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Hopkins, Edward Washburn / The Religions of India Handbooks on the History of Religions, Volume 1, Edited by Morris Jastrow
Produced by Paul Murray and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
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_Professor of Semitic Languages
in the University of Pennsylvania_









_"This holy mystery I declare unto you:
There is nothing nobler than humanity."_







_(All rights reserved)_










The growing interest both in this country and abroad in the historical
study of religions is one of the noticeable features in the
intellectual phases of the past decades. The more general indications
of this interest may be seen in such foundations as the Hibbert and
Gifford Lectureships in England, and the recent organization of an
American committee to arrange in various cities for lectures on the
history of religions, in the establishment of a special department for
the subject at the University of Paris, in the organization of the
Musée Guimet at Paris, in the publication of a journal--the _Revue de
l'Histoire des Religions_--under the auspices of this Museum, and in
the creation of chairs at the Collège de France, at the Universities
of Holland, and in this country at Cornell University and the
University of Chicago,[1] with the prospect of others to follow in the
near future. For the more special indications we must turn to the
splendid labors of a large array of scholars toiling in the various
departments of ancient culture--India, Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt,
Palestine, Arabia, Phoenicia, China, Greece, and Rome--with the result
of securing a firm basis for the study of the religions flourishing in
those countries--a result due mainly to the discovery of fresh sources
and to the increase of the latter brought about by exploration and
incessant research. The detailed study of the facts of religion
everywhere, both in primitive society and in advancing civilization,
and the emphasis laid upon gathering and understanding these facts
prior to making one's deductions, has succeeded in setting aside the
speculations and generalizations that until the beginning of this
century paraded under the name of "Philosophy of Religion."

Such has been the scholarly activity displayed and the fertility
resulting, that it seems both desirable and timely to focus, as it
were, the array of facts connected with the religions of the ancient
world in such a manner that the summary resulting may serve as the
point of departure for further investigations.

This has been the leading thought which has suggested the series of
Handbooks on the History of Religions. The treatment of the religions
included in the series differs from previous attempts in the aim to
bring together the ascertained results of scholarship rather than to
make an additional contribution, though the character of the scholars
whose coöperation has beep secured justifies the hope that their
productions will also mark an advance in the interpretation of the
subject assigned to each. In accord with this general aim, mere
discussion has been limited to a minimum, while the chief stress has
been laid upon the clear and full presentation of the data connected
with each religion.

A uniform plan has been drawn up by the editor for the order of
treatment in the various volumes, by following which it is hoped that
the continuous character of the series will be secured.

In this plan the needs of the general reader, as well as those of the
student, for whom, in the first place, the series is designed, have
been kept in view. After the introduction, which in the case of each
volume is to be devoted to a setting forth of the sources and the
method of study, a chapter follows on the land and the people,
presenting those ethnographical and geographical considerations,
together with a brief historical sketch of the people in question, so
essential to an understanding of intellectual and religious life

In the third section, which may be denominated the kernel of the book,
the subdivisions and order of presentation necessarily vary, the
division into periods being best adapted to one religion, the
geographical order for another, the grouping of themes in a logical
sequence for a third; but in every case, the range covered will be the
same, namely, the beliefs, including the pantheon, the relation to the
gods, views of life and death, the rites--both the official ones and
the popular customs--the religious literature and architecture. A
fourth section will furnish a general estimate of the religion, its
history, and the relation it bears to others. Each volume will
conclude with a full bibliography, index, and necessary maps, with
illustrations introduced into the text as called for. The Editor has
been fortunate in securing the services of distinguished specialists
whose past labors and thorough understanding of the plan and purpose
of the series furnish a guarantee for the successful execution of
their task.

It is the hope of the Editor to produce in this way a series of
manuals that may serve as text-books for the historical study of
religions in our universities and seminaries. In addition to supplying
this want, the arrangement of the manuals will, it is expected, meet
the requirements of reliable reference-books for ascertaining the
present status of our knowledge of the religions of antiquity, while
the popular manner of presentation, which it will be the aim of the
writers to carry out, justifies the hope that the general reader will
find the volumes no less attractive and interesting.


