IN the history of the world India occupies the foremost 1 place. From the dawn of history to the present day India has been connected in one way or another with almost every event of world importance. By endowing Tndia with the best and the choicest of gifts it had in store, Nature herself ordained that this magnificent country, with a climate varied and salubrious, a soil the most fertile in the world, animal and plant life the most abundant, useful and diversified to be found anywhere on the face of the earth, should play the leading part in the history of mankind.
Mr. Murray says: “It (India) has always appeared to the imagination of the Western World adorned with whatever is most splendid and gorgeous; glittering, as it were, with gold and gems, and redolent of fragrant and delicious odours. Though there be in these magnificent conceptions something romantic and illusory, still India forms unquestionably one of the most remarkable regions that exist on the surface of the globe. The varied grandeur of its scenery and the rich productions of its soil are scarcely equalled in any other country.”‘
I Murray’s History of India, p. 1.
“India is an epitome of the whole world,” and possesses all the leading features of other lands—the most bewitching scenery, the most fertile soil, the most dense forests, the highest mountains, some of the biggest rivers and intensely cold seasons, may be found along with arid, treeless deserts, sandy waterless plains, and the hottest days. To a student of humanity or of Nature, India even now is most picturesque, and is the most interesting country in the world. Count Bjornstjerna says: “But everything is peculiar, grand, and romantic in India—from the steelclad knight of Rajasthan to the devoted Brahman in the temples of Benares; from the fierce Mahratta on his fleet and active steed to the Nabob moving gently on his elephant; from the Amazon who chases the tiger in the jungle to the Bayadere who offers in volupte to her gods. Nature, too, in this glorious country is chequered with variety and clad in glowing colours: see the luxuriance of her tropical vegetation and the hurricane of her monsoon; see the majesty of her snow-covered Himalayas and the dryness of her deserts; see the immense plains of Hindustan and the scenery of her lofty mountains; but, above all, see the immense age of her history and the poetry of her recollections.”2
Professor Max Muller says: “If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly
Chambers’s Encyclopaedia, p. 337.
2Theogony of the Hindus, p. 126. “The scenery of the Himalayas,” says Elphinstone, “ is a sight which the soberest traveller has never described without kindling into enthusiasm, and which, if once seen, leaves an impression that can never be equalled or effaced.”—Ilistory of India, p. 181.
endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow—in some parts a very paradise on earth—I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe—we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of the Greeks and the Romans, and of one Semitic race the Jewish—may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life, again I should point to India.” He adds: “Whatever sphere of the human mind you may select for your special study, whether it be language, or religion, or mythology, or philosophy, whether it be laws or customs, primitive art or primitive science, everywhere you have to go to India, whether you like it or not, because some or the most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India and in India only.”‘
Professor Heeren says: “India is the source from which not only the rest of Asia but the whole Western World derived their knowledge and their religion.”2 A writer in the Calcutta Review for December 1861,
1Max Muller’s India: What can it teach us p. 15.
2Historical Researches, Vol. II, p. 45,
said: “Though now degraded and abased, yet we cannot doubt that there was a time when the Hindu race was splendid in arts and arms, happy in government, wise in legislation and eminent in knowledge.”1
“The ancient state of India,” says Mr. Thornton, cc must have been one of extraordinary magnificence.”‘
Colonel Tod asks: “Where can we look for sages like those whose systems of philosophy were the prototypes of those of Greece: to whose works Plato, Thales, and Pythagoras were disciples? where shall we find astronomers whose knowledge of the planetary system yet excites wonder in Europe, as well as the architects and sculptors whose works claim our admiration, and the musicians who could make the mind oscillate from joy to sorrow, from tears to smiles, with the change of modes and varied intonation ?’”3
1 The same Review says: “That the Hindus were in former times a commercial people we have every reason to believe—the labours of the Indian loom have been universally celebrated, silk has been fabricated immemorially by the Hindus. We are also told by the Grecian writers that the Indians were the wisest of nations, and in metaphysical wisdom they were certainly eminent; in astronomy and mathematics they were equally well versed; this is the race who Dionysius records-
‘ First assayed the deep,
And wafted merchandize to coasts unknown,
Those who digested first the starry choir,
Their motions marked, and called them by their names.’”
“ Hindustan has from the earliest ages been celebrated as one of the most highly-favoured countries on the globe, and as abounding in the choicest productions both of Nature and Art.”--Encyclopcedia Britanniea, p. 446,
A writer in the Edinburgh Review for October 1872, says: “The Hindu is the most ancient nation of which we have valuable remains, and has been surpassed by none in refinement and civilization; though the utmost pitch of refinement to which it ever arrived preceded, in time, the dawn of civilization in any other nation of which we have even the name in history. The further our literary inquiries are extended here, the more vast and stupendous is the scene which opens to us.”
