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in the speculations of antiquity; but it assumed a new vigour in the early ages of Christianity, and was carried to an equal pitch of extravagance by the Platonic Christians as by the Saiva or Vaishňava Hindus. It seems not impossible that there was some communication between them. We know that there was an active communication between India and the Red Sea, in the early ages of the Christian era, and that doctrines, as well as articles of merchandise, were brought to Alexandria from the former. Epiphanius' and Eusebius? accuse Scythianus of having imported from India, in the second century, books on magic, and heretical notions leading to Manichæism; and it was at the same period that Ammonius Saccas instituted the sect of the new Platonists at Alexandria. The basis of his heresy was, that true philosophy derived its origin from the eastern nations. His doctrine of the identity of God and the universe is that of the Vedas and Puráňas; and the practices he enjoined, as well as their object, were precisely those described in several of the Puráňas, under the name of Yoga. His disciples were taught to extenuate, by mortification and contemplation, the bodily restraints upon the immortal spirit; so that, in this life, they might enjoy communion with the Supreme Being, and ascend, after death, to the universal Parent. That these are Hindu tenets, the following pages will testify; and, by the admission of their Alexandrian teacher, they originated in India. The importation was, perhaps, not wholly unrequited:
the loan may not have been left unpaid. It is not impossible that the Hindu doctrines received fresh animation from their adoption by the successors of Ammonius, and, especially, by the mystics, who may have prompted, as well as employed, the expressions of the Puráňas. Anquetil du Perron has given," in the introduction to his translation of the “Oupnekhat’, several hymns by Synesius, a bishop of the beginning of the fifth century, which may serve as parallels to many of the hymns and prayers addressed to Vishńu in the Vishńu Puráňa.
But the ascription, to individual and personal deities, of the attributes of the one universal and spiritual Supreme Being, is an indication of a later date than the Vedas, certainly, and, apparently, also, than the Rámáyaňa, where Ráma, although an incarnation of Vishńu, commonly appears in his human character alone. There is something of the kind in the Mahabharata, in respect to Krishna; especially in the philosophical episode known as the Bhagavad Gítá. In other places, the divine nature of Krishna is less decidedly affirmed; in some, it is disputed, or denied; and, in most of the situations in which he is exhibited in action, it is as a prince and warrior, not as a divinity. He exercises no superhuman faculties in the defence of himself or his friends, or in the defeat and destruction of his foes. The Mahabharata, however, is, evidently, a work of various periods, and requires to be read throughout, carefully and critically, before its weight as an authority can be accurately appreciated. As it is now in
Theologia et Philosophia Indica, Dissert., p. xxvi.
type, '— thanks to the public spirit of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and their secretary, Mr. J. Prinsep,— it will not be long before the Sanskrit scholars of the continent will accurately appreciate its value.
The Puráńas are, also, works of evidently different ages, and have been compiled under different circumstances, the precise nature of which we can but imperfectly conjecture from internal evidence and from what we know of the history of religious opinion in India. It is highly probable that, of the present popular forms of the Hindu religion, none assumed their actual state earlier than the time of Sankara Áchárya, the great Šaiva reformer, who flourished, in all likelihood, in the eighth or ninth century. Of the Vaishňava teachers, Rámánuja dates in the twelfth century; Madhwacharya, in the thirteenth; and Vallabha, in the sixteenth; and the Puráňas seem to have accompanied, or followed, their innovations; being obviously intended to advocate the doctrines they taught. This is to assign to some of them a very modern date, it is true; but I cannot think that a higher can, with justice, be ascribed to them. This, however, applies to some only out of the number, as I shall presently proceed to specify.
Another evidence of a comparatively modern date
1 Three volumes have been printed: the fourth and last is understood to be nearly completed. *
? As. Res., Vols. XVI. and XVII. Account of Hindu Sects. +
* It was completed in 1839: at least, it bears that date.
† This “Sketch of the Religious Sects of the Hindus”, by Professor Wilson, will be found in the first volume of his collected works.
must be admitted in those chapters of the Puranas which, assuming a prophetic tone, foretell what dynasties of kings will reign in the Kali age. These chapters, it is true, are found but in four of the Puránas; but they are conclusive in bringing down the date of those four to a period considerably subsequent to Christianity. It is, also, to be remarked that the Váyu, Vishńu, Bhagavata, and Matsya Puráňas, in which these particulars are foretold, have, in all other respects, the character of as great antiquity as any works of their class."
The invariable form of the Puráňas is that of a dialogue, in which some person relates its contents, in reply to the inquiries of another. This dialogue is interwoven with others, which are repeated as having been held, on other occasions, between different individuals, in consequence of similar questions having been asked. The immediate narrator is, commonly, though not constantly, Lomaharshana or Romaharshańa, the disciple of Vyása, who is supposed to communicate what was imparted to him by his preceptor, as he had heard it from some other sage. Vyása, as will be seen in the body of the work,” is a generic title, meaning an “arranger' or 'compiler'. It is, in this age, applied to Krishńa Dwaipayana, the son of Paráśara,
1 On the history of the composition of the Puráňas, as they now appear, I have hazarded some speculations in my Analysis of the Váyu Puráňa: Journ. Asiatic Society of Bengal, December, 1832. *
? Book III., Chapter III.
* See Vol. III. of our author's collected writings.
who is said to have taught the Vedas and Puráňas to various disciples, but who appears to have been the head of a college, or school, under whom various learned men gave to the sacred literature of the Hindus the form in which it now presents itself. In this task, the disciples, as they are termed, of Vyása were, rather, his colleagues and coadjutors; for they were already conversant with what he is fabled to have taught them;' and, amongst them, Lomaharshana represents the class of persons who were especially charged with the record of political and temporal events. He is called Súta, as if it was a proper name: but it is, more correctly, a title; and Lomaharshana was “a Súta', that is, a bard, or panegyrist, who was created, according to our text, to celebrate the exploits of princes, and who, according to the Váyu and Padma Puráňas, has a right, by birth and profession, to narrate the Puráňas, in preference even to the Brahmans. It is not unlikely, therefore, that we are to understand, by his being represented as the disciple of Vyása, the institution of some attempt, made under the direction of the latter, to collect, from the heralds and annalists of his day, the scattered traditions which they had imperfectly preserved: and hence the consequent appropriation of the Puranas, in a great measure, topthe genealogies of regal dynasties and descriptions of he universe. However this may be, the machinery has been but loosely
i See Book III., Chapter III. ' ? Book I., Chapter XIII. 3 Journ. Royal As. Soc., Vol. V., p. 281. *
* The article referred to is from the pen of Professor Wilson, and has been reprinted.