* * * * *


[Footnote 1: In an article by the writer published in the
_Biblical World_ (University of Chicago Press) for January,
1893, there will be found an account of the present status
of the Historical Study of Religions in this country.]

* * * * *




India always has been a land of religions. In the earliest Vedic
literature are found not only hymns in praise of the accepted gods,
but also doubts in regard to the worth of these gods; the beginnings
of a new religion incorporated into the earliest records of the old.
And later, when, about 300 B.C, Megasthenes was in India, the
descendants of those first theosophists are still discussing, albeit
in more modern fashion, the questions that lie at the root of all
religion. "Of the philosophers, those that are most estimable he terms
Brahmans ([Greek: _brachmanas_]). These discuss with many words
concerning death. For they regard death as being, for the wise, a
birth into real life--into the happy life. And in many things they
hold the same opinions with the Greeks: saying that the universe was
begotten and will be destroyed, and that the world is a sphere, which
the god who made and owns it pervades throughout; that there are
different beginnings of all things, but water is the beginning of
world-making, while, in addition to the four elements, there is, as
fifth, a kind of nature, whence came the sky and the stars.... And
concerning the seed of things and the soul they have much to say also,
whereby they weave in myths, just as does Plato, in regard to the
soul's immortality, judgment in hell, and such things."[1]

And as India conspicuously is a country of creeds, so is its
literature preëminently priestly and religious. From the first Veda to
the last Pur[=a]na, religion forms either the subject-matter of the
most important works, or, as in the case of the epics,[2] the basis of
didactic excursions and sectarian interpolations, which impart to
worldly themes a tone peculiarly theological. History and oratory are
unknown in Indian literature. The early poetry consists of hymns and
religious poems; the early prose, of liturgies, linguistics, "law,"
theology, sacred legends and other works, all of which are intended to
supplement the knowledge of the Veda, to explain ceremonies, or to
inculcate religious principles. At a later date, formal grammar and
systems of philosophy, fables and commentaries are added to the prose;
epics, secular lyric, drama, the Pur[=a]nas and such writings to the
poetry. But in all this great mass, till that time which Müller has
called the Renaissance--that is to say, till after the Hindus were
come into close contact with foreign nations, notably the Greek, from
which has been borrowed, perhaps, the classical Hindu drama,[3]--there
is no real literature that was not religious originally, or, at least,
so apt for priestly use as to become chiefly moral and theosophic;
while the most popular works of modern times are sectarian tracts,
Pur[=]nas, Tantras and remodelled worldly poetry. The sources, then,
from which is to be drawn the knowledge of Hindu religions are the
best possible--the original texts. The information furnished by
foreigners, from the times of Ktesias and Megasthenes to that of
Mandelslo, is considerable; but one is warranted in assuming that what
little in it is novel is inaccurate, since otherwise the information
would have been furnished by the Hindus themselves; and that,
conversely, an outsider's statements, although presumably correct,
often may give an inexact impression through lack of completeness; as
when--to take an example that one can control--Ktesias tells half the
truth in regard to ordeals. His account is true, but he gives no
notion of the number or elaborate character of these interesting

The sources to which we shall have occasion to refer will be, then,
the two most important collections of Vedic hymns--the Rig Veda and
the Atharva Veda; the Brahmanic literature, with the supplementary
Upanishads, and the S[=u]tras or mnemonic abridgments of religious and
ceremonial rules; the legal texts, and the religious and theological
portions of the epic; and the later sectarian writings, called
Pur[=a]nas. The great heresies, again, have their own special
writings. Thus far we shall draw on the native literature. Only for
some of the modern sects, and for the religions of the wild tribes
which have no literature, shall we have to depend on the accounts of
European writers.


