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The Interdependence of Literature|
by Curtis, Georgina Pell
|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
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
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.