His sketches being originally addressed to his sister, this is how he writes to her:
"MY DEAR SISTER: Were any one to ask your countrymen in India, what had been their greatest source of pleasure while there, perhaps nine in ten would say the letters which they receive from their sisters at home.... And while thus contributing so much to our happiness, they no doubt tend to make us better citizens of the world and servants of government than we should otherwise be; for in our 'struggles through life' in India, we have all, more or less, an eye to the approbation of those circles which our kind sisters represent, who may therefore be considered in the exalted light of a valuable species of unpaid magistracy to the government of India."
There is a touch of the old English chivalry even in these few words addressed to a sister whose approbation he values, and with whom he hoped to spend the winter of his days. Having been, as he confesses, idle in answering letters, or rather, too busy to find time for long letters, he made use of his enforced leisure, while on his way from the Nerbuddah River to the Himmaleh Mountains, in search of health, to give to his sister a full account of his impressions and experiences in India.
Though what he wrote was intended at first "to interest and amuse his sister only and the other members of his family at home," he adds, in a more serious tone: "Of one thing I must beg you to be assured, that I have nowhere indulged in fiction, either in the narrative, the recollections, or the conversations. What I relate on the testimony of others, I believe to be true; and what I relate on my own, you may rely upon as being so."
When placing his volumes before the public at large in 1844, he expresses a hope that they may "tend to make the people of India better understood by those of our countrymen whose destinies are cast among them, and inspire more kindly feelings toward them."
You may ask why I consider Colonel Sleeman so trustworthy an authority on the Indian character, more trustworthy, for instance, than even so accurate and unprejudiced an observer as Professor Wilson. My answer is—because Wilson lived chiefly in Calcutta, while Colonel Sleeman saw India, where alone the true India can be seen, namely, in the village-communities. For many years he was employed as Commissioner for the suppression of Thuggee. The Thugs were professional assassins, who committed their murders under a kind of religious sanction. They were originally "all Mohammedans, but for a long time past Mohammedans and Hindus had been indiscriminately associated in the gangs, the former class, however, still predominating."
In order to hunt up these gangs, Colonel Sleeman had constantly to live among the people in the country, to gain their confidence, and to watch the good as well as the bad features in their character.
Now what Colonel Sleeman continually insists on is that no one knows the Indians who does not know them in their village-communities—what we should now call their communes. It is that village-life which in India has given its peculiar impress to the Indian character, more so than in any other country we know. When in Indian history we hear so much of kings and emperors, of rajahs and maharajahs, we are apt to think of India as an Eastern monarchy, ruled by a central power, and without any trace of that self-government which forms the pride of England. But those who have most carefully studied the political life of India tell you the very opposite.
The political unit, or the social cell in India has always been, and, in spite of repeated foreign conquests, is still the village-community. Some of these political units will occasionally combine or be combined for common purposes (such a confederacy being called a gramagala), but each is perfect in itself. When we read in the Laws of Manu of officers appointed to rule over ten, twenty, a hundred, or a thousand of these villages, that means no more than that they were responsible for the collection of taxes, and generally for the good behavior of these villages. And when, in later times, we hear of circles of eighty-four villages, the so-called Chourasees (Katurasiti), and of three hundred and sixty villages, this too seems to refer to fiscal arrangements only. To the ordinary Hindu, I mean to ninety-nine in every hundred, the village was his world, and the sphere of public opinion, with its beneficial influences on individuals, seldom extended beyond the horizon of his village.
Colonel Sleeman was one of the first who called attention to the existence of these village-communities in India, and their importance in the social fabric of the whole country both in ancient and in modern times; and though they have since become far better known and celebrated through the writings of Sir Henry Maine, it is still both interesting and instructive to read Colonel Sleeman's account. He writes as a mere observer, and uninfluenced as yet by any theories on the development of early social and political life among the Aryan nations in general.
I do not mean to say that Colonel Sleeman was the first who pointed out the palpable fact that the whole of India is parcelled out into estates of villages. Even so early an observer as Megasthenes seems to have been struck by the same fact when he says that "in India the husbandmen with their wives and children live in the country, and entirely avoid going into town." What Colonel Sleeman was the first to point out was that all the native virtues of the Hindus are intimately connected with their village-life.
That village-life, however, is naturally the least known to English officials, nay, the very presence of an English official is often said to be sufficient to drive away those native virtues which distinguish both the private life and the public administration of justice and equity in an Indian village. Take a man out of his village-community, and you remove him from all the restraints of society. He is out of his element, and, under temptation, is more likely to go wrong than to remain true to the traditions of his home-life. Even between village and village the usual restraints of public morality are not always recognized. What would be called theft or robbery at home is called a successful raid or conquest if directed against distant villages; and what would be falsehood or trickery in private life is honored by the name of policy and diplomacy if successful against strangers. On the other hand, the rules of hospitality applied only to people of other villages, and a man of the same village could never claim the right of an Atithi, or guest.
Let us hear now what Colonel Sleeman tells us about the moral character of the members of these village-communities, and let us not forget that the Commissioner for the suppression of Thuggee had ample opportunities of seeing the dark as well as the bright side of the Indian character.
He assures us that falsehood or lying between members of the same village is almost unknown. Speaking of some of the most savage tribes, the Gonds, for instance, he maintains that nothing would induce them to tell a lie, though they would think nothing of lifting a herd of cattle from a neighboring plain.
Of these men it might perhaps be said that they have not yet learned the value of a lie; yet even such blissful ignorance ought to count in a nation's character. But I am not pleading here for Gonds, or Bhils, or Santhals, and other non-Aryan tribes. I am speaking of the Aryan and more or less civilized inhabitants of India. Now among them, where rights, duties, and interests begin to clash in one and the same village, public opinion, in its limited sphere, seems strong enough to deter even an evil-disposed person from telling a falsehood. The fear of the gods also has not yet lost its power. In most villages there is a sacred tree, a pipal-tree (Ficus Indica), and the gods are supposed to delight to sit among its leaves, and listen to the music of their rustling. The deponent takes one of these leaves in his hand, and invokes the god, who sits above him, to crush him, or those dear to him, as he crushes the leaf in his hand, if he speaks anything but the truth. He then plucks and crushes the leaf, and states what he has to say.
The pipal-tree is generally supposed to be occupied by one of the Hindu deities, while the large cotton-tree, particularly among the wilder tribes, is supposed to be the abode of local gods, all the more terrible because entrusted with the police of a small settlement only. In their punchayets, Sleeman tells us, men adhere habitually and religiously to the truth, and "I have had before me hundreds of cases," he says, "in which a man's property, liberty, and life has depended upon his telling a lie, and he has refused to tell it."
Could many an English judge say the same?
In their own tribunals under the pipal-tree or cotton-tree, imagination commonly did what the deities, who were supposed to preside, had the credit of doing. If the deponent told a lie, he believed that the god who sat on his sylvan throne above him, and searched the heart of man, must know it; and from that moment he knew no rest, he was always in dread of his vengeance. If any accident happened to him, or to those dear to him, it was attributed to this offended deity; and if no accident happened, some evil was brought about by his own disordered imagination. It was an excellent superstition, inculcated in the ancient law-books, that the ancestors watched the answer of a witness, because, according as it was true or false, they themselves would go to heaven or to hell.
Allow me to read you the abstract of a conversation between an English official and a native law-officer as reported by Colonel Sleeman. The native lawyer was asked what he thought would be the effect of an act to dispense with oaths on the Koran and Ganges-water, and to substitute a solemn declaration made in the name of God, and under the same penal liabilities as if the Koran or Ganges-water had been in the deponent's hand.
"I have practiced in the courts," the native said, "for thirty years, and during that time I have found only three kinds of witnesses—two of whom would, by such an act, be left precisely where they were, while the third would be released by it from a very salutary check."
"And, pray, what are the three classes into which you divide the witnesses in our courts?"
"First, Sir, are those who will always tell the truth, whether they are required to state what they know in the form of an oath or not."
"Do you think this a large class?"
"Yes, I think it is; and I have found among them many whom nothing on earth could make to swerve from the truth. Do what you please, you could never frighten or bribe them into a deliberate falsehood.
"The second are those who will not hesitate to tell a lie when they have a motive for it, and are not restrained by an oath. In taking an oath, they are afraid of two things, the anger of God and the odium of men.
"Only three days ago," he continued, "I required a power of attorney from a lady of rank, to enable me to act for her in a case pending before the court in this town. It was given to me by her brother, and two witnesses came to declare that she had given it. 'Now,' said I, 'this lady is known to live under the curtain, and you will be asked by the judge whether you saw her give this paper: what will you say?' They both replied: 'If the judge asks us the question without an oath, we will say "Yes;" it will save much trouble, and we know that she did give the paper, though we did not really see her give it; but if he puts the Koran into our hands, we must say "No," for we should otherwise be pointed at by all the town as perjured wretches—our enemies would soon tell everybody that we had taken a false oath.'
"Now," the native lawyer went on, "the form of an oath is a great check on this sort of persons.
"The third class consists of men who will tell lies whenever they have a sufficient motive, whether they have the Koran or Ganges-water in their hand or not. Nothing will ever prevent their doing so; and the declaration which you propose would be just as well as any other for them."
"Which class do you consider the most numerous of the three?"
"I consider the second the most numerous, and wish the oath to be retained for them."
"That is, of all the men you see examined in our courts, you think the most come under the class of those who will, under the influence of strong motives, tell lies, if they have not the Koran or Ganges-water in their hands?"
"But do not a great many of those whom you consider to be included among the second class come from the village-communities—the peasantry of the country?"
"And do you not think that the greatest part of those men who will tell lies in the court, under the influence of strong motives, unless they have the Koran or Ganges-water in their hands, would refuse to tell lies, if questioned before the people of their villages, among the circle in which they live?"
"Of course I do; three-fourths of those who do not scruple to lie in the courts, would be ashamed to lie before their neighbors, or the elders of their village."
"You think that the people of the village-communities are more ashamed to tell lies before their neighbors than the people of towns?"
"Much more—there is no comparison."
"And the people of towns and cities bear in India but a small proportion to the people of the village-communities?"
"I should think a very small proportion indeed."
"Then you think that in the mass of the population of India, out of our courts, the first class, or those who speak truth, whether they have the Koran or Ganges-water in their hands or not, would be found more numerous than the other two?"
"Certainly I do; if they were always to be questioned before their neighbors or elders, so that they could feel that their neighbors and elders could know what they say."
It was from a simple sense of justice that I felt bound to quote this testimony of Colonel Sleeman as to the truthful character of the natives of India, when left to themselves. My interest lies altogether with the people of India, when left to themselves, and historically I should like to draw a line after the year one thousand after Christ. When you read the atrocities committed by the Mohammedan conquerors of India from that time to the time when England stepped in and, whatever may be said by her envious critics, made, at all events, the broad principles of our common humanity respected once more in India, the wonder, to my mind, is how any nation could have survived such an Inferno without being turned into devils themselves.
Now, it is quite true that during the two thousand years which precede the time of Mahmud of Gazni, India has had but few foreign visitors, and few foreign critics; still it is surely extremely strange that whenever, either in Greek, or in Chinese, or in Persian, or in Arab writings, we meet with any attempts at describing the distinguishing features in the national character of the Indians, regard for truth and justice should always be mentioned first.
Ktesias, the famous Greek physician of Artaxerxes Mnemon (present at the battle of Cunaxa, 404 B.C.), the first Greek writer who tells us anything about the character of the Indians, such as he heard it described at the Persian court, has a special chapter "On the Justice of the Indians."
Megasthenes, the ambassador of Seleucus Nicator at the court of Sandrocottus in Palibothra (Pataliputra, the modern Patna), states that thefts were extremely rare, and that they honored truth and virtue.
Arrian (in the second century, the pupil of Epictetus), when speaking of the public overseers or superintendents in India, says: "They oversee what goes on in the country or towns, and report everything to the king, where the people have a king, and to the magistrates, where the people are self-governed, and it is against use and wont for these to give in a false report; but indeed no Indian is accused of lying."
The Chinese, who come next in order of time, bear the same, I believe, unanimous testimony in favor of the honesty and veracity of the Hindus. [The earliest witness is Su-we, a relative of Fan-chen, King of Siam, who between 222 and 227 A.D. sailed round the whole of India, till he reached the mouth of the Indus, and then explored the country. After his return to Sinto, he received four Yueh-chi horses, sent by a king of India as a present to the King of Siam and his ambassador. At the time when these horses arrived in Siam (it took them four years to travel there), there was staying at the court of Siam an ambassador of the Emperor of China, Khang-thai, and this is the account which he received of the kingdom of India: "It is a kingdom in which the religion of Buddha flourishes. The inhabitants are straightforward and honest, and the soil is very fertile. The king is called Meu-lun, and his capital is surrounded by walls," etc. This was in about 231 A.D. In 605 we hear again of the Emperor Yang-ti sending an ambassador, Fei-tu, to India, and this is what among other things he points out as peculiar to the Hindus: "They believe in solemn oaths."] Let me quote Hiouen-thsang, the most famous of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, who visited India in the seventh century. "Though the Indians," he writes, "are of a light temperament, they are distinguished by the straightforwardness and honesty of their character. With regard to riches, they never take anything unjustly; with regard to justice, they make even excessive concessions.... Straightforwardness is the distinguishing feature of their administration."
If we turn to the accounts given by the Mohammedan conquerors of India, we find Idrisi, in his Geography (written in the eleventh century), summing up their opinion of the Indians in the following words:
"The Indians are naturally inclined to justice, and never depart from it in their actions. Their good faith, honesty, and fidelity to their engagements are well known, and they are so famous for these qualities that people flock to their country from every side."
Again, in the thirteenth century, Shems-ed-din Abu Abdallah quotes the following judgment of Bedi ezr Zenan: "The Indians are innumerable, like grains of sand, free from all deceit and violence. They fear neither death nor life."
In the thirteenth century we have the testimony of Marco Polo,who thus speaks of the Abraiaman, a name by which he seems to mean the Brahmans who, though, not traders by profession, might well have been employed for great commercial transactions by the king. This was particularly the case during times which the Brahmans would call times of distress, when many things were allowed which at other times were forbidden by the laws. "You must know," Marco Polo says, "that these Abraiaman are the best merchants in the world, and the most truthful, for they would not tell a lie for anything on earth."
In the fourteenth century we have Friar Jordanus, who goes out of his way to tell us that the people of Lesser India (South and Western India) are true in speech and eminent in justice.
In the fifteenth century, Kamal-eddin Abd-errazak Samarkandi (1413-1482), who went as ambassador of the Khakan to the prince of Kalikut and to the King of Vidyanagara (about 1440-1445), bears testimony to the perfect security which merchants enjoy in that country.
In the sixteenth century, Abu Fazl, the minister of the Emperor Akbar, says in his Ayin Akbari: "The Hindus are religious, affable, cheerful, lovers of justice, given to retirement, able in business, admirers of truth, grateful and of unbounded fidelity; and their soldiers know not what it is to fly from the field of battle."
And even in quite modern times the Mohammedans seem willing to admit that the Hindus, at all events in their dealings with Hindus, are more straightforward than Mohammedans in their dealings with Mohammedans.
Thus Meer Sulamut Ali, a venerable old Mussulman, and, as Colonel Sleeman says, a most valuable public servant, was obliged to admit that "a Hindu may feel himself authorized to take in a Mussulman, and might even think it meritorious to do so; but he would never think it meritorious to take in one of his own religion. There are no less than seventy-two sects of Mohammedans; and every one of these sects would not only take in the followers of every other religion on earth, but every member of every one of the other seventy-one sects; and the nearer that sect is to his own, the greater the merit of taking in its members."
So I could go on quoting from book after book, and again and again we should see how it was love of truth that struck all the people who came in contact with India, as the prominent feature in the national character of its inhabitants. No one ever accused them of falsehood. There must surely be some ground for this, for it is not a remark that is frequently made by travellers in foreign countries, even in our time, that their inhabitants invariably speak the truth. Read the accounts of English travellers in France, and you will find very little said about French honesty and veracity, while French accounts of England are seldom without a fling at Perfide Albion!
But if all this is true, how is it, you may well ask, that public opinion in England is so decidedly unfriendly to the people of India; at the utmost tolerates and patronizes them, but will never trust them, never treat them on terms of equality?
I have already hinted at some of the reasons. Public opinion with regard to India is made up in England chiefly by those who have spent their lives in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, or some other of the principal towns in India. The native element in such towns contains mostly the most unfavorable specimens of the Indian population. An insight into the domestic life of the more respectable classes, even in towns, is difficult to obtain; and, when it is obtained, it is extremely difficult to judge of their manners according to our standard of what is proper, respectable, or gentlemanlike. The misunderstandings are frequent and often most grotesque; and such, we must confess, is human nature, that when we hear the different and often most conflicting accounts of the character of the Hindus, we are naturally skeptical with regard to unsuspected virtues among them, while we are quite disposed to accept unfavorable accounts of their character.
