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The Editor defers till the completion of his undertaking any general remarks that he may have to offer.
THE literature of the Hindus has now been cultivated, for many years, with singular diligence, and, in many of its branches, with eminent success. There are some departments, however, which are yet but partially and imperfectly investigated; and we are far from being in possession of that knowledge which the authentic writings of the Hindus alone can give us of their religion, mythology, and historical traditions.
From the materials to which we have hitherto had access, it seems probable that there have been three principal forms in which the religion of the Hindus has existed, at as many different periods. The duration of those periods, the circumstances of their succession, and the precise state of the national faith at each season, it is not possible to trace with any approach to accuracy. The premises have been too imperfectly determined to authorize other than conclusions of a general and somewhat vague description; and those remain to be hereafter confirmed, or corrected, by more extensive and satisfactory research.
The earliest form under which the Hindu religion appears is that taught in the Vedas. The style of the language, and the purport of the composition, of those
works, as far as we are acquainted with them, indicate a date long anterior to that of any other class of Sanskrit writings. It is yet, however, scarcely safe to advance an opinion of the precise belief, or philosophy, which they inculcate. To enable us to judge of their tendency, we have only a general sketch of their arrangement and contents, with a few extracts, by Mr. Colebrooke, in the Asiatic Researches;- a few incidental observations by Mr. Ellis, in the same miscellany;" and a translation of the first book of the Samhitá, or collection of the prayers of the Rig-veda, by Dr. Rosen;3 and some of the Upanishads, or speculative treatises, attached to, rather than part of, the Vedas, by Rammohun Roy.4* Of the religion taught in the Vedas, Mr. Colebrooke's opinion will probably be received as that which is best entitled to deference; as, certainly, no Sanskrit scholar has been equally conversant with the original works. “The real doctrine of the whole Indian scripture is the unity of the deity, in whom the
I Vol. VIII., p. 369.f
Vol. XIV., p. 37. 3 Published by the Oriental Translation Fund Committee.
4 A translation of the principal Upanishads was published, under the title of Oupnekhat, or Theologia Indica, by Anquetil du Perron; but it was made through the medium of the Persian, and is very incorrect and obscure. A translation of a very different character: has been some time in course of preparation by M. Poley.
* To insert here a list of the numerous publications bearing on the Vedas, that have appeared since the date of this preface, 1840, would be beside the purpose of my notes.
+ Reprinted in Colebrooke's Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. I., pp. 9-113. # The kindness of Professor Wilson here inistook a hope for a reality.
universe is comprehended; and the seeming polytheism which it exhibits offers the elements, and the stars and planets, as gods. The three principal manifestations of the divinity, with other personified attributes and energies, and most of the other gods of Hindu mythology, are, indeed, mentioned, or, at least, indicated, in the Vedas. But the worship of deified heroes is no part of that system; nor are the incarnations of deities suggested in any other portion of the text which I have yet seen; though such are sometimes hinted at by the commentators.” Some of these statements may, perhaps, require modification; for, without a careful examination of all the prayers of the Vedas, it would be hazardous to assert that they contain no indication whatever of hero-worship; and, certainly, they do appear to allude, occasionally, to the Avatáras, or incarnations, of Vishńu. Still, however, it is true that the prevailing character of the ritual of the Vedas is the worship of the personified elements; of Agni or fire; Indra, the firmament; Váyu, the air; Varuńa, the water; of Aditya, the sun; Soma, the moon; and other elementary and planetary personages. It is also true that the worship of the Vedas is, for the most part, domestic worship, consisting of prayers and oblations offeredin their own houses, not in temples - by individuals, for individual good, and addressed to unreal presences, not to visible types. In a word, the religion of the Vedas was not idolatry.
* Or Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. I., pp. 110 and 111.