Impact of Vedic Culture on Society

by Kaushik Acharya | 2020 | 120,081 words

This page relates ‘Religious Aspect of Dana’ of the study on the Impact of Vedic Culture on Society as Reflected in Select Sanskrit Inscriptions found in Northern India (4th Century CE to 12th Century CE). These pages discuss the ancient Indian tradition of Dana (making gifts, donation). They further study the migration, rituals and religious activities of Brahmanas and reveal how kings of northern India granted lands for the purpose of austerities and Vedic education.

4. Religious Aspect of Dāna

Vedic education and vedic sacrifices are two essential pillars of vedic culture. Yajña or sacrifice has become a vedic tradition that was described mostly in a layer of vedic literature called brāhmaṇas, as well as in the Yajurveda. There are plenty of inscriptional evidences where the kings from Āryāvarta (Northern India) granted acres of land properties to the brāhmaṇas of yajurvedīya śākhās viz. Vājasaneyī-Mādhyandina, Vājasaneyī-Kāṇva, Maitrāyaṇī and among others to perform vedic sacrifices and to increase religious merits of their own or their parents. And where there were no such brāhmaṇas available, they called and settled them up from different parts of the country to perform vedic rites and rituals which will be discussed in detail in the next chapter.

The Yajurveda is an ancient Indian scripture dedicated to the worship of gods and goddesses, which describes how religious ceremonies and sacred rites should be performed.The vedic collection of sacrificial prayers (yajus) used mainly by the Adhvaryu priest. Of the four Vedas, it most reflects the full-fledged vedic sacrifices in its ritualistic character and full scope. The Yajurveda has two major divisions: the black or dark (Kṛṣṇa) Yajurveda and the white or bright (Śukla) Yajurveda. By the term, “black” implies the un-arranged, unclear, motley collection of mantras in Yajurveda, on the other hand in contrast “white” means the well-arranged and clear Yajurveda. The black (Kṛṣṇa) Yajurveda has survived in four i.e. Taittirīya, Maitrāyani, Kaṭha, and Kapiṣṭhala recensions while two recensions i.e. Mādhyandina and Kānva of white (Śukla) Yajurveda have survived into the modern times; even surprisingly, both the Vedas and their branches have not changed till date. Needless to say, there has been no change in the entire vedic literature despite being the most ancient literary specimen in human history. There are many instances of Adhvaryus of Vājasaneya-Mādhyandina branch in the inscriptions under discussion. May be well arranged Śuklayajurveda was more popular at that time in Northern India. G.S. Rai theorized that the Mādhyandina branch of Śuklayajurveda was propagated in the regions of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and North India. Keith estimated the recension of the Black Yajurveda at not later than 600 BCE.

The Saṃhitā in the Śuklayajurveda is called the Vājasaneyī Saṃhitā. The name vājasaneyī is derived from vājasaneya, patronymic of sage Yājñavalkya, and the founder of the Vājasaneyī branch. There are two (nearly identical) surviving divisions of the Vājasaneyī Samhita: Vājasaneyī-Mādhyandina and Vājasaneyī-Kānva. [1] We may call them versions of Yajurveda from different parts of the country. According to G.S. Rai, the Mādhyandina branch was propagated as we said earlier in the regions of Northern India, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, while the Kānva branch was more popular in the areas of Maharashtra, Odissa, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamilnadu.[2] Again, four surviving recensions of the Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda viz.Taittirīya, Maitrāyani, Kāṭhaka, and Kapiṣṭhala were propagated in South India, Western India, North and East India, and Rajasthan and Haryana respectively.[3]

Apart from the inscriptions where the donation made to a large group of vedic brāhmaṇas, there are only three north Indian Sanskrit inscriptions where the donee was related to Kṛṣṇa or Black Yajurveda. In Rādhanpur Plates of Govinda III (c. 808 CE)[4] and Navasāri Plates of Pulakesirāja (c. 739 CE)[5] bear a record of a land grant specifically to the brāhmaṇas of Taittirīya branch, while in Palitānā Plates of Simhāditya (c. 574 CE)[6] the donee was from Maitrāyani School.