Lest I should seem to be pleading too much on the native side of the question, and to exaggerate the difficulty of forming a correct estimate of the character of the Hindus, let me appeal to one of the most distinguished, learned, and judicious members of the Indian Civil Service, the author of the "History of India," Mountstuart Elphinstone. "Englishmen in India," he says, "have less opportunity than might be expected of forming opinions of the native character. Even in England, few know much of the people beyond their own class, and what they do know, they learn from newspapers and publications of a description which does not exist in India. In that country also, religion and manners put bars to our intimacy with the natives, and limit the number of transactions as well as the free communication of opinions. We know nothing of the interior of families but by report, and have no share in those numerous occurrences of life in which the amiable parts of character are most exhibited." "Missionaries of a different religion, judges, police-magistrates, officers of revenue or customs, and even diplomatists, do not see the most virtuous portion of a nation, nor any portion, unless when influenced by passion, or occupied by some personal interest. What we do see we judge by our own standard. We conclude that a man who cries like a child on slight occasions must always be incapable of acting or suffering with dignity; and that one who allows himself to be called a liar would not be ashamed of any baseness. Our writers also confound the distinctions of time and place; they combine in one character the Maratta and the Bengalese, and tax the present generation with the crimes of the heroes of the Mahabharata. It might be argued, in opposition to many unfavorable testimonies, that those who have known the Indians longest have always the best opinion of them; but this is rather a compliment to human nature than to them, since it is true of every other people. It is more in point, that all persons who have retired from India think better of the people they have left, after comparing them with others, even of the most justly-admired nations."
But what is still more extraordinary than the ready acceptance of judgments unfavorable to the character of the Hindus, is the determined way in which public opinion, swayed by the statements of certain unfavorable critics, has persistently ignored the evidence which members of the Civil Service, officers and statesmen—men of the highest authority—have given again and again, in direct opposition to these unfavorable opinions.
Here, too, I must ask to be allowed to quote at least a few of these witnesses on the other side.
Warren Hastings thus speaks of the Hindus in general: "They are gentle and benevolent, more susceptible of gratitude for kindness shown them, and less prompted to vengeance for wrongs inflicted than any people on the face of the earth; faithful, affectionate, submissive to legal authority."
Bishop Heber said: "The Hindus are brave, courteous, intelligent, most eager for knowledge and improvement; sober, industrious, dutiful to parents, affectionate to their children, uniformly gentle and patient, and more easily affected by kindness and attention to their wants and feelings than any people I ever met with."
Elphinstone states: "No set of people among the Hindus are so depraved as the dregs of our own great towns. The villagers are everywhere amiable, affectionate to their families, kind to their neighbors, and toward all but the government honest and sincere. Including the Thugs and Dacoits, the mass of crime is less in India than in England. The Thugs are almost a separate nation, and the Dacoits are desperate ruffians in gangs. The Hindus are mild and gentle people, more merciful to prisoners than any other Asiatics. Their freedom from gross debauchery is the point in which they appear to most advantage; and their superiority in purity of manners is not flattering to our self-esteem."
Yet Elphinstone can be most severe on the real faults of the people of India. He states that, at present, want of veracity is one of their prominent vices, but he adds "that such deceit is most common in people connected with government, a class which spreads far in India, as, from the nature of the land-revenue, the lowest villager is often obliged to resist force by fraud."
Sir John Malcolm writes: "I have hardly ever known where a person did understand the language, or where a calm communication was made to a native of India, through a well-informed and trustworthy medium, that the result did not prove, that what had at first been stated as falsehood had either proceeded from fear or from misapprehension. I by no means wish to state that our Indian subjects are more free from this vice than other nations that occupy a nearly equal position in society, but I am positive that they are not more addicted to untruth."
Sir Thomas Munro bears even stronger testimony. He writes: "If a good system of agriculture, unrivalled manufacturing skill, a capacity to produce whatever can contribute to either convenience or luxury, schools established in every village for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, the general practice of hospitality and charity among each other, and, above all, a treatment of the female sex full of confidence, respect, and delicacy, are among the signs which denote a civilized people—then the Hindus are not inferior to the nations of Europe—and if civilization is to become an article of trade between England and India, I am convinced that England will gain by the import cargo."
My own experience with regard to the native character has been, of course, very limited. Those Hindus whom I have had the pleasure to know personally in Europe may be looked upon as exceptional, as the best specimens, it may be, that India could produce. Also, my intercourse with them has naturally been such that it could hardly have brought out the darker sides of human nature. During the last twenty years, however, I have had some excellent opportunities of watching a number of native scholars under circumstances where it is not difficult to detect a man's true character—I mean in literary work and, more particularly, in literary controversy. I have watched them carrying on such controversies both among themselves and with certain European scholars, and I feel bound to say that, with hardly one exception, they have displayed a far greater respect for truth and a far more manly and generous spirit than we are accustomed to even in Europe and America. They have shown strength, but no rudeness; nay, I know that nothing has surprised them so much as the coarse invective to which certain Sanskrit scholars have condescended, rudeness of speech being, according to their view of human nature, a safe sign not only of bad breeding, but of want of knowledge. When they were wrong, they have readily admitted their mistakes; when they were right, they have never sneered at their European adversaries. There has been, with few exceptions, no quibbling, no special pleading, no untruthfulness on their part, and certainly none of that low cunning of the scholar who writes down and publishes what he knows perfectly well to be false, and snaps his fingers at those who still value truth and self-respect more highly than victory or applause at any price. Here, too, we might possibly gain by the import cargo.
Let me add that I have been repeatedly told by English merchants that commercial honor stands higher in India than in any other country, and that a dishonored bill is hardly known there.
I have left to the last the witnesses who might otherwise have been suspected—I mean the Hindus themselves. The whole of their literature from one end to the other is pervaded by expressions of love and reverence for truth. Their very word for truth is full of meaning. It is s a t or s a t y a, s a t being the participle of the verb as, to be. True, therefore, was with them simply that which is. The English sooth is connected with sat, also the Greek [Greek: on] for [Greek: eson], and the Latin sens, in praesens.
We are all very apt to consider truth to be what is trowed by others, or believed in by large majorities. That kind of truth is easy to accept. But whoever has once stood alone, surrounded by noisy assertions, and overwhelmed by the clamor of those who ought to know better, or perhaps who did know better—call him Galileo or Darwin, Colenso or Stanley, or any other name—he knows what a real delight it is to feel in his heart of hearts, this is true—this is—this is s a t—whatever daily, weekly, or quarterly papers, whatever bishops, archbishops, or popes, may say to the contrary.
Another name for truth is the Sanskrit r it a, which originally seems to have meant straight, direct, while a nr it a is untrue, false.
Now one of the highest praises bestowed upon the gods in the Veda is that they are s a t y a, true, truthful, trustworthy; and it is well known that both in modern and ancient times, men always ascribe to God or to their gods those qualities which they value most in themselves.
Other words applied to the gods as truthful beings are, a d r o g h a, lit. not deceiving. A d r o g h a-v a k means, he whose word is never broken. Thus Indra, the Vedic Jupiter, is said to have been praised by the fathers "as reaching the enemy, overcoming him, standing on the summit, true of speech, most powerful in thought."
D r o g h a v a k, on the contrary, is used for deceitful men. Thus Vasishtha, one of the great Vedic poets, says: "If I had worshipped false gods, or if I believed in the gods vainly—but why art thou angry with us, O Gatavedas? May liars go to destruction!"
S a t y a m, as a neuter, is often used as an abstract, and is then rightly translated by truth. But it also means that which is, the true, the real; and there are several passages in the Rig-Veda where, instead of truth, I think we ought simply to translate s a t y a m by the true, that is, the real, [Greek: to ontos on]. It sounds, no doubt, very well to translate Satyena uttabhita bhumih by "the earth is founded on truth;" and I believe every translator has taken s a t y a in that sense here. Ludwig translates, "Von der Wahrheit ist die Erde gestuetzt." But such an idea, if it conveys any tangible meaning at all, is far too abstract for those early poets and philosophers. They meant to say "the earth, such as we see it, is held up, that is, rests on something real, though we may not see it, on something which they called the Real, and to which, in course of time, they gave many more names, such as R i t a, the right, B r a h m a n," etc.
Of course where there is that strong reverence for truth, there must also be the sense of guilt arising from untruth. And thus we hear one poet pray that the waters may wash him clean, and carry off all his sins and all untruth:
"Carry away, ye waters, whatever evil there is in me, wherever I may have deceived, or may have cursed, and also all untruth (anritam)."
Or again, in the Atharva-Veda IV. 16:
"May all thy fatal snares, which stand spread out seven by seven and threefold, catch the man who tells a lie, may they pass by him who tells the truth!"
