Survey of Vedic Literature.
Peculiar Character of Indian Antiquity.
WE saw how the Veda was discovered how the ancient city of Vedic thought was excavated and how a world which had lain buried for thousands of years was called back to life in our own time. No doubt the ruins of Carnac in Egypt look grander the palaces of Nineveh are more magnificent the streets and houses and temples at Pompeii are more imposing than a hundred volumes of Vedic literature. But what is it that gives life to the colossal ruins of Carnac what allows us a real insight into the palaces of Nineveh what imparts to the streets and houses and temples of Pompeii a meaning and a real human interest if not the inscriptions on their walls and the rolls of papyrus and parchment which tell us of the thoughts of the ancient Egyptians or Assyrians or Romans? Mere monuments mere lists of kings mere names of battles what do they teach us? But give us one thought one truly human sentiment and we feel at home among those ancient ruins the Babylonian statues begin to live the Egyptian mummies begin to speak and the streets of ancient Pompeii swarm once more with senators with philosophers and the gay society of ancient Italy.
Here it is where the discoveries in India assert their superiority over all other discoveries in ancient history. It is true we have no really ancient temples or palaces in that country. Massive stone buildings were probably unknown in India before the rise of Buddhism and the conquests of Alexander and even if they had existed they would have perished long ago in the peculiar climate of India. The Indian mind had no faith in that small immortality which the kings of Egypt and Babylon valued so much and strove to secure for themselves by their stupendous edifices. The Hindu always felt himself a mere stranger on earth a sojourner in a foreign land and the idea of perpetuating his name and fame for a few thousand years by brick and mortar never entered his mind till he had learnt it from outsiders.
But if the Âryas in India have left us no stones they have left us bread—thoughts to feed on riddles to solve lessons to learn such as we find nowhere else.
Meaning of Veda.
We call what they have left us Veda. Now what does Veda mean? It means knowledge and it is letter by letter the same word as the Greek οȋ̓δα i.e. Fοȋ̓δα only that Veda is a noun while οȋ̓δα is a verb. But the verb also exists in Sanskrit and as we have to learn in Greek that οȋ̓δα is a perfect with the meaning of the present we have to learn in Sanskrit that veda is a perfect but means ‘I know.’
Is this a mere accident a mere coincidence? Certainly not. It is one of those small facts of the Science of Language which can teach us volumes. This similarity between or rather this identity of Sanskrit veda and Greek οȋ̓δα clenches with the force of an hydraulic hammer the original unity of the speakers of Greek and Sanskrit. If perfect Sanskrit was spoken 1500 B.C. and if perfect Greek was spoken about the same time then these two streams of language which had diverged even at that time so much that not one word in them was exactly the same that Homer and Vasishtha would have been perfectly unintelligible to each other these two streams of language I say must once have formed one stream and in that one stream this so-called irregular perfect must have been formed once for all. No other explanation is possible for that simple equation veda = οȋ̓δα.
But this perfect veda and οȋ̓δα with the meaning of the present may teach us another lesson also namely that these early framers of language held the same whether right or wrong view on the nature of human knowledge which Locke held. If he said Nihil in intellectu quod non ante fuerit in sensu they expressed ‘I know’ by ‘I have seen’—the only saving clause being in the implied I which may represent what Leibnitz added nihil nisi intellectus.
But it is time now to ask what this Veda really is. The Veda has become such a power not only in linguistic research but in all antiquarian religious and philosophical studies that no honest student can be satisfied with a vague idea of what the Veda is. I am afraid a more detailed survey of Vedic literature will prove somewhat tedious but to a real student of religion such knowledge is absolutely indispensable.
The Rig-veda the only true Veda.
