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The religion and poetry of India are so intimately connected, that they mutually explain and illustrate each other. The most ancient and holiest books, called the Vedas, contain their earliest poetical productions. But Indian poetry attained its perfection in the great epic narratives of the Mahabara and its episodes. Its ele. vated' theosophic speculations sometimes approach the region of poetical intuition. When Buddhism gained the ascendant, a collection of old works was made, which resulted in the discovery of rich materials, comprising such productions as the heroic poem Ramayona and the Harivansa. Epic poetry flourished down to the twelfth century of the Christian era. At a very early period religious lyric poetry received a very considerable share of attention. In connection with music and dancing, it occasioned the rise of dramas. The best specimen of dramatic poetry is the Sacondala, or the Fatal Ring. Nor was the cultivation of didactic poetry overlooked. The best productions in this department, are ascribed to Calidas, who is also supposed to have been the author of two very beautiful elegies still extant. He lived in the year 56 B. C. In amatory poetry the glowing imagination of the Indians produced much that breather the genuine feeling of nature. Its moral tendency, however, may be questioned. In the writing of satires and the invention of fables, they evinced considerable talent.
The literature of India never acquired a permanent influence over the minds of the people, owing, no doubt, to the operation of the caste system. The highest caste alone, that of the Brahmins, were devoted to the cultivation of the sciences; the inferior orders were never allowed to participate in the achievements of intellect.
As we intend to describe the philosophy of India in connection with its religion, we will make a few brief remarks upon its scientific character generally. Recent investigations, conducted by men of extensive erudition, whose love of learning stimulated them to unlock the treasures of Indian literature, which had been kept so long concealed by the Brahmins, concur in proving that the Hindoos have made an astonishing advance in the cultivation of science. In mathematics, particularly, they are noted for skill and ingenuity. One of their treatises on geometry contains the celebrated proposition, that the square on the hypothenuse of a right angled triangle, is equal to the square of the two other sides. The problem, to find the area of a triangle, its three sides being known, of which the old Greek geometers were ignorant, was solved by them. The numeral ciphers in use with the Arabians, and introduced by them into Europe, were borrowed from the Indians. In algebra, they were able to solve equations of more than one unknown quantity. Their attention was also occupied with the study of arithmetic and trigonometry. As regards other departments of natural science, they paid particular attention to medicine.
In the study of geography, the Hindoos never allow themselves to enter into minute descriptions of countries and seas, of climate and natural productions, and of other items necessary to a complete knowledge of our planet; but indulge in fancisul speculations on the construction of the earth. In history, they cannot be trusted as faithful guides. Their historical annals convey no distinct knowledge of the manners of an age, nor do they contain a trustworthy account of facts; but are filled with fabulous representations of deities and heroes, who perhaps never had an existenc. Equally extravagant is their system of chronology. The arbitrary practice of connecting immense periods, exceeding at times two millions of years, in which they delighted to indulge, seems to prove that, in the investigation of historical facts, they were not guided by any definite principles of analysis, but by the vagaries of an exuberant imagination, which overleaped the bounds of probability.
The most valuable sources of information concerning this particuJarly interesting portion of history, are old Indian works, reaching back far beyond the period of the Egyptian hierarchy and the most ancient civilization of Greece. On account of their immense antiquity, which necessarily precludes the possibility of obtaining an accurate knowledge of the age when they were composed, our judgment concerning their merits must be rather unsatisfactory. It is settled by the unanimous consent of all acquainted with the subject, that the Vedas (from the Sancrit vidga, law) or the Holy Books
comprise the oldest productions of Hindoo literature.* Next in age and dignity, come the Puranas, composed, according to most recent researches, 1600 B. C., which contain mythological theogonies and cosmogonies. The third rank is assigned to the two great epic poems, the Mahabarat and Ramayana, supposed to have been written 1200 B. C. Lastly, the collection of the Laws of Menu, completes the sources of information on this subject. Besides these, we may mention as worthy of some notice, the fragmentary poetical and philosophical writings of India.
Upon the earliest manifestations of the religious life of India, are clearly impressed the artless and unprejudiced feelings of childhood, the boundless and unbridled imagination of youth. In accounting for its origin, Hindoo mythology points to the mighty hill Meru, “a most exalted mass of glory, reflecting the sunny rays from the splendid surface of its gilded horns. It is adorned with trees and pleasant streams, and resounds with the delightful songs of various birds." Suddenly on its summit appears the mysterious Brahm, who had hitherto been concealed in a divine slumber, but now comes forth to reveal his heavenly essence. From his bosom emanate, by the power of his creative energies, Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver of life, Siva, the destroyer of life. In these three divine appearances, is revealed the nature of the Supreme Mind. With the time when this remarkable revelation occurred, the religious life of India begins to unfold itself. Temples sprung up in every portion of the country, and the smoke of innumerable sacrifices ascended in honor of Siva. By the powet of Brahm, men, women, genii, and all other individual existences which are scattered over the earth, we.e brought into being. Having fulfilled their mission, they return again to the great soul of the universe, are swallowed up in Brahm, the original unity, like snow-flakes in rivers, like rivers in oceans.