From the Brahmanas, or theological treatises of the Brahmans, I shall quote a few passages only:
"Whosoever speaks the truth, makes the fire on his own altar blaze up, as if he poured butter into the lighted fire. His own light grows larger, and from to-morrow to to-morrow he becomes better. But whosoever speaks untruth, he quenches the fire on his altar, as if he poured water into the lighted fire; his own light grows smaller and smaller, and from to-morrow to to-morrow he becomes more wicked. Let man therefore speak truth only."
And again: "A man becomes impure by uttering falsehood."
And again: "As a man who steps on the edge of a sword placed over a pit cries out, I shall slip, I shall slip into the pit, so let a man guard himself from falsehood (or sin)."
In later times we see the respect for truth carried to such an extreme, that even a promise, unwittingly made, is considered to be binding.
In the Katha-Upanishad, for instance, a father is introduced offering what is called an All-sacrifice, where everything is supposed to be given up. His son, who is standing by, taunts his father with not having altogether fulfilled his vow, because he has not sacrificed his son. Upon this, the father, though angry and against his will, is obliged to sacrifice his son. Again, when the son arrives in the lower world, he is allowed by the Judge of the Dead to ask for three favors. He then asks to be restored to life, to be taught some sacrificial mysteries, and, as the third boon, he asks to know what becomes of man after he is dead. Yama, the lord of the Departed, tries in vain to be let off from answering this last question. But he, too, is bound by his promise, and then follows a discourse on life after death, or immortal life, which forms one of the most beautiful chapters in the ancient literature of India.
The whole plot of one of the great epic poems, the Ramayana, rests on a rash promise given by Dasaratha, king of Ayodhya, to his second wife, Kaikeyi, that he would grant her two boons. In order to secure the succession to her own son, she asks that Rama, the eldest son by the king's other wife, should be banished for fourteen years. Much as the king repents his promise, Rama, his eldest son, would on no account let his father break his word, and he leaves his kingdom to wander in the forest with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. After the father's death, the son of the second wife declines the throne, and comes to Rama to persuade him to accept the kingdom of his father. But all in vain. Rama will keep his exile for fourteen years, and never disown his father's promise. Here follows a curious dialogue between a Brahman Gabali and Prince Rama, of which I shall give some extracts:
"The Brahman, who is a priest and courtier, says, 'Well, descendant of Raghu, do not thou, so noble in sentiments, and austere in character, entertain, like a common man, this useless thought. What man is a kinsman of any other? What relationship has any one with another? A man is born alone and dies alone. Hence he who is attached to any one as his father or his mother, is to be regarded as if he were insane, for no one belongs to another. Thou oughtest not to abandon thy father's kingdom and stay here in a sad and miserable abode, attended with many trials. Let thyself be inaugurated king in the wealthy Ayodhya. Dasaratha, thy father is nothing to thee, or thou to him; the king is one, and thou another, do therefore what is said.... Then offer oblations to the departed spirits (of thy forefathers) on prescribed days; but see what a waste of food! For what can a dead man eat? If what is eaten by one here enters into the body of another (viz., of the departed), let Sraddhas be offered to those who are travelling; they need not then get food to eat on their journey. These books (the Vedas), (which enjoin men to) sacrifice, give, consecrate themselves, practise austerities, and forsake the world, are composed by clever men to induce others to bestow gifts. Authoritative words do not fall from heaven. Let me, and others like yourselves, embrace whatever assertion is supported by reason. Adhere to what is apparent to the senses, and reject what is invisible.... This world is the next world; do thou therefore enjoy pleasure, for every virtuous man does not gain it. Virtuous men are greatly distressed, while the unrighteous are seen to be happy.'"
These positivist sentiments sound strange, particularly from the mouth of a Brahman. But the poet evidently wishes to represent a Brahman living at court, who has an argument ready for anything and everything that is likely to please his king.
But what does Rama answer? "The words," he says, "which you have addressed to me, though they recommend what seems to be right and salutary, advise, in fact, the contrary. The sinful transgressor, who lives according to the rules of heretical systems, obtains no esteem from good men. It is good conduct that marks a man to be noble or ignoble, heroic or a pretender to manliness, pure or impure. Truth and mercy are immemorial characteristics of a king's conduct. Hence royal rule is in its essence truth. On truth the word is based. Both sages and gods have esteemed truth. The man who speaks truth in this world attains the highest imperishable state. Men shrink with fear and horror from a liar as from a serpent. In this world the chief element in virtue is truth; it is called the basis of everything. Truth is lord in the world; virtue always rests on truth. All things are founded on truth; nothing is higher than it. Why, then, should I not be true to my promise, and faithfully observe the truthful injunction given by my father? Neither through covetousness, nor delusion, nor ignorance, will I, overpowered by darkness, break through the barrier of truth, but remain true to my promise to my father. How shall I, having promised to him that I would thus reside in the forests, transgress his injunction, and do what Bharata recommends?"
The other epic poem too, the Mahabharata, is full of episodes showing a profound regard for truth and an almost slavish submission to a pledge once given. The death of Bhishma, one of the most important events in the story of the Mahabharata, is due to his vow never to hurt a woman. He is thus killed by Sikhandin, whom he takes to be a woman.
Were I to quote from all the law-books, and from still later works, everywhere you would hear the same key-note of truthfulness vibrating through them all.
We must not, however, suppress the fact that, under certain circumstances, a lie was allowed, or, at all events, excused by Indian lawgivers. Thus Gautama says: "An untruth spoken by people under the influence of anger, excessive joy, fear, pain, or grief, by infants, by very old men, by persons laboring under a delusion, being under the influence of drink, or by madmen, does not cause the speaker to fall, or, as we should say, is a venial, not a mortal sin."
This is a large admission, yet even in that open admission there is a certain amount of honesty. Again and again in the Mahabharata is this excuse pleaded. Nay, there is in the Mahabharata the well-known story of Kausika, called Satyavadin, the Truth-speaker, who goes to hell for having spoken the truth. He once saw men flying into the forest before robbers (dasyu). The robbers came up soon after them, and asked Kausika, which way the fugitives had taken. He told them the truth, and the men were caught by the robbers and killed. But Kausika, we are told, went to hell for having spoken the truth.
The Hindus may seem to have been a priest-ridden race, and their devotion to sacrifice and ceremonial is well known. Yet this is what the poet of the Mahabharata dares to say:
"Let a thousand sacrifices (of a horse) and truth be weighed in the balance—truth will exceed the thousand sacrifices."
These are words addressed by Sakuntala, the deserted wife, to King Dushyanta, when he declined to recognize her and his son. And when he refuses to listen to her appeal, what does she appeal to as the highest authority?—The voice of conscience.
"If you think I am alone," she says to the king, "you do not know that wise man within your heart. He knows of your evil deed—in his sight you commit sin. A man who has committed sin may think that no one knows it. The gods know it and the old man within."
This must suffice. I say once more that I do not wish to represent the people of India as two hundred and fifty-three millions of angels, but I do wish it to be understood and to be accepted as a fact, that the damaging charge of untruthfulness brought against that people is utterly unfounded with regard to ancient times. It is not only not true, but the very opposite of the truth. As to modern times, and I date them from about 1000 after Christ, I can only say that, after reading the accounts of the terrors and horrors of Mohammedan rule, my wonder is that so much of native virtue and truthfulness should have survived. You might as well expect a mouse to speak the truth before a cat, as a Hindu before a Mohammedan judge. If you frighten a child, that child will tell a lie; if you terrorize millions, you must not be surprised if they try to escape from your fangs. Truthfulness is a luxury, perhaps the greatest, and let me assure you, the most expensive luxury in our life—and happy the man who has been able to enjoy it from his very childhood. It may be easy enough in our days and in a free country, like England, never to tell a lie—but the older we grow, the harder we find it to be always true, to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The Hindus too had made that discovery. They too knew how hard, nay how impossible it is, always to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is a short story in the Satapatha Brahmana, to my mind full of deep meaning, and pervaded by the real sense of truth, the real sense of the difficulty of truth. His kinsman said to Aruna Aupavesi, "Thou art advanced in years, establish thou the sacrificial fires." He replied: "Thereby you tell me henceforth to keep silence. For he who has established the fires must not speak an untruth, and only by not speaking at all, one speaks no untruth. To that extent the service of the sacrificial fires consists in truth."
I doubt whether in any other of the ancient literatures of the world you will find traces of that extreme sensitiveness of conscience which despairs of our ever speaking the truth, and which declares silence gold, and speech silver, though, in a much higher sense than our proverb.
