Imagens da página
[ocr errors]

which we have only fragmentary traces in the records of other nations.

The course of the elemental creation is, in the Vishńu, as in other Puráňas, taken from the Sánkhya philosophy; but the agency that operates upon passive matter is confusedly exhibited, in consequence of a partial adoption of the illusory theory of the Vedánta philosophy, and the prevalence of the Pauráńik doctrine of pantheism. However incompatible with the independent existence of Pradhána or crude matter, and however incongruous with the separate condition of pure spirit or Purusha, it is declared, repeatedly, that Vishńu, as one with the supreme being, is not only spirit, but crude matter, and not only the latter, but all visible substance, and Time. He is Purusha, “spirit”; Pradhána, "crude matter?; Vyakta, 'visible form'; and Kála, |“time'. This cannot but be regarded as a departure from the primitive dogmas of the Hindus, in which the distinctness of the Deity and his works was enunciated; in which, upon his willing the world to be, it was; and in which his interposition in creation, held to be inconsistent with the quiescence of perfection, was explained away by the personification of attributes in action, which afterwards came to be considered as real divinities, Brahmá, Vishńu, and Siva, charged, severally, for a given season, with the creation, preservation, and temporary annihilation of material forms. These divinities are, in the following pages, consistently with the tendency of a Vaishnava work, declared to be no other than Vishnu. In Saiva Puráňas, they are, in like manner, identified with Siva; the Puráńas thus displaying and explaining the seeming incompatibility, of which there are traces in other ancient mythologies, between three distinct hypostases of one superior deity, and the identification of one or other of those hypostases with their common and separate original.

After the world has been fitted for the reception of living creatures, it is peopled by the will-engendered sons of Brahmá, the Prajápatis or patriarchs, and their posterity. It would seem as if a primitive tradition of the descent of mankind from seven holy personages had at first prevailed, but that, in the course of time, it had been expanded into complicated, and not always consistent, amplification. How could these Rishis or patriarchs have posterity? It was necessary to provide them with wives. In order to account for their existence, the Manu Swayambhuya and his wife Satarupá were added to the scheme; or Brahmá becomes twofold, male and female; and daughters are then begotten, who are married to the Prajápatis. Upon this basis various legends of Brahma's double nature, some, no doubt, as old as the Vedas, have been constructed. But, although they may have been derived, in some degree, from the authentic tradition of the origin of mankind from a single pair, yet the circumstances intended to give more interest and precision to the story are, evidently, of an allegorical or mystical description, and conduced, in apparently later times, to a coarseness of realization which was neither the letter nor spirit of the original legend. Swayambhuva, the son of the self-born or uncreated, and his wife Satarupá, the hundred-formed or multiform, are, themselves, allegories; and their female descendants, who become the wives of the Rishis, are Faith, Devotion, Content, In

telligence, Tradition, and the like; whilst, amongst their posterity, we have the different phases of the moon and the sacrificial fires. In another creation, the chief source of creatures is the patriarch Daksha (ability), whose daughters—Virtues, or Passions, or Astronomical Phenomena-are the mothers of all existing things. These legends, perplexed as they appear to be, seem to admit of allowable solution, in the conjecture that the Prajápatis and Rishis were real personages, the authors of the Hindu system of social, moral, and religious obligations, and the first observers of the heavens, and teachers of astronomical science.

The regal personages of the Swayambhuva Manwantara are but few; but they are described, in the outset, as governing the earth in the dawn of society, and as introducing agriculture and civilization. How much of their story rests upon a traditional remembrance of their actions, it would be useless to conjecture; although there is no extravagance in supposing that the legends relate to a period prior to the full establishment, in India, of the Brahmanical institutions. The legends of Dhruva and Prahláda, which are intermingled with these particulars, are, in all probability, ancient; but they are amplified, in a strain conformable to the Vaishńava purport of this Purána, by doctrines and prayers asserting the identity of Vishnu with the Supreme. It is clear that the stories do not originate with this Puráňa. In that of Prahláda, particularly, as hereafter pointed out, circumstances essential to the completeness of the story are only alluded to, not recounted; showing, indisputably, the writer's having availed himself of some prior authority for his narration.

The second book opens with a continuation of the kings of the first Manwantara; amongst whom, Bharata is said to have given a name to India, called, after him, Bharata-varsha. This leads to a detail of the geographical system of the Puranas, with mount Meru, the seven circular continents, and their surrounding oceans, to the limits of the world; all of which are mythological fictions, in which there is little reason to imagine that any topographical truths are concealed. With regard to Bharata or India, the case is different. The mountains and rivers which are named are readily verifiable; and the cities and nations that are particularized may, also, in many instances, be proved to have had a real existence. The list is not a very long one, in the Vishńu Purána, and is, probably, abridged from some more ample detail, like that which the Mahábhárata affords, and which, in the hope of supplying information with respect to a subject yet imperfectly investigated, the ancient political condition of India, I have inserted and elucidated.

The description which this book also contains of the planetary and other spheres, is equally mythological, although occasionally presenting practical details and notions in which there is an approach to accuracy. The concluding legend of Bharata—in his former life, the king so named, but now a Brahman, who acquires true wisdom, and thereby attains liberation—is, palpably, an invention of the compiler, and is peculiar to this Puráňa.

The arrangement of the Vedas and other writings considered sacred by the Hindus,-being, in fact, the authorities of their religious rites and belief,—which is described in the beginning of the third book, is of much importance to the history of Hindu literature and of the Hindu religion. The sage Vyása is here represented, not as the author, but the arranger or compiler, of the Vedas, the Itihasas, and Puránas. His name denotes his character, meaning the 'arranger' or 'distributor?;* and the recurrence of many Vyásas, many individuals who new-modelled the Hindu scriptures, has nothing, in it, that is improbable, except the fabulous intervals by which their labours are separated. The rearranging, the refashioning, of old materials is nothing more than the progress of time would be likely to render necessary. The last recognized compilation is that of Krishna Dwaipáyana, assisted by Brahmans who were already conversant with the subjects respectively assigned to them. They were the members of a college, or school, supposed, by the Hindus, to have flourished in a period more remote, no doubt, than the truth, but not at all unlikely to have been instituted at some time prior to the accounts of India which we owe to Greek writers, and in which we see enough of the system to justify our inferring that it was then entire. That there have been other Vyásas and other schools since that date, that Brahmans unknown to

[ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed]
« AnteriorContinuar »