The Vājasaneyī Saṃhitā has forty chapters containing the vedic rituals Darśapurṇamāsa (Chaps. 1-2), Agnihotra (Chap. 3), Somayajña (Chaps. 4-8), Vājapeya and Rājasūya (Chaps. 9-10), Agnicayana (Chaps. 11-18), Sautrāmani (Chaps. 19-21), Aśvamedha (Chapters 22-25), Chapters 26-29 contain supplementary formulas of sacrifices as discussed before, Puruṣamedha (Chaps. 30-31), Sarvamedha (Chaps. 32-34), Pitryajña (Chap. 35), Pravargya (Chaps. 36-39) and Chap. 40 is not related to any sacrifice or rituals. It is incredibly philosophical that called Iśa-Upaniṣad. We may now assume that because of this sacrificial content, brāhmaṇas from Vājasaneya branch of Śukla or White Yajurveda were the most welcoming brāhmaṇas in the society.

However, we may see some ṛgvedīya or sāmavedīya brāhmaṇas who were gifted lands to perform vedic sacrifices as well. Interestingly most of them were well versed in all the four Vedas (caturvidyā-sāmānya).We will now discuss the inscriptional evidences found in north Indian Sanskrit Inscriptions regarding this issue and categorize them dynasty wise followed by a brief summary with a chronological chart.

A. Lands Gifted to the Yajurvedīya Brāhmaṇas

[List of North Indian Sanskrit Inscriptions in which Land Gifted to the Yajurvedīya Brāhmaṇas to Perform Religious Activities (Chronologically)]