For none of the native religious works has one a certain date. Nor is
there for any one of the earlier compositions the certainty that it
belongs, as a whole, to any one time. The Rig Veda was composed by
successive generations; the Atharvan represents different ages; each
Br[=a]hmana appears to belong in part to one era, in part to another;
the earliest S[=u]tras (manuals of law, etc.) have been interpolated;
the earliest metrical code is a composite; the great epic is the work
of centuries; and not only do the Upanishads and Pur[=a]nas represent
collectively many different periods, but exactly to which period each
individually is to be assigned remains always doubtful. Only in the
case of the Buddhistic writings is there a satisfactorily approximate
terminus a quo, and even here approximate means merely within the
limit of centuries.

Nevertheless, criteria fortunately are not lacking to enable one to
assign the general bulk of any one work to a certain period in the
literary development; and as these periods are, if not sharply, yet
plainly distinguishable, one is not in so desperate a case as he might
have expected to be, considering that it is impossible to date with
certainty any Hindu book or writer before the Christian era. For,
first, there exists a difference in language, demarcating the most
important periods; and, secondly, the development of the literature
has been upon such lines that it is easy to say, from content and
method of treatment, whether a given class of writings is a product of
the Vedic, early Brahmanic, or late Brahmanic epochs. Usually, indeed,
one is unable to tell whether a later Upanishad was made first in the
early or late Brahmanic period, but it is known that the Upanishads,
as a whole, _i.e._, the literary form and philosophical material which
characterize Upanishads, were earlier than the latest Brahmanic period
and subsequent to the early Brahmanic period; that they arose at the
close of the latter and before the rise of the former. So the
Br[=a]hmanas, as a whole, are subsequent to the Vedic age, although
some of the Vedic hymns appear to have been made up in the same period
with that of the early Br[=a]hmanas. Again, the Pur[=a]nas can be
placed with safety after the late Brahmanic age; and, consequently,
subsequent to the Upanishads, although it is probable that many
Upanishads were written after the first Pur[=a]nas. The general
compass of this enormous literature is from an indefinite antiquity to
about 1500 A.D. A liberal margin of possible error must be allowed in
the assumption of any specific dates. The received opinion is that
the Rig Veda goes back to about 2000 B.C., yet are some scholars
inclined rather to accept 3000 B.C. as the time that represents this
era. Weber, in his _Lectures on Sanskrit Literature_ (p. 7), rightly
says that to seek for an exact date is fruitless labor; while Whitney
compares Hindu dates to ninepins--set up only to be bowled down again.
Schroeder, in his _Indiens Literatur und Cultur_, suggests that the
prior limit may be "a few centuries earlier than 1500," agreeing with
Weber's preferred reckoning; but Whitney, Grassmann, and Benfey
provisionally assume 2000 B.C. as the starting point of Hindu
literature. The lowest possible limit for this event Müller now places
at about 1500, which is recognized as a very cautious view; most
scholars thinking that Müller's estimate gives too little time for the
development of the literary periods, which, in their opinion, require,
linguistically and otherwise, a greater number of years. Brunnhofer
more recently has suggested 2800 B.C. as the terminus; while the last
writers on the subject (Tilak and Jacobi) claim to have discovered
that the period from 3500 to 2500 represents the Vedic age. Their
conclusions, however, are not very convincing, and have been disputed
vigorously.[4] Without the hope of persuading such scholars as are
wedded to a terminus of three or four thousand years ago that we are
right, we add, in all deference to others, our own opinion on this
vexed question. Buddhism gives the first semblance of a date in Hindu
literature. Buddha lived in the sixth century, and died probably about
480, possibly (Westergaard's extreme opinion) as late as 368.[5]
Before this time arise the S[=u]tras, back of which lie the earliest
Upanishads, the bulk of the Br[=a]hmanas, and all the Vedic poems. Now
it is probable that the Brahmanic literature itself extends to the
time of Buddha and perhaps beyond it. For the rest of pre-Buddhistic
literature it seems to us incredible that it is necessary to require,
either from the point of view of linguistic or of social and religious
development, the enormous period of two thousand years. There are no
other grounds on which to base a reckoning except those of Jacobi and
his Hindu rival, who build on Vedic data results that hardly support
the superstructure they have erected. Jacobi's starting-point is from
a mock-serious hymn, which appears to be late and does not establish,
to whatever date it be assigned, the point of departure from which
proceeds his whole argument, as Whitney has shown very well. One is
driven back to the needs of a literature in respect of time sufficient
for it to mature. What changes take place in language, even with a
written literature, in the space of a few centuries, may be seen in
Persian, Greek, Latin, and German. No two thousand years are required
to bridge the linguistic extremes of the Vedic and classical Sanskrit
language.[6] But in content it will be seen that the flower of the
later literature is budding already in the Vedic age. We are unable to
admit that either in language or social development, or in literary or
religious growth, more than a few centuries are necessary to account
for the whole development of Hindu literature (meaning thereby
compositions, whether written or not) up to the time of Buddha.
Moreover, if one compare the period at which arise the earliest forms
of literature among other Aryan peoples, it will seem very strange
that, whereas in the case of the Romans, Greeks, and Persians, one
thousand years B.C. is the extreme limit of such literary activity as
has produced durable works, the Hindus two or three thousand years
B.C. were creating poetry so finished, so refined, and, from a
metaphysical point of view, so advanced as is that of the Rig Veda.
If, as is generally assumed, the (prospective) Hindus and Persians
were last to leave the common Aryan habitat, and came together to the
south-east, the difficulty is increased; especially in the light of
modern opinion in regard to the fictitious antiquity of Persian
(Iranian) literature. For if Darmesteter be correct in holding the
time of the latter to be at most a century before our era, the
incongruity between that oldest date of Persian literature and the
"two or three thousand years before Christ," which are claimed in the
case of the Rig Veda, becomes so great as to make the latter
assumption more dubious than ever.