It has been usual to speak of three or even of four Vedas namely the Rig-veda Yagur-veda Sâma-veda to which the Atharva-veda has been added as the fourth. Now although from an Indian point of view this is perfectly correct nothing can be more misleading from an historical point of view. From an historical point of view there is but one real Veda the Rig-veda and when we say the Rig-veda what we mean is the Rig-veda-samhitâ only the collection of hymns and nothing else. When we speak of the Veda as representing the earliest phase of thought and language accessible to the historian on Aryan ground that phase of thought must not be looked for in what are called the Yagur-veda and Sâma-veda but in the hymns of the Rig-veda only to which possibly some popular verses collected in the Atharva-veda may have to be added. Whenever therefore I speak of the Veda in general whenever I appeal to the Veda as the foundation of the science of language mythology and religion what I mean is the Rig-veda the Veda of the sacred hymns which belonged to the ancient inhabitants of the country of the Seven Rivers.
Brahmanic View of the Vedas.
In order to explain how the confusion between the Rig-veda and the other so-called Vedas arose I must explain to you the view which the Brâhmans themselves take of their ancient sacred literature.
According to them there are three Vedas (trayî vidyâ) or according to later authorities four the Rig-veda Yagur-veda Sâma-veda and as the fourth the Atharva-veda.
Each of these Vedas as we now possess it consists of two parts called Samhitâ and Brâhmana. The Samhitâs literally collections consist of Mantras or metrical compositions the Brâhmanas are in prose.
Let us begin with the Rig-veda. Rig which is a modification of rik means a verse originally a verse of praise for the root ark in one of its ramifications has taken the sense of praising and celebrating. Hence arka also a hymn of praise.
The Samhitâ of the Rig-veda as we find it in our MSS. is a large collection of hymns chiefly but not exclusively of a religious character. It is really a collection of collections for it consists of ten so-called Mandalas lit. rounds or spheres and each of these Mandalas forms by itself an independent collection and belonged originally to one or other of the great Vedic families.
The Ten Mandalas.
We can distinguish between Mandalas II to VII which are distinctly Mandals belonging to certain families and the remaining four Mandalas which are less distinctly the property Vedic families.
Thus the second Mandala belongs to the family of Gritsamada (Bhârgava).
The third to that of Visvâmitra.
The fourth to that of Vâmadeva (Gautama).
The fifth to that of Atri.
The sixth to that of Bharadvâga.
The seventh to that of Vasishtha.
The first Mandala is not ascribed to any family in particular but is called by native authorities the Mandala of the Satarkins that is of the poets who each contributed about a hundred verses to this book. The eighth Mandala contains a large number of hymns composed in a peculiar metre called Pragâthas.
While the eighth Mandala seems to have been collected chiefly on the strength of the similarity of metre the ninth was evidently intended to comprehend hymns addressed to one and the same deity namely Soma.
The families who principally contributed to these three books the first the eighth and the ninth are the Kânvas and Ângirasas though other families are not excluded.
Lastly the tenth book seems to contain whatever was left over of Vedic poetry. It is called the Mandala of the long and short or miscellaneous hymns. The poets also seem to belong promiscuously to every one of the ancient Vedic families.
It was very natural on the strength of these facts to suppose that the six Family Mandalas II to VII were the oldest collections; that they were followed by the eighth and ninth Mandalas each having its own distinctive character and purpose and that in the end the first and tenth Mandalas were added containing the last gleanings of the ancient collectors.
Method in the Collection of the Ten Mandalas.
But if we examine the character of the ten Mand
alas more closely we shall find that such a theory can hardly be justified. There is clearly one and the same system according to which every one of these ten books has been collected. It is not by accident as I pointed out long ago1
that in every one of these Mand
alas except the eighth2
and ninth the first hymns are those addressed to Agni and that these are followed by hymns addressed to Indra. Native students of the Veda were fully aware of this fact and we can only account for it by admitting that the collection of all or at least of eight of the Mand
alas was carried out under the same presiding spirit.
Another feature common to several of the Mand
is a certain arithmetical order of the hymns. Here I should mention first of all that each Mand
ala is divided into a number of Anuvâkas i.e. recitations or chapters. In many of these Anuvâkas the hymns follow each other according to the diminishing number of verses. This fact no one could help perceiving who looked at the tabular index printed at the end of my edition of the Rig-veda4
. But the frequency with which this law was broken prevented most scholars from drawing the important lesson which I believe Professor Grassmann was the first to draw namely that whenever that rule is broken there must have been a reason for it. The chief reason is supposed to have been that the hymns which break the rule were later additions and that in some cases shorter hymns at the end of an Anuvâka had been wrongly united into one large hymn. This has been a most useful lesson for critical purposes though in some cases the knife of the operating critics may have been handled with too great boldness5
There are many characteristics however which all the Mandalas share in common and which show the working of a common system on the part of the collectors. The collectors were evidently impressed with the idea that every hymn must have a poet and that every poet must belong to a certain family. In many cases it is quite evident that these names were fanciful; still in none of the Mandalas do we find a hymn without the names of poet or deity. That hymns addressed to the same deity were generally kept together we have seen already. There is the same tendency also to keep hymns of the same poets together. Nor can there be any doubt that the same general theory of metre had been accepted by the compilers of all the ten Mandalas.
It seems to me quite clear from these facts that we must admit a period it may be of one or of two generations only during which a few individuals agreed to collect the sacred poetry that had been preserved in six of the most prominent Brahmanic families that the same individuals or their immediate successors superintended the other four collections also which are contained in the eighth the ninth the first and the tenth Mandalas and that in this way one great collection the Rig-veda-samhitâ was finished. The whole collection of hymns is sometimes called Dâsatayî i.e. consisting of ten parts as it were the Decamerone. Dâsataya is an adjective meaning what belongs to the ten Mandalas.
Number of Hymns.
This collection as we now possess it handed down in the school of the S
âkalas consists of 1017 hymns (Mantras or Sûktas) while in the school of the Bâshkalas their number amounted to 1025. There are besides eleven hymns called the Vâlakhilya hymns6
which were added at the end of the sixth Anuvâka of the eighth Mand
ala. If we count them together with the 1017 hymns of the S
âkalas we get a sum total of 1028 Vedic hymns. There are other spurious hymns called Khilas but they are not counted with the hymns of the Sam
These 1028 hymns became soon the subject of a most minute study a kind of Masoretic exegesis. They had to be learnt by heart and their exact pronunciation was laid down with the greatest care in works called Prâtis
. The date of these Prâtis
âkhyas has been fixed with as much probability as is attainable in such matters in about the fifth or sixth century B.C.
They are certainly prior to the great grammarian Pân
ini who quotes verbatim
from the Prâtis
âkhya belonging to the S
âkala school of the Rig-veda8
Date of the Prâtisâkhya.
In this Prâtis
âkhya we have clear proof that the author of it commonly called S
aunaka knew our collection of hymns consisting of ten Mand
alas. He speaks of dâs
verses i.e. verses found in the ten Mand
alas. He actually quotes a passage as coming from the tenth Mand
(Sûtra 313). In fact his various rules presuppose not only the collection of the ten Mand
alas but the exact collocation also of the hymns in each Mand
ala such as we now possess them. It is thus and thus only that he is able to say as he does that a certain verse (I. 133 6) is the longest and another the shortest (VI. 45 29) among all the verses of the ten Mand
He goes even further and he shows himself so certain of every consonant and vowel of the whole text of the ten Mand
alas being in its right place that he can say (S. 309) with perfect assurance and with perfect correctness that for instance compounds ending with the words varun
a and vrata shorten their last vowel provided a consonant or semi-vowel follows and this through the whole of the Rig-veda except in thirteen hymns which are ascribed to Medhâtithi11
(I. 12; I. 24).
Minutiae of the Prâtisâkhya.
Such statements occur again and again and leave us in no doubt that not a single hymn could have been added to our collection nor a single line be changed after the date of the Prâtisâkhyas.
This is a most important point for unless our arguments can be upset we now possess the certainty that the Masoretic studies of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. presuppose nay postulate the existence not only of Vedic hymns in general but of our collection of these hymns in ten Mandalas; and not only of our collection in ten Mandalas but of every hymn exactly in that place in which we now find it with every word in its right place nay with every vowel either lengthened or shortened exactly as they are lengthened or shortened in our MSS. This means that the text exactly as we possess it in MSS. not more than about 500 years old had become the subject of most minute scholastic studies about 500 B.C.
