India: What can it teach us? - A Course of Lectures Delivered before the University Of Cambridge
by F. Max Mueller
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

There was no excuse for such ignorant assertions even thirty years ago, for in these very books, in the Laws of Manu, in the Mahabharata, and in the Puranas, the Veda is everywhere proclaimed as the highest authority in all matters of religion.[150] "A Brahman," says Manu, "unlearned in holy writ, is extinguished in an instant like dry grass on fire." "A twice-born man (that is, a Brahmana, a Kshatriya, and a Vaisya) not having studied the Veda, soon falls, even when living, to the condition of a Sudra, and his descendants after him."

How far this license of ignorant assertion may be carried is shown by the same authorities who denied the importance of the Veda for a historical study of Indian thought, boldly charging those wily priests, the Brahmans, with having withheld their sacred literature from any but their own caste. Now, so far from withholding it, the Brahmans have always been striving, and often striving in vain, to make the study of their sacred literature obligatory on all castes except the Sudras, and the passages just quoted from Manu show what penalties were threatened if children of the second and third castes, the Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, were not instructed in the sacred literature of the Brahmans.

At present the Brahmans themselves have spoken, and the reception they have accorded to my edition of the Rig-Veda[151] and its native commentary, the zeal with which they have themselves taken up the study of Vedic literature, and the earnestness with which different sects are still discussing the proper use that should be made of their ancient religious writings, show abundantly that a Sanskrit scholar ignorant of, or, I should rather say, determined to ignore the Veda, would be not much better than a Hebrew scholar ignorant of the Old Testament.

I shall now proceed to give you some characteristic specimens of the religion and poetry of the Rig-Veda. They can only be few, and as there is nothing like system or unity of plan in that collection of 1017 hymns, which we call the Samhita of the Rig-Veda, I cannot promise that they will give you a complete panoramic view of that intellectual world in which our Vedic ancestors passed their life on earth.

I could not even answer the question, if you were to ask it whether the religion of the Veda was polytheistic or monotheistic. Monotheistic, in the usual sense of that word, it is decidedly not, though there are hymns that assert the unity of the Divine as fearlessly as any passage of the Old Testament, or the New Testament, or the Koran. Thus one poet says (Rig-Veda I. 164, 46): "That which is one, sages name it in various ways—they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan."

Another poet says: "The wise poets represent by their words Him who is one with beautiful wings, in many ways."[152]

And again we hear of a being called Hiranyagarbha, the golden germ (whatever the original of that name may have been), of whom the poet says:[153] "In the beginning there arose Hiranyagarbha; he was the one born lord of all this. He established the earth and this sky. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?" That Hiranyagarbha, the poet says, "is alone God above all gods" (yah deveshu adhi devah ekah asit)—an assertion of the unity of the Divine which could hardly be exceeded in strength by any passage from the Old Testament.

But by the side of such passages, which are few in number, there are thousands in which ever so many divine beings are praised and prayed to. Even their number is sometimes given as "thrice eleven"[154] or thirty-three, and one poet assigns eleven gods to the sky, eleven to the earth, and eleven to the waters,[155] the waters here intended being those of the atmosphere and the clouds. These thirty-three gods have even wives apportioned to them,[156] though few of these only have as yet attained to the honor of a name.[157]

These thirty-three gods, however, by no means include all the Vedic gods, for such important deities as Agni, the fire, Soma, the rain, the Maruts or Storm-gods, the Asvins, the gods of Morning and Evening, the Waters, the Dawn, the Sun are mentioned separately; and there are not wanting passages in which the poet is carried away into exaggerations, till he proclaims the number of his gods to be, not only thirty-three, but three thousand three hundred and thirty-nine.[158]

If therefore there must be a name for the religion of the Rig-Veda, polytheism would seem at first sight the most appropriate. Polytheism, however, has assumed with us a meaning which renders it totally inapplicable to the Vedic religion.

Our ideas of polytheism being chiefly derived from Greece and Rome, we understand by it a certain more or less organized system of gods, different in power and rank, and all subordinate to a supreme God, a Zeus or Jupiter. The Vedic polytheism differs from the Greek and Roman polytheism, and, I may add, likewise from the polytheism of the Ural-Altaic, the Polynesian, the American, and most of the African races, in the same manner as a confederacy of village communities differs from a monarchy. There are traces of an earlier stage of village-community life to be discovered in the later republican and monarchical constitutions, and in the same manner nothing can be clearer, particularly in Greece, than that the monarchy of Zeus was preceded by what may be called the septarchy of several of the great gods of Greece. The same remark applies to the mythology of the Teutonic nations also.[159] In the Veda, however, the gods worshipped as supreme by each sept stand still side by side. No one is first always, no one is last always. Even gods of a decidedly inferior and limited character assume occasionally in the eyes of a devoted poet a supreme place above all other gods.[160] It was necessary, therefore, for the purpose of accurate reasoning, to have a name, different from polytheism, to signify this worship of single gods, each occupying for a time a supreme position, and I proposed for it the name of Kathenotheism, that is, a worship of one god after another, or of Henotheism, the worship of single gods. This shorter name of Henotheism has found more general acceptance, as conveying more definitely the opposition between Monotheism, the worship of one only God, and Henotheism, the worship of single gods; and, if but properly defined, it will answer its purpose very well. However, in researches of this kind we cannot be too much on our guard against technical terms. They are inevitable, I know; but they are almost always misleading. There is, for instance, a hymn addressed to the Indus and the rivers that fall into it, of which I hope to read you a translation, because it determines very accurately the geographical scene on which the poets of the Veda passed their life. Now native scholars call these rivers d e v a t a s or deities, and European translators too speak of them as gods and goddesses. But in the language used by the poet with regard to the Indus and the other rivers, there is nothing to justify us in saying that he considered these rivers as gods and goddesses, unless we mean by gods and goddesses something very different from what the Greeks called River-gods and River-goddesses, Nymphs, Najades, or even Muses.

And what applies to these rivers applies more or less to all the objects of Vedic worship. They all are still oscillating between what is seen by the senses, what is created by fancy, and what is postulated by the understanding; they are things, persons, causes, according to the varying disposition of the poets; and if we call them gods or goddesses, we must remember the remark of an ancient native theologian, who reminds us that by d e v a t a or deity he means no more than the object celebrated in a hymn, while R i s h i or seer means no more than the subject or the author of a hymn.

It is difficult to treat of the so-called gods celebrated in the Veda according to any system, for the simple reason that the concepts of these gods and the hymns addressed to them sprang up spontaneously and without any pre-established plan. It is best perhaps for our purpose to follow an ancient Brahmanical writer, who is supposed to have lived about 400 B.C. He tells us of students of the Veda, before his time, who admitted three deities only, viz., A g n i or fire, whose place is on the earth; V a y u or I n d r a, the wind and the god of the thunderstorm, whose place is in the air; and S u r y a, the sun, whose place is in the sky. These deities, they maintained, received severally many appellations, in consequence of their greatness, or of the diversity of their functions, just as a priest, according to the functions which he performs at various sacrifices, receives various names.

This is one view of the Vedic gods, and, though too narrow, it cannot be denied that there is some truth in it. A very useful division of the Vedic gods might be made, and has been made by Yaska, into terrestrial, aerial, and celestial, and if the old Hindu theologians meant no more than that all the manifestations of divine power in nature might be traced back to three centres of force, one in the sky, one in the air, and one on the earth, he deserves great credit for his sagacity.

But he himself perceived evidently that this generalization was not quite applicable to all the gods, and he goes on to say: "Or, it may be, these gods are all distinct beings, for the praises addressed to them are distinct, and their appellations also." This is quite right. It is the very object of most of these divine names to impart distinct individuality to the manifestations of the powers of nature; and though the philosopher or the inspired poet might perceive that these numerous names were but names, while that which was named was one and one only, this was certainly not the idea of most of the Vedic Rishis themselves, still less of the people who listened to their songs at fairs and festivals. It is the peculiar character of that phase of religious thought which we have to study in the Veda, that in it the Divine is conceived and represented as manifold, and that many functions are shared in common by various gods, no attempt having yet been made at organizing the whole body of the gods, sharply separating one from the other, and subordinating all of them to several or, in the end, to one supreme head.

Availing ourselves of the division of the Vedic gods into terrestrial, aerial, and celestial, as proposed by some of the earliest Indian theologians, we should have to begin with the gods connected with the earth.

Before we examine them, however, we have first to consider one of the earliest objects of worship and adoration, namely Earth and Heaven, or Heaven and Earth, conceived as a divine couple. Not only in India, but among many other nations, both savage, half-savage, or civilized, we meet with Heaven and Earth as one of the earliest objects, pondered on, transfigured, and animated by the early poets, and more or less clearly conceived by early philosophers. It is surprising that it should be so, for the conception of the Earth as an independent being, and of Heaven as an independent being, and then of both together as a divine couple embracing the whole universe, requires a considerable effort of abstraction, far more than the concepts of other divine powers, such as the Fire, the Rain, the Lightning, or the Sun.

Still so it is, and as it may help us to understand the ideas about Heaven and Earth, as we find them in the Veda, and show us at the same time the strong contrast between the mythology of the Aryans and that of real savages (a contrast of great importance, though I admit very difficult to explain), I shall read you first some extracts from a book, published by a friend of mine, the Rev. William Wyatt Gill, for many years an active and most successful missionary in Mangaia, one of those Polynesian islands that form a girdle round one quarter of our globe,[161] and all share in the same language, the same religion, the same mythology, and the same customs. The book is called "Myths and Songs from the South Pacific,"[162] and it is full of interest to the student of mythology and religion.

The story, as told him by the natives of Mangaia, runs as follows:[163]

"The sky is built of solid blue stone. At one time it almost touched the earth; resting upon the stout broad leaves of the t e v e (which attains the height of about six feet) and the delicate indigenous arrow-root (whose slender stem rarely exceeds three feet).... In this narrow space between earth and sky the inhabitants of this world were pent up. Ru, whose usual residence was in Avaiki, or the shades, had come up for a time to this world of ours. Pitying the wretched confined residence of the inhabitants, he employed himself in endeavoring to raise the sky a little. For this purpose he cut a number of strong stakes of different kinds of trees, and firmly planted them in the ground at Rangimotia, the centre of the island, and with him the centre of the world. This was a considerable improvement, as mortals were thereby enabled to stand erect and to walk about without inconvenience. Hence Ru was named 'The sky-supporter.' Wherefore Teka sings (1794):

'Force up the sky, O Ru, And let the space be clear!'

