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of the great work of Valmiki, but he has carried
out his task in such a fashion as himself to hold
the rank of a great original poet.

Yet the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with the
long succeeding train of Sanskrit poetry, do not
themselves form the subject of that severe Brah-



230 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

manical training which was the backbone of the
old Indian culture. The supreme wisdom of the
system is seen nowhere better than in the fact
that poetry and the fruits of imagination are
allowed to go free. Metre and the rules of prosody
are studied in connection with grammar and Vedic
enunciation, but the national sagas are regarded
as more or less popular and easy, and left to the
private reading of the student or to the more
serious labours of professional minstrels, bards,
and wandering tale-tellers. What an interesting
inquiry might be carried out in India, as to the
relative numbers of works of literary genius which
emanate from the ranks of professional and amateur
writers respectively ! At any rate, it was not the
epics themselves, but that world of thought and
philosophy out of which they were born, that en-
vironment which presses upon and utters itself
even now through both teller and hearers it was
this whose fires were kept so vigorously alight by
the Brahmanical organisation of scholarship.

We do not sufficiently realise the fact that
mediaeval Hindu India was organised round uni-
versities, instead of round political centres. Vik-
rampore, Nuddea, and Mithila were the master-
names of Bengali life and thought ever after the
downfall of Gour and Rungpur as capital-cities.
Dacca and Murshidabad were centres of administra-
tion and finance. But for the sources of their
intellectual and spiritual energies men looked to
the seats of Sanskritic learning, not to the thrones



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 231

of the Nawabs. Even Mohammedanism in its
turn had to create its own centres of scholarship,
and with its instinct for seizing on the elaborated
achievements of Buddhism, it took Jaunpur, which
remains to-day as the fount of episcopal authority
for Islamic India. Vikrampur with its long
Buddhistic history had enjoyed an intervening
period of importance as the capital of the Sens,
or there might have been a like ambition to claim
its prestige also for the foreign scheme of culture.
We must not too hastily assume that this would
have been a loss. The world has seen few types
of courtly accomplishment and bearing so fine as
that of the scholars in whom a knowledge of Persian
was added to the ordinary training in Sanskrit.
It was essentially a system of cultivation destined
to turn out a man-of-the-world, and thereby how
different from the severe depth and austerity of
the Brahmanic ideal ! But it was very beautiful
and delightful in its own way. The Persian educa-
tion of the old maulvis of Jaunpur gave a most
finished appreciation of great literature. The
Islamic scholar and Sanskrit pundit had this in
common, that they were both mediaevalists, both
devoted students of high poetry, both thankful to
be poor if only thereby they might be wise, and
both accustomed to spend a dozen years over a
single book. It was the bone and marrow of the
poem on which their hearts were set, and they
often bred up a race of students in whom taste
was unerring. Never have I seen the sense of



232 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

literature so developed as in a certain Hindu monk ;
who in his childhood had learned Persian from an
old scholar in Jaunpur. Mankind will be tangibly
poorer when a few grey-headed men who live about
Benares, Patna, and Lucknow, shall have passed
away, and their sons, stepping into their vacant
places, prove to be of a newer breed.

The Hindu universities of the past were distin-
guished each to some extent by its own specialism.
Thus the South was great for the recitation of the
Vedas. Even now, in the great temple of Con-
jeeveram one may imagine oneself in ancient Egypt,
as one listens, in the early morning hours, to the
fresh young voices of the choir-school in the
distance reciting the ancient texts. And the whole
of southern society assists in the concentration
necessary to this task, for it is required that even lay-
men listening to the rijks (stanzas) shall, at the first
sound of a letter or a syllable misplaced, manifest
violent disgust and distress. This may not seem
like good manners, but it is most eloquent of the
accuracy demanded in repetition. Similarly, Nuddea
in Bengal was noted for its logic. Here again,
as in literature, the highest fruit grows in freedom.
Nasik and Punderpur in Maharashtra had each
its own strong point. And for all grammar,
philosophy, and texts the crown was Benares.
Nor can the pre-eminence of the divine city be
said even yet to have departed. There still are
the great libraries with the scholars that pore over
their treasures and compare texts day after day.