The Anukramanîs of Saunaka.
And now we may advance another step. The same author Saunaka to whom the authorship of one Prâtisâkhya is ascribed is also mentioned as the author of certain indices to the Rig-veda called Anukramanîs literally ‘after-steppings.’ These indices contain the number of Mandalas of Anuvâkas and of hymns the names of the authors and the deities and the metres.
Most of these single indices have been preserved to us or they existed at least as late as the time of Sâyana fourteenth century. They were superseded however by the more comprehensive index of Kâtyâyana the Sarvânukramanî. These indices again presuppose the text of the ten Mandalas in all its important features exactly such as we now possess it and thus enable us to say that the bridge of our argument spans a distance of more than two thousand years and lands us about 500 B.C. in the schools of the Brâhmans the so-called Parishads where we see teacher and pupils learning by heart exactly the same Veda which we are studying at present.
Number of Verses of the Rig-veda.
We saw that according to the calculation of those ancient scholars the Rig-veda-sam
hitâ consisted then as it does now of ten Mand
alas eighty-five Anuvâkas and 1028 Sûktas or hymns. But they went further in their calculations and counted 10402 verses12
153826 words 432000 syllables. These calculations I am obliged to confess have not yet been checked except that of the verses and here there is a discrepancy but only a slight one. On an average however a hymn may be said to consist of ten verses so that the number of 10402 verses for 1028 hymns cannot be far wrong.
This will give you an idea of the extent of the real Veda or the Rig-veda-samhitâ. If we take into account the length of the Vedic verses as compared with the Greek hexameter the Rig-veda may be said to contain nearly as much as the Iliad and Odyssey together.
This is all we have and ever shall have for studying that ancient period in the history of the Aryan race which precedes in language mythology and religion the Homeric period hitherto the most ancient known period in the history of our race.
If all the rest of what is called Vedic literature had been lost we should not have been much the poorer for it. To the student of the history of Sanskrit literature the other so-called Vedas are no doubt of very high interest as they form the connecting link between the ancient Vedic period and the later Sanskrit literature. But in the eyes of the general historian they cannot compare with what is really unique in the literature of the whole world the hymns of the Rig-veda.
What then are the other so-called Vedas?
What is called the Sâma-veda-sam
hitâ is no more than a compilation of verses contained in the Rig-veda which had to be sung at certain sacrifices and not simply to be recited as were the hymns of the Rig-veda. Sâman means melody. Very often single verses are taken out of the hymn to which they originally belonged in order to be sung together at certain sacrifices. There are only seventy-eight out of the 1549 verses of the Sâma-veda13
which have not been found in our text of the Rig-veda. All the rest are simply the same as we find them in the Rig-veda with slight variations representing the various readings of different recensions (sâkhâ) but by no means as was once supposed14
a more ancient text.
What we call the Yag
hitâ is a collection of verses and sacrificial formulas intended for the use of the priests who while performing the sacrifice had to mutter these verses and formulas. Yag
is the name for these sacrificial formulas as yagñ
a is the name of sacrifice.
What then is the difference between the collection of hymns of the Rig-veda and the two collections of hymns of the Yagur-veda and Sâma-veda?
The collection of hymns of the Rig-veda represents an historical event like the final collection of the books of the Old Testament. It arose from a desire to preserve from destruction the sacred poetry that was the property of certain families in order to hand it down as a whole from generation to generation.
The Khandas or Mantra Period.
I have formerly called the period during which the hymns collected in the Rig-veda were originally composed the Khandas period khandas being one of the oldest names for these sacred verses and I have tried to distinguish it from the period in which these verses were collected and studied as a whole which I called the Mantra period mantra being the technical name for these hymns. But later researches have convinced me that with regard to the Rig-veda the Mantra period simply represents the closing of the Khandas period while with regard to the Yagur-veda and Sâma-veda it has now become clear that there never was a Mantra period at all but that even the first collection of these hymns and formulas belongs to a later period that of the prose Brâhmanas and certainly did not precede that period.
The Prose Brâhmanas.
