The Rig Vedic hymns were later set to music, and this collection of musical hymns was called the Sama Veda. In addition, the later Vedic period also saw the compilation of the Yajur Veda (containing rituals and ceremonies) and the Atharva Veda (containing charms and spells). These were followed by the Brahamanas, which contain rituals and explain their social and religious meaning. All these later Vedic texts were compiled during BC 1000 – BC 600.
The use of iron became very popular at this time, called Shyama or Krishna ayas. Although not many iron tools are found, agriculture flourished in these times. The Shatapatha Brahmana explains the rituals of ploughing, done with a wooden plughshare. Rice and wheat became their chief crops (rice is referred to as vrihi). Copper was used commonly in making ornaments, implements etc. Agriculture became a primary livelihood and the peasants produced enough for themselves and something for taxes. Overall, we notice a marked improvement in material life.
In later Vedic times, popular assemblies lost their importance and royal power increased at their cost. The sabha and samiti continued, but they changed a lot. Women were no longer permitted, and it was now dominated by nobles and brahmanas. Tribal authority became confined to a territory, and the term rashtra appears for the first time during this period.
Traces of the elections of the chief or the king appear in later Vedic books. The one thought to be the best in physical and other terms was elected the raja. In course of time, the kingship became hereditary.
The later Vedic society was sharply divided into four varnas called the brahamins (the teachers and preachers), kshatriyas or rajnyas (warriors and rulers), vaishyas (the farming and mercantile class) and the shudras (menial servants). Since rituals were a central feature of this age, the brahmins gained great social prestige and dominance. They conducted rituals and sacrifices for their clients and also performed duties at the festivals associated with agriculture.
The major tax-paying class was the vaishyas, who were mainly farmers, merchants and artisans. The kshatriyas generally became warriors and rulers while the shudras were generally farmhands and domestic servants.
Rig Vedic gods, Indra and Agni lost their earlier importance. Prajapati (The Creator) was worshipped as the supreme god. Some later Vedic gods include Rudra (The God of Animals) and Vishnu who was thought to be the protector of the universe.
However, the mode of worship changed considerably. Sacrifices, instead of prayers, became more important. Sacrifices involved the killing of animals, mainly cows and gradually, it led to their declined numbers. Goghan (one who feeds on the cow) is the term used for a guest. Sacrifices were accompanied by ritualistic formulae which had to be pronounced carefully by the sacrificer.
Towards the end of this period began a strong reaction against priestly domination, cults and rituals. The Upanishads, the philosophical commentaries on the Vedas compiled around 600 BC, criticized the rituals and stressed the value of right belief and knowledge. They stressed that the knowledge of self or atman should be acquired and its relation with Brahma properly understood. Brahma emerged as the supreme deity at this time. The later Vedic period also saw territorial kingdoms and the famous Mahabharta War is attributed to this period. However, a state system was not yet in place due to the farmers’ inability to pay regular taxes.