[INDOLOGY] What's "Vedic"?

Jarrod Whitaker whitakjl at wfu.edu
Mon Jul 8 16:17:04 UTC 2013

Dear Colleagues:
I need some friendly help and criticism. I am currently writing an 
article on warfare in "Ancient India" (1500 BCE-600 CE) and because I 
need to break up different periods, I am having trouble settling on 
dates and labels. Here is the paragraph I have written:

"I will delineate four heuristically useful, but rather arbitrary 
historical periods: 1) the early Vedic period, 1500-1000 BCE 
(represented by the R̥gveda and parts of the Atharvaveda, and involving 
pastoral migrations and limited permanent settlement of the Āryan tribes 
in the north and northwestern parts of the Subcontinent); 2) the 
middle-"classical" Vedic period, 1000-500 BCE (represented by the 
Yajurveda, Brāhmaṇas, early Upaniṣads, and involving a transition from 
pastoralism to permanent territorial control, the rise of systematic 
class stratification that is realized through complex ritual, social, 
and political relationships, and ending with the rise of city states 
across the Indo-Gangetic Plain); 3) the late Vedic period, 500 BCE to 1 
CE (represented by late Upaniṣads, Sūtra-Śāstra (smr̥ti) texts and the 
Epics, and encompassing the rise of the Mauryan dynasty [300-185 BCE], 
and the rise of heterodox ascetic movements; namely Buddhism and 
Jainism); and 4) early "historical" period, 1–550 CE (represented by 
Epics, further Śāstra literature, earliest Pūraṇas, and involving the 
rise of Bhakti devotional movements, and ending with the collapse of the 
Gupta Dynasty [300-550 CE])."

I realize my use of "Vedic" is broader than usual (my dates are of 
course designed to break up the article into clear, manageable 
sections). Many sources want to end the "Vedic period" with roughly the 
2nd Urbanization, which is equated with the Upanisads as "Vedānta"/Śruti 
(see Example* below). The term "Vedānta" is of course an emic concept 
that closes the "sacred canon" and hence "Vedic" is often synonymous 
with Śruti. But the use of the term certainly doesn't end the production 
of extensive texts on Brahmanical values, customs, rituals, and 
ideologies/theologies. If "Vedic" is synonymous with "Brahmanical", then 
Smrti literature and the epics would be no less "Vedic" than Śruti 
literature These issues become further complicated when we factor in a 
broad separation of early and late Upanisads, the composition of early 
and late Śrauta and Grhya literature, and include Bronkhorst's recent 
work, which throws a sizable wrench in the works (or spanner, depending 
on your current geography) as his argument would push some of the 
middle/classical Vedic period into my late Vedic period. (I also don't 
want to imply that Vedic texts and practices somehow disappear at 1 CE, 
because I no longer use the label "Vedic" in the above paragraph for the 
Common Era.)

Anyway, I am happy to take suggestions here for inventive and/or 
authoritative ways to think through this. And since I would rather pin 
my dates on someone else (always good to lay blame elsewhere), is there 
a recent "up-to-date" source that offers a reliable and/or reasonable 
insight into these issues, while designating some broad historical periods?

Perhaps we could compile over this list a general impression about the 
labels, relative chronology, timeframes/dates, and issues that you use 
with your students and in publication (including the sources to which 
you default).

Perhaps the key problem is trying to come up with neat historical boxes 
for a general audience...


Here is an example of two different frameworks from Erdosy (1995):
Allchin: Pre-Vedic Indo-Aryan migration (2000 BCE), Vedic Aryan 
migration (1750-1500 BCE). Early Vedic (1750-1500 BCE), (Middle) Vedic 
(1500-1000 BCE), and Late Vedic period (1000-600 BCE).

Erdosy (same volume): Early Iron Age (c.1000-600 BCE) for material 
culture and Late Vedic for literature in the same period.) Early 
Historic or Second Urbanization (c.600-300 BCE), and Post-Vedic (c.600 
BCE-300 CE).

Jarrod Whitaker, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, South Asian Religions
Zachary T. Smith Faculty Fellow
Graduate Program Director

Wake Forest University
Department of Religion
P.O. Box 7212
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
whitakjl at wfu.edu
p 336.758.4162

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