"One day when the old man was surveying his work, his graceless son Maui contemptuously asked him what he was doing there. Ru replied: 'Who told youngsters to talk? Take care of yourself, or I will hurl you out of existence.'

"'Do it, then,' shouted Maui.

"Ru was as good as his word, and forthwith seized Maui, who was small of stature, and threw him to a great height. In falling Maui assumed the form of a bird, and lightly touched the ground, perfectly unharmed. Maui, now thirsting for revenge, in a moment resumed his natural form, but exaggerated to gigantic proportions, and ran to his father, saying:

'Ru, who supportest the many heavens, The third, even to the highest, ascend!'

"Inserting his head between the old man's legs, he exerted all his prodigious strength, and hurled poor Ru, sky and all, to a tremendous height—so high, indeed, that the blue sky could never get back again. Unluckily, however, for the sky-supporting Ru, his head and shoulders got entangled among the stars. He struggled hard, but fruitlessly, to extricate himself. Maui walked off well pleased with having raised the sky to its present height, but left half his father's body and both his legs ingloriously suspended between heaven and earth. Thus perished Ru. His body rotted away, and his bones came tumbling down from time to time, and were shivered on the earth into countless fragments. These shivered bones of Ru are scattered over every hill and valley of Mangaia, to the very edge of the sea."

What the natives call "the bones of Ru" (t e i v i o R u) are pieces of pumice-stone.

Now let us consider, first of all, whether this story, which with slight variations is told all over the Polynesian islands,[164] is pure nonsense, or whether there was originally some sense in it. My conviction is that nonsense is everywhere the child of sense, only that unfortunately many children, like that youngster Maui, consider themselves much wiser than their fathers, and occasionally succeed in hurling them out of existence.

It is a peculiarity of many of the ancient myths that they represent events which happen every day, or every year, as having happened once upon a time.[165] The daily battle between day and night, the yearly battle between winter and spring, are represented almost like historical events, and some of the episodes and touches belonging originally to these constant battles of nature, have certainly been transferred into and mixed up with battles that took place at a certain time, such as, for instance, the siege of Troy. When historical recollections failed, legendary accounts of the ancient battles between Night and Morning, Winter and Spring, were always at hand; and, as in modern times we constantly hear "good stories," which we have known from our childhood, told again and again of any man whom they seem to fit, in the same manner, in ancient times, any act of prowess, or daring, or mischief, originally told of the sun, "the orient Conqueror of gloomy Night," was readily transferred to and believed of any local hero who might seem to be a second Jupiter, or Mars, or Hercules.

I have little doubt therefore that as the accounts of a deluge, for instance, which we find almost everywhere, are originally recollections of the annual torrents of rain or snow that covered the little worlds within the ken of the ancient village-bards,[166] this tearing asunder of heaven and earth too was originally no more than a description of what might be seen every morning. During a dark night the sky seemed to cover the earth; the two seemed to be one, and could not be distinguished one from the other.[167] Then came the Dawn, which with its bright rays lifted the covering of the dark night to a certain point, till at last Maui appeared, small in stature, a mere child, that is, the sun of the morning—thrown up suddenly, as it were, when his first rays shot through the sky from beneath the horizon, then falling back to the earth, like a bird, and rising in gigantic form on the morning sky. The dawn now was hurled away, and the sky was seen lifted high above the earth; and Maui, the sun, marched on well pleased with having raised the sky to its present height.

Why pumice-stone should be called the bones of Ru, we cannot tell, without knowing a great deal more of the language of Mangaia than we do at present. It is most likely an independent saying, and was afterward united with the story of Ru and Maui.

Now I must quote at least a few extracts from a Maori legend as written down by Judge Manning:[168]

"This is the Genesis of the New Zealanders:

"The Heavens which are above us, and the Earth which lies beneath us, are the progenitors of men, and the origin of all things.

"Formerly the Heaven lay upon the Earth, and all was darkness....

"And the children of Heaven and Earth sought to discover the difference between light and darkness, between day and night....

"So the sons of Rangi (Heaven) and of Papa (Earth) consulted together, and said, 'Let us seek means whereby to destroy Heaven and Earth, or to separate them from each other.'

"Then said Tumatauenga (the God of War), 'Let us destroy them both.'

"Then said Tane-Mahuta (the Forest God), 'Not so; let them be separated. Let one of them go upward and become a stranger to us; let the other remain below and be a parent for us.'

"Then four of the gods tried to separate Heaven and Earth, but did not succeed, while the fifth, Tane, succeeded.

"After Heaven and Earth had been separated, great storms arose, or, as the poet expresses it, one of their sons, Tawhiri-Matea, the god of the winds, tried to revenge the outrage committed on his parents by his brothers. Then follow dismal dusky days, and dripping chilly skies, and arid scorching blasts. All the gods fight, till at last Tu only remains, the god of war, who had devoured all his brothers, except the Storm. More fights follow, in which the greater part of the earth was overwhelmed by the waters, and but a small portion remained dry. After that, light continued to increase, and as the light increased, so also the people who had been hidden between Heaven and Earth increased.... And so generation was added to generation down to the time of Maui-Potiki, he who brought death into the world.

"Now in these latter days Heaven remains far removed from his wife, the Earth; but the love of the wife rises upward in sighs toward her husband. These are the mists which fly upward from the mountain-tops; and the tears of Heaven fall downward on his wife; behold the dew-drops!"

So far the Maori Genesis.

Let us now return to the Veda, and compare these crude and somewhat grotesque legends with the language of the ancient Aryan poets. In the hymns of the Rig-Veda the separating and keeping apart of Heaven and Earth is several times alluded to, and here too it is represented as the work of the most valiant gods. In I. 67, 3 it is Agni, fire, who holds the earth and supports the heaven; in X. 89, 4 it is Indra who keeps them apart; in IX. 101, 15 Soma is celebrated for the same deed, and in III. 31, 12 other gods too share the same honor.[169]

In the Aitareya Brahmana we read:[170] "These two worlds (Heaven and Earth) were once joined together. They went asunder. Then it did not rain, nor did the sun shine. And the five tribes did not agree with one another. The gods then brought the two (Heaven and Earth) together, and when they came together they formed a wedding of the gods."

Here we have in a shorter form the same fundamental ideas: first, that formerly Heaven and Earth were together; that afterward they were separated; that when they were thus separated there was war throughout nature, and neither rain nor sunshine; that, lastly, Heaven and Earth were conciliated, and that then a great wedding took place.

Now I need hardly remind those who are acquainted with Greek and Roman literature, how familiar these and similar conceptions about a marriage between Heaven and earth were in Greece and Italy. They seem to possess there a more special reference to the annual reconciliation between Heaven and Earth, which takes place in spring, and to their former estrangement during winter. But the first cosmological separation of the two always points to the want of light and the impossibility of distinction during the night, and the gradual lifting up of the blue sky through the rising of the sun.[171]

In the Homeric hymns[172] the Earth is addressed as

"Mother of gods, the wife of the starry Heaven;"[173]

and the Heaven or AEther is often called the father. Their marriage too is described, as, for instance, by Euripides, when he says:

"There is the mighty Earth, Jove's AEther: He (the AEther) is the creator of men and gods; The earth receiving the moist drops of rain, Bears mortals, Bears food, and the tribes of animals. Hence she is not unjustly regarded As the mother of all."[174]

And what is more curious still is that we have evidence that Euripides received this doctrine from his teacher, the philosopher Anaxagoras. For Dionysius of Halicarnassus[175] tells us that Euripides frequented the lectures of Anaxagoras. Now, it was the theory of that philosopher that originally all things were in all things, but that afterward they became separated. Euripides later in life associated with Sokrates, and became doubtful regarding that theory. He accordingly propounds the ancient doctrine by the mouth of another, namely Melanippe, who says:

"This saying (myth) is not mine, but came from my mother, that formerly Heaven and Earth were one shape; but when they were separated from each other, they gave birth and brought all things into the light, trees, birds, beasts, and the fishes whom the sea feeds, and the race of mortals."

Thus we have met with the same idea of the original union, of a separation, and of a subsequent reunion of Heaven and Earth in Greece, in India, and in the Polynesian islands.

Let us now see how the poets of the Veda address these two beings, Heaven and Earth.

They are mostly addressed in the dual, as two beings forming but one concept. We meet, however, with verses which are addressed to the Earth by herself, and which speak of her as "kind, without thorns, and pleasant to dwell on,"[176] while there are clear traces in some of the hymns that at one time Dyaus, the sky, was the supreme deity.[177] When invoked together they are called D y a v a - p r i t h i v y a u, from d y u, the sky, and p r i t h i v i, the broad earth.

If we examine their epithets, we find that many of them reflect simply the physical aspects of Heaven and Earth. Thus they are called u r u, wide; u r u v y a k a s, widely expanded, d u r e - a n t e, with limits far apart, g a b h i r a, deep; g h r i t a v a t, giving fat; m a d h u d u g h a, yielding honey or dew; p a y a s v a t, full of milk; b h u r i - r e t a s, rich in seed.

Another class of epithets represents them already as endowed with certain human and superhuman qualities, such as a s a s k a t, never tiring, a g a r a, not decaying, which brings us very near to immortal; a d r u h, not injuring, or not deceiving, p r a k e t a s, provident, and then pita-mata, father and mother, devaputra, having the gods for their sons, r i t a - v r i d h and r i t a v a t, protectors of the Rita, of what is right, guardians of eternal laws.

Here you see what is so interesting in the Veda, the gradual advance from the material to the spiritual, from the sensuous to the supersensuous, from the human to the superhuman and the divine. Heaven and Earth were seen, and, according to our notions, they might simply be classed as visible and finite beings. But the ancient poets were more honest to themselves. They could see Heaven and Earth, but they never saw them in their entirety. They felt that there was something beyond the purely finite aspect of these beings, and therefore they thought of them, not as they would think of a stone, or a tree, or a dog, but as something not-finite, not altogether visible or knowable, yet as something important to themselves, powerful, strong to bless, but also strong to hurt. Whatever was between Heaven and Earth seemed to be theirs, their property, their realm, their dominion. They held and embraced all; they seemed to have produced all. The Devas or bright beings, the sun, the dawn, the fire, the wind, the rain, were all theirs, and were called therefore the offspring of Heaven and Earth. Thus Heaven and Earth became the Universal Father and Mother.

Then we ask at once: "Were then these Heaven and Earth gods?" But gods in what sense? In our sense of God? Why, in our sense, God is altogether incapable of a plural. Then in the Greek sense of the word? No, certainly not; for what the Greeks called gods was the result of an intellectual growth totally independent of the Veda or of India. We must never forget that what we call gods in ancient mythologies are not substantial, living, individual beings, of whom we can predicate this or that. D e v a, which we translate by god, is nothing but an adjective, expressive of a quality shared by heaven and earth, by the sun and the stars and the dawn and the sea, namely brightness; and the idea of god, at that early time, contains neither more nor less than what is shared in common by all these bright beings. That is to say, the idea of god is not an idea ready-made, which could be applied in its abstract purity to heaven and earth and other such like beings; but it is an idea, growing out of the concepts of heaven and earth and of the other bright beings, slowly separating itself from them, but never containing more than what was contained, though confusedly, in the objects to which it was successively applied.

Nor must it be supposed that heaven and earth, having once been raised to the rank of undecaying or immortal beings, of divine parents, of guardians of the laws, were thus permanently settled in the religious consciousness of the people. Far from it. When the ideas of other gods, and of more active and more distinctly personal gods had been elaborated, the Vedic Rishis asked without hesitation: Who then has made heaven and earth? not exactly Heaven and Earth, as conceived before, but heaven and earth as seen every day, as a part of what began to be called Nature or the Universe.

Thus one poet says:[178]

"He was indeed among the gods the cleverest workman who produced the two brilliant ones (heaven and earth), that gladden all things; he who measured out the two bright ones (heaven and earth) by his wisdom, and established them on everlasting supports."

And again:[179] "He was a good workman who produced heaven and earth; the wise, who by his might brought together these two (heaven and earth), the wide, the deep, the well-fashioned in the bottomless space."

Very soon this great work of making heaven and earth was ascribed, like other mighty works, to the mightiest of their gods, to Indra. At first we read that Indra, originally only a kind of Jupiter pluvius, or god of rain, stretched out heaven and earth, like a hide;[180] that he held them in his hand,[181] that he upholds heaven and earth,[182] and that he grants heaven and earth to his worshippers.[183] But very soon Indra is praised for having made Heaven and Earth;[184] and then, when the poet remembers that Heaven and Earth had been praised elsewhere as the parents of the gods, and more especially as the parents of Indra, he does not hesitate for a moment, but says:[185] "What poets living before us have reached the end of all thy greatness? for thou hast indeed begotten thy father and thy mother together[186] from thy own body!"

That is a strong measure, and a god who once could do that, was no doubt capable of anything afterward. The same idea, namely that Indra is greater than heaven and earth, is expressed in a less outrageous way by another poet, who says[187] that Indra is greater than heaven and earth, and that both together are only a half of Indra. Or again:[188] "The divine Dyaus bowed before Indra, before Indra the great Earth bowed with her wide spaces." "At the birth of thy splendor Dyaus trembled, the Earth trembled for fear of thy anger."[189]

Thus, from one point of view, Heaven and Earth were the greatest gods, they were the parents of everything, and therefore of the gods also, such as Indra and others.

But, from another point of view, every god that was considered as supreme at one time or other, must necessarily have made heaven and earth, must at all events be greater than heaven and earth, and thus the child became greater than the father, ay, became the father of his father. Indra was not the only god that created heaven and earth. In one hymn[190] that creation is ascribed to Soma and Pushan, by no means very prominent characters; in another[191] to Hiranyagarbha (the golden germ); in another again to a god who is simply called Dhatri, the Creator,[192] or Visvakarman,[193] the maker of all things. Other gods, such as Mitra and Savitri, names of the sun, are praised for upholding Heaven and Earth, and the same task is sometimes performed by the old god Varuna[194] also.

What I wish you to observe in all this is the perfect freedom with which these so-called gods or Devas are handled, and particularly the ease and naturalness with which now the one, now the other emerges as supreme out of this chaotic theogony. This is the peculiar character of the ancient Vedic religion, totally different both from the Polytheism and from the Monotheism as we see it in the Greek and the Jewish religions; and if the Veda had taught us nothing else but this henotheistic phase, which must everywhere have preceded the more highly-organized phase of Polytheism which we see in Greece, in Rome, and elsewhere, the study of the Veda would not have been in vain.

It may be quite true that the poetry of the Veda is neither beautiful, in our sense of the word, nor very profound; but it is instructive. When we see those two giant spectres of Heaven and Earth on the background of the Vedic religion, exerting their influence for a time, and then vanishing before the light of younger and more active gods, we learn a lesson which it is well to learn, and which we can hardly learn anywhere else—the lesson how gods were made and unmade—how the Beyond or the Infinite was named by different names in order to bring it near to the mind of man, to make it for a time comprehensible, until, when name after name had proved of no avail, a nameless God was felt to answer best the restless cravings of the human heart.

I shall next translate to you the hymn to which I referred before as addressed to the Rivers. If the Rivers are to be called deities at all, they belong to the class of terrestrial deities. But the reason why I single out this hymn is not so much because it throws new light on the theogonic process, but because it may help to impart some reality to the vague conceptions which we form to ourselves of the ancient Vedic poets and their surroundings. The rivers invoked are, as we shall see, the real rivers of the Punjab, and the poem shows a much wider geographical horizon than we should expect from a mere village-bard.[195]

1. "Let the poet declare, O Waters, your exceeding greatness, here in the seat of Vivasvat.[196] By seven and seven they have come forth in three courses, but the Sindhu (the Indus) exceeds all the other wandering rivers by her strength.

2. "Varuna dug out paths for thee to walk on, when thou rannest to the race.[197] Thou proceedest on a precipitous ridge of the earth, when thou art lord in the van of all the moving streams.

3. "The sound rises up to heaven above the earth; she stirs up with splendor her endless power.[198] As from a cloud, the showers thunder forth, when the Sindhu comes, roaring like a bull.

4. "To thee, O Sindhu, they (the other rivers) come as lowing mother-cows (run) to their young with their milk.[199] Like a king in battle thou leadest the two wings, when thou reachest the front of these down-rushing rivers.

5. "Accept, O Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna (Jumna), Sarasvati (Sursuti), Sutudri (Sutlej), Parushni (Iravati, Ravi), my praise![200] With the Asikni (Akesines) listen, O Marudvridha,[201] and with the Vitasta (Hydaspes, Behat); O Argikiya,[202] listen with the Sushoma.[203]

6. "First thou goest united with the Trishtama on thy journey, with the Susartu, the Rasa (Ramha, Araxes?[204]), and the Sveti—O Sindhu, with the Kubha (Kophen, Cabul river) to the Gomati (Gomal), with the Mehatnu to the Krumu (Kurum)—with whom thou proceedest together.

7. "Sparkling, bright, with mighty splendor she carries the waters across the plains—the unconquered Sindhu, the quickest of the quick, like a beautiful mare—a sight to see.

8. "Rich in horses, in chariots, in garments, in gold, in booty,[205] in wool,[206] and in straw,[207] the Sindhu, handsome and young, clothes herself in sweet flowers.[208]

9. "The Sindhu has yoked her easy chariot with horses; may she conquer prizes for us in the race. The greatness of her chariot is praised as truly great—that chariot which is irresistible, which has its own glory, and abundant strength."[209]

This hymn does not sound perhaps very poetical, in our sense of the word; yet if you will try to realize the thoughts of the poet who composed it, you will perceive that it is not without some bold and powerful conceptions.

Take the modern peasants, living in their villages by the side of the Thames, and you must admit that he would be a remarkable man who could bring himself to look on the Thames as a kind of a general, riding at the head of many English rivers, and leading them on to a race or a battle. Yet it is easier to travel in England, and to gain a commanding view of the river-system of the country, than it was three thousand years ago to travel over India, even over that part of India which the poet of our hymn commands. He takes in at one swoop three great river-systems, or, as he calls them, three great armies of rivers—those flowing from the north-west into the Indus, those joining it from the north-east, and, in the distance, the Ganges and the Jumnah with their tributaries. Look on the map and you will see how well these three armies are determined; but our poet had no map—he had nothing but high mountains and sharp eyes to carry out his trigonometrical survey. Now I call a man, who for the first time could see those three marching armies of rivers, a poet.

The next thing that strikes one in that hymn—if hymn we must call it—is the fact that all these rivers, large and small, have their own proper names. That shows a considerable advance in civilized life, and it proves no small degree of coherence, or what the French call solidarity, between the tribes who had taken possession of Northern India. Most settlers call the river on whose banks they settle "the river." Of course there are many names for river. It may be called the runner,[210] the fertilizer, the roarer—or, with a little poetical metaphor, the arrow, the horse, the cow, the father, the mother, the watchman, the child of the mountains. Many rivers had many names in different parts of their course, and it was only when communication between different settlements became more frequent, and a fixed terminology was felt to be a matter of necessity, that the rivers of a country were properly baptized and registered. All this had been gone through in India before our hymn became possible.

And now we have to consider another, to my mind most startling fact. We here have a number of names of the rivers of India, as they were known to one single poet, say about 1000 B.C. We then hear nothing of India till we come to the days of Alexander, and when we look at the names of the Indian rivers, represented as well as they could be by Alexander's companions, mere strangers in India, and by means of a strange language and a strange alphabet, we recognize, without much difficulty, nearly all of the old Vedic names.

In this respect the names of rivers have a great advantage over the names of towns in India. What we now call Dilli or Delhi[211] was in ancient times called Indraprastha, in later times Shahjahanabad. Oude is Ayodhya, but the old name of Saketa is forgotten. The town of Pataliputra, known to the Greeks as Palimbothra, is now called Patna.[212]

Now I can assure you this persistency of the Vedic river-names was to my mind something so startling that I often said to myself, This cannot be—there must be something wrong here. I do not wonder so much at the names of the Indus and the Ganges being the same. The Indus was known to early traders, whether by sea or by land. Skylax sailed from the country of the Paktys, i.e. the Pushtus, as the Afghans still call themselves, down to the mouth of the Indus. That was under Darius Hystaspes (521-486). Even before that time India and the Indians were known by their name, which was derived from Sindhu, the name of their frontier river. The neighboring tribes who spoke Iranic languages all pronounced, like the Persian, the s as an h.[213] Thus Sindhu became Hindhu (Hidhu), and, as h's were dropped even at that early time, Hindhu became Indu. Thus the river was called Indos, the people Indoi by the Greeks, who first heard of India from the Persians.