What I should wish to impress on those who will soon find themselves the rulers of millions of human beings in India, is the duty to shake off national prejudices, which are apt to degenerate into a kind of madness. I have known people with a brown skin whom I could look up to as my betters. Look for them in India, and you will find them, and if you meet with disappointments, as no doubt you will, think of the people with white skins whom you have trusted, and whom you can trust no more. We are all apt to be Pharisees in international judgments. I read only a few days ago in a pamphlet written by an enlightened politician, the following words:
"Experience only can teach that nothing is so truly astonishing to a morally depraved people as the phenomenon of a race of men in whose word perfect confidence may be placed.... The natives are conscious of their inferiority in nothing so much as in this. They require to be taught rectitude of conduct much more than literature and science."
If you approach the Hindus with such feelings, you will teach them neither rectitude, nor science, nor literature. Nay, they might appeal to their own literature, even to their law-books, to teach us at least one lesson of truthfulness, truthfulness to ourselves, or, in other words, humility.
What does Yagnavalkya say?
"It is not our hermitage," he says—our religion we might say—"still less the color of our skin, that produces virtue; virtue must be practiced. Therefore let no one do to others what he would not have done to himself."
And the laws of the Manavas, which were so much abused by Mill, what do they teach?
"Evil-doers think indeed that no one sees them; but the gods see them, and the old man within."
"Self is the witness of Self, Self is the refuge of Self. Do not despise thy own Self, the highest witness of men."
"If, friend, thou thinkest thou art self-alone, remember there is the silent thinker (the Highest Self) always within thy heart, and he sees what is good and what is evil."
"O friend, whatever good thou mayest have done from thy very birth, all will go to the dogs, if thou speak an untruth."
Or in Vasishtha, XXX. 1:
"Practice righteousness, not unrighteousness; speak truth, not untruth; look far, not near; look up toward the highest, not toward anything low."
No doubt there is moral depravity in India, and where is there no moral depravity in this world? But to appeal to international statistics would be, I believe, a dangerous game. Nor must we forget that our standards of morality differ, and, on some points, differ considerably from those recognized in India; and we must not wonder if sons do not at once condemn as criminal what their fathers and grandfathers considered right. Let us hold by all means to our sense of what is right and what is wrong; but in judging others, whether in public or in private life, whether as historians or politicians, let us not forget that a kindly spirit will never do any harm. Certainly I can imagine nothing more mischievous, more dangerous, more fatal to the permanence of English rule in India, than for the young civil servants to go to that country with the idea that it is a sink of moral depravity, an ants' nest of lies; for no one is so sure to go wrong, whether in public or in private life, as he who says in his haste: "All men are liars."
[Footnote 17: Mill's "History of British India," ed. Wilson, vol. i., p. 375.]
[Footnote 18: Keshub Chunder Sen is the present spiritual director of the Brahmo Samag, the theistic organization founded by the late Rammohun Roy.—A. W.]
[Footnote 19: Mill's "History," ed. Wilson, vol. i., p. 368.]
[Footnote 20: L. c. p. 325.]
[Footnote 21: L. c. p. 329.]
[Footnote 22: P. 217.]
[Footnote 23: Mill's "History," vol. i., p. 329.]
[Footnote 24: Manu, VIII. 43, says: "Neither a King himself nor his officers must ever promote litigation; nor ever neglect a lawsuit instituted by others."]
[Footnote 25: Mill's "History," vol. i., p. 327.]
[Footnote 26: L. c. p. 368.]
[Footnote 27: See Elphinstone, "History of India," ed. Cowell, p. 219, note. "Of the 232 sentences of death 64 only were carried out in England, while the 59 sentences of death in Bengal were all carried out."]
[Footnote 28: Sir Ch. Trevelyan, Christianity and Hinduism, 1882, p. 42.
This will be news to many. It has been quite common to include the Thugs with the worshippers of Bhavani, the consort of Siva. The word signifies a deceiver, which eliminates it from every religious association.—A. W.]
[Footnote 29: Manu VII. 115.]
[Footnote 30: H. M. Elliot, "Supplement to the Glossary of Indian Terms," p. 151.]
[Footnote 31: I see from Dr. Hunter's latest statistical tables that the whole number of towns and villages in British India amounts to 493,429. Out of this number 448,320 have less than 1000 inhabitants, and may be called villages. In Bengal, where the growth of towns has been most encouraged through Government establishments, the total number of homesteads is 117,042, and more than half of these contain less than 200 inhabitants. Only 10,077 towns in Bengal have more than 1000 inhabitants, that is, no more than about a seventeenth part of all the settlements are anything but what we should call substantial villages. In the North-Western Provinces the last census gives us 105,124 villages, against 297 towns. See London Times, 14th Aug. 1882.]
[Footnote 32: "Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arrian," by McCrindle, p. 42.]
[Footnote 33: "Perjury seems to be committed by the meanest and encouraged by some of the better sort among the Hindus and Mussulmans, with as little remorse as if it were a proof of ingenuity, or even a merit."—Sir W. Jones, Address to Grand Jury at Calcutta, in Mill's "History of India," vol. i., p. 324. "The longer we possess a province, the more common and grave does perjury become."—Sir G. Campbell, quoted by Rev. Samuel Johnson, "Oriental Religions, India," p. 288.]
[Footnote 34: Vasishtha, translated by Buehler, VIII. 8.]
[Footnote 35: Mr. J. D. Baldwin, author of "Prehistoric Nations," declares that this system of village-communities existed in India long before the Aryan conquest. He attributes it to Cushite or AEthiopic influence, and with great plausibility. Nevertheless, the same system flourished in prehistoric Greece, even till the Roman conquests. Mr. Palgrave observed it existing in Arabia. "Oman is less a kingdom than an aggregation of municipalities," he remarks; "each town, each village has its separate existence and corporation, while towns and villages, in their turn, are subjected to one or other of the ancestral chiefs." The Ionian and Phoenician cities existed by a similar tenure, as did also the Free Cities of Europe. It appears, indeed, to have been the earlier form of rule. Megasthenes noticed it in India. "The village-communities," says Sir Charles Metcalf, "are little republics, having everything they want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts." These villages usually consist of the holders of the land, those who farm and cultivate it, the established village-servants, priest, blacksmith, carpenter, accountant, washerman, potter, barber, watchman, shoemaker, etc. The tenure and law of inheritance varies with the different native races, but tenantship for a specific period seems to be the most common.—A. W.]
[Footnote 36: "Sleeman," vol. ii., p. 111.]
[Footnote 37: Sleeman, "Rambles," vol. ii., p. 116.]
[Footnote 38: Vasishtha XVI. 32.]
[Footnote 39: Ktesiae Fragmenta (ed. Didot), p. 81.]
[Footnote 40: See "Indian Antiquary," 1876, p. 333.]
[Footnote 41: Megasthenis Fragmenta (ed. Didot) in "Fragm. Histor. Graec." vol. ii., p. 426 b: [Greek: Aletheian te humoios kai areten apodechontai]]
[Footnote 42: Indica, cap. xii. 6.]
[Footnote 43: See McCrindle in. "Indian Antiquary," 1876, p. 92.]
[Footnote 44: See Stanislas Julien, Journal Asiatique, 1847, Aout, pp. 98, 105.]
[Footnote 45: Vol. ii., p. 83.]
[Footnote 46: Elliot, "History of India," vol. i., p. 88.]
[Footnote 47: See Mehren: "Manuel de la Cosmographie du moyen age, traduction de l'ouvrage de Shems-ed-din Abou Abdallah de Damas." Paris: Leroux, 1874, p. 371.]
[Footnote 48: "Marco Polo," ed. H. Yule, vol. ii., p. 350.]
[Footnote 49: "Marco Polo," vol. ii., p. 354.]
[Footnote 50: "Notices des Manuscrits," tom. xiv., p. 436. He seems to have been one of the first to state that the Persian text of the Kalilah and Dimna was derived from the wise people of India.]
[Footnote 51: Samuel Johnson, "India," p. 294.]
[Footnote 52: Sleeman, "Rambles," vol. i., p. 63.]
[Footnote 53: Elphinstone's "History of India," ed. Cowell, p. 213.]
[Footnote 54: This statement may well be doubted. The missionary staff in India is very large and has been for years past. There is no reason to doubt that many of its members are well informed respecting Hindoo character in all grades of society.—AM. PUBS.]
[Footnote 55: Samuel Johnson, "India," p. 293.]
[Footnote 56: See "History of India," pp. 375-381.]
[Footnote 57: L. c., p. 215.]
[Footnote 58: "History of India," p. 218.]
