ART OF WRITING.
This introduces us to the important literary question as regards the art of writing in Ancient India. Apart from Mr. Weber’s acceptance of “the claims of the written records of Indian literature to a high antiquity,” Professor Wilson says: “The Hindus,have been in possession of that (writing) as long as of a literature.”2
Professor Heeren says: “Everything concurs to establish the fact that alphabetical writing was known in India from the earliest times, and that its use was not confined to inscriptions but extended also to every purpose of common life.”3 Count Bjornstjerna says that the Hindus possessed “ written books of religion” before 2800 B.C., or 800 years before Abraham.’ Professors Goldstucker, Bohtlingk, Whitney and Roth hold that the authors of the Pratisalchyas must have had written texts before them.5
IWeber’s Indian Literature, p. 5.
2 Mill’s India, Vol. II, p. 49, footnote,
3Hereen’s Historical Researches, Vol. II, p. 202. Theogony of the Hindus, p. 26.
5Weber’s Indian Literature, p. 22, footnote.
Considering the backwardness of other nations in the invention of the art of writing, and finding it impossible to give the second place to the nation to whom they owe all their learning and wisdom, the advocates of the theory of “ Greek Culture” hesitate to assign high antiquity to the Hindu art of writing.
Professor Max Muller, for one allows no written work before 350 B.C. This strange and absurd supposition is wholly inexplicable. Apart from the internal and direct evidence, one fact alone is sufficient to refute the supposition. When geometry and astronomy flourished so highly and extensively in India more than 3,000 years before Christ, according to the calculation of the celebrated astronomer, Bailly, is it at all conceivable that writing should have been unknown before 350 B.C.? Professor Max Dunker says that according to Max Muller’s theory the Brahmanas must have been retained in. memory till 350 B.C., but “ it seems to me,” he says, “ quite impossible considering their form.” He adds: “If the Brahmanas which cite the Vedas accurately in their present arrangement, and speak not only of syllables but of letters arose between 800 and 600 B.C., it appears to me an inevitable conclusion that the Vedas must have been existed in writing about 800 B.C.”‘
1\4r. Shyamji Krishnavarma, Oriental Lecturer of Balliol College, Oxford, in the paper he read before the International Congress of Orientalists at Leyden in 1883, which he attended as the delegate of the Government of India, has dealt with the subject in a masterly way, and shown that the art of writing has been in use in India
For further particulars see his History of Antiquity, Vol. IV, pp. 156,157.
since the Vedic times. He says: “I feel no hesitation in saying that there are words and phrases occurring in the Sanhitas of the Vedas,1 in the Br ahmanas and in the Sutra works, which leave no doubt as to the use of the written characters in ancient India. It may be confidently asserted that the systematic treatises in prose which abounded at and long before the time of Panini could never have been composed without the help of writing. We know for certain that with the exception of the hymns of the Rig Veda, most of the Vaidik works are in prose, and it is difficult to understand how they could possibly have been composed without having recourse to some artificial means.”
Katyayana says :--zmiT4c4wcrit
“When the writer and the witnesses are dead.” Yagyavalka mentions written documents; and Narada and others also bear testimony to their existence. Even
1To the objection that the word. Sruti, as a synonym of Veda, conveyed the idea of what was learnt and taught by hearing, thus proving the absence of written books, he neatly replies that the word Smriti, derived from “SM7i,” to remember (as Sruti comes from Sru to hear), would,eqo ally convey the same idea and prove the same thing, though it is admitted by all that the art of writing was known to the authors of the Smritis. After quoting a part of a hymn in the 10th Mandala of the Rig Veda, “ some one seeing the speech does not see it, while another hearing does not hear it,” and showing that one could. not see the speech unless it assumed some tangible shape like that of a book or manuscript; also, that one could not possibly count a million without an acquaintance with writing, not to speak of having technical names for a million, a hundred. million, nay, for a hundred thousand million, as we find. them given in the seventh Chapter of the white Yajur Veda—for we find that in Greece before writing became known, the highest number of what could be technically expressed was only
Max Muller himself is compelled to admit that “ writing was known to the authors of the Sutras.”
The supposition that writing was unknown in India before 350 B.C. is only one of the many instances calculated to show the strange waywardness of human intellect. If anyone of lesser authority than Max Muller had advanced such a supposition he might have been pronounced a maniac. It was left to the learned professor to conceive the possibility of a language of the structure of Sanskrit being cultivated to the extent of producing compositions like the Vedas, the Brahamanas and the Upnishads,and of a people achieving wonderful progress in mathematics and astronomy without being able to write A, B, C, or one, two and three!!1
I0,000 and in Rome only a thousand—he goes on to show that the words “ Kanda and Patala” which occur in Vedic literature prove the existence of written books in ancient times. After pointing out that the Adhikara, or heading rule, in Panini’s grammar was denoted by Svarita, which proved conclusively that he employed writing and that the sixth chapter of Ashtadhyayi says that people in :Panini’s time used to mark the figures eight and five on the ears of their cattle, he concludes: The fact that Panini makes allusion to coins, for instance fKEW and r;a1 with which latter perhaps the word “rupee”
is connected, and that he actually mentions the two words fOlfq- and R.N., both meaning writing, affords palpable proof of his acquaintance with the art of writing, without which, as I have said, he could never have produced his great grammar.”
Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 523. The Greeks praise the beauty of the writing of the Indians. See Strabo, Lib. XV, p. 493.
Megasthenes says that “the Hindus used letters for inscriptions on mile-stones, indicating the resting places and distances.” Curtius also says that “ the Indians wrote on soft rind of trees.” Nearchus mentions that “ the Indians wrote letters on cotton that had been well beaten together.” Father Pautino says that “cotton paper was used in India before the Christian era,—Historical Researches, Vol. II, p. 107.
The extraordinary vocal powers of the Hindus, combined with their wonderful inventive genius, produced a language which, when fully developed, was commensurate with their marvellous intellectual faculties, and which contributed materially in the creation of a literature unparalleled for richness, sublimity and range. The peculiar beauties inherent in the offspring of such high intellectual powers were greatly enhanced by its scientific up-bringing and by constant and assiduous exercise it has developed into what is now such a model of perfection as to well-deserve the name of deo-bani, or “the language of the gods.” The very excellence of the language and the scientific character of its structure have led some good people to doubt if this polished and learned language could ever have been the vernacular of any people. Fully realizing the significance of the fact that, with all their boast of the highest civilization and culture, they possess a language highly defective and irregular when compared to the Sanskrit, these critics find it difficult to believe that the Hindus ever spoke that perfect language.
Mr. Shyamji Krishnavarma, in the learned paper on the subject he read before the International Congress of Orientalists at Berlin, on 14th September 1881, demolishes all the arguments advanced against the Sanskrit language having ever been a spoken vernacular of India, and proves that not only was “ Sanskrit, as we find settled in the Ashtadhyayi of Panini, the spoken vernacular at the time when that grammarian flourished,” but that “ it is at present extensively used as a medium of conversation and correspondence among learned men in all parts of India, from Kashmir to Cape Comorin.”
Professor Max Muller says: “Yet such is the marvellous continuity between the past and the present in India, that in spite of repeated social convulsions, religious reforms and foreign invasions, Sanskrit may be said to be still the only language that is spoken over the whole extent of that vast country.” He adds: “Even at the present moment, after a century of English rule and English teaching, I believe that Sanskrit is more widely understood in India than Latin was in Europe at the time of Dante.”‘
Who after this can say that Sanskrit was or is a dead language ?
India: What can it teach us? pp. 78, 79,