Sindhu probably meant originally the divider, keeper, and defender, from sidh, to keep off. It was a masculine, before it became a feminine. No more telling name could have been given to a broad river, which guarded peaceful settlers both against the inroads of hostile tribes and the attacks of wild animals. A common name for the ancient settlements of the Aryans in India was "the Seven Rivers," "Sapta Sindhavah." But though sindhu was used as an appellative noun for river in general (cf. Rig-Veda VI. 19, 5, samudre na sindhavah yadamanah, "like rivers longing for the sea"), it remained throughout the whole history of India the name of its powerful guardian river, the Indus.

In some passages of the Rig-Veda it has been pointed out that sindhu might better be translated by "sea," a change of meaning, if so it can be called, fully explained by the geographical conditions of the country. There are places where people could swim across the Indus, there are others where no eye could tell whether the boundless expanse of water should be called river or sea. The two run into each other, as every sailor knows, and naturally the meaning of sindhu, river, runs into the meaning of sindhu, sea.

But besides the two great rivers, the Indus and the Ganges—in Sanskrit the Ganga, literally the Go-go—we have the smaller rivers, and many of their names also agree with the names preserved to us by the companions of Alexander.[214]

The Yamuna, the Jumna, was known to Ptolemy as [Greek: Diamouna],[215] to Pliny as Jomanes, to Arrian, somewhat corrupted, as Jobares.[216]

The Sutudri, or, as it was afterward called, Satadru, meaning "running in a hundred streams," was known to Ptolemy as [Greek: Zadardes] or [Greek: Zarados]; Pliny called it Sydrus; and Megasthenes, too, was probably acquainted with it as [Greek: Zadardes]. In the Veda[217] it formed with the Vipas the frontier of the Punjab, and we hear of fierce battles fought at that time, it may be on the same spot where in 1846 the battle of the Sutledge was fought by Sir Hugh Gough and Sir Henry Hardinge. It was probably on the Vipas (later Vipasa), a north-western tributary of the Sutledge, that Alexander's army turned back. The river was then called Hyphasis; Pliny calls it Hypasis,[218] a very fair approximation to the Vedic Vipas, which means "unfettered." Its modern name is Bias or Bejah.

The next river on the west is the Vedic Parushni, better known as Iravati,[219] which Strabo calls Hyarotis, while Arrian gives it a more Greek appearance by calling it Hydraotes. It is the modern Rawi. It was this river which the Ten Kings when attacking the Tritsus under Sudas tried to cross from the west by cutting off its water. But their stratagem failed, and they perished in the river (Rig-Veda VII. 18, 8-9).

We then come to the Asikni, which means "black." That river had another name also, Kandrabhaga, which means "streak of the moon." The Greeks, however, pronounced that [Greek: Sandarophagos], and this had the unlucky meaning of "the devourer of Alexander." Hesychius tells us that in order to avert the bad omen Alexander changed the name of that river into [Greek: Akesines], which would mean "the Healer;" but he does not tell, what the Veda tells us, that this name [Greek: Akesines] was a Greek adaptation of another name of the same river, namely Asikni, which had evidently supplied to Alexander the idea of calling the Asikni [Greek: Akesines]. It is the modern Chinab.

Next to the Akesines we have the Vedic Vitasta, the last of the rivers of the Punjab, changed in Greek into Hydaspes. It was to this river that Alexander retired, before sending his fleet down the Indus and leading his army back to Babylon. It is the modern Behat or Jilam.

I could identify still more of these Vedic rivers, such as, for instance, the Kubha, the Greek Cophen, the modern Kabul river;[220] but the names which I have traced from the Veda to Alexander, and in many cases from Alexander again to our own time, seem to me sufficient to impress upon us the real and historical character of the Veda. Suppose the Veda were a forgery—suppose at least that it had been put together after the time of Alexander—how could we explain these names? They are names that have mostly a meaning in Sanskrit, they are names corresponding very closely to their Greek corruptions, as pronounced and written down by people who did not know Sanskrit. How is a forgery possible here?

I selected this hymn for two reasons. First, because it shows us the widest geographical horizon of the Vedic poets, confined by the snowy mountains in the north, the Indus and the range of the Suleiman mountains in the west, the Indus or the seas in the south, and the valley of the Jumna and Ganges in the east. Beyond that, the world, though open, was unknown to the Vedic poets. Secondly, because the same hymn gives us also a kind of historical background to the Vedic age. These rivers, as we may see them to-day, as they were seen by Alexander and his Macedonians, were seen also by the Vedic poets. Here we have an historical continuity—almost living witnesses, to tell us that the people whose songs have been so strangely, ay, you may almost say, so miraculously preserved to us, were real people, lairds with their clans, priests, or rather, servants of their gods, shepherds with their flocks, dotted about on the hills and valleys, with inclosures or palisades here and there, with a few strongholds, too, in case of need—living their short life on earth, as at that time life might be lived by men, without much pushing and crowding and trampling on each other—spring, summer, and winter leading them on from year to year, and the sun in his rising and setting lifting up their thoughts from their meadows and groves which they loved, to a world in the East, from which they had come, or to a world in the West, to which they were gladly hastening on. They had what I call religion, though it was very simple, and hardly reduced as yet to the form of a creed. "There is a Beyond," that was all they felt and knew, though they tried, as well as they could, to give names to that Beyond, and thus to change religion into a religion. They had not as yet a name for God—certainly not in our sense of the word—or even a general name for the gods; but they invented name after name to enable them to grasp and comprehend by some outward and visible tokens powers whose presence they felt in nature, though their true and full essence was to them, as it is to us, invisible and incomprehensible.


[Footnote 150: Wilson, Lectures, p. 9.]

[Footnote 151: As it has been doubted, and even denied, that the publication of the Rig-Veda and its native commentary has had some important bearing on the resuscitation of the religious life of India, I feel bound to give at least one from the many testimonials which I have received from India. It comes from the Adi Brahma Samaj, founded by Ram Mohun Roy, and now represented by its three branches, the Adi Brahma Samaj, the Brahma Samaj of India, and the Sadharano Brahma Samaj. "The Committee of the Adi Brahma Samaj beg to offer you their hearty congratulations on the completion of the gigantic task which has occupied you for the last quarter of a century. By publishing the Rig-Veda at a time when Vedic learning has by some sad fatality become almost extinct in the land of its birth, you have conferred a boon upon us Hindus, for which we cannot but be eternally grateful."]

[Footnote 152: Rig-Veda X. 114, 5.]

[Footnote 153: Rig-Veda X. 121.]

[Footnote 154: Muir, iv. 9.]

[Footnote 155: Rig-Veda I. 139, 11.]

[Footnote 156: Rig-Veda III. 6, 9.]

[Footnote 157: The following names of Devapatnis or wives of the gods are given in the Vaitana Sutra XV. 3 (ed. Garbe): Prithivi, the wife of Agni, Vak of Vata, Sena of Indra, Dhena of Brihaspati, Pathya of Pushan, Gayatri of Vasu, Trishtubh of Rudra, Gagati of Aditya, Anushtubh of Mitra, Virag of Varuna, Pankti of Vishnu, Diksha of Soma.]

[Footnote 158: Rig-Veda III. 9, 9.]

[Footnote 159: Grimm showed that Thorr is sometimes the supreme god, while at other times he is the son of Odinn. This, as Professor Zimmer truly remarks, need not be regarded as the result of a revolution, or even of gradual decay, as in the case of Dyaus and Tyr, but simply as inherent in the character of a nascent polytheism. See Zeitschrift fuer D. A., vol. xii. p. 174.]

[Footnote 160: "Among not yet civilized races prayers are addressed to a god with a special object, and to that god who is supposed to be most powerful in a special domain. He becomes for the moment the highest god to whom all others must give place. He may be invoked as the highest and the only god, without any slight being intended for the other gods."—Zimmer, l. c. p. 175.]

[Footnote 161: "Es handelt sich hier nicht um amerikanische oder afrikanische Zersplitterung, sondern eine ueberraschende Gleichartigkeit dehnt sich durch die Weite und Breite des Stillen Oceans, und wenn wir Oceanien in der vollen Auffassung nehmen mit Einschluss Mikro-und Mela-nesiens (bis Malaya), selbst weiter. Es laesst sich sagen, dass ein einheitlicher Gedankenbau, in etwa 120 Laengen und 70 Breitegraden, ein Viertel unsers Erdglobus ueberwoelbt."—Bastian, Die Heilige Sage der Polynesier, p. 57.]

[Footnote 162: Henry S. King & Co., London, 1876.]

[Footnote 163: P. 58.]

[Footnote 164: There is a second version of the story even in the small island of Mangaia; see "Myths and Songs," p. 71.]

[Footnote 165: See before, p. 158.]

[Footnote 166: This explanation is considered altogether inadequate by many scholars. It is, of course, not altogether a question of learning, but also one of judgment.—AM. PUBS.]

[Footnote 167: "The Sacred Books of the East," vol. i. p. 249: "The first half is the earth, the second half the heaven, their uniting the rain, the uniter Parganya." And so it is when it (Parganya) rains thus strongly—without ceasing, day and night together—then they say also, "Heaven and earth have come together."—From the Aitareya-Aranyaka, III. 2, 2.—A. W.]

[Footnote 168: Bastian, Heilige Sage der Polynesier, p. 36.]

[Footnote 169: Bergaigne, "La Religion Vedique," p. 240.]

[Footnote 170: Ait. Br. IV. 27; Muir, iv. p. 23.]

[Footnote 171: See Muir, iv. p. 24.]

[Footnote 172: Homer, Hymn xxx. 17.]

[Footnote 173: [Greek: Chaire theon meter, haloch Onranon asteroentos.]]

[Footnote 174: Euripides, Chrysippus, fragm. 6 (edit. Didot, p. 824):

[Greek: Gaia megiste kai Dios aither, o men anthropon kai theon genetor, he d' ugrobolous stagonas notious paradexamene tiktei thnatous, tiktei de Boran, phula te theron, hothen onk hadikos meter panton nenomistai.]]

[Footnote 175: Dionysius Halic., vol. v. p. 355; Muir, v. p. 27.]

[Footnote 176: Rig-Veda I. 22, 15.]

[Footnote 177: See "Lectures on the Science of Language," vol. ii. p. 468.]

[Footnote 178: Rig-Veda I. 160, 4.]

[Footnote 179: L. c. IV. 56, 3.]

[Footnote 180: L. c. VIII. 6, 5.]

[Footnote 181: L. c. III. 30, 5.]

[Footnote 182: L. c. III. 34, 8.]

[Footnote 183: L. c. III. 34, 8.]

[Footnote 184: L. c. VIII. 36, 4.]

[Footnote 185: L. c. X. 54, 3.]

[Footnote 186: Cf. IV. 17, 4, where Dyaus is the father of Indra; see however Muir, iv. 31, note.]

[Footnote 187: Rig-Veda VI. 30, 1.]

[Footnote 188: L. c. I. 131, 1.]

[Footnote 189: L. c. IV. 17, 2.]

[Footnote 190: L. c. II. 40, 1.]

[Footnote 191: L. c. X. 121, 9.]

[Footnote 192: L. c. X. 190, 3.]

[Footnote 193: L. c. X. 81, 2.]

[Footnote 194: Rig-Veda VI. 70, 1.]

[Footnote 195: Rig-Veda X. 75. See Hibbert Lectures, Lect. iv.]

[Footnote 196: Vivasvat is a name of the sun, and the seat or home of Vivasvat can hardly be anything but the earth, as the home of the sun, or, in a more special sense, the place where a sacrifice is offered.]

[Footnote 197: I formerly translated yat vagan abhi adravah tvam by "when thou rannest for the prizes." Grassman had translated similarly, "When thou, O Sindhu, rannest to the prize of the battle," while Ludwig wrote, "When thou, O Sindhu, wast flowing on to greater powers." Vaga, connected with vegeo, vigeo, vigil, wacker (see Curtius, Grundzuege, No. 159), is one of the many difficult words in the Veda the general meaning of which may be guessed, but in many places cannot yet be determined with certainty. Vaga occurs very frequently, both in the singular and the plural, and some of its meanings are clear enough. The Petersburg Dictionary gives the following list of them—swiftness, race, prize of race, gain, treasure, race-horse, etc. Here we perceive at once the difficulty of tracing all these meanings back to a common source, though it might be possible to begin with the meanings of strength, strife, contest, race, whether friendly or warlike, then to proceed to what is won in a race or in war, viz. booty, treasure, and lastly to take vagah in the more general sense of acquisitions, goods, even goods bestowed as gifts. We have a similar transition of meaning in the Greek [Greek: athlos], contest, contest for a prize, and [Greek: athlon], the prize of contest, reward, gift, while in the plural [Greek: ta athla] stands again for contest, or even the place of combat. The Vedic vagambhara may in fact be rendered by [Greek: athlophoros], vagasati by [Greek: athlosyne].

The transition from fight to prize is seen in passages such as:

Rig-Veda VI. 45, 12, vagan indra sravayyan tvaya geshna hitam dhanam, "May we with thy help, O Indra, win the glorious fights, the offered prize" (cf. [Greek: athlothetes]).

Rig-Veda VIII. 19, 18, te it vagebhih gigyuh mahat dhanam, "They won great-wealth by battles."

What we want for a proper understanding of our verse, are passages where we have, as here, a movement toward vagas in the plural. Such passages are few; for instance: X. 53, 8, atra gahama ye asan asevah sivan vayam ut tarema abhi vagan, "Let us leave here those who were unlucky (the dead), and let us get up to lucky toils." No more is probably meant here when the Sindhu is said to run toward her vagas, that is, her struggles, her fights, her race across the mountains with the other rivers.]

[Footnote 198: On sushma, strength, see Rig-Veda, translation, vol. i. p. 105. We find subhram sushmam II. 11, 4; and iyarti with sushmam IV. 17, 12.]

[Footnote 199: See Muir, Santkrit Texts, v. p. 344.]

[Footnote 200: "O Marudvridha with Asikni, Vitasta; O Argikiya, listen with the Sushoma," Ludwig. "Asikni and Vitasta and Marudvridha, with the Sushoma, hear us, O Argikiya," Grassman.]

[Footnote 201: Marudvridha, a general name for river. According to Roth the combined course of the Akesines and Hydaspes, before the junction with the Hydraotes; according to Ludwig, the river after the junction with Hydraotes. Zimmer (Altindisches Leben, p. 12) adopts Roth's, Kiepert in his maps follows Ludwig's opinion.]

[Footnote 202: According to Yaska, the Argikiya is the Vipas. Vivien de Saint-Martin takes it for the country watered by the Suwan, the Soanos of Megasthenes.]

[Footnote 203: According to Yaska the Sushoma is the Indus. Vivien de Saint-Martin identifies it with the Suwan. Zimmer (l. c. p. 14) points out that in Arrian, Indica, iv. 12, there is a various reading Soamos for Soanos.]

[Footnote 204: "Chips from a German Workshop," vol. i. p. 157.]

[Footnote 205: Vaginivati is by no means an easy word. Hence all translators vary, and none settles the meaning. Muir translates, "yielding nutriment;" Zimmer, "having plenty of quick horses;" Ludwig, "like a strong mare." Vagin, no doubt, means a strong horse, a racer, but vagini never occurs in the Rig-Veda in the sense of a mare, and the text is not vaginivat, but vaginivati. If vagini meant mare, we might translate rich in mares, but that would be a mere repetition after svasva, possessed of good horses. Vaginivati is chiefly applied to Ushas, Sarasvati, and here to the river Sindhu. It is joined with vagebhih, Rig-Veda I. 3, 10, which, if vagini meant mare, would mean "rich in mares through horses." We also read, Rig-Veda I. 48, 16, sam (nah mimikshva) vagaih vaginivati, which we can hardly translate by "give us horses, thou who art possessed of mares;" nor, Rig-Veda I. 92, 15, yukshva hi vaginivati asvan, "harness the horses, thou who art rich in mares." In most of the passages where vaginivati occurs, the goddess thus addressed is represented as rich, and asked to bestow wealth, and I should therefore prefer to take vagini, as a collective abstract noun, like tretini, in the sense of wealth, originally booty, and to translate vaginivati simply by rich, a meaning well adapted to every passage where the word occurs.]

[Footnote 206: Urnavati, rich in wool, probably refers to the flocks of sheep for which the North-West of India was famous. See Rig-Veda I. 126, 7.]

[Footnote 207: Silamavati does not occur again in the Rig-Veda. Muir translates, "rich in plants;" Zimmer, "rich in water;" Ludwig takes it as a proper name. Sayana states that silama is a plant which is made into ropes. That the meaning of silamavati was forgotten at an early time we see by the Atharva-Veda III. 12, 2, substituting sunritavati, for silamavati, as preserved in the Sankhayana Grihya-sutras, 3, 3. I think silama means straw, from whatever plant it may be taken, and this would be equally applicable to a sala, a house, a sthuna, a post, and to the river Indus. It may have been, as Ludwig conjectures, an old local name, and in that case it may possibly account for the name given in later times to the Suleiman range.]

[Footnote 208: Madhuvridh is likewise a word which does not occur again in the Rig-Veda. Sayana explains it by nirgundi and similar plants, but it is doubtful what plant is meant. Gunda is the name of a grass, madhuvridh therefore may have been a plant such as sugar-cane, that yielded a sweet juice, the Upper Indus being famous for sugar-cane; see Hiouen-thsang, II. p. 105. I take adhivaste with Roth in the sense "she dresses herself," as we might say "the river is dressed in heather." Muir translates, "she traverses a land yielding sweetness;" Zimmer, "she clothes herself in Madhuvridh;" Ludwig, "the Silamavati throws herself into the increaser of the honey-sweet dew." All this shows how little progress can be made in Vedic scholarship by merely translating either words or verses, without giving at the same time a full justification of the meaning assigned to every single word.]

[Footnote 209: See Petersburg Dictionary, s. v. virapsin.]

[Footnote 210: "Among the Hottentots, the Kunene, Okavango, and Orange rivers, all have the name of Garib, i.e. the Runner."—Dr. Theoph. Hahn, Cape Times, July 11, 1882.]

[Footnote 211: Dehli, not Del-high.—A. W.]

[Footnote 212: Cunningham, "Archaeological Survey of India," vol. xii. p. 113.]

[Footnote 213: Pliny, Hist. Nat. vi. 20, 71: "Indus incolis Sindus appellatus."]

[Footnote 214: The history of these names has been treated by Professor Lassen, in his "Indische Alterthumskunde," and more lately by Professor Kaegi, in his very careful essay, "Der Rig-Veda," pp. 146, 147.]

[Footnote 215: Ptol. vii. 1, 29.]

[Footnote 216: Arrian, Indica, viii. 5.]

[Footnote 217: Rig-Veda III. 33, 1: "From the lap of the mountains Vipas and Sutudri rush forth with their water like two lusty mares neighing, freed from their tethers, like two bright mother-cows licking (their calf).

"Ordered by Indra and waiting his bidding you run toward the sea like two charioteers; running together, as your waters rise, the one goes into the other, you bright ones."]

[Footnote 218: Other classical names are Hypanis, Bipasis, and Bibasis. Yaska identifies it with the Argikiya.]

[Footnote 219: Cf. Nirukta IX. 26.]

[Footnote 220: "The first tributaries which join the Indus before its meeting with the Kubha or the Kabul river cannot be determined. All travellers in these northern countries complain of the continual changes in the names of the rivers, and we can hardly hope to find traces of the Vedic names in existence there after the lapse of three or four thousand years. The rivers intended may be the Shauyook, Ladak, Abba Seen, and Burrindu, and one of the four rivers, the Rasa, has assumed an almost fabulous character in the Veda. After the Indus has joined the Kubha or the Kabul river, two names occur, the Gomati and Krumu, which I believe I was the first to identify with the modern rivers the Gomal and Kurrum. (Roth, Nirukta, Erlaeuterungen, p. 43, Anm.) The Gomal falls into the Indus, between Dera Ismael Khan and Paharpore, and although Elphinstone calls it a river only during the rainy season, Klaproth (Foe-koue-ki, p. 23) describes its upper course as far more considerable, and adds: 'Un peu a l'est de Sirmagha, le Gomal traverse la chaine de montagnes de Soliman, passe devant Raghzi, et fertilise le pays habite par les tribus de Dauletkhail et de Gandehpour. Il se desseche au defile de Pezou, et son lit ne se remplit plus d'eau que dans la saison des pluies; alors seulement il rejoint la droite de l'Indus, au sud-est de bourg de Paharpour.' The Kurrum falls into the Indus north of the Gomal, while, according to the poet, we should expect it south. It might be urged that poets are not bound by the same rules as geographers, as we see, for instance, in the verse immediately preceding. But if it should be taken as a serious objection, it will be better to give up the Gomati than the Krumu, the latter being the larger of the two, and we might then take Gomati, 'rich in cattle,' as an adjective belonging to Krumu."—From a review of General Cunningham's "Ancient Geography of India," in Nature, 1871, Sept. 14.]



