ON THE GODS OF GREECE, ITALY, AND INDIA
Written in 1784.
And Since revised by the President.
(i.e., Sir William Jones)
[Extracted from Asiatic Researches, vol. 1 (1788), pp. 221-75.]
WE cannot justly conclude, by arguments preceding the proof of facts, that one idolatrous people must have borrowed their deities, rites, and tenets from another; since Gods of all shapes and dimensions may be framed by the boundless powers of imagination, or by the frauds and follies of men, in countries never connected; but when features of resemblance, too strong to have been accidental, are observable in different systems of polytheism, without fancy or prejudice to colour them, and improve the likeness, we can scarce help believing, that some connexion has immemorially subsisted between the several nations who have adopted them. It is my design, in this Essay, to point out such a resemblance between the popular worship of the old Greeks and Italians and that of the Hindus. Nor can there be room to doubt of a great similarity between their strange religions and that of Egypt, China, Persia, Phrygia, Phoenicia, Syria; to which, perhaps, we may safely add, some of the southern kingdoms, and even islands of America: while the Gothic system, which prevailed in the northern regions of Europe, was not merely similar to those of Greece and Italy, but almost the fame, in another dress, with an embroidery of images apparently Asiatick. From all this, if it be satisfactorily proved, we may infer a general union or affinity between the most [p.222] distinguished inhabitants of the primitive world, at the time when they deviated, as they did too early deviate, from the rational adoration of the only true God.
There seem to have been four principal sources of all mythology. I. Historical or natural truth has been perverted into fable by ignorance, imagination, flattery, or stupidity; as a king of Crete, whose tomb had been discovered in that island, was conceived to have been the God of Olympus; and Minos, a legislator of that country, to have been his son, and to hold a supreme appellate jurisdiction over departed souls; hence too probably flowed the tail of Cadmus, as Bochart learnedly traces it; hence beacons or volcanos became one-eyed giants, and monsters vomiting flames; and two rocks, from their appearance to mariners in certain positions, were supposed to crush all vessels attempting to pass between them; of which idle fictions many other instances might be collected from the Odyssey, and the various Argonautick poems. The less we say of Julian stars, deifications of princes or warriors, altars raised, with those of Apollo, to the basest of men, and divine titles bellowed on such wretches as Caius Octavianus, the less we shall expose the infamy of grave senators and fine poets, or the brutal folly of the low multitude: but we may be assured, that the mad apotheosis of truly great men, or of little men falsely called great, has been the origin of gross idolatrous errors in every part of the Pagan world. II. The next source of them appears to have been a wild admiration of the heavenly bodies, and, after a time, the systems and calculations of astronomers; hence came a considerable portion of Egyptian and Grecian fable; the Sabian worship in Arabia; the Persian types and emblems of Mihr, or the Sun; and the far extended adoration of the elements and the powers of nature; and hence, perhaps, all the artificial Chronology of the Chinese and Indians, with the invention of demi-gods and heroes to fill the vacant niches in their extravagant and imaginary periods. III. Num- [p.223] berless divinities have been created solely by the magick of poetry, whose essential business it is to personify the most abstract notions, and to place a Nymph or a Genius in every grove, and almost in every flower; hence Hygieia and Jaso, Health and Remedy, are the poetical daughters of Æsculapius, who was either a distinguished physician, or medical skill personified; and hence Chloris, or verdure, is married to the Zephyr. IV. The metaphors and allegories of moralists and metaphysicians, have been also very fertile in deities; of which a thousand examples might be adduced from Plato, Cicero, and the inventive commentators on Homer, in their pedigrees of the Gods, and their fabulous lessons of morality. The richest and noblest stream from this abundant fountain, is the charming philosophical tale of Psyche, or the Progress of the Soul; than which, to my taste, a more beautiful, sublime, and well-supported allegory was never produced by the wisdom and ingenuity of man. Hence also the Indian Maya, or, as the word is explained by some Hindoo scholars, "the first Inclination of the Godhead to diversify himself" (such is their phrase) "by creating Worlds," is feigned to be the Mother of universal Nature, and of all the inferior Gods; as a Cashmirian informed me, when I asked him, why Cama, or Love, was represented as her Son: but the word Maya, or Delusion, has a more subtle and recondite sense in the Vedanta philosophy, where it signifies the system of perceptions, whether of secondary or primary qualities, which the Deity was believed by Epicharmus, Plato, and many truly pious men, to raise by his omnipresent spirit in the minds of his creatures; but which had not, in their opinion, any existence independent of mind.
In drawing a parallel between the Gods of the Indian and European Heathens, from whatever source they were derived, I shall remember, that nothing is less favourable to inquiries after truth than a systematical spirit, and shall call to mind the saying of a Hindoo writer, [p.224] "that whoever obstinately adheres to any set of opinions, may bring himself to believe that the freshest sandal-wood is a flame of fire." This will effectually prevent me from infilling, that such a God of India was the Jupiter of Greece; such, the Apollo; such, the Mercury. In fact, since all the causes of polytheism contributed largely to the assemblage of Grecian Divinities, (though Bacon reduces them all to refined allegories, and Newton to a poetical disguise of true history,) we find many Joves, many Apollos, many Mercuries, with distinct attributes and capacities: nor shall I presume to suggest more, than that, in one capacity or another, there exists a sinking similitude between the chief objects of worship in ancient Greece or Italy, and in the very interesting country which we now inhabit.
The comparison, which I proceed to lay before you, must needs be very superficial; partly from my short residence in Hindustan, and partly from my want of complete leisure for literary amusements; but principally because I have no European book to refresh my memory of old fables, except the conceited, though not unlearned, work of Pomey, entitled the Pantheon, and that so miserably translated, that it can hardly be read with patience. A thousand more strokes of resemblance might, I am sure, be collected by any one who should with that view peruse Hesiod, Hyginus, Cornutus, and the other mythologists; or, which would be a shorter and a pleasanter way, should be satisfied with the very elegant Syntagmata of Lilius Giraldus.
Disquisitions concerning the manners and conduct of our species in early times, or indeed at any time, are always curious at lead, and amusing; but they are highly interesting to such as can say of themselves with Chrernes in the play, "We are men, and take an interest in [p.225] all that relates to mankind." They may even be of solid importance in an age when some intelligent and virtuous persons are inclined to doubt the authenticity of the accounts delivered by Moses concerning the primitive world; since no modes or sources of reasoning can be unimportant, which have a tendency to remove such doubts. Either the first eleven chapters of Genesis (all due allowances being made for a figurative eastern style) are true, or the whole fabric of our national religion is false; a conclusion which none of us, I trust, would wish to be drawn. I, who cannot help believing the divinity of the Messiah, from the undisputed antiquity and manifest completion of many prophecies, especially those of Isaiah, in the only person recorded by history to whom they are applicable, am obliged, of course, to believe the sanctity of the venerable books to which that sacred person refers as genuine: but it is not the truth of our national religion, as such, that I have at heart; it is truth itself; and if any cool, unbiased reasoner will clearly convince me, that Moses drew his narrative through Egyptian conduits from the primeval fountains of Indian literature, I shall esteem him as a friend for having weaned my mind from a capital error, and promise to stand among the foremost in assisting to circulate the truth which he has ascertained. After such a declaration, I cannot but persuade myself, that no candid man will be displeased, if, in the course of my work, I make as free with any arguments that he may have advanced, as I would really desire him to do with any of mine that he may be disposed to controvert. Having no system of my own to maintain, I shall not pursue a very regular method, but shall take all the Gods, of whom I discourse, as they happen to present themselves; beginning, however, like the Romans and the Hindus, with Janus or Ganesa.
The titles and attributes of this old Italian deity are fully comprised in two choriambic verses of Sulpitius; [p.226] and a further account of him from Ovid would here be superfluous:
Fane pater, Fane tuens, dive biceps, biformis,
O cate rerum sator, O principium deorum!
