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as they lived. Such of the young negroes as might have no parents
living at the date of their emancipation, or whose parents might
be unable or unwilling to provide for them, were to be ' bound by
the court till they should arrive at the age of twenty-five years ;' and
negro children thus bound were to 'be taught to read and write,
and brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the laws
of the commonwealth of Virginia providing for the support of orphan
and other poor children.' In the meantime, until the emancipation


should take place, he expressly forbade ' the sale or transportation
out of the commonwealth of any slave he might die possessed of,
under any pretence whatsoever.' To one of his slaves, a mulatto
man named William Lee, he granted immediate liberty, with an
annuity of thirty dollars.

The character of Washington has been often sketched, but prob-
ably never with such truth and ability as by his contemporary, and
in many respects his rival in greatness, Thomas Jefferson. ' Although,
in the circle of his friends,' says Jefferson, 'where he might be
unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his
colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither
copiousness of ideas nor fluency of words. In public, when called
on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short, and embarrassed ;
yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style.
This he had acquired by conversation with the world ; for his educa-
tion was merely reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to which
he added surveying. His time was employed in action chiefly,
reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history. His
correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalising
his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours
within doors. On the whole, his character was, in the mass, perfect ;
in nothing bad, in a few points indifferent ; and it may be truly said
that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make
a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with what-
ever worthies have merited from men an everlasting remembrance.
For his was the singular destiny and merit of leading the armies
of his country successfully through an arduous war for the establish-
ment of its independence ; of conducting its councils through the
birth of a government new in its forms and principles, until it had
settled down in a quiet and orderly train ; and of scrupulously
obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military,
of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.'

See p. 22.


flNDUISM, the general name for the prevailing religion
of India, embraces a variety of creeds, differing from
one another even more than the different forms of
Christianity do. The several Hindu sects have each its
own special directory of faith and worship ; but there
is a book, or rather a set of books, called the Vedas, venerated
by all alike ; and although the simple faith and worship there
described have hardly a feature in common with modern Hinduism,
yet all the sectarian books profess to be founded on the Vedas,
and the worshippers believe that they have the sacred authority
of those books for all their practices. It is the group of creeds,
then, that are ostensibly based on the Vedas that forms the subject
of the present paper ; and we purpose to sketch the system in the
successive phases through which it has passed, from the simple
worship of the elements of nature, in which shape we first know it,
down to the impure and debasing ritual of the Tantras. But before
Speaking of the religion itself, it is necessary to say something of the
people who profess it.

The population of Hindustan is a mixture of numerous races, the

relations of which to one another have as yet been very imperfectly

made out. Within the historic period there have been several

irruptions of Tartar and Mongol races, Mohammedans, who.



entering from the north-west, spread themselves over the pen-
insula as conquerors, and added a still distinguishable element
to the population. But a multitude of facts point to the conclu-
sion that, in times before the dawn of history, there must have
been a succession of such irruptions from the same quarter, each
superposing a fresh stratum on the original tribes, whoever
they may have been. One of those streams of immigration has
left more marked and indelible traces than any of the others, and
may be said to have moulded the whole subsequent history of
India ; that, namely, of the race in whose language the Vedas
are written. This language, called Sanscrit, has been shewn
to be nearly akin not only to the ancient language of Persia, but
to the principal languages of Europe to Greek and Latin, and
therefore to their modern descendants; to the Celtic, the Teutonic,
and the Slavonic tongues. In fact, the recent science of language
has put it beyond all reasonable doubt that these languages, now
seemingly so diverse, and spoken in regions so wide apart, were in
their origin only dialects of one and the same tongue. To account
for this fact regarding the languages, ethnologists have formed a
theory as to the origin of the nations speaking them. They suppose
that, in remote ages, a region of Central Asia, somewhere perhaps
to the north of the Hindu Kush, and east from the Sea of Aral, was
occupied by a nation or group of tribes all speaking substantially
the same language. While yet living together in their native seats,
those tribes must have attained a high degree of civilisation, for a
number of terms denoting arts and relations of civilised life are
found to be common to all the nations descended from them. After
a time, this hive of the highest and most improvable type of the
human race began to throw off successive swarms towards the
west. The first swarm formed the Celts, who were the first of this
high race to enter Europe, and who seem at one time to have
occupied the greater part of it. At a considerably later epoch than
the Celts, came the ancestors of the Italians, the Greeks, and the
Teutonic peoples. All these would seem to have made their way to
their new settlements through Persia and Asia Minor, crossing into
Europe by the Hellespont, and partly, perhaps, between the Caspian
and the Black Sea. The stream that formed the Slavonic nations
that is, the Russians, Poles, Servians, &c. is thought to have
taken the route by the north of the Caspian. At a period subse-
quent to the last north-western migration, the remnant of the
primitive stock would seem to have broken up ; part poured south-
wards through the passes of the Himalaya and Hindu Kush into
the Punjab, and became the dominant race in the valley of the
Ganges ; while the rest settled in Persia, and became the Medes and
Persians of history.

