Rigveda is replete with references indicating the presence of a predominantly pastoralist society. Several linguistic expressions denote the usefulness of cow in this period. In the absence of landed economy, cow was treated as a scarce resource and hence became an object of veneration.
Also, the Rigvedic people engaged in cattle raids, fought over grazing grounds and control of river water. Herd owning clans could use common pastures. Another animal, horse rose to prominence in this period as cows could be herded from horse back to vast pastures. It also helped in cattle-plunder activities.
Agriculture in the Sapta-Sindhu (land of the seven rivers) region was mainly used to produce fodder. The use of wooden ploughshare by the pre-existing societies is also not ruled out. In fact, the antiquity of plough is drawn to pre-Harappan times and Indo-Aryans borrowed words like langala from the non-Aryans. Agricultural products like yava or barley were offered in sacrificial rituals.
The shift to the Ganga-Yamuna Doab or Kuru-Panchala area in the western UP was marked by the use of iron implements and ‘six to twenty-four oxen yoked to the plough. Though this seems to be an exaggeration, plough definitely became a symbol of power and fertility. The ploughing rituals are discussed in detail in Shatpatha Brahmana.
Although the later Vedic texts speak of iron, agricultural implements have not been satisfactorily discovered. Rice and wheat began to be cultivated along with already cultivated barley. It is postulated that the dominant pastoral chiefs acted as administrator protector of local agriculturists.
Pastoralists and agriculturists shared a symbiotic relationship as the agriculturists made available post- harvest stubble for the herds to feed on. The animal droppings could manure the fields. Also, pastoralists did not stick to one place for long and acted as periodic carriers of products of exchange.
The transition from chalcolithic to the NBPW early historic period in the upper Gangetic plains was marked by growth in number of sites, enhanced settlement size and increase in geographical extent of inhabited area.
Within the NBPW culture habitation spread from well-drained area away from lakes and rivers to the most inhospitable areas. Some of the areas like Mathura remained pastoral for centuries because the soil was not conducive for the growth of agriculture. In contrast, the middle Gangetic plains did not have settlement clusters or nucleated villages before 500 BC. The NBPW culture marks the arrival of sedentary peasant farming.
This is testified by evidence related to cultivation of varieties of rice and plough cultivation etc., resulting in high yield. The proliferation of settlements in this period is attributed to wet – rice cultivation and its increased yield.