Did the Āryans originate in India or did they migrate from elsewhere? This question has been debated for over 150 years without arriving at any definite conclusions. If one group of scholars thinks that they migrated from Central Asia (near the Capsian Sea) others like Tilak opine that they lived near the Arctic region from where they trekked to southern Europe, Iran and India. Quite a few others have endeavoured to prove that they originally lived in the Indo-Gangetic region itself. Recent French excavations at the Mehr-garh site near the Bolan Pass in Pakistan seem to confirm this view, taking the date of the Indus Valley Civilisation to 6500 B. C.
However there is no doubt that the word “ārya” has been used widely to denote any cultured and refined person.
Many interesting details about the life and culture of the Āryans can be gathered by a study of the Ṛgveda. They lived primarily by agriculture and dairy farming. Though cattle were the chief domesticated animals, sheep, goats and horses were also their common possession. Yava (barley) was the chief food grain raised and used by them.
Apart from milk, curds, ghee and flour, they used to consume soma juice and surā (liquor) also. Consumption of liquor was however condemned. Meat-eating was not uncommon.
Apart from villages, they could build forts and towns also. They were good in constructing chariots as also ships, knew weaving of cloth as also tanning and preparing leather goods. They were fami-liar with various kinds of irrigation. Chariot race, hunting and gambling were common sources of recreation. Cows and goods were used as money. Later on, gold and silver coins came into existence.
The father was the head of the family. Mother was however, highly respected. Marriage ties were considered very sacred. Women could choose their husbands. The wife had an important role to play in the performance of Vedic rites. Monogamy seems to have been the rule though poly-gamy was common among the kṣattriyas. Couples hankered after children, especially good sons. Widows had a share in their husbands’ property. Remarriage of widows was prevalent, though rare.
People lived in groups, each group electing its own ruler or king. In course of time the office of the king became hereditary. The king would take guidance from the wise elders in administration. They would also employ purohits (priests) who exercised a great influence over the kings and the State. All religious activities were conducted and supervised by them. The kings would generously reward them. Performance of big sacrifices like Aśvamedha and Rājasūya by the more powerful kings was common.
The caste system as we know it did not exist in the beginning. The division of the society into four varṇas was however, a recognised fact.
Sanskrit, in its archaic form, was the language of the people.
Religion of the Āryans (sometimes called Āryanism) consisted predominantly of yajñas and yāgas (sacrifices), which included animal sacrifices, performed mostly for worldly gains like longevity, wealth, progeny or a place in heaven. Belief in one God, as also several deities like Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa or Viṣṇu, often eulogized as the Supreme Deity or as manifestations of the one God, is seen in several of the mantras of the Ṛgveda. Temples and worship as we know them today do not seem to have existed then. Reckoning of time, especially for religious purposes, was done both with respect to the movement of the sun and the moon.
The Āryans believed in life after death. In disposing of the dead bodies, both cremation and burial seem to have been in vogue. After death, the soul was believed to go to pitṛloka (world of manes) or svarga (heaven) or to hell.
Modern Hinduism, both in its reli-gious and cultural aspect, retains quite a few of the Vedic customs, either in a pure or in a metamorphosed form.