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divide the great poem into its component strata.
We are familiar with the remark that while the
things stated by works of the imagination are usually
false, what they mention is very likely to be true.
It is the things mentioned in the Mahabharata
that demand most careful analysis. Of this kind
are the various references to the cities of the

Although the centre of the events which the
work chronicles is supposed to lie at Hastinapura
or Indraprastha in the remote past, we are made
constantly aware that the poet himself regards the
kingdom of Magadha as the rival focus of power.
Jarasandha may or may not have lived and reigned
during the age of Krishna and the Pandavas.
What is clear is that the last compilers of the
Mahabharata could not imagine an India without
the royal house of Rajgir. The same fact comes
out with equal clearness in the Bhagavata Purana
and possibly elsewhere. Now this is a glimpse


into the political consciousness of the Gupta period.
It shows us Northern India, then as now, domi-
nated by two governing forces one seated near
Delhi, and one within the region to-day known as
Bengal ; and it shows unity to be a question
mainly of a coalition between these two. Two
hundred and fifty years later than Vikramaditya,
India is again ruled by a strong hand, that of
Harishchandra. But his capital is at Thaneswar,
near Kurukshetra. Thus the shifting and re-shifting
goes on, and the great problem of modern times,
that of finding a common sentiment of nationality,
is seen to be but a new inclusion of an age-old
oscillation of centres, whose original cause may
perhaps be deep-hidden in the geographical and
ethnological conditions that gave birth to India.

Why, again, is the scene of the telling of the
Mahabharata laid, theoretically, at Taxila ? This
place, situated to the north-west of Rawal Pindi,
would appear, from the age of Buddha onwards
till the coming of the Huns more than a thousand
years later, to have occupied much the same place
in Indian parlance as the University of Cordova
in mediaeval Europe, and for much the same
reason. The city was a university in the time of
Buddha, as witness the youth who went there from
Rajgir to learn medicine. It lay on the highway of
nations. Past its very doors streamed the nomadic
hordes of invading Scythian and Tartar, both
before and after the birth of the Christian era.
Long before that it had given hostelry and sub-


mission to the Greek raid under Alexander. In
mediaeval Europe, similarly, medicine could be
learnt at Cordova, because there was the meeting-
place o* East and West. In the Moorish uni-
versity African, Arab, Jew, and European all met,
some to give, others to take, in the great exchange
of culture. It was possible there to take as it were
a bird's-eye view of the most widely separated
races of men, each with its characteristic out-
look. In the same fashion, Taxila in her day
was one of the focal points, one of the great
resonators, as it were, of Asiatic culture. Here,
between 600 B.C. and A.D. 500, met Babylonian,
Syrian, Egyptian, Arab, Phoenician, Ephesian,
Chinese, and Indian. The Indian knowledge that
was to go out of India must first be carried to
Taxila, thence to radiate in all directions. Such
must have been the actual position of the city in
the Hindu consciousness of the Gupta period.
Had this fact anything to do with its choice as
the legendary setting for the first telling of the
Mahabharata ? Did Vikramaditya regard the poem,
perhaps, as a kind of Purana of India herself,
as the national contribution to world-letters ? Or
are we to look for the explanation to the name
Takshasila only (=Takshakasila ?), and to the part
played in the first volume by the great serpent
Takshaka ?

Supposing the year A.D. 400 to be rightly chosen
as that of the final compilation of the Mahabharata,
and the city of Pataliputra as the scene of its com-


missioning, it follows that the poem may be taken
as an epitome of the Bengali civilisation of that
period. We do not often realise how ample are
the materials now in existence for a full and con-
tinuous narrative of Bengal. Sarat Chandra Das
long ago pointed out that the city of Lhasa is a
page taken out of mediaeval Bengal. In the in-
fluence of the Bengali architect, Vidyadhar, in
laying out the city of Jaipur in the reign of
Sewai Jey Singh in the first half of the eigh-
teenth century, we have evidence of a later date
as to the greatness and enlightenment of the Ben-
gali mind throughout its history. Those streets
of Jaipur forty yards wide, that regard for air
and the needs of sanitation, that marvellous de-
velopment of the civic sense, are not modern and
foreign but pre-English and Bengali in their
source and origin. But to my own mind the
Mahabharata is in this matter the master-docu-
ment. Taking Vikramaditya as the reigning sove-
reign, we see here a people thoroughly conversant
with civic and regal splendour. How beautiful
and full of life is the following description of a
city rejoicing :

"And the citizens decorated the city with flags
and standards and garlands of flowers. And the
streets were watered and decked with wreaths and
other ornaments. And at their gateways the citi-
zens piled flowers. And their temples and shrines
were all adorned with flowers."