An attempt has been made in the following pages, with the help of the laudable labours of philanthropists like Sir W. Jones, Prof. H. H. Wilson, Mr. Colebrooke, Colonel Tod, Mr. Pococke and other European scholars and officers to whom the country owes a great debt of gratitude, to get a glimpse of that civilization which, according to the writer quoted above, has not yet been surpassed. And what is the result? What do we learn about the ancient Hindus? We learn that they were the greatest nation that has yet flourished on this earth.
“In the world there is nothing great but man, In man there is nothing great but mind,”
was the favourite aphorism of the philosopher, Sir William Hamilton.’ And Mrs. Manning says: “The Hindus had the widest range of mind of which man is capable.”‘
We find that the ancient Hindus, in every feature of national life, were in the first rank. Take whatever department of human activity you like, you find the ancient Hindus eminent in it, and as occupying a
1 See Jevon’s Logic, p. 9.
2Ancient and Mediaeval India, Vol. II, p. 148.
foremost place. This is more than what can be said of any other nation. You may find a nation great in arms or commerce; you may find a people eminent in philosophy, in poetry, in science or in arts; you may find a race great politically but not equally so morally and intellectually. But you do not find a race which was or is pre-eminent in so many departments of human activity as the ancient Hindus.
The ancient Hindus were “a poetical people,” they were essentially “ a musical race,” and they were “a commercial people.” They were “a nation of philosophers ;” “in science they were as acute and diligent as ever.” “ Art seems to have exhausted itself in India.” “ The Hindu is the parent of the literature and the theology of the world.” His language is the best and the most beautiful in the world. The national character of the ancient Hindus as regards truthfulness, chivalry and honour was unrivalled; their colonies filled the world, their kings “ are still worshipped as the gods of the sea,” “their civilization still pervades in every corner or the civilized world and is around and about us every day of our lives.”
It may be urged that in the picture of Hindu civilization painted in the book, only roseate hues have been used, that while lights are purposely made prominent the shadows are conspicuous by their absence, and that most has been made of the best points of Hinduism. Such critics will do well to remember that the mountains are measured by their highest peaks and not by the low heights to which they here and there sink; that the first rank among the mountains is assigned to the Himalayas by Mounts Everest, Dhavalgiri and Kanchanjanga, and not by the lower heights of Mussoorie and Darjeeling, and that the patches of level ground here and there found enclosed within this gigantic range are justly ignored.
It may also be remarked here that the object of this book being to enable men to appreciate t he excellencies of Hindu civilization—by giving them an idea of the character and achievements of the ancient Hindus, who were the creatures of that civilization, which has admittedly seen its best days—any discussion of modern India for its own sake is without the scope of this book. Wherever, therefore, any fact relating to the society, religion, literature or character of the Hindus of the present day, or their capacities and capabilities is mentioned it has reference only to the elucidation of some feature of that civilization as illustrated in the life, work or character of the people of ancient India.’
1 it is no part of the plan of this book to run down any creed or nationality. Consequently, whenever any other religion or race is mentioned, it is only for the elucidation of some point of Hinduism, or to show the comparative excellence of some feature of Hindu civilization. Thus, whenever the oppressive nature of the rule of some of the Mohamedan Emperors is mentioned, or the havoc caused by some of the invaders from the North-Western frontier of India is described, it is not to emphasize that fact itself, but to illustrate, explain, or elucidate some feature of the character of the Hindus or their literature and society. It may also be remarked that the evils of the rule of the Afghans, Turks, and others were due not to the religion they professed but to their ignorance and backwardness in civilization. The Arabs, though professing the same religion as the Afghans and the Moghals, kept the lamp of knowledge and science lit in Europe and Western Asia during the middle ages. The work of Al-Beruni, Abdul Fazal, Faizi and others in India pulls to pieces the theory that whatever evils there were in Mohamedan rule were due to the religion of the rulers,
abled the Hindus yet to preserve their existence as such, despite all the political cataclysms, social upheavals, and racial eruptions the world has seen since the Mahabharata. These calamities overwhelmed the ancient Egyp. tians and the Phoenicians and destroyed the empires of ancient Greece, Persia and Rome.
Compared to the sun of Hindu civilization giving a constant and steady stream of beneficent light, which penetrates the farthest nooks and corners of the world, carrying comfort and contentment to mankind, these civilizations were like brilliant meteors that appear in the skies lighting the while, with their short lived lustre, the heavens above and the earth below.
Then—let me dive into the depths of time,
And bring from out the ages that have rolled, A few small fragments of those wrecks sublime,
Which human eye may never more behold; And let the guerdon of my labour be,