What is the significance of this poetic representation? A profound thought undoubtedly lies here hid; the recognition of one supreme Ruler of the universe, denominated Para-brahm, who reveals himself in a three-fold character, as Creator, (Brahma,) as Preserver, (Vishnu,) as Destroyer, (Siva). These distinct divine exist
• The student is referred to the Asiatic Researches, vol 81. p. 377, by Colebroode, who has investigated the subject with commendable diligence.
ences, represented symbolically by the three natural elements, earth, fire and water, compose the Hindoo Trimourti, or Trinity.* This incomprehensible mystery, which cannot be imaged forth so as to be fully understood, but may be veiled under symbols, is expressed by the enigmatical symbol O'M. Brahma is the one absolute, eternal being, the only real existence; the world with its innumerable forms of life is a dream, a phantom, an illusion, destined to hurry back into the bosom whence it sprang. In him things visible and things invisible become identical. Without form himself, he is the source of all forms; smaller than the atom which floats in the air, he is larger than the universe. Without hand or foot he run's rapidly, and grasps firmly; without eyes
without ears he hears all; he knows whatever can be known; but there is none who knows him."
Various hypotheses have been advanced to explain the manner in which the Hindoo Trinity took its rise. If we run through the records of history, we will discover that the religious systems of most nations contain some representation, in a distorted form, of a threefold principle which manifests its presence in the world. It would seem as if the Divine author of our being had engraven upon the tablet of the soul this mysterious truth.
Such was the first and simplest character of the religion of India. It is evident that the whole system rests upon a Pantheistic conception of the world, which pervades all the theological speculations of the Hindoos. It obliterates the distinction between the Creator and the creature, between the Infinite and finite, animates the world itself with a portion of the divine essence, and terminates its career by virtually divesting God of an independent personality, by degrading his nature to the idea of a universal soul, which underlies like an immense substratum all forms of life. In the course of time, attempts were made to represent the divine essence by a description of particular attributes. But they resulted in the corruption of the
• The difference between the Indian Trinity and that of the Christian Church, is broad and marked:
1. Metaphysical; in the Christian Trinity there is no absorption either of any of its persons or of any individuals its creative power has called into existence.
2. Moral; according to Christian conceptions, the Trinity reveals its presence for the purpose of effecting the moral renovation and perfection of man. ancient faith, by ascribing an independent character to the attributes themselves, and by the introduction of a host of innumerable gods; in the dissolution of the religious ideas originally embodied in the mythical representations of Brahm, and in the ascendency finally, of Feticism.
Hindoo cosmogonies teach that, after Brahm awoke from the Blumbers in which he had been originally sunk, he entered into a state of self-contemplation, and created the world. In the moment of creation, there emanated from his bosom men and the other occupants of the earth, who thus became participants of his essence. According to the accounts recorded in the sacred books, the differ. ent castes sprung from some particular member of his body; the Brahmins from his mouth, the Cshatryas from his arm, the Vaisyas from his thigh, the Sudras from his foot.
Closely connected with the doctrine of Creation, stands the Indian of Avatars, or the divine Incarnations. Before the destruction of the world, mankind must pass through four immense periods of time, comprising 4,320,000 years. When these years shall have completed their course, the world will be absorbed by Brahm, its great Author. Meanwhile Vishnu descends to the earth, and assumes various visible forms whenever danger threatens the human family In the performance of his work, he has already experienced successive transformations in the form of a fish, of a boar, of a half-man and half-lion, in the characters of Parasu Rama, Rama, and Bala Rama. The Hindoos anxiously await the last avatar of Vishnu, when he will appear on a white horse, armed with a sword, to destroy the sin that contaminates the world. Many legends are extant concerning his avatar into Krishna, which bring to mind the fabulous accounts of Osiris of Egypt, and Hercules of Greece.
So far as the moral life of the Indians is concerned, their theory of regeneration exerted the greatest influence. Pride is regarded as the cause of sin. Even the Divine being himself became tainted with its impurity, and must submit to a process of purification. The fundamental conception of the theory is, that matter as such, is substantially evil. Salvation, therefore, from the power of sin, can only be obtained by striving to effect the annihilation of the natural life, by imposing upon the physical man such burdens as will even. tually crush the activity of the body. A person who wishes to be delivered from the bonds of nature, must recognize, by a process