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 233

There are the laborious schools of the pundits,
with their pupils committing verses to heart in
sing-song through the hottest hours. There are
the grave and reverend professors of the highest
ideas of the ancient wisdom, only too glad to lay
open their treasures to any who will forsake all
to follow truth. Still the poor scholars tramp their
way here from all over India. Still on winter
mornings one may come upon the student up
before dawn, reading aloud to himself in the bleak
shelter of some corner. He will go on doing this
for twelve years at least, before he will be declared
to have a knowledge of his book, and be fit to use
his knowledge in the world outside. But by that
time he will have the root of the matter in him, and
the temptations of luxury and idleness will have
ceased to speak to him.

But it is for the most part in the small country
tolls in remote places, like Vikrampur with its
hundred villages, that the Brahmanic learning is
built up. Here the great problem of the education
and initiation of the comparatively young and un-
learned into the path of higher inquiry is solved.
When a student arrives at a toll he is already of a
certain age, which may be anything from fifteen to
twenty-five. The only children there are the sons
and daughters, the nieces and nephews, of the guru
or master. From old men who were children of
the family in these Sanskrit colleges we may still
glean what we desire to know about the life there,
for a commercial age has shattered the old learning



234 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

and with it the system of institutions by which it
was imparted. Men have not now that large sweet
leisure, or that freedom from anxiety, which
characterised the old times. Everything has now
had its money value measured and assigned, and
there is scarcely enough to fill the hungry mouths.
A family cannot dispense with the services of one
member who might be an earner. Learning did
not necessarily in the old times make a man poor,
for he might rise through it to great distinction and
emolument. But it provided him with so many
claims that it left him poor in the end, whatever it
may have made him in the beginning. The students
who arrived at the toll paid nothing for the instruc-
tions which they received. It was sufficient that
they were content to give their lives and labour.
Their master was the treasurer of wisdom as well
as her exponent. He found the means. There
would sometimes be as many as a hundred scholars
in a single toll, and so great was the fame of Bengal
for logic that men would come from the most
remote part of the country to join the training of
a certain teacher. Intercourse could always be
carried on in a toll in Sanskrit. In one of these
rustic colleges in distant Vikrampur, I have heard
of two Mahratta students. Customs were made a
little elastic to give the necessary margin to the
two strangers, but they lived with their Bengali
guru and brethren for many a long year, and
departed at last to carry their name and fame far
and wide.



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 235

A man on his arrival, begging the guru to take
him as a disciple, was supposed to be already
interested in some special line of study. He was
then set to learn a given book. This had to be
committed to memory, and also thoroughly digested
and understood. The hearing of the recitation
each morning included also a searching examina-
tion into matter and criticism. If the result were
not satisfactory, the hint was given by suggestion
that it should be re-read, and then a visit would be
paid by the master privately during the reading
for special exposition and assistance, as soon as the
other recitations had been heard.

The next stage in the day's work consisted of
the lecture, when a new portion of the treatise that
was being studied was taken in hand and ex-
pounded by the pundit. Such were the pursuits
that occupied the hours of the morning and early
afternoon. The glory and delight of college-life
came towards evening, when the shadows began
to grow, and formal work was over for the day.
Then teacher and students together would set out

o

for the afternoon walk. Across the fields they
would proceed, in twos and threes, earnestly dis-
cussing the questions which had arisen in the
course of their studies. Perhaps they would end
by paying a friendly visit to another toll in some
neighbouring village. Or perhaps they would return
home to find a bevy of visitors come to discuss
with them. In deep disputation the evening would
pass, food unthought of. And it was no unheard-



236 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

of thing that the guests should lie down at some
late hour and stay the night, in order to rise up
next morning and renew the fray.

It was in these discussions that the originality
and powers of the students were really developed.
They also show how essential it was that one toll
should be situated in a district where there were
others. Sometimes the argument would assume
excitement and almost the dimensions of a pitched
battle. We feel this when we read the wonderful
story of Chaitanya, who was at first a scholar of
Nuddea. There came to him in his days of San-
skrit scholarship a pundit from Benares, deter-
mined to worst him, famous as he was, in argument.
The battle was felt to be the cause of Nuddea
against Benares, and sympathy was naturally quick
for the home of the listeners. On the other hand
the age and distinction of the strange scholar were
such that for the young Nuddea man to enter the
lists with him at all was felt to be a piece of
temerity. Thus parties were about equally divided
the old for Benares, the young for Nuddea
fairly ready to be swayed this way or that, as the
contest might carry them. To us who read the
tale, it is a foregone conclusion that Chaitanya was
the abler disputant of the two. But we cannot
forget that he was also the younger. Over and
above this, he was at home. Under these circum-
stances we might have expected that some impulse
of pity would tempt him to save the feeling of the
older scholar. Nothing of the sort. The logical



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 237

tournament has a chivalry of its own, but it is for
truth, not for persons. Nothing must interfere
with the effort to display the actual fact, and the
assurance of this is closely bound up with the
victory of one person or the other. So the debate
proceeds remorselessly, without fear or favour, to its
inevitable end in the triumph of youth and Nuddea.
And we may be assured that nothing would have
been so bitterly resented by the pundit from
Benares as any idea that his age or his fame or
his well-known achievements entitled him to be
handled tenderly, as if with the gloves on.

But a system of high learning must have some
points of contact with lay society. Especially is
this the case when it is one of a nature that im-
poverishes its participants. There must be some
means of gathering the sinews of war, in however
scanty an amount. This need was met in India of
the past by the fact that learning was looked upon
as the brightest ornament of social life. No extra-
ordinary marriage function in a great house could
in those days be regarded as complete without its
battle of the pundits. Invitations were sent out to
members of rival schools to come and join their
forces under the presidency and direction of such
and such a Brahman. The contest would take
place in the presence of the whole polite world,
who, though they could not have waged it them-
selves, had quite sufficient knowledge of the lan-
guage and matter under dispute to be keen and
interested critics of skill. Put thus upon their



238 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

mettle, the combatants would wrestle, and at
the end of days or hours, as the case might be, the
victor was declared. Sometimes the whole of the
money-grant about to be made by the father of
the bride would be assigned by him to the chief
of the pundits. This would be for a signal and
crushing victory. More often it would be a propor-
tion of three-quarters, five-eighths, or even fifteen-
sixteenths. Sometimes a man would indignantly
refuse the award so graduated, feeling that it did
not sufficiently recognise the fact that his rival had
no ground left to stand upon. In this case a
scholar of self-respect was willing to wait till he
had driven the whole world to accept him on his
own terms of all or nothing. As in the tourna-
ments of European chivalry, the appearance of the
unknown knight might at any moment occur, so
here also one never knew whether some stranger
of genius might not upset the best-calculated
chances. The savant must be prepared to defend
his own pre-eminence against all comers, and
against every conceivable method, new or old.

But if this was the height of passion reached in
such contests as took place in the presence of the
comparatively learned, we can imagine what hap-
pened when scholars or sadhus themselves organised
their own conferences amongst themselves. These
were announced and financed by princes or by
towns, and from far and wide, from remote unheard-
of tolls, and from the libraries of palaces, as well as
from great famous centres, arrived the scholars



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 239

who were to take part. And when the struggle
actually began, ah ! We have heard of the de-
feated taking a vow to starve himself to death, in
his rage and mortification. We have heard of
closely-fought sessions of many days at a stretch.
And finally, when victory was declared, the con-
queror, beside himself with the intoxication of
success, would tear up the matting of the floor, in
order to sprinkle dust, in token of contempt, upon
the heads of grave and reverend adversaries.

In such occasions we have a glimpse of what
may be called the post-graduate system of uni-
versity-life; At places like Hrishikesh, we still have
the remains of what have been great scholarly
centres for the meeting of the monks and
Brahmans. In the Kumbh Mela, which takes
place at Hardwar, Allahabad, and Nasik by rotation,
we have one of the most ancient and most learned
assemblies of learning. The men who play their
part here are not neophytes : they are already
ripe scholars, meeting for mutual edification. Nor
can we deny that there may be history in the
tradition which says that at Hrishikesha, Vyasa
collected and divided the four Vedas. Great works
of scholarship might well be carried out by councils
convened in some such way.

Thus we have a suggestion of the twofold
development of Sanskritic education, one that of
the school or college, the other that of the uni-
versity proper. This last was more or less peri-
patetic, but none the less definite and real for that.



2 40 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

And the Brahmanic schools, on the other hand,
were numerous and exact in their constitution.
The student who arrived at twenty would some-
times stay in the toll till he was thirty-five, putting
off the whole business of marriage and citizenship
till his premier thirst for knowledge should be
slaked. And yet were there " very few who arrived
at Inference." In truth Inference like poetry was
best left free. It was the crown and blossom of
all a man had learnt. He had to study how to
direct his argument with its " five limbs," which a
modern world calls the major and minor premisses
of the syllogism. He knew what fallacies to guard
against, and how many modes of proof were
possible. It was better for him that, being trained
in all this, he should be left to steer his own course,
alike in argument and belief, when it came to the
application of his knowledge. It was better for
men at large that opinions themselves should not
be imparted or directed, although, if they rested
on obvious fallacies, it would be well to expose
them. Let him pursue wisdom, and with all his
getting let him get understanding. Knowledge and
wealth, in truth, were rival sisters, at the best.
They appeared to be good friends, but there was
between them a deep unspoken jealousy. Who-
ever paid honest court to the one would fail to win
the unstinted largess of the other. On the other
hand, each was compelled by the laws of cour-
tesy to make a sufficient provision for her sister's
worshipper. Thus the extremely rich man would



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 241

not be an imbecile, nor the extremely learned left
altogether to starve. There would be enough, but
nothing over. Therefore let a man be clear from
the first as to what he really wanted. Above all,
let him never pursue after knowledge as a means
to wealth. Gifts in the old days were largely made
in kind. Hence there came into the toll enough
rice to feed the students from year to year, and
yet the whole treasure of the guru's wife would
be a few silver ornaments and a supply of brass
cooking-vessels ! Truly the highest labour for
humanity is never paid. Indeed, unless the en-
thusiasm of his women-folk was as great as his
own, it is difficult to see how the guru could ever
have kept a toll at all. For the wife had to see
to the cooking, and cleaning, and the nursing of
the sick. Every disciple looked upon her as his
mother, and the bond of reverence and affection
was as real as that which bound him to his master
himself. In the case of her being widowed, the
disciples were responsible for her maintenance and
protection. They must beg for her if need be.
The relation was really one of a mother and her
sons. Of this parental tie that bound the pupil to
his master and his master's household we catch
numerous glimpses in the poems and history of
the Indian people. One of the first episodes in the
Mahabharata is the story of Devajani, whose love
gathered round the strange youth Kacha, the
student-brother, who had come to her father to
learn his mystic lore. He has come in truth from

Q



2 42 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

the land of the gods, to master the learning of
men. And very solemnly and beautifully is that
wisdom consecrated, as he gathers it, by being
first put to the test for the aid and deliverance of
his master himself. When five years are over,
and Kacha must return to his own land, Devajani
cannot believe that they are to be parted, and
begs to be taken with him as his wife. But the
disciple of her father regards her as his sister, and
the idea is impossible to him. It is then that the
beautiful Devajani curses him in her despair with
the future sterility of the knowledge he has acquired.
He accepts the curse in so far as it concerns him-
self, yet adds with a note of triumph, " But in him
it shall bear fruit to whom I shall impart it ! "

The great Akbar, in something of the same spirit,
it is said, at a later date made attempts to win from
the Brahmans of Benares a knowledge of the Vedic
scales and cadences, but always without success.
At last he determined on a fraud. One morning,
shortly after, as one of the chief Brahmans went
to bathe, he found on the ghat a Brahman youth
fainting with hunger, who said he had come far to
learn from him the Vedas. The compassionate
pundit took the lad home, and kept him as a
disciple and son, and in course of time he fell in
love with the daughter of his master and asked for
her hand in marriage. The scholar loved the
youth, who was of a most noble and promising
disposition, and at the end of the training his
request was to be granted. But the young man



THE OLD BRAHMANTCAL LEARNING 243

could not bring himself to carry his deception so
far, and on the eve of his wedding-day he revealed
the fact that he was a Mohammedan. The Brahman
did not withdraw his promise or his blessing. But
he saw that the sacred trust of his art was broken,
the purity of his line was to be lost for ever. And
he insisted, it is said, upon dying by fire, as a
penance for the twofold betrayal that he had
unwittingly committed.

In the culture that characterised India then
before the dawn of English education, we have seen
that the severer forms of learning were an occasion
of criticism and delight to non-Brahmanical society,
even as high musical skill is appreciated in Europe
by all classes. But the finer flowers of literary
culture were left to be absorbed and augmented
spontaneously. Philosophy, logic, and even the
chanting of ancient texts might be corrected and
regulated, but creativeness was accepted as the
grace of God, the only safeguard put upon it being
that, as the man trained in reasoning could not be
misled by false argument, so the man trained in
any fine and arduous form of mental activity could
not admire what was wanting in nobility and
beauty.

So elaborate an organisation argues authorities of
some kind at its birth. We see here a university
system which must have been nursed and pro-
tected by powerful influence for many centuries.
In this connection we cannot but remember that
the glory of the great Gupta throne of Pataliputra ,



244 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

in the fourth and fifth centuries, was inextricably
bound up, as that house deeply realised, with the
fate of Sanskrit learning and literature. Those were
days in which the decline of the Buddhist orders
had not yet begun. For the moment, the great
university of Nalanda was at the zenith of its power.
It carried on its researches in a dozen branches of
knowledge in Sanskrit. It was the state observa-
tory, and constituted the official meridian ; for there,
and there alone, we are told by Hiouen Tsang, was
kept the state water-clock, which regulated time for
the whole of Magadha. Its fame attracted students
not only from all parts of India, but from the empire
of China itself. It is told of Nalanda, in the
family histories of Vikrampur, that it had five
hundred professors, and that on one occasion at
least the head of them all was a man from the
village of Vajra Yogini in Vikrampur so far back
stretched the memory of the glory of scholars in an
Indian pedigree.

Our last clear glimpse of Nalanda is in the
middle of the seventh century at the visit of
Hiouen Tsang. At the beginning of the ninth
century again the curtain rises on the life and
career of Sankaracharya. The stories told of the
arguments and discussions by which he ousted
Buddhist monks grown ignorant and illiterate,
from the charge of sacred places, and handed them
over to his own men, show that the system of
Sanskritic culture was already more or less com-
plete. We cannot help believing that the organi-



THE OLD BRAHMANICAL LEARNING 245

sation of Brahmanical learning must have been a
reflection of a still earlier organisation of Buddhistic
learning, that the life lived till the other day in a
Bengali toll must be an exact replica of the life
lived in an earlier period in such places as the
caves of Ajanta or Ellora. But in this system of
scholarly contest, to the verdict of which the
Buddhists themselves submitted so far as in defeat
to render up the care of their sacred places to their
conquerors, we seem to catch a glimpse of some-
thing older still, something dating from the pri-
maeval world itself.

The assemblies of the sadhus and their public
discussions of the debatable points, constituted
an organisation already perfect perhaps in the
Gupta period, and in the very prime of its influence
and activity in the era of Sankaracharya. In
Bengal the empire of Gour was to last undis-
turbed another four centuries, and to succumb in
its entirety only to the genius of Shere Shah and
the later Moghuls. This empire of Gour deliber-
ately linked with itself the ecclesiastical shava of
the Kanauji Brahmans, who remained beside the
throne as a kind of pontifical court, nursing insti-


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