History of India/Volume 1/Chapter 2

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Page 6 - Chapter II - History of India Vol 1 (1906).png

CHAPTER II

THE INDO-ARYANS AND THEIR LITERATURE

THE site of the early home of the Aryans has been a subject of endless controversies among scholars. Into this mooted problem we cannot enter here. Suffice it to say that enthusiastic and patriotic Hindu scholars will not admit that the first home of the Aryans was anywhere outside of India; while equally patriotic European scholars would place the abode of the primitive Aryans on the shores of the Baltic Sea. We need hardly say that it is not our object to enter into this discussion, and we merely repeat here that it is universally granted that the civilization, religion, language, and literature of the Hindus, from the earliest ages to the present day, are centred in India, and in India alone. There are, however, a number of facts about the life of the primitive Aryans regarding which there is no dispute.

The domestic economy among the early Aryans was much the same as it is to-day. The historian of man does not find in Aryan history any traces of hetairism (or of promiscuous relationship between the sexes), of families being reckoned on the mother's side, or of inheritance by the female line. On the contrary, the father was the protector and the nourisher of the family, the mother looked after and fed the children, the daughter milked the cattle, and relationship by marriage was recognized. Probably the primitive Aryans had already reached a higher state of civilization than promiscuous living would imply. The family, and not the tribe, was the unit of society, and the father was the head of the family.

Many of the useful animals had been domesticated, as, for example, the cow, the bull, the ox, the sheep, the goat, the swine, the dog, and the horse. The wild bear, the wolf, the hare, and the dreaded serpent were known. Similarly among birds, the goose, the duck, the cuckoo, the raven, the quail, the crane, and the owl were well known to the early Aryans.

The various industries were still in their infancy; but a commencement in manufactures and arts had been made. The Aryans built houses, villages, and towns, made roads, and constructed boats for communication by water or for a humble kind of trade. Weaving, spinning, and plaiting were known, and furs, skins, and woollen fabrics were made into garments. Carpentry must have made considerable progress, and dyeing was known.

It need scarcely be stated that agriculture was practised by the primitive Aryans, and it was this occupation which probably gave them their name (ārya=cultivator). Corn was ground, prepared, and cooked in various ways, while the flocks of sheep and cows by which every family was surrounded afforded milk and meat. There can be little doubt that, although

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PRIMITIVE MANNER OF GRINDING CORN.
Copyright by Underwood and Underwood, N. Y.

agriculture was largely resorted to, many patriarchs of families used also to rove about from place to place with their attendants and flocks in search of new pastures, and a fairly large portion of the early Aryans led a nomad life.

War was not infrequent in those primitive times, and weapons of bone and of wood, of stone and of metal, were known. The bow and the arrow, the sword and the spear seem to have been the weapons of war.

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Khaiber Pass, a Gateway from Afghanistan into India.
From a Photograph.

It argues some advance in civilization that the use of gold and of silver was undoubtedly known to the early Aryans, and, with the simplicity of early races, they called gold by the name "yellow" and silver by the name "white." A third metal (ayas) was also known, but it is doubtful whether it was iron.

It is perhaps impossible to conjecture the sort of government which obtained in those olden days. Patriarchs of tribes and leaders of men undoubtedly obtained ascendency, and the simple subjects looked up to them and called them the protectors or nourishers of men, or the chiefs (pati, vispati, rāja) in war as well as in peace. The natural feelings of civilized man distinguished between right and wrong, and custom and a vague perception of what was good for the nation had the force of law. And lastly, the primitive religion of the Aryans was largely suggested by that which was beautiful and striking in the phenomena of nature.

Adventurous bands of Aryans left their primitive home from time to time in quest of food or pasture, of kingdoms or plunder. The exact order in which the different nations left has not been ascertained and may never be ascertained. All that is even approximately certain from the historian's standpoint is that a branch of the Aryans, designated as Indo-Iranians, appeared at an unknown epoch in the land of Asia, but it is not yet known whether they were immigrants or indigenous to the soil. They travelled southward together, but became separated by religious, social, or tribal conditions, before they reached India. Only the Hindus, the worshippers of the Devas as gods, made their way to the River Indus and the land of the Five Rivers, the Panjab.

It was these worshippers of the Devas who composed those hymns which are known as the Rig-Veda, and we shall say a few words here about this ancient work. Probably there is not another work in the

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BRIDGE OF BOATS ON THE INDUS.

literature of mankind which is so deeply interesting, so unique in the lessons it imparts. The hoary antiquity of this ancient monument, the picture it affords of the earliest form of civilization that the Aryans developed in any part of the world, and the flood of light it throws on the origin of the myths and religions of all Aryan nations, make the Rig-Veda deeply interesting. It is, moreover, the oldest work in the Aryan world. It gives us a picture of the oldest civilization that the Aryans developed, and it enlightens and clears up much that is dark and obscure in the religions and myths of Aryan nations all over the world.

To the Hindus the Rig-Veda is a work of still higher importance. It explains the whole fabric of the later Hindu religion; it solves all the complications of later mythology; it throws light on the history of the Indian mind from its earliest stage of infancy. The Hindu learns from this ancient and priceless volume that Vishnu, the supreme preserver, and his three steps, which cover the universe, mean the sun at its rise, its zenith, and its setting; that the terrible god Rudra, the supreme destroyer, originally meant the thunder or thunder-cloud; and that Brahma, the supreme creator, was originally prayer or the god of prayer.

The Rig-Veda consists of 1028 hymns, comprising over ten thousand verses. The hymns are divided into ten Mandalas or Books, and with the exception of the first and last books, every one of the remaining eight books contains hymns said to have been composed or rather proclaimed by one Rishi, by which we may understand one family or line of teachers. Thus the second book is by Gritsamada; the third is by Visvamitra; the fourth is by Vamadeva; the fifth is by Atri; the sixth is by Bharadvaja; the seventh is by Vasishtha; the eighth is by Kanva; and the ninth is by Angiras. The first book contains 191 hymns, which, with scattered exceptions, are composed by fifteen Rishis; and the tenth book also contains 191 hymns, which are mostly ascribed to fictitious authors.

The whole or the greater portion of the tenth book seems to have been the production of a later period, but was thrown in and preserved with the body of the older hymns. The hymns of the Rig-Veda were handed down from father to son or from teacher to pupil for centuries together, and it was in a later age, in the Epic Period, that they were arranged and compiled. By the close of this period, every verse, every word, and every syllable of the Rig-Veda had been counted. The number of verses, as computed, varies from 10,402 to 10,622; the number of words is 153,826; and there are altogether 432,000 syllables.


पर पर्वतानामुशती उपस्थादश्वे इव विषिते हासमाने |
गावेव शुभ्रे मातरा रिहाणे विपाट छुतुद्री पयसाजवेते |१|
इन्द्रेषिते परसवं भिक्षमाणे अछा समुद्रं रथ्येव याथः |
समाराणे ऊर्मिभिः पिन्वमाने अन्या वामन्यामप्येति शुभ्रे |२|
अछा सिन्धुं मात्र्तमामयासं विपाशमुर्वीं सुभगामगन्म |
वत्समिव मातरा संरिहाणे समानं योनिमनु संचरन्ती |३|

ORIGINAL TEXT OF A VEDIC HYMN.
Rig-Veda 3.33.