Saturday, August 15, 2009

Historial Literature of India

1. A.Stein writes in his introduction to Rajatarangini Westminister edition Vol. I. P. 3:-- "It has often been said of the india of the_Hindus that it possessed no history. The remark is true if we apply it to history as a science and art, such as classical culture in its noblest prose-works has bequeathed it to us. But it is manifestly wrong if by history is meant either historical development or the materials for studying it. India has never known, amongst its Sastras, the study of history such as Greece and Rome cultivated or as modern Europe understands it. Yet the materials for such study are equally at our disposal in India. They are contained not only in such original sources of information as Inscriptions, Coins and Antiquarian remains, generally, advancing research has also proved that written records of events or of traditions concerning them have by no means been wanting in ancient India."
2. H. Wilson in his admirable introduction to his translation of the Visnu Purana, while dealing with the contents of the Third book observes that a very large portion of the contents of the Itihasas and Puranas is genuine and old and writes:-
"The arrangement of the Vedas and other writings considered by the Hindus--being, in fact, the authorities of their religious rites and beliefs--which is described in the beginning of the Third Book, is of much importance to the history of the Hindu Literature and of the Hindu religion. The sage Vyasa is here represented not as the author but the arranger or the compiler of the Vedas, the Itihasas and the Puranas. His name denotes his character meaning the ‘arranger’ or ‘distributor’; and the recurrence of many Vyasas, many individuals who remodelled the Hindu scriptures, has nothing in it, that is improbable. except the fabulous intervals by which the if labours are separated. The rearranging, the re-fashioning, of old materials is nothing more than the progress of time would be likely to render necessary. The last recognised compilation is that of Krishna Dvaipayana, assisted by Brahmans, who were already conversant with the subjects respectively assigned to them. They were the members of the college or school supposed by the Hindus to have flourished in a period more remote, no doubt, than the truth, but not at all unlikely to have been instituted at some time prior to the accounts of I ndia which we owe to Greek writers and in which we see enough of the system to justify our inferring that it w as then entire. That there have been other Vyasas and other schools since that date, that Brahmsns unknown to fame have remodelled some of the Hindu scriptures, and especially the Puranas, cannot reasonably be counted, after dispassionately weighing the strong internal evidence, which all of them afford, of their intermixture of unauthorized and comparatively modern ingredients. But the same internal testimony furnishes proof equally decisive, of the anterior existence of aneient meterials; and it is, therefore, as idle as it is irrational, to dispute the antiquity or the authenticity of the contents of the Puranas, in the face of abundant positive and circumstantial evidence of the prevalence of the doctrines, which they teach, the currency of the legends which they narrate, and the integrity of the institutions which they describe at least three centuries before the Christian Era. But the origin and development of their doctrines, traditions and institutions were not the work of a day; and the testimony that establislies their existence three centuries before Christianity, carries it back to a much more remote antiquity, to an antiquity, that is, probably, not surpassed by any of the prevailing fictions, institutions or beliefs of the ancient world." (Willson’s Vishnu Purana, London Ed. P.P.LXII and LXIII.)
Again in dealing with the contents of the Fourth Amsa of the Visnu Purana, the Professor remarks:-
‘The Fourth Book contains all that the Hindus have of their ancient History. It is a tolerably comprehensive list Of dynasties and individuals; it is a barren record of events. It can scarcely be doubted, however, that much of it is a genuine chronicle of persons, if not of occurrences. That it is discredited by palpable absurdities in regard to the longevity of the princes of the earlier dynasties, must be granted; and the particula rs preserved of some of them are trivial and fabulous. Still there is an artificial simplicity and consistency in the succession of persons, and a possibility and probability in some of the transactions, which give to these traditions the semblance of authenticity, and render it likely that these are not altogether without foundation. At any rate,in the absence of all other sources of information the record, such as it is, deserves not to be altogether set aside. It is not essential to its celebrity or its usefulness, that any exact chronological adjustment of the different reigns should be attempted. Their distribution amongst the several Yugas, undertaken by Sir William Jones, or his Pandits, finds no countenance from the original texts, rather than an identical notice of the age in which a particular monarch ruled or the general fact that the dynasties prior to Krishna precede the time of the Great War and the beginning of the Kali Age, both which events are placed five thousand years ago.......This, may or may not, be too remote but it is sufficient, in a subject where precision is impossible, to be satisfied with the general impression, that, in the dynasties of Kings detailed in Puranas, we have a record, which, although it cannot fail to have suffered detriment from age, and may have been injured by careless or injudicious compilation, preserves an account not wholly undeserving of confidence, of the establishment and succession of regular monarchies, amongst the Hindus, from as early an era and for as continuous a duration, as any in the credible annals of mankind. (Do. Book LXIV, LXV)
And lastly, in discussing the general nature of the Puranas , and of their values as hishorical records, he_says:-
"After the date of the Great War, the Vishnu Purana, in common with other Puranas, which contain similar lists, specifies Kings and Dynasties with greater precision; and offers political and chronological particulars to which, on the score of probability there is nothing to obiect. In truth, their general accuracy has been incontrovertibly established. Inscriptions on columns of stone, on rocks, on coins deciphered only of late years through the extraordinary ingenuity and perseverence of Mr. James Princep, have verified the names of races and titles of princes - the Gupta and the Andhra Rajas mentioned in the Puranas." (Wilson’s Vishnu Purana Page LXX.)
3. In his Rajasthan. Col. Tod says :- "Those who expect from a people like the Hindus a species of composition of precisely the same character as the historical works of Greece and Rome, commit the very egregious error of overlooking the peculiarities which distinguish the natives of india from all other races, and which strongly discriminate their intellectual productions of every kind from those of the West. Their philosophy, their poetry, their architecture are marked with traits of originality; and the same may be expected to pervade their history, which, like the arts enumerated, took a character from its intimate association with the religion of the pe0ple."
"ln the absence of regular and legitimate historical records there are, however, other native works, (they may, indeed, be said to abound) which in the hands of a skilful and patient investigator, would afford no despicable materials for the histOry of India. The first of these are the Puranas and geneological legends, of the princes which, obscured as they are by the mythological details, allegory, and improbable circumstances, contain, many facts that serve as beacons to direct, the research of the historian."
"Another species of historical records is found in the accounts given by the Brahmins of the endowments of the temples their dilapidation and repairs which furnish occasions for the introduction of historical and chronological details In the legends respecting places of pilgrimage and religious resort, profane events are blended with superstitious rites and ordinances local ceremonies and customs. The controversies of the Jains furnish, also, much historical information, especially with reference to Guzerat and Nehrwala during the Chaulac Dynasty. From a close and attentive examination of the Jain records, which embody all that those ancient sectarians knew of science, many chasms in Hindu history might be filled up."
"Every MATHA or religious college of any importance preserves the succession of its heads. Among the Jains, we have the PATTAVALIS or successions of pontiffs, for a full and lucid notice of some of which we are indebted to Dr. Hoernle: they purport to run back to even the death of the last TIRTHAMKARA Vardhamana-Mahavira."(528 B. C.)
"The preservation of pedigrees and successions have evidently been a national characteristic for very many centuries. And we cannot doubt that considerable attention was paid to the matter in connection with the royal families and that Vamsavalis or Rajavalis, lists of the lineal successions of kings, were compiled and kept from very early times. We distinctly recognise the use of such VAMSAVALIS, giving the relationships and successions of kings, but no chronological details beyond the record of the total duration of each reign with occasionally a coronation date recorded in an era, in the copper-plate records. We trace them, for instance in the introductory passages, of the grants of the Eastern Chalukya Series ( See SII, I 35; EI, V. 131) which from the period A.D. 918 to 925 onwards, name the successive kings beginning with the founder of the line, who reigned three centuries before that time, but do not put forward more than the length of the reign of each of them; and, from certain differences in the figures for some of the reigns, we recognise that there were varying versions of those VAMSAVALIS. We trace the use of the VAMSAVALIS again in the similar records of the, Eastern Gangas of Kalinga, which, from A.D. 1058 onwards (EI, IV, 183), give the same deta ils about the kings of that line with effect from about A.D. 99O and one of which, issued A.D. 1296 ( JASB, L XV 229), includes a coronation date of A.D. 1141 or 1142. There has been brought to light from Nepal a long Vamsavali (by Pandit Bhagavan Lal Indraji P.H.D. Hon. and M.R.A.S.) which purports to give an_unbroken list of the rulers of that country, with the lengths of their reigns and an occasional landmark in the shape of the date of an accession stated in an era, back from A.D. 1768 to even so fabulous an antiquity as six or seven centuries before the commencement of the Kali age in B.C. 31Q2."