It is from these eastern members that the whole family takes its
name. In the most ancient Sanscrit writings (the Veda), the Hindus


style themselves Aryas ; and the name is preserved in the classic
Arii, a tribe of ancient Persia, Aria, the modern Herat, and Ariana,
the name of a district comprehending the greater part of ancient
Persia, and extended by some so as to embrace Bactriana. Ariana,
or Airyana, is evidently an old Persian word, preserved in the
modern native name of Persia, Airan or Iran. Arya, iii Sanscrit,
signifies ' excellent,' ' honourable/ being allied probably to the Greek
ari(stos), the best. Others connect it with the root ar (Lat. arare,
to plough), as if to distinguish a people who were tillers (earers) of
the earth from the purely pastoral Turanians or Turks.

The mother nation dwelling in the basin of the Caspian is, of
course, hypothetical, as are the order and routes of the north-western
migrations. Less uncertainty rests on the relation between the
ancient Persians and the Aryas who migrated to Hindustan. The
Zendavesta, which is to the ancient religion of Persia what the
Vedas are to primitive Hinduism, contains distinct allusions to a
schism between the two branches of the stock while they yet lived
together. The estrangement seems to have arisen from a variety of
causes, social as well as religious. The Iranians, as we may call
the branch that settled in Persia, began to refine and spiritualise the
primitive religious notions common to both parties ; antipathy and
religious hate were the natural result, and led to still greater diver-
gence, until the advanced party came to denounce the old gods as
devils, and the whole system as the source of all evil. It was prob-
ably the strife and warfare consequent on this state of feeling that
drove the conservative Aryas across the Indus, carrying with them
that primitive faith which we have learned to know in the Vedas,
and which their descendants afterwards developed into the vast
system of Brahmanism. Among the Iranians, the religious develop-
ment continued in its original direction, until, in the hands of the
great religious reformer Zoroaster (properly Zarathustra), it became
almost a monotheism, which soon degenerated, however, into dualism.
In this shape it continued to be the religion of Persia until over-
whelmed by Mohammedanism in the middle of the seventh century
A.D. It is represented in modern times by the Parsees, the descend-
ants of those Persians who, escaping from the oppression of the
crescent, settled along the western coast of India.

When we first get a glimpse of the Aryas in India, they are
settled in the Punjab ; from which they seem to have gradually
extended their settlements first along the valley of the Ganges,
and over Central India as far as the Vindhya Mountains. The
immigration probably came in successive swarms, at considerable
intervals of time. They established themselves everywhere as a
conquering race ; their superior energy, both of body and mind,
enabling them to hold the native population in subjection, and
gradually to impose upon them their religious institutions and
their language. The chief modern dialects of Northern India are



undoubted descendants of the ancient Sanscrit ; and the institution
of caste, to be afterwards spoken of, probably originated at the
time when the mass of the population, now represented by the
Siidras, were little better than serfs under a dominant class, whose
superiority and privileges were made permanent by being put
under the sanction of religion. The extension of the Aryas into the
south of India, or the Deccan, seems to have been later ; and there,
although they imbued the people with their religion, their language
made little impression. In the course of generations, the ener-
vating climate of India and intermixture with the original inhabit-
ants could not fail to tell on the conquerors ; their blood became
impure, and they degenerated physically and mentally. And as
with their blood, so it fared with their religion. When a debased
people adopt the religion of a higher race, it is only their old super-
stitions put in a new framework and slightly varnished over ; hence
the wide departure of the Brahmanic system from the primitive
Aryan faith.

The development of Hinduism was greatly affected, no doubt, by
its long conflict with Buddhism, a rival faith which sprang up in the
sixth century before Christ, and by appealing chiefly to the non-
Aryan races, spread widely over India and the adjacent countries.
In the early centuries of the Christian era, it threatened to supplant
Brahmanism in India ; but, from causes not well known, the latter
again acquired the ascendency, Buddhism rapidly declined, and
about the eleventh century A.D. had almost disappeared from the
peninsula. It still prevails in Ceylon, the Eastern Peninsula, China,
Tibet, and other regions of Upper Asia, and its adherents are
estimated at 400 millions, or about a third of the human race ; but
except among the Nepaulese in the extreme north, it has no longer
any nominal adherents in the country of its birth. The Jains, or
Jainas, however, who are found chiefly in Guzerat and other pro-
vinces of the west, and, from their wealth and influence, form an
important section of the population, profess a faith which seems to
be a kind of corrupt Buddhism mixed up with Hinduism ; and
Hinduism itself, as believed and practised by the largest and most
popular sect, the Vaishnavas or worshippers of Vishnu, is believed
to bear traces of Buddhism, as if it had resulted from a compromise
with that faith.

Amid all these successive tides of conquest, civilisation, and con-
version, numerous outstanding groups of the aboriginal inhabitants,
chiefly hill tribes, have remained inaccessible to change, retaining
their original languages and dark superstitions. There is also
everywhere a floating degraded mass, without the rjale of any of the
recognised religious communities. Of the 200 millions, which is
assumed to be the population of Hindustan, Mr Montgomery Martin
estimates this heathen element, as we may call it, at 28 millions ;
the Mohammedans at 12 or 15 millions; the Sikhs at 2 millions;



the Jains at 5 millions ; thus leaving 150 millions as Hindus of the
Brahmanical creed.

Having thus indicated the external history and position of
Hinduism, we proceed to give a sketch of its internal nature and
course of development. Hinduism may be divided into three great
periods, which, for brevity's sake, we will call the Vedic, Epic, and
Puranic periods, as our knowledge of the first is derived from the
sacred books called the Vedaj of the second from the epic poem
called the Rama'yana, and more especially from the great epos, the
Mahabha'rata; while the chief source of our information relative to
the last period is that class of mythological works known under the
name of Pura'nas and Tantras. We purpose first to sketch the
general character of the religion under these three successive phases,
prefacing each sketch by some account of its special literature ; and
then to give such details of the system as seem most characteristic
and instructive.

It may be well, however, at the outset, to guard the reader
against attempting to connect dates with the earlier of the periods
above named. It has not been uncommon for writers on this
subject to assign thousands of years before the Christian era as the
starting-points of various phases of Hindu antiquity; others, more
cautious, have marked the beginnings of certain divisions of Vedic
works with 1200, 1000, 800, and 600 years B.C. The truth is, that
while Hindu literature itself is almost without known dates, owing
either to the peculiar organisation of the Hindu mind, or to the
convulsions of Indian history, the present condition of our know-
ledge of it does not afford the means of speculating with safety on
its chronology. The more cautious Sanscrit scholars, in the actual
state of their science, content themselves with assuming that the
latest writings of the Vedic class are not more recent than the
second century before Christ. They fix a lower limit, and leave the
determination of the upper limit to future research. A like uncer-
tainty hangs over the period at which the two great epic poems of
India were composed, although there is reason to surmise that the
lower limits of that period did not reach beyond the beginning
of the Christian era. The Puranic period, on the other hand, all
scholars are agreed to regard as corresponding with part of our
medieval history.


The Vedas. Veda (from the Sanscrit vtd, know ; kindred with the
Latin vid-, Greek id-, Gothic vait-, English wit, hence, literally,
knowledge) is the name of those ancient Sanscrit works on which
the first period of the religious belief of the Hindus is based. The
oldest of these works and in all probability the oldest literary
document still existing is the Rigveda ; next to it stand the



Yajur-veda and Sdmaveda; and the latest is the Atharvaveda. All
four are considered to be of divinely inspired origin. Each of these
Vedas consists of two distinct divisions a Sa'nhita, or collection of
mantras, or hymns ; and a portion called Bra'hmana.

A mantra (from man, think ; hence, literally, the means by
which thinking or meditation is effected) is a prayer, or else a
thanksgiving addressed to a deity. If such a mantra is metrical,
and intended for loud recitation, it is called Rich (from rich, praise)
whence the name Rigveda, that is, the Veda containing such
praises if it is in prose, and then it must be muttered inaudibly, it
is called Yajus (tromyaj, sacrifice; hence, literally, the means by
which sacrificing is effected); therefore, Yajurveda signifies the
Veda containing such yajus. And if it is metrical, and intended for
chanting, it is termed Saman; whence Samaveda means the Veda
containing such samans. The author of the mantra, or, as the
Hindus would say, the inspired ' seer,' who received it from the
deity, is termed its Rishi (from the obsolete Sanscrit risk, to see).

Bra'hmana. Bra'hmana- derived from brahman, neuter, probably
in the sense of prayer or hymn designates that portion in prose of
the Vedas which contains either commandments or explanations ;
or, in other words, which gives injunctions for the performance of
sacrificial acts, explains their origin, and the occasions on which the
mantras had to be used, by adding sometimes illustrations and
legends, and sometimes also mystical and philosophical speculations.
The Bra'hmana portion of the Vedas is therefore the basis on which
the Vedic ritual rests, and whence the Updnishads (to be afterwards
spoken of) and the philosophical doctrines took their development.

Though mantras and Bra'hmanas were held at a later period of
Hinduism to have existed simultaneously, that is, from eternity, it
is certain that the Bra'hmana portion of each Veda is posterior to
at least some part of its Sa'nhita, for it refers to it ; and it scarcely
requires a remark that so great a bulk of works as that represented
by both portions must have been the gradual result of a considerable
period of time. There is, indeed, sufficient evidence to prove that
various conditions of society, various phases of religious belief, and
even different periods of language, are reflected by them.

It is common to speak of Vedas in the plural ; but, strictly
speaking, there is only one original Veda, namely, the Rig-veda,
and the others are manufactured out of it. A collection of songs
like that of the Rigveda, the product of a time when the forms
of worship were excessively simple, became inadequate for a
regular liturgy of a highly developed and artificial ritual. Out
of this necessity there arose the S&ma- and the Yajur-veda. The
former was entirely made up of extracts from the Rigveda, put
together so as to suit the ritual of the so-called Soma sacrifices.
The origin of the Yajurveda is similar to that of the Samaveda ;
it, too, is chiefly composed of verses taken from the Rigveda ;



but as the sphere of the ritual for which the compilation of this
Veda became necessary is wider than that of the Samaveda,
and as the poetry of the Rigveda no longer sufficed for certain
sacrifices with which this ritual had been enlarged, new mantras
were added to it the so-called Yajus, in prose, which thus became
a distinctive feature of this Veda ; and it is on the Yajurveda, there-
fore, that the orthodox Hindu looked with especial predilection, for
it could better satisfy his sacrificial wants than the Sama-, and still
more, of course, than the Rigveda.

The Atharvaveda, too, is made up in a manner similar to the
Yajurveda, with this difference only, that the additions in it to the
garbled extracts from the Rigveda are more considerable than those
in the Yajurveda. It is avowedly the latest Veda. The Atharvaveda
was not used ' for the sacrifice, but merely for appeasing evil influ-
ences, for insuring the success of sacrificial acts, for incantations,
&c. ;' but on this very ground, and perhaps on account of the
mysteriousness which pervades its songs, it obtained, amongst
certain schools, a degree of sanctity which even surpassed that of
the older Vedas.

The Sa'nhita of the Rigveda consists of 1028 siihtas, or hymns,
containing 10,417 verses ; and the number of words is stated to be
153,826. As for the authorship of the hymns, they are attributed
to certain rishis and families of rishis. On this subject, Dr J. Muir
(Original Sanscrit Texts, Part ii. p. 206) remarks : ' For many ages
the successive generations of these ancient rishis continued to make
new contributions to the stock of hymns, while they carefully pre-
served those which had been handed down to them by their fore-
fathers. The fact of this successive composition of the hymns is
evident from the ancient index to the Rigveda, which shews that
these compositions are ascribed to different generations of the same
families, as their "seers."' The final collection of the hymns into
one body, Dr Muir conceives to have happened thus : 'The descend-
ants of the most celebrated rishis would, no doubt, form complete
collections of the hymns which had been composed by their respec-
tive ancestors. After being thus handed down, with little alteration,
in the families of the original authors for several centuries, during
which many of them were continually applied to the purposes of
religious worship, these hymns, which had been gathering an
accumulated sanctity throughout all this period, were at length
collected in one great body of sacred literature, styled the Sa'nhita
of the Rigveda a work which in the Pura'nas is assigned to Veda-
vyasa and one of his pupils.' A complete translation of the
Rigveda into English was left in manuscript by the late Professor
H. H. Wilson, of which four volumes have already appeared in
print. A translation of the hymns to the Maruts, or storms, has
recently been published by Max M uller, who promises a translation
of the whole Rigveda.



Religious Ideas of the Vedic Period. If the Rigveda coincided
with the beginning of Hindu civilisation, the popular creed of the
Hindus, as depicted in some of its hymns, would reveal not only
the original creed of this nation, but throw a strong light on the
original creed of humanity itself. But the Hindus, as depicted in
these hymns, are far removed from the starting-point of human,
society. Their social condition is not that of a pastoral or nomadic
people, as is sometimes supposed, but, on the contrary, betrays an
advanced stage of civilisation. Frequent allusion is made in them to
towns and cities, to mighty kings, and their prodigious wealth.
Besides agriculture, they mention various useful arts which were
practised by the people, as the art of weaving, of melting precious
metals, of fabricating cars, golden and iron mail, and golden orna-
ments. The employment of the needle and the use of musical
instruments are known to them. They also prove that the Hindus
of that period were not only familiar with the ocean, but sometimes
must have engaged in naval expeditions. They had some knowledge
of medicine, and must have made some advance in astronomical com-
putation, as mention is made of the adoption of an intercalary month,
for the purpose of adjusting the solar and lunar years. Nor were
they unacquainted with the vices of civilisation, for we read in these
hymns of common women, of secret births, of gamblers and thieves.
There is also a curious hymn, from which it would follow that even
the complicated law of inheritance, which is one of the peculiarities
of the existing Hindu law, was to some extent already in use at one
of the periods of the Rigveda hymns.

Yet, in examining the ideas expressed in the greatest number
of the Rigveda hymns, it cannot be denied that they are simple
enough and altogether naive. The Hindu of these hymns is
essentially engrossed by the might of the elements. The powers
which turn his awe into pious subjection and veneration are Agiii,
the fire of the sun and lightning ; Indra, the bright, cloudless firma-
ment ; the Mariits, or winds ; Surya, the sun ; Ushas, the dawn ;
and various kindred manifestations of the luminous bodies, and of
nature in general. He invokes them, not as representatives of a
superior being, before whom the human soul professes its humility ;
not as superior beings themselves, who may reveal to his searching
mind the mysteries of creation or eternity, but because he wants
their assistance against enemies because he wishes to obtain from
them rain, food, cattle, health, and other worldly goods. He com-

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 33 of 58)