Page images
PDF
EPUB

received consists of the same compositions which under the title of Vedas have been revered by the Hindus for hundreds if not thousands of years.

These Vedas are four in number: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the At'harva Veda; and some writers reckon the books It'hasa and the Puranas as a fifth or supplemental Veda. By the age of the Vedas is not meant the period at which they were actually composed, but that in which they were collected and arranged by the sage Dwapayana surnamed Vyasa or the Compiler, or about fourteen centuries before the Christian æra, and nine hundred years before Pisistratus performed the same office for the works of Homer, in danger of being lost, owing to the practice of the public rehearsers who only declaimed detached passages and episodes.

The At'herban or more properly At'herva Veda is supposed to be more modern than the other three books, and indeed to be a compilation from them. The antiquity also of many of the puranas is questioned, but their real author and precise date is of little consequence, since the fact of their being really the sacred books of India is acknowledged.

The Vedas consist of a compilation of prayers or Muntras and hymns, the complete collection of which is called Sanhita, and of precepts and maxims called Brahmana. The theology of

Indian scripture including the argumentative part or Vedanta is contained in tracts called Upanishads, and to each Veda a treatise called Jyotish is annexed, explaining the adjustment of the calendar for religious purposes.

The Rigveda contains chiefly encomiastic muntras, and its name is derived from the verb Rich to laud; these prayers are mostly in verse, and together with similar passages in any other Veda are called Rich. The authors of these hymns are various, some of them being ascribed to different deities male and female, others to kings and princes, or to sages and holy men. This Veda contains in its last chapter the celebrated Gayatri, or Indian priest's confession of faith, which is thus translated by Mr. Colebrooke.

"This new and excellent praise of thee, O splendid playful sun! is offered by us to thee. Be gratified by this my speech, approach this craving mind, as a fond man seeks a woman. May that sun (Pushasi) who contemplates and looks into all worlds be our protector.

"LET US MEDITATE ON THE ADORABLE LIGHT

OF THE DIVINE RULER (SAVITRI). MAY IT GUIDE OUR INTELLECT. Desirous of food we solicit the gift of the splendid sun (Savitri) who should be studiously worshipped. Venerable men, guided by the understanding, salute the divine sun (Savitri) with oblations and praise."

I do not wonder that one of the first objects of worship should have been him who

With surpassing glory crown'd

Looks from his sole dominion like the

God of this new world.

Or that the "splendid playful sun,” should have been regarded as the embodying of that divine intellect which pervades and governs all things. But soon the type was considered as the thing typified, and the sun once adored as God, there were no bounds to the wanderings of the human imagination; and though the instructed sages ever considered the sun, the air, the fire, as types of their Creator, the vulgar soon adopted that mythology which personifies the elements and planets, and peoples heaven and earth with various orders of beings. Thus though the Vedas distinctly recognize but one God, their poetic language does not sufficiently distinguish the Creator from the creature; and though the numerous titles of the deity be all referable to the sun, the air and fire, and these three again but signify the one God, these titles insensibly became the names of separate deities, who usurped the worship due only to the Supreme intelli

gence.

The name of the Yajurveda signifies that it concerns oblations and sacrifices. Soon after it was compiled by Vyasa it became polluted, and

a new revelation called the White Yajush was granted to Yajnyawalkya, while the remains of the former Yajush is distinguished by the title of the Black Yajurveda. Some of the prayers called Rich are included in this Veda, but its own peculiar muntras are in prose.

A peculiar degree of holiness is attributed to the Samaveda, as its name signifies that which destroys sin. Its texts are usually chanted, and I have occasionally been delighted with the solemn tones issuing from the domes of the native temples, at sunset, before the moment for the ceremonial ablutions had arrived.

The last or Atharvan Veda is chiefly used at rites for conciliating the deities, or for drawing down curses on enemies, and contains some prayers used at lustrations. As a specimen of the Hindû taste in curses, I send you the following: "Destroy, O sacred grass*, my foes; exterminate my enemies; annihilate all those who hate me, O precious gem!"

The most remarkable part of the Atharvan Veda consists of the treatises called Upanishats. The meaning of this word is divine science, or the knowledge of God; and the whole of the Indian theology is professedly founded on the Upanishads, which are either extracts from the

*Darbha. Poa Cynosuroides.

Vedas, or essays belonging to the Indian Scrip

tures.

To give you an idea of the doctrines contained in the Vedas, and of the style in which they are conveyed, I shall transcribe some passages from that portion of the Rigveda called Aitareya Aranyaca, the four last lectures of which, containing the most sublime account of the creation, excepting that in the book of Genesis, that I have ever met with, are translated by Mr. Colebrooke in his essay on the Vedas, published in the eighth vol. of the Asiatic Researches.

[ocr errors]

The fine passage, however, which opens this portion of the sacred writings, is followed by some of a very different cast; which make it "lose discountenanced, and like folly show;' so that one knows not whether most to admire the great man who conceived the first, or to despise the compiler who could place such illassorted materials together.

"Originally this universe was indeed soUL only; nothing else whatever existed, active or inactive. He thought, I will create worlds. Thus HE created these various worlds; water, light, mortal beings, and the waters. That water, is the region above the heaven, which heaven upholds; the atmosphere comprises light; the earth is mortal; and the regions below are the waters."

« PreviousContinue »