"Father Janus, all-beholding Janus, thou divinity with two heads, and with two forms; O sagacious planter of all things, and leader of deities!"
He was the God, we see, of Wisdom; whence he is represented on coins with two,
and, on the Hetruscan image found at Falisci, with four faces; emblems of
prudence and circumspection: thus is Ganesa, the God of Wisdom in
painted with an Elephant's head, the symbol of sagacious discernment, and
attended by a favourite rat, which the Indians consider as a wife and provident
animal. His next great character (the plentiful source of many superstitious
usages) was that from which he is emphatically styled the father, and which the
second verse before cited more fully expresses, the origin and founder of all
things. Whence this notion arose, unless from a tradition that he first built
shrines, raised altars, and instituted sacrifices, it is not easy to conjecture; hence it came, however, that his name was invoked before any other God; that,
in the old sacred rites, corn, and wine, and, in later times, incense also, were
first offered to Janus; that the doors or entrances to private houses were
called Januaz; and any pervious passage, or thoroughfare, in the plural number,
Jani, or with two beginnings; that he was represented holding a rod, as guardian
of ways, and a key, as opening not gates only, but all important works and
affairs of mankind; that he was thought to preside over the morning, or
beginning of day; that, although the Roman year began
[p.227] regularly with March, yet the eleventh month, named
Januarius, was considered as
first of the twelve, whence the whole year was supposed to be under his
guidance, and opened with great solemnity by the consuls inaugurated in his
fane, where his statue was decorated on that occasion with fresh laurel; and,
for the same reason, a solemn denunciation of war, than which there can hardly
be a more momentous national act, was made by the military consul's opening the
gates of his temple with all the pomp of his magistracy. The twelve altars and
twelve chapels of Janus might either denote, according to the general opinion,
that he leads and governs twelve months, or that, as he says of himself in Ovid,
all entrance and access must be made through him to the principal Gods, who
were, to a proverb, of the same number. We may add, that Janus was imagined to
preside over infants at their birth, on the beginning of life.
The Indian Divinity has precisely the same characters all sacrifices and religious ceremonies, all addresses even to superior Gods, all serious compositions in writing, and all worldly affairs of moment, are begun by pious Hindus with an invocation of Ganesa; a word composed of isa, the governor or leader, and gana, or a company of deities, nine of which companies are enumerated in the Amarcosh. Instances of opening business auspiciously by an ejaculation to the Janus of India (if the lines of resemblance here traced will justify me in so calling him) might be multiplied with ease. Few books are begun without the words "salutation to Ganes;" and he is first invoked by the Brahmans, who conduct the trial by ordeal, or perform the ceremony of the ho'ma, or sacrifice to fire. M. Sonnerat represents him as highly revered on the coast of Coromandel; "where the Indians," he says, "would not on any account build a house, without having placed on the ground an image of this [p.228] deity, which they sprinkle with oil, and adorn every day with flowers: they set up his figure in all their temples, in the streets, in the high roads, and in open plains at the foot of some tree; so that persons of all ranks may invoke him, before they undertake any business; and travellers worship him, before they proceed on their journey." To this I may add, from my own observation, that in the commodious and useful town which now rises at Dharmdranya or Gaya, under the auspices of the active and benevolent Thomas Law, Esq. collector of Rotas, every new-built house, agreeably to an immemorial usage of the Hindus, has the name of Ganesa superscribed on its door; and in the old town, his image is placed over the gates of the temples.
We come now to Saturn, the oldest of the Pagan Gods, of whole office and actions much is recorded. The jargon of his being the son of Earth and Heaven, who was the son of the Sky and the Day, is purely a confession of ignorance who were his parents, or who his predecessors; and there appears more sense in the tradition said to be mentioned by the inquisitive and well-informed Plato, "that both Saturn, or Time, and his consort Cybele, or the Earth, together with their attendants, were the children of Ocean and Thetis; or, in less poetical language, sprang from the waters of the great deep." Ceres, the goddess of harvests, was, it seems, their daughter; and Virgil describes "the mother and nurse of all as crowned with turrets, in a car drawn by lions, and exulting in her hundred grandsons, all divine, all inhabiting splendid celestial mansions." As the God of Time, or rather as Time itself personified, Saturn was usually painted by the heathens holding a scythe in one hand, and, in the other, a snake with its tail in its mouth, the symbol of perpetual cycles and revolutions of ages: he was often [p.229] represented in the a6l of devouring years, in the form of children; and sometimes encircled by the seasons, appearing like boys and girls. By the Latins he was named Saturnus: and the most ingenious etymology of that word is given by Festus the grammarian, who traces it, by a learned analogy to many similar names, à fatu, from planting; because, when he reigned in Italy, he introduced and improved agriculture: but his distinguishing character, which explains, indeed, all his other titles and functions, was expressed allegorically by the stern of a ship or galley on the reverse of his ancient coins; for which Ovid assigns a very unsatisfactory reason, "because the divine stranger arrived in a ship on the Italian coast;" as if he could have been expected on horseback, or hovering through the air.
The account, quoted by Pomey from Alexander Polyhistor, casts a clearer light, if it really came from genuine antiquity, on the whole tale of Saturn; "that he predicted an extraordinary fall of rain, and ordered the construction of a vessel, in which it was necessary to secure men, beads, birds, and reptiles, from a general inundation."
Now it seems not easy to take a cool review of all these testimonies concerning the birth, kindred, offspring, character, occupations, and entire life, of Saturn, without assenting to the opinion of Bochart, or admitting it at least to be highly probable, that the fable was raised on the true history of Noah; from whose flood a new period of time was computed, and a new series of ages may be said to have sprung; who rose fresh, and, as it were, newly born from the waves; whose wife was, in fact, the universal mother; and, that the earth might soon be repeopled, was early blessed with numerous and [p.230] flourishing descendants: if we produce, therefore, an Indian king of divine birth, eminent for his piety and beneficence, whose story seems evidently to be that of Noah disguised by Asiatick fiction, we may safely offer a conjecture, that he was also the same personage with Saturn. This was Menu, or Satyavrata, whose patronymick name was Vaivaswata, or Child of the Sun; and whom the Indians not only believed to have reigned over the whole world in the earlier age of their chronology, but to have resided in the country of Dravira, on the coast of the Eastern Indian Peninsula: the following narrative of the principal event in his life I have literally translated from the Bhdgavat; and it is the subject of the first Purana, entitled that of the Matsya, or Fish.