There is need here, it should be added, of a


history of books in India. What were the first
manuscripts of Mahabharata written on ? When
" the three Vedas " are referred to with such clear-
ness and distinctness, how does the writer or
speaker conceive of them ? Is the picture in his
mind that of a book or a manuscript; and if so
of what composed ? Or is it a choir of Brahmans,
having as many parts and divisions as the Vedas
themselves ?

Behind all the exuberance of prosperity and
happiness, moreover, in this poem, stands the
life of reverence and earnest aspiration ; the ideals
of faith, purity, and courage, which pervade all
classes of the people alike, and are the same to-day
as they were under the empire of Pataliputra.
As regards his ideal of learning, a young Bengali
scholar of to-day belongs still to the culture of
the Gupta period. A knowledge of Sanskrit from
the ancient Vedic to the fashionable literary lan-
guage of the day ; an acquaintance with certain
books ; and the knowledge of a definite scheme
of metaphysics, logic, and philosophy may be
taken as the type of scholarship then. And very
few are the Bengali minds that have yet reached
a point in the assimilation and expression of a
new form of thought and knowledge, which would
make it possible to say that they are of another
age than that of Vikramaditya. Of that new age
Science is to be the pivot and centre, and there
can be no doubt that the era of Science, with its
collateral development of geography and history,


will directly succeed that of the Guptas, with its
Sanskrit literature and logic in Bengal. In order
to pass from one type so highly evolved, however,
into another which shall give the people an equal
place in Humanity, it is necessary that the moral
and ethical standards of the race shall grow, rather
than relax, in strength and stability. The meeting
line of periods is a time of winnowing and of judg-
ment in the history of nations, and many are the
souls to be scattered like chaff.

It is clear from many of the allusions in the life
of Krishna, as told both in the Mahabharata and
in the Puranas, that He directly, in most places,
supersedes the Vedic gods. In the moment of
his Ascension it is Indra who hymns Him. And
already at Brindaban He has successfully preached
the Law of Karma in opposition to Vedic sacrifice,
and has succeeded in bringing Indra low in the
ensuing contest. This new religion of Vishnu,
indeed, like that of Shiva, belongs to a different
class from that of the old nature-gods. The more
modern are subjective. Their sphere is in the
soul, and their power that of the highest ideals.
Indra, Agni, Yama, and Varuna represented ex-
ternal forces, cosmic some of them, irresistible in
their might by puny man, glorious, lovable, but
not of THE WITHIN. They were supremely ob-

The story of Nala and Damayanti, coming as
it does out of the earlier Vedic period, has never-
theless had its conclusion modified by the Gupta


poets, in accordance with that amelioration of
taste and manners which is inseparable from a
great and long-established civilisation, and also
doubtless with that high development of religious
ideals which will always take place in India in
periods of prosperity and power. We feel it
artistically wrong that Koli (3if^) should be allowed
to depart, and Pushkara should be forgiven. But
the subjects of the Gupta emperors had been
for ages accustomed to peace and wealth, and
in the general refinement of the period reconcilia-
tion was desired as the dramatic climax, not re-
venge. The story of Savitri shows the same trend
of popular taste in somewhat different fashion.
She triumphs over death not by the heroic
methods of the earlier maiden, who could appeal
to the honour of the gods and meet with jovial
and thoroughly benevolent treatment in return,
but by sheer force of the spiritual ideal. Born
of prayer itself, prepared for the supreme en-
counter by vigil and fast, Savitri is no Vedic prin-
cess, but a tender, modern, Hindu woman. She
belongs almost unconsciously to the coming era
of subjective soul-staying faiths. The boisterous
days of storm and fire and forest worships are
now far behind.

