« PreviousContinue »
chronological and historical results); the identification and arrangement of the ancient coins found in the Panjab; the examination of the recently discovered fossil geology of India; the analysis of the Sanscrit and Tibetan buddhistical records, contained in "hundreds of volumes," by M. Cosoma Korosi and professor Wilson; and the translation of the hindu plays, by the latter distinguished scholar;exhibit triumphant evidence, that at no previous period had oriental research been exerted with equal success. Yet it is in the midst of this comparatively brilliant career, and at the seat of the operations of the Bengal Asiatic Society, that the heaviest disappointment has visited that institution. It has within the last year been decided by the supreme government of India, that the funds which “have hitherto been in part applied to the revival and improvement of the literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, are henceforth to be appropriated to purposes of English education." In an unavailing effort of the Asiatic Society to avert that decision, the supreme government has thought proper to designate the printing of several standard oriental works, then in progress, to be "to little purpose but to accumulate stores of waste paper."
I advert not to these recent discussions in Bengal with any view to take part in them. My object is exclusively to show that the increasing discouragement or indifference, evinced towards oriental rescarch, does not proceed either from the exhaustion of the stores to be examined, or from the relaxation of the energy of the examiners; and to endeavour to account for the causes which have produced these conflicting results. The mythology and the legends of Asia, connected with the fabulous ages, contrasted with those of ancient Europe and Asia Minor, present no such glaring disparity in extravagance, as should necessarily lead an unprejudiced mind to cultivate the study and investigation of the one, and to decide on the rejection and condemnation of the other. Almost every well educated European has exerted the first efforts of his expanding intellect to familiarize himself with the mythology and fabulous legends of ancient Europe. The immortal works of the poets which have perpetuated this mythology, as well as these legends, have from his childhood been presented to his view, as models of the most classical and perfect composition. In the progress to manhood, and throughout that period of life during which mental energy is susceptible of the greatest excitement,-in the senate, at the bar, on the stage, and even in the pulpit,-the most celebrated men of genius have studiously borrowed, more or less of their choicest ornaments, from the works of the ancient poets and historians.
To those, again, to whom the fictions of the poets present no attractive charms, the literature of Europe, as soon as it emerges from the darkness of the fabulous ages, supplies a separate stream of historical narration, distinctly traced, and precisely graduated, by the scale of chronology. On the events recorded and timed in the pages of that well attested history, a philosophical mind dwells with intense interest. The rise and fall of empires; the origin, growth, and decay of human institutions; the advancement or arrest of civilization; and every event which can instruct or influence practical men, in every station of life, are there developed, with the fullest authenticity. Whichever of these two departments of literature-fiction or fact-the European student may find most congenial to his taste, early associations and prepossessions have equally familiarized either to his mind.
As regards oriental literature, the impressions of early associations never can, nor is to be wished that they ever should, operate on the European mind. Even in Europe, where the advantages of the spread of education, and of the diffusion of useful knowledge, are the least disputed of the great principles which agitate the public mind, there are manifest indications that it is the predominent opinion of the age, that into the scheme of that extended education-more of fact and less of fiction-more of practical Vide Appendix for a comparison of Mahanámo with Herodotus and Justinus.
mathematics and less of classics-should be infused, than have hitherto been adopted in public institutions. Mutatis mutandis, I regard the recent Indian fiat "that the funds which have hitherto been in part applied to the revival and improvement of the literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, shall be exclusively appropriated to purposes of English education," to be conceived in the same spirit.
These early associations, then, being thus unavailing and unvailable, (if the foregoing remarks are entitled to any weight) the creation of a general interest towards, or the realization of the subsiding expectations, produced at the formation of the Bengal Asiatic Society, in regard to, oriental literature, seems to depend on this single question ; viz.,
Does there exist now, or is there a prospect of an authentic history of India being developed hereafter, by the researches of orientalists?
On the solution of this question, as it appears to me, depends entirely, whether the study of oriental literature (with reference not to languages, but the information those languages contain) shall continue, like the study of any of the sciences, to be confined to the few whose taste or profession has devoted them to it; or whether it shall some day exercise an influence over that more extended sphere, which belongs to general history alone to exert.
This is an important, though not, perhaps, altogether a vital, question :-important, more especially at the present moment, as regards the interest it can create, and the resources it can thence derive, for the purpose of extending the basis of research; but not vital, in as much as there is no more reason for apprehending the extinction of oriental research, from its having failed to extend its influence over the whole educated community of the world, than that geology, mineralogy, botany, or any of the other sciences should become extinct, because the interest each individually possesses is of a limited character. Nor does the continuance of oriental research, conducted by Europeans, appear, in any degree, to depend on the contingency of the permanence of British sway over its present Asiatic dominions; for the spirit of that research has of late years gained even greater strength on the continent of Europe than in the British empire. But to return to the question :—
Does there exist now, or is there a prospect of an authentic history of India being developed hereafter, by the researches of orientalists?
Preparatory to answering this question, I shall briefly touch on the published results of our countrymen's researches in the department of HISTORY; premising, that in the earlier period of their labors, their publications partook more of the character of theoretical or critical treatises, than accurate translations of the texts they professed to illustrate. This course was adopted, under the suggestion of Sir W. Jones; who in his preliminary discourse on the institution of the Asiatic Society, remarked: "You may observe I have omitted their languages, the diversity and difficulty of which are a sad obstacle to the progress of useful knowledge; but I have ever considered languages as the mere instruments of real learning, and think them improperly confounded with learning itself. The attainment of them is, however, indispensably necessary." Again, "You will not perhaps be disposed to admit mere translations of considerable length, except such unpublished essays and treatises as may be transmitted to us by native authors."
Sir W. Jones himself led the way in the discusssion of the chronology of the hindus.* After a speculative dissertation, tending to an identification or reconciliation, in some particular points, of the
* A. R. vol. i. p. 71.
hindu with the mosaic history, he has, with all that fascination which his richly stored mind enabled him to impart to all his di cassions, developed the scheme of hindu chronology, as explained to him from hindu authorities, by Radhacanta Sermin, "a pundit of extensive learning and great fame among the hindus." The chronology treated of in this dissertation, extends back through "the four ages," which are stated to embrace the preposterous periol of 4,329,000 years; and contains the genealogies of kings, collecte 1 from the paránas, which were then consi lerd works of considerable antiquity. It is only in the middle of the fourth age," when he comes to the Magadha dynas'y, that hindu authorities enable him to assign a date to the period at which any of those kings ruled. On obtaining this "point d'appui," Sir W. Jones thus express 's himself :
“Pura ijiya, son of the twentieth king, was put to death by his minister, Sunara, who placed his own son Pradyota on the throne of his master; and this revolution constitutes an epoch of the highest importance in our present inquiry; first, because it happened, according to the Bhajaw vanwrla, two years before Bad lha's appearance in the same kingdom: next, because it is believed by the hinds to have taken place 3338 years ago, or 2100 before Christ; and, lastly, because a regular chronology, according to the number of years in each dynasty, has been established, from the accession of Pradyota, to the subversion of the genuine hindu government; and that chronology I will now lay before you, after observing only, that Ratharan'a himself says nothing of Buddha in this part of his work, though he particularly mentions two preceding avatáras in their proper places.
"This prince, of whom frequent mention is made in the Sanscrit books, is said to have been murdered, after a reign of a hundred years, by a very learned and ingenious, but passionate and vindictive, brahman, whose name was Chinacya, and who raised to the throne a man of the Maurya race, named Chandragupta. By the death of Nanda and his sons, the Cshatriya family of Pradyota became extinct.
“On the death of the tenth Maurya king, his place was assumed by his commander-in-chief, Pushamitra, of the Sanga nation or family."
It is thus shown that, according to the hindu authorities, Chandragupta, the Sandracottus, who was contemporary with Alexander and Seleucus Nicator, to whose court at Palibothra Megasthenes was deputed, is placed on the throne about B. c. 1502; which is at once an anachronism of upwards of eleven centuries.
Sir W. Jones sums up his treatise by commenting on this fictitious chronology of the hindus, with the view to reconciling it, by rational reasoning, founded on the best attainable data, with the dates which that reasoning would suggest, as the probably correct periods of the several epochs named by him.
The whole of that paper, but more particularly as it treats of the "fourth age," bears a deeply interesting relation to the question of the authenticity of the buddhistical chronology; and it exhibits, in a remarkable degree, the unconscious approaches to truth, as regards the history of the Buddhos, made by rational reasoning, though constantly opposed by the prejudices and perversions of hindu authorities, and his hindu pundit, in the course of the examination in which Sir W. Jones was engaged. Wilford next brought the chronology of the hindus under consideration, by his "Genealogical Table, extracted from the Vishnu purána, the Bhagavat, and other puránas, without the least alteration." He however borrows from hindu annals, nothing but the names of the kings.
“When the purúnas, (he says) speak of the kings of ancient times, they are equally extravagant. According to them, king Yudhishthir reigned seven and twenty thousand years; king Nanda, of whom I shall speak more fully hereafter, is said to have possessed in his treasury above 1,584,000,000 pounds sterling, in gold coin alone: the value of the silver and copper coin, and jewels, exceeded all calculation; and his army consisted of 100,000,000 men. These accounts, geographical, chronological, and historical, as absurd, and inconsistent with reason, must be rejected. This monstrous system seems to derive its origin from the ancient period of 12,000 natural years, which was admitted by the Persians, the Etrusians, and, I believe, also by the Celtic tribes; for we read of a learned nation in Spain, which boasted of having written histories of above six thousand years.
"The hindus still make use of a period of 12,000 divine years, after which a periodical renovation of the world takes place. It is difficult to fix the time when the hindus, forsaking the paths of historical truth, launched into the mazes of extravagance and fable. Megasthenes, who had repeatedly visited the court of Chandragupta, and of course had an opportunity of conversing with the best informed persons in India, is silent as to this monstrous system of the hindus. On the contrary, it appears, from what he says, that in his time they did not carry back their antiquities much beyond six thousand years, as we read in some MSS. He adds also, according to Clemens of Alexandria, that the hindus and the Jews were the only people who had a true idea of the creation of the world, and the beginning of things. There was then obvious affinity between the chronological system of the Jews and the hindus. We are well acquainted with the pretensions of the Egyptians and Chaldeans to antiquity: this they never attempted to conceal. It is natural to suppose, that the hindus were equally vain: they are so now; and there is hardly a hindu who is not persuaded of, and who will not reason upon, the supposed antiquity of his nation. Megasthenes, who was acquainted with the antiquities of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Jews, whilst in India made inquiries into the history of the hindus, and their antiquity, and it is natural to suppose that they would boast of it as well as the Egyptians or Chaldeans, and as much then as they do now. Surely they did not invent fables to conceal them from the multitude, for whom, on the contrary, these fables were framed."
Thus rejecting the whole scheme of hindu chronology, and adopting the date of the age of Alexander for the period at which Chandragupta reigned in India, Wilford, as regards chronology, simply tabularizes his list of kings, according to the average term of human life; and thereby approximates the hindu to the European chronology. "The puránas," he adds, "are certainly a modern compilation from valuable materials, which I am afraid no longer exist;" but from several hindu dramas (which have been
• A. R. vol. v. p. 241.
recently translated and published by professor Wilson,) he deduces particulars connected with the personal history of Chandragupta, and supplies also some valuable geographical illustrations,-to both which I shall hereafter have occasion to advert. Wilford recurs to these subjects in greater detail, and with more close reference to buddhistical historical data, in his several essays on the Gangetic provinces, the kings of Magadha, the eras of Vicramaditya and Salivahana, and in his account of the jains or buddhists. Want of space prevents my making more than one extract. I shall only notice, therefore, as regards chronology, that Wilford in this instance also bases his calculations on the European date assignable to the reign of Chandragupta; and that in doing so, it will be seen, by the following admission, that he disturbs the epoch of the Káliyuga by upwards of seventeen centuries.
"The beginning of the Cali-yuga, considered as an astronomical period, is fixed and unvariable; 3044 years before Vicramaditya, or 3100 B. C.-But the beginning of the same, considered either as a civil, or historical period, is by no means agreed upon.
"In the Vishnu, Brahminda, and Vayu purinas, it is declared, that from the beginning of the Cali-yuga, to Mahananda's accession to the throne, there were exactly 1015 years. This emperor reigned 28 years; his sons 12, in all 40; when Chandragupta ascended the throne, 315 years B. C.-The Cali-yuga, then, began 1370 B. c., or 1314 before Vicramaditya: and this is confirmed by an observation of the place of the solstices, made in the time of Parására; and which, according to Mr. Davis, happened 1391 years B. c. or nearly so. Parisira, the father of Vysa, died a little before the beginning of the Cali-yuga. It is remarkable that the first observations of the colures, in the west, were made 1353 years before Christ, about the same time nearly, according to Mr. Bailly."
Bentley, Davis, and others, have also discussed, and attempted to unravel and account for, these absurdities of the hindu chronology. Great as is the ingenuity they have displayed, and successful as those inquiries have been in other respects, they all tend to prove the existence of the above mentioned incongruities, and to shew that they are the result of systematic preversions, had recourse to, since the time of Megasthenes, by the hindus, to work out their religious impostures; and that they in no degree originate in barbarous ignorance, or in the imperfect light which has glimmered on a remote antiquity, or on uncivilized regions involved in a fabulous age.
The strongest evidence I could adduce of the correctness of this inference, will be found in the remarks of professor Wilson, in his introductory observations on the "Raja Taringini, a history of Cashmir." He thus expresses himself:
"The only Sanscrit composition yet discovered, to which the title of history can with any propriety be applied, is the Raja Taringiní, a history of Cashmir. This work was first introduced to the knowledge of the Mohammedans by the learned minister of Acber, Abulfazl; but the summary which he has given of its contents, was taken, as he informs us, from a Persian translation of the hindu original, prepared by order of Achar. The example set by that liberal monarch, introduced amongst his successors, and the literary men of their reigns, a fashion of remodelling, or re translating the same work, and continuing the history of the province, to the periods at which they wrote.
The earliest work of this description, after that which was prepared by order of Acber, is one mentioned by Bernier, who states, an abridged translation of the Raja Taringiní into Persian to have been made, by command of Jehangir. He adds, that he was engaged upon rendering this into French, but we have never heard any thing more of his translation. At a subsequent period, mention is made in a later composition, of two similar works, by Mulla Husein, Kári, or the realer, and by Hyder Malec, Chadwaria, whilst the wor': in which this notice occurs, the Wakiat-i-Cashmir, was written in the time of Mohammed Shah; as was another history of the province, entitled, the Nawadir-ul-Akhbar. The fashion seems to have continued to a very recent date, as Ghulam Husein notices the composition of a history of Cashmir having been entrusted to various learned men, by order of Jivana the Sic'h, then governor of the province; and we shall have cecasion to specify one history, of as recent a date as the reign of Shah Alem.