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ancient habitation. Whilst the other races, which had broken
away from the original stock, were forming empires and evolving
creeds, the Japhetic branch underwent a development peculiar
to itself. But the march of nations once set on foot was
never to cease ; actuated by that spirit of unrest which works
in barbarous tribes, or influenced by the pressure of population
and the scarcity of space in their old haunts for the pursuit
of their pastoral avocations, tribe after tribe moved away
towards the West. Among the first were the Pelasgians and
the Celts. Other tribes followed, until the Aryans proper
were left alone in the old haunts. One section apparently
had its abode near Badakhshan, the other towards Balkh
proper, where for centuries they lived almost isolated from
the neighbouring nations, unaffected by their wars or their
movements. The light of history which has dawned on the
Western races, the founders of kingdoms and civilisations, also
falls upon these ancient dwellers of the earth, and reveals,
though indistinctly and as through a mist, several clans
gathered together on that plateau ; just emerged from

1 Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, p. 23.

2 In the Arabian traditions the father of Abraham is called Azar, which is
evidently the same as Asshur ; and the beautiful idols of Azar are frequently
referred to in Moslem literature. These traditions confirm the belief that
Abraham was of Assyrian origin.


savageness into barbarism, they are becoming alive to the sense
of an Universal Ideality. Innumerable idealities are taking the
place of the natural objects, hitherto worshipped with fear and
trembling. With some of them the host of abstractions and
personifications of the powers of nature are subordinated to
two comprehensive principles — Light and Darkness. The
sun, the bright harbinger of life and light, becomes the symbol
of a beneficent Divinity, whose power, though held in check,
is eventually to conquer the opposing principle of Evil and
Darkness. With others, the idealities which they now impress
on the fetish they worshipped before, merge in each other ;
at one time standing forth as distinct personal entities, at
another time resolving themselves into a hylozoic whole.
Gradually the clouds lift, and we see the tribal and clan-
formations giving way to monarchical institutions ; agriculture
taking by slow degrees the place of pastoral avocations ;
primitive arts being cultivated ; the use of metals gaining
ground, and, above all, the higher conception of a Supreme
Personality forcing itself upon the yet unopened mind.
Kaiumurs, Hoshang, and the other old kings of whom Firdousi
sings with such wondrous power, are types of an advancing
civilisation. The introduction of the monarchical institutions
among the Aryans proper seems to be coeval with that religious
conflict between the two branches of the Aryan family which
led to the expulsion of the Eastern branch from their Bactrian
home. A powerful religious revolution had been inaugurated
among the Western Aryans by a teacher whose name has been
preserved in the literature of his religion as Citama Zarathustra.
The sharp religious conflict, which resulted from this move-
ment, has left its mark in the deep imprecations heaped by
the Vedic hymn-singers on the enemy of their race and creed,
the Djaradashti of the Vedas. The attitude of the Vedic
hymn-singers towards the reformed faith, even more than the
extraordinary coincidence in names, furnishes the strongest
proof that the religious divergence was the immediate cause
of the split between the two branches of the Aryans proper.
In this, probably the first religious war waged among man-
kind, the Western dualistic clans were successful in driving
their half-polytheistic, half-pantheistic brethren across the


Paropamisadae. The Eastern Aryans burst into India, driving
before them the earlier black races, massacring and enslaving
them, treating them always as inferior beings, Dasyus and
Sudras, slaves and serfs. The difference between the Vedic
and the Zoroastrian religions was, however, purely relative.
Zoroastrianism substituted for the worship of the phenomena,
the adoration of the cause. It converted the gods of the
Vedas into demons and the deva-worshippers into infidels ;
whilst the Vedic hymn-singer, on his side, called the Ahura of
the Avesta an evil god, an Asura, a power hostile to the gods,
and heaped burning maledictions on the head of Djaradashti.

Whilst the place and time of the early Zoroaster's birth
are enwrapt in mystery, under Darius Hystaspes arose another
teacher, who, under the same name, revived, organised, and
enlarged the basis of the ancient teachings.

Retracing our steps for a moment, we see the tide of Aryan
conquest in India flowing eastward and southward for centuries.
The old Aryan religion, which the invaders had brought from
their ancient homes, consisted chiefly in the worship of the
manes and the adoration of the powers of Nature symbolised
in visible phenomena. In the land of the Five Rivers the
spiritual conception developed further ; we can read in the
Vedas the march of progress until we arrive at the zenith
of Hindu religious ideas in the Upanishads, which often in the
intensity of spiritual yearning approach the highest monotheism.
The Upanishads dwell not only on the immanence of God, a
conception which gave birth in later times to the material
pantheism of India ; but also teach that the Supreme Spirit
is the protector of all beings and sovereign over all creation,
that he dwells in the hearts of men, and finally absorbs the
individual soul in infinity " as the ocean absorbs the river " ;
when that absorption takes place the human soul loses all
consciousness of its experience in the earthly frame. But
these interesting records of human progress contained within
themselves unquestioned germs of spiritual decadence which
soon reversed the process of evolution ; and thus instead of
observing a further uplifting, we see a progressive declension.
The Upanishads make way for the Puranic cults, which again
succumb to the power of the Tantric worship.


The idea to which the Upanishads frequently give expression
that the Supreme Spirit manifests Himself in various forms
gave rise to the conception of the Avatars or incarnations.
Just as in the Western pagan world philosophy failed to satisfy
the craving of the popular mind for a personal God who had
dwelt among mankind and held familiar discourse with them,
the theistic aspirations of the Upanishads did not appeal to
the heart or touch the emotions of the masses of India. And a
hero-god was soon found in a member of the warrior caste,
who came before long to be identified with the Supreme Spirit
and to be regarded in his earthly existence as an incarnate

The development of the Krishna-cult, like that of its rival, the
worship of the " dread Mother," illustrates forcibly not merely
the religious welter which prevailed in India in the seventh
century of the Christian era, but also the gulf which divided
the minds of the philosophers who composed the Upanishads
and the Bhagavad-Gita ; " the Song of Faith," l from the
thoughts and feelings of the populace. It is abundantly clear
that long before they burst into Hindustan proper, the Aryan
settlers in the Punjab or their priests and religious teachers
made the most stringent rules to prevent the intermixture of
the invaders and their descendants with the races they had
conquered and enslaved in their steady and prolonged march
towards the East. The touch of the latter, who were turned
into the lowest and servile caste, was pollution ; all the
religious rites peculiar to the three higher castes were strictly
forbidden to them.

Among all the flow and ebb of Aryan-Hindu thought in
the region of pantheism the worship of the manes has always
clung to the Hindu mind as an essential part of his religio-
social system. The Sudra was permitted to offer oblations to
his dead ancestors, but no Brahman could officiate at the rites
without incurring the heaviest penalties. If a Sudra over-
heard a Brahman reciting the Vedas, he was to be punished by
having molten lead poured into his ears ; if he happened to
sit on the same bench with the Brahman he was liable to be

1 A recent writer remarks that the Bhagavad-Gita no doubt shows traces of
theism, but this theism is blended with other and non-theistic elements.


branded. Whilst unions, legitimate or illegitimate, between
the " twice born," as the three superior castes were called,
and the Sudras were interdicted under the cruellest penalties.
No legislation, however, could prevent their religious ideas
and practices being influenced by the primitive beliefs. In
course of time the divinities of the pre-Aryan tribes and races
were incorporated into the Hindu pantheon, and their worship
became part of the Hindu daily ritual. The amalgamations
of diverse beliefs of unequal growth and varying tendencies
had their inevitable result in the debasement of the complex
and abstruse pantheism the philosophers were endeavouring
through ages to evolve.

Before the followers of Islam lifted the veil behind which
India had lived enshrouded in mystery for thousands of years,
she possessed no history. It is impossible to say when Vasu-
deva-Krishna lived, or to judge of his personality. There are
innumerable legends which verge on the absurd and puerile,
legends evidently manufactured by the priests, who had
become the equals, if not the superiors, of the gods ; and whose
interest it was to keep the minds of the vulgar fascinated and
enthralled. The place which Vasudeva-Krishna occupies in
the Hindu pantheon is that of the incarnation of Vishnu,
and as such he forms the central figure in the devotional part
of the Bhagavad-Gita. He is evidently a composite divinity ;
one of the man-gods associated with him being the gay hero
who lived among the cowherds of Gokul and disported him-
self in the famous groves of Brindabun with his merry
companions. 1

The cult of Vasudeva-Krishna inculcated absolute dharma
or faith as the key to salvation ; the believer in this incarnate
Vishnu, whatever his conduct in life, was assured of eternal

The doctrine of perfect faith gave birth to practices and
beliefs which are still current in India. As righteousness

1 Krishna is usually called the Gopala- Krishna or Cowherd Krishna ; his
female companions are called the gopis, the " milkmaids." Many a pretty
legend is woven round the adventures of this hero-god of the Ahirs, the cow-
herd caste of Upper India. Krishna has been somewhat inaptly called the
Apollo of the Hindus, though it is difficult to clothe him with the poetry
which generally envelopes the Greek god.


consists in the concentration of the mind in one's self as identical
with the Supreme Spirit represented in Krishna, the gymno-
sophic ascetic practices acquired in the eyes of the people a
superlative merit. To sit for 3'ears in the forest with the
eyes fixed on one spot of the human body and the mind on
Krishna ; to stand for years on one leg ; to be swung round by
hooks fixed in the flesh were acts of devotion which cured all
sins. To expiate a sin or to fulfil a vow a man might be
employed to measure by the length of his body the distance
from the abode of the penitent to the temple of the deity.
To read the Bhagavad-Gita with true faith or to bathe in the
Ganges or any holy pool, absolved every man or woman from
all breaches of the moral laws.

It is difficult to tell when Saktism acquiied the predominant
hold it now possesses on large masses of the Hindu population.
The Sakti is the female half and active creative side of each
Hindu deity. The Sakti, or spouse of Siva, is the dread goddess
known under various names, such as Parbati, Bhavani,
Kali, Maha-Kali, Durga, Chamunda. The worship of this
goddess, as described in the drama of Bhavabhuti, written
apparently in the seventh century of the Christian era, was
celebrated with human sacrifices and other revolting rites.
There is nothing of the " mater dolorosa " in the spouse of
Siva, by whatever name she is invoked or in whatever form she
is worshipped ; she possesses none of the attributes of human
pity or sympathy with human suffering, the Alexandrian
worshipper associated with Isis " the goddess of myriad names."
This awe-inspiring, not to say, awful concept of a decadent
religious mind, evidently borrowed from the pre-Aryan races,
who delights in human blood and revels in human misery,
has few parallels in the paganism of the world ; for even
Cybele, the magna mater of the Romans, was not so merciless
or took so much pleasure in inflicting pain as the Sakti of the
" God of destruction " 1 This deity is worshipped according
to the ritual of the Tantras, which may be regarded as the
bible of Saktism. Many of the Tantric hymns are imbued
with considerable devotional spirit, and the invocations ad-
dressed to the goddess often appeal to her pity ; but whatever

1 Siva.


mystical meaning the Tantras may possess for the philosopher,
the people commonly accept the worship in its most literal
sense. 1

From the two great epics, one of which tells the story of the
war between the Pandus and the Kurus, and the other the legend
of the abduction of Sita by the king of Ceylon, we can form a
fairly accurate idea of the popular creeds of the time. Both
represent a developed society and considerable material
progress combined with great moral decadence. Thus long
before the appearance of Gautama, the founder of Buddhism,
religious worship among the masses of India had sunk into
mere mechanical performance of sacrifices and oblations at
which the ability of the ministering priest, without whose
services their observance was not permissible, to perform the
" god-compelling " rites with the appropriate incantations,
rather than the conduct or piety of the worshipper, supplied
the test of merit. The revolt of Gautama and of Mahavira
(Mahabir) represented the natural uprise of the Hindu mind
against a selfish sacerdotalism. Both deny a Creative Principle
and the existence of a Supreme Intelligence governing and
regulating the universe, both affirm the eventual annihilation
of individual life ; both dwell on the merit of work in bringing
about this blissful consummation. But whilst Jainism has
hung on to the skirts of Brahmanism and is now practically
a Brahmanical sect, Buddhism struck out boldly a new path
for itself. It placed Karma in the forefront of its scheme of
salvation ; and its great teacher tried to fulfil its claims in
his own life. Its conception of the destiny of man after

1 There are two chief divisions of Tantric worshippers : the Dakhshina-
chari and Vamachari, or right and left hand ritualists ; the worship of the
former is public, and not otherwise noticeable than as addressed to other
goddesses, such as Lakshmi or Mahalakshini, the Sakti of Vishnu. In the
left hand worship, specially called Tantrika, the exclusive object of
adoration is Kali. This worship is private and is said to be celebrated
with impure practices. This particular cult has an enormous number of
followers all over India and branches into various subdivisions. In the
season of the Durga Puja, which is usually celebrated in the month of August,
the image of Durga is carried about seated on a throne. In Upper India she
is painted as yellow of complexion ; in Bengal she is represented as absolutely
black, with four hands, seated on a tiger. In the temple of Kalighat (from
which Calcutta derives its name) dripping skulls might be seen hanging from
her neck. In one of the temples at Jeypore the goddess may be seen with her
head twisted round ; the tradition is that the lady turned her face in disgust
when a goat was offered to her in sacrifice instead of a human being.


death was quite opposed to Brahmanical doctrines ; and
its occult mysticism soon passed into other creeds. But
in the land of its birth, after a short but glorious
existence Buddhism met with a cruel fate ; and the
measure of punishment that was meted out to it by a
triumphant Brahmanism is depicted on the temples of Southern
India. It must be admitted, however, that in its pristine
garb Buddhism did not possess the attractions Hinduism
offered to its votaries. It never claimed to be a positive
religion, and its " rewards " and " sanctions," its promise of
bliss in a future existence, its penalties for failure to perform
duties in this life, were too shadowy to stir the heart of the
masses. It had soon to abandon its contest with the outside
world or to arrive at a compromise with the religion it had
tried to supplant ; and it was not long before the religion that
Buddha preached had to allow its lay-votaries to substitute
prayer-wheels for pious work, or to take to Tantrism to supple-
ment its own barren efforts. Its failure under the most
favourable circumstances in the land of its nativity sealed its
fate as a rousing religious system, although in some of its
mystical aspects it exercised considerable influence on the
philosophies of Western Asia and Egypt.

On the expulsion of Buddhism from India, Brahmanism
regained its supremacy ; the long shadow under which it
had lived whilst the religion of Buddha dominated the country
had brought no improvement in its spiritual conceptions ;
and the lifeless formalism against which Buddha had revolted
was now re-established on a stronger foundation ; the lives
of men and women were under the restored Brahmanical
regime regulated more closely than ever by a sacrificial cult
which appealed to their senses, perhaps to their emotions, rather
than to their spiritual instincts. Among the masses religious
worship became a daily round of meaningless ritual. For
them " the chief objects of worship were the priests, the manes
and, for form's sake, the Vedic gods." Fetishism, as a part
of the aboriginal belief, was never eradicated from the Indian
continent by philosophical Hinduism or by practical Buddhism.
It now entered into the inner life of all castes ; trees, stones
and other natural objects, along with the idols in which the


family gods, the household penates and the ancient divinities
were symbolised, shared the adoration of the populace. The
great Code of Manu, of which Hinduism is justly proud, and
which became in later centuries the model for the legal doctrines
of other Eastern races, represents a legislation for a state of
society where a great advance in material civilisation was
combined with the absolute domination of the priestly caste
and an astonishing moral decadence amongst the masses.
Like the priest the king was now a divinity. In the second
century of the Christian era, whilst Manu's Code was still held
in reverence and treated as the final authority, its place was
taken by the Commentary of Yajnavalkya, " the Contemplative
Master." To him caste was as iron-bound as to Manu ; and
the Sudra as impure as in early times.

Female infanticide, as among the pagan Arabs, was common.
There is no record when widow-burning was first intro-
duced, but it must have been common in the seventh century
of the Christian era. To the widow death, however terrible,
must have been a welcome release, for. unless she was the
mother of children her lot was one of dire misery.

A woman was debarred from studying the Vedas or partici-
pating in the oblations to the manes, or in the sacrifices to the
deities. The wife's religion was to serve her lord ; her eternal
happiness depended on the strict performance of that duty.
And the faithful wife, who sacrificed herself on the funeral
pyre of her dead spouse, found a niche in the hearts of all the
votaries of Hinduism as one of the best and noblest of her sex ;
and often became herself the object of worship.

Whilst thinking minds saw in the puerile practices of the
religion a deeper meaning; whilst their souls floated far above the
ceremonialism of the creed they professed, not one philosopher
or priest viewed with horror the cruel immolations of the
helpless widow, usually no more than a child. Religious
associations, generally composed of both sexes and not always
remarkable for austerity of life, had already sprung up ; and
numerous celibate brotherhoods worshipping different divinities
had come into existence. They invariably congregated in
monasteries into which women were admitted as lay members.
Among them, as among the mendicant fraternities that were


established about the same time, the professed celibacy was
more nominal than real, honoured in its breach rather than
in its observance. Large numbers of the mendicant brother-
hoods lived in comfort and ease in temples and muths. Others,
like the begging friars of the Middle Ages and the vulgar cynics
of the Flavian period, wandered in search of merit from the
doles of the devout. Their sole recommendation to the
charity of the pious consisted in their matted locks, their
unkempt beard, the ochre-coloured shirt that hung over their
shoulders, the ash-covered naked bodies and the inevitable
beggar's gourd and staff.

As the divinities loved music and dancing, a large number
of dancing girls were attached to the temples, who were by no
means vestal, and whose services were at the disposal of the
ministrants of the cult. Women occupied a very inferior
position in early Hindu legislation, and Manu's extreme
denunciation of the sex can be compared only to the fanatical
pronouncement of the Christian Saint Tertullian, " Women,"
says Manu, " have impure appetites ; they show weak flexi-
bility and bad conduct. Day and night must they be kept in

As regards the Sudras, he declared, almost in the words of
the Pandects, that the Creator had made them slaves and that
a man belonging to that caste, even when he is emancipated
by his master, cannot be free ; for bondage being natural to
him, who can deliver him from it ?

Such in brief was the religious and social condition among
the people of one of the most gifted sections of the Aryan race
at the time when the Prophet of Islam brought his Message to
the world.

Let us turn now to Persia — a country which, by its proximity
to the birthplace of Islam, and the powerful influence it has
always exercised on Mohammedan thought, not to speak of
the character and tone it communicated to Judaism and
Christianity, deserves our earnest attention.

Consolidated into a nation and with a new spiritual develop-
ment, the western Aryans soon burst their ancient bounds, and
spread themselves over the regions of modern Persia and
Afghanistan. They appear to have conquered or destroyed


most of the Hamitic and Kushite races inhabiting those tracts,
and gradually reached the confines of the Caspian, where they
found the more tenacious and hardy Turanians settled in
Media and Susiana. Before, however, they had succeeded in
subjugating the Turanians, they themselves fell under the
yoke of a foreign invader, Kushite or Assyrian, more probably
the latter, under whose iron sway they remained for a consider-
able time. 1 With the expulsion of the foreigners commenced
that conflict between Iran and Turan which lasted with varying
fortunes for centuries, and ended with the partial subjugation
of the Turanians in Media and Susiana. 2 The frequent contact
of the followers of Afrasiab and Kai-Kaus in the field and the
hall exercised a lasting effect on the Persic faith. The extreme
materialism of the Turanians did not fail to degrade the yet
undeveloped idealism of their Iranian rivals and neighbours,
who, whilst they succeeded in superimposing themselves on
the ancient settlers of Media, had partially to incorporate
Turanian worship with their own. And thus, whilst in Persia,
Ormuzd alone was adored and Ahriman held up to execration,
in Media, the good and the evil principle were both adored
at the altars. Naturally, the Turanian population was more
inclined to worship their ancient national god than the deity
of their Aryan conquerors ; and in the popular worship,
Ahriman, or Afrasiab, took precedence of Ormuzd.

The Assyrian empire had fallen before a coalition, the first
of its kind known in history, of the Medes and the Babylonians,
but the religion of Asshur, from its long domination over many
of the parts occupied by the Aryans, left an ineffaceable mark
on the conceptions of the Zoroastrians. The complex system

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 2 of 55)