Between these two ages, however, of the Vedic
gods on the one hand, and the theological systems
of Vishnu and Shiva on the other, there is in
the Mahabharata and also in the Puranas to a
less extent one anomalous figure. It is that of


Brahma the Creator, the benevolent four-headed
Grandsire. Who was this Brahma ? What is
his exact significance ? It might almost be stated
as a law that in India there has never been a
deity or a religious idea without some social for-
mation behind it. What traces have we, then,
of a Brahma-worshipping sect ? At what period,
and where, are we to look for it ? Is there any
connection between him and the story of Datta-
treya ? What is the history of his one temple and
one image near Pushkar at Ajmir ? Already, in
the Mahabharata, He seems to be half-forgotten ;
yet if that work had been produced in the present
age he would have received less mention still.

An important date to settle is that of Kalidas.
If Chandragupta II of Pataliputra (A.D. 375 to
413) be really the famous Vikramaditya of Ujjain,
it is difficult to see how Kalidas can have been
one of the jewels of his court. Hinduism would
seem first to have formulated the idea of Shiva,
then that of Vishnu (as Lakshmi-Narayana), next
that of Rama, and lastly that of Krishna. Between
the theological conception of Lakshmi-Narayana
and the concreted conception of Rama, Kalidas
appears to have lived. His imagination was greatly
touched by the conception of the Trinity, which
must have been newly completed in his time.
Personally he was overshadowed by the idea of
Shiva, and he was not without foresight of the
deification of Rama. Hindu scholars should be
able from these considerations to fix his date.


The glimpses which the Mahabharata every now
and again affords us of the worship ot Surya, or the
sun, would suggest this rather as a royal than as a
popular devotion. And the hypothesis is more or
less borne out by the traces of his worship which
remain in various parts of India. In Kashmir, in
Orissa, and here and there in unexpected places, we
meet with architectural and sculptural remains of
it. But amongst the people it seems to have left
few or no traces. Surya is counted academically
amongst the Five Manifestations of the Supreme
Being according to Hinduism, but devotionally, of
what account is He ?

These are questions that call for study and reply.
Personally I believe that as our understanding of
India progresses, we shall more and more be led
to recognise the importance of place and history in
accounting for those differentiations which certain
common ideas have gradually undergone. It has
not been opposition of opinion, but mere diversity
of situation, which has been the source of the exist-
ing variety of sects and schools.


THERE have been many Vaishnavisms, and any
adequate history of the subject must make some
attempt to take account of them all. Let us begin
at the end, with the movement of Chaitanya in the
fifteenth century. This would seem to have swept
over Bengal like a fever. Wherever it went, it
conquered high and low alike. It availed itself of
the severest learning, and yet penetrated at the
same time to the hearts of the most ignorant. It
embraced and transformed all that was left of
Buddhism. It established Brindaban as a great
college of piety, holiest of tirthas, and most notable
of ashramas. It ended outside Bengal by creating
a new order of architecture, and inside her
boundaries by forging a great vernacular on its
anvil. And yet in the form given to it by
Chaitanya and Nityananda it was a Bengali rather
than an all-India movement. It centred in Radha
and Krishna and the story of the Gopis. The
contemporary movement in the rest of India
selected for emphasis now this element, now
that, in the older Vaishnavism. Here it anchored
itself on Sita and Rama ; there it found and



clung to some other rock. It ended by placing
Lakshmi-Narayana on the altar of worship. It is
Lakshmi-Narayana who is worshipped throughout
Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is Lakshmi-Narayana
that we find at Badri Narayan, in the valleys of
that diocese. The older Satya-Narayana had dis-
puted with Shiva the possession of the road from
Hardwar to Kedar Nath, but it was the latest wave,
the mediaeval 1 revival, that captured the pilgrimage
from Srinagar to Badri.

Had there been a Lakshmi in the older Vaish-
navism ? If not, what determined her inclusion in
this mediaeval renascence ? A thousand years of
social history lie in the answer to this question. It
is an answer that can only be made definite by a
detailed study of the different sects and orders of
modern Vaishnavism, and a comparison of their
beliefs, customs, and traditions. In this land of
religious conservation, we may rely upon it that the
whole story of its own development is written upon
the brow of the faith itself, for the first trained eyes
to decipher. We may depend upon it also, that
each phase and form of the central idea has had
its own individual history, most likely preserved in
it as an essential tradition. Nothing that survived
has occurred by accident ; nothing has been created
out of wantonness, or out of an idle desire to be
different from others. Ideas so born must at once
have perished. The synthesis of Vaishnavism
to-day is what it has been made by its own history.

One thing is somewhat puzzling. Why was the


devotion of the Rajputani Meera Bai of so Bengali
a type ? It is the love of Krishna with which she
is enrapt. It is Brindaban towards which all her
wanderings tend. There was some strong and
special bond during the Middle Ages that knit
together Rajputana and Bengal. This is shown in
the anxiety of Rajput princes for the recovery of
Gaya from the Mussalmans. No history of Vaish-
navism can be complete if it does not, on the one
hand, account for its own differences as between
Bengal and other provinces ; and, on the other,
explain the Chaitanya-like personality of Meera

To the Indian consciousness, this mediaeval
renascence was bound up with a strong movement
for the assertion of the rights of Woman as well as of
the People. That the religious faculty of humanity
is as much feminine as masculine ; that woman
has as much right as man to abandon the career
of the household for the life of the soul these are
amongst the convictions that throned Lakshmi
beside Narayana during this period as the centre
of Vaishnavite worship. It may be, further, that
they are part of the inheritance taken over by it
from Buddhism. The thirteen hundred women
and twelve hundred men who were received into
the congregation by Nityananda, at Khardaha,
cannot have been altogether without precedent or
parallel. Nor r can they, with all their wretched-
ness, have failed to hold a strong conviction of the
equal right of woman with man to play a part in


the life of religion. And if it be true that they
represented an old Buddhistic order, bewildered
by its oblivion of its own history, puzzled by
the absence of a niche for it in the Hindu syn-
thesis it saw about it, then it follows that this idea
of the religious right of woman was of old and
deep growth in the Indian mind.

Mediaeval Vaishnavism seems to have had its
origin in the South, in the great teachers Ramanuja
and Madhavacharya. In the Himalayas it has
made a notable renewal of the relations of North
and South. Both Kedar Nath and Badri Narayan
must take their mahants or raouls from Madras,
and though this rule may have begun with Sankara-
charya, it must have been revitalised later. On the
Vaishnava altars of the Dravida-desh itself, as also
at Gaya, Narayana reigns for the most part alone.
That is to say, He dates from an older than the
Badri Narayan or Maharashtra stratum of Vaish-
nava doctrine. And this is right. It is in the
missionary-country that the propaganda of a given
moment finds its fullest scope. Thus Buddhism,
which is only a single phase of Hinduism, becomes
a national religion in Burma and Ceylon. It re-
mains but one element in a great matrix in the
land of its birth. It is to the South then that we
must go if we would learn of the older Vaishnavism.
It is its religious organisation and its temple-ritual
that we must study, if we would know what was
the background from which sprang Ramanuja, or
what was the heaven for which the mother of


Sankaracharya yearned, if indeed the exquisite story
of her death-bed be not a later Vaishnavite gloss.

Southern Vaishnavism is the Vaishnavism of the
Gupta empire. It was the Vaishnavism that was
spread far and wide with the story of the Maha-
bharata. The Pandava-Lila of the Southern villages,
and the Pandava legends of the Northern tirtha
have a single chronological origin. They both
alike belong to the culture that was promulgated
during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries under
the later Pataliputra Empire. Only in the South
do we find temples in which the image of Krishna
is worshipped as Partha-Sarathi, the charioteer of
Arjuna, because only in the South does the Gupta
influence remain to this day in its purity and
strength. The Narayana image of the South now
is the old Narayana Satya-Narayana, as he was
called of Magadha. It is the same Narayana that
was placed by Skanda Gupta on the top of the
Bhitari Lat about A.D. 460, when he set this up
with the double purpose of commemorating his
father's sraddha and his own victory over the
Huns. It is the same Narayana that seems to
have been carved so freely in Bengal under the
Pal dynasty, after Gour became the capital.

"As Krishna hastened to Devaki," says the
priceless inscription on the Bhitari Lat, with the
news of his victory over his enemies, so went
Skanda Gupta to his mother.

