Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/159

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all, and the Atharva-veda only twice, the tree which is most characteristic of India, and shades with its wide-spreading foliage a larger area than any other tree on the face of the earth—the Nyagrodha ("growing downwards") or banyan (Ficus indica). With its lofty dome of foliage impenetrable to the rays of the sun and supported by many lesser trunks as by columns, this great tree resembles a vast temple of verdure fashioned by the hand of Nature. What the village oak is in England, that and much more is the banyan to the dwellers in the innumerable hamlets which overspread the face of agricultural India.

Among wild animals, one of the most familiar to the poets of the Rigveda is the lion (siṃha). They describe him as living in wooded mountains and as caught with snares, but the characteristic on which they chiefly dwell is his roaring. In the vast desert to the east of the Lower Sutlej and of the Indus, the only part of India suited for its natural habitat, the lion was in ancient times no doubt frequent, but he now survives only in the wooded hills to the south of the peninsula of Gujarat. The king of beasts has, however, remained conventionally familiar in Indian literature, and his old Sanskrit designation is still common in Hindu names in the form of Singh.

The tiger is not mentioned in the Rigveda at all, its natural home being the swampy jungles of Bengal, though he is now found in all the jungly parts of India. But in the other Vedas he has decidedly taken the place of the lion, which is, however, still known. His dangerous character as a beast of prey is here often referred to. Thus the White Yajurveda compares a peculiarly hazardous undertaking with waking a sleeping tiger; and the Atharva-veda describes the animal as "man