I mentioned before that according to Hindu authorities every Veda consists of a collection of hymns Samhitâs and Brâhmanas. These Brâhmanas are the earliest specimens of prose literature in India which we possess and their object was to describe the elaborate system of sacrifices which had grown up among the Brâhmans and to show how the hymns or portions of the hymns should be used at each sacrifice.
For the performance of these sacrifices particularly of the great sacrifices three distinct classes of priests were required. One class had to perform the manual labour which was very considerable the clearing of the sacrificial ground the erection of altars the lighting of the fire the preparation of the offerings &c. They were called Adhvaryus the labouring priests and their duties mixed up with endless speculations were described in the Brâhmanas of the Adhvaryus. They formed the Brâhmanas of the Yagur-veda.
Another class of priests had to sing. They were called Udgâtris the singing priests and their respective duties were in the same way described in the Brâhmanas of the Udgâtris or as they are also called the Khandogas i.e. the singers of the khandas. These formed the Brâhmanas of the Sâma-veda.
A third class of priests had to recite certain hymns with the utmost correctness of articulation. They were called Hotris the reciting priests and their duties were described in the Brâhmanas of the Hotri priests. They formed the Brâhmanas of the Rig-veda.
The Brâhmanas of the Yagur-veda.
We can best study the historical growth of the Brâhmanas in the case of the Adhvaryu priests the actual performers of the sacrifices.
We possess for the Adhvaryus four ancient works containing explanations of the sacrifice—
(1) The Kâthaka belonging to the school of the Kathas
(2) The Kapishthala-katha Samhitâ belonging to the school of the Kapishthala-kathas
(3) The Maitrâyanî Samhitâ belonging to the school of the Maitrâyanas and
(4) The Taittirîyaka.
In these four works the verses to be used by the Adhvaryu priest are given in proper order for each sacrifice and they are accompanied by prose portions containing instructions and general observations.
It will be observed that two of them are called Samhitâs though they would more correctly have been called Brâhmanas. There is in fact no other Brâhmana for the Kapishthala-kathas and the Maitrâyanîyas besides what is here called their Samhitâ. The Taittirîyaka however exists in two portions one called Samhitâ the other Brâhmana. But here again there is really no distinction between the two the Brâhmana being simply a continuation and appendix of the Samhitâ. Samhitâ in fact is a misnomer as applied to the Maitrâyanîya and the Kapishthala-katha Samhitâs and in spite of native tradition it would be far better to call these collections of the Taittirîyas Maitrâyanas and Kapishthala-kathas Brâhmanas.
After a time however it was felt to be useful for the priests when performing the sacrifice to have a separate collection of the hymns and sacrificial formulas and another containing the rules of the sacrifice and the explanatory notes. And thus we find in the school of the Vâgasaneyins a Samhitâ containing nothing but the hymns and a Brâhmana containing nothing but the explanations. In this form the Yagur-veda is called the Bright Yagur-veda in contradistinction from the Dark Yagur-veda in which hymns and explanations are mixed. The Brâhmana of the Bright Yagur-veda is called the Satapatha-brâhmana and it exists in two texts as handed by the two schools of the Mâdhyandinas and Kânvas.
We are thus enabled to see how the so-called Samhitâ of the Yagur-veda the collection of verses and formulas to be used by the Adhvaryu priest arose. It existed first as part and parcel of a Brâhmana and was afterwards extracted and separated from it for the benefit of the officiating priest. It is therefore really subsequent not antecedent to the Brâhmana. It is no more than a manual for the use of the Adhvaryus the labouring priests extracted from a previous work in prose which gave a full account of that portion of the sacrifice which this one class of priests the Adhvaryus had to perform together with the necessary verses.
The Brâhmanas of the Sâma-veda.
Exactly the same seems to have taken place with the Sâma-veda. Here too we have Brâhman
as such as the Tând
a in twenty-five books discoursing on that portion of the sacrifice which fell to the share of the singing priests. After a time a hymn-book was felt to be useful and a Sâma-veda-sam
hitâ was put together which we still possess in two forms either as simple texts (Sâma-veda-ârk
ika) or as adapted to the melodies (Grâmageyagâna Aran
We shall now be better able to see the difference between the collection of the hymns of the Rig-veda the Rig-veda-samhitâ and the other collections of hymns the Yagur-veda-samhitâ and the Sâma-veda-samhitâ. The latter were collected for the special benefit of certain classes of priests and were so far as we can judge put together subsequently to the composition of the prose Brâhmanas. They were mere extracts from more ancient Brâhmanas. The Rig-veda-samhitâ on the contrary has nothing to do with the sacrifice. It is true that a third class of priests the Hotris have likewise to recite many of the hymns of the Rig-veda during the performance of the sacrifice. But there is no collection giving these hymns in the order in which they have to be recited by the Hotri priests. Such a collection would have been analogous to the hymn-books of the labouring and the singing priests while the collection of the Rig-veda hymns as we possess it is really an historical collection carried out in common as we saw by a number of Brahmanic families and by itself utterly useless for sacrificial purposes.
The Brâhmana of the Rig-veda.
It seems that the Hotri priests the reciters were the most highly educated Brâhmans. It was their duty not only to know the whole of the hymns of the Rig-veda by heart and to learn to pronounce them with the greatest accuracy but likewise to learn from their Brâhmanas at what part of the sacrifice certain hymns and portions of hymns had to be recited. We still possess two of these Brâhmanas intended for the use of the reciting priests
(1) The Aitareya-brâhmana belonging according to Satyavrata to the Sâkhâ of the Sâkalas
(2) The Kaushîtaki-brâhmana also called the Sânkhâyana-brâhmana.
If according to the indications contained in these Brâhmanas the hymns and verses to be recited by the Hotri priests had been collected and arranged according to the order of the different sacrifices we should then have had a Rig-veda-samhitâ on a level with the Samhitâs of the other Vedas. As it is the Rig-veda-samhitâ stands by itself. It had a different not a purely priestly origin and so far as we can judge at present it was anterior not posterior to the Brâhmana period.
The true Veda.
What is the result of all this? It is this that we really possess one collection only of ancient hymns which by itself represents the earliest period of Indian language mythology and religion. This is called the Rig-veda-samhitâ and can alone be spoken of as the true Veda.
Between the period represented by these hymns the duration of which may have been many centuries and the period which gave rise to the prose works called Brâhmanas there is a complete break. How it came about we cannot tell but it is a fact that the authors of the Brâhmanas had completely lost the true meaning of the Vedic hymns. Their interpretations or rather misinterpretations of these ancient hymns are perfectly astounding. Their one idea is the sacrifice which had assumed such proportions and had been elaborated with such hairsplitting minuteness that we may well understand how the Brâhmans had no thoughts left for anything else. The hymns had become in time a merely subordinate portion of the sacrifice. The proper position of a log of wood or of a blade of grass round the sacrificial fire seemed of more consequence than the expressions of gratitude the prayers for forgiveness of sin or the praises of the mighty deeds of the gods contained in the hymns of their ancestors.
The Brâhmanas of the Brâhmans.
I think therefore that we may speak of a period of Brâhmanas following on the period of the hymns and the very name of Brâhmana period would fully characterise it. The name Brâhmana has nothing to do with brahman in the special sense of prayer or sacrificial formula and ceremony. These are not the principal or exclusive objects of the Brâhmanas. The name Brâhmana was derived either from brahman neuter meaning the clergy or priesthood just as kshatram means the nobility or directly from brahman nom. brahmâ masc. the priest and more especially the superintending priest. For it should be remembered that in addition to the three classes of priests whom I mentioned before the labouring the singing and the reciting priests there was a fourth class who had to watch the progress of the sacrifice and see that all was done and spoken and sung correctly and in proper order. For that purpose the priests who performed the office of the Brahman had to be acquainted with the other Vedas also and especially with the rules laid down in the works which were called Brâhmanas. These Brâhmanas could hardly have been so called except because they were the books of the Brahman neut. the clergy in general or of the Brahman masc. the superintending priest. Brâhmana the Brâhman is a derivative of brahman masc.
We possess at present a limited number of these Brâhman
as but the number of Brâhman
as quoted is very large. We also know of numerous schools who followed the same Brâhman
a though with slight variations—variations which may seem small to us but which seemed very important in the eyes of the Vedic priesthood. That there were ancient and modern Brâhman
as we know from unimpeachable authorities of the fourth century B.C.
for instance the great grammarian Pân
ini. We saw before how the separation of the hymns from the Brâhman
as a work ascribed to Yâgñ
avalkya led to the introduction of a new Brâhman
a for the Yag
ur-veda viz. the S
a and this very Brâhman
a ascribed to Yâgñ
avalkya is reckoned among those which were not old17
Life during the Vedic Period.
It ought not to be supposed however that what we call the Brâhmana period represents to us the whole of the intellectual or even of the religious life of India. It would be fearful to think that millions of people should for generations have fed on such stuff as we find in the Brâhmanas and on nothing else. All we can say is that these Brâhmanas represent to us the only pillars left standing in a vast field of ruins but that they need not have been the pillars of the only temples which once stood there. Besides every temple presupposes a vast surrounding of busy life without which priesthood would find itself stranded high and dry.
Even in the hymns of the Rig-veda we find a great deal more than merely religious sentiments. We find in them traces of a busy life in all its phases peace and war study and trade. Thus we read in hymn IX. 112:
Poem on Trades and Professions.
‘Different indeed are our desires different the works of men. The carpenter looks for something that is broken the leach for something that is sprained the priest for one who offers oblations.… The smith with his dry sticks with his wings of birds (in place of bellows) and his stones (anvil) looks day after day for a man who possesses gold.… I am a poet my father is a leach my mother works the mill; with different desires all striving for wealth we are as if running after cows18
Poem of the Gambler.
The next hymn if hymn it can be called contains the lamentations of a gambler. That gambling is not a modern invention but one of the oldest one of the most universal vices of the human race has been clearly proved not only from ancient literature but likewise from the study of the customs of uncivilised races. Still it is startling when we meet in this poem not only with dice and public gambling places but with all the miseries entailed on wife and mother and brothers by the recklessness of a gambler. Some people who know all about primitive society declare without hesitation that such verses cannot be genuine. If they would prove it we should feel most grateful. As it is we must simply take note of them; we must live and learn.
1. These dice that have grown in the air on the great (Vibhîdaka) tree drive me wild when they roll about on the board. This Vibhîdaka seems to me intoxicating like a draught of Soma that has grown on mount Mugâvat.
2. She (my wife) never troubled or chid me she was kind to me and to my friends. But I for the sake of these only-beloved dice have spurned my devoted wife.
3. My mother-in-law hates me my wife avoids me the miserable finds no one to pity him; nor do I see what is the use of a gambler as little as of an old horse offered for sale.
4. Others pet his wife while his war-horse the dice thirsts for booty. Father mother and brothers say of him ‘We do not know him lead him away bound.’
5. And when I think that I shall not play with them again then I am left by my friends who run away. But when the brown dice are thrown down and utter speech then I rush to their rendezvous like a love-sick maiden.
6. The gambler goes to the assembly his body glowing asking Shall I win? Alas the dice cross his desire handing over to his opponent all that he has made.
7. These dice hook prick undo burn and inflame. After giving childish playthings they ruin the winner; yet to the gambler they are all covered with honey.
8. Their company of fifty-three plays about like the bright Savitri whose laws are never broken. They do not bend before the anger of the mighty even the king bends down before them.
9. They roll down they jump up; though having no hands themselves they resist him who has hands. These playing19
coals though cold when thrown on the board burn the heart through and through.
10. The wife of the gambler mourns forlorn so does the mother of the son who is gone away she knows not whither. In debt trembling longing for money the gambler goes to the house of others by night.
11. It grieves the gambler when he sees his wife and the wives of others and their well-ordered house. In the fore-noon he has harnessed his brown horses (the dice); and when the fire is out the wretch sinks down.
12. He who is the general of your large company the king of the troop the first to him I stretch forth my ten fingers to swear—I do not refuse my stake—I now speak the truth:
13. ‘Do not play with dice plough thy field enjoy what thou hast consider it much. There are thy cows O gambler there thy wife—this is what the noble Savitri has told me.
14. ‘Make (other) friends O dice have mercy on us do not bewitch us with powerful enchantment. May your wrath abate and your enmity; let some one else be held in the snare of the brown dice.’
In the Brâhmanas particularly in the legends scattered about in them we get many a glimpse of active life and we see at all events that the Brâhmans did not constitute the whole of India. On the contrary the nobility though willing to work together with the priests had evidently opened for themselves new avenues of thought and begun to assert great independence in religious speculation while among some of the Brâhmans also a desire seems to have arisen to be freed from the tedious routine of their life and to retire into the forest for silent contemplation. It is curious that in both directions the Brahmanic system should have yielded so readily. People who had done their duty as students and as married men were allowed to retire into the forest free from nearly all religious restrictions and to meditate there with perfect freedom on the highest problems of life. In these philosophical meditations princes and noblemen took an active part and we hear of kings instructing the wisest among the Brâhmans in the knowledge of the Highest Self.
Âranyakas and Upanishads.
All these later phases of life are reflected in the Brâhman
as and particularly in the latest portions of them the so called Âran
yakas and Upanishads. Âran
yaka means a forest-book Upanishad20
a sitting down at the feet of a teacher to listen to his instruction21
Duration of Brâhmana Period.
How long that Brâhmana period lasted how long it took to elaborate the stupendous system of sacrificial rules and afterwards the lofty speculations of the Âranyakas and Upanishads which in their turn may be said to have neutralised and superseded all sacrifices we can only guess. If we allowed ourselves to be guided by the large number of ancient and modern authorities quoted in the Brâhmanas and by the long lists of successive teachers preserved in different schools we should say that three or four centuries would hardly suffice for the whole of the Brâhmana period. But ancient Indian chronology is built up on ever so many ifs and against an uncompromising scepticism our arguments would prove of little avail.
Before we proceed however to a consideration of these chronological questions I have still a few words to say about the fourth so-called Veda the Atharva-veda.
The Atharva-veda possesses a Samhitâ or collection of verses a Brâhmana and Sûtras like the other Vedas. But it is difficult as yet to say what special purpose this Veda was intended to serve. Some native authorities maintain that the Atharva-veda was meant specially for the superintending priest the Brahman and was therefore called Brahma-veda; but there is nothing to confirm this view. It seems a mere guess that because there are four classes of priests and four Vedas therefore the fourth Veda must have belonged to the fourth class of priests. So far as we know at present hymns from the Atharva-veda were used for domestic ceremonies at the celebration of the birth of children at weddings funerals and likewise at the coronation of kings. Many of its verses are simply taken from the Rig-veda; the rest and those the most interesting contain all kinds of imprecations blessings charms formulas to drive away diseases prayers for success on journeys or in gambling and lines for conjuring often quite unintelligible. Supposing that these verses had been in use among the people they would allow us an insight into their more homely thoughts and deserve therefore to be studied more carefully than they have hitherto been. Some native authorities stoutly refuse to recognise the Atharva as a real Veda others defend its authority with equal zeal. The old name of the Atharva-veda is Atharvângirasas which would seem to indicate that the families of the Atharvans and the Angiras or the Atharvângiras were the original collectors or possessors of this Veda.
We possess the text of the Atharva-veda as handed down in two schools the Saunakas and the Paippalâdas; but there is as yet no really critical edition of the text. A commentary lately discovered in India has not yet been published.
In our next lecture I shall try to explain to you how it is possible to assign certain dates to this large mass of Vedic literature which has come down to us partly by oral tradition partly in MSS. If you consider that most of these MSS. do not go back beyond the fifteenth century you will understand that it is no easy undertaking to throw a bridge from the fifteenth century A.D. to the fifteenth century B.C. Still the attempt must be made for unless an historical date can be assigned to these relics of an ancient world they would dwindle down in the eyes of the historian to mere curiosities. They would lose what alone makes them worthy of serious study their historical character.