[Footnote 59: Mill's "History of India," ed. Wilson, vol. i., p. 370.]
[Footnote 60: L. c., p. 371.]
[Footnote 61: Sir Thomas Munro estimated the children educated at public schools in the Madras presidency as less than one in three. But low as it was, it was, as he justly remarked, a higher rate than existed till very lately in most countries of Europe.—Elphinstone, "Hist. of India," p. 205.
In Bengal there existed no less than 80,000 native schools, though, doubtless, for the most part, of a poor quality. According to a Government Report of 1835, there was a village-school for every 400 persons.—"Missionary Intelligencer," IX. 183-193.
Ludlow ("British India," I. 62) writes: "In every Hindu village which has retained its old form I am assured that the children generally are able to read, write, and cipher; but where we have swept away the village-system, as in Bengal, there the village-school has also disappeared."]
[Footnote 62: Rig-Veda I. 87, 4; 145, 5; 174, 1; V. 23, 2.]
[Footnote 63: Rig-Veda III. 32, 9; VI. 5, 1.]
[Footnote 64: Rig-Veda VI. 22, 2.]
[Footnote 65: Rig-Veda III. 14, 6.]
[Footnote 66: This is the favorite expression of Plato for the Divine, which Cary, Davis, and others render "Real Being."—A. W.]
[Footnote 67: Sometimes they trace even this S a t y a or R i t a, the Real or Right, to a still higher cause, and say (Rig-Veda X. 190, 1):
"The Right and Real was born from the Lighted Heat; from thence was born Night, and thence the billowy sea. From the sea was born Samvatsara, the year, he who ordereth day and night, the Lord of all that moves (winks). The Maker (dhatri) shaped Sun and Moon in order; he shaped the sky, the earth, the welkin, and the highest heaven."]
[Footnote 68: Rig-Veda I. 23, 22.]
[Footnote 69: Or it may mean, "Wherever I may have deceived, or sworn false."]
[Footnote 70: Satapatha Brahmana II. 2, 3, 19.]
[Footnote 71: Cf. Muir, "Metrical Translations," p. 268.]
[Footnote 72: Sat. Br. III. 1, 2, 10.]
[Footnote 73: Taitt. Aranyaka X. 9.]
[Footnote 74: Muir, "Metrical Translations," p. 218.]
[Footnote 75: Holtzmann, "Das alte indische Epos," p. 21, note 83.]
[Footnote 76: V. 24.]
[Footnote 77: This permission to prevaricate was still further extended. The following five untruths are enumerated by various writers as not constituting mortal sins—namely, at the time of marriage, during dalliance, when life is in danger, when the loss of property is threatened, and for the sake of a Brahmana. Again, another writer cites the declaration that an untruth is venial if it is spoken at the time of marriage, during dalliance, in jest, or while suffering great pain. It is evident that Venus laughed at lovers' oaths in India as well as elsewhere; and that false testimony extracted by torture was excused. Manu declared that in some cases the giver of false evidence from a pious motive would not lose his seat in heaven; indeed, that whenever the death of a man of any of the four castes would be occasioned by true evidence, falsehood was even better than truth. He gives as the primeval rule, to say what is true and what is pleasant, but not what is true and unpleasant, or what is pleasant and not true. The Vishnu-purana gives like counsel, adding the following aphorism: "A considerate man will always cultivate, in act, thought, and speech, that which is good for living beings, both in this world and in the next." About the same license appears to be used in this country and winked at.—A. W.]
[Footnote 78: I. 3412; III. 13844; VII. 8742; VIII. 3436, 3464.]
[Footnote 79: Mahabharata VIII. 3448.]
[Footnote 80: Muir, l. c. p. 268; Mahabharata I. 3095.]
[Footnote 81: Mahabharata I. 3015-16.]
[Footnote 82: This explains satisfactorily how the Hindoos became liars, and of course admits that they did become so.—AM. PUBS.]
[Footnote 83: Satapatha Brahmana, translated by Eggeling, "Sacred Books of the East," vol. xii., p. 313, Sec. 20.]
[Footnote 84: Sir Charles Trevelyan, "Christianity and Hinduism," p. 81.]
[Footnote 85: IV. 65.]
[Footnote 86: VIII. 85.]
[Footnote 87: VIII. 90.]
[Footnote 88: VIII. 92.]
HUMAN INTEREST OF SANSKRIT LITERATURE.
My first lecture was intended to remove the prejudice that India is and always must be a strange country to us, and that those who have to live there will find themselves stranded, and far away from that living stream of thoughts and interests which carries us along in England and in other countries of Europe.
My second lecture was directed against another prejudice, namely, that the people of India with whom the young civil servants will have to pass the best years of their life are a race so depraved morally, and more particularly so devoid of any regard for truth, that they must always remain strangers to us, and that any real fellowship or friendship with them is quite out of the question.
To-day I shall have to grapple with a third prejudice, namely, that the literature of India, and more especially the classical Sanskrit literature, whatever may be its interest to the scholar and the antiquarian, has little to teach us which we cannot learn better from other sources, and that at all events it is of little practical use to young civilians. If only they learn to express themselves in Hindustani or Tamil, that is considered quite enough; nay, as they have to deal with men and with the ordinary affairs of life, and as, before everything else, they are to be men of the world and men of business, it is even supposed to be dangerous, if they allowed themselves to become absorbed in questions of abstruse scholarship or in researches on ancient religion, mythology, and philosophy.
I take the very opposite opinion, and I should advise every young man who wishes to enjoy his life in India, and to spend his years there with profit to himself and to others, to learn Sanskrit, and to learn it well.
I know it will be said, What can be the use of Sanskrit at the present day? Is not Sanskrit a dead language? And are not the Hindus themselves ashamed of their ancient literature? Do they not learn English, and do they not prefer Locke, and Hume, and Mill to their ancient poets and philosophers?
No doubt Sanskrit, in one sense, is a dead language. It was, I believe, a dead language more than two thousand years ago. Buddha, about 500 B.C., commanded his disciples to preach in the dialects of the people; and King Asoka, in the third century B.C., when he put up his Edicts, which were intended to be read, or at least to be understood by the people, had them engraved on rocks and pillars in the various local dialects from Cabul in the north to Ballabhi in the south, from the sources of the Ganges and the Jumnah to Allahabad and Patna, nay even down to Orissa. These various dialects are as different from Sanskrit as Italian is from Latin, and we have therefore good reason to suppose that, in the third century B.C., if not earlier, Sanskrit had ceased to be the spoken language of the people at large.
There is an interesting passage in the Kullavagga, where we are told that, even during Buddha's lifetime, some of his pupils, who were Brahmans by birth, complained that people spoiled the words of Buddha by every one repeating them in his own dialect (nirutti). They proposed to translate his words into Sanskrit; but he declined, and commanded that each man should learn his doctrine in his own language.
And there is another passage, quoted by Hardy in his Manual of Buddhism, p. 186, where we read that at the time of Buddha's first preaching each of the countless listeners thought that the sage was looking toward him, and was speaking to him in his own tongue, though the language used was Magadhi.
Sanskrit, therefore, as a language spoken by the people at large, had ceased to exist in the third century B.C.
Yet such is the marvellous continuity between the past and the present in India, that in spite of repeated social convulsions, religious reforms, and foreign invasions, Sanskrit may be said to be still the only language that is spoken over the whole extent of that vast country.
Though the Buddhist sovereigns published their edicts in the vernaculars, public inscriptions and private official documents continued to be composed in Sanskrit during the last two thousand years. And though the language of the sacred writings of Buddhists and Gainas was borrowed from the vulgar dialects, the literature of India never ceased to be written in Paninean Sanskrit, while the few exceptions, as, for instance, the use of Prakrit by women and inferior characters in the plays of Kalidasa and others, are themselves not without an important historical significance.
Even at the present moment, after a century of English rule and English teaching, I believe that Sanskrit is more widely understood in India than Latin was in Europe at the time of Dante.
Whenever I receive a letter from a learned man in India, it is written in Sanskrit. Whenever there is a controversy on questions of law and religion, the pamphlets published in India are written in Sanskrit. There are journals written in Sanskrit which must entirely depend for their support on readers who prefer that classical language to the vulgar dialects. There is The Pandit, published at Benares, containing not only editions of ancient texts, but treatises on modern subjects, reviews of books published in England, and controversial articles, all in Sanskrit.
Another paper of the same kind is the Pratna-Kamra-nandini, "the Delight of lovers of old things," published likewise at Benares, and full of valuable materials.
There is also the Vidyodaya, "the Rise of Knowledge," a Sanskrit journal published at Calcutta, which sometimes contains important articles. There are probably others, which I do not know.