The next important phenomenon of nature which was represented in the Veda as a terrestrial deity is Fire, in Sanskrit Agni, in Latin ignis. In the worship which is paid to the Fire and in the high praises bestowed on Agni we can clearly perceive the traces of a period in the history of man in which not only the most essential comforts of life, but life itself, depended on the knowledge of producing fire. To us fire has become so familiar that we can hardly form an idea of what life would be without it. But how did the ancient dwellers on earth get command and possession of fire? The Vedic poets tell us that fire first came to them from the sky, in the form of lightning, but that it disappeared again, and that then Matarisvan, a being to a certain extent like Prometheus, brought it back and confided it to the safe keeping of the clan of the Bhrigus (Phlegyas).[221]

In other poems we hear of the mystery of fire being produced by rubbing pieces of wood; and here it is a curious fact that the name of the wood thus used for rubbing is in Sanskrit Pramantha, a word which, as Kuhn has shown, would in Greek come very near to the name of Prometheus. The possession of fire, whether by preserving it as sacred on the hearth, or by producing it at pleasure with the fire-drill, represents an enormous step in early civilization. It enabled people to cook their meat instead of eating it raw; it gave them the power of carrying on their work by night; and in colder climates it really preserved them from being frozen to death. No wonder, therefore, that the fire should have been praised and worshipped as the best and kindest of gods, the only god who had come down from heaven to live on earth, the friend of man, the messenger of the gods, the mediator between gods and men, the immortal among mortals. He, it is said, protects the settlements of the Aryans, and frightens away the black-skinned enemies.

Soon, however, fire was conceived by the Vedic poets under the more general character of light and warmth, and then the presence of Agni was perceived, not only on the hearth and the altar, but in the Dawn, in the Sun, and in the world beyond the Sun, while at the same time his power was recognized as ripening, or as they called it, as cooking, the fruits of the earth, and as supporting also the warmth and the life of the human body. From that point of view Agni, like other powers, rose to the rank of a Supreme God.[222] He is said to have stretched out heaven and earth—naturally, because without his light heaven and earth would have been invisible and undistinguishable. The next poet says that Agni held heaven aloft by his light, that he kept the two worlds asunder; and in the end Agni is said to be the progenitor and father of heaven and earth, and the maker of all that flies, or walks, or stands, or moves on earth.

Here we have once more the same process before our eyes. The human mind begins with being startled by a single or repeated event, such as the lightning striking a tree and devouring a whole forest, or a spark of fire breaking forth from wood being rubbed against wood, whether in a forest, or in the wheel of a carriage, or at last in a fire-drill, devised on purpose. Man then begins to wonder at what to him is a miracle, none the less so because it is a fact, a simple, natural fact. He sees the effects of a power, but he can only guess at its cause, and if he is to speak of it, he can only do so by speaking of it as an agent, or as something like a human agent, and, if in some respects not quite human, in others more than human or superhuman. Thus the concept of Fire grew; and while it became more and more generalized, it also became more sublime, more incomprehensible, more divine. Without Agni, without fire, light, and warmth, life would have been impossible. Hence he became the author and giver of life, of the life of plants and animals and of men; and his favor having once been implored for "light and life and all things," what wonder that in the minds of some poets, and in the traditions of this or that village-community he should have been raised to the rank of a supreme ruler, a god above all gods, their own true god!

* * * * *

We now proceed to consider the powers which the ancient poets might have discovered in the air, in the clouds, and, more particularly, in those meteoric conflicts which by thunder, lightning, darkness, storms, and showers of rain must have taught man that very important lesson that he was not alone in this world. Many philosophers, as you know, believe that all religion arose from fear or terror, and that without thunder and lightning to teach us, we should never have believed in any gods or god. This is a one-sided and exaggerated view. Thunderstorms, no doubt, had a large share in arousing feelings of awe and terror, and in making man conscious of his weakness and dependence. Even in the Veda, Indra is introduced as saying: "Yes, when I send thunder and lightning, then you believe in me." But what we call religion would never have sprung from fear and terror alone. Religion is trust, and that trust arose in the beginning from the impressions made on the mind and heart of man by the order and wisdom of nature, and more particularly by those regularly recurring events, the return of the sun, the revival of the moon, the order of the seasons, the law of cause and effect, gradually discovered in all things, and traced back in the end to a cause of all causes, by whatever name we choose to call it.

Still the meteoric phenomena had, no doubt, their important share in the production of ancient deities; and in the poems of the Vedic Rishis they naturally occupy a very prominent place. If we were asked who was the principal god of the Vedic period, we should probably, judging from the remains of that poetry which we possess, say it was Indra, the god of the blue sky, the Indian Zeus, the gatherer of the clouds, the giver of rain, the wielder of the thunder-bolt, the conqueror of darkness, and of all the powers of darkness, the bringer of light, the source of freshness, vigor, and life, the ruler and lord of the whole world. Indra is this, and much more in the Veda. He is supreme in the hymns of many poets, and may have been so in the prayers addressed to him by many of the ancient septs or village communities in India. Compared with him the other gods are said to be decrepit old men. Heaven, the old Heaven or Dyaus, formerly the father of all the gods, nay the father of Indra himself, bows before him, and the Earth trembles at his approach. Yet Indra never commanded the permanent allegiance of all the other gods, like Zeus and Jupiter; nay, we know from the Veda itself that there were skeptics, even at that early time, who denied that there was any such thing as Indra.[223]

By the side of Indra, and associated with him in his battles, and sometimes hardly distinguishable from him, we find the representatives of the wind, called Vata or Vayu, and the more terrible storm-gods, the Maruts, literally the Smashers.

When speaking of the Wind, a poet says:[224] "Where was he born? Whence did he spring? the life of the gods, the germ of the world! That god moves about where he listeth, his voices are heard, but he is not to be seen."

The Maruts are more terrible than Vata, the wind. They are clearly the representatives of such storms as are known in India, when the air is darkened by dust and clouds, when in a moment the trees are stripped of their foliage, their branches shivered, their stems snapped, when the earth seems to reel and the mountains to shake, and the rivers are lashed into foam and fury. Then the poet sees the Maruts approaching with golden helmets, with spotted skins on their shoulders, brandishing golden spears, whirling their axes, shooting fiery arrows, and cracking their whips amid thunder and lightning. They are the comrades of Indra, sometimes, like Indra, the sons of Dyaus or the sky, but also the sons of another terrible god, called Rudra, or the Howler, a fighting god, to whom many hymns are addressed. In him a new character is evolved, that of a healer and saviour—a very natural transition in India, where nothing is so powerful for dispelling miasmas, restoring health, and imparting fresh vigor to man and beast, as a thunderstorm, following after weeks of heat and drought.

All these and several others, such as Parganya and the Ribhus, are the gods of mid-air, the most active and dramatic gods, ever present to the fancy of the ancient poets, and in several cases the prototypes of later heroes, celebrated in the epic poems of India. In battles, more particularly, these fighting gods of the sky were constantly invoked.[225] Indra is the leader in battles, the protector of the bright Aryans, the destroyer of the black aboriginal inhabitants of India. "He has thrown down fifty thousand black fellows," the poet says, "and their strongholds crumbled away like an old rag." Strange to say, Indra is praised for having saved his people from their enemies, much as Jehovah was praised by the Jewish prophets. Thus we read in one hymn that when Sudas, the pious king of the Tritsus, was pressed hard in his battle with the ten kings, Indra changed the flood into an easy ford, and thus saved Sudas.

In another hymn we read:[226] "Thou hast restrained the great river for the sake of Turviti Vayya: the flood moved in obedience to thee, and thou madest the rivers easy to cross." This is not very different from the Psalmist (78:13): "He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap."

And there are other passages which have reminded some students of the Veda of Joshua's battle,[227] when the sun stood still and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. For we read in the Veda also, as Professor Kaegi has pointed out (l. c. p. 63), that "Indra lengthened the days into the night," and that "the Sun unharnessed its chariot in the middle of the day."[228]

In some of the hymns addressed to Indra his original connection with the sky and the thunderstorm seems quite forgotten. He has become a spiritual god, the only king of all worlds and all people,[229] who sees and hears everything,[230] nay, who inspires men with their best thoughts. No one is equal to him, no one excels him.

The name of Indra is peculiar to India, and must have been formed after the separation of the great Aryan family had taken place, for we find it neither in Greek, nor in Latin, nor in German. There are Vedic gods, as I mentioned before, whose names must have been framed before that separation, and which occur therefore, though greatly modified in character, sometimes in Greek, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in the Celtic, Teutonic, and Slavonic dialects. D y a u s, for instance, is the same word as Zeus or Jupiter, U s h a s is Eos, N a k t a is Nyx, S u r y a is Helios, A g n i is ignis, B h a g a is Baga in Old Persian, B o g u in Old Slavonic, V a r u n a is Uranos, V a t a is Wotan, V a k is vox, and in the name of the Maruts, or the storm-gods, the germs of the Italic god of war, Mars, have been discovered. Besides these direct coincidences, some indirect relations have been established between Hermes and S a r a m e y a, Dionysos and D y u n i s y a, Prometheus and p r a m a n t h a, Orpheus and R i b h u, Erinnys and S a r a n y u, Pan and P a v a n a.[231]

But while the name of Indra as the god of the sky, also as the god of the thunderstorm, and the giver of rain, is unknown among the north-western members of the Aryan family, the name of another god who sometimes acts the part of Indra (Indrah Parganyatma), but is much less prominent in the Veda, I mean Parganya, must have existed before that of Indra, because two at least of the Aryan languages have carried it, as we shall see, to Germany, and to the very shores of the Baltic.

Sometimes this Parganya stands in the place of Dyaus, the sky. Thus we read in the Atharva-Veda, XII. 1, 12:[232] "The Earth is the mother, and I am the son of the Earth. Parganya is the father; may he help us!"

In another place (XII. 1, 42) the Earth, instead of being the wife of Heaven or Dyaus, is called the wife of Parganya.

