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Contents of the Vedas.
termine the question with accuracy, but there is an approxima. tion towards an agreement in fixing the Vedas, the most ancient Sanscrit compositions between 1100 and 1600 years B. C. One of the brightest periods of Sanscrit literature, it would appear, was the century immediately preceding the Christian era.
With respect to the relation between the Sanscrit and the present dialects of India, a diversity of opinion is also to be remarked. Mr. Colebrooke, whose essay seems, by universal consent to be very high authority on this, as on other parts of the subject, divides the dialects of India into ten, such as Hindustaní, Mahratta, etc. The two opinions are, either that Sanscrit was the basis of all these languages, the common root from which they have grown, the classic of which they are dialects—which was long the favorite opinion--or that these dialects were spoken by the people who inhabited India before those who used Sanscrit arrived, and that the latter, coming from the north-west impressed their religion, literature and language upon the conquered Indians, the language gradually mingling with all the dialects of the subdued people, and modifying each in part to its own superior and more scientific structure. We believe we are correct in stating that the latter opinion is gaining ground over the former.
Before we proceed, however, to consider the Sanscrit in a purely philological view as the basis of the Indo-European languages, we will endeavor to kindle the reader's interest by calling his attention to its literature.
It is well known that the huge system of the Hindoo religion rests upon certain sacred books written in Sanscrit. The fact of these books containing false natural science as well as false the. ology, is one highly auspicious to the missionary enterprise in India.
“ The whole circle of Hindoo knowledge and science is divided into eighteen parts, of which the first four are the Vedas, from Ved or Bed, the law. These are regarded as an immediate revelation from heaven; and as containing the true knowledge of God, of his religion and of his worship, disposed into one harmo
Sir William Jones says 1500 B. C.; Col. Vans Kennedy 1100 or 1200 B. C.; Ritter“ collected or composed” 1400 or 1600 B. C.; Colebrooke says, “ revered by Hindoos for hundreds if not thousands of years.”
* Colebrooke's Essay on the Sanscrit and Prakrit languages, in the seventh vol. of the Asiatic Researches. For the use of several of the volumes consulted in the preparation of this Article, the writer is indebted to the kindness of Rev. E. Burgess, missionary of the American Board to the Mahrattas.
nious composition. Next to the Vedas rank four Uparedas, which comprise the knowledge of medicine, music and other arts; after these follow six Vedangas, which relate to pronunciation, grammar, prosody, religious rites and ceremonies, etc.; and finally, four Upangas, which treat of logic, philosophy, jurisprudence and history. The Vedas are undoubtedly the most ancient compositions in the whole range of Sanscrit literature. Their obscurity, and the obsolete dialect in which they are written are such as to ren. der the reading of them difficult, even to a Brahman. It was doubted for a considerable time whether the Vedas were real compositions, or whether the whole matter was not a fable. These doubts were not removed until Col. Polier obtained from Jypoor a transcript of what purported to be a complete collection of the Vedas. This is now deposited in the British museum, bound in eleven large folio volumes.” They still remain for the most part, untranslated. The curious reader may find in Adelung accounts of the contents of the Vedas at more length. Sir Wm. Jones gives extracts froin them in his works. The following sentence is perhaps one of the finest, and shows much cultivation at the period of the composition of the Vedas:
" What the sun and light are to this visible world, that are the supreme good and truth to the intellectual and invisible universe, and as our corporeal eyes have a distinct perception of objects enlightened by the sun, thus our souls acquire certain knowledge by meditating on the light of truth which emanates from the Be. ing of beings; that is the light by which alone our minds can be directed in the path to beatitude."
“ The Puranas are poetical representations of Indian mythology and fabulous history. They hold an eminent rank in the religion and literature of the Hindoos. Possessing like the Vedas the credit of a divine origin, and scarcely inferior to them in sanctity, they exercise a more extensive and practical influence upon Hindoo society. They regulate their ritual, direct their faith, and supply in popular legendary tales materials for their credulity. To European scholars they recommend themselves on other accounts; as they have been considered to contain, not only the picturesque and mythological part of Indian superstition, but the treasury of extensive and valuable historical remains.
They are divided into two classes containing eighteen each.” Notices of their contents may be found in Adelung. Mr. Wilson, the Sanscrit Professor at Oxford, analyzed one of them, the Vishnu Pu. rana. Copious extracts from the Puranas have been published.
Some account of the Sanscrit poetry, we hope, will be more amusing. We extract from Milman and Adelung as translated and enlarged by Talboys:
“A history of Sanscrit poetry would be a general history of Sanscrit literature. Not only the Vedas, but even treatises on science, apparently the most awkward to reduce to a metrical form, are composed in verse; and although in the extensive range of Sanscrit learning there are some few compositions which may be called prose, yet even the style of most of these bears so great a resemblance to the language of poetry from their being written in a kind of modulated prose, as scarcely to form an exception. The age of Sanscrit poetry, therefore, like that of all other nations, is coëval with the earliest vestige of their language.
“ The classical poets of ancient India are divided into three periods. The first is that of the Vedas; the second, that of the great Epics; the third, that of the Drama. A fourth is mentioned, but as it is of a later date, it is not considered as belonging to the classic age. These three periods are assigned to Sanscrit poetry, not only from historical testimony but from the language and style of the compositions themselves.
“ The bards of India have given to poetry nearly every form which it has assumed in the Western world; and in each, and in all, they have excelled. Its heroic poets have been likened to Homer, and their epics dignified with the appellations of Iliad and Odyssey. (Heeren's Researches.) In the drama, Calidása has been designated as the Indian Shakspeare (Sir Wm. Jones, Pref. to Sacontala); Vyasa, as not unworthy of comparison with Milton; the adventures of Nala and Damayanti, with the Faerie Queene of Spenser (Milman); the philosophic Bhagavat Gita reads like a noble fragment of Empedocles or Lucretius, (A. W. Von Schlegel calls it the most beautiful, and perhaps the only truly philosophical poem in any language. Indisch. Bib. II. 219). Their didactic, their lyric, their writers of fables, and of the lighter kinds of poetry, have all carried their art to the same high point of perfection (Heeren); and so nicely are their respective merits balanced, that it seems rather a matter of individual taste than of critical acumen to which class the palm should be conceded. M. Chezy, with the Hindoos themselves, gives it decidedly to the epic; Milman to the softer, and less energetic; A. W. Schlegel appears inclined to bestow it upon the didactic; while, if the praise of one of the first and earliest judges of Sanscrit poetry be not lavish, it will be difficult to say how anything can excel the Vol. IV. No. 16.
descriptive. Sir Wm. Jones, of the Season of Cálidása (Vol. VI. 432) writes, “Every line is exquisitely polished; every couplet exhibits an Indian landscape, always beautiful, sometimes highly colored, but never beyond nature.'
“There exist, for instance, in our European literature few pieces to be compared with the Megha-Duta ( The Cloud-Messenger) in sentiment and beauty; and in erotic poetry the voluptuous Jayadéra, in his little poem on the loves of Madhava and Radha, far surpasses all elegiac poets known," etc.
The reader will not charge us with believing all this extravagance, much less with asking him to believe it, but as even a caricature bears some likeness to the original, so the unbounded eu. logium of the first oriental scholars of Germany, France and Eng. land must have some basis in truth. Perhaps he would like to judge a little for himself. A number of allowances must be made, especially for differences in taste. The translations are by Mil. man. It is unecessary to give the plots, but a word or two may be
а quoted as to the measure. “The original verse in which the vast epics of Vyasa and Valmiki are composed is called the Sloka, which is thus described by Schlegel (Indisch. Bib. p. 36). “ The oldest, most simple, and most generally adopted measure is the Sloka; a distich of two sixteen-syllable lines divided at the eighth syllable.” The copiousness of these poems is absolutely portentous. The one from which the following rather graceful extract is taken is called Mahabharata, and contains 200,000 of these Alexandrine sixteen-syllable lines. We quote from the Vanaparvam, the third part, of which Milman translates eighty or ninety stout pages which he calls the Episode of Nala and Damayanti. Here is what may be called a Swan-extract: “ Damayanti with her beauty-with her brilliance, brightness, grace, Through the world's unrivalled glory-won the slender-waisted maid, 'Mid her handmaids, like the lightning-shone she with her faultless form Like the long-eyed queen of beauty-without rival, without peer, Never ʼmid the gods immortal-never 'mid the Yaksha race Nor 'mong men was maid so lovely_ever heard of, ever seen As the soul-disturbing maiden—that disturbed the souls of gods.'
" Flew away the swans rejoicing--to Vidarbha straight they flew;
To Vidarbha's stately city ;-there by Damayanti's feet
Extracts from Sanscrit Poetry.
Sportively began the damsels—all around to chase the birds ;
Suddenly in human language-spoke to Damayanti thus :"
When the midnight came all noiseless-came in silence deep and still,
Leaving the travellers in rather a dubious position, with the wild elephants likely to define it, we will give the reader the following. The fable is monstrous, enormous, like their jungles, gods, temples, elephants and everything else East Indian, and need not detain us. The reader has only to suppose the Ganges pouring down in a cataract where before there had been no river, and gods and men astonished, as well they might be:
Headlong then and prone to earth—thundering rushed the cataract down,
subside," etc. etc.