Twice in the national epic itself Krishna is
addressed by such titles as "Slayer of Putana,"


showing, as does this inscription, that Mahabharata
Vaishnavism, though mainly dependent for its
central figure on the Krishna of the Bhagavat Gita y
was intended to include and confirm the story of
Gokul and Mathura. How much of Brindaban
episode there may have been in this original
nucleus of the great tale it is for the critics of
language and literature to determine. The relative
ages of the Harivansa, Vishnu and Bhagat Pur ana
hold that secret between them. That the child
Krishna was always the slayer of demons we may
be quite sure. This aspect was of his very essence.
Are divine beings not always known by their slaying
of demons ? It is only when the fact of their
divinity is firmly established in our minds that our
attention can be claimed for their Gospels and their

In an age of great education and general under-
standing of the essentials of the Faith, the throne
of Pataliputra had to show that the older Saivism
was not the only form of religion that could ratify
and popularise the sublime truths of the Upani-
shads. The Babe who had dwelt amongst the
cowherds on the Jumna-side had nevertheless been
of royal Hindu parentage, and it was told of him
that when the usurper had been slain, He was at
once sent away by Devaki and Vasudeva to be
instructed in the Vedas. 1 Thus the Grand
Personality, that towers above Kurukshetra and
enunciates the body of doctrine which all India in

1 See Vishnu, Ifarivansa, and Bhagavat Puranas.



the year A.D. 400 knew to be the core of dharma,
combines in himself the divinity of the Indian
Shiva, the virility of the Greek Herakles, the
simplicity of the Judaean Christ, the tenderness of
Buddha, and the calm austerity and learning of
any teacher of the Upanishads. The great truths
He utters were in the very air during the period
when the Mahabharata was put into its present
form under the patronage of the Guptas of Patali-
putra. It was essential that the Divine Incarnation
should give voice to the whole scheme of personal
discipline and salvation, and that utterance forms
in the present case the Bhagavad Gita. The
potential power that formed the background of the
new faith is seen in the fact that the presence of
Salagrama, as the symbol of Vishnu, has been
essential ever since to the legality of a Hindu

The tide of this Gupta Vaishnavism lifted and
reinterpreted many already familiar elements of
life. The image of Narayana that it made its own,
was a natural development from the figure that the
sculptors were at that time in the habit of cutting
on the stupas. The three little earthen mounds,
placed side by side, that the common people were
so apt then as now to make for adoration, were
explained by the new movement as a symbol of
Jaganath, Lord of the Universe. It gave a like
account of the prevalent worship of a sacred foot-
print. It incorporated Buddha Deva in its own
synthesis, as undoubtedly the tenth incarnation of


Vishnu. It accepted and perpetuated the sanctity of
Brahma-Gaya, as distinguished from Bodh-Gaya.
And there and at other well-known tirthas of that
period it endorsed the complex customs that have
grown up probably under the influence of Chinese
and Tibetan pilgrims and merchants of prayer for
the dead.

Nor need we suppose that when the Mahabharata
was first promulgated, Krishna shone so much
alone as He seems to us to do to-day. To us the
whole tangle of culture that bears the name of the
Mahabharata appears largely as a setting for the
Bhagavad Gita. But on its first publication, it was
almost equally impressive in all its parts. Bhishma
and Kama and each of the Pandavas, had his place
and his glory in the national imagination. Nay, a
complete map of the shrines and altars in Garhwal
would show that even the poets who contributed
fragments as well as Vyasa, welder of the vast
composition into a whole were held worthy of
special honour and enthusiasm.

Thus was established Vaishnavism, as woof upon
the warp of Indian religion for the time to come.
What was Shiva, we wonder, in the minds of those
who knelt so eagerly at this period before the
Incarnation of Vishnu ? Was He merely Nagesvar
or Nilkanta ? Had He yet become Ardha-nari ?
Probably not ; for if He had, it is difficult to see
how He could have been superseded by Satya-
Narayana, without Lakshmi, as was probably the


In this question of religious ideas that formed
the firmament in which Krishna rose we have a
fruitful field of study. A great deal can be inferred
from the stories that have gathered round the name
of the divine cowherd. Brahma tests Him, to see
if He is in truth an incarnation of Vishnu. Here

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