(Quoted By M. Krishnamachariar in his History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Introduction 38 ff.)
4. In his Rajatarangini KALHANA mentions certain previous writers.—"Suvrata, whose work, he says, was made difficult by misplaced learning; Kshemendra who drew up a list of kings, of which, however, he says, no part is free from mistakes; Nilamuni, who wrote the NILAMATAPURANA, Helaraja, who composed a list of kings in twelve thousand verses; and Srimihira or Padmamihira and the author SRI CHCHAVILLAKARA. His own work, he tells us, was based on eleven collections of RAJAKATHAS or stories about kings and on the work of Nilamuni.
"Tamrasasana, or ‘Copper chapters‘ consist sometimes of a single plate but mare usua11y of_severa1 plates strung together on a large signet—ring_ which bears generally the seal of the authority who issued the particular chapter. The stone records usually describe themselves by the name of Silasasana or ‘Stone-chapters', Sila-lekha or 'Stone-writings',or Prasasti or "Eulogies'. They are found on rocks, on religious columns such as those which bear some of the edicts( insription recording grants, chiefly of grants and allowances engrossed on copper plates) of Priyadasi and others which were set up in front of temples as "flagstaffs" of the Gods; on battle-columns of victory such as the two at Mandasor, on the walls and beams, sand pillars of caves and temples, on the pedestals of images, and on slabs built into the walls of temples or set up in the courtyards of temples or in conspicuous places in village sites or fields. And they are often accompanied by sculptures which give the seal of authority issuing the. record, or mark its sectarian nature, or illustrate some scene referred to in it.
_ "The Chronolgy of Classical Sanskrit Literature starts with Mahabharata war and Kaliyuga. Kaliyuga commenced on 20th February 3102 B.C., just on the day on which Sri Krishna departed to his divine abode. The Kuru-pandava war was fought 37 years before kali, that is in 3139 B.C. Onwards from the commencement of Kaliyuga, Puranas contain accounts of various kingdoms that flourished from time to time and successive dynasties that ruled and fell during the course of about 35 centuries. To an impartial observer the tenor of these accounts warrants their accuracy and to the mind of the Hindu-- the Hindus of those bygone ages when scepticism had not called tradition superstition—-life here is evanescent and life’s endeavour must be the attainment of beatitude eternal. Ancient sages (Rishis perceived the divine hymns of the Vedas and passed them on for the edification of posterity. Since the advent of Kali, a prospective crop of vice and folly was predicted and to wean the erring world from such sin and misery, Vyasa formulated Puranas with the object of Vedopabrhana, that is, supplemented the exposition of Vedic teachings, and that in the garb of a language and narrative that would be easily assimilated by the masses. To such philosophical minds, the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms was not worth remembrance, save as another realistic means of illustrating the tenets of philosophy, e.g., the truth of the divine essence, Brahman, the unreality at sensual pleasures, the liberation of individual soul and the attainment of eternity in beatitude or oneness with the Spirit Divine and above all the inevitable occurrence of God’s mandates shortly termed Destiny or otherwise called Kaala or Niyati.
If this is the object of Puranic literature, it is a sacrilege to charge the author or authors of them, whoever it was, with having fabricated scriptural testimony for attributing an antiquity to Indian literature and Indian civilization, which it did not possess; for even if they had been, as many orientaists have said, made up late after the Christian era, the authors would not have anticipated this method of political history of the 18th and 19th centuries A. D. The Puranic lists of dynasties of kings and kingdoms furnish details of dates to an extent that even in days of historical records may be surprising, for they mention even months and days in their computation. Whatever those ancient authors did or wrote, they did it with sincerity and accuracy, ‘truth’ being the basis of accuracy. Our educational institutions are saturated with the teachings of modern scholars on the untruth of these Puranic accounts, but it is still hoped that time will come when truth will triumph and display a real orientation of ancient Indian History.
(P. P. XXXVIII — XLIV History of Classical Sanskrit Lit. By_M,· Krishnnmachariar) (38 to -44 pages)
( F, E. Pargiter has given an admirable summary of Early Indian Traditional History, as recorded in Puranas in JRAS (1914) 267 et seq.) _

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post. Very thought provoking and some great reflections on the differences of Indian culture and perspective on history to western.