There is a monthly serial published at Bombay, by M. Moreshwar Kunte, called the Shad-darshana-Chintanika, or "Studies in Indian Philosophy," giving the text of the ancient systems of philosophy, with commentaries and treatises, written in Sanskrit, though in this case accompanied by a Marathi and an English translation.
Of the Rig-Veda, the most ancient of Sanskrit books, two editions are now coming out in monthly numbers, the one published at Bombay, by what may be called the liberal party, the other at Prayaga (Allahabad) by Dayananda Sarasvati, the representative of Indian orthodoxy. The former gives a paraphrase in Sanskrit, and a Marathi and an English translation; the latter a full explanation in Sanskrit, followed by a vernacular commentary. These books are published by subscription, and the list of subscribers among the natives of India is very considerable.
There are other journals, which are chiefly written in the spoken dialects, such as Bengali, Marathi, or Hindi; but they contain occasional articles in Sanskrit, as, for instance, the Hariskandrakandrika, published at Benares, the Tattvabodhini, published at Calcutta, and several more.
It was only the other day that I saw in the Liberal, the journal of Keshub Chunder Sen's party, an account of a meeting between Brahmavrata Samadhyayi, a Vedic scholar of Nuddea, and Kashinath Trimbak Telang, a M.A. of the University of Bombay. The one came from the east, the other from the west, yet both could converse fluently in Sanskrit.
Still more extraordinary is the number of Sanskrit texts, issuing from native presses, for which there seems to be a large demand, for if we write for copies to be sent to England, we often find that, after a year or two, all the copies have been bought up in India itself. That would not be the case with Anglo-Saxon texts in England, or with Latin texts in Italy!
But more than this, we are told that the ancient epic poems of the Mahabharata and Ramayana are still recited in the temples for the benefit of visitors, and that in the villages large crowds assemble around the Kathaka, the reader of these ancient Sanskrit poems, often interrupting his recitations with tears and sighs, when the hero of the poem is sent into banishment, while when he returns to his kingdom, the houses of the village are adorned with lamps and garlands. Such a recitation of the whole of the Mahabharata is said to occupy ninety days, or sometimes half a year. The people at large require, no doubt, that the Brahman narrator (Kathaka) should interpret the old poem, but there must be some few people present who understand, or imagine they understand, the old poetry of Vyasa and Valmiki.
There are thousands of Brahmans even now, when so little inducement exists for Vedic studies, who know the whole of the Rig-Veda by heart and can repeat it; and what applies to the Rig-Veda applies to many other books.
But even if Sanskrit were more of a dead language than it really is, all the living languages of India, both Aryan and Dravidian, draw their very life and soul from Sanskrit. On this point, and on the great help that even a limited knowledge of Sanskrit would render in the acquisition of the vernaculars, I, and others better qualified than I am, have spoken so often, though without any practical effect, that I need not speak again. Any candidate who knows but the elements of Sanskrit grammar will well understand what I mean, whether his special vernacular may be Bengali, Hindustani, or even Tamil. To a classical scholar I can only say that between a civil servant who knows Sanskrit and Hindustani, and another who knows Hindustani only, there is about the same difference in their power of forming an intelligent appreciation of India and its inhabitants, as there is between a traveller who visits Italy with a knowledge of Latin, and a party personally conducted to Rome by Messrs. Cook & Co.
Let us examine, however, the objection that Sanskrit literature is a dead or an artificial literature, a little more carefully, in order to see whether there is not some kind of truth in it. Some people hold that the literary works which we possess in Sanskrit never had any real life at all, that they were altogether scholastic productions, and that therefore they can teach us nothing of what we really care for, namely, the historical growth of the Hindu mind. Others maintain that at the present moment, at all events, and after a century of English rule, Sanskrit literature has ceased to be a motive power in India, and that it can teach us nothing of what is passing now through the Hindu mind and influencing it for good or for evil.
Let us look at the facts. Sanskrit literature is a wide and a vague term. If the Vedas, such as we now have them, were composed about 1500 B.C., and if it is a fact that considerable works continue to be written in Sanskrit even now, we have before us a stream of literary activity extending over three thousand four hundred years. With the exception of China there is nothing like this in the whole world.
It is difficult to give an idea of the enormous extent and variety of that literature. We are only gradually becoming acquainted with the untold treasures which still exist in manuscripts, and with the titles of that still larger number of works which must have existed formerly, some of them being still quoted by writers of the last three or four centuries.
The Indian Government has of late years ordered a kind of bibliographical survey of India to be made, and has sent some learned Sanskrit scholars, both European and native, to places where collections of Sanskrit MSS. are known to exist, in order to examine and catalogue them. Some of these catalogues have been published, and we learn from them that the number of separate works in Sanskrit, of which mss. are still in existence, amounts to about 10,000. This is more, I believe, than the whole classical literature of Greece and Italy put together. Much of it, no doubt, will be called mere rubbish; but then you know that even in our days the writings of a very eminent philosopher have been called "mere rubbish." What I wish you to see is this, that there runs through the whole history of India, through its three or four thousand years, a high road, or, it is perhaps more accurate to say, a high mountain-path of literature. It may be remote from the turmoil of the plain, hardly visible perhaps to the millions of human beings in their daily struggle of life. It may have been trodden by a few solitary wanderers only. But to the historian of the human race, to the student of the development of the human mind, those few solitary wanderers are after all the true representatives of India from age to age. Do not let us be deceived. The true history of the world must always be the history of the few; and as we measure the Himalaya by the height of Mount Everest, we must take the true measure of India from the poets of the Veda, the sages of the Upanishads, the founders of the Vedanta and Sankhya philosophies, and the authors of the oldest law-books, and not from the millions who are born and die in their villages, and who have never for one moment been roused out of their drowsy dream of life.
To large multitudes in India, no doubt, Sanskrit literature was not merely a dead literature, it was simply non-existent; but the same might be said of almost every literature, and more particularly of the literatures of the ancient world.
Still, even beyond this, I am quite prepared to acknowledge to a certain extent the truth of the statement, that a great portion of Sanskrit literature has never been living and national, in the same sense in which the Greek and Roman literatures reflected at times the life of a whole nation; and it is quite true besides, that the Sanskrit books which are best known to the public at large, belong to what might correctly be called the Renaissance period of Indian literature, when those who wrote Sanskrit had themselves to learn the language, as we learn Latin, and were conscious that they were writing for a learned and cultivated public only, and not for the people at large.
This will require a fuller explanation.
We may divide the whole of Sanskrit literature, beginning with the Rig-Veda and ending with Dayananda's Introduction to his edition of the Rig-Veda, his by no means uninteresting Rig-Veda-bhumika, into two great periods: that preceding the great Turanian invasion, and that following it.
The former comprises the Vedic literature and the ancient literature of Buddhism, the latter all the rest.
If I call the invasion which is generally called the invasion of the Sakas, or the Scythians, or Indo-Scythians, or Turushkas, the Turanian invasion, it is simply because I do not as yet wish to commit myself more than I can help as to the nationality of the tribes who took possession of India, or, at least, of the government of India, from about the first century B.C. to the third century A.D.
They are best known by the name of Yueh-chi, this being the name by which they are called in Chinese chronicles. These Chinese chronicles form the principal source from which we derive our knowledge of these tribes, both before and after their invasion of India. Many theories have been started as to their relationship with other races. They are described as of pink and white complexion and as shooting from horseback; and as there was some similarity between their Chinese name Yueh-chi and the Gothi or Goths, they were identified by Remusat with those German tribes, and by others with the Getae, the neighbors of the Goths. Tod went even a step farther, and traced the Gats in India and the Rajputs back to the Yueh-chi and Getae. Some light may come in time out of all this darkness, but for the present we must be satisfied with the fact that, between the first century before and the third century after our era, the greatest political revolution took place in India owing to the repeated inroads of Turanian, or, to use a still less objectionable term, of Northern tribes. Their presence in India, recorded by Chinese historians, is fully confirmed by coins, by inscriptions, and by the traditional history of the country, such as it is; but to my mind nothing attests the presence of these foreign invaders more clearly than the break, or, I could almost say, the blank in the Brahmanical literature of India from the first century before to the third century after our era.
