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Index by Period

Sanskrit Literature

Sanskrit has only recently become known to Europe through the researches of English and German Oriental scholars. It is now acknowledged to be the auxiliary and foundation of all civilized speech, and is important as being the language of an extensive literature which records the life of a wonderful people from a remote age nearly to the present time.

The ancient home of the Aryan, or Indo-European race, was in Central Asia, whence many of its people migrated to the West, and became the founders of the Persian, Greek and Roman Nations, besides settling in Spain and England. Other offshoots of the original Aryans took their lives in their hands and penetrated the passes of the Himalayas, spreading all over India. Wherever they went, they seem to have held themselves superior to the aboriginal people whom they found in possession of the soil.

"The history of civilization," says a well-known authority on literature, "is everywhere the history of the Aryan race. The forefathers of the Greek and Roman, of the Englishman and the Hindu, dwelt together in India, spoke the same language, and worshipped the same gods. The languages of Europe and India are merely different forms of the original Aryan speech. This is especially true of the words of common family life. Father, Mother, brother, sister and widow, are substantially the same in most of the Aryan languages whether spoken on the banks of the Ganges, the Tiber or the Thames. The word daughter, which occurs in nearly all of them, is derived from the Sanskrit word signifying to draw milk, and preserves the memory of the time when the daughter was the little milkmaid in the primitive Aryan household."

The Hindu language is founded on the Sanskrit, of which we may name the books of the Vedas, 1500 B.C.E.

All the poetical works of Asia, China and Japan are taken almost entirely from the Hindu, while in Southern Russia the meagre literature of the Kalmucks is borrowed entirely from the same source. The Ramayana, or great Hindu poem, must have had its origin in the history-to-be of Christ. It has been translated into Italian and published in Paris. The Hitopadesa, a collection of fables and apologues, has been translated into more languages than any book except the Bible. It has found its way all over the civilized world, and is the model of the fables of all countries.

The dramas of Kalidasa, the Hindu Shakespeare, contain many episodes borrowed from the great Epic poems. The Messenger Cloud of this poet is not surpassed by any European writer of verse. The Ramayon and the Mahabharata are the two great Epic poems of India, and they exceed in conception and magnitude any of the Epic poems in the world, surpassing the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Jerusalem Delivered. The Ramayon, of seven Cantos, has twenty-five thousand verses, and the hero, Rama, in his wanderings and misfortunes, is not unlike Ulysses. The Mahabharata records the doings of gods, giants, and heroes, who are all fighting against each other. It contains two hundred thousand verses, embodied in eighteen Cantos, and is thought to be not the work of one man; but different songs sung from the earliest ages by the people, and gradually blended into one poem. In it we find the ancient traditions which nearly all people possess, of a more free, active and primitive state of nature, whose world of greatness and heroism has been suppressed in later ages. Among the Hindustans there exists a religion resembling in part that of Greece, with traces of the Egyptian; and yet containing in itself many ideas, both moral and philosophical, which in spite of dissimilarity in detail, is evidently akin to our doctrines of the Christian religion. In fact, the resemblance between the Hindu and Christian religion is so remarkable that some scholars think the Hindu was taken from the Christian. It is more probable that it was of greater antiquity, and that the similarity between them springs from the seed of all truth and all Nature implanted in man by God. Indian and Christian both teach regeneration. In the Indian creed, as soon as the soul is touched with the love of divine things it is supposed to drop its life of sin and become "new born."

In a higher region all these truths in the lower world which have to do with divine things, are mysteriously akin to each other. It needs only the first spark of light from above to make them instinct with life.

The Recluses or Gymnosophists of India are not unlike the first Recluses of Egypt, and the first hermits of the desert in the Christian era.

The doctrines of India first obtained a foothold in Europe through the dogma of Metempsychosis. It was introduced into the Hellenes by Pythagoras; but never became popular among the Greeks. This Metempsychosis (or the transmigration of souls) was believed by the Indians from the earliest period, and their whole history is built upon it. A very ancient connection can be traced between India and Egypt, manifested by Castes, which are found equally in both countries, and by similiar Mythologies. When Alexander the Great invaded Northern India from Persia, the Greeks found an Indian Mythology far more like their own than the Persian or Hebrew. They thought they had met with the same gods they had been accustomed to worship, though clothed in a different form and color. They showed their faith in this discovery by the names of the Indian Hercules and the Indian Bacchus, later so common among them.

The worship of Vishnoo and Krishnoo in Hindostan differs very little from the religion of Buddha and Fo which was established in China and Thibet during the first century of Christianity. The former retained caste, while the latter, following the teaching of Buddha, have repudiated any class distinctions.

Decimal cyphers originated in Hindostan.


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