1902 Encyclopedia > India > Indian History: 2. Primitive Hinduism

(Part 17)


2. Primitive Hinduism

We have seen that India may be divided into three regions. Two of these, the Himálayas in the north and the three-sided table-land in the south, still form the retreats of the non-Aryan tribes. The third, or the great river plains, became in very ancient times the theatre on which a nobler race worked out its civilization.

That race belonged to the splendid Aryan or Indo-Germanic stock, from which the Bráhman, the Rájput, and the Englishman alike descend. Its earliest home seems to have been in Central Asia. From this common campaign-ground certain branches of the race-started for the east, other fro the west. One of the western offshoots founded the Persian kingdom; another built Athens and Lacedaemon, and became the Greek nation; a third went on to Italy, and reared the city on the seven hills which grew into imperial a Rome. A distant colony of the same race excavated the silver-ores of prehistoric Spain; and, when we first catch a sight of ancient England, we see an Aryan settlement fishing in willow canoes, and working the tinmines of Cornwell. Meanwhile other branches of the Aryan stock has gone forth from the primitive home in Central Asia to the east. Powerful brands found their way through the passes of the Himálayans into the Punjab, and spread themselves, chiefly as Bráhmans and Rájputs, over India.

The Aryan offshoots to the east and to the west alike asserted their superiority over the earlier peoples how they found in possession of the soil. The history of ancient Europe is the story of the Aryan settlements around the shores of the Mediterranean; and that wide term, modern civilization, merely means the civilization of the western branches of the same race. The history and development of India consist of the history and development of the eastern offshoots of the Aryan stock who settled in that land. In the west, the Aryan speech has supplied the modern languages of Europe, America, and England’s island empires in the southern Pacific. In the east, Hinduism and Buddhism, the religions of the Indian branch of the Aryans, have become the faiths of more than one-half of the whole human race, and spread Aryan though and culture throughout Asia to the utmost limits of China and Japan.

We know little regarding these noble Aryan tribes in their early camping-ground in central Asia. From words preserved in the languages of their long-separated descendants in European and India, scholars infer that they roamed over the grassy steppers with their cattle, making long halts to rear crops of grain. They had tamed most of the domestic animals, were acquainted with some metals, understood the arts of weaving and sewing, wore clothes, and ate cooked food. They lived the hardy life of the temperate zone, and the feeling of cold seems to be one of the earliest common remembrances of the eastern and the western branches of the race. Ages afterwards, when the Vedic singers in hot India prayed for long life, they asked for "a hundred winters." The forefathers of the Greek and the Roman, of the Englishman and the Hindu, dwelt together in Asia, spoke the same tongue, worshipped the same gods. The languages of Europe an India, although at first sight they seem wide apart, are merely different forms of the original Aryan speech. This is especially true of the common words of family life. The names for father, mother, brother, sister, and widow are the same in most of the Aryan languages, whether spoken on the banks of the Ganges, of the Tiber, or of the Thames. Thus the word daughter, which occurs in nearly all of them, has been derived from two Sanskrit roots meaning "to draw milk," and preserves the memory of the time when the daughter was the little milk-maid in the primitive Aryan household.

The ancient religions of Europe and India had a similar origin. They were to some extent made up of the sacred stories or myths which our common ancestors had learned while dwelling together in Central Asia. Some of the Vedic gods were also the gods of Greece and Rome; and to this day the Deity is adored by names derived from the same old Aryan root by Bráhmans in Calcutta, by Protestant clergymen at Westminister, and by catholic priests in Peru.

The Vedic hymns exhibit the India branch of the Aryans on its march to the south-east and in its new homes. The earliest songs disclose the race still to the north of the Khyber Pass, in Cabul; the later ones bring it as far as the Ganges. Their victorious advance east-wards through the intermediate tract can be traced in the Vedic writings almost step by step. One of their famous settlements lay between the two sacred rivers, the Saraswati and the Drishadvati,—supposed to be the modern Sarsuti near Thánesar, in the Punjab, and the Ghaggar, a day’s march from it. That fertile strip of land, not more than 60 miles long by 20 broad, was fondly remembered by them as their Holy Land, "fashioned of God, and chosen by the Creator." As their numbers increased, they pushed eastwards along the base of the Himálayns, into what they afterwards called the Land of the Sacred Singers (Bráhmarshidesha). Their settlements practically included the five rivers of the Punjab, together with the other great river-system formed by the upper course of the Jumna and the Ganges. In them the Vedic hymns were composed; an the steady supply of water led the Aryans to settle down from their old state of wandering pastoral tribes into communities of husbandmen. The Vedic poets praised the rivers which enabled them to make this great change—perhaps the most important step in the progress of a race. "May the Indus," they sang, "the far-famed giver of wealth, hear us,—(fertilizing our) broad fields with water." The Himálayans, through whose passes they had reached India, and at whose southern base they long dwelt made a lasting impression on their memory. The Vedic singer praised "Him whose greatness the snowy ranges, and the sea, and the aerial river declare." In all its long wandering through India the Ryan race never forgot its northern home. There dwelt its gods and holy singers, and their eloquence descended from heaven among men.

The Rig-Veda forms the great literary memorial of the early Aryan settlements in the Punjab. The age of this venerable hymnal is unknown. The Hindus believe, without evidence, that it existed "from before all time," or at least 3001 years B.C,—nearly 5000 years ago. European scholars have inferred from astronomical dates that its composition was going on about 1400 B.C. But these dates are themselves given in writings of later origin, and might have been calculated backwards. We only know that the Vedic religion had been at work long before the rise of Buddhism in the 6th century B.C. Nevertheless, the antiquity of the Rig-Veda, although not to be expressed in figures, is abundantly established. The earlier hymns exhibit the Aryans on the north-western frontiers of India just starling on their long journey. Before the embassy of the Greek Megathenes, at the end of the 4th century B.C., they had spread their influence as far as the delta of Lower Bengal, 1500 miles distant. At the time of the Periplus the southernmost point of India had become a seat of their worship. "What a series of centuries must have elapsed," writes Weber, "before this boundless tract of country, inhabited by wild and vigorous tribes, could have been brought over to Bráhmanism!"

The Bráhmans declare that the Vedic hymns were directly inspired by God. Indeed, in our own times, the great inspired by God. Indeed, in our times, the great theistic church of Bengal, which rejects Bráhmanical teaching, was rent into two sects on the question of the divine authority of the Veda. As a matter of fact, the hymns were composed by certain families of Rishis or psalmists, some of whose names are preserved. The Rig-Veda is a very old collection of 1017 of these short lyrical poems, chiefly addressed to the gods, and containing 10,580 verses. They show us the Aryans on the banks of the Indus, divided into various tribes, sometimes at war with each other, sometimes united against the "black-skinned" aborigines. Caste, in its later sense, is unknown. Each father of a family is the priest of his own household. The chieftain acts as father and priest to the tribe; but at the greater festivals he chooses some one specially learned in holy offerings to conduct the sacrifice in the name of the people. The chief himself seems to have been elected; and his title of Vís-pati, literally "Lord of the Settlers," survives in the old Persian Vis-paiti, and as the Lithuanian Wiéz-patis in central Europe at this day. Women enjoyed a high position, and some of the most beautiful hymns were composed by ladies and queens. Marriage was held sacred. Husband and wife were both "rulers of the house" (dampatí), and drew near to the gods together in prayer. The bruning of widows on their husbands’ funeral-pile was unknown, and the verses in the Veda which the Bráhmans afterwards distorted into a sanction for the practice have the very opposite meaning. "Rise, woman," says the sacred text to the mourner: "came to the world of life. Come to us. Thou hast fulfilled they duties as a wife to they husband."

The Aryan tribes in the Veda are acquainted with most of the metals. They have blacksmiths, coppersmiths, and goldsmiths among them, besides carpenters, barbers, and other artisans. They fight from chariots, and freely use the horse, although not yet the elephant, in war. They have settled down as husbandmen, till their fields with the plough, and live in villages or towns. But they also cling to their old wandering life, with their herds and "cattlepens." Cattle, indeed, still form their chief wealth, the coin (Latin, pecunia) in which payments of fines are made; and one of their words for war literally means "a desire for cows." They have learned to build "ship," perhaps large river-boats, and seem to have heard something of the sea. Unlike the modern Hindus, the Aryans of the Veda ate beef, used a fermented liquor or beer made from the soma plant, and offered the same strong meat and drink to their gods. Thus the stout Aryans spread eastwards through northern India, pushed on from behind by latter arrivals of their own stock, and driving before them, or reducing to bondage, the earlier "black-skinned" races. They marched in whole communities from one river-valley to another, each house-father a warrior, husbandman, and priest, with his wife, and his little ones, and cattle.

These free-hearted tribes had great trust in themselves and their gods. Like other conquering races, they believed that both themselves and their deities were altogether superior to the people of the land and their poor rude objects of worship. Indeed, this noble self-confidence is a great aid to the success of a nation. Their divinities—in Sanskrit, Devalta, literally "the Shining Ones"—were the great powers of nature. They adore the Father-heaven, (Dyaush-pitar, the Dies-piter or Jupiter of Rome, the Zues of Greece, the Low German Duus, and, through the old French god-demon Dus-ius, the Deuce of English slang), together with Mother-earth, and the encompassing Sky (Varuna in Sanskrit, Uranus in Latin, Ouranos in Greek). Indra, or the aqueous vapour that brings each autumn the precious rain on which plenty or famine still depends, received the largest number of hymns. By degrees, as the settlers realized more and more keenly the importance of the periodical rains in their new life as husbandmen, he became the chief of the Vedic gods. "The gods do not reach unto thee, O Indra, nor men; thou overcomest all creatures in strength." Agni, the God of fire (latin igmi-s), ranks perhaps next to Indra in the number of hymns addressed to him as "the youngest of the gods." "the lords and giver of wealth." The Maruts are the Storm Gods, "who make the rocks to tremble, who tear in pieces the forest." Ushas, "the High-born Dawn" (Greek, Eos), "shines upon us like a young wife, rousing every living being to go forth to his work." The Asvins, or "Fleet Outriders" of the Dawn, are the first rays of sunrise, "Lords of Lustre." The Sun himself (Súrjya), the Wind (Váyu), the Friendly Day (Mita), the animating fermented juice of the sacrificial Plant (Soma) and many others, are invokes in the Veda,—in all about thirty-three gods, "who are eleven in heaven, eleven on earth, and eleven dwelling in glory in mid-air."

The terrible blood-drinking deities of modern Hinduism are scarcely known in the Veda. Buffaloes are indeed offered; and one hymn points to a symbolism based on human sacrifices, an early practice apparently extinct before the time of the Vedic singers. The great horse sacrifice was substituted for the flesh and blood of a man. But, as a whole, the hymns are addressed to bright, friendly god. Rudra, who was destined to become the Siva of the Hindus, and the third person, or Destroyer in their Triad, is only the god of Roaring Tempests in the Veda; Vishnu, the second person, or Preserver, in the Hindu Triad, is but slightly known as the deity of the Shining Firmament; while Brahman, the first person, or Creator, has no separate existence in these simple hymns. The names of the dreadful Mahádeva, Dúrga, Kálí, and of the gentler Krishna and Ráma, are equally unknown in the Rig-Veda.

While the aboriginal races buried their dead under rude stone monuments, the Aryan—alike in India, in Greece, and in Italy—made use of the funeral-pile as the most solemn method of severing the mortal from the immortal part of man. As he derived his natural birth from his parents, and a partial regeneration, or second birth, from the performance of his religious duties, so the fire, by setting free the soul from the body, completed the third or heavenly birth. His friends stood round the pyre as round a natal bed, and commanded his eye to go to the sun, his breath to the wind, his limbs to the earth,—the water and plants whence they had been derived. But "as for his unborn part, do thou, Lord (Agni), quicken it with thy heat; let they flame and thy brightness quicken it; convey it to the world of the righteous." The doctrine of transmigration was unknown. The circle round the funeral-pile sang with an assurance that their friend went direct to a state of blessedness and reunion with the loved ones who had gone before.

The hymns of the Rig-Veda were composed, was we have seen, by the Aryans in their colonies along the Indus, and on their march eastwards towards the Jumna and upper ganges. The growing numbers of the settlers, and the arrival of fresh Aryan tribes from behind, still compelled them advance. From the Land of the Sacred Singers Manu described them as spreading through "The Middle Land" (Madhyadesha), comprising the whole river systems of Upper India as far east as Oudh and Allahábád, with the Himálayas as its northern and the Vindhyá ranges as its southern boundary. The conquest of the vast new tracts thus included seems not to have commenced till the close of the Rig-Vedic era, and it must have been the work of many generations. During this advance the simple faith of the Rig-Vedic singers was first adorned with stately rites, and then extinguished beneath them. The race progressed from a loose confederacy of tribes into several well-knit nations, each bound together by the strong central force of kingly power, directed by a powerful priesthood and organized on a firm basis of caste. See SANSKRIT.

Whence arose this new constitution of the Aryan tribes into nations, with castes, priests, and kings? We have seen that, although in their earlier colonies on the Indus each father was priest in his family, yet the chieftain, or lord of the settlers, called in some man specially learned in holy offerings to conduct the great tribal sacrifices. Such men were highly honoured, and the famous quarrel which runs throughout the whole Veda sprang from the claims of two rival sages, Vashishtha and Visvámitra, to perform one of these ceremonies. The art of writing was unknown, and the hymns and sacrificial words had to be handed down by word of mouth from father to son. It thus happened that the families who learned them by heart became, as it were, the hereditary owners of the liturgies required at the most solemn offerings to the gods. Members of these households were chosen again and again to conduct the tribal sacrifices, to chant the battle-hymn, to implore the divine aid, or to pray away the divine wrath. Even the Rig-Veda recognizes the importance of these sacrifices. "That king," says a verse, "before whom marches the priest, he alone dwells well-established in his own house, to him the people bow down. The king who gives wealth to the priest, he will conquer, him the gods will protect." The tribesmen first hoped, then believed, that a hymn or prayer which had once acted successfully, and been followed by victory, would again produce the same results. The hymns became a valuable family property for those who had composed or learned them. The Rig-Veda tells how the prayer of Vashishtha prevailed "in the battle of the ten kings," and how that of Visvámitra "preserves the tribe of the Bhárats." The potent prayer was termed bráhma, and he who offered it bráhman. Woe to all who despised either! "Whosoever," says the Rig-Veda, "scoffs at the prayer (bráhman) which we have made, may hot plagues come upon him, may the sky burn up that hater of Bráhmans" (bráhma-dvísh). Certain families thus came to have, not only an hereditary claim to conduct the great sacrifices, but also the exclusive knowledge of the ancient hymns, or at any rate of the traditions which explained their symbolical meaning. They naturally tried to render the ceremonies solemn and imposing. By degrees a vast array of ministrants grew up around each of the greater sacrifices. There were first the officiating priests and their assistants, who prepared the sacrificial ground, dressed the alter, slew the victims, and poured out the libations; second, the chanters of the Vedic hymns; third, the reciters of other parts of the service, fourth, the superior priests, who watched over the whole and corrected any mistakes.

Meanwhile other castes had been gradually formed. As the Aryans moved eastwards from the Iodus, some of the warriors were more fortunate than others, or received larger shares of the conquered lands. Such families had not to till their fields with their own hands, but could leave that work to be done by the aboriginal races whom they subdued. In this way there grew up a class of warriors, freed from the labour of husbandry, who surrounded the chief or king, and were always ready for battle. It seems likely that these kinsmen and "companions of the king" formed an important class among the early Aryan tribes in India, as they certainly did among the ancient branches of the race in European, and still do at the petty courts of India. Their old Sanskrit names, Kshattriya, R janya, and Rájbansi, mean "connected with the royal power," or "of the royal line"; their usual modern name Rájput means "of royal descent." In process of time, when the Aryans settled down, not as mere fighting clans, but as powerful nations, in the middle land along the Jumna and Ganges, this warrior class grew in numbers and in power. The black races had been reduced to serfdom, or driven back into the Himálayas and the Vindhyás, on the north and the south of that fertile tract. The incessant fighting, which had formed the common lot of the tribes on their actual migration eastwards from the Indus, ceased. A section of the people laid aside their arms, and devoted themselves to agriculture or other peaceful pursuits. The sultry heats of the Middle Land must also have abated their old northern energy, and led them to love repose. Those who, from family ties or from personal inclination, preferred a soldier’s life had to go beyond the frontier to find an enemy. Distant expeditions of this sort could be undertaken much less conveniently by the husbandman, than in the ancient time, when his field lay on the very border of the enemy’s country, and had just been wrested from it. Such expeditions required and developed a class of regular soldiers whose presence was not constantly needed at home for tilling the land. The old warrior companions and kinsmen of the king formed a nucleus round which gathered all the more daring spirits, and laid the foundation of a military caste. The Aryans on the Ganges , in the "Middle Land," thus found themselves divided into three classes—first, the priest, or Bráhmans; second, the warriors and king’s companions, called in ancient times Kshattriyas, at the present day Rájputs; third, the husbandmen, or agricultural settlers, who retained the old name of Vaisyas, from the root vis, which in the Vedic period had included the whole "people." These three classes gradually became distinct castes; intermarriage between them ceased, and each kept more and more strictly to its hereditary employment. But they were all recognized as belonging to the "twice-born" or Aryan race, were all present at the great national sacrifices, and all worshipped the same bright gods. Beneath them was a fourth or servile class, called Súdras, the remnants of the vanquished aboriginal tribes whose lives had been spared. These were "the slave-bands of black descent," the Dásas of the Veda. They were distinguished from their "twice-born" Aryan conquerors as being only "one-born," and by many contemptuous epithets. They were not allowed to be present at the great national sacrifices, nor at the feats which followed them. They could never rise from their servile condition, and to them was assigned the severest toil in the fields, and all the hard and dirty work of the village community. Of the four Indian castes, three had a tendency to increase. As the Aryan conquests spread, more aboriginal tribes were reduced to serfdom as Súdras. The warriors, or Kshattriyas, would constantly receive addition from the more wealthy or enterprising members of the cultivating class. When an expedition or migration went for a time lead a military life, and their sons would probably all regard themselves as Kshattriyas. In ancient times entire tribes, and at the present day the mass of the population throughout large tracts, thus claim to be of the warrior of Rájput caste. Moreover, the kings and chief fighting-men of aboriginal races who, without being conquered by the Aryans, entered into alliance with them, would likely assume names of the warrior of Kshattriya rank. We see this process going on before our eyes among many of the aboriginal peoples. The Bráhmans, in their turn, seem at first to have received into their body distinguished families of Kshattriyan descent. In later times, too, we find that sections of aboriginal races were "manufactured" into Bráhmans. The Vaisya or cultivating caste did not tend in this manner to increase. No one felt ambitious to win his way into it, except perhaps the poor Súdras, to whom any charge of condition was forbidden. The Vaisyas themselves tended in early times to rise into the more honourable warrior class, and at a later period to be mingled with the labouring multitude of Súdras and mixed descent. In many provinces they have almost disappeared as a distinct caste from the modern population. In ancient India, as at the present day, the three conspicuous castes were (1) the priests and (2) warriors, of Aryan birth, and (3) the serfs or Súdras, the remnants of earlier races. The Kshattriyas or Rájputs, at any rate in some parts of India, seem to represent a quite separate ethical movement from that of the Bráhmans—that is to say, either a different Aryan migration into India, or an altogether distinct race of perhaps Scythic origin. The Súdras had no rights, and, once conquered, ceased to struggle against their fate. But a long contest raged between the priests and warriors for the chief place in the Aryan commonwealth.

In order to understand that contests, we must go back to the time when the priests and warriors were simply fellow-tribesmen. The priestly or Bráhman caste grew slowly out of the families of Rishis who composed the Vedic hymns, or were chosen to conduct the great tribal sacrifices. In after times the whole Bráhman population of India pretended to trace their descent from seven Rishis. But the composers of the Vedic hymns were sometimes kings or distinguished warriors rather than priests; the Veda itself speaks of these royal Rishis (Rájarshis). When the Bráhmans put forward their claim to the highest rank, the warriors or Kshattriyas were slow to admit it; and, when the Bráhmans went a step farther, and declared that only when the Bráhmans went a step farther, and declared that only members of their families could be priests, or gain admission into the prestly caste, the warriors disputed their pretensions. In later ages the Bráhmans, having the exclusive keeping of the sacred writings, effaced from them, as far as possible, all traces of the struggle. They taught that their caste had come forth from the mouth of God, divinely appointed to the priesthood from the beginning of time. Nevertheless, a large body of Vedic verses and Sanskrit texts has now been brought to bear upon the struggle between the Bháhmans and Kshattriyas for the highest rank.1

In many of the Aryan tribes, however, the priests failed to established themselves as an exclusive order. Indeed, the four castes, and especially the Bráhman caste, seem only to have obtained their full development amid the plenty of the Middle Land (Madhydesha), watered by the Jumna and the Ganges. The earlier Aryan settlements to the west of the Indus remained outside the caste system; the later Aryan offshoots to the south and east of the middle land only partially carried that system with them. But in the Middle Land itself with Delhi as its western capital and the great cities of Ajodhya and Benares on its eastern frontier, the Bráhmans grew by degrees into a compact, learned, and supremely influential body, the makers of Sanskrit literature. Their language, their religion, and their laws became in after times the standards aimed at throughout all India. They naturally denounced all who did not submit to their pretensions, and stigmatized the other Aryan settlements who had not accepted their castes system as lapsed tribes or outcastes (Vrishalas). Among the lists of such fallen races we read the name afterwards applied to the Ionians or Greeks (Yavanas). The Bráhmans of the middle land had not only to enforce their supremacy over the powerful warriors of their own kingdoms, but to extend it among the Aryan tribes who had never fully accepted the caste system. That must have been the slow work of ages, and it seems to have led to bitter feuds. See BRAHMANISM, vol. iv. p. 201.

While the Bráhmans claimed religion, theology, and philosophy as their special domain, and the chief sciences and arts as supplementary sections of their divinely-inspired knowledge, they secured their social supremacy by codes of law. Their earliest Dharmasástras, or legal writings, belong to the Sútra period, or scholastic development, of the Vedas. But their two great digests, upon which the fabric of Hindu jurisprudence has been built up, are of later date. The first of these, the code of Manu, is separated from the Vedic era by a series of Bráhmanical developments, of which we possess only a few of the intermediate links. It is a compilation of the customary law current probably about the 5th century B.C., and exhibits the social organization which the Bráhmans, after their successful struggle for the supremacy, had established in the Middle Land of Bengal. The Bráhmans, indeed, claimed for their laws a divine origin, and ascribed them to the first Manu, or Aryan man, 30 millions of years ago. But, as a matter of fact, the laws of Manu are the result of a series of attempts to codify the usages of some not very extensive centre of Bráhmanism in northern India,—a metrical digest of local customs condensed by degrees from a legendary mass of 100,000 couplets (slokas) into 2684. They may possibly have been reduced to their final form of written code with a view to securing the system of caste against the popular movement of Buddhism, and thus giving a rigid fixity to the privileges of the Bráhmans.

The second great code of the Hindus, that of Yájnavalka, belongs to a period when Buddhism had established itself, and probably to a territory where it was beginning to succumb to the Bráhmanical reaction. It represents the Bráhmanical side of the great controversy (although a section of it deals with the organization of monasteries), refers to the execution of deeds on metal plates, and altogether marks an advance in legal precision. It compilation belongs to a period apparently not earlier than the 2d century A.D., and certainly not later than the 6th or 7th.

These codes deal with Hindu law in three branches, namely—(1) domestic and civil rights and duties, (2) the administration of justice, (3) purification and penance. They stereotyped the unwritten usages which regulated the family life and social organization of the old Aryan communities in the middle land. They did not pretend to supply a body of law for all the numerous races of India, but only for Hindu communities of the Bráhmanical type. It is doubtful whether they quite accurately represent the actual customary law even in such communities, for they were apparently drawn up with a view to asserting and maintaining the special privileges of the Bráhmans. This they effect by a rigid demarcation of the employments of the people, each caste or division of a caste having its own heredity occupation assigned to it; by stringent rules against intermingling the castes by marriages; by forbidding the higher castes, under severe penalties, to east or drink or hold social intercourse with the lower; and by punishing the lower castes with still more cruel penances for defiling by their touch the higher castes, or in any way infringing on their privileges. They exhibit the Hindu community in the four ancient divisions of priests, warriors, cultivators, and serfs (súdras). But they disclose that this old Aryan classification failed to represent the actual facts even or the Aryan communities in northern India. They admit that the mass of the people did not belong to any one of the four castes, and ascribed its origin to mixed concubinage or illicit connexions. The ancient Bráhmanical communities in northern India, as revealed by the codes themselves, consisted—first, of an Aryan element divided into priests, warriors, and cultivators, all of whom bore the proud title of the twice-born, and wore the sacred thread; second, of the subjugated races, "the once-born" Súdras, and third, of the vast residue of the Varna-sankara, literally the "mingled colours," a great but uncertain number of castes to whom was assigned a mixed descent from the four recognized classes. The same division exists to this day. According to the census of 1871, the separate tribes and castes in Lower Bengal do not fall short of a thousand; in the North-Western Provinces the Hindu population was arranged under two hundred and ninety-one specified castes besides numerous subdivisions. The distinctly recognized "mixed castes" throughout British India cannot be estimated at less than three hundred, and probably amount to many more.

As the Bráhmans spread their influence eastwards and southwards from the Middle Land, they carried their codes with them. The number of their sacred law books (Dharma-sástras) amounted to at least fifty-six, and separate schools of Hindu law sprang up. Thus the Dáyabhága, version of the law of inheritance prevails in Bengal while the Mitákshará commentary on Yájnavalkya is current in Madras and throughout southern and western India. But all modern recensions of Hindu law rest upon the ancient codes; and these codes, as we have seen, only recorded the usages of certain Bráhmanical centres in the north, and perhaps did not fairly record even them. As the Bráhmanical centres in the north, and perhaps did not fairly record even them. As the Bráhmans gradually moulded the population of India into Hinduism, such codes proved too narrow a basis for dealing with the rights, duties, and social organization of the people. The later Hindu legislators, accordingly, inculcated the recognition of the local usages of land-law of each part of the country, and of each class or tribe. While binding together and preserving the historical unity of the Aryan twice-born castes by systems of law founded on their ancient codes, they made provision for the customs and diverse stages of civilization of the ruder peoples of India, over whom they established their ascendancy. By such provisions, alike in religion and law, the Bráhmans incorporated the Indian races into that loosely coherent mass known as the Hindu population.

It is to this plastic element that Hinduism owes its success; and it is an element which English administrators have sometimes overlooked. The races of British India exhibit many stages of domestic institutions from the polyandry of the Nairs to the polygamy of the Kulin Bráhmans. The structure of their industrial organization varies, from the nomadic husbandry of the Burmese to the long chain of tenures which in Bengal stretches from the proprietor through a series of middle-men to the actual tiller of the soil. Every stage in human progress is represented, from the hunting tribes of the central plateau to the rigid trade-guilds of Guzerat. The Hindu legislators recognized that each of these diverse stages of social development had its own usages and common law. Vrihaspari says: "The laws (dharma) practised by the various countries, castes, and tribes, they are to be preserved; otherwise the people are agitated." Devala says: "What gods there are in any country,. . . and whatsoever be the custom and law anywhere, they are not to be despised there; the law there is such." Varáhamihira says: "The custom of the country is first to be considered; what is the rule in each country, that is to be done." The most learned English scholar in southern India has thus summed up the matter: "By custom only can the Dharma-sástra [Hindu law} be the rule of others than Bráhmans [only one-thirtieth of the population of Madras], and even in the case of Bráhmans it is very often superseded by custom."1

The English, on assuming the government of India, wisely declared that they would administer justice according to the customs of the people. But the high courts enforce the Bráhmanical codes with a comprehensiveness and precision unknown in ancient India. Thus in Bengal the custom of sagari, by which deserted or divorced wives among the lower castes marry again, was lately tried according to "the spirit of Hindu law"; while in Madras learned judges have pointed out a divergence between the Hindu law as now administered and the actual usages of the people. Those usages are unwritten and uncertain. The Hindu law is printed in many accessible forms, and Hindu barristers are ever pressing its principles upon the courts. Efforts at comprehensive codification in British India are thus surrounded by special difficulties, for it would be improper to give the fixity of a code to all the unwritten half-fluid usages current among the three-hundred unhomogeneous castes of Hindus, while it might be fraught with future injustice to exclude any of them. Each age has the gift of adjusting its institutions to its actual wants, especially among tribes whose customs have not been reduced to written law. Many of those customs will, if left to themselves, die out; others of them, that prove suited to the new social development under British rule, will live. But the process of natural selection must be, to some extent, the work of time, and not a single act of conscious legislation. This ahs been recognized by the ablest of Anglo-India codifiers. They apply the word code to the systematic arrangement of the rules relating to some well-marked section of juristic rights, or to some executive department of the administration of justice. "In its larger sense," write the Indian Law Commissioners, 1879, "of a general assemblage of all the laws of a community, no attempts has yet been made in this country to satisfy the conception of a code. The time for its realization has manifestly not arrived."

The Bráhmans were not merely the depositories of the sacred books, the philosophy, the science, and the laws of the ancient Hindu commonwealth; they were also the creators and custodians of its secular literature. They had a practical monopoly of Vedic learning, and their policy was to trace back every branch of knowledge and intellectual effort to the Veda.

In order to understand the long domination of the Bráhmans and the influence which they still wield, it is necessary to keep in mind their position as the great literary caste. Their priestly supremacy has been repeatedly assailed, and was during a space of several hundred years overthrow. But throughout twenty-two centuries they have been the counselors of Hindu princes and the teachers of the Hindu people. They represent the early Aryan civilization of India; and the essential history of the Hindus is a narrative of the attacks upon the continuity of that civilization,—that is to say, of attacks upon the Bráhmanical system of the Middle Land, and of the modification and compromises to which that system has had to submit. Those attacks range themselves under six epochs:—first, the religious uprising of the half-Bráhmanized Aryan tribes on the east of the Middle Land, initiated by the preaching of Buddha in the 6th century B.C., culminating in the Buddhist kingdoms

About the commencement of our era, and melting into modern Hinduism about the 8th century A.D.; second, warlike inroads of non-Bráhmanical Aryans or other races from the west, commencing with the Greek invasions in the 4th century B.C., and continuing under the Graeco-Bactrian empire and its successors to probably the 3d or 5th century A.D.; third, the influence of the non-Aryan tribes of India and of the non-Aryan low-castes incorporated from them—an influence ever at work, indeed by far the most powerful agent in dissolving Bráhmanism into Hinduism, but represented in a special manner by the non-Aryan kingdoms about the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.; fourth, the reaction against the low beliefs, priestly oppression, and bloody rites which resulted from this compromise between Bráhmanism and aboriginal worship, a reaction which received an impetus from the preaching of Sankar-Achárjya, who founded a philosophical Sivaite sect in the 8th or 9th century, and received its full development under a line of great Vishnuvite reformers from the 12th to the 16th centuries A.D.; faith, Mahometan invasions and the rule of Islám, 1000 to 1765 A.D.; sixth, the English supremacy, and the great popular upheaval which it has produced in the 18th and 19th centuries.


782-1 The quarrel between the two sages Visvámitra and Vashishtha, which runs through the whole Veda, is typical of this struggle. Visvámitra stands as a representative of the royal-warrior rank, who claims to perform a great public sacrifice. The white-robed Vashishtha represents the Bráhmans or heredirary priesthood, and opposed the warrior’s claim. In the end Visvámitra established his title to conduct the sacrifice; but the Bráhmans explain this by saying that his virtues and austerities won admission for him into the priestly family of Bhrigus. He thus became a Bráhman, and could lawfully fill the priestly office. Visvámitra serves as a typical link, not only between the priestly and the worldly castes, but also between the sacred and the profane sciences. He was the legendary founder of the art of war, and his son Susru-fa is quoted as the earliest authority on India medicine. These two sciences of war and medicine form upa-Vedas, or supplementary sections of the divinely inspired knowledge of the Bráhmans. Another royal Rishi, Vítahavya, "attained the condition of Bráhmanhood, venerated by mankind," by a word of the saintly Bhrigu. Parasu-Ráma, the divine champion of the Bráhmans, was of warrior descent by his mother’s side. Manu, their legislator, sprang from the warrior caste; and his father is expressly called "the seed of all the Kshattriyas." But when the Bráhmans had firmly established their supremacy they became reluctant to allow the possibility of even princes finding an entrance into their sacred order. King Ganaka was more learned than all the Bráhmans at his court, and performed terrible penances to attain to Bráhmanhood. Yet the legends leave it doubtful whether he gained his desire. The still more holy but probably later Matanga wore his body to skin and bone by a thousand years of austerities, and was held from falling by the hand of Indra himself. Nevertheless, he could not attain to Bráhmanhood. The reformer, Gautama Buddha, who in the 16th century before Christ overthrew the Bráhman supremacy, and founded a new religion, was a prince of warrior descent, perhaps born in too late an age to be adopted into a utilized by the Bráhman caste.

783-1 Dr Burnell’s Dáya-Vibhágha, Introd. P. xv.; see also The Hindu Law as administered by the High Court of Judicature at Madras, by J. Nelson, M.A., District Judge of Cuddapah, chaps, iii. and iv. (Madras, 1877).

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