The principal changes in religion since Menu are:– The neglect of the principle of monotheism; The neglect of some gods, and the introduction of others; The worship of deified mortals; The introduction (or at least the great increase) of sects, and the attempt to exalt individual gods at the expense of the others; The doctrine that faith in a particular god is more efficacious than contemplation, ceremonial observance, or good works; The use of a new ritual instead of the Vedas; and the religious ascendancy acquired by the monastic orders.
The nature of these changes will appear in an account of the Hindu religion as it now stands, which is essential to an understanding of the ordinary transactions of the people.
There is, indeed, no country where religion is so constantly brought before the eye as in India. Every town has temples of all descriptions, from a shrine, which barely holds the idol, to a pagoda with lofty towers, and spacious courts, and colonnades.
To all these, votaries are constantly repairing, to hang the image with garlands, and to present it with fruits and flowers. The banks of the river, or artificial sheet of water, (for there is no town that is not built on one or other,) has often noble flights of steps leading down to the water, which are covered, in the early part of the day, with persons performing their ablutions, and going through their devotions, as they stand in the stream. In the day, the attention is drawn by the song, or by the graceful figures and flowing drapery of groups of women, as they bear their offerings to a temple.
Parties of Bramins and others pass on similar occasions; and frequently numerous processions move on, with drums and music, to perform the ceremony of some particular holiday. They carry with them images borne aloft on stages, representations of temples, chariots, and other objects, which, though of cheap and flimsy materials, are made with skill and taste, and present a gay and glittering appearance.
At a distance from towns, temples are always found in inhabited places; and frequently rise among the trees on the banks of rivers, in the heart of deep groves, or on the summits of hills. Even in the wildest forests, a stone covered with vermillion, with a garland hung on a tree above it, or a small flag fastened among the branches, apprises the traveller of the sanctity of the spot.
Troops of pilgrims and religious mendicants are
often met on the road; the latter distinguished by the dress of their order, and the pilgrims by bearing some symbol of the god to whose shrine they are going, and shouting out his name or watchword whenever they meet with other passengers. The numerous festivals throughout the year are celebrated by the native princes with great pomp and expense; they afford occasions of display to the rich, and lead to some little show and festivity even among the lower orders.
But the frequent meetings, on days sacred to particular gods, are chiefly intended for the latter class, who crowd to them with delight, even from distant quarters.
Though the religion presented in so many striking forms does not enter, in reality, into all the scenes to which it gives rise, yet it still exercises a prodigious influence over the people; and has little, if at all, declined, in that respect, since the first period of its institution.
The objects of adoration, however, are no longer the same.
The theism inculcated by the Vedas as the true faith, in which all other forms were included, has been supplanted by a system of gross polytheism and idolatry; and, though nowhere entirely forgotten, is never steadily thought of, except by philosophers and divines.
The authors of the Vedas, though they ascended beyond the early worship of the elements and the powers of nature to a knowledge of the real character
of the Divinity, and though anxious to diffuse their own doctrines, did not disturb the popular belief; but, actuated either by their characteristic respect for immemorial usage, or, perhaps, by a regard for the interests of the priesthood (from which the most enlightened Bramin seems never to have been free), they permitted the worship of the established gods to continue, representing them as so many forms or symbols of the real Divinity. At the same time, they erected no temple and addressed no worship to the true God. The consequence was such as was to be expected from the weakness of human nature: the obvious and palpable parts of their religion prevailed over the more abstruse and more sublime: the ancient polytheism kept its ground, and was further corrupted by the introduction of deified heroes, who have, in their turn, superseded the deities from whom they were supposed to derive their divinity.
The scriptures of this new religion are the Puranas, of which there are eighteen, all alleged by their followers to be the works of Vyasa, the compiler of the Vedas; but, in reality, composed by different authors between the eighth and sixteenth centuries, although, in many places, from materials of much more ancient date. They contain theogonies; accounts of the creation; philosophical speculations; instructions for religious ceremonies; genealogies; fragments of history; and innumerable legends relating to the actions of gods, heroes, and sages. Most are written to support the doctrines
of particular sects, and all are corrupted by sectarian fables; so that they do not form a consistent whole, and were never intended to be combined into one general system of belief. Yet they are all received as incontrovertible authority; and, as they are the sources from which the present Hindu religion is drawn, we cannot be surprised to find it full of contradictions and anomalies.
The Hindus, as has been said, are still aware of the existence of a Supreme Being, from whom all others derive their existence, or, rather, of whose substance they are composed; for, according to the modern belief, the universe and the Deity are one and the same. But their devotion is directed to a variety of gods and goddesses, of whom it is impossible to fix the number. Some accounts, with the usual Hindu extravagance, make the deities amount to 330,000,000; but most of these are ministering angels in the different heavens, or other spirits who have no individual name or character, and who are counted by the million.
The following seventeen, however, are the principal ones, and, perhaps, the only ones universally recognised as exercising distinct and divine functions, and therefore entitled to worship343:–
1. Brahma, the creating principle;
2. Vishnu, the preserving principle;
3. Siva, the destroying principle;
With their corresponding female divinities, who are
mythologically regarded as their wives, but, metaphysically, as the active powers which develope the principle represented by each member of the triad; namely, –
6. Parvati, called also Devi, Bhavani, or Durga.
7. Indra, god of the air and of the heavens.
8. Varuna, god of the waters.
9. Pavana, god of the wind.
10. Agni, god of fire.
11. Yama, god of the infernal regions and judge of the dead.
12. Cuvera, god of wealth.
13. Cartikeia, god of war.
14. Cama, god of love.
15. Surya, the sun.
16. Soma, the moon.
17. Ganesa, who is the remover of difficulties, and, as such, presides over the entrances to all edifices, and is invoked at the commencement of all undertakings. To these may be added the planets, and many sacred rivers, especially the Ganges, which is personified as a female divinity, and honoured with every sort of worship and reverence.
The three first of these gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, form the celebrated Hindu triad, whose separate characters are sufficiently apparent, but whose supposed unity may perhaps be resolved into the general maxim of orthodox Hindus, that
all the deities are only various forms of one Supreme Being344.
Brahma, though he seems once to have had some degree of pre-eminence, and is the only one of the three mentioned by Menu345, was never much worshipped, and has now but one temple in India346 though invoked in the daily service, his separate worship is almost entirely neglected347.
His consort, Sereswati, being goddess of learning and eloquence, has not fallen so completely out of notice.
It is far different with Vishnu and Siva. They and their incarnations now attract almost all the religious veneration of the Hindus; the relative importance of each is eagerly supported by numerous votaries; and there are heterodox sects of great extent which maintain the supreme divinity of each, to the entire exclusion of his rival.
Siva is thus described in the Puranas348. “He Siva. wanders about, surrounded by ghosts and goblins, inebriated, naked, and with dishevelled hair, covered with the ashes of a funeral pile, ornamented with human skulls and bones, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying.” The usual pictures of him correspond with these gloomy descriptions, with the addition that he has three eyes, and bears
a trident in one of his hands: his hair is coiled up like that of a religious mendicant; and he is represented seated in an attitude of profound thought. This last particular corresponds with the legends relating to him, which describe him as always absorbed in meditation, and as consuming with the fire of his eye those who dare to disturb him in his state of abstraction. But although these accounts accord so well with his character of destroyer, the only emblem under which he is ever worshipped is intended to mark that destruction as only another name for regeneration.
It is meant for the same symbol of the creative principle that was employed by the ancients; but is, in fact, a low cylinder of stone, which occupies the place of an image in all the temples sacred to Siva, and which suggests no suspicion of its original import. Bloody sacrifices are performed to Siva, though discouraged by the Bramins of his sect; and it is in honour of him, or of his consort, that so many self-inflicted tortures are incurred on certain days in every year. On those occasions, some stab their limbs and pierce their tongues with knives, and walk in procession with swords, arrows, and even living serpents thrust through the wounds; while others are raised into the air by a hook fixed in the flesh of their backs, and are whirled round by a moveable lever, at a height which would make their destruction inevitable, if the skin were to give way349.
The nature of Siva’s occupations does not indicate much attention to the affairs of mankind; and, according to the present Hindu system, there is no god particularly charged with the government of the world; the Supreme Being, out of whose substance it is formed, taking no concern in its affairs: but the opinion of the vulgar is more rational than that of their teachers; they mix up the idea of the Supreme Being with that of the deity who is the particular object of their adoration, and suppose him to watch over the actions of men, and to reward the good and punish the wicked both in this world and in the next.
The heaven of Siva is in the midst of the eternal snows and glaciers of Keilas, one of the highest and deepest groups of the stupendous summits of Hemalaya.
His consort, Devi or Bhavani, is at least as much an object of adoration as Siva; and is represented in still more terrible colours. Even in the milder forms in which she is generally seen in the south of India, she is a beautiful woman, riding on a tiger, but in a fierce and menacing attitude, as if advancing to the destruction of one of the giants, against whom her incarnations were assumed. But in another form, occasionally used every where, and seemingly the favourite one in Bengal, she is represented with a black skin, and a hideous and terrible countenance, streaming with blood, encircled with snakes, hung round with skulls and human heads, and in all respects resembling a fury
rather than a goddess. Her rites in those countries correspond with this character. Human sacrifices were formerly offered to her350; and she is still supposed to delight in the carnage that is carried on before her altars. At her temple, near Calcutta, 1000 goats, besides other animals, are said to be sacrificed every month351. At Bindabashni, where the extremity of the Vindya hills approaches the Ganges, it used to be the boast of the priests that the blood before her image was never allowed to dry.
In other respects the worship of Devi does not differ much from that of the other gods; but it sometimes assumes a form that has brought suspicion or disgrace on the whole of the Hindu religion. I allude to the secret orgies, which have often been dwelt on by the missionaries, and the existence of which no one has ever attempted to deny. On those occasions, one sect of the worshippers of Devi, chiefly Bramins, (but not always, for with this sect all cast is abolished,) meet in parties of both sexes, to feast on flesh and spirituous liquors,. and to indulge in the grossest debauchery. All this is rendered doubly odious by being performed with some semblance of the ceremonies of religion; but it is probably of rare occurrence, and is all done with the utmost secrecy; the sect by which it is tolerated is scarcely ever avowed, and is looked on with horror and contempt by all the orthodox
Hindus. Besides these votaries of Devi, and entirely unconnected with her worship, there are some few among the varieties of religious mendicants who consider themselves above all law, and at liberty to indulge their passions without incurring sin. These add to the ill repute of the religion of the Hindus; and it is undeniable, that a strain of licentiousness and sensuality mixes occasionally with every part of their mythology; but it is confined to books and songs, and to temples and festivals, which do not fall under every one’s observation. A stranger might live among them for years, and frequent their religious ceremonies and private companies, without seeing any thing indecent; and their notions of decorum, in the intercourse of persons of different sexes, is carried to a pitch of strictness which goes beyond what is consistent with reason or with European notions.
To return to the gods of the Hindus: Vishnu is represented as a comely and placid young man, of a dark azure colour, and dressed like a king of ancient days. He is painted also in the forms of his ten principal incarnations, which I may mention to illustrate the genius of Hindu fiction.
The first was that of a fish, to recover the Vedas which had been carried away by a demon in a deluge; another was that of a boar, who raised on his tusks the world, which had sunk to the bottom of the ocean; and another was a tortoise, that supported a mountain in one of the most famous legends. The fourth had rather more of human
interest. An infidel tyrant was about to put his son to death for his faith in Vishnu. In his last interview, he asked him, in derision of the omnipresence of his favourite divinity, whether he was in that pillar, pointing to one of those that supported the hall. The son answered that he was; and the incensed father was about to order his execution, when Vishnu, in the shape of a man, with the head and paws of a lion, burst from the pillar and tore him to pieces. The fifth was, when a-kink, by force of sacrifices and austerities, had acquired such a power over the gods that they were compelled to surrender to him the earth and sea, and were waiting in dread till the conclusion of his last sacrifice should put him in possession of the heavens. On this occasion Vishnu presented himself as a Bramin dwarf, and begged for as much ground as he could step over in three paces: the Raja granted his request, with a smile at his diminutive stature; when Vishnu at the first step strode over the earth; at the second, over the ocean; and no space being left for the third, he released the Raja from his promise, on condition of his descending to hell. The sixth incarnation is Paris Ram, a Bramin hero, who made war on the Cshetrya, or military class, and extirpated the whole race. The seventh was Rama. The eighth was Balla Rama, a hero who delivered the earth from giants. The ninth was Budha, a teacher of a false religion, whose form Vishnu assumed for the purpose of deluding the enemies of the gods: a character
which plainly points to the religion of Budha, so well known as the rival of that of the Bramins. The tenth, is still to come. But all his other forms are thrown into the shade by the incarnations of Rama and Crishna, who have not only eclipsed their parent Vishnu, in Hindostan at least, but have superseded the worship of the old elementary gods, and indeed of all other gods, except Siva, Surya, and Ganesa352. Rama, thus identified with Rims. Vishnu by the superstition of his admirers, was a king of Oud, and is almost the only person mentioned in the Hindu traditions whose actions have something of a historical character. He is said to have been at first excluded from his paternal kingdom, and to have passed many years in religious retirement in a forest. His queen, Sita, was carried off by the giant Ravana; for her sake he led an army into the Deckan, penetrated to the island of Ceylon, of which Ravana was king, and recovered Sita, after a complete victory over her ravisher. In that expedition his allies were an army of monkeys, under the command of Hunman, whose figure is frequently seen in temples, and who, indeed, is at least as much worshipped in the Deckan as Rama or any of the other gods. Rama’s end, however, was unfortunate; for, having, by his imprudence, caused the death of his brother Lachmen, who had shared with him in all his dangers and successes, he threw himself, in despair,
into a river, and, as the Hindus say, was reunited to the Divinity. He still, however, retains his individual existence, as is shown by the separate worship so generally paid to him. Rama is represented in his natural form, and is an object of general adoration.
But in this respect he falls far short of the popularity of another deified mortal, whose pretensions are by no means so obvious either as a king or a conqueror. He was born of the royal family of Mattra, on the Jamna; but brought up by a herdsman in the neighbourhood, who concealed him from a tyrant who sought his life353. This is the period which has made most impression on the Hindus, who are never tired of celebrating Crishna’s frolics and exploits as a child – his stealing milk, and his destroying serpents; and among whom there is an extensive sect which worships him under his infant form, as the supreme creator and ruler of the universe. Crishna excites equal enthusiasm, especially among his female worshippers, in his youth, which he spent among the gopis, or milkmaids, dancing, sporting, and playing on the pipe; and captivated the hearts, not only of his rural companions, but of the princesses of Hindostan, who had witnessed his beauty354.
As he advanced in years he achieved innumerable
adventures, and, among the rest, subdued the tyrant, and recovered his inheritance; but, being IV. pressed by foreign enemies, he removed his residence to Dwarika, in Guzerat355. He afterwards appeared as an ally of the family of Pandu, in their war with their relations the Curus356, for the sovereignty of Hastinapur; a place supposed to be north-east of Delhi, and about forty miles from the point where the Ganges enters Hindostan.
This war forms the subject of the great Hindu heroic poem, the “Maha Bharat,” of which Crishna is, in fact, the hero. It ended in the success of the Pandus, and in the return of Crishna to his capital in Guzerat. His end also was unfortunate; for he was soon involved in civil discord, and at last was slain by the arrow of a hunter, who shot at him by mistake, in a thicket357.
Crishna is the greatest favourite with the Hindus of all their divinities. Of the sectaries who revere Vishnu, to the exclusion of the other gods, one sect almost confine their worship to Rama; but though composed of an important class, as including many of the ascetics, and some of the boldest speculators in religious inquiry, its numbers and popularity bear no proportion to another division
of. the Vaishnava sect, which is attached to the worship of Crishna.
This comprises all the opulent and luxurious, almost all the women, and a very large proportion of all ranks of the Indian society358.
The greater part of these votaries of Crishna maintain that he is not an incarnation of Vishnu, but Vishnu himself, and likewise the eternal and self-existing creator of the universe359.
These are the principal manifestations of Vishnu; but his incarnations or emanations, even as acknowledged in books, are. innumerable; and they are still more swelled by others in which he is made to appear under the form of some local saint or hero, whom his followers have been disposed to deify.
The same liberty is taken with other gods: Candoba, the great local divinity of the Marattas, (represented as an armed horseman,) is an incarnation of Siva360; and the family of Bramins at Chinchor, near Puna, in one of whose members godhead is hereditary, derive, their title from an incarnation or emanation of Ganesa361.
Even villages have their local deities, which are often emanations of Siva or Vishnu, or of the corresponding goddesses. But all these incarnations are insignificant, when compared to the
great ones of Vishnu, and above all to Rama and Crishna.
The wife of Vishnu is Lakshmi. She has no temples; but, being goddess of abundance and of fortune, she continues to be assiduously courted, and is not likely to fall into neglect.
Of the remaining gods, Ganesa and Surya (the sun) are the most generally honoured.
They both have votaries who prefer them to all other gods, and both have temples and regular worship. Ganesa, indeed, has probably more temples in the Deckan than any other god except Siva. Surya is represented in a chariot, with his head surrounded by rays.
Ganesa, or Ganpatti, is a figure of a fat man, with an elephant’s head.
None of the remaining nine of the gods enumerated have temples, though most of them seem to have had them in former times362. Some have an annual festival, on which their image is made and worshipped, and next day is thrown into a stream; others are only noticed in prayers363. Indra, in particular, seems to have formerly occupied a much more distinguished place in popular respect than he now enjoys. He is called the Ruler of Heaven and the King of Gods, and was fixed on by an eminent orientalist as the Jupiter of the Hindus364; yet is now but seldom noticed.
Cama, also, the god of love, has undergone a similar fate. He is the most pleasing of the Hindu divinities, and most conformable to European ideas of his nature. Endowed with perpetual youth and surpassing beauty, he exerts his sway over both gods and men. Brahma, Vishnu, and even the gloomy Siva, have been wounded by his flowery bow and his arrows tipped with blossoms. His temples and groves make a distinguished figure in the tales, poems, and dramas of antiquity365; but he now shares in neglect and disregard with the other nine, except Yama, whose character of judge of the dead makes him still an object of respect and terror.
Each of these gods has his separate heaven, and his peculiar attendants. All are mansions of bliss of immense extent, and all glittering with gold and jewels.
That of Indra is the most fully described; and, besides the usual profusion of golden palaces adorned with precious stones, is filled with streams, groves, and gardens, blooms with an infinity of flowers, and is perfumed by a celestial tree, which grows in the centre, and fills the whole space with its fragrance.
It is illumined by a light far more brilliant than that of the sun; and is thronged with Apsaras and Gandarvas (heavenly nymphs and choristers). Angels of many kinds minister to the inhabitants,
who are unceasingly entertained with songs and dances, music, and every species of enjoyment.
Besides the angels and good genii that inhabit the different heavens, there are various descriptions of spirits spread through the rest of the creation.
The Asuras are the kindred of the gods, disinherited and cast into darkness, but long struggling against their rivals; and bearing a strong resemblance to the Titans of the Grecian mythology.
The Deityas are another species of demon, strong enough to have mustered armies and carried on war with the gods366.
The Rakshasas are also gigantic and malignant beings; and the Pisachas are of the same nature, though perhaps inferior in power. Bhutas are evil spirits of the lowest order, corresponding to our ghosts and other goblins of the nursery; but in India believed in by all ranks and ages.
A most extensive body of divinities is still to be noticed; although they are not individually acknowledged except in confined districts, and although the legality of their worship is sometimes denied by the Bramins. These are the village gods, of which each village adores two or three, as its especial guardians; but sometimes as its dreaded persecutors and tormentors. They bear some resemblance to the penates or lares of the Romans; and, like them, they are sometimes the
recognised gods of the whole nation (either in their generally received characters, or in local incarnations); but much oftener they are the spirits of deceased persons, who have attracted the notice of the neighbourhood.
They have seldom temples or images, but are worshipped under the form of a heap of earth.
It is possible that some of them may be ancient gods of the Sudras, who have survived the establishment of the Bramin religion367.
Such is the outline of the religion of the Hindus. To give a conception of its details, it would be necessary to relate some of the innumerable legends of which their mythology is composed, – the churning of the ocean by the gods and asuras, for the purpose of procuring the nectar of immortality, and the subsequent stratagem by which the gods defrauded their coadjutors of the prize obtained; the descent of the Ganges from heaven on the invocation of a saint; its falling with violence on the head of Siva, wandering for years amidst his matted locks, and tumbling at last to the earth, with all its train of fishes, snakes, turtles, and crocodiles; the production of Ganesa, without a father, by the intense wishes of Devi; his temporary slaughter by Siva, who cut off his head
and afterwards replaced it with that of an elephant, the first that came to hand in the emergency; – such narratives, with the quarrels of the gods, their occasional loves and jealousies; their wars with men and demons; their defeats, flights, and captivity; their penances and austerities for the accomplishment of their wishes; their speaking weapons; the numerous forms they have assumed, and the delusions with which they have deceived the senses of those whom they wished to injure; – all this would be necessary to show fully the religious opinions of India; but would occupy a space for which the value of the matter would be a very inadequate compensation.
It may be sufficient to observe, that the general character of these legends is extravagance and incongruity. The Greek gods were formed like men, with greatly increased powers and faculties, and acted as men would do if so circumstanced; but with a dignity and energy suited to their nearer approach to perfection. The Hindu gods, on the other hand, though endued with human passions, have always something monstrous in their appearance, and wild and capricious in their conduct. They are of various colours, – red, yellow, and blue; some have twelve heads, and most have four hands. They are often enraged without a cause, and reconciled without a motive. The same deity is sometimes powerful enough to destroy his enemies with a glance, or to subdue them with a wish; and at other times is obliged
to assemble numerous armies to accomplish his purpose, and is very near failing after all368.
The powers of the three great gods are coequal and unlimited; yet are exercised with so little harmony, that, in one of their disputes, Siva cuts off one of Brahma’s heads369. Neither is there any regular subordination of the other gods to the three, or to each other. Indra, who is called the King of Heaven and has been compared to Jupiter, has no authority over any of the rest. These and more incongruities arise, in part, from the desire of different sects to extol their favourite deity; but, as the Puranas are all of authority, it is impossible to separate legends founded on those writings from the general belief of all classes. With all this there is something in the gigantic scale of the Hindu gods, the original character of their sentiments and actions, and the peculiar forms in which they are clothed, and splendour with which they are surrounded, that does not fail to make an impression on the imagination.
The most singular anomaly in the Hindu religion is the power of sacrifices and religious austerities. Through them a religious ascetic can inflict the severest calamities, even on a deity, by his curse; and the most wicked and most impious of mankind may acquire such an ascendancy over the gods as to render them the passive instruments
of his ambition, and even to force them to submit their heavens and themselves to his sovereignty. Indra, on being cursed by a Bramin, was hurled from his own heaven, and compelled to animate the body of a cat370. Even Yama, the terrible judge of the dead, is said, in a legend, to have been cursed for an act done in that capacity, and obliged to undergo a transmigration into the person of a slave371.
The danger of all the gods from the sacrifices of one king has appeared in the fifth incarnation of Vishnu; another king actually conquered the three worlds, and forced the gods, except the three chief ones, to fly and to conceal themselves under the shapes of different animals372; while a third went still further, and compelled the gods to worship him373.
These are a few out of numerous instances of a similar nature; all, doubtless, invented to show the virtue of ritual observances, and thus increase the consequence and profits of the Bramins. But these are rather the traditions of former days, than the opinions by which men are now actuated in relation to the Divinity. The same objects which were formerly to be extorted by sacrifices and austerities are now to be won by faith. The followers of this new principle look with scarcely disguised contempt on the Vedas, and all the devotional exercises there enjoined. As no religion
ever entirely discards morality, they still inculcate purity of life, and innocence if not virtue; but the sole essential is dependence on the particular god of the sect of the individual teacher. Implicit faith and reliance on him make up for all deficiencies in other respects; while no attention to the forms of religion, or to the rules of morality, are of the slightest avail without this all-important sentiment. This system is explained and inculcated in the Bhagwat Gita, which Mr. Colebrooke regards as the text-book of the school.
It is an uncommon, though not exclusive, feature in the Hindu religion, that the gods enjoy only a limited existence: at the end of a cycle of prodigious duration, the universe teases to exist; the triad and all the other gods lose their being; and the Great First Cause of all remains alone in infinite space. After the lapse of ages, his power is again exerted; and the whole creation, with all its human and divine inhabitants, rises once more into existence.
One can hardly believe that so many rude and puerile fables, as most of those above related, are not the relics of the earliest and most barbarous times; but even the sacred origin of the Christian religion did not prevent its being clouded, after the decay of learning, with superstitions proportionately as degrading; and we may therefore believe, with the best informed orientalists, that the Hindu system once existed in far greater purity, and has sunk into its present state along
with the decline of all other branches of knowledge.
In the above observations I have abstained from all reference to the religion of other countries. It is possible that antiquarians may yet succeed in finding a connection, in principles or in origin, between the mythology of India and that of Greece or of Egypt; but the external appearances are so different, that it would quite mislead the imagination of the reader to attempt to illustrate them by allusions to either of those superstitions.
It only remains to say a few words on the belief of the Hindus relating to a future state. Their peculiar doctrine, as is well known, is transmigration; but they believe that, between their different stages of existence, they will, according to their merits, enjoy thousands of years of happiness in some of the heavens already described, or suffer torments of similar duration in some of their still more numerous hells. Hope, however, seems to be denied to none: the most wicked man, after being purged of his crimes by ages of suffering and by repeated transmigrations, may ascend in the scale of being, until he may enter into heaven, and even attain the highest reward of all the good, which is incorporation in the essence of God.
Their descriptions of the future states of bliss and penance are spirited and poetical. The good, as soon as they leave the body, proceed to the abode of Yama, through delightful paths, under the shade of fragrant trees, among streams covered with the lotos.
Showers of flowers fall on them as they pass; and the air resounds with the hymns of the blessed, and the still more melodious strains of angels. The passage of the wicked is through dark and dismal paths; sometimes over burning sand, sometimes over stones that cut their feet at every step: they travel naked, parched with thirst, covered with dirt and blood, amidst showers of hot ashes and burning coals: they are terrified with frequent and horrible apparitions, and fill the air with their shrieks and wailing374. The hells to which they are ultimately doomed are conceived in the same spirit, and described with a mixture of sublimity and minuteness that almost recalls the “Inferno.”
These rewards and punishments are often well apportioned to the moral merits and demerits of the deceased; and they no doubt exercise considerable influence over the conduct of the living. But, on the other hand, the efficacy ascribed to faith, and to the observance of the forms of devotion, and the facility of expiating crimes by penances, are, unfortunately, prevailing characteristics of this religion, and have a strong tendency to weaken its effect in supporting the principles of morality.
Its indirect influence on its votaries is even more injurious than these defects. Its gross superstition debases and debilitates the mind; and its exclusive view to repose in this world, and absorption hereafter,
destroys the great stimulants to virtue afforded by love of enterprise and of posthumous fame. Its usurpations over the provinces of law and science tend to keep knowledge fixed at the point to which it had attained at the time of the pretended revelation by the Divinity; and its interference in the minutiae of private manners extirpates every habit and feeling of free agency, and reduces life to a mechanical routine. When individuals are left free, improvements take place as they are required; and a nation is entirely changed in the course of a few generations without an effort on the part of any of its members; but when religion has interposed, it requires as much boldness to take the smallest step, as to pass over the innovations of a century at a stride; and a man must be equally prepared to renounce his faith and the communion of his friends, whether he merely makes a change in his diet, or embraces a whole body of doctrines, religious and political, at variance with those established among his countrymen.
It is within its own limits that it has been least successful in opposing innovation. The original revelation, indeed, has not been questioned; but different degrees of importance have been attached to particular parts of it, and different constructions put on the same passages; and as there is neither a ruling council nor a single head to settle disputed points, and to enforce uniformity in practice, various sects have sprung up, which differ from each other both in their tenets and their practice.
There are three principal sects375: the Saivas (followers of Siva), the Vaishnavas (followers of Vishnu), and the Saktas (followers of some one of the Saktis; that is, the female associates or active powers of the members of the triad).
Each of these sects branches into various subordinate ones, depending on the different characters under which its deity is worshipped, or on the peculiar religious and metaphysical opinions which each has grafted on the parent stock. The Saktas have three additional divisions of a more general character, depending on the particular goddesses whom they worship. The followers of Devi (the spouse of Siva), however, are out of all comparison more numerous than both the others put together.
Besides the three great sects, there are small ones, which worship Surya and Gunesa respectively; and others which, though preserving the form of Hinduism, approach very near to pure deism.
The Sikhs (who will be mentioned hereafter) have founded a sect involving such great innovations, that it may almost be regarded as a new religion.
It must not be supposed that every Hindu belongs to one or other of the above sects. They, on the contrary, are alone reckoned orthodox
who profess a comprehensive system opposed to the exclusive worship of particular divinities, and who draw their ritual from the Vedas, Puranas, and other sacred books, rejecting the ceremonies derived from other sources. To this class the apparent mass of the Braminical order, at least, still belongs376. But probably, even among them, all but the more philosophical religionists have a bias to one or the other of the contending divinities; and the same may be said more decidedly of all such of the lower casts as are not careless of every thing beyond the requisite ritual observances. It has been remarked that incarnations of Vishnu are the principal objects of popular predilection. In all Bengal and Hindostan it is to those incarnations that the religious feelings of the people are directed; and, though the temples and emblems of Siva are very common, the worshippers are few, and seem inspired with little veneration.
Siva, it appears, has always been the patron god of the Bramin class, but has never much excited the imaginations of the people377. Even where his sect ostensibly prevails, the great body of the inhabitants are much more attracted by the human feelings and interesting adventures of Rama and Crishna. The first of the two is the great object of devotion (with the regular orders at least) on the banks of the Jamna and the north-western part of the Ganges; but Crishna prevails, in his
turn, along the lower course of the Ganges378, and all the centre and west of Hindostan379. Rama, however, is every where revered; and his name, twice repeated, is the ordinary salutation among all classes of Hindus.
The Saivas, in all places, form a considerable portion of the regular orders: among the people they are most numerous in the Mysore and Maratta countries. Further south, the Vaishnavas prevail; but there the object of worship is Vishnu, not in his human form of Rama or Crishna, but in his abstract character, as preserver and ruler of the universe380. Saktas, or votaries of the female divinity, are mixed with the rest; but are most numerous in particular places. Three fourths of the population of Bengal worship goddesses, and most of them Devi381.
In most of these instances the difference of sects, though often bitter, is not conspicuous. Europeans are seldom distinctly aware of their existence, unless they have learned it from the writings of Mr. Colebrooke, Mr. Wilson, or Dr. Hamilton Buchanan. Even the painted marks on the forehead, by which each man’s sect is shown, although the most singular peculiarity of the Hindu dress, have failed to convey the information they are designed for, and have
been taken for marks of the cast, not the sect, of the wearer.
Persons desirous of joining a sect are admitted by a sort of initiation, the chief part of which consists in whispering by the guru (or religious instructor) of a short and secret form of words, which so far corresponds to the communication of the gayatri at the initiation of a Bramin.
The sects are of very different degrees of antiquity.
The separate worship of the three great gods and their corresponding goddesses is probably very ancient382; but when the assertion of the supremacy of one or other began (in which the peculiarity of the present sects consists) is not so clear. It is probably much more modern than the mere separate worship of the great gods.
It seems nearly certain that the sects founded on the worship of particular incarnations, as Rama, Crishna, &c., are later than the beginning of the eighth century of the Christian aera383.
The number of sects has, doubtless, been increased
by the disuse of the Vedas, the only source from which the Hindu religion could be obtained in purity.
The use of those scriptures was confined to the three twice-born classes, of which two are now regarded as extinct, and the remaining one is greatly fallen off from its original duties. It may have been owing to these circumstances that the old ritual was disused, and a new one has since sprung up, suited to the changes which have arisen in religious opinion.
It is embodied in a comparatively modern collection of hymns, prayers, and incantations, which, mixed with portions of the Vedas, furnishes now what may be called the Hindu service384. It is exhibited by Mr. Colebrooke, in three separate essays, in the fifth and seventh volumes of the “Asiatic Researches.”
The difference between the spirit of this ritual and that of which we catch occasional views in Menu is less than might have been expected. The long instructions for the forms of ablution, meditation on the gayatri, &c., are consistent with the religion of the Vedas, and might have existed in Menu’s time, though he had no occasion to mention them. The objects of adoration are in a great measure the same, being deities of the elements and powers of nature. The mention of Crishna is, of course, an innovation; but it occurs seldom.
Among other new practices are meditations on Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, in their corporeal form; and, above all, the frequent mention of Vishnu with the introduction of the text “Thrice did Vishnu step, &c.,” a passage in the Vedas, which seems to imply an allusion to the fifth incarnation385, and, perhaps, owes the frequent introduction of it to the paucity of such acknowledgments.
Mr. Colebrooke avowedly confines himself to the five sacraments which existed in Menu’s time; but there is a new sort of worship never alluded to in the Institutes, which now forms one of the principal duties of every Hindu. This is the worship of images, before whom many prostrations and other acts of adoration must daily be performed, accompanied with burning incense, offerings of flowers and fruits, and sometimes of dressed victuals. Many idols are also attired by their votaries, and decorated with jewels and other ornaments, and are treated in all respects as if they were human beings.
The Hindu ceremonies are numerous, but far from impressive; and their liturgy, judging from the specimen afforded by Mr. Colebrooke, though not without a few fine passages, is in general tedious and insipid. Each man goes through his daily devotions alone, in his own house, or at any temple, stream, or pool that suits him; so that the want of interest in his addresses to the divinity
is not compensated by the effect of sympathy in others.
Although the service (as it may be termed) is changed, the occasions for using it remain the same as those formerly enumerated from Menu. The same ceremonies must be performed, from conception to the grave; and the same regular course of prayers, sacrifices, and oblations must be gone through every day. More liberty, however, is taken in shortening them than was recognised in Menu’s Code, however it might have been in the practice of his age.
A strict Bramin, performing his full ceremonies, would still be occupied for not less than four hours in the day. But even a Bramin, if engaged in worldly affairs, may perform all his religious duties within half an hour; and a man of the lower classes contents himself with repeating the name of his patron deity while he bathes386.
The increase of sects is both the cause and consequence of the ascendancy of the monastic orders. Each of these is in general devoted to some particular divinity, and its importance is founded on the veneration in which its patron is held. They therefore inculcate faith in that divinity as the means of attaining all wishes and covering all sins; and, in addition to this, they claim for themselves through life an implicit submission from their followers, such as the Bramin
religious instructor in Menu required from his pupil during his period of probation alone.
To this is to be ascribed the encroachments which those orders have made on the spiritual authority of the Bramins, and the feelings of rivalry and hostility with which the two classes regard each other.
The Bramins, on their part, have not failed to profit by the example of the Gosayens, having taken on themselves the conduct of sects in the same manner as their rivals. Of the eighty-four Gurus (or spiritual chiefs) of the sect of Ramanuj, for instance, seventy-nine are secular Bramins387.
The power of these heads of sects is one of the most remarkable innovations in the Hindu system. Many of them in the south (especially those of regular orders) have large establishments, supported by grants of land and contributions from their flock. Their income is chiefly spent in charity, but they maintain a good deal of state, especially on their circuits, where they are accompanied by elephants, flags, &c., like temporal dignitaries, are followed by crowds of disciples, and are received with honour by all princes whose countries they enter. Their function is, indeed, an important one, being no less than an inspection of the state of morals and cast, involving the duties and powers of a censor388.
There are two other religions, which, although distinct from that of the Hindus, appear to belong to the same stock, and which seem to have shared with it in the veneration of the people of India, before the introduction of an entirely foreign faith by the Mahometans.
These are the religions of the Baudhas (or worshippers of Budha) and the Jains.
They both resemble the Bramin doctrines in their character of quietism, in their tenderness of animal life, and in the belief of repeated transmigrations, of various hells for the purification of the wicked, and heavens for the solace of the good. The great object of all three is, the ultimate attainment of a state of perfect apathy, which, in our eyes, seems little different from annihilation; and the means employed in all are, the practice of mortification and of abstraction from the cares and feelings of humanity.
The differences from the Hindu belief are no less striking than the points of resemblance, and are most so in the religion of the Baudhas.
The most ancient of the Baudha sects entirely denies the being of God; and some of those which admit the existence of God refuse to acknowledge him as the creator or ruler of the universe.
According to the ancient atheistical sect, nothing exists but matter, which is eternal. The power of organisation is inherent in matter; and although
the universe perishes from time to time, this quality restores it after a period, and carries it on towards new decay and regeneration, without the guidance of any external agent.
The highest rank in the scale of existence is held by certain beings called Budhas, who have raised themselves by their own actions and austerities, during a long series of transmigrations in this and former worlds, to the state of perfect inactivity and apathy which is regarded as the great object of desire.
Even this atheistical school includes intelligence and design among the properties inherent in every particle of matter; and another sect389 endeavours to explain those qualities more intelligibly by uniting them in one, and, perhaps, combining them with consciousness, so as to give them a sort of personality; but the being formed by this combination remains in a state of perpetual repose, his qualities operating on the other portions of matter without exertion or volition on his part.
The next approach to theism, and generally included in that creed, is the opinion that there is a Supreme Being390, eternal, immaterial, intelligent, and also endued with free will and moral qualities; but remaining, as in the last-mentioned system, in a state of perpetual repose. With one division of those who believe in such a Divinity, he is the sole eternal and self-existing principle; but another
division associates matter with him as a separate deity, and supposes a being formed by the union of the other two to be the real originator of the universe.
But the action of the Divinity is not, in any theory, carried beyond producing by his will the emanation of five (or some say seven) Budhas from his own essence; and from these Budhas proceed, in like manner, five (or seven) other beings called Bhodisatwas, each of whom, in his turn, is charged with the creation of a world.
But so essential is quiescence to felicity and perfection, according to Budhist notions, that even the Bhodisatwas are relieved as much as possible from the task of maintaining their own creations. Some speculators, probably, conceive that each constitutes the universe according to laws which enable it to maintain itself; others suppose inferior agents created for the purpose; and, according to one doctrine, the Bhodhisatwa of the existing world produced the well-known Hindu triad, on whom he devolved his functions of creating, preserving, and destroying.
There are different opinions regarding the Budhas, who have risen to that rank by transmigrations. Some think with the atheistical school that they are separate productions of nature, like other men, and retain an independent existence after arriving at the much desired state of rest; while the other sects allege that they are emanations from the Supreme Being, through some of the other
Budhas or Bhodisatwas, and are ultimately rewarded by absorption into the divine essence.
There have been many of these human Budhas in this and former worlds391; but the seven last are particularly noticed, and above all the last, whose name was Gotama or Sakya, who revealed the present religion, and established the rules of worship and morality; and who, although long since passed into a higher state of existence, is considered as the religious head of the world, and will continue so until he has completed his allotted period of five thousand years.
Beneath this class of Budhas are an infinite number of different degrees, apparently consisting of mere men who have made approaches towards the higher stages of perfection by the sanctity of their lives.
Besides the chain of Budhas, there are innumerable other celestial and terrestrial beings, some original, and others transferred, unchanged, from the Hindu Pantheon392.
The Budhists of different countries differ in many particulars from each other. Those of Nepal seem most imbued with the Hindu superstitions, though even in China, the general character of the religion is clearly Indian.
The theistical sect seems to prevail in Nepal393, and the atheistical to subsist in perfection in Ceylon394.
In China, M. Abel Remusat considers the atheistical to be the vulgar doctrine, and the theistical to be the esoteric395.
The Baudhas differ in many other respects from the Bramins: they deny the authority of the Vedas and Puranas; they have no cast; even the priests are taken from all classes of the community, and bear much greater resemblance to European monks than to any of the Hindu ministers of religion. They live in monasteries, wear a uniform yellow dress, go with their feet bare and their heads and beards shaved, and perform a constant succession of regular service at their chapel in a body; and, in their processions, their chaunting,
their incense, and their candles bear a strong resemblance to the ceremonies of the Catholic church396. They have nothing of the freedom of the Hindu monastic orders; they are strictly bound to celibacy, and renounce most of the pleasures of sense397; they eat together in one hall; sleep sitting in a prescribed posture, and seem never allowed to leave the monastery, except once a-week, when they march in a body to bathe398, and for part of every day, when they go to beg for the community, or rather to receive alms, for they are not permitted to ask for anything399. The monks, however, only perform service in the temples attached to their own monasteries, and to them the laity do not seem to be admitted, but pay their own devotions at other temples, out of the limits of the convents.
Nunneries for women seem also, at one time, to have been general.
The Baudha religionists carry their respect for animal life much further than the Bramins: their priests do not eat after noon, nor drink after dark, for fear of swallowing minute insects; and they carry a brush on all occasions, with which they
carefully sweep every place before they sit down, lest they should inadvertently crush any living creature. Some even tie a thin cloth over their mouths to prevent their drawing in small insects with their breath400. They differ from the Bramins in their want of respect for fire, and in their veneration for relics of their holy men; a feeling unknown to the Hindus. Over these relics (a few hairs, a bone, or a tooth) they erect those solid cupolas, or bell-shaped monuments, which are often of stupendous size, and which are so great a characteristic of their religion.
The Budhas are represented standing upright, but more generally seated cross-legged, erect, but in an attitude of deep meditation, with a placid countenance, and always with curled hair.
Besides the temples and monuments, in countries where the Baudhas still subsist, there are many magnificent remains of them in India.
The most striking of these are cave temples, in the Peninsula. Part of the wonderful excavations of Ellora are of this description; but the finest is at Carla, between Pima and Bombay, which, from its great length and height, the colonnades which run along the sides like aisles, and the vaulted and ribbed roof, strongly recalls the idea of a Gothic church401.
The Baudhas have a very extensive body of literature, all on the Bramin model, and all originally from India402. It is now preserved in the local dialects of various countries, in many of which the long-established art of printing has contributed much to the diffusion of books.
Pali, or the local dialect of Maghada, (one of the ancient kingdoms on the Ganges, in which Sakya or Gotama flourished,) seems to be the language generally used in the religious writings of the Baudhas, although its claim to be their sacred language is disputed in favour of Shanscrit and of other local dialects springing from that root.
The Jains hold an intermediate place between the followers of Budha and Brahma403.
They agree with the Baudhas in denying the existence, or at least the activity and providence, of God; in believing the eternity of matter; in the worship of deified saints; in their scrupulous care of animal life, and all the precautions which it leads to; in their having no hereditary priest.. hood; in disclaiming the divine authority of the Vedas; and in having no sacrifices, and no respect for fire.
They agree with the Baudhas also in considering a state of impassive abstraction as supreme
felicity, and in all the doctrines which they hold in common with the Hindus.
They agree with the Hindus in other points; such as division of cast. This exists in full force in the south and west of India; and can only be said to be dormant in the north-east; for, though the Jains there do not acknowledge the four classes of the Hindus, yet a Jain converted to the Hindu religion takes his place in one of the casts; from which he must all along have retained the proofs of his descent; and the Jains themselves have numerous divisions of their own, the members of which are as strict in avoiding intermarriages and other intercourse as the four classes of the Hindus404.
Though they reject the scriptural character of the Vedas, they allow them great authority in all points not at variance with their religion. The principal objections to them are drawn from the bloody sacrifices which they enjoin, and the loss of animal life which burnt-offerings are liable (though undesignedly) to occasion405.
They admit the whole of the Hindu gods, and worship some of them; though they consider them as entirely subordinate to their own saints, who are therefore the proper objects of adoration.
Besides these points common to the Bramins or
Baudhas, they hold some opinions peculiar to themselves. The chief objects of their worship are a limited number of saints, who have raised themselves by austerities to a superiority over the gods, and who exactly resemble those of the Baudhas in appearance and general character, but are entirely distinct from them in their names and individual histories. They are called Tirtankaras: there are twenty-four for the present age, but twenty-four also for the past, and twenty-four for the future.
Those most worshipped are, in some places, Rishoba406; the first of the present Tirtankaras, but every where Parasnath and Mahavira, the twenty-third and twenty-fourth of the number407. As all but the two last bear a fabulous character in their dimensions and length of life, it has been conjectured, with great appearance of truth, that these two are the real founders of the religion. All remain alike in the usual state of apathetic beatitude, and take no share in the government of the world408.
Some changes are made by the hips in the rank and circumstances of the Hindu gods. They give no preference to the greater gods of the Hindus; and they have increased the number of gods, and added to the absurdities of the system409:
thus they have sixty-four Indras, and twenty-two Devis.410
They have no veneration for relics, and no monastic establishments. Their priests are called Jatis; they are of all casts, and their dress, though distinguishable from that of the Bramins, bears some resemblance to it. They wear very large loose white mantles, with their heads bare, and their hair and beard clipped; and carry a black rod and a brush for sweeping away animals. They subsist by alms. They never bathe, perhaps in opposition to the incessant ablutions of the Bramins.
The Jain temples are generally very large and handsome; often flat roofed, and like private houses, with courts and colonnades; but sometimes resembling Hindi), temples, and sometimes circular and surrounded by colossal statues of the Tirtankaras411. The walls are painted with their peculiar legends, mixed, perhaps, with those of the Hindus. Besides images, they have marble altars, with the figures of saints in relief; and with impressions of the footsteps of holy men; a memorial which they have in common with the Baudhas.
By far the finest specimen of Jain temples of the Hindu form are the noble remains in white marble on the mountain of Abu, to the north of
Guzerat. There are Jain caves also, on a great scale, at Ellora, Nassik, and other places, and there is, near Chinraipatan, in the Mysore, a statue of one of the Tirtankaras, cut out of a rock, which has been guessed at different heights, from fifty-four feet to seventy feet.
The Jains have a considerable body of learning, resembling that of the Bramins, but far surpassing even the extravagance of the Braminical chronology and geography; increasing to hundreds of millions what was already sufficiently absurd at millions. Their sacred language is Magadi or Pali.
A question has arisen which of the three religions above described was first established in India. It resolves itself into a discussion of the claims of those of Budha and Brahma. Admitting the common origin of the two systems, which the similarity of the fundamental tenets would appear to prove, the weight of the arguments adduced appears to lean to the side of the Bramins412; and an additional reason may perhaps be drawn from the improbability that the Baudha system could ever have been an original one.
A man as yet unacquainted with religious feelings would imbibe his first notions of a God from the perception of powers superior to his own. Even if the idea of a quiescent Divinity could enter his mind, he would have no motive to adore it, but
would rather endeavour to propitiate the sun, on which he depended for warmth, or the heavens, which terrified him with their thunders. Still less would he commence by the worship of saints; for sanctity is only conformity to religious notions already established; and a religion must have obtained a strong hold on a people before they would be disposed to deify their fellows for a strict adherence to its injunctions; especially if they neither supposed them to govern the world, nor to mediate with its ruler.
The Hindu religion presents a more natural course. It rose from the worship of the powers of nature to theism, and then declined into scepticism with the learned, and man worship with the vulgar.
The doctrines of the Sankya school of philosophers seem reflected in the atheism of the Baudha; while the hero worship of the common Hindus, and their extravagant veneration for religious ascetics, are much akin to the deification of saints among the Baudhas. We are led, therefore, to suppose the Bramin faith to have originated in early times, and that of Budha to have branched off from it at a period when its orthodox tenets had reached their highest perfection, if not shown a tendency to decline.
The historical information regarding these religions tends to the same conclusion. The Vedas are supposed to have been arranged in their present form about the fourteenth century before
Christ, and the religion they teach must have made considerable previous progress; while that of Budha lays no claim to a higher antiquity than the twelfth century before Christ; scarcely one even of its most zealous advocates goes beyond the tenth or eleventh century before Christ, and the best authenticated accounts limit it to the sixth.
All the nations professing the religion of Budha concur in referring its origin to India413. They unite in representing the founder to have been a Sakya Muni or Gotama, a native of Capila, north of Gorakpur. By one account he was a Cshetrya, and by others the son of a king. Even the Hindus confirm this account, making him a Cshetrya, and son to a king of the solar race. They are not so well agreed about the date of his appearance; the Indians, and the people of Ava, Siam, and Ceylon, fix near the middle of the sixth century before Christ414, an epoch which is borne out by various particulars in the list of kings of Magada.
The Cashmirians, on the other hand, place Sakya 1332 years before Christ; the Chinese, Mongols, and Japanese about 1000; and of thirteen Tibetian authors referred to in the same “Oriental Magazine,” four give an average of 2959; and nine of 855415; while the great religious work of Tibet, by asserting that the general council held by Asoca was 110 years after Budha’s death416, brings down that event to less than 400 years before Christ, as Asoca will be shown, on incontestable evidence, to have lived less than 800 years before our aera417.
One Chinese author also differs from the rest, fixing 688 years before Christ418; and the Chinese and Japanese tables, which make the period of Sakya’s eminence 999 years before Christ, say that it occurred during the reign of Ajata Satru, whose place in the list of Magada kings shows him to have lived in the sixth century before Christ.
These discrepancies are too numerous to be removed by the supposition that they refer to an earlier and a later Budha; and that expedient is also precluded by the identity of the name, Sakya, and of every circumstance in the lives of the persons to whom such different dates are assigned. We must, therefore, either pronounce the Indian
Baudhas to be ignorant of the date of a religion which arose among themselves, and at the same Iv. time must derange the best established part of the Hindu chronology; or admit that an error must have occurred in Cashmir or Tibet, through which places it crept into the more eastern countries, when they received the religion of Budha many centuries after the death of its founder. As the latter seems by much the most probable explanation, we may safely fix the death of Budha about 550 B.C.
The Indian origin of the Baudhas would appear, independently of direct evidence, from the facts that their theology, mythology, philosophy, geography, chronology, &c. are almost entirely of the Hindu family; and all the terms used in those sciences are Shanscrit. Even Budha (intelligence), and Adi Budha (supreme intelligence), are well-known Shanscrit words.
We have no precise information regarding the early progress of this religion. It was triumphant in Hindostan in the reign of Asoca, about the middle of the third century before Christ419. It was introduced by his missionaries into Ceylon in the end of the same century420.
It probably spread at an early period into Tartary and Tibet, but was not introduced into China
until AD 65, when it was brought direct from India, and was not fully established till AD 310421.
The progress of its decline in its original seat is recorded by a Chinese traveller, who visited India on a religious expedition in the first years of the fifth century after Christ422. He found Budhism flourishing in the tract between China and India, but declining in the Panjab, and languishing in the last stage of decay in the countries on the Ganges and Jamna. Capila, the birthplace of Budha, was ruined and deserted, – “a wilderness untenanted by man.” His religion was in full vigour in Ceylon, but had not yet been introduced into Java, which island was visited by the pilgrim on his return by sea to China.
The religion of Budha afterwards recovered its importance in some parts of India. Its adherents were refuted, persecuted, and probably chased from the Deckan, by Sancara Acharya, in the eighth or ninth century, if not by Camarilla, at an earlier period; but they appear to have possessed sovereignty in Hindostan in the eighth century, and even to have been the prevailing sect at Benares as late as the eleventh century423, and in the north of Guzerat as late as the twelfth century of our aera424.
They do not now exist in the plains of India, but their religion is the established one in Ceylon, and in some of the mountainous countries to the north-east of the provinces on the Ganges. Budhism is also the faith of the Burman empire, of Tibet, of Siam, and all the countries between India and China. It is very general in the latter country, and extends over a great part of Chinese and Russian Tartary; so that it has been said, with apparent truth, to be professed by a greater portion of the human race than any other religion.
The Jains appear to have originated in the sixth or seventh century of our era; to have become conspicuous in the eighth or ninth century; got to the highest prosperity in the eleventh, and declined after the twelfth425. Their principal seats seem to have been in the southern parts of the peninsula, and in Guzerat and the west of Hindostan. They seem never to have had much success in the provinces on the Ganges.
They appear to have undergone several persecutions by the Bramins, in the south of India, at least426.
The Jains are still very numerous, especially in Guzerat, the Rajput country and Canara; they are generally an opulent and mercantile class; many of them are bankers, and possess a large proportion of the commercial wealth of India427.
343. Kennedy’s Researches into the Hindoo Mythology, p. 357.
344. Kennedy’s Researches, p. 211. Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. p. 279.
345. Kennedy’s Researches, p. 270.
346. Tod’s Rajasthan, vol. i. p. 774.
347. Ward on the Hindoos, vol. iii. p. 26.
348. Quoted in Kennedy’s Researches, p. 291.
349. Ward’s Hindoos, vol. iii. p. 15.; and Bishop Heber’s Journal, vol. i. p. 77.
350. Mr. Blaquiere, Asiatic Researches, vol. v. p. 371.
351. Ward’s Hindoos, vol. iii. p. 126.
352. Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. p. 280.; Wilson, Ibid. vol. xvi. pp. 4. 20.
353. Tod’s Rajasthan, vol. i. p. 533.
354. See Sir W. Jones, Asiatic Researches, vole i. p. 259.; and the translation by the same elegant scholar of the song of Jaya Deva, which, in his hands, affords a pleasing specimen of Hindu pastoral poetry, Ibid. vol. iii. p. 185.
355. Abstract of the “Maha Bharat,” in Ward’s Hindoos, vol. iii. p. 148.; Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. am. p. 101.; Colonel Wilford, Ibid. vol. vi. p. 508.
356. Ward, vol. iii. p. 148.
357. Tod, on the authority of a Hindu history, Rajasthan, vol. i. p. 50.
358. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. pp. 85, 86.
359. Ibid. vol. xvi. p. 86, &c.
360. Mr. Coats’s Bombay Transactions, vol. iii. p. 198.
361. Colebrooke, Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. p. 282.; Captain Moore, Ibid. vol. vii. p. 381.
362. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 20.
363. Ward’s Hindoos, vol. iii. p. 28, &c.
364. Sir W. Jones, Asiatic Researches, vol. i. p. 241.
365. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 20.
366. See in particular the legend of Jhalandara, Kennedy’s Researches, p. 456.
367. Dr. Hamilton Buchanan paid much attention to this subject in his survey of certain districts in Bengal and Behar. He found the village gods were generally spirits of men of the place who had died violent deaths; often of Bramins who had killed themselves to resist or revenge an injury. – MSS. at the India House, published in part by Mr. Montgomery Martin.
368. Story of Shiva and Jhalandara, Kennedy’s Researches, p. 456.
369. Kennedy’s Researches, p. 295.; and Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 4. note.
370. Ward, vol. iii. p. 31.
371. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 58.
372. Kennedy’s Researches, p. 368.
373. Ward, vol. iii. p. 75.
374. Ward on the Hindoos, vol. iii. p. 374.
375. Almost the whole of the following statements regarding the sects are taken from Professor Wilson’s essays on that subject, in vols. xvi. and xvii. of the “Asiatic Researches.”
376. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 2.
377. Ibid. vol. xvii. p. 169.
378. Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 52.
379. Tod’s Rajasthan.
380. Buchanan MSS. at the India House. These may be either the strictly orthodox Hindus, or followers of Ramanuj.
381. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 210. 221.
382. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 218. The same gentleman points out a convincing proof of the early worship of the spouse of Siva. A temple to her, under her title of Comari (from which the neighbouring promontory, Cape Comorin, derives its name,) is mentioned in the “Periplus,” attributed to Arrian, and probably written in the second century of our aera.
383. They are not mentioned in a work written in the eleventh century, but professing to exhibit the tenets of the different sects at the time of Sancara Acharya, who lived in the eighth century. – Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 14.
384. Ward’s Hindoos, vol. ii. p. 362.
385. See page 172.
386. Ward on the Hindoos.
387. Buchanan’s Journey, vol. i. p. 144.; vol. ii. pp. 74, 75.
388. Ibid. vol. i. p. 21., and other places.
389. The Prajnikas.
390. Called Adi Budha, or supreme intelligence.
391. Mr. Hodgson (Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 446.) gives a list of 130 Budhas of the first order.
392. The above account of the Baudha tenets is chiefly taken from the complete and distinct view of that religion given by Mr. Hodgson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 435–445.; but I have also consulted his “Proofs, &c.” and his other papers in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society of London, and in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta; as well as those of M. Abel Remusat, in the Journal des Savans for 1831, and in the Nouveau Journal Asiatique for the same year; those of M. Csoma di Koros, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta; those of M. Joinville and Major Mahony in vol. vii. of the Asiatic Researches; together with Professor Wilson’s observations in his history of Cashmir (Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi.), and in his account of the Jains (vol. xvii.); and likewise the answers of Baudha priests in Upham’s Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon, vol. iii.
393. Mr. Hodgson.
394. See answers to questions in Upham, vol. iii. I presume these answers may be depended on, whatever may be the case with the historical writings in the same work.
395. Journal des Savans for November, 1831.
396. Mr. Davis, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. ii. p. 491.; Turner’s Tibet.
397. Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. iii. p. 273.
398. Mr. Davis, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. p. 495.; and Knox, Ibid. vol. iii. p. 277.
399. Captain Mahoney, Asiatic Researches, vol. vii. p. 42.; and Mr. Knox, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. iii. p. 277.
400. The laity eat animal food without restraint; even the priests may eat it if no animal is killed on their account.
401. The distinctions between the Baudhas and Hindus are mostly from an essay by Mr. Erskine, Bombay Transactions, vol. iii. p. 503, &c.
402. Mr. Hodgson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvi. p. 433.; Dr. Buchanan, Ibid. vol. vi. p. 194. 225., and other places.
403. The characteristics of the Jains, as compared with the Baudhas and Bramins, are mostly taken from Mr. Erskine, Bombay Transactions, vol. iii. p. 506.
404. De la Maine, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. i. p. 413.; Colebrooke, Ibid. vol. i. p. 549.; Buchanan, Ibid. vol. i. p. 531, 532.; Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 239.
405. Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 248.
406. De la Maine, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. i. p. 424.
407. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 248.
408. Ibid. vol. xvii. p. 270.
409. Ibid. vol. xvii. p. 270.
410. De la Maine, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. i. p. 422.
411. There is a magnificent one of this description near Ahmedabad, built under ground, and said to have been designed for concealed worship during the persecution by the Hindus.
412. The arguments on both sides are summed up by Mr. Erskine, Bombay Transactions, vol. iii. p. 497.
413. For the Chinese, see De Guignes, Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions, vol. xl. p. 187, &c.; Abel Remusat, Journal des Savans for November, 1831; and the Summary in the Nouveau Journal Asiatique, vol. vii. pp. 239, 240.; and likewise the Essay in the next month, p. 241. For the Mongols, see M. Klaproth, Nouveau Journal Asiatique, vol. vii., especially p. 182. and the following pages. For Ceylon, see Turnour’s Mahawanso, with which the scriptures of Ava and Siam are identical. (Introduction, p. xxx.) For Tibet, see M. Csoma de Koros, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, vol. i. p. 1.
414. See Tumour’s Mahawanso; Chronological Table from Crawford’s Embassy to Ava (given in Prinsep’s Useful Tables, p. 132.); see also Useful Tables, pp. 77, 78.
415. See their various dates in the “Oriental Magazine,” vol. iv. pp. 106, 107.; and Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xv. p. 92.
416. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, vol. i. p. 6.
417. See p. 264, &c.
418. De Guignes, Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions, vol. xl. p. 195.
419. See Turnour’s Mahawanso, and translations of contemporary inscriptions in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta for February, 1838.
420. In 307 B.C. Turnour’s Mahawanso, Introduction, p. xxix., and other places.
421. De Guignes, Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions, vol. xl. p. 251, 252.; and Histoires des Huns, vol. i. part ii. pp. 235, 236.
422. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, No. IX. p. 108, &c., particularly p. 139.
423. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 282.
424. Mr. Erskine, Bombay Transactions, vol. iii. p. 533., with Major Kennedy’s note.
425. Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 289.
426. Buchanan, vol. i. p. 81.
427. Tod’s Rajasthan, vol. i. p. 518.; Professor Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xvii. p. 294. See also Buchanan’s Journey, vol. iii. pp. 19. 76–84. 131. 410.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage