The unit of society was the family, which was patriarchal. A number of families constituted a sept, grama, which word was later used for village, suggesting that the families in the early settlements were related. The family unit was a large one, generally extending over three generations and with the male offspring living together. Very early marriages were not customary, and there was a fair amount of choice in the selection of a mate. Both dowry and bride-price were recognized. The birth of a son was especially welcome in an Aryan family for the son's presence was essential at important ceremonies. The position of women was on the whole free, but it is curious that, unlike the Greeks, the Indo-Aryans did not attribute much power to their goddesses, who remained gentle figures in the background.
A widow had to perform a symbolic self-immolation at the death of her husband. Although it is not clear whether the rite was restricted to the aristocracy alone. It may have been the origin of the practice of Sati when in later centuries a widow actually burnt herself on her husband's funeral pyre. The Sati was merely symbolic during the Vedic period seems evident from the fact that later Vedic literature refers to the remarriage of widows, generally to the husband's brother. Monogamy appears to have been the accepted pattern, although polygamy was known and polyandry is mentioned in later writings. Marriage within related groups was strictly regulated. The Aryans had a terror of incestuous relationships.
The house was a large all-inclusive structure with family and animals living under the same roof. The family hearth was particularly venerated and the fire was kept burning continuously. Houses were built round a wooden framework. The room was held by a pillar at each of the four corners and by cross beams around which were constructed walls of reed stuffed with straw. The roof was made of bamboo ribs supporting thatch. This continued to be the method of construction of villages until the change to mud walls in later centuries, when the climate became dry.
The staple diet was milk and ghi (clarified butter), vegetables, fruit, and barley in various forms. On ceremonial occasions - as a religious fest or the arrival of a guest - a more elaborate meal was customary, including the flesh of ox, goat, and sheep, washed down with sura or madhu, both highly intoxicating, the latter being a type of mead. Clothes were simple, most people wearing only a lower garment or a cloak, but ornaments were more elaborate and clearly a source of pleasure to their owners. Leisure hours were spent mainly in playing music, singing, dancing and gambling and chariot racing for the more energetic ones.
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