Land Grant Charters Donor King and Dynasty Date (CE) Source
Pāndhurnā Plates of pravaraséna II pravarasena II, Vākāṭaka (main) c. 449 CE USVAE, vol. III, pp. 184-186.
Pīpardūla Plates of Narendra Rāhudeva/Narendra, Rulers of Śarabhapura c. 485 CE USVAE, vol. III, pp. 276-278.
Palitānā Plates of Dhruvasena II Dhruvasena II, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 571 CE USVAE, vol. III, pp. 448-452.
Palitānā Plates of Siṃhāditya Siṃhāditya, Gārulāka c. 574 CE USVAE, vol. III, pp. 456-459.
Mankani Plates of Taralasvamin Taralasvāmin, Kaṭaccuri c. 595-596 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 19-23.
Bondā Plates of Mahāśiva Tivara Mahāśiva-Tīvara, Pānḍuvaṃśi of South Kośala c. 600 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 47-54.
Sarsavāni Plates of Buddharaja Buddharāja, Kaṭaccuri c. 610 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 191-194.
Virdi Plates of Kharagraha I Kharagraha I, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 616-617 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 681-687.
Amreli Plates of Kharagraha I Kharagraha I, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 616-617 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 688-691.
Kairā Plates of Dadda (Prāśantarāga)–A Dadda II, Prāśantarāga, Early Gūrjara c. 629 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 355-366.
Tiwarkhed Plates of Rāṣṭrakūṭa Nannarāja Nannarāja, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 631 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 425-429.
Nogawa Plates of Dhruvasena II–A Dhruvasena II, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 639-640 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 501-507.
Nogawa Plates of Dhruvasena II–B Dhruvasena II, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 640-641 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 516-520.
Sankhed Plates of Dadda II–A and B Dadda II, Early Gūrjara c. 642 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 523-529.
Kairā Plates of Vijayarāja Vijayarāja, Cālukya c. 643-644 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 538-547.
Khedā (Kairā) Plates of Dharāsena IV Dharāsena IV, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 649 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 593-600.
Kapadvanaj Plates of Dhruvasena III Dhruvasena III, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 653 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 29-36.
Dungarpur Plates of Bhāvihita, Year 48 Bhāvihita, Guhilās of Kiṣkindhipura c. 655 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 44-52.
Bagunra Plates of Allāśakti Allāśakti, Sendraka c. 656 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 66-74.
Jesar Plates of Śilāditya Śilāditya II, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 666-667 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 209-212.
Lunsadi Plates of Śilāditya II–B Śilāditya II, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 671 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 275-281.
Navasāri Plates of Śreyāśraya Śilāditya Śreyāśraya Śilāditya, Cālukyas of Gujarat c. 671 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 270-274.
Jesar Plates of Śilāditya- III Śilāditya III, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 676 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 349-354.
A Grant of Guhilā Bābhaṭa, Year 83 Bābhaṭa, Guhilās of Kiṣkindhipura c. 679 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 485-495.
Surāt Plates of Yuvarāja Śreyāśraya Śilāditya Śreyāśraya Śilāditya, Cālukyas of Gujarat c. 693 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 546-553.
Dhulev Plates of Maharaja Bheṭṭi Mahārāja Bheṭṭi, Ruler of Kiṣkindhā c. 695 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 575-579.
Navasāri Plates of Pulakeśirāja Pulakeśirāja, Cālukyas of Gujarat c. 739 CE USVAE, vol. V, pp. 200-209.
Jethwai Plates of The Rāṣṭrakūṭa Queen Śilamahādevī Queen Śilamahādevī, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 786 CE USVAE, vol. V, pp. 434-442.
Hilol Plates of Year 470 Kakka, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 788 CE USVAE, vol. V, pp. 443-446.
Rādhānpur Plates of Govinda III Govinda III, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 808 CE USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 71-75.
Baroda Grant of Karka Suvarṇavarṣa Karkka Suvarṇavarṣa, Rāṣṭrakūṭa of Gujarat c. 812-813 CE USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 110-121.
Brahmaṇapallī Grant of Karkka Suvarṇavarṣa KarkaSuvarṇavarṣa, Rāṣṭrakūṭa of Gujarat c. 824 CE USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 157-161.
Kavi Plates of Govindarāja Saka 749 Govindarāja, Rāṣṭrakūṭa of Gujarat c. 827 CE USVAE, vol. VI,, pp. 162-168.
A Rāṣṭrakūṭa Grant of Kṛṣṇa II Kṛṣṇa II, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 827 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 6-14.
Barah Copper-Plate of Bhojadeva Bhojadeva, Gurjara Pratihāra c. 836 CE USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 181-184.
Grant of Saindhava king Agguka III Agguka II, Saindhava c. 886 CE USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 169-175.
Bagumra Plates of Indra III (I SET) Indra III, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 915 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 20-29.
Bagumra Plates of Indra III (II SET) Indra III, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 915 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 29-32.
Three Copper-Plate Inscription from Gaoni A Govinda IV, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 930 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 152-156.
Cambay Plates of Govinda IV; Saka saṃvat 852 Govinda IV, Rāṣṭrakūṭa c. 930 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 156-166.
  Vigraharāja, c. 973 CE USVAE, vol. VII,
Harṣa Stone Inscription of Vigraharāja Cāhamāna   pp. 322-333.
Bhārat Kalā Bhavan Plate of Harirāja Harirājadeva, Pratihāra c. 984 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 361-364.
Nanyaurā Copper-Plate Inscription of Dhaṅgadeva Dhaṅgadeva, Candella c. 998 CE USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 466-469.


These are only three north Indian Sanskrit inscriptions where the donee was specifically related to Kṛṣṇa or Black Yajurveda. Other than these star marked three inscriptions, rests are related to Śukla or White Yajurveda.

Note. Where the donation made to a large group of mixed vedic brāhmaṇas of different branches of the Vedas and there is no mention of their name, gotra, caraṇa, pravara or any other information as the donee were so many, the presence of kṛṣṇayajurvedīya brāhmaṇa could be there.

B. Lands Gifted to the Ṛgvedīya and Sāmavedīya Brāhmaṇas

[List Shows North Indian Sanskrit Inscriptions in which Land Gifted to the Ṛgvedīya / Sāmavedīya Brāhmaṇa]

Land grant Charters Donor king and Dynasty Date (CE) Source
Palitānā Plates of Dhruvasena Dhruvasena, Maitrakas of Valabhī c. 525 CE USVAE, vol. III, pp. 370-373.
Bondā Plates of Mahāśiva Tivara Mahāśiva-Tīvara, Pānḍuvaṃśi of South Kośala c. 600 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 47-54.
Umeta Plates of Dadda II Dadda III, Early Gūrjara c. 648-649 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 580-587.
Mudgapadra grant of YuvarājaŚreyāśrayaŚilāditya Vikramāditya (I); ŚreyāśrayaŚilāditya, Cālukyas of Bādāmi c. 668-69 CE USVAE, vol. IV, part II, pp. 363-369.
Grant of the Time of Saindhava king Agguka II Agguka II, Saindhava c. 832 CE USVAE,vol. VI, pp. 169175.
Grant of Saindhava king Jāika I Jāika I Saindhava, c. 834-835 CE USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 176181.