We think in a word, without wishing to be dogmatic, that the date of
the Rig Veda is about on a par, historically, with that of 'Homer,'
that is to say, the Collection[7] represents a long period, which was
completed perhaps two hundred years after 1000 B.C, while again its
earliest beginnings precede that date possibly by five centuries; but
we would assign the bulk of the Rig Veda to about 1000 B.C. With
conscious imitation of older speech a good deal of archaic linguistic
effect doubtless was produced by the latest poets, who really belong
to the Brahmanic age. The Brahmanic age in turn ends, as we opine,
about 500 B.C., overlapping the S[=u]tra period as well as that of the
first Upanishads. The former class of writings (after 500 B.C. one may
talk of writings) is represented by dates that reach from circa
600-500 B.C. nearly to our era. Buddhism's _floruit_ is from 500 B.C.
to 500 A.D., and epic Hinduism covers nearly the same centuries. From
500 to 1000 Buddhism is in a state of decadence; and through this time
extend the dramatic and older Puranic writings; while other Pur[=a]nas
are as late as 1500, at which time arises the great modern reforming
sect of the Sikhs. In the matter of the earlier termini a century may
be added or subtracted here and there, but these convenient divisions
of five hundreds will be found on the whole to be sufficiently


At the outset of his undertaking a double problem presents itself to
one that would give, even in compact form, a view of Hindu religions.
This problem consists in explaining, and, in so far as is possible,
reconciling opposed opinions in regard not only to the nature of these
religions but also to the method of interpreting the Vedic hymns.

That the Vedic religion was naturalistic and mytho-poetic is doubted
by few. The Vedic hymns laud the powers of nature and natural
phenomena as personified gods, or even as impersonal phenomena. They
praise also as distinct powers the departed fathers. In the Rig Veda
I. 168, occur some verses in honor of the storm-gods called Maruts:
"Self-yoked are they come lightly from the sky. The immortals urge
themselves on with the goad.

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