Now who or what is this Parganya? There have been long controversies about him,[233] as to whether he is the same as Dyaus, Heaven, or the same as Indra, the successor of Dyaus, whether he is the god of the sky, of the cloud, or of the rain.

To me it seems that this very expression, god of the sky, god of the cloud, is so entire an anachronism that we could not even translate it into Vedic Sanskrit without committing a solecism. It is true, no doubt, we must use our modern ways of speaking when we wish to represent the thoughts of the ancient world; but we cannot be too much on our guard against accepting the dictionary representative of an ancient word for its real counterpart. Deva, no doubt, means "gods" and "god," and P a r g a n y a means "cloud," but no one could say in Sanskrit p a r g a n y a s y a d e v a h, "the god of the cloud." The god, or the divine, or transcendental element, does not come from without, to be added to the cloud or to the sky or to the earth, but it springs from the cloud and the sky and the earth, and is slowly elaborated into an independent concept. As many words in ancient languages have an undefined meaning, and lend themselves to various purposes according to the various intentions of the speakers, the names of the gods also share in this elastic and plastic character of ancient speech. There are passages where Parganya means cloud, there are passages where it means rain. There are passages where Parganya takes the place which elsewhere is filled by Dyaus, the sky, or by Indra, the active god of the atmosphere. This may seem very wrong and very unscientific to the scientific mythologist. But it cannot be helped. It is the nature of ancient thought and ancient language to be unscientific, and we must learn to master it as well as we can, instead of finding fault with it, and complaining that our forefathers did not reason exactly as we do.

There are passages in the Vedic hymns where Parganya appears as a supreme god. He is called father, like Dyaus, the sky. He is called a s u r a, the living or life-giving god, a name peculiar to the oldest and the greatest gods. One poet says,[234] "He rules as god over the whole world; all creatures rest in him; he is the life (atma) of all that moves and rests."

Surely it is difficult to say more of a supreme god than what is here said of Parganya. Yet in other hymns he is represented as performing his office, namely that of sending rain upon the earth, under the control of Mitra and Varun, who are then considered as the highest lords, the mightiest rulers of heaven and earth.[235]

There are other verses, again, where parganya occurs with hardly any traces of personality, but simply as a name of cloud or rain.

Thus we read:[236] "Even by day the Maruts (the storm-gods) produce darkness with the cloud that carries water, when they moisten the earth." Here cloud is parganya, and it is evidently used as an appellative, and not as a proper name. The same word occurs in the plural also, and we read of many parganyas or clouds vivifying the earth.[237]

When Devapi prays for rain in favor of his brother, he says:[238] "O lord of my prayer (Brihaapati), whether thou be Mitra or Varuna or Pushan, come to my sacrifice! Whether thou be together with the Adityas, the Vasus or the Maruts, let the cloud (parganya) rain for Santanu."

And again: "Stir up the rainy cloud" (parganya).

In several places it makes no difference whether we translate parganya by cloud or by rain, for those who pray for rain, pray for the cloud, and whatever may be the benefits of the rain, they may nearly all be called the benefits of the cloud. There is a curious hymn, for instance, addressed to the frogs who, at the beginning of the rains, come forth from the dry ponds, and embrace each other and chatter together, and whom the poet compares to priests singing at a sacrifice, a not very complimentary remark from a poet who is himself supposed to have been a priest. Their voice is said to have been revived by parganya, which we shall naturally translate "by rain," though, no doubt, the poet may have meant, for all we know, either a cloud, or even the god Parganya himself.

I shall try to translate one of the hymns addressed to Parganya, when conceived as a god, or at least as so much of a god as it was possible to be at that stage in the intellectual growth of the human race.[239]

1. "Invoke the strong god with these songs! praise Parganya, worship him with veneration! for he, the roaring bull, scattering drops, gives seed-fruit to plants.

2. "He cuts the trees asunder, he kills evil spirits; the whole world trembles before his mighty weapon. Even the guiltless flees before the powerful, when Parganya thundering strikes down the evil-doers.

3. "Like a charioteer, striking his horses with a whip, he puts forths his messenger of rain. From afar arise the roarings of the lion, when Parganya makes the sky full of rain.

4. "The winds blow, the lightnings[240] fly, plants spring up, the sky pours. Food is produced for the whole world, when Parganya blesses the earth with his seed.

5. "O Parganya, thou at whose work the earth bows down, thou at whose work hoofed animals are scattered, thou at whose work the plants assume all forms, grant thou to us thy great protection!

6. "O, Maruts, give us the rain of heaven, make the streams of the strong horse run down! And come thou hither with thy thunder, pouring out water, for thou (O Parganya) art the living god, thou art our father.

7. "Do thou roar, and thunder, and give fruitfulness! Fly around us with thy chariot full of water! Draw forth thy water-skin, when it has been opened and turned downward, and let the high and the low places become level!

8. "Draw up the large bucket, and pour it out; let the streams pour forth freely! Soak heaven and earth with fatness! and let there be a good draught for the cows!

9. "O Parganya, when roaring and thundering thou killest the evil-doers, then everything rejoices, whatever lives on earth.

10. "Thou hast sent rain, stop now! Thou hast made the deserts passable, thou hast made plants grow for food, and thou hast obtained praise from men."

This is a Vedic hymn, and a very fair specimen of what these ancient hymns are. There is nothing very grand and poetical about them, and yet, I say, take thousands and thousands of people living in our villages, and depending on rain for their very life, and not many of them will be able to compose such a prayer for rain, even though three thousand years have passed over our heads since Parganya was first invoked in India. Nor are these verses entirely without poetical conceptions and descriptions. Whoever has watched a real thunderstorm in a hot climate will recognize the truth of those quick sentences: "the winds blow, the lightnings fly, plants spring up, the hoofed cattle are scattered." Nor is the idea without a certain drastic reality, that Parganya draws a bucket of water from his well in heaven, and pours out skin after skin (in which water was then carried) down upon the earth.

There is even a moral sentiment perceptible in this hymn. "When the storms roar, and the lightnings flash and the rain pours down, even the guiltless trembles, and evil-doers are struck down." Here we clearly see that the poet did not look upon the storm simply as an outbreak of the violence of nature, but that he had a presentiment of a higher will and power which even the guiltless fears; for who, he seems to say, is entirely free from guilt?

If now we ask again, Who is Parganya? or What is Parganya? we can answer that parganya was meant originally for the cloud, so far as it gives rain; but as soon as the idea of a giver arose, the visible cloud became the outward appearance only, or the body of that giver, and the giver himself was somewhere else, we know not where. In some verses Parganya seems to step into the place of Dyaus, the sky, and Prithivi, the earth, is his wife. In other places,[241] however, he is the son of Dyaus or the sky, though no thought is given in that early stage to the fact that thus Parganya might seem to be the husband of his mother. We saw that even the idea of Indra being the father of his own father did not startle the ancient poets beyond an exclamation that it was a very wonderful thing indeed.

Sometimes Parganya does the work of Indra,[242] the Jupiter Pluvius of the Veda; sometimes of Vayu, the wind, sometimes of Soma, the giver of rain. Yet with all this he is not Dyaus, nor Indra, nor the Maruts, nor Vayu, nor Soma. He stands by himself, a separate person, a separate god, as we should say—nay, one of the oldest of all the Aryan gods.

His name, parganya, is derived from a root parg, which, like its parallel forms pars and parsh, must (I think) have had the meaning of sprinkling, irrigating, moistening. An interchange between final g, s, and sh, may, no doubt, seem unusual, but it is not without parallel in Sanskrit. We have, for instance, the roots ping, pingere; pish, to rub; pis, to adorn (as in pesas, [Greek: poikilos], etc.); mrig, to rub, mrish, to rub out, to forget; mris, mulcere.

This very root mrig forms its participle as mrish-ta, like yag, ishta, and vis, vishta; nay there are roots, such as druh, which optionally take a final lingual or guttural, such as dhrut and dhruk.[243]

We may therefore compare parg in parganya with such words as prishata, prishati, speckled, drop of water;[244] also parsu, cloud, prisni, speckled, cloud, earth; and in Greek [Greek: prox(o)], [Greek: perknos], etc.[245]

If derived from parg, to sprinkle, Parganya would have meant originally "he who irrigates or gives rain."[246]

When the different members of the Aryan family dispersed, they might all of them, Hindus as well as Greeks and Celts, and Teutons and Slaves, have carried that name for cloud with them. But you know that it happened very often that out of the commonwealth of their ancient language, one and the same word was preserved, as the case might be, not by all, but by only six, or five, or four, or three, or two, or even by one only of the seven principal heirs; and yet, as we know that there was no historical contact between them, after they had once parted from each other, long before the beginning of what we call history, the fact that two of the Aryan languages have preserved the same finished word with the same finished meaning, is proof sufficient that it belonged to the most ancient treasure of Aryan thought.

Now there is no trace, at least no very clear trace, of Parganya, in Greek, or Latin, or Celtic, or even in Teutonic. In Slavonic, too, we look in vain, till we come to that almost forgotten side-branch called the Lettic, comprising the spoken Lituanian and Lettish, and the now extinct Old Prussian. Lituania is no longer an independent state, but it was once, not more than six centuries ago, a Grand Duchy, independent both of Russia and Poland. Its first Grand Duke was Ringold, who ruled from 1235, and his successors made successful conquests against the Russians. In 1368 these grand dukes became kings of Poland, and in 1569 the two countries were united. When Poland was divided between Russia and Prussia, part of Lituania fell to the former, part to the latter. There are still about one million and a half of people who speak Lituanian in Russia and Prussia, while Lettish is spoken by about one million in Curland and Livonia.

The Lituanian language even as it is now spoken by the common people, contains some extremely primitive grammatical forms—in some cases almost identical with Sanskrit. These forms are all the more curious, because they are but few in number, and the rest of the language has suffered much from the wear and tear of centuries.

Now in that remote Lituanian language we find that our old friend Parganya has taken refuge. There he lives to the present day, while even in India he is almost forgotten, at least in the spoken languages; and there, in Lituania, not many centuries back might be heard among a Christianized or nearly Christianized people, prayers for rain, not very different from that which I translated to you from the Rig-Veda. In Lituanian the god of thunder was called Perkunas,[247] and the same word is still used in the sense of thunder. In Old Prussian, thunder was percunos, and in Lettish to the present day perkons is thunder, god of thunder.[248]

It was, I believe, Grimm who for the first time identified the Vedic Parganya with the Old Slavonic Perun, the Polish Piorun, the Bohemian Peraun. These words had formerly been derived by Dobrovsky and others from the root peru, I strike. Grimm ("Teutonic Mythology," Engl. transl., p. 171) showed that the fuller forms Perkunas, Pehrkons, and Perkunos existed in Lituanian, Lettish, Old Prussian, and that even the Mordvinians had adopted the name Porguini as that of their thunder-god.

