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In this short intervening Section, which prevents
the immediate Continuation of the History of the antient Mysteries, some remarkable Testimonies, in Proof of the above Assertions, are brought from certain scarce and valuable Manuscripts, which have been imported into Europe by learned Oriental Travellers, and which contain Engravings, executed in India, illustrative of their antient Doctrines in regard to the Metempsychosis, as well as of the early Periods of their History. — A Description of one very curious astronomical Plate, which represents the Convulsion of Nature at the General Deluge, or the COURMA AVATAR. A Digression on that Subject, proving that all the three first Avatars, or Incarnations of the Deity, are astronomical Allegories allusive to that calamitous Event.
THE passages presented to the reader in
I the preceding section are not the only ones in which the gradual ascent of the soul
through the planets, or spheres of purification, is plainly intio.ated in the Geeta. They are, however, sufficient for our purpose; and, in proof that the Indians actually had, in the remotest æras, in their system of theology, the sidereal ladder of seven gates, so universally made use of as a symbol throughout all the East, I have now to inform the reader of the following circumstance:— there exists, at present, in the royal library at Paris, a book of paintings entirely, allusive to the Indian mythology and the incarnations of Veeshnu, in one of which is exhibited this very symbol, upon which the souls of men are represented as ascending and descending, according to the received opinion of the sidereal Metempsychosis in Asia. Of this curious volume a friend at Paris has procured me very minute information, and I have hopes of presenting my readers with a correct copy of this painting before these extensive Dissertations shall have been concluded.
Two other books, adorned with similar paintings, illustrative of Indian subjects, which are in the possession of the literati of this country, deserve, in this place, particular notice. The first is that in the Bodleian library, presented to the University of Oxford by Mr
Pope, and affirmed, in the letter of that author .. .. . R2
which accompanied the donation, to contain “one hundred and seventy-eight portraits of the Indian rajahs, continued down to Timur, and the Great Moguls, his successors, as far as Aurungzebe."* The account of this book by Mr Cleland, prefixed to Di White's and Mr Davy's translation of the Institutes of Ti'mur, establishes the authenticity of it; for, “ that the pictures it contains are not fancy pictures there is this solid reason to believe, it being well known that such a set of pictures actually exists in the royal palace.” He adds, “it is observable, that the Moorish or Mohamedan sovereigns of Hindostan are, in this collection, distinguished from those of Gentoo descent by the fashion of the skirts of their robes, which, in the Gentoos, hang on each side, cut at the bottom into an angular form, as all the rajahs wear them at this day for an ensign of royalty.”+ From this book I hope to obtain the permission of the University to engrave the portraits of some of the more distinguished characters that have swayed the imperial' sceptre of a people, who, with their august sovereigns, have been hitherto so little
* These are the words of Mr Pope's letter, written in the year 1737, and inserted in the Preface to the Institutes of Timur.
+ See the preface to Dr White's Institutes of Timur..
known; of a people, who, in the remote and beautiful regions of Hindostan, for many ages, seem to have shunned all intercourse with their fellow-mortals, and, at present, are very inaccurately delineated on the historic page in proportion to the importance and extent of their vast empire in Asia, to the con. summate wisdom of their policy, and the distinguished splendour of their exploits. · The remaining volume, which merits our present notice, and will claim our more particular attention hereafter, is that in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries in London, presented, I believe, by Mr Hastings, and which, if I may judge from a survey of it, permitted me by the obliging attention of the secretary of that society, is entirely upon the subject of the nine incarnations of the god Veeshnu. In rather a transient view of its contents, I was particularly struck with a minute delineation of the COURMA AVATAR, or Veeshnu's descent in the form of a tortoise to support the earth sinking in the ocean, and of the curious Indian historical fable of the Soors and Asoors churning that ocean with the mountain Mandar. Around this vast mountain the serpent ASOOKEE is represented as twined in dreadful folds, by way of a rope, at the head and tail of which those imaginary
beings are pulling with all their might, to make the churned deep disgorge the precious things swallowed up in a certain great deluge, which, notwithstanding all sceptical oppdsition, was undoubtedly the deluge of Noah. The above circumstances must appear só very romantic to the reader, that, as some period will still elapse before I can proceed to the historical detail and explanation of the Avatars, I shall insert a few lines, illustrative of it, from Mr Wilkins's translation of that part of the Mahabbarat in which it occurs, and which he will find in page 146 of the Geeta. This account, adduced immediately from such respectable authority, will at once serve to gratify curiosity and rescue myself from censure in enumerating particulars so wildly theological, but still so absolutely necessary to be known to the reader before he can obtain the full comprehension of the antient Sanscreet history of Hindostan; it will likewise afford a specimen of the romantic style in which that first and most celebrated Indian history is writen.
Prefatory to this extract I must observe, that the Soors, being assembled in solemn
consultation upon the sparkling summit of the · great golden mountain Meru, or SOMMEIR,
asserted, in the Geographical Dissertation, to