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See p. 22.
FINDUISM, the general name for the prevailing religion
of India, embraces a variety of creeds, differing from one another even more than the different forms of Christianity do. The several Hindu sects have each its
own special directory of faith and worship; but there is a book, or rather a set of books, called the Vedas, venerated by all alike ; and although the simple faith and worship there described have hardly a feature in common with modern Hinduism, yet all the sectarian books profess to be founded on the Vedas, and the worshippers believe that they have the sacred authority of those books for all their practices. It the group of creeds, then, that are ostensibly based on the Vedas that forms the subject of the present paper; and we purpose to sketch the system in the successive phases through which it has passed, from the simple worship of the elements of nature, in which shape we first know it, down to the impure and debasing ritual of the Tantras. But before speaking of the religion itself, it is necessary to say something of the people who profess it.
The population of Hindustan is a mixture of numerous races, the relations of which to one another have as yet been very imperfectly made out. Within the historic period there have been several irruptions of Tartar and Mongol races, Mohammedans, who,
entering from the north-west, spread themselves over the peninsula as conquerors, and added a still distinguishable element to the population. But a multitude of facts point to the conclusion that, in times before the dawn of history, there must have been a succession of such irruptions from the same quarter, each superposing a fresh stratum the original tribes, whoever they may have been. One of those streams of immigration has left more marked and indelible traces than any of the others, and may be said to have moulded the whole subsequent history of India ; that, namely, of the race in whose language the Vedas are written. This language, called Sanscrit, has been shewn to be nearly akin not only to the ancient language of Persia, but to the principal languages of Europe-to Greek and Latin, and therefore to their modern descendants; to the Celtic, the Teutonic, and the Slavonic tongues. In fact, the recent science of language has put it beyond all reasonable doubt that these languages, now seemingly so diverse, and spoken in regions so wide apart, were in their origin only dialects of one and the same tongue. "To account for this fact regarding the languages, ethnologists have formed a theory as to the origin of the nations speaking them. They suppose that, in remote ages, a region of Central Asia, somewhere perhaps to the north of the Hindu Kush, and east from the Sea of Aral, was occupied by a nation or group of tribes all speaking substantially the same language. While yet living together in their native seats, those tribes must have attained a high degree of civilisation, for a number of terms denoting arts and relations of civilised life are found to be common to all the nations descended from them. After a time, this hive of the highest and most improvable type of the human race began to throw off successive swarms towards the west. The first swarm formed the Celts, who were the first of this high race to enter Europe, and who seem at one time to have occupied the greater part of it. At a considerably later epoch than the Celts, came the ancestors of the Italians, the Greeks, and the Teutonic peoples. All these would seem to have made their way to their new settlements through Persia and Asia Minor, crossing into Europe by the Hellespont, and partly, perhaps, between the Caspian and the Black Sea. The stream that formed the Slavonic nations -that is, the Russians, Poles, Servians, &c.—is thought to have taken the route by the north of the Caspian. At a period subsequent to the last north-western migration, the remnant of the primitive stock would seem to have broken up; part poured southwards through the passes of the Himalaya and Hindu Kush into the Punjab, and became the dominant race in the valley of the Ganges; while the rest settled in Persia, and became the Medes and Persians of history.
It is from these eastern members that the whole family takes its name. In the most ancient Sanscrit writings (the Veda), the Hindus style themselves Aryas; and the name is preserved in the classic Arii, a tribe of ancient Persia, Aria, the modern Herat, and Ariana, the name of a district comprehending the greater part of ancient Persia, and extended by some so as to embrace Bactriana. Ariana, or Airyana, is evidently an old Persian word, preserved in the modern native name of Persia, Airan or Iran. Arya, in Sanscrit, signifies 'excellent, 'honourable,' being allied probably to the Greek ari(stos), the best. Others connect it with the root ar (Lat. arare, to plough), as if to distinguish a people who were tillers (earers) of the earth from the purely pastoral Turanians or Turks.
The mother nation dwelling in the basin of the Caspian is, of course, hypothetical, as are the order and routes of the north-western migrations. Less uncertainty rests on the relation between the ancient Persians and the Aryas who migrated to Hindustan. The Zendavesta, which is to the ancient religion of Persia what the Vedas are to primitive Hinduism, contains distinct allusions to a schism between the two branches of the stock while they yet lived together. The estrangement seems to have arisen from a variety of causes, social as well as religious. The Iranians, as we may call the branch that settled in Persia, began to refine and spiritualise the primitive religious notions common to both parties; antipathy and religious hate were the natural result, and led to still greater divergence, until the advanced party came to denounce the old gods as devils, and the whole system as the source of all evil. It was probably the strife and warfare consequent on this state of feeling that drove the conservative Aryas across the Indus, carrying with them that primitive faith which we have learned to know in the Vedas, and which their descendants afterwards developed into the vast system of Brahmanism. Among the Iranians, the religious development continued in its original direction, until, in the hands of the great religious reformer Zoroaster (properly Zarathustra), it became almost a monotheism, which soon degenerated, however, into dualism. In this shape it continued to be the religion of Persia until overwhelmed by Mohammedanism in the middle of the seventh century A.D. It is represented in modern times by the Parsees, the descendants of those Persians who, escaping from the oppression of the crescent, settled along the western coast of India.
When we first get a glimpse of the Aryas in India, they are settled in the Punjab; from which they seem to have gradually extended their settlements first along the valley of the Ganges, and over Central India as far as the Vindhya Mountains. The immigration probably came in successive swarms, at considerable intervals of time. They established themselves everywhere as a conquering race; their superior energy, both of body and mind, enabling them to hold the native population in subjection, and gradually to impose upon them their religious institutions and their language. The chief modern dialects of Northern India are undoubted descendants of the ancient Sanscrit ; and the institution of caste, to be afterwards spoken of, probably originated at the time when the mass of the population, now represented by the Sudras, were little better than serfs under a dominant class, whose superiority and privileges were made perinanent by being put under the sanction of religion. The extension of the Aryas into the south of India, or the Deccan, seems to have been later ; and there, although they imbued the people with their religion, their language made little impression. In the course of generations, the enervating climate of India and intermixture with the original inhabitants could not fail to tell on the conquerors; their blood became impure, and they degenerated physically and mentally. And as with their blood, so it fared with their religion. When a debased people adopt the religion of a higher race, it is only their old superstitions put in a new framework and slightly varnished over ; hence the wide departure of the Brahmanic system from the primitive Aryan faith.
The development of Hinduism was greatly affected, no doubt, by its long conflict with Buddhism, a rival faith which sprang up in the sixth century before Christ, and by appealing chiefly to the nonAryan races, spread widely over India and the adjacent countries. In the early centuries of the Christian era, it threatened to supplant Brahmanism in India ; but, from causes not well known, the latter again acquired the ascendency, Buddhism rapidly declined, and about the eleventh century A.D. had almost disappeared from the peninsula. It still prevails in Ceylon, the Eastern Peninsula, China, Tibet, and other regions of Upper Asia, and its adherents are estimated at 400 millions, or about a third of the human race; but except among the Nepaulese in the extreme north, it has no longer any nominal adherents in the country of its birth. The Jains, or Jainas, however, who are found chiefly in Guzerat and other provinces of the west, and, from their wealth and influence, form an important section of the population, profess a faith which seems to be a kind of corrupt Buddhism mixed up with Hinduism; and Hinduism itself, as believed and practised by the largest and most popular sect, the Vaishnavas or worshippers of Vishnu, is believed to bear traces of Buddhism, as if it had resulted from a compromise with that faith.
Amid all these successive tides of conquest, civilisation, and conversion, numerous outstanding groups of the aboriginal inhabitants, chiefly hill tribes, have remained inaccessible to change, retaining their original languages and dark superstitions. There is also everywhere a floating degraded mass, without the pale of any of the recognised religious communities. Of the 200 millions, which is assumed to be the population of Hindustan, Mr Montgomery Martin estimates this heathen element, as we may call it, at 28 millions ; the Jains at 5 millions ; thus leaving 150 millions as Hindus of the Brahmanical creed.
Having thus indicated the external history and position of Hinduism, we proceed to give a sketch of its internal nature and course of development. Hinduism may be divided into three great periods, which, for brevity's sake, we will call the Vedic, Epic, and Puranic periods, as our knowledge of the first is derived from the sacred books called the Veda; of the second from the epic poem called the Rama'yana, and more especially from the great epos, the Mahabha'rata; while the chief source of our information relative to the last period is that class of mythological works known under the name of Pura'nas and Tantras. We purpose first to sketch the general character of the religion under these three successive phases, prefacing each sketch by some account of its special literature ; and then to give such details of the system as seem most characteristic and instructive.
It may be well, however, at the outset, to guard the reader against attempting to connect dates with the earlier of the periods above named. It has not been uncommon for writers on this subject to assign thousands of years before the Christian era as the starting-points of various phases of Hindu antiquity; others, more cautious, have marked the beginnings of certain divisions of Vedic works with 1200, 1000, 800, and 600 years B.C. The truth is, that while Hindu literature itself is almost without known dates, owing either to the peculiar organisation of the Hindu mind, or to the convulsions of Indian history, the present condition of our knowledge of it does not afford the means of speculating with safety on its chronology. The more cautious Sanscrit scholars, in the actual state of their science, content themselves with assuming that the latest writings of the Vedic class are not more recent than the second century before Christ. They fix a lower limit, and leave the determination of the upper limit to future research. A like uncertainty hangs over the period at which the two great epic poems of India were composed, although there is reason to surmise that the lower limits of that period did not reach beyond the beginning of the Christian era. The Puranic period, on the other hand, all scholars are agreed to regard as corresponding with part of our medieval history.
THE VEDIC PERIOD. The Vedas.–Veda (from the Sanscrit vid, know; kindred with the Latin vid-, Greek id-, Gothic vait-, English wit, hence, literally, knowledge) is the name of those ancient Sanscrit works on which the first period of the religious belief of the Hindus is based. The oldest of these works—and in all probability the oldest literary document still existing-is the Rigveda; next to it stand the