Simon Grunau, who finished his chronicle in 1521, speaks of three gods, as worshipped by the Old Prussians, Patollo, Patrimpo, and Perkuno, and he states that Perkuno was invoked "for storm's sake, that they might have rain and fair weather at the proper time, and thunder and lightning should not injure them."[249]

The following Lituanian prayer has been preserved to us by Lasitzki:[250]

"Check thyself, O Percuna, and do not send misfortune on my field! and I shall give thee this flitch."

Among the neighbors of the Lets, the Esthonians, who, though un-Aryan in language, have evidently learned much from their Aryan neighbors, the following prayer was heard,[251] addressed by an old peasant to their god Picker or Picken, the god of thunder and rain, as late as the seventeenth century.[252]

"Dear Thunder (woda Picker), we offer to thee an ox that has two horns and four cloven hoofs; we would pray thee for our ploughing and sowing, that our straw be copper-red, our grain golden-yellow. Push elsewhere all the thick black clouds, over great fens, high forests, and wildernesses. But unto us, ploughers and sowers, give a fruitful season and sweet rain. Holy Thunder (poeha Picken), guard our seed-field, that it bear good straw below, good ears above, and good grain within."[253]

Now, I say again, I do not wish you to admire this primitive poetry, primitive, whether it is repeated in the Esthonian fens in the seventeenth century of our era, or sung in the valley of the Indus in the seventeenth century before our era. Let aesthetic critics say what they like about these uncouth poems. I only ask you, Is it not worth a great many poems, to have established this fact, that the same god Parganya, the god of clouds and thunder and lightning and rain, who was invoked in India a thousand years before India was discovered by Alexander, should have been remembered and believed in by Lituanian peasants on the frontier between East Prussia and Russia, not more than two hundred years ago, and should have retained its old name Parganya, which in Sanskrit meant "showering," under the form of Perkuna, which in Lituanian is a name and a name only, without any etymological meaning at all; nay, should live on, as some scholars assure us, in an abbreviated form in most Slavonic dialects, namely, in Old Slavonic as Perun, in Polish as Piorun, in Bohemian as Peraun, all meaning thunder or thunderstorm?[254]

Such facts strike me as if we saw the blood suddenly beginning to flow again through the veins of old mummies; or as if the Egyptian statues of black granite were suddenly to begin to speak again. Touched by the rays of modern science the old words—call them mummies or statues—begin indeed to live again, the old names of gods and heroes begin indeed to speak again.

All that is old becomes new, all that is new becomes old, and that one word, Parganya, seems, like a charm, to open before our eyes the cave or cottage in which the fathers of the Aryan race, our own fathers—whether we live on the Baltic or on the Indian Ocean—are seen gathered together, taking refuge from the buckets of Parganya, and saying, "Stop now, Parganya; thou hast sent rain; thou hast made the deserts passable, and hast made the plants to grow; and thou hast obtained praise from man."

* * * * *

We have still to consider the third class of gods, in addition to the gods of the earth and the sky, namely the gods of the highest heaven, more serene in their character than the active and fighting gods of the air and the clouds, and more remote from the eyes of man, and therefore more mysterious in the exercise of their power than the gods of the earth or the air.

The principal deity is here no doubt the bright sky itself, the old Dyaus, worshipped as we know by the Aryans before they broke up into separate people and languages, and surviving in Greece as Zeus, in Italy as Jupiter, Heaven-father, and among the Teutonic tribes as Tyr and Tiu. In the Veda we saw him chiefly invoked in connection with the earth, as Dyava-prithivi, Heaven and Earth. He is invoked by himself also, but he is a vanishing god, and his place is taken in most of the Vedic poems by the younger and more active god, Indra.

Another representative of the highest heaven, as covering, embracing, and shielding all things, is Varuna, a name derived from the root var, to cover, and identical with the Greek Ouranos. This god is one of the most interesting creations of the Hindu mind, because though we can still perceive the physical background from which he rises, the vast, starry, brilliant expanse above, his features, more than those of any of the Vedic gods, have become completely transfigured, and he stands before us as a god who watches over the world, punishes the evil-doer, and even forgives the sins of those who implore his pardon.

I shall read you one of the hymns addressed to him:[255]

"Let us be blessed in thy service, O Varuna, for we always think of thee and praise thee, greeting thee day by day, like the fires lighted on the altar, at the approach of the rich dawns." 2.

"O Varuna, our guide, let us stand in thy keeping, thou who art rich in heroes and praised far and wide! And you, unconquered sons of Aditi, deign to accept us as your friends, O gods!" 3.

"Aditya, the ruler, sent forth these rivers; they follow the law of Varuna. They tire not, they cease not; like birds they fly quickly everywhere." 4.

"Take from me my sin, like a fetter, and we shall increase, O Varuna, the spring of thy law. Let not the thread be cut while I weave my song! Let not the form of the workman break before the time! 5.

"Take far away from me this terror, O Varuna; Thou, O righteous king, have mercy on me! Like as a rope from a calf, remove from me my sin; for away from thee I am not master even of the twinkling of an eye." 6.

"Do not strike us, Varuna, with weapons which at thy will hurt the evil-doer. Let us not go where the light has vanished! Scatter our enemies, that we may live." 7.

"We did formerly, O Varuna, and do now, and shall in future also, sing praises to thee, O mighty one! For on thee, unconquerable hero, rest all statutes, immovable, as if established on a rock." 8.

"Move far away from me all self-committed guilt, and may I not, O king, suffer for what others have committed! Many dawns have not yet dawned; grant us to live in them, O Varuna." 9.

You may have observed that in several verses of this hymn Varuna was called Aditya, or son of Aditi. Now Aditi means infinitude, from dita, bound, and a, not, that is, not bound, not limited, absolute, infinite. Aditi itself is now and then invoked in the Veda, as the Beyond, as what is beyond the earth and the sky, and the sun and the dawn—a most surprising conception in that early period of religious thought. More frequently, however, than Aditi, we meet with the Adityas, literally the sons of Aditi, or the gods beyond the visible earth and sky—in one sense, the infinite gods. One of them is Varuna, others Mitra and Aryaman (Bhaga, Daksha, Amsa), most of them abstract names, though pointing to heaven and the solar light of heaven as their first, though almost forgotten source.

When Mitra and Varuna are invoked together, we can still perceive dimly that they were meant originally for day and night, light and darkness. But in their more personal and so to say dramatic aspect, day and night appear in the Vedic mythology as the two Asvins, the two horsemen.

Aditi, too, the infinite, still shows a few traces of her being originally connected with the boundless Dawn; but again, in her more personal and dramatic character, the Dawn is praised by the Vedic poets as Ushas, the Greek Eos, the beautiful maid of the morning, loved by the Asvins, loved by the sun, but vanishing before him at the very moment when he tries to embrace her with his golden rays. The sun himself, whom we saw reflected several times before in some of the divine personifications of the air and the sky and even of the earth, appears once more in his full personality, as the sun of the sky, under the names of Surya (Helios), Savitri, Pushan, and Vishnu, and many more.

You see from all this how great a mistake it would be to attempt to reduce the whole of Aryan mythology to solar concepts, and to solar concepts only. We have seen how largely the earth, the air, and the sky have each contributed their share to the earliest religious and mythological treasury of the Vedic Aryans. Nevertheless, the Sun occupied in that ancient collection of Aryan thought, which we call Mythology, the same central and commanding position which, under different names, it still holds in our own thoughts.

What we call the Morning, the ancient Aryans called the Sun or the Dawn; "and there is no solemnity so deep to a rightly-thinking creature as that of the Dawn." (These are not my words, but the words of one of our greatest poets, one of the truest worshippers of Nature—John Ruskin.) What we call Noon, and Evening, and Night, what we call Spring and Winter, what we call Year, and Time, and Life, and Eternity—all this the ancient Aryans called Sun. And yet wise people wonder and say, How curious that the ancient Aryans should have had so many solar myths. Why, every time we say "Good-morning," we commit a solar myth. Every poet who sings about "the May driving the Winter from the field again" commits a solar myth. Every "Christmas number" of our newspapers—ringing out the old year and ringing in the new—is brimful of solar myths. Be not afraid of solar myths, but whenever in ancient mythology you meet with a name that, according to the strictest phonetic rules (for this is a sine qua non), can be traced back to a word meaning sun, or dawn, or morning, or night, or spring or winter, accept it for what it was meant to be, and do not be greatly surprised, if a story told of a solar eponymos was originally a solar myth.

No one has more strongly protested against the extravagances of comparative mythologists in changing everything into solar legends, than I have; but if I read some of the arguments brought forward against this new science, I confess they remind me of nothing so much as of the arguments brought forward, centuries ago, against the existence of Antipodes! People then appealed to what is called Common Sense, which ought to teach everybody that Antipodes could not possibly exist, because they would tumble off. The best answer that astronomers could give, was, "Go and see." And I can give no better answer to those learned skeptics who try to ridicule the Science of Comparative Mythology—"Go and see!" that is, go and read the Veda, and before you have finished the first Mandala, I can promise you, you will no longer shake your wise heads at solar myths, whether in India, or in Greece, or in Italy, or even in England, where we see so little of the sun, and talk all the more about the weather—that is, about a solar myth.

We have thus seen from the hymns and prayers preserved to us in the Rig-Veda, how a large number of so-called Devas, bright and sunny beings, or gods, were called into existence, how the whole world was peopled with them, and every act of nature, whether on the earth or in the air or in the highest heaven, ascribed to their agency. When we say it thunders, they said Indra thunders; when we say, it rains, they said Parganya pours out his buckets; when we say, it dawns, they said the beautiful Ushas appears like a dancer, displaying her splendor; when we say; it grows dark, they said Surya unharnesses his steeds. The whole of nature was alive to the poets of the Veda, the presence of the gods was felt everywhere, and in that sentiment of the presence of the gods there was a germ of religious morality, sufficiently strong, it would seem, to restrain people from committing as it were before the eyes of their gods what they were ashamed to commit before the eyes of men. When speaking of Varuna, the old god of the sky, one poet says:[256]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse