We know about the Aryans from the Rig Veda, the earliest specimen of the Indo-European languages. It is a set of prayers devoted to different gods Agni, Indra, Mitra and Varuna by different poets. It consists of ten mandalas or chapters, which give us valuable information about them.
The word Aryans literally means the best or shreshtha. On their arrival in India, they conflicted with the locals, called dasas. Since they got victorious, they called themselves Aryans. The Aryan civilization flourished on the banks of river Sindhu, repeatedly mentioned in the Rigveda. The Aryans appeared here a little after 1500 BC. The use of horses helped them significantly in their successful conquest. The Aryans always led a nomadic life and never settled. Thus agriculture was not possible for them. Their major occupation was pastoral (animal-rearing) in nature. The cow was the chief animal they domesticated. So many references to cow are found in the Rigveda that it seems their entire life revolved around it.
The Aryans continually had two types of conflicts --- first, they fought with the pre-Aryans and secondly, they fought amongst themselves. The Aryans were divided into five tribes called panchajana. The Bharatas and Tritsu were the ruling Aryan clans supported by priest Vashishta. The battle between them gave victory to the Bharatas and that’s how our country was named Bharata. Finally, the Bharatas joined hands with the Purus and formed a new ruling tribe Kurus. The Kurus later joined the Panchalas and they jointly established their rule in the Gangetic plains where they played an important role in the later Vedic times.
Mostly the Aryans fought for cows. A war is called gavishti in vedic literature, which means a search for cows.
THE TRIBAL POLITY
We find two very important types of political assemblies in these times: The Sabha and The Samiti. Apart from these, vidhata and gana also find mention as political assemblies. We find evidence of election of the king (rajan) by the samiti. The samitis were so powerful that the kings were eager to win their support. The king was assisted by some key functionaries, the most important being the purohita. The two well-known priests were Vashishta and Vishwamitra. The tribal chiefs got voluntary offerings, called bali (tax) from the people.
The king had no standing army and used to muster an army in need. A fighting unit was called a grama and its chief was gramini. The word gramini later became synonymous with a village chief, when agriculture became a major occupation with a settled life. People paid utmost loyalty to their clan or tribe, known as jana in these times.
Though divisions based on occupations had started, the Rig Vedic society was quite a democratic one, with no sharp discrimination against any particular class. Women were held in high esteem and could participate in political assemblies.
RIG VEDIC GODS
They personified natural forces and worshipped them. For instance, their chief gods were Indra (The Rain God), Agni (The Fire God), Varuna (The Protector of the Universe), Usha (The God of The Morning Sun), Marut (The Wind God) and Soma (The God of Plants). The dominant mode of worship was prayers and sacrifices to some extent. In these prayers, they mainly asked for praja (children) and pashu (cattle).