Concededly we witnessed a strong impact of vedic culture on society in early and early medieval periods in Northern India through the land grant charters under discussion.

The mode of worship during the vedic age was the performance of sacrifices (yajña) which included the chanting of ṛgvedic verses, singing of sāmans and ‘mumbling’ of sacrificial mantras (yajuṣ). The word yajña is derived from the Sanskrit verb yaj, which has three meanings i.e. the worship of gods and goddesses (devapūjana), unity (saṃgatikaraña) and charity (dāna). An essential element of yajña was the sacrificial fire or the divine Agni, into which oblations were poured since everything given into that sacred fire was believed to reach God.People prayed for abundance of rain, plenty of livestock, sons, longevity, and ultimate peace ‘heaven’.

The vedic period is held to have ended around 500 BCE. The period between 800 BCE and 200 BCE is the formative period for later Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism. It was a time of ascetic reformism during the period between 500 BCE and 200 BCE. After that, the period between 200 BCE and 1100 CE is the time of “classical Brahmanism" since there is “a turning point between the vedic religion and Brahmanical religions (Brahmanism).[7] Muses discern a longer period of change, namely between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, which according to A. Michaels, the “Classical Period," when“traditional religious practices and beliefs were reassessed. The brāhmaṇas and the rituals they performed no longer enjoyed the same way and prestige as they had previously in the vedic period.”[8]

In such a situation of emerging Brahmanism where the vedic gods were replaced by the purāṇic gods, the above mentioned Sanskrit inscriptions of Northern India bear a considerable number of land grants to vedic brāhmaṇas for religious merits and to perform vedic sacrifices. That indicates the revival of vedic religion and the high impact and popularity of vedic culture in the society where other sects like Jainism and Buddhism were emerging as well.

In the formal portion of almost all the charters, it is said that the purpose of the grants was to “maintain the sacrificial rites of the bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, Agnihotra and atithi” indicates that vedic tradition was in a continuation and the kings as well as other donors followed the tradition of their ancestors very seriously. They were much dependent on vedic rituals as it is recorded in every inscription that they granted villages as mentioned earlier to obtain religious merits for their family and their own. Along with the religious and spiritual benefit, a bestowal brings fame as well. Even though they all were adherents of Brahmanism, they continued the vedic rituals introduced by their ancestors, or they started afresh as in addition to gaining religious merit, it would bring them fame and popularity among people.

The inscriptions we discussed above during the period under discussion denote that the sacrificial form of worship, which was the zenith of vedic culture was prevailing in contemporary society. Even though the other sects (Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc.) emerged at different times, vedic culture always was in practice in Āryāvarta from the very beginning of vedic age. We indeed witnessed socio-religious ups and downs in the society all over the country in different times, but these North Indian Sanskrit inscriptions testified that the vedic tradition and culture may have taken a back seat for a certain period of time but was never wiped out, never lost its ground from the society.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

C.L. Prabhakar, “The Recensions of the Śukla Yajurveda”, in Archív Orientální, vol. 40, issue I, pp. 347-353.

[2]:

G.S. Rai, “Śākhās of the Yajurveda in the Purāṇās”, in Purana, vol. VII, no. 1, pp. 13-14.

[3]:

Ibid., pp. 238-244.

[4]:

USVAE, vol. VI, pp. 71-75.

[5]:

Ibid., vol. V, pp. 200-209.

[6]:

Ibid., vol. III, pp. 456-459.

[7]:

Axel Michaels, Brahmanism. Past and present, pp. 36-38.

[8]:

Ibid., p. 115.

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