BRAHMANISM is a term commonly used to denote a system of religious institutions originated and elaborated by the Brahmans, the sacerdotal and, from an early period, the dominants caste of the Hindu community. In like manner, as the language of the Aryan Hindu community. In like manner, as the language of the Aryan Hindus has undergone continual processes of modifications and dialectic division, so their religious belief has passed through various stages of development broadly distinguished form one another by certain prominent features. The earliest phases of religious in India of which a clear idea can now be formed are exhibited in a body of writings, looked upon by later generations in the light of sacred writ, under the collective names of Veda ("knowledge") or Sruti ("revelation"). The Hind_ scriptures consists of four separate collections, or Sanhit_s, of sacred texts, or Mantras, including hymns, incantations, and sacrificial forms of prayer, viz, the Rich (nom, sing, rik) or Rigveda, the S_man or S_maceda, the Yajush or Yajurveda, and the Atharvan or Atharvaveda. Each of these four text-books has attached to it a body of prose writings, called Bráhmanas, which presuppose the Sanhit_s, purporting as they do to explain chiefly the ceremonial application of the texts and the origin and import of the sacrificial rites for which these were supposed to have been composed. Besides the Br_hmanas proper, these theological works, and in a few isolated cases some of the Sanhit_s, include two kinds of appendages, the _ranyakas and Upanishads, both of which, and especially the latter, by their languages and contents, generally betray a more modern origin than the works of which they are annexed. The subject of the former class of these treatises is on the whole similar to that of the Brahmanas, which they supplement, giving at the same time somewhat more prominence to the mystical sense of the rites of worship. The Upanishads, on the other hand, are taken up to a great extent with speculations on the problems of the universe and the religious aims of man,subjects often touches upon in the earlier writings, but here dealt with in a more mature and systematic way. Two of the Sanhit_s, the S_man and the Yajush, owing their existence to purely ritual purposes, and being, besides, the one almost entirely, the other partly, composed of verses taken from the Rigveda, are only of secondary importance for our present inquiry. The hymns of the Rigveda constitute the earliest lyrical effusions of the _ryan settlers in India which have been handed down to posterity. They are certainly not all equally old; on the contrary they evidently represent the literary activity of many generations of bards, though their relative age cannot as yet be determined with anything like certainty. The tenth and last book of the collection, however, at any rate has all the characteristics of a later appendages, and in language and spirit many of its hymns approach very nearly to the level of the contents of the Atharvan. Of the latter collection about one-sixth is found also in the Rogveda, and especially in the tenth book; the larger portion peculiar to it, though including no doubt some older pieces, appears to owe its origin to an age not long anterior to the composition of the Br_hmanas.
The state of religious thought among the ancient bards, as reflected in the hymns of the Rigveda, is that of a worship of the grand and striking phenomena of nature regarded in the light of personal conscious beings, endowed with a power beyond the control of man, though not insensible to his praises and actions. It is a nature-worship purer than that met with in any other polytheistic form of belief we are acquainted with,a mythology still comparatively little affected by those systematizing tendencies which, in a less simple and primitive state of thought, lead to the construction of a well-ordered pantheon and a regular organization of divine government. To the mind of the early Vedic worshipper the various departments of the surrounding nature are not as yet clearly defined, and the functions which he assigns to their divine representatives continually flow into one another. Nor has he yet learned to care to determine the relative worth and position of the objects of his adoration; but the temporary influence of the phenomenon to which he addresses his praise bears too strongly upon his mind to allow him for them time to consider the claims of rival powers to which at other times he is wont to look up with equal feelings of awe and reverence. It is this immediateness of impulse under which the human mind in its infancy strives to give utterance to its emotions that imparts to many of its outpourings the ring of monotheistic fervour.
The generic name given to these impersonations, viz, deva ("the shining ones"), points t the conclusion, sufficiently justified by the nature of the more prominent objects of Vedic adoration as well as by common natural occurrences, that it was the beautiful phenomena of light which first and most powerfully swayed the _ryan mind. In the primitive worship of the manifold phenomena of nature it is not, of course, so much their physical aspect that impresses the human heart as the moral and intellectual forces which are supposed to move and animate them. The attributes and relations of some of the Vedic deities, in accordance with the nature of the objects they represent, partake in a high degree of this spiritual elements; but it is not improbable that in an earlier phase of _ryan worship the religious conceptions were pervaded by its to a still greater and more general extent, and that the Vedic belief, though retaining many of the primitive features, has on the whole assumed a more sensuous and anthropomorphic character. This latter element is especially predominant in the attributes and imagery applied by the Vedic poets to Indra, the god of the atmospheric region, the favourite figure in their pantheon. While the representatives of the prominent departments of nature appear to the Vedic bard as consisting in a state of independence of one another, their relation to the mortal worshipper being the chief subject of his anxiety, a simple method of classification was already resorted to at an early time, consisting in a triple division of the deities into gods residing in the sky, in the air, and on earth. It is not, however, until a later stagethe first clear indication being conveyed in a passage of the tenth book of the Rigveda, that this attempt at a polytheistic system is followed up by the promotion of one particular god to the dignity of chief guardian for each of these three regions. On the other hand, a tendency is clearly traceable in some of the hymns towards identifying gods whose functions present a certain degree of similarity of nature; these attempts would seems to show a certain advance of religious reflection, the first steps from polytheism towards a comprehension of the unity of divine essence. Another feature of the old Vedic worship tended to a similar result. The great problems of the origin and existence of man and universe had early begun to engage the Hind_ mind; and in celebrating the praises of the gods the poet was frequently led by his religious, and not wholly disinterested, zeal to attribute to them cosmical functions of the very highest order. At a later stage of thoughts, chiefly exhibited in the tenth book of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda, inquiring sages could not but perceive the inconsistency of such concessions of a supremacy among the divine rulers, and tried to solve the problem by conceptions of an independent power, endowed with all the attributes of a supreme deity, the creator of the universe, including the gods of the pantheon. The names under which this monotheistic idea is put forty are mostly of an attributive character, and indeed some of them, such a Praj_pati ("lord of creatures"), Vi_vakarman ("all-doer"), occur in the earlier hymns as mere epithets of particular gods. But to other minds this theory of a personal creator left many difficulties unsolved. They saw, as the poets of old had seen, that everything around them, that man himself, was directed by some inward agent; and it needed but once step to perceive the essential sameness of these spiritual units, and to recognize their being but so many individual manifestations of one universal principle. Thus a pantheistic conception was arrived at, put forth under various names, such as Purucha ("soul"), K_ma ("desire"), Bráhman (neutr.; nom. Sing. bráhma) ("devotion, prayer"). Metaphysical and theosophic speculations were thus fast undermining the simple belief in the old gods, until, at the time of the composition of the Br_hmanas and Upanishads, we find them in complete possession of the minds of the theologians. Whilst the theories crudely suggested in the later hymns are now further matured and elaborated, the tendency towards catholicity of formula favours the combination of the conflicting monotheistic and pantheistic conceptions; this compromise, which makes Pr_japati, the personal creator of the world, the manifestation of the impersonal Bráhma, the universal self-existence soul, leads to the composite pantheistic system which forms the characteristic dogma of the Br_hmanical period.
The spirit of Vedic worship is pervaded by a strong belief in the efficacy of invocation and sacrificial offering. The earnest and well-expressed prayer cannot fail to draw the divine power to the worshipper and make it yield to his supplication; and offerings, so far from being mere acts of devotion which give pleasure to the god, represent the very food and drink which render him vigorous and capable of battling with the enemies of his mortal friend. This intrinsic power of invocation found an early expression in the term bráhma (neuter) ("religious devotion, prayer, hymn"); and its dependent existence as an active moral principle in shaping the destinies of man became recognized in the vedic pantheon in the conception of a god, Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati ("lord of prayer"), the guardian of the pious worshipper. This feature in the Hind_ belief could scarcely fail early to engender and foster in the minds of the people feelings of esteem and reverence towards those who possessed the inspired gift of poetical expression, as well as those who has acquired an intimate knowledge of the various forms of ritual worship. The common term used in the Veda for the officiating priest is brahmán (masc.; nom. sing. brahm_), originally denoting, it would seem, "one who prays, a worshipper," of "the composer or reciter of a hymn (bráhman, n.)" In some passages the word also signifies a special class of priest who officiated as superintendents during sacrificial ceremonies, the complicated nature of which required the co-operation of several priest. It is probable that in most cases the function of the poet or composer of hymns was combined with that of a minister of worship. In the Vedic hymns two classes of society, the royal (or military) and the priestly classes, were evidently recognized as being raised above the level of the Vi_, or bulk of the _ryan community. These social grades seem to have been in existence even before the separation of the two Asiatic branches of the Indo-European race, the _ryans of Iran and India. It is true that, although the Athrava, Ratha_tr_o, and V__trya of the Zend Avesta correspond in position and occupation to the Bráhman, R_jan, and Vi_ of the Veda, there is no similarity of names between them; but this fact only shows that the common vocabulary had not yet definitely fixed on any specific names for these classes. Even in the Veda their nomenclature is by no means limited to a single designation for each of them. Moreover, Atharvan occurs not infrequently in the hymns as the personification of the priestly profession, as the proto-priest who is supposed to have obtained fire from heaven and to have instituted the rite of sacrifice; and although ratheshtha ("standing on a car") is not actually found in connection with the R_jan or Kshatriya, its synonym rathin is in later literature a not unusual epithet of men of the military caste. At the time of the hymns, and even during the common Indo-Persian period, the sacrificial ceremonial had already become sufficiently complicated to call for the creation of a certain number of distinct priestly offices with special duties attached to them. While this shows clearly that the position and occupation of the priest were those of a profession, the fact that the terms bráhmana and brahmaputra, both denoting "the son of a brahman," are used in certain hymns as synonyms of Brahman, seems to justify the assumption that the profession had already, to a certain degree, become hereditary at the time when these hymns were composed. There is, however, with the exception of a solitary passage in a hymn of the last book, no trace to be found in the Rigveda of that rigid division into four castes separated from one another by unsurmountable barriers, which in later times constitutes the distinctive feature of Hind_ society. The idea of caste is expressed by the Sanskrit term varna, originally denoting "colour," thereby implying differences of complexion between the several classes. The word occurs in the Veda in the latter sense, but it is used there to mark the distinction, not between the three classes of the _ryan community, but between them on the one hand and a dark-coloured hostile people on the other. The latter, called D_sas of D_sus, consisted, no doubt, of the indigenous tribes, with whom the _ryans had to carry on a continual struggle for the possession of the land. The partial subjection of these comparatively uncivilized tribes, as the rule of the superior race was gradually spreading eastward, and their submission to a state of serfdom under the name of _udras, added to the _ryan community an element, totally separated from it by colour, by habits, by language, and by occupation. Moreover, the religious belief of these tribes being entirely different from that of the conquering people, the pious _ryas, and especially the class habitually engaged in acts of worships, could hardly fail to apprehend considerable danger to the purity of their own faith from too close and intimate a contact between the two races. What more natural, therefore, than that measures should have been early devised to limit the intercourse between them within as narrow bounds as possible. In course of time the difference of vocation, and the greater or less exposure to the scorching influence of the tropical sky, added, no doubt, to a certain admixture of S_dra blood, especially in the case of the common people, seem to have produced also in the _ryan population different shades of complexion, which greatly favoured and continually fed by the lot of the servile race. Meanwhile the power of the sacerdotal order having been gradually enlarged in proportion to the development of the minutiae of sacrificial ceremonial and the increase of sacred lore, they began to lay claim to supreme authority in regulating and controlling the religious and social life of the people. The author of the so-called Purusha-s_kta, or hymn to Purusha, above refereed to, represents the four castesthe Bráhmanas, Kshatriyas, Vai_yras, and __drasas having severally sprung from the mount, the arms, the thighs, and the feet of Purusha, a primary being, here assumed to be the source of the universe. It is very doubtful, however, whether at the time when this hymn was composed the relative position of the two upper castes could already have been settled in so decided a way as this theory might lead us to suppose. There is, on the contrary, reason to believe that some time had yet to elapse, marked by fierce and bloody struggles for supremacy, of which only imperfect ideas can be formed from the legendary and biased accounts of later generations, before the Kshatriyas finally submitted to the full measure of priestly pretension.
The definitive establishment of the Br_hmanical hierarchy marks the beginning of the Br_hmanical period properly so called. Though the origin and gradual rise of some of the leading institutions of this era can, as has been shown, be traced in the earlier writings, the chain development presents a break at this juncture which no satisfactory materials enable us to fill up. A considerable portion of the literature of this time has apparently been lost; and several important works, the original composition of which has probably to be assigned to the early days of Br_hmanism, such as the institutes of Manu and the two great epics, the Mah_bh_rata and R_m_yana, in the form in which they have been handed down to us, show manifest traces of a more modern redaction. Yet it is sufficient clear from internal evidence that Manus Code of Laws, though it is merely a metrical rifacomento of older materials, reproduces on the whole pretty faithfully the state of Hind_ society depicted in the sources from which it was compiled. The final overthrow of the Kshatriya power was followed by a period of jealous legislation on the part of the Br_hmans. For the time their chief aim was to improve their newly gained vantage-ground by surrounding everything connected with their order with a halo of sanctity calculated to impress the lay community with feelings of awe. In the Br_hmanas origin had already been ascribed to the Vedic Sanhit_s, especially to the three older collections. The same privilege was now successfully claimed for the later Vedic literature, so imbued with Br_hmanic aspirations and pretensions; and the authority implied in the designation of _ruti or revelation removed henceforth the whole body of sacred writings from the sphere of doubt and criticism. This concession necessarily involved an acknowledgment of the new social order as a divine institution. Its stability was, however, rendered still more secure by the elaboration of a system of conventional precepts, partly forming the basis of Manus Code, which clearly defined the relative position and the duties of the several castes, and determined the penalties to be inflicted on any transgressions of the limits assigned to each of them. These laws are conceived with the humane or sentimental scruples on the part of their authors. On the contrary, the offences committed by Br_hmans against other castes are treated with remarkable clemency, whilst the punishments inflicted for trespasses on the rights of higher classes are the more severe and inhuman the lower the offender stands in the social scale. The three first castes, however unequal to each other in privilege and social standing, are yet united by a common bond of sacramental rites (sansk_ras), traditionally connected from ancient times with certain incidents and stages in the life of the _ryan Hind_, as conception, birth, name-giving, the first taking out of the child to see the sun, the first feeding with boiled rice, the rites of tonsure and hair cutting, the youths investiture with the sacrificial thread, and his returned home on completing his studies, marriage, funeral, &c. The modes of observing these family rites are laid down in a class of writings called Grihya-s_tras, or domestic rules. The most important of these observances is the upanayana, or rite of conducting the boy to a spiritual teacher. Connected with this act is the investigature with the sacred cord, ordinarily worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm, and varying in material according to the class of the wearer. This ceremony being the preliminary act to the youths initiation into the study of the Veda, the management of the consecrated fire and the knowledge of the rites of purification, including the s_vitr_, a solemn invocation of savitri, the sun, which has to be repeated every morning and evening before the rise and after the setting of that luminary, is supposed to constitute the second or spiritual birth of the _rya. It is from their participation in this rite that the three upper classes are called the twice- born. The ceremony is enjoined to take place some time between the eighth and sixteenth year of age in the case of a Br_hman, between the eleventh and twenty-second year of a Kshatriya, and between the twelfth and twenty-fourth year of a Vai_ya. He who has not been invested with the mark of his class within this time is for ever excluded from uttering the sacred s_vitr_ and becomes an outcast, unless he is absolved from his sin by a council of Br_hmans, and after due performance of a purificatory rite resumes the badge of his caste. With one not duly initiated no righteous man is allowed to associate or to enter into connections of affinity. The duty of the __dra is to serve the twice-born classes, and above-all the Br_hmans. He is excluded from all sacred knowledge, and if he performs sacrificial ceremonies he must do so without using holy mantras. No Br_hman must recite a Vedic text where a man of the servile caste might overhear him, nor must he even teach him the laws of expiating sin. The occupations of the Vai_ya are those connected with trade, the cultivation of the land and the breeding of cattle; while those of a Kshatriya consist in ruling and defending the people, administering justice, and the duties of military profession generally. Both share with the Br_hman the privilege of reading the Veda, but only so far as it is taught and explaining to them by their spiritual preceptor. To the Br_hman belongs the right of teaching and expounding the sacred texts, and also that of interpreting and determining the law and the rules of caste. Only in exceptional cases, when no teacher of the sacerdotal class is within reach, the twice-born youth, rather than forego spiritual instruction altogether, may reside in the house of a non-Br_hmanical preceptor; but it is especially enjoined that a pupil, who seeks the path to heaven, should not fail, as soon as circumstances permit, to resort to a Br_hman well versed in the Vedas and their appendages.
Notwithstanding the barriers placed between the four castes, the practice of intermarrying appears to have been too prevalent in early times to have admitted of measures of so stringent a nature as to wholly repress it. To marry a woman of a higher caste, and especially of a castle not immediately above ones own, is, however, decidedly prohibited, the offspring resulted from such a union being excluded from the performance of the sr_ddha or obsequies to the ancestors, and thereby rendered incapable of inheriting any portion of the parents property. On the other hand, men are at liberty, according to the rules of Manu, to marry a girl of any or each of the castes below their own provided they have besides a wife belonging to their own class, for only such a one should perform the duties of personal attendance and religious observance devolving upon a married woman. As regards the children born from unequal marriages of this description, they have the rights and duties of the twice-born, if their mother belong to a twice-born caste, otherwise they, like the offspring of the former class of intermarriages, share the lot of the __dras, and are excluded from the investiture and the s_lvitr_. For this last reason the marriage of a twice born man with a __dra woman is altogether discountenanced by some of the later law books. At the time of the code of Manu the intermixture of the classes had already produced a considerable number of intermediate or mixed castes, which were carefully catalogued, and each of which had a specific occupation assigned to it as its hereditary profession. The self-exaltation of the first class was not, it would seem, altogether due to priestly arrogance and ambition; but, like a prominent feature of the post-Vedic belief, the transmigration of souls, it was, if not the necessary, yet at least a natural consequence of the pantheistic doctrine. To the Br_hmanical speculator who saw in the numberless individual existences of animante nature but so many manifestations of the one eternal soul, to union with which they were all bound to tend as their final goal of supreme bliss, the greater or less imperfection of the material forms in which they were embodied naturally presented a continuous scale of spiritual units from the lowest degradation up to the absolute purity and perfection of the supreme spirit. To prevent ones sinking yet lower, and by degrees to raise ones self in this universal gradation, or, if possible, to attain the ultimate goal immediately from any state of corporeal existence, there was but one way,subjection of the senses, purity of life, and knowledge of the deity. "He" (thus ends the code of Manu) "who in his own soul perceives the supreme soul in all being and acquires equanimity toward them all, attains the highest state of bliss." Was it not natural then that the men who, if true to their sacred duties, were habitually engaged in what was most conducive to these spiritual attainments, that the Br_hmanical class early learnt to look upon themselves, even as a matter of faith, as being foremost among the human species in this universal race for final beatitude? The life marked out for them by that stern theory of class duties which they themselves had worked out, and which, no doubt, must have been practised in early times at least in some degree, was by no means one of ease and amenity. It was, on the contrary, singularity calculated to promote that complete mortification of the instincts of animal nature which they considered as indispensable to the final deliverance from the revolution of bodily and personal existence.
The pious Br_hman, longing to attain the summum bonum on the dissolution of his frail body, was enjoined to pass through a succession of four orders or stages of life, viz., those of brahmach_rin, to religious student; grihastha (or grihamedhin), or householder; vananv_sin (or v_naprastha), or anchorite; and sanny_sin (or bhikshu), or religious mendicant. Theoretically this course of life was open and even recommended to every twice-born man, his distinctive class-occupations being in that case restricted to the second station, or that of married life. Practically, however, those belonging to the Kshatriya and Vai_ya castes were, no doubt, contended, with few exceptions, to go through a term of studentship in order to obtain a certain amount of religious instruction before entering into the married state, and playing their professional duties. In the case of the sacerdotal class, the practice probably was all but universal in early times; but gradually a more and more limited proportion seem to have carried their religious zeal to the length of self-mortification involved in the two final stages. On the youth having been invested with the sign of his caste, he was to reside for some time in the house of some religious teacher, well read in the Veda, to be instructed in the knowledge of the scriptures and the scientific treatises attached to them, in the social duties of his caste, and in the complicated system of purificatory and sacrificial rites. According to the number of Vedas he intended to study, the duration of this period of instruction was to be, probably in the case of Br_hmanical students chiefly, of from twelve to forty-eight years; during which time the virtues of modesty, duty, temperance, and self-control were to be firmly implanted in the youths mind by his unremitting observance of the most minute rules of conduct. During all this time the Br_hman student had to subsists entirely on food obtained by begging from house to house; and his behaviour towards the preceptor and his family was to be that prompted by respectful attachment and implicit obedience. In the case of girls no investiture takes place, but for them the nuptial ceremony is considered as an equivalent for that rite. On quitting the teachers abode, the young man returns to his family and takes a wife. To die without leaving legitimate offspring, and especially a son, to perform the periodical rote of obsequies, consisting of offerings of water and cakes, to himself and his ancestors, is considered a great misfortune by the orthodox Hind_. There are three sacred "s" which a man has to discharge in life, viz., that which is due to the gods, and of which he acquits himself by daily worship and sacrificial rites; that due to the rishis, or ancient sages and inspired seers of the Veeic texts, discharged by the daily study of the scripture; and the "final debt" which he owes to his manes, and of which he relieves himself by leaving a son. To these three some authorities add a fourth, viz., the debt owing to humankind, which demands his continually practicing kindness and hospitality. Hence the necessity of the mans entering into the married state. When the bridegroom leads the brides from her fathers house to his own home, the fire which has been used for the marriage ceremony accompanies the couple to serve them as their g_rhapatya, or domestic fire. It has to be kept up perpetually, day and night, either by themselves or their children, or, if the man be a teacher, by his pupils. If it should at any time become extinguished by neglect or otherwise, the guilt incurred thereby must be atoned for by an act of expiation. The domestic fire serves the family for preparing their food, for making the five necessary daily and other occasional offerings, and for performing the sacramental rites above alluded to. No food should ever be eaten that has not been duly consecrated by a portion of it being offered to the gods, the being, and the manes. These three daily offerings are also called by the collective name of vai_vadeva, or sacrifice to all the deities. The remaining two are the offering to Brahm_, i.e., the daily lecture of the scriptures, accompanied by certain rites, and that to men, consisting in the entertainment of guests. The domestic observances, many of which must be considered as ancient _ryan family customs, surrounded by the Hind_s with a certain amount of adventitious ceremonial, with the assistance of his wife. There is, however, another class of sacrificial ceremonies of a more pretentious and expensive kind, called _rauta rites, or rites based on _ruti, or revelation, the performance of which, though not indispensable, were yet considered obligatory under certain circumstances. They formed a very powerful weapon in the hands of the priesthood, and were one of the chief sources of their subsistence. Owing to the complicated nature of these sacrifices, and the great amount of ritualistic formulas and texts muttered or recited during their performance, they required the employment of a number of professional Br_hmas, frequently as many as sixteen, who had to be well rewarded for their services. However great the religious merit accruing from these sacrificial rites, they were obviously a kind of luxury, which only rich people could afford to indulge in. They constituted, as it were, a tax, voluntary perhaps, yet none the less compulsory, levied by the priesthood on the wealthy laity. It is true that the priest who refuses to accept any reward for officiating at a sacrifice is highly eulogized by the Br_hmanical writers; but such cases of disinterested zeal seem to have occurred but ready. The manuals of Vaidik ritual generally enumerate three class of _rauta rites, viz., ishtis, or oblations of milk, curds, clarified butter (ghee), rice, grain, &c., animal offerings, and libations of soma. The soma, an intoxicating drink prepared from the juice of the Asclepias acida (a kind of milk-weed, sometimes called the moon-plant), must have played an important part in the ancient worship, at least as early as the Indo-Persian period. It is continually alluded to both in the Zend Avesta and the Rigveda. In the latetr work the hymns of a whole book, besides others, are addressed to it, either in the shape of a mighty god, or in its original form, as a kind of ambrosia endowed with wonderfully exhilarating powers. In post-Vedic mythology Soma has become identified with the lunar deity, to whom it seems to have had some relation from the beginning. Among the Vaidik rites the soma-sacrifices are the most solemn and complicated, and those to which the greatest efficacy is ascribed in remitting sin conferring offspring and even immortality. They require the attendance of sixteen priest, and are divided into three groups, according as the actual pressing and offering of the soma occupies only one day, or between open and twelve, or more than twelve days. The performance of all _rauta sacrifices requires two others fires besides that used for domestic rites. The act of first placing the fires in their respective receptacles, after due consecration of the ground, constitutes the essential part of the first ishti, the agny_dh_na, which the householder should have performed by four Br_hmans immediately after his wedding. To the same class of sacrificial ceremonies belong those performed on the days of the new and full moon, the oblation at the commencement of the three seasons, the offering of first-fruits and other periodical rites. Besides there regular sacrifices, the _rauta ceremonial includes a number of most solemn rites which, on account of the objects for which they are instituted and the enormous expenditure they involve, could only be performed on rare occasions and by powerful princes. Of these the most important re the r_jas_ya, or inauguration ceremony of a monarch laying claim to supreme rule, and the asvamedha, or horse sacrifice, a rite of great antiquity, enjoined by the Br_hmanical ritual to kings desirous of attaining universal sovereignty. The efficacy ascribed to this ceremony in later times was so great that the performance of a hundred such sacrifices were considered to deprive Indra of his position as chief of the immortals.
When the householder is advanced in years, "when he perceived his skin become wrinkled and his hair grey, when he sees the son of his son," the time is said to have come for him to enter the third stage of life. He should now disengage himself form all family ties,except that his wife was accompany him, if she chooses,and repair to a lonely wood, taking with him his sacred fires and the implements required for the daily and periodical offerings. Clad in a deers skin, in a single piece of cloth, or in a bark garment, with his hair and nails uncut, the hermit is to subsist exclusively on food growing wild in the forest, such as roots, fruit, green herbs, and wild rice and grain. He must nor accept gifts from any one, except of what may be absolutely necessary to maintain him; but with his own little hoard he should, on the contrary, honour, to the best of his ability, those who visit his hermitage. His time must be spent in reading the metaphysical treatises of the Veda, in making oblations, and in undergoing various kinds of privation and austerities, with a view to mortifying his passions and producing in his mind an entire indifference to worldly objects. Having by these means succeeded in overcoming all sensual affections and desires, and in acquiring perfect equanimity towards everything around him, the hermit has fitted for the final and most exalted order, that of devotee or religious mendicant. As such he has no further need of either mortifications or religious observances; but "with the sacrificial fires reposited in his mind," he may devote the remainder of his days to meditating on the divinity. Taking up his abode at the foot of a tree in total solitude, "with no companion but his own soul," clad in a coarse garment, he should carefully avoid injuring any creature or giving offence to any human being that may happen to come near him. Once a day, in the evening, "when the charcoal fire is extinguished and the smoke no longer issues from the fireplaces, when the pestle is at rest, when the people have taken their meals and the dishes are removed," he should go near the habitations of men, in order to beg what little food may suffice to sustain his feeble frame. Ever pure of mind he should thus bide his time, "as a servant expects his wages," wishing neither for death nor for life, until at last his soul is freed from its fetters and absorbed in the eternal spirit, the impersonal self-existence Brahm_.
The neuter term bráhm_ is met with in the Rigveda both in the abstract sense of "devotion, worship," and in the concrete one of "prayer, hymn." Closely connected with it is found the masculine term brahmá, "a worshipper, a priest." The popular belief in the efficacy of invocation constitutes a prominent feature of the Vedic symbolism, which the traditional and professional activity of the poet and minister of worship did, no doubt, much to keep up and foster. In the theosophical speculations of the later Vedic poets this mystic power of devotion found its fullest expression in the recognition of the bráhm_ as the highest comical principle, and its identification with the pantheistic conception of all pervading self-existent, essence, the primary source of the universe. Whether this identification was originally due to some extent to the influence of class-interest possibly aided by the coincidence of name, or whether it was solely the product of a highly-wrought religious imagination, it is difficult to decide. Certain it is, however, that the term bráhma began to be used about the same time as the abstract designation of priestly function and the Br_hmanical order in general, in the same way as the word kshatra came to denote the aggregate of functions and individuals of the military class.
The tendency towards a comprehension of the unity of divine essence had resulted in some minds, as has been remarked before, in a kind of monotheistic notion of the origin of the universe. In the literature of the Br_hmana period we meet with this conception as a common element of speculation; and so far from its being considered incompatible with the existence of a universal spirit, Praj_pati, the personal creator of the world, is generally allowed a prominent place in the pantheistic theories. Yet the state of theological speculation, reflected in these writings, is one of transition. The general drift of thought is essentially pantheistic, but it is far from being reduced to a regular system, and the ancient form of belief still enters largely into it. The attributes of Praj_pati, in the same way, have in them elements of a purely polytheistic nature, and some of the attempts at reconciling this new fangled deity with the traditional belief are somewhat awkward. An ancient classification of the gods represented them as being thirty-three in number, eleven in each of the three worlds or regions of nature. These regions being associated each with the name of one principal deity, this division gave rise at a later time to the notion of a kind of triple divine government, consisting of Agni (fire), Indra (sky) or V_yu (wind), and S_rya (sun), as presiding respecrively over the gods of earth, in the atmosphere, and in the sky. Of this Vedic triad mention is frequently made in the Br_hmana writings. On the other hand the term praj_pati (lord of creatures), which in the Rigveda occurs as an epithet of the sun is also once in the Atharvaveda applied jointly to Indra and Agni. In the Br_hmanas Praj_pati is several times mentioned as the thirty-fourth god; whilst in one passage he is called the fourth god, and made to rule over the three worlds. More frequently, however, the writings of this period represent him as the maker of the world and the father or creator of the gods. It is clear from this discordance of opinion on so important a point of doctrine, that at this time no authoritative system of belief had been agreed upon by the theologians. Yet there are unmistakable signs of a strong tendency towards constructing one, and it is possible that in yielding to it the Br_hmans may have been partly prompted by political considerations. The definite settlement of the caste system and the Br_hmanical supremacy must probably be assigned to somewhere about the close of the Br_hmana period. Division in their own ranks was hardly favourable to the aspirations of the priests at such a time; and the want of a distinct formula of belief adapted to the general drift of theological speculation, to which they could all rally, was probably felt the more acutely, the more determined a resistance the military class was likely to oppose to their claims. Side by side with the conception of the Bráhm_, the universal spiritual principle, with which speculative thought had already become deeply imbued, the notion of a supreme personal being, the author of the material creation, had come to be considered by many as a necessary complement of the pantheistic doctrine. But, owing perhaps to his polytheistic associations and the attributive nature of his name, the person of Praj_pati seems to have been thought but insufficiently adapted to represent this abstract idea. The expedient resorted to for solving the difficulty was as ingenious as it was characteristic of the Br_hmanical aspirations. In the same way as the abstract denomination of sacerdotalism, the neuter bráhm_, had come to express the divine essence, so the old designation of the individual priest, the masculine term brahm_, was raised to denote the supreme personal deity which was to take the place and attributes of the Praj_pati of the Br_hmanas and Upanishads. By this means the very name of the god expressed the essential oneness of his nature with that of the divine spirit as whose manifestation he was to be considered. Even in the later Vedic writings Brahm_ is but rarely mentioned; and in some of these passages he is expressly identified with Praj_pati. It is in the institutes of Manu, where, as we have seen, the system of castes is propounded in its complete development, that his definite place is assigned to him in the cosmogony. According to this work, the universe, before undiscerned, was made discernible in the beginning by the sole, self-existence spirit (brahm_). He, then, having willed to produce from his own substance various creatures, created the waters by meditation, and having placed in them a productive seed which developed into a golden egg, he was born in that egg as the male Brahm_, the forefather (and creator) of all beings. The theory of Brahm_ being born from a golden egg is a mere adaptation of the Vedic conception of Hiranyagarbha ("gold-embryo"), who is represented as the supreme god in a hymn of the tenth book of the Rigveda.
However the new dogma may have answered the purposes of speculative minds, it was not one in which the people generally were likely to have been much concerned; an abstract, colourless deity like Brahm_ could awake no sympathies in the hearts of those accustomed to worship gods of flesh and blood. Indeed, ever since the primitive symbolical worship of nature had undergone a process of disintegration under the influence of metaphysical speculation, the real belief of the great body of the people had probably become more and more district from that of the priesthood. In different localities the principal share of their affection may have been bestowed on one or another of the gods who was thereby raised to the dignity of chief deity; or new forms and objects of belief may have sprung up with the intellectual growth of the people. In some cases even the worship of the indigenous population may not have remained without exercising some influence in modifying the belief of the Aryan race. In this way a number of local deities would grow up, more or less distinct in name and characteristic from the gods of the Vedic pantheon. There is, indeed, sufficient evidence to show that, at a time when, after centuries of theological speculations, some little insight into the life and thought of the people is diversity of worship did exist. Under these circumstances the policy which seems to have suggested itself to the priesthood, anxious to retain a firm hold on the minds of the people, was to recognize and incorporate into their system some of the most prominent objects of popular devotion, and thereby to establish a kind of catholic creed for the whole community subject to the Br_hmanical law. At the time of the original composition of the great epics two such deities, _iva ot Mahádeva ("the great god") and Vishnu, seem to have been already admitted into the Br_hmanical system, where they have ever since retained their place; and from the manner in which they are represented in those works, it would, indeed, appear that both, and especially the former, enjoyed an extensive worship. As several synonyms are attributed to each of them, it is not improbable that in some of these we have to recognize special names under which the people in different localities worshipped these gods, or deities of a similar nature which, by the agency of popular poetry, or in some other way, came to be combined with them. The places assigned to them in the pantheistic system were co-ordinate with that of Brahm_; the three deities, Brahm_, Vishnu, and _iva were to represent a triple impersonation of the divinity, as manifesting itself respectively in the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe. _iva does not occur in the Vedic hymns as the name of a god, but only as an adjective in the sense of "kind, auspicious." One of his synonyms, however, is the name of a Vedic deity, the attributes and nature of which show a good deal of similarity to the post-Vedic god. This is Rudra, the god of the roaring storm, usually portrayed, in accordance with the element he represents, as a fierce, destructive deity, "terrible as a wild beast," whose fearful arrows cause death and disease to men and cattle. He is also called kapardin ("wearing his hair spirally braided like a shell"), a word which in later times became one of the synonyms of Siva. The Atharvaneda mentions several other names of the same god, some of which appear even placed together, as in one passage Bhava, Sarva, Rudra, and Pa_upati. Possibly some of them were the names under which one and the same deity was already worshipped in different parts of Northern India. This was certainly the case in later times, since it is expressly stated in one of the later works of the Br_hmana period, that _arva was used by the Eastern people and Bhava by a Western tribe. It is also worthy of note that in his work (the Satapatha-br_hmana), composed at a time when the Vedic triad of Agni, Indra-V_yu, and S_rya was still recognized, attempts are made to identify this god of many names with Agni; and that in one passage in the Mah_bh_rata it is stated that the Br_hmans said that Agni was _iva. Although this identification can scarcely be correct, it seems to point to the fact that in adapting theier speculations to the actual state of popular worship, the Br_hmans kept the older triad distinctly in view, and by means of it endeavoured to bring their new structure into harmony with the ancient Vedic belief. It is in his character as destroyer that _iva holds his place in the triad, and that he must, no doubt, be identified with the Vedic Rudra. Another very important function appears, however to have been early assigned to him, on which much more stress is laid in his modern worshipthat of destroyer being more especially exhibited in his consortviz, the character of a generative power, symbolized in the phallic emblem (linga) and in the sacred bull (Nandi), the favourite attendant of the god. This feature being entirely alien from the nature of the Vedic god; it has been conjectured with some plausibility, that the linga-worship was originally prevalent among the non-_ryan population, and was thence introduced into the worship of _iva. On the other hand, there can, we think, be little doubt that _iva, in his generative faculty, is the representative of another Vedic god whose nature and attributes so far to account for this particular feature of the modern deity, is frequently invoked, as the lord of nourishment, to bestow food, wealth, and other blessings. He is once, jointly with Soma, called the progenitor of heaven and earth, and is connected with the marriage ceremony, where he is asked to lead the bride to the bridegroom and make her prosperous (_ivatam_). Moreover, he has the epithet kapardin (spirally Braided), as have Rudra and the later _iva, and is called Pa_upa, or guardian of cattle, whence the latter derives his name Pa_upati. But he is also a strong, powerful, and even fierce and destructive god, who, with his goad or golden spear, smites the foes of his worshipper, and thus in this respect offers at least some points of similarity to Rudra, which may have favoured the fusion of the two gods. Vishnu occupies already a place in the Vedic mythology, though by no means one of such prominence as would entitle him to that degree of exaltation implied in his character as one of the three hypostases of the divinity. Moreover, although in his general nature, as a benevolent, genial being, the Vedic god corresponds on the whole to the later Vishnu, the preserver of the world, the later exhibits many important features for which we look in vain in his prototype, and which were most likely the results of sectarian worship or of an amalgamation with local deities. In one or two of them, such as his names V_sudeva and Vaikuntha, an attempt may again be traced to identify Vishnu with Indra, who, as we have seen, was one of the vedic triad of gods. The characteristic feature of the elder Vishnu is his measuring the world with his three strides, which are explained as denoting either the three stations of the sun at the time of rising, culminating, and setting, or the triple manifestation of the luminous element, as the fire on earth the lightning in the atmosphere, and the sun in the heavens. The modern god is represented as undergoing, for the benefit of mankind, a number of avat_ras or incarnations, ten of which are especially dwelt upon by the fervid imagination of his followers. The exact time at which these several episodes were incorporated into the cult of Vishnu cannot at present be ascertained. As they are for the most part conceived in a decidedly Br_hmanical spirit,the special object for which Vishnu assumes a human form being generally to deliver the people from the oppression of some wicked tyrannous prince,it is probable that they were mostly introduced at a time when there was still some danger of the Kshatriyas defying the Br_hmanical rule. Of somewhat different origin were, perhaps, two of Vishnus most popular and important incarnations, viz., those in which he manifests himself in the persons of Krishna and R_ma, two heroes whose exploits are celebrated in the Mah_bh_rata and R_m_yana. It is possible that these warriors and their legendary achievements had been favourite subjects of heroic poetry for some time previous to the overthrow of the Kshatriyas, and that, being already regarded by the latter as representatives of Vishnu, they were afterwards recognized as such by the Br_hmans, and thus gave rise to the system of Avat_ras.
The male nature of the triad was supposed to require to be supplemented by each of the three gods being associated with a female energy (_akti). Thus V_ch or Sarasvat_, the goddess of speech and learning came to be regarded as the _akti, or consort of Brahm_; Sr_ or Lakshm_, "beauty, fortune," as that of Vishnu; and Um_ or P_rvati, the daughter of Himavat, the god of the Him_laya mountain, as that of _iva. On the other hand, it is not improbable that P_rvat_, ho has a variety of other names, such as K_l_ ("the black one"), Durg_ ("the inaccessible, terrible one"), Mah_-dev_ ("the great goddess"),enjoyed already a somewhat extensive worship of her own, and that there may thus have been good reason for assigning to her a prominent place in the Br_hmanical system. In later times a special sect, was principally devoted to her service; and up to our days an almost national festival, the Durg_p_j_ or Da_ar_, accompanied by sanguinary sacrifices, is annually, in September or October, celebrated in her honour in Northern and Western India.
A compromise was thus effected between the esoteric doctrine of the metaphysician and some of the most prevalent forms of popular worship, resulting in what was henceforth to constitute the orthodox system of belief of the Br_hmanical community. Yet the Vedic pantheon could not be altogether discarded, forming part and parcel, as it did, of that sacred revelation (_ruti), which it had been taught was the divine source of all religious and social law (smriti, "tradition"), and being, moreover, the foundation of the sacrificial ceremonial on which the priestly authority so largely depended. The existence of the old gods is therefore likewise recognized, but recognized in a very different way from that of the triple divinity. For while the triad represents the immediate manifestation of the eternal, infinite soulwhile it constitutes, in fact, the Brahma itself in its active relation to mundane and seemingly material occurrences, the gods are of this world, are individual spirits or portions of the Brahma like men and other sphere, the heaven of Indra (the svarloka or svarga), is assigned to which man may raise himself by fulfilling the holy ordinances; but they are subject to the same laws of being; they, like men, are liable to be born again in some lower state, and therefore, like them, yearn for emancipation from the necessity of future individual existence. It is a sacred duty of man to worship these superior beings by invocations and sacrificial observances, as it is to honour the pitris, the spirits of the departed ancestors. The dead, on being judged by Yama, the Pluto of Hind_ mythology, are supported to be either passing through a term of enjoyment in a region midway between the earth and the heaven of the gods, or undergoing their measure of punishment in the nether world, situated somewhere in the southern region, before they return to the earth to animate new bodies. In Vedic mythology Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died, and "espied the way to" the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence to have become the ruler of the departed; in some passages, however, he is already regarded as the god of death. Although the pantheistic system allowed only a subordinate rank to the old gods, and the actual religious belief of the people was probably but little affected by their existence, they continued to occupy an important place in the affections of the poets, and were still represented as exercising considerable influence on the destinies of man. The most prominent of them were regarded as the appointed Lokap_las, or guardians of the world; and as such they were made to preside over the four points of the compass. Thus Indra, the chief of the gods, was regarded as the regent of the East; Agni, the fire (ignis), was in the same way associated with the south-east; Yama with the south; S_rya, the sun ("GREEK), with the south-west; Varuna, originally the representative of the all-embracing heaven (GREEK) or atmosphere, known the god of the ocean, with the west; V_yu (or Pavana) the wind, with the north-west; Kubera, the god of wealth, with the north; and Soma (or Chandra) with the north-east. In the institures of Manu the Lokap_las are represented as standing in close relation to the ruling king, who is said to be composed of particles of these his tutelary deities. The retinue of Indra consists chiefly of the Gandharvas (etym, connected with GREEK), a class of genii, considered in the epics as the celestial musicians; and their wives, the Apsaras, lovely nymphs, who are frequently employed by the gods to make the pious devotee desists from carrying his austere practices to an extent that might render him dangerous to their power. Narada, an ancients sage, is considered as the messenger between the gods and men, and as having sprung from the forehead of Brahm_. The interesting office of the God of love is held by K_madeva, also called Ananga, the bodyless, because, as the myth relates having once tried by the power of his mischievous arrow to make _iva fall in love with P_rvat_, whilst he was engaged in devotional practices, the urchin was reduced to ashes by a glace of the angry god. Two other mythological figures of some importance are considered as sons of _iva and P_rvat_, viz., K_rttikeya or Skanda, the leader of the heavenly armies, who was supposed to have been fostered by the six Krittik_s or Pleiades; and Gane_a, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, and at the same time the leader of the dii minorum gentium.
Orthodox Br_hmanical scholasticism makes the attainment of final emancipation (mukti, moksha) dependent on perfect knowledge of the divine essence. This knowledge can only be obtained by complete abstraction of the mind from external objects and intense meditation on the divinity, which again presupposes the total extinction of all sensual instincts by means of austere practices (tapas). The chosen few who succeed in gaining complete mastery over their senses and a full knowledge of the divine nature become absorbed into the universal soul immediately on the dissolution of the body. Those devotees, on the other hand who have still a residuum, however slight, of ignorance and worldliness left in them at the time of their death, pass to the world of Brahm_, where their souls, invested with subtile corporeal frames, await their reunion with the supreme. The pantheistic doctrine which forms the foundation of the Br_hmanical belief found its earliest systematic exposition in the M_m_ns_ was regarded as the only true orthodox school of philosophy. It divided itself into two parts or branches, viz., the P_rva- (prior) or Karma- (work) M_m_ns_s and the S_nkhya preceded Buddhism. The Ved_nta seemed to be unable satisfactorily to account for the origin of matter, the existence of which its followers in later times found themselves compelled altogether to deny, and to declare to be a mere illusion (m_y_) produced by imperfect knowledge of the soul. Kapila cut the knot by proclaiming the eternal existence of a material principle, unconscious, but endowed with volition in regard to its own development, from it all matter had emanated, and into it would ultimately resolve itself. He called it Pradh_na, ("principal" thing) or m_la-Prakriti ("original nature"). By the side of this plastic element he recognizes the existence of a primary spiritual essence (_tman, "soul," or purusha, "person"), which is not one but manifold, and has from all beginning entered into matter. It is in itself unintelligent; but being in the first place indued with a subtile body termed the "great one" (mahat), which consists of intelligence (buddhi), and is the first emanation of plastic nature, it thereby receives the faculty of knowing. A being composed only of these elements is the S_nkhya deity which is thus partly material its subtile body (buddhi) being the secondary source of all further developments. The immediate production of the intellectual principle is the ahank_ra ("I-making," i.e., egotism, self-consciousness), which combined with the spiritual element, constitutes the intelligent, self-conscious, individual soul. In this way Kapila derives all that exists from twenty-five principles (including the two primary essences), perfect knowledge of which qualifies the soul for emancipation from its connection with matter, the source of all pain. By predicating volition of the spiritual principle and withholding it from matter, the eternal existence of which he likewise recognized, Patanjali became the founder of the theistic (se_vara) S_nkhya (i.e., the system with a god, _vara); whereas Kapilas doctrine was termed nir__vara, atheistical. The Ny_ya, including the Vai_seshika, on the other hand, represents the universe as having emanated from nine primary substances, five of themviz., earth, water, light, air, and mind (manas)existing eternally in the form of atoms; three (ether, time, and place) being one and infinite; and soul (_tman) being either one and infinite as the supreme spirit, the omniscient Lord (__vara), or manifold in the shape of the vital spirit of animate beings (j_vatman).
The teachings of these masters, especially those of Kapila, were thus decidedly antagonistic to the doctrine of an omnipotent creator of the world on which the Br_hmanical system was based. So far, however, from acknowledging their heterodoxy, they never failed to fall back on the Veda, as the revealed source of religious belief, to establish the truth of their theories; and so much had liberty of speculative thought become a matter of tradition and necessity, that no attempt seems ever to have been made by the leading theological party to put down such heretical doctrines, so long as the sacred character of the privileges of their caste was not openly called in question. Yet internal dissensions on such cardinal points of belief could not but weaken the authority of the hierarchical body; and as they spread beyond the narrow bounds of Br_hmanical schools, it wanted but a man of moral and intellectual powers, and untrammeled with class prejudices, to render them fatal to priestly pretensions. Such a man arose in the person of a __kya, prince of Kapilavastu, Gautama, the founder of Buddhism (about the 5th or 6th century B.C.) Had it only been for the philosophical tenets of Buddha, they need scarcely have caused and probably did not cause, any great uneasiness to the orthodox theologians. He did, indeed, go one step beyond Kapila, by altogether denying the existence of the soul as a substance, and admitting only certain intellectual faculties as attributes of the body, perishable with it. Yet the conception which Buddha substituted for the trans-migratory soul,viz., that of karma ("deed"), as the sum total of the individuals good and bad actions, being the determinative element of the form of his future existence, might have been treated like any other speculative theory, but for the practical conclusions he drew from it. Buddha recognized the institution of caste, and accounted for the social inequalities attending on it as being the effects of karma in former existences. On the other hand he altogether denied the reveled character of the Veda and the efficacy of the Br_hmanical ceremonies deduced from it, and rejected the claims of the sacerdotal class to be the repositaries and divinely appointed teachers of sacred knowledge. That Buddha never questioned the truth of the Br_hmanical theory of transmigration shows that this early product of speculative thought had become firmly rooted in the Hind_ mind as a point of belief amounting to a moral conviction. To the Hind_ philosopher this doctrine seemed to account satisfactorily for the apparent essential similarity of the vital element in all animate beings, no less than for what elsewhere has led honest and logical thinkers to the stern dogma of predestination. The belief in eternal bliss or punishment, as the just recompense of mans actions during this brief term of human life, which their less reflective forefathers had at one time held, appeared to them to involve a moral impossibility. The equality of all men, which Buddha preaches with regard to the final goal, the nirv_na, or extinction of karma and thereby of all future existence and pain, and that goal to be reached not by the performance of penance and sacrificial worship, but by practicing virtue, could not fail to be acceptable to many people. It would be out of place here to dwell on the rapid progress and internal development of the new doctrine. Suffice it to say that, owing to doubt greatly to the sympathizing patronage of ruling princes, Buddhism appears to have been the state religion in most parts of India during the early centuries of our era. To what extent it became the actual creed of the body of the people it will probably be impossible ever to ascertain. One of the chief effects it produced on the worship of the old gods was the rapid decline of the authority of the orthodox Br_hmanical dogma, and a considerable development of sectarianism. Among the great variety of deities of the pantheon, _iva, Vishnu, and P_rvat_ have since claimed by far the largest share of adoration, and it is in special accounts of the _aivo, Vaishnava, and S_kta sects rather than in an exposition of the Br_hmanical belief, that the religious history of India from about the beginning of our era can be dealt with satisfactorily. At that time the worship of Vishnu in his most popular avat_r, in the person of Krishna, appears to have received much countenance at the hands of the priest, with a view of counteracting the growing influence of Buddhism. The sectarian spirit gave gradually rise to a special class of works, the modern Pur_nas composed for the express purpose of promoting the worship of some particular deity. In the 8th or 9th century _ankara-_ch_rya, a Malabar Br_hman of the _aiva sect and Ved_nta school of philosophy, made an attempt, by engaging in controversy with the leaders of various sects, to restore the Br_hmanical system of belief to its former imposing position. His example and teachings seem to have inspired the Br_hmanical community with a good ideal of religious zeal, and even fanaticism, and thus to have greatly contributed to the final overthrow of the Buddhists. In the 7th century the authority of _akyamunis doctrine was already on the wane, as is evident from Hiouen Thsangs complaints of the number of ruined temples and deserted monasteries, and the great proportion of heretics. At the time of _ankara its decline must have been still more advanced, and a few more centuries probably sufficed to make the last living remains of the Buddhist faith disappear from the continent of India; except, indeed, in Nepal, where it prevails to this day. There also still exists in India a very important sect which seems to have early branched off from the Buddhist doctrine, viz., the Jains. Although, in the long run, Buddhism has been unable to maintain the ground it had doctrines has left a deep impress on the Hind_ mind. One of the practical and least salutary effects it has produced is the adaptation of monastic institutions by most of the Br_hmanical sects. The maths or convents, in which a considerable together, are presided over by mah_nbts or superiors, and are scattered all over India. _ankara founded several establishments of this kind in various parts, especially one still existing at _ringeri, on the Western Ghats. In spite of its leveling tendencies, Buddhism seems never to have succeeded in checking the further development of the caste system. At the time of _ankara seventy-two mixed classes, or eighteen subdivisions of each of the four original castes, are said to have existed, and ever since they have become more and more numerous. Indeed, there can be no doubt that Hind_s do not feel, and perhaps never felt, their class restrictions as being in any way burdensome, or sill less a disgrace to them, and that even the lowest man looks upon his caste as a privilege as high as that of the Br_hman. In the opinion of the Br_hmans only one original caste is now extant, viz., their own, all the others having resulted from successive intermixtures.
Mr Sherring, in his Hindu Tribes and Castes, makes the following remarks on the Br_hmanical caste at the present day:"The Brahman occupies the highest rank among Hindus for at least three reasons. The first is his assumed sanctity. By the people generally he is regarded as a pure, stainless, twice-born being divine as well as human worthy of unbounded admiration and worship. He is the priest of the Hindu religion, directing the ceremonies performed at the temples, sacred wells, sacred tanks, sacred rivers, and at all hallowed places throughout the land. He is present to sanction, and give effect to, the great social festivals of his countrymen held at marriages, at births of sons, and at deaths. He casts the horoscope, tells the lucky days, gives spiritual counsel, whispers mantras or mysterious words, executes magical incantations and charms, and is at once household god, family priest, and general preceptor and guide in behalf of the many millions of Hindus residing in the vast country lying between the Himalayas and Cape Comorin. The second reason of the Brahmans superiority is that, for many ages, perhaps from the outset of his career, when with other intellectually in advance of the rest of the Hindu race
The third reason is a consequent of the second. The Brahman is not only a thinking, but also a reading man. He possesses and, perhaps, reads the holy canonVedas, Shastras, and Pur_nas. He has been the author of Hindu literature
Light of complexion, his forehead ample his countenance of striking significance, his lips thin, an mouth expressive, his eyes quick and sharp, his fingers long, his carriage noble and almost sublime, the true Brahman, uncontaminated by European influence and manners, with his intense self-consciousness with the proud conviction of superiority depicted in every muscle of his face, and manifest in every movement of his body, is a wonderful specimen of humanity walking on Gods earth. Yet the Brahman has lived his day. His prestige is rapidly on the decline, and is only maintained at its ancient pitch in remote villages and in the fastnesses of superstition in great cities. Here, as of old, it envelopes him like a glory. But the further he moves from such places, the more dim becomes the glory until it fades away altogether. Education and other influences are treating the Brahman roughly. Yet the fault is his own. He has had a better start by reason of his great natural endowments than any Hindu of the other castes below him; but he has neglected his opportunities. I fear he has been too proud, too self-satisfied to avail himself of them."
On the modern observance of religious duties Professor Wilson remarks:"Now it is true that in the present constitution of Indian society the distribution of the periods of life, beyond that of the student, is never regarded except by a few, who prefer a life of lazy mendacity, or by some half-crazed enthusiast, who thinks it possible to realize the latter of the law. The great body of the people, Brahmans included, pursue their worldly avocations as long as their faculties permit, spend, the decline of life in the bosom of their families, and die peaceably and decently at home. But although the practice is discontinued, the doctrine remains and influences opinion; and devotional ceremonies, pilgrimage, penance, and abstract contemplation have an undue preponderance in the estimation of the people, even the best informed among them, over active duties and the precept of morality. As to the common people they have a still lower scale, and they find a ready substitute for the inconveniences of all moral restraint in the fervour of that faith which they place in Vishnu, and the unwearied perseverance with which they train a parrot or a starling to repeat his names, to articulate Krishma-R_dh_, or S_t_-_t_m."
The study of the ancient literature of the Hind_s has taught us that some practices which have hitherto, or until recently, prevailed in India, and which have contributed so much to bringing Hind_ morals into disrepute, are but comparatively modern innovations. Thus, the rite of suttee (properly sat_, i.e., "the faithful wife"), or voluntary immolation of widows, which was abolished some thirty-years age with considerable difficulty, seems to have sprung up originally as a local habit among the Kshatriyas, and, on becoming more and more prevalent, to have at length received Br_hmanical sanctions. The alleged conformity of the rite to the Hind_ scriptures has been shown to have rested chiefly on a misquotation, if not an intentional garbling, or a certain passage of the Rigveda, which, so far from authorizing the concremation of the widow, bids her return from the funeral pile to her home and resume her worldly duties.
Cases of infanticide are still, unfortunately, too common in many parts of India, especially among the R_jputs. To the honour of the priests be it said, however, that they have never sanctioned this abominable practice. Its origin has, it appears, to be sought in the enormous extravagance of wedding feats, and a mistaken notion of parents being disgraced by their daughters remaining husbandless. Hence also the practice of early marriages, which is the more mischievous, as Hind_ law does not allow widows to remarry.
The cow has been held in high honour in India from early times. This religious feeling was not, however, carried formerly to the extreme to which it is carried now-a-days, when the slaughtering and eating the flesh of kine is considered as one of the most heinous crimes. It has, on the contrary, been shown conclusively by a Hind_ scholar, that beef formed in former times a staple article of food in India, and that in showing, hospitality to an honoured guest it played as prominent a part "as did the killing of the fatted calf among the Jews."
See H. H. Wilson, Essays on the Religion of the Hindus; J. Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts; M. Müller, History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature; C. Lassen, Indische Alterhumskunde; Elphinstone, History of India, ed. By E. B. Cowell. (J.E.)