In the later Vedic period the religious conditions had undergone a change, some of the old beliefs and practices of the Rig Vedic period continued to be in vogue.
In fact some of the old religious practices became more complex and stereotyped. No wonder, the priests became very important class both for the interpretation of the Vedas and the performance of the sacrifices. In view of the highly complicated nature of the sacrifices to be performed by the priests they divided themselves into four categories- each specializing in a special type of sacrifice.
The Hotri or invoker selected the verses for the particular rite and recited them. The Dart recited the hymns and helped in the preparation and presentation of sacrifices. The Adhvaryu or performer executed all the sacrificial acts and recitation of hymns. The Brahman or High priest was responsible for the general supervision and saw to it that no error or deviation was made from the prescribed procedure.
The early Vedic gods also continued to be worshipped, even though their character changed considerably. The natural basis of the gods was completely forgotten and they were also, invoked as demon destroyers. During this period gods like Rudra, Vishnu and Prajapati were given special importance.
Tapas (penance accompanied by physical torture) came to occupy an important place in the religion. Men renounced the world and retired to forests, where they practiced meditation and torture of various types. It was believed that Tapas provided the mystic with extraordinary and super-human power.
Another outstanding feature of the religion in the later-Vedic period the development of philosophic speculation. The complicated religious ceremonies caused much dissatisfaction among the people and gave rise to speculative philosophy.
The thinkers devoted themselves to the understanding of the ultimate reality or truth through true knowledge (Jnanamarga). They expressed deep thoughts of man, soul, god and the universe of the Upanishads (confidential teachings). The Upanishads attached very little importance to ceremonies and’austeritis and advocated principles like Brahma (world soul) and Atma (Individual soul), Maya, Punarjanma (Transmigration of soul) and Karma (Action) and Moksha (Salvation).