The Aryans

Around 1500BC, India became home to a new group of immigrants, the Aryans, who used the Khyber Pass to get out of Central Russia. The Aryans liked the holiday climate so much, they decided not to go back home. This caused not a little awkwardness: they were a proud, fierce, passionate, and contentious lot, constantly warring amongst themselves in a perennial game of "King of the Castle" and they weren't always fussy about who got caught in the middle. As is so often the case, along with creative ways to tear up the neighbourhood and poke holes in fellow human beings, they also introduced a host of new technological and social concepts, not the least of which were horseback riding, chariots, the printed word, a new system of governance, and a rich spiritual belief system immortalised in the Vedas.

Daily life in Vedic India was pastoral, spiritual, and very egalitarian. Men and women had pretty much equal status, which is not to say they were "identical". Think of a family of deer: the buck stands proud and tall and highly visible, the white blaze on his chest and the antlers on his head displaying his might without him having to resort to extensive vocal and visual threat displays. The doe is smaller and slimmer because her job is to nurture the fawns and requires that she be unobtrusive. Were the male to attempt the female's role, he'd not only look ridiculous but the baby would die: if it didn't starve to death first, it would be quickly taken out by predators attracted by the male's visibility. This was a concept they understood very well.

When not fighting amongst themselves or with outsiders, the Aryans had a lively daily life. For amusement, they loved to gamble and the riskier, the better: high-speed chariot races were very popular. Meals were communal affairs. The clan would gather around a central fireplace (the "Yagna") and, while eating their diet of meat, fish, dairy, fruit, and vegetables, would exchange news, gossip, stories, and friendly insults. The Aryans had a deep reverence for fire, considering it the point of contact between the earth and the gods. The privileged individuals who cooked the food also tended the fires and handled all spiritual matters. Eventually, they evolved into the Brahmin caste.

As the Aryans settled in the Indus Valley, they inevitably adopted many local customs, such as agriculture and specialisation of occupation: farmers, smiths, textile merchants, etc. One's job dictated the caste to which one belonged. Status was dictated by occupation, not by birth, with the exception of the ruling class: the eldest son of the chief became the chief whether anyone liked it or not. This meant that children and parents could belong to two different social castes and also that individuals had the opportunity to improve their social standing if they put the effort into it or, on the other hand, degrade their social standing if they were careless.

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