-900 BCE : Populating Gangetic plains in Northern India

Vedic people move further south and east towards the Ganga-Yamuna plains from upper Punjab areas. First time reference to Doab (area between two rivers) in Vedas. The vedic people prefers to settle down close to rivers with an increased shifting to rice over wheat as crop. Increased rice cultivation in the fertile plains of the rivers leads to more community intervention given the more sophisticated nature of the farming. First specialization of people or social classes emerges potentially as proto-classes. Likely it was an after effect of this need for specialization that Mandala 10 of RV was composed, especially the Poem of the Primeval man (No definite proof, only conjectures) It divides the society into four varnas / classes of people based on what specialization each needs to take up, ideally.

Horses are now becoming rarer - first of all no Indian bloodlines, importing from beyond Hindu Kush or from other Western pastoral regions logistically more difficult. Secondly, the Vedic people are increasingly settling down in permanent structures unlike their older times as pastoral society. Horses graze differently than cows. Horses bite off the grass very close to the grass's roots whereas cows eat with their tongues, biting off the grass much higher up. Hence typically the horses uproot the soft grass species growing in northern India. This means horses need to be moved longer and longer each day. However, permanent settlements means the Vedic people cannot move along with horses finding new pasture lands every week / month- hence the decreased fodder availability  leads to reduced number of horses in general. This puts paid to the older horse sacrifices. It soon becomes a privilege reserved for the well to do, especially the kings. At the same time, importance of cow to the newly settled agricultural society increases.

The rice cultivation aided by alluvial plains of northern India helps to create unprecedented surplus - the kinds never  seen before by the Aryans. This surplus helps in building cities. By 900 BCE, both Kausambhi (banks of Yamuna, 60km before its confluence with Ganga) and Varanasi, further east on the bank of Ganga emerges as key cities.

Another big societal change was mining of Iron ore especially in eastern Gangetic plains in today's Bihar. The earliest evidence for smelted iron in India dates to 1300 to 1000 BCE. Copper and/or Bronze was present even previously (referred to even in RV and copper-bronze metallurgy in Indus Valley Civilization is archaeologically proven), but now Iron tools come into existence helping to clear forests and create better weaponry.
800-600 BCE : Composing Brahmanas (Still part of Sruti scriptures)

It was in this context, scholars relooked at Vedas and started writing prose based commentaries on each of the veda samhitas. These were called Brahmanas - from root brih in Sanskrit, meaning expand/grow. Hence these were expanding the Vedas, in the sense of providing more context, explanations, adding folklore/myths and making abstruse vedas more open for understanding. Brahmanas uses a Sanskrit that is significantly different from the ones used in earlier Vedas.

Each of the four vedas had one or more explanatory Brahmans attached as follows;

RV - 2
YV - 2
SV- 11
AV - 1