If we consider the political and social state of that country, we can easily understand what would happen in a case of invasion and conquest by a warlike race. The invaders would take possession of the strongholds or castles, and either remove the old Rajahs, or make them their vassals and agents. Everything else would then go on exactly as before. The rents would be paid, the taxes collected, and the life of the villagers, that is, of the great majority of the people of India, would go on almost undisturbed by the change of government. The only people who might suffer would be, or, at all events, might be the priestly caste, unless they should come to terms with the new conquerors. The priestly caste, however, was also to a great extent the literary caste, and the absence of their old patrons, the native Rajahs, might well produce for a time a complete cessation of literary activity. The rise of Buddhism and its formal adoption by King Asoka had already considerably shaken the power and influence of the old Brahmanic hierarchy. The Northern conquerors, whatever their religion may have been, were certainly not believers in the Veda. They seem to have made a kind of compromise with Buddhism, and it is probably due to that compromise, or to an amalgamation of Saka legends with Buddhist doctrines, that we owe the so-called Mahayana form of Buddhism—and more particularly the Amitabha worship—which was finally settled at the Council under Kanishka, one of the Turanian rulers of India in the first century A.D.
If then we divide the whole of Sanskrit literature into these two periods, the one anterior to the great Turanian invasion, the other posterior to it, we may call the literature of the former period ancient and natural, that of the latter modern and artificial.
Of the former period we possess, first, what has been called the Veda, i.e., Knowledge, in the widest sense of the word—a considerable mass of literature, yet evidently a wreck only, saved out of a general deluge; secondly, the works collected in the Buddhist Tripitaka, now known to us chiefly in what is called the Pali dialect, the Gatha dialects, and Sanskrit, and probably much added to in later times.
The second period of Sanskrit literature comprehends everything else. Both periods may be subdivided again, but this does not concern us at present.
Now I am quite willing to admit that the literature of the second period, the modern Sanskrit literature, never was a living or national literature. It here and there contains remnants of earlier times, adapted to the literary, religious, and moral tastes of a later period; and whenever we are able to disentangle those ancient elements, they may serve to throw light on the past, and, to a certain extent, supplement what has been lost in the literature of the Vedic times. The metrical Law-books, for instance, contain old materials which existed during the Vedic period, partly in prose, as Sutras, partly in more ancient metres, as Gathas. The Epic poems, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, have taken the place of the old Itihasas and Akhyanas. The Puranas, even, may contain materials, though much altered, of what was called in Vedic literature the Purana.
But the great mass of that later literature is artificial or scholastic, full of interesting compositions, and by no means devoid of originality and occasional beauty; yet with all that, curious only, and appealing to the interests of the Oriental scholar far more than the broad human sympathies of the historian and the philosopher.
It is different with the ancient literature of India, the literature dominated by the Vedic and the Buddhistic religions. That literature opens to us a chapter in what has been called the Education of the Human Race, to which we can find no parallel anywhere else. Whoever cares for the historical growth of our language, that is, of our thoughts; whoever cares for the first intelligible development of religion and mythology; whoever cares for the first foundation of what in later times we call the sciences of astronomy, metronomy, grammar, and etymology; whoever cares for the first intimations of philosophical thought, for the first attempts at regulating family life, village life, and state life, as founded on religion, ceremonial, tradition and contract (samaya)—must in future pay the same attention to the literature of the Vedic period as to the literatures of Greece and Rome and Germany.
As to the lessons which the early literature of Buddhism may teach us, I need not dwell on them at present. If I may judge from the numerous questions that are addressed to me with regard to that religion and its striking coincidences with Christianity, Buddhism has already become a subject of general interest, and will and ought to become so more and more. On that whole class of literature, however, it is not my intention to dwell in this short course of Lectures, which can hardly suffice even for a general survey of Vedic literature, and for an elucidation of the principal lessons which, I think, we may learn from the Hymns, the Brahmanas, the Upanishads, and the Sutras.
It was a real misfortune that Sanskrit literature became first known to the learned public in Europe through specimens belonging to the second, or, what I called, the Renaissance period. The Bhagavadgita, the plays of Kalidasa, such as Sakuntala or Urvasi, a few episodes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, such as those of Nala and the Yagnadattabadha, the fables of the Hitopadesa, and the sentences of Bhartrihari are, no doubt, extremely curious; and as, at the time when they first became known in Europe, they were represented to be of extreme antiquity, and the work of a people formerly supposed to be quite incapable of high literary efforts, they naturally attracted the attention of men such as Sir William Jones in England, Herder and Goethe in Germany, who were pleased to speak of them in terms of highest admiration. It was the fashion at that time to speak of Kalidasa, as, for instance, Alexander von Humboldt did even in so recent a work as his Kosmos, as "the great contemporary of Virgil and Horace, who lived at the splendid court of Vikramaditya," this Vikramaditya being supposed to be the founder of the Samvat era, 56 B.C. But all this is now changed. Whoever the Vikramaditya was who is supposed to have defeated the Sakas, and to have founded another era, the Samvat era, 56 B.C., he certainly did not live in the first century B.C. Nor are the Indians looked upon any longer as an illiterate race, and their poetry as popular and artless. On the contrary, they are judged now by the same standards as Persians and Arabs, Italians or French; and, measured by that standard, such works as Kalidasa's plays are not superior to many plays that have long been allowed to rest in dust and peace on the shelves of our libraries. Their antiquity is no longer believed in by any critical Sanskrit scholar. Kalidasa is mentioned with Bharavi as a famous poet in an inscription dated A.D. 585-6 (507 Saka era), and for the present I see no reason to place him much earlier. As to the Laws of Manu, which used to be assigned to a fabulous antiquity, and are so still sometimes by those who write at random or at second-hand, I doubt whether, in their present form, they can be older than the fourth century of our era, nay I am quite prepared to see an even later date assigned to them. I know this will seem heresy to many Sanskrit scholars, but we must try to be honest to ourselves. Is there any evidence to constrain us to assign the Manava-dharma-sastra, such as we now possess it, written in continuous Slokas, to any date anterior to 300 A.D.? And if there is not, why should we not openly state it, challenge opposition, and feel grateful if our doubts can be removed?
That Manu was a name of high legal authority before that time, and that Manu and the Manavam are frequently quoted in the ancient legal Sutras, is quite true; but this serves only to confirm the conviction that the literature which succeeded the Turanian invasion is full of wrecks saved from the intervening deluge. If what we call the Laws of Manu had really existed as a code of laws, like the Code of Justinian, during previous centuries, is it likely that it should nowhere have been quoted and appealed to?
Varahamihira (who died 587 A.D.) refers to Manu several times, but not to a Manava-dharma-sastra; and the only time where he seems actually to quote a number of verses from Manu, these verses are not to be met with in our text.
I believe it will be found that the century in which Varahamihara lived and wrote was the age of the literary Renaissance in India. That Kalidasa and Bharavi were famous at that time, we know from the evidence of inscriptions. We also know that during that century the fame of Indian literature had reached Persia, and that the King of Persia, Khosru Nushirvan, sent his physician, Barzoi, to India, in order to translate the fables of the Pankatantra, or rather their original, from Sanskrit into Pahlavi. The famous "Nine Gems," or "the nine classics," as we should say, have been referred, at least in part, to the same age, and I doubt whether we shall be able to assign a much earlier date to anything we possess of Sanskrit literature, excepting always the Vedic and Buddhistic writings.
Although the specimens of this modern Sanskrit literature, when they first became known, served to arouse a general interest, and serve even now to keep alive a certain superficial sympathy for Indian literature, more serious students had soon disposed of these compositions, and while gladly admitting their claim to be called pretty and attractive, could not think of allowing to Sanskrit literature a place among the world-literatures, a place by the side of Greek and Latin, Italian, French, English, or German.
There was indeed a time when people began to imagine that all that was worth knowing about Indian literature was known, and that the only ground on which Sanskrit could claim a place among the recognized branches of learning in a university was its usefulness for the study of the Science of Language.
At that very time, however, now about forty years ago, a new start was made, which has given to Sanskrit scholarship an entirely new character. The chief author of that movement was Burnouf, then professor at the College de France in Paris, an excellent scholar, but at the same time a man of wide views and true historical instincts, and the last man to waste his life on mere Nalas and Sakuntalas. Being brought up in the old traditions of the classical school in France (his father was the author of the well-known Greek Grammar), then for a time a promising young barrister, with influential friends such as Guizot, Thiers, Mignet, Villemain, at his side, and with a brilliant future before him, he was not likely to spend his life on pretty Sanskrit ditties. What he wanted when he threw himself on Sanskrit was history, human history, world-history, and with an unerring grasp he laid hold of Vedic literature and Buddhist literature, as the two stepping-stones in the slough of Indian literature. He died young, and has left a few arches only of the building he wished to rear. But his spirit lived on in his pupils and his friends, and few would deny that the first impulse, directly or indirectly, to all that has been accomplished since by the students of Vedic and Buddhist literature, was given by Burnouf and his lectures at the College de France.