"Desiring the preservation of herds, and of Brahmans, of genii, and virtuous men, of the Vedas, of law, and of precious things, the Lord of the Universe assumes many bodily shapes; but though he pervades, like the air, a variety of beings, yet he is himself unvaried, since he has no quality subject to change. At the close of the last Calpa, there was a general destruction occasioned by the sleep of Brahma; whence his creatures in different worlds were drowned in a vast ocean. Brahma, being inclined to slumber, desiring a repose after a lapse of ages, the strong demon Hayagriva came near him, and stole the Vedas, which had flowed from his lips. When Heri, the Preserver of the Universe, discovered this deed of the Prince of Danavas, he took the shape of a minute fish, called sap'hari. A holy king, named Saiyavrata, then reigned; a servant of the spirit, which moved on the waves, and so devout, that water was his only sustenance. He was the child of the Sun, and, in the present Calpa, is inverted by Nardyan in the office of Menu, by the name of Sraddhadeva, or the God of Obsequies. One day, as he was making a libation to [p.231] the river Critamala, and held water in the palm of his hand, he perceived a small fish moving in it. The king of Dravira immediately dropped the fish into the river, together with the water which he had taken from it; when the saphari thus pathetically addressed the benevolent monarch: "How canst thou, O king, who showed affection to the oppressed, leave me in this river-water, where I am too weak to resist the monsters of the stream, who fill me with dread?" He, not knowing who had assumed the form of a fish, he applied his mind to the preservation of the saphari, both from good-nature, and from regard to his own soul; and, having heard its very suppliant address, he kindly placed it under his protection in a small vase full of water; but, in a single night, its bulk was so increased, that it could not be contained in the jar, and thus again addressed the illustrious Prince: "I am not pleased with living miserably in this little vase, make me a large mansion, where I may dwell in comfort." The king, removing it thence, placed it in the water of a cistern; but it grew three cubits in less than fifty minutes, and said, "O king, it pleases me not to stay vainly in this narrow cistern: since thou hast granted me an asylum, give me a spacious habitation." He then removed it, and placed it in a pool, where, having ample space around its body, it became s a fifth of considerable size. "This abode, O king, is not convenient for me, who must swim at large in the waters: exert thyself for my safety; and remove me to a deep lake." Thus addressed, the pious monarch threw the suppliant into a lake, and, when it grew of equal bulk with that piece of water, he cast the vast fish into the sea. When the fish was thrown into the waves, he thus again spoke to Satyavrata: "Here the horned marks, and other monsters of great strength, will devour me; thou shouldest not, O valiant man, leave me in this ocean." Thus repeatedly deluded by the fish, who had addressed him with gentle words, the king said, "Who art thou, that beguilest me in [p.232] that assumed shape? Never before have I seen or heard of so prodigious an inhabitant of the waters, who, like thee, hast filled up, in a single day, a lake an hundred leagues in circumference. Surely, thou art bhagavat, who appeared before me; the great Heri, whose dwelling was on the waves; and who now, in compassion to thy servants, bearest the form of the natives of the deep. Salutation and praise to thee, O first male, the lord of creation, of preservation, of destruction! Thou art the highest object, O supreme ruler, of us thy adorers, who piously seek thee. All thy delusive descents in this world give existence to various beings: yet I am anxious to know for what cause that shape has been assumed by thee. Let me not, O lotos-eyed, approach in vain the feet of a deity, whose perfect benevolence has been extended to all; when thou hast shown us, to our amazement, the appearance of other bodies, not in reality existing, but successively exhibited." The Lord of the Universe, loving the pious man, who thus implored him, and intending to preserve him from the sea of destruction, caused by the depravity of the age, thus told him how he was to act. "In seven days from the present time, O though tamer of enemies, the three worlds will be plunged in an ocean of death; but, in the midst of the destroying waves, a large vessel, sent by me for thy use, shall stand before thee. Then shalt thou take all medicinal herbs, all the variety of seeds; and, accompanied by seven saints, encircled by pairs of all brute animals, thou shalt enter the spacious ark, and continue in it, secure from the flood, on one immense ocean without light, except the radiance of thy holy companions. When the ship shall be agitated by an impetuous wind, thou shalt fasten it with a large sea-serpent on my horn; for I will be near thee, drawing the vessel, with thee and thy attendants. I will remain on the ocean, O chief of men, until a night of Brahma shall be completely ended. Thou shalt [p.233] then know my true greatness, rightly named the Supreme Godhead: by my favour, all thy questions shall be answered, and thy mind abundantly instructed. Heri, having thus directed the monarch, disappeared; and Satyavrata humbly waited for the time which the ruler of our senses had appointed. The pious king, having scattered toward the east the pointed blades of the grass darbha, and turning his face toward the north, sate meditating on the feet of the God who had borne the form of a fish. The sea, overwhelming its shores, deluged the whole earth; and it was soon perceived to be augmented by showers from immense clouds. He, still meditating on the command of Bhagavat, saw the vessel advancing, and entered it with the chiefs of Brahmans, having carried into it the medicinal creepers, and conformed to the directions of Heri. The saints thus addressed him: "O king, meditate on Cesava; who will, surely, deliver us from this danger, and grant us prosperity." The God, being invoked by the monarch, appeared again distinctly on the vast ocean in the form of a fish, blazing like gold, extending a million of leagues, with one stupendous horn; on which the king, as he had before been commanded by Heri, tied the ship with a cable made of a vast serpent, and, happy in his preservation, stood praising the destroyer of Madhu. When the monarch had finished his hymn, the primeval male, Bhagavat, who watched for his safety on the greater expanse of water, spoke aloud to his own divine essence, pronouncing a sacred Purana, which contained the rules of the Sanc'hya philosophy: but it was an infinite mystery to be concealed within the breast of Satyavrata; who, fitting in the vessel with the saints, heard the principle of the soul, the External Being, proclaimed by the preserving power. Then Heri, rising together with Brahma, from the destructive deluge, which was abated, slew the demon Hayagriva, and recovered the sacred books. Satyavrata, instructed [p.234] in all divine and human knowledge, was appointed in the present Calpa, by the favour of Vishnu, the seventh Menu, surnamed Vaivaswata: but the appearance of a horned fish to the religious monarch was Maya, or delusion; and he who shall devoutly hear this important allegorical narrative, will be delivered from the bondage of sin."
This epitome of the first Indian history that is now extant, appears to me very curious and very important; for the story, though whimsically dressed up in the form of an allegory, seems to prove a primeval tradition in this country o£ the universal deluge described by Moses, and fixes consequently the time when the genuine Hindu chronology actually begins. We find, it is true, in the Purana, from which the narrative is extracted, another deluge, which happened towards the close of the third age, when Yudhisthir was labouring under the persecution of his inveterate foe Duryodhan; and when Chrishna, who had recently become incarnate for the purpose of succouring the pious, and destroying the wicked, was performing wonders in the country of Mathurd; but the second flood was merely local, and intended only to affect the people of Vraja; they, it seems, had tended Indra, the God of the firmament, by their enthusiastick adoration of the wonderful child, who lifted up the mountain Gaverdhena, as if it had been a flower; and, by flickering all the herdsmen and shepherdesses from the flood, convinced Indra of his supremacy."
That the Satya, or (if we may venture so to call it) the Saturnian age was, in truth, the age of the general flood, will appear from a close examination of the ten Avatars, or descents of the deity, in his capacity of preserver; since of the four, which are declared to have happened in the Satyayug, the three first apparently relate to some stupendous convulsion of our globe from [p.235] the fountains of the deep; and the fourth exhibits the miraculous punishment of pride and impiety. First, as we have shown, there was, in the opinion of the Hindus, an interposition of Providence to preserve a devout person and his family (for all the Pandits agree, that his wife, though not named, must be understood to have been saved with him) from an inundation, by which all the wicked were destroyed: next, the power of the deity descends in the form of a boar, the symbol of strength, to draw up and support on his tusks the whole earth, which had been sunk beneath the ocean: thirdly, the same power is represented as a tortoise sustaining the globe, which had been convulsed by the violent assaults of demons; while the Gods churned the sea with the mountain Mandar, and forced it to disgorge the sacred things and animals, together with the water of life, which it had swallowed. These three stories relate, I think, to the same event, shadowed by a moral, a metaphysical, and an astronomical, allegory: and all three seem connected with the hieroglyphical sculptures of the old Egyptians. The fourth Avatar was a lion issuing from a bursting column of marble to devour a blaspheming monarch, who would otherwise have slain his religious sort; and of the remaining six, not one has the least relation to a deluge. The three which are ascribed to the Tretayug, when tyranny and irreligion are said to have been introduced, were ordained for the overthrow of tyrants, or their natural types, giants with a thousand arms, formed for the most extensive oppression: and, in the Dwaparyug, the incarnation of Crishna was partly for a similar purpose, and partly with a view to thin the world of unjust and impious men, who had multiplied in that age, and began to swarm on the approach of the Caliyug, or the age of contention and baseness. As to Buddha, he seems to have been a reformer of the doctrines contained in the Vedas; and though his good-nature led him to censure those ancient books, because they enjoined sacrifices of [p.236] cattle, yet he is admitted as the ninth Avatar even by the Brahmans of cast, and his praises are sung by the poet Jayadeva: his character is in many respects very extraordinary; but, as an account of it belongs rather to history than to mythology, it is reserved for another dissertation. The tenth Avatar, we are told, is yet to come, and is expected to appear mounted (like the crowned conqueror in the Apocalypse) on a white horse, with a cimeter blazing like a comet, to mow down all incorrigible and impenitent offenders who shall then be on earth.
These four Yugs have so apparent an affinity with the Grecian and Roman ages, that one origin may be naturally assigned to both systems. The first in both is distinguished as abounding in gold, though Satya means truth and probity, which were found, if ever, in the times immediately following so tremendous an exertion of the Divine Power as the destruction of mankind by a general deluge: the next is characterized by silver; and the third by copper: though their usual names allude to proportions imagined in each between vice and virtue. The present, or earthen, age seems more properly discriminated than by iron, is in ancient Europe; since that metal is not baser, or less useful, though more common, in our times, and consequently less precious, than copper; while mere earth conveys an idea of the lowest degradation. We may here observe, that the true History of the World seems obviously divisible into four ages or periods; which may be called, first, the Diluvian, or purest age; namely, the times preceding the deluge, and those succeeding it till the mad introduction of idolatry at Babel: next, the Patriarchal, or pure, age; in which, indeed, there were mighty hunters of beasts and of men, from the rise of patriarchs in the family of Sem, to the simultane- [p.237] ous establishment of great empires by the defendants of his brother Ham: thirdly, the Mosaick, or less pure, age; from the legation of Moses, and during the time when his ordinances were comparatively well observed and uncorrupted: lastly, the prophetical, or impure, age, beginning with the vehement warnings given by the prophets to apostate kings and degenerate nations, but it in subsisting, and to subsist, until all genuine prophecies shall be fully accomplished. The duration of the historical ages must needs be very unequal and disproportionate; while that of the Indian Yugs is disposed so regularly and artificially, that it cannot be admitted as natural or probable. Men do not become reprobate in a geometrical progression, or at the termination of regular periods; yet so well proportioned are the Yugs, that even the length of human life is diminished as they advance, from an hundred thousand years in a subdecuple ratio; and, as the number of principal Avatars in each decreases arithmetically from four, so the number of years in each decreases geometrically, and all together constitute the extravagant sum of four million three hundred and twenty thousand years, which aggregate, multiplied by seventy-one, is the period in which every Menu is believed to preside over the world. Such a period, one might conceive, would have satisfied Archetas, the measurer of sea and earth, and the numberer of their sands; or Archimedes, who invented a notation that was capable of expressing the number of them; but the comprehensive mind of an Indian chronologist has no limits; and the reigns of fourteen Menus are only a single day of Brahma, fifty of which days have elapsed, according to the Hindus, from the time of the creation. That all this puerility, as it seems at first view, may be only an astronomical riddle, and allude to the apparent revolution of the fixed stars, of which the Brahmans made a mystery, I readily admit, and am even inclined to believe; but so technical an arrangement excludes all idea of serious history. I am sensible how much these [p.238] remarks will offend the warm advocates for Indian antiquity; but we must not sacrifice truth to a base fear of giving offence. That the Vedas were actually written before the flood, I shall never believe; nor can we infer, from the preceding story, that the learned Hindus believe it; for the allegorical slumber of Brahma, and the theft of the sacred books, mean only, in simpler language, that the human race was become corrupt; but that the Vedas are very ancient, and far older than other Sanscrit compositions, I will venture to assert from my own examination of them, and a comparison of their style with that of the Puranas and the Dherma Sastra. A similar comparison justifies me in pronouncing, that the excellent law-book ascribed to Swayambhuva Menu, though not even pretended to have been written by him, is more ancient than the Bhagavat; but that it was composed in the first age of the world, the Brahmans would find it hard to persuade me; and the date which has been assigned to it, does not appear in either of the two copies winch I possess, or in any other that has been collated for me: in fact, the supposed date is comprised in a verse, which flatly contradicts the work itself; for it was not Menu who composed the system of law, by the command of his father Brahma, but a holy personage, or demi-god, named Bhrigu, who revealed to men what Menu had delivered at the request of him, and other faints or patriarchs. In the Manava Sastra, to conclude this digression, the measure is so uniform and melodious, and the style so perfectly Sanscrit, or polished, that the book must be more modern than the scriptures of Moses, in which the simplicity, or rather nakedness, of the Hebrew dialect, metre, and style, must convince every unbiased man of their superior antiquity.
I leave etymologists, who decide every thing, to decide whether the word Menu or, in the nominative case, [p.239] Menus, has any connexion with Minos the lawgiver, and supposed son of Jove. The Cretans, according to Diodorus of Sicily, used to feign, that most of the great men, who had been deified in return for the benefits which they had conferred on mankind, were born in their island; and hence a doubt may be raised, whether Minos was really a Cretan. The Indian legislator was the first, not the seventh, Menu, or Satyavrata, whom I suppose to be the Saturn of Italy. Part of Saturn's character, indeed, was that of a lawgiver:
Que genus indocile ac dispersum montibus altis Composuit legesque dedit:
And we may suspect that all the fourteen Menus are reducible to one, who was
called Nub by the Arabs, and probably by the Hebrews; though we have disguised
his name by an improper pronunciation of it. Some near relation between the
seventh Menu and the Grecian Minos, may be inferred from the singular character
of the Hindu god Yama, who was also a child of the Sun, and thence named
Vaivaswata. He had too the same title with his brother, Sraddhadeva. Another of
his titles was Dhermardja, or King of Justice; and a third, Pitripeti, or Lord
of the Patriarchs; but he is chiefly distinguished as judge of departed souls; for the
Hindus believe, that, when a
soul leaves its body, it immediately
repairs to Yamapur, or the city of Yama, where it receives a just sentence from
him, and either ascends to Swerga, or the first heaven; or is driven down to
Narac, the region of
serpents; or assumes on earth the form of some animal,
unless its offence had been such, that it ought to be condemned to a vegetable,
or even to a [p.240] mineral, prison. Another of his names is very remarkable; I mean that of
or time, the idea of which is intimately blended with the characters of Saturn
and of Noah; for the name Cronos has a manifest affinity with the word chronos;
and a learned follower of Zeratasht assures me, that, in the books which the
Behdins hold sacred, mention is made of an universal inundation, there named the
deluge of Time.
It having been occasionally observed, that Ceres was the poetical daughter of Saturn, we cannot close this head without adding, that the Hindus also have their Goddess of Abundance, whom they usually call Lacshmi, and whom they consider as the daughter (not of Menu, but) of Bhrigu, by whom the first code of sacred ordinances was promulgated. She is also named Pedma and Camala, from the sacred lotos, or Nymphæa: but her most remarkable name is Sri, or, in the first case, Sris, which has a resemblance to the Latin, and means fortune or prosperity. It may be contended, that although Lacshmi may be figuratively called the Ceres of Hindustan, yet any two or more idolatrous nations, who subsisted by agriculture, might naturally conceive a Deity to preside over their labours, without having the least intercourse with each other; but no reason appears why two nations should concur in supposing that Deity to be a female. One, at least, of them would be more likely to imagine that the Earth was a goddess, and that the God of Abundance rendered her fertile. Besides, in very ancient temples near Gaya, we see images of Lacshmi, with full breast, and a cord twisted under her arm like a horn of plenty, which look very much like the old Grecian and Roman figures of Ceres.
The fable of Saturn having been thus analyzed, let us proceed to his defendants; and begin, as the Poet [p.241] advises, with Jupiter, whose supremacy, thunder, and libertinism, every boy learns from Ovid; while his great offices of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, are not generally considered in the systems of European mythology. The Romans had, as we have before observed, many Jupiters, one of whom was only the Firmament personified, as Ennius clearly expresses it:
Aspice hoc sublime candens, quern invocant omnes Jovem.
This Jupiter or Diespiter, the Indian God of the visible heavens, called
or the King; and Divespetir, or Lord of the Sky; who has also the character of
the Roman Genius, or chief of the Good Spirits; but most of his epithets in
Sanscrit are the same with those of the Ennian Jove. His consort is named
celestial city, Amaravati; his palace, Vaijayanta; his garden, Nandana;
his chief elephant, Airavat; his charioteer, Matali; and his weapon,
the thunderbolt: he is the regent of winds and showers; and though the East is
peculiarly under his care, yet his Olympus is Meru, or the north pole,
allegorically represented as a mountain of gold and gems. With all his power he
is considered as a subordinate Deity, and far inferior to the Indian Triad,
Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahadeva, or Siva, who are three forms of one and the same
Godhead: thus the principal divinity of the Greeks and Latins, whom they
called Zeus and Jupiter, with irregular inflexions Bios and
Jovis, was not
merely Fulminator, the Thunderer, but, like the destroying power of India,
Magnus Divus, Ultor, Genitor; like the preserving power, Conservator, Soli, Opitulus, Altor, Kuminus; and like the creating power, the Giver of Life; an
attribute which I mention here [p.242] on the authority of
Cornutus, a consummate matter of mythological learning. We
are advised by Plato himself, to search for the roots of Greek words in some
barbarous, that is, foreign soil; but, since I look upon etymological
conjectures as a weak basis for historical inquiries, I hardly dare suggest
that Zev, Siv, and Jov, are the same syllable differently pronounced. It must,
however, be admitted, that the Greeks having no palatial sigma, like that of the
Indians, might have expressed it by their zeta, and that the initial letters of
zugon and jugum are (as the instance proves) easily interchangeable.
Let us now descend, from these general and introductory remarks, to some particular observations on the resemblance of Zeus, or Jupiter, to the triple divinity Vishnu, Siva, Brahma; for that is the order in which they are expressed by the letters A, U, and M, which coalesce, and form the mystical word OM; a word which never escapes the lips of a pious Hindu, who meditates on it in silence. Whether the Egyptian ON, which is commonly supposed to mean the Sun, be the Sanscrit monosyllable, I leave others to determine. It must always be remembered, that the learned Indians, as they are instructed by their own books, in truth, acknowledge only One Supreme Being, whom they call Brahme, or the Great One, in the neuter gender: they believe his essence to be infinitely removed from the comprehension of any mind but his own; and they suppose him to manifest his power by the operation of his divine spirit, whom they name Vishnu, the Pervader, and Narayan, or Moving on the Waters, both in the masculine gender, whence he is often denominated the First Male; and by this power they believe that the whole order of nature is preserved and supported: but the Vedantas, unable to form a distinct idea of brute matter independent of mind, or to conceive that the [p.243] work of Supreme Goodness was left a moment to itself, imagine that the Deity is ever present to his work, and constantly supports a series of perceptions, which, in one sense, they call illusory; though they cannot but admit the reality of all created forms, as far as the happiness of creatures can be affected by them. When they consider the Divine Power exerted in creating, or in giving existence to that which existed not before, they call the Deity Brahma in the masculine gender also; and when they view him in the light of Destroyer, or rather Changer of forms, they give him a thousand names, of which Siva, Isa, or Iswara, Rudra, Hara, Sambhu, and Mahadeva, or Mahesa, are the most common. The first operations of these three Powers are variously described in the different Puranas by a number of allegories, and from them we may deduce the Ionian Philosophy of primeval water, the doctrine of the Mundane Egg, and the veneration paid to the Nymphæ, or Lotos, which was anciently revered in Egypt, as it is at present in Hindustan, Tibet, and Nepal. The Tibetans are said to embellish their temples and altars with it: and a native of Nepal made prostrations before it on entering my study, where the fine plant and beautiful flowers lay for examination. Mr. Hohoel, in explaining his first plate, supposes Brahma to be floating on a leaf of betel in the midst of the abyss; but it was manifestly intended by a bad painter for a lotos leaf, or for that of the Indian fig-tree; nor is the species of pepper, known in Bengal by the name of Tambula, and on the Coast of Malabar by that of betel, held sacred, as he asserts, by the Hindus, or necessarily cultivated under the inspection of Brahmans; though, as the vines are tender, all the plantations of them are carefully secured, and ought to be cultivated-by a particular tribe of Sudras, who are thence called Tambulis.
That water was the primitive element, and first work of the Creative Power, is the uniform opinion of the [p.244] Indian philosophers; but, as they give so particular an account of the general deluge, and of the creation, it can never be admitted that their whole system arose from traditions concerning the flood only, and must appear indubitable, that their doctrine is in part borrowed from the opening of Birasit, or Genesis, than which a sublimer passage, from the first word to the last, never flowed, or will flow, from any human pen: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.—And the earth was void and waste, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters: and God said, Let light be—and Light was." The sublimity of this passage is considerably diminished by the Indian paraphrase of it, with which Menu, the son of Brahma, begins his address to the sages, who consulted him on the formation of the universe. "This world (says he) was all darkness, indiscernible, undistinguishable, altogether as in profound sleep: till the self-existent invisible God, making it manifest with five elements, and other glorious forms, perfectly dispelled the gloom. He, desiring to raise up various creatures by an emanation from his own glory, first created the waters, and impressed them with a power of motion: by that power was produced a golden egg, blazing like a thousand suns, in which was born Brahma, self-existing, the great parent of all rational beings. The waters are called nara, since they are the offspring of Nera, or Iswara; and thence was drayana named, because his first ayana, or moving, was on them.
"That which is, the invisible cause, eternal, self-existing, but unperceived, becoming masculine from neuter, is celebrated among all creatures by the name of Brahma. That God, having dwelled in the Egg, through revolving years, Himself meditating on himself, divided it into two equal parts; and from those [p.245] halves formed the heavens and the earth, placing in the midst; the subtil ether, the eight points of the world, and the permanent receptacle of waters."
To this curious description, with which the Manava Sastra begins, I cannot refrain from subjoining the four verses, which are the text of the Bhagavat, and are believed to have been pronounced by the Supreme Being to Brahma: the following version is mod scrupulously literal.
"Even I was even at first, not any other thing; that which exists unperceived; supreme: afterwards lam that which is: and he who must remain, am I. Except the First Cause, whatever may appear, and may not appear, in the mind, know that to be the mind's Maya, or Delusion, as light, as darkness. As the great elements are in various beings, entering, yet not entering, (that is, pervading, not destroying,) thus am I in them, yet not in them. Even thus far may inquiry be made by him who seeks to know the principle of mind, in union and separation, which must be every where always."
Wild and obscure as these ancient verses must appear in a naked verbal
translation. it will perhaps be thought by many, that the poetry or mythology of
Greece and Italy afford no conceptions more awfully magnificent: yet the
brevity and simplicity of the Mosaick diction are unequalled.
As to the creation of the world, in the opinion of the Romans, Ovid, who might naturally have been expected to describe it with learning and elegance, leaves us wholly in the dark, which of the Gods was the actor in it. Other mythologists are more explicit; and we may rely on the authority of Cornutus, that the old European heathens considered Jove (not the son of Saturn, but of the Ether, that is, of an unknown parent) as the great Life-giver, and Father of Gods and Men: to which may be added the Orphean doctrine, preserved by Proclus, that "the abyss and empyreum, the earth and sea, the Gods and Goddesses, were produced by Zeus, or Jupiter." In this character he corresponds with Brahma; and, perhaps, with that God of the Babylonians, (if we can rely on the accounts of their ancient religion,) who, like Brahma, reduced the universe to order, and, like Brahma, lost his head with the blood of which new animals were instantly formed. I allude to the common story, the meaning of which I cannot discover, that Brahma had five heads, till one of them was cut off by Narayan.
That, in another capacity, Jove was the Helper and Supporter of all, we may collect from his old Latin epithets, and from Cicero, who informs us, that his usual name is a contraction of Juvans Pater; an etymology which shews the idea entertained of his character, though we may have some doubt of its accuracy. Callimachus, we know, addresses him as the bestower of all good, and of security from grief; and, since neither wealth without virtue, not virtue without wealth, gives [p.247] complete happiness, he prays, like a wise poet, for both. An Indian prayer for riches would be directed to Lacshmi, the wife of Vishnu, since the Hindu goddesses are believed to be the powers of their respective lords.
As to Cuvera, the Indian Plutus, one of whose names in Paulastya, he is revered, indeed, as a magnificent Deity, residing in the palace of Alaca, or borne through the sky in a splendid car, named Puslipaca, but is manifestly subordinate, like the other seven Genii, to three principal Gods, or rather to the principal God considered in three capacities. As the soul of the world, or the pervading mind, so finely described by Virgil, we see Jove represented by several Roman poets; and with great sublimity by Lucan in the known speech of Cato concerning the Ammonian oracle: "Jupiter is, wherever we look, wherever we move." This is precisely the Indian idea of Vishnu, according to the four verses above exhibited: not that the Brahmans imagine their male Divinity to be the divine Essence of the Great One, which they declare to be wholly incomprehensible; but, since the power of preserving created things by a superintending providence, belongs eminently to the Godhead, they hold that power to exist transcendently in the preserving member of the Triad, whom they suppose to be every where always; not in substance, but in spirit and energy: here, however, I speak of the Vaishnavas; for the Saivas ascribe a sort of pre-eminence to Siva, whose attributes are now to be concisely examined.
It was in the capacity of Avenger and Destroyer, that Jove encountered and overthrew the Titans and Giants, whom Typhon, Briareus, Tityus, and the rest of their fraternity, led against the God of Olympus; to whom an eagle brought lightning and thunderbolts [p.248] during the warfare. Thus, in a similar contest between Siva and the Daityas, or children of Dili, who frequently rebelled against heaven, Brahma is believed to have presented the God of Destruction with fiery shafts. One of the many poems, entitled Ramayan, the last book of which has been translated into Italian, contains an extraordinary dialogue between the crow Bhushunda, and a rational eagle, named Garuda, who is often painted with the face of a beautiful youth, and the body of an imaginary bird; and one of the eighteen Puranas bears his name, and comprises his whole history. M. Sonnerat informs us, that Vishnu is represented in some places riding on the Garuda, which he supposes to be the Pondicheri eagle of Brisson, especially as the Brahmans of the Coast highly venerate that bird, and provide food for numbers of them at dated hours. I rather conceive the Garuda to be a fabulous bird; but agree with him, that the Hindu God, who rides on it, resembles the ancient Jupiter. In the old temples at Gaya, Vishnu is either mounted on this poetical bird, or attended by it, together with a little page; but, left an etymologist should find Ganymed in Garud, I must observe that the Sanscrit word is pronounced Garura; though I admit that the Grecian and Indian stories of the celestial bird and the page appear to have some resemblance. As the Olympian Jupiter fixed his court, and held his councils, on a lofty and brilliant mountain, so the appropriated seat of Mahadeva, whom the Saivas consider as the Chief of the Deities, was mount Cailasa, every splinter of whose rocks was an inestimable gem. His terrestrial haunts are the snowy hills of Himalaya, on that branch of them to the East of the Brahmaputra, which has the name of Chandrasic'hara, or the Mountain of the Moon. When, after all these circumstances, we learn that Siva is believed to have three eyes, whence he is named also Trilochan, and know from Pausanias, not only that Triophthalmos was an epithet of Zeus, but that a statue of him had been found so early as [p.249] the taking of Troy, with a third eye in his forehead, as we see him represented by the Hindus, we mud conclude, that the identity of the two Gods falls little short of being demonstrated.
In the character of Destroyer also, we may look upon this Indian Deity as corresponding with the Stygian Jove, or Plato; especially since Cali, or Time, in the feminine gender, is a name of his consort, who will appear hereafter to be Proserpine. Indeed, if we can rely on a Persian translation of the Bhagavat, (for the original is not yet in my possession,) the Sovereign of Patala, or the Infernal Regions, is the King of Serpents, named Seshandga; for Crishna is there said to have descended with his favourite Arjun to the seat of that formidable divinity, from whom he instantly obtained the favour which he requested, that the souls of a Brahman's six sons, who had been slain in battle, might reanimate their respective bodies; and Seshandga is thus described. "He had a gorgeous appearance, with a thousand heads, and on each of them a crown set with resplendent gems, one of which was larger and brighter than the rest; his 64 eyes gleamed like flaming torches; but his neck, his tongues, and his body, were black; the skirts of his habiliment were yellow, and a sparkling jewel hung in every one of his ears; his arms were extended, and adorned with rich bracelets; and his hands bore the holy shell, the radiated weapon, the mace for war, and the lotos." Thus Pluto was often exhibited in painting and sculpture, with a diadem and sceptre; but himself and his equipage were of the blacked shade.
There is yet another attribute of Mahadeva, by which he is too visibly distinguished in the drawings and [p.250] temples of Bengal. To destroy, according to the Vedantas of India, the Sufis of Persia, and many philosophers of our European schools, is only to generate and reproduce in another form. Hence the God of Destruction is holden in this country to preside over Generation; as a symbol of which he rides on a white bull. Can we doubt that the loves and feats of Jupiter Genitor, (not forgetting the white bull of Europa,) and his extraordinary title of Lapis, for which no satisfactory reason is commonly given, have a connexion with the Indian Philosophy and Mythology? As to the deity of Lampsacus, he was originally a mere scare-crow, and ought not to have a place in any mythological system; and, in regard to Bacchus, the God of Vintage, (between whole acts and those of Jupiter, we find, as Bacon observes, a wonderful affinity,) his Ithyphallick images, measures, and ceremonies, alluded probably to the supposed relation of Love and Wine; unless we believe them to have belonged originally to Siva; one of whose names is Varis, or Bagis, and to have been afterwards improperly applied. Though, in an Essay on the Gods of India, where the Brahmins are positively forbidden to taste fermented liquors, we can have little to do with Bacchus, as God of Wine, who was probably no more than the imaginary President over the vintage in Italy, Greece, and the Lower Asia; yet we must not omit Suradevi, the Goddess of Wine, who arose, say the Hindus, from the ocean, when it was churned with the mountain Mandar: and this fable seems to indicate, that the Indians came from a country in which wine was anciently made, and considered as a blessing; though the dangerous effects of intemperance induced their early legislators to prohibit the use of all spirituous liquors; and it were much to be wished that so wife a law had never been violated.
Here may be introduced the Jupiter Marinus, or Neptune, of the Romans, as resembling Mahadeva in [p.251] his generative character; especially as the Hindu God is the husband of Bhavani, whose relation to the waters is evidently marked by her image being restored to them at the conclusion of her great festival called Durgasava. She is known also to have attributes exactly similar to those of Venus Marina, whose birth from the sea-foam, and splendid rise from the conch, in which she had been cradled, have afforded so many charming subjects to ancient and modern artists; and it is very remarkable, that the Rembha of Indra's court, who seems to correspond with the popular Venus, or Goddess of Beauty, was produced, according to the Indian fabulists, from the froth of the churned ocean. The identity of the trisula and the trident, the weapon of Siva and of Neptune, seems to establish this analogy; and the veneration paid all over India to the large buccinum, especially when it can be found with the spiral line and mouth turned from left to right, brings instantly to our mind the musick of Triton. The Genius of Water is Varuna; but he, like the rest, is far inferior to Mahesa, and even to Indra, who is the Prince of the beneficent Genii.
This way of considering the Gods as individual substances, but as distinct persons in distinct characters, is common to the European and Indian systems; as well as the custom of giving the highest of them the greatest number of names: hence, not to repeat what has been said of Jupiter, came the triple capacity of Diana; and hence her petition in Callimachus, that she might be polyonymous, or many-titled. The consort of Siva is more eminently marked by these distinctions than those of Brahma or Vishnu: she resembles the Isis Myrionymos, to whom an ancient marble, described by Gruter is dedicated; but her leading names and characters are Parvati, Durga, Bhavani.
As the Mountain-born Goddess, or Parvati, she has many properties of the
Olympian Juno: her majestick deportment, high spirit, and general attributes,
are the same; and we find her both on Mount Cailasa, and at the banquets of the
Deities, uniformly the companion of her husband. One circumstance in the
parallel is extremely singular: she is usually attended by her son Carticeya,
who rides on a peacock; and in some drawings, his own robe seems to be
spangled with eyes; to which must be added that, in some of her temples, a
peacock, without a rider, stands near her image. Though Carticeya, with his six
faces and numerous eyes, bears some resemblance to Argus, whom Juno employed as
her principal wardour, yet, as he is a Deity of the second class, and a
Commander of celestial Armies, he seems clearly to be the Orus of Egypt, and the
Mars of Italy: his name, Scanda, by which he is celebrated in one of the
Puranas, has a connection, I am
persuaded, with the old Secander of Persia, whom
the poets ridiculously confound with the Macedonian.
The attributes of Durga, or difficult of access, are also conspicuous in the festival above-mentioned, which is called by her name, and in this character she resembles Minerva; not the peaceful inventress of the fine and useful arts, but Pallas, armed with a helmet and spear: both respect heroick Virtue, or valour united with wisdom; both slew demons and giants with their own hands, and both protected the wife and virtuous, who paid them due adoration. As Pallas, they say, takes her name from vibrating a lance, and usually appears in complete armour, thus Curis, the old Latin word for a spear, was one of Juno's titles; and so, if Giraldus be correct, was Hoplosmia, which at Elis, it seems, meant a female dressed in panoply, or complete accoutrements. The unarmed Minerva of the Romans, apparently corre- [p.253] sponds, as patroness of Science and Genius, with Sereswati, the wife of Brahma, and the emblem of his principal Creative Power. Both Goddesses have given their names to celebrated grammatical works; but the Sareswata of Sarupacharya is far more concise, as well as more useful and agreeable, than the Minerva of Sanctius.
The Minerva of Italy invented the flute, and Sereswati presides over melody: the protectress of Athens was even, on the same account, surnamed Musice.
Many learned mythologies, with Giraldus at their head, consider the peaceful Minerva as the Isis of Egypt; from whose temple at Sais a wonderful inscription is quoted by Plutarch, which has a resemblance to the four Sanscrit verses above exhibited as the text of the Bhagavat: "I am all that hath been, and is, and shall be; and my veil no mortal hath ever removed." For my part, I have no doubt that the Iswara and Isi of the Hindus, are the Osiris and Isis of the Egyptians; though a distinct essay in the manner of Plutarch would be requisite in order to demonstrate their identity: they mean, I conceive, the Powers of Nature considered as Male and Female; and Isis, like the other goddesses, represents the active power of her lord, whose eight forms, under which he becomes visible to man, were thus enumerated by Calidasa near two thousand years ago. "Water was the first work of the Creator; and Fire receives the oblation of clarified butter, as the law ordains: the Sacrifice is performed with solemnity: the two Lights of heaven distinguish time; the subtil Ether, which is the vehicle of found, pervades the universe; the Earth is the natural parent of all increase; and by Air all things breathing are animated. May Isa, the power propitiously apparent in these eight forms, bless and sustain you!" The five elements, therefore, as [p.254] veil as the Sun and Moon, are considered as Isa, or the Ruler, from which word Isi may be regularly formed; though Isani be the usual name of his active Power, adored as the Goddess of Nature. I have not yet found in Sanscrit, the wild, though poetical, tale of Io; but am persuaded, that, by means of the Puranas, we shall in time discover all the learning of the Egyptians, without decyphering their hieroglyphicks. The bull of Iswara seems to be Apis, or Ap, as he is more correctly named in the true reading of a passage in Jeremiah and if the veneration shown, both in Tibet and India, to so amiable and useful a quadruped as the Cow, together with the regeneration of the Lama himself, have not some affinity with the religion of Egypt, and the idolatry of Israti, we must at lead allow that circumstances have wonderfully coincided.
Bhavani now demands our attention; and in this character I suppose the wife of Mahadeva to be as veil the Juno Cinxia, or Lucina, of the Romans (called also by them Diana Solvizona, and by the Greeks, Illithyia) as Venus herself: not the Italian Queen of Laughter and jollity, who with her Nymphs and Graces, was the beautiful child of poetical imagination, and answers to the Indian Rembha, with her celestial train of Apsaras, or damsels of paradise; but Venus Urania, so luxuriantly painted by Lucretius, and so properly invoked by him at the opening of a poem on nature: Venus presiding over generation, and, on that account, exhibited sometimes of both sexes, (an union very common in the Indian sculptures,) as in her bearded statue at Rome, in the images perhaps called Hermathena, and in those figures of her which had the form of a conical marble for the reason of which figure we are left (says Tacitus) "in the dark." The reason appears too clearly in the temples and paintings of Hindustan; where it never seems to have entered the heads of the legislators or [p.255] people, that any thing natural could be offensively obscene; a singularity which pervades all their writings and conversation, but is no proof of depravity in their morals.
Both Plato and Cicero speak of Eros, or the Heavenly Cupid, as the son of Venus and Jupiter; which proves, that the Monarch of Olympus, and the Goddess of Fecundity, were connected, as Mahadeva and Bhavani. The God Cama, indeed, had Maya and Caayapa, or Uranus, for his parents, at least according to the mythologies of Cashmir; but, in most respects, he seems the twin-brother of Cupid, with richer and more lively appendages. One of his many epithets is Dipaca, the Inflamer, which is erroneously written Dipuc; and I am now convinced, that the sort of resemblance which has been observed between his Latin and Sanscrit names is accidental: in each name the three letters are the root, and between them there is no affinity. Whether any mythological connection subsisted between the amaracus, with the fragrant leaves of which Hymen bound his temples, and the tulasi of India, must be left undetermined: the botanical relation of the two plants (if amaracus be properly translated marjorum) is extremely near.
One of the most remarkable ceremonies in the festival of the Indian Goddess, is that before-mentioned, of calling her image into the river. The Pandits, of whom I inquired concerning its origin and import, answered, "that it was prescribed by the Veda, they knew not why;" but this custom has, I conceive, a relation to the doctrine, that water is a form of Iswara, and consequently of Isani, who is even represented by some as the patroness of that element, to which her figure is restored after having received all due honours on earth, which is considered as another form of the God of Nature, [p.256] though subsequent, in the order of Creation, to the primeval fluid. There seems no decisive proof of one original system among idolatrous nations in the worship of river-gods and river-goddesses, nor in the homage paid to their streams, and the ideas of purification annexed to them; since Greeks, Italians, Egyptians, and Hindus, might (without any communication with each other) have adored the several Divinities of their great rivers, from which they derived pleasure, health, and abundance. The notion of Doctor Musgrave, that large rivers were supposed, from their strength and rapidity, to be conduced by Gods, while rivulets only were protected by female Deities, is, like most other notions of grammarians on the genders of nouns, overthrown by facts. Most of the great Indian rivers are feminine; and the three goddesses of the waters, whom the Hindus chiefly venerate, are Ganga, who sprang, like armed Pallas, from the head of the Indian Jove; Yamuna, daughter of the Sun; and Sereswati. All three met at Praydga, thence called Triveni, or the three platted locks; but Sereswati, according to the popular belief, sinks under ground, and rises at another Triveni near Hugli, where she rejoins her beloved Ganga. The Brahmaputra is, indeed, a male river; and, as his name signifies, the Son of Brahma, I thence took occasion to feign that he was married to Ganga, though I have not yet seen any mention of him, as a God, in the Sanscrit books.
Two incarnate deities of the first rank, Rama and Crishna, must now be introduced, and their several attributes distinctly explained. The first of them, I believe, was the Dionysos of the Greeks, whom they named Bromius, without knowing why; and Bugenes, when they represented him horned; as well as Lyaios and Eleutherios, the Deliverer, and Triambos, or Dithyrambos, the Triumphant. Most of these titles were adopted by the Romans, by whom he was called Bruma, Tauri- [p.257] formis, Liber, Triumphus; and both nations had records or traditionary accounts of his giving laws to men, and deciding their contests; of his improving navigation and commerce; and, what may appear yet more observable, of his conquering India, and other countries, with an army of Satyrs, commanded by no less a personage than Pan; whom Lilius Giraldus (on what authority I know not) asserts to have resided in Iberia, "when he had returned (says the learned Mythologist) "from the Indian war, in which he accompanied Bacchus.'" It were superfluous in a mere essay, to run any length in the parallel between this European God and the sovereign Ayodhya, whom the Hindus believe to have been an appearance on earth of the Preserving Power; to have been a conqueror of the highest renown, and the deliverer of nations from tyrants, as well as of his consort Sita from the giant Ravan, king of Lanea; and to have commanded in chief a numerous and intrepid race of those large Monkeys which our naturalists, or some of them, have denominated Indian Satyrs. His General, the Prince of Satyrs, was named Hanumat, or with high cheek-bones; and, with workmen of such agility, he soon raised a bridge of rocks over the sea, part of which, say the Hindus, yet remains; and it is, probably, the series of rocks to which the Muselmans, or the Portuguese, have given the foolish name of Adam's (it should be called Rama's) Bridge. Might not this army of Satyrs have been only a race of mountaineers, whom Rama (if such a monarch ever existed) had civilized"? However that may be, the large breed of Indian Apes is at this moment held in high veneration by the Hindus, and fed with devotion by the Brahmans, who seem, in two or three places on the banks of the Ganges, to have a regular endowment for the support of them. They live in tribes of three or four, hundred, are wonderfully gentle, (I speak as an eyewitness,) and appear to have some kind of order and subordination in their little sylvan polity. We will not [p.258] omit, that the father of Hanumat was the God of Wind, named Pavan, one of the eight Genii; and, as Pan improved the pipe by adding fix reeds, and "played exquisitely on the cithern a few moments after his birth," so one of the four systems of Indian musick bears the name of Hanumat, or Hanuman in the nominative, as its inventor, and is now in general estimation.
The war of Lanca is dramatically represented at the festival of Rama, on the ninth day of the new moon of Chaitra; and the drama concludes (says Holwel, who had often seen it) with an exhibition of the fire-ordeal, by which the victor's wife Sita gave proof of her connubial fidelity. "The dialogue (he adds) is taken from one of the eighteen holy books," meaning, I suppose, the Puranas; but the Hindus have a great number of regular dramas, at least two thousand years old, and among them are several very fine ones on the story of Rama. The first poet of the Hindus was the great Valmic, and his Ramayan is an Epick Poem on the same subject, which, in unity of action, magnificence of imagery, and elegance of style, far surpasses the learned and elaborate work of Nonnus, entitled Dionysiaca, half of which, or twenty-four books, I perused with great eagerness when I was very young, and should have travelled to the conclusion of it, if other pursuits had not engaged me. I shall never have leisure to compare the Dionysiacks with the Ramayan, but am confident, that an accurate comparison of the two poems would prove Dionysos and Rama to have been the same person; and I incline to think that he was Rama, the son of Cush, who might have established the first regular government in this part of Asia. I had almost forgotten, that Meros is said by the Greeks to have been a mountain of India, on which their Dionysos was born; and that Meru, though it generally means the north pole in the Indian geography, is also a mountain near [p.259] the city of Naishada, or Nysa, called by the Grecian geographers Dionysopolis, and universally celebrated in the Sanscrit poems; though the birth-place of Rama is supposed to have been Ayodhya, or Audh. That ancient city extended, if we believe the Brahmans, over a line often Yojans, or about forty miles; and the present city of Lachnau, pronounced Lucnow, was only a lodge for one of its gates, called Lachmanadwara, or the gate of Lachman, a brother of Rama. M. Sonnerat supposes Ayodhya to have been Siam; a most erroneous and unfounded supposition; which would have been of little consequence, if he had not grounded an argument on it, that Rama was the same person with Buddha, who must have appeared many centuries after the conquest of Lanca.
The second great divinity, Chrishna, passed a life, according to the Indians, of a most extraordinary and incomprehensible nature. He was the son of Devaci by Vasudeva; but his birth was concealed through fear of the tyrant Cansa, to whom it had been predicted, that a child born at that time, in that family, would destroy him: he was fostered, therefore, in Mat'hura by an honest herdsman, surnamed Ananda, or Happy; and his amiable wife Yasoda, who, like another Pales, was constantly occupied in her pastures and her dairy. In their family were a multitude of young Gopas, or Cowherds, and beautiful Gopis, or milkmaids, who were his play-fellows during his infancy; and, in his early youth, he selected nine damsels as his favourites, with whom he passed his gay hours in dancing, sporting, and playing on his flute. For the remarkable number of his Gopis I have no authority but a whimsical picture, where nine girls are grouped in the form of an elephant, on which he sits and pipes; and, unfortunately, the word nava signifies both nine and new, or young; so that, in the fallowing stanza, it may admit of two interpretations:
herimaham hri dayena sada vahe.
"I bear in my bosom continually that God, who, for sportive recreation with a train of nine (young) dairy-maids, dances gracefully, now quick, now flow, on the sands just left by the Daughter of the Sun."
Both he and the three Ramas are described as youths of perfect beauty; but the princesses of
Hindustan, as well as the damsels of Nanda's farm, were
passionately in love with Crishna, who continues to this hour the darling God of
the Indian women. The sect of Hindus, who adore him with enthusiastick, and
almost exclusive, devotion, have broached a doctrine, which they maintain with
eagerness, and which seems general in these provinces; that he was distinct from
all the Avatars, who had only an ansa, or portion, of his divinity; while
Crishna was the person of Vishnu
himself in a human form: hence they consider
the third Rama, his elder brother, as the eighth Avatar, inverted with an
emanation of his divine radiance; and in the principal Sanscrit Dictionary,
compiled about two thousand years ago, Crishna, Vasadeva, Govinda, and other
names of the Shepherd God, are intermixed with epithets of Nardyan, or the
Divine Spirit. All the Avatars are painted with gemmed Ethiopian, or
coronets; with rays encircling their heads; jewels in their ears; two
necklaces, one straight, and one pendent on their bosoms, with dropping gems;
garlands of well-disposed many-coloured flowers, or collars of pearls, hanging
down below their waists; loose mantles of golden tissue or dyed silk,
embroidered on their hems with flowers, elegantly thrown over one shoulder and
folded, like [p.261] ribands, across the bread; with bracelets too on one arm, and on each wrist:
they are naked to the waists, and uniformly with dark azure flesh, in allusion,
probably, to the tint of that primordial fluid on which Narayan moved in the
beginning of time; but their skirts are bright yellow, the colour of the curious
pericarpium in the centre of the water-lily, where Nature, as Dr. Murray
observes, in some degree discloses her secrets, each feed containing, before it
germinates, a few perfect leaves: they are sometimes drawn with that flower in
one hand; a radiated elliptical ring, used as a missile weapon, in a second; the
sacred shell, or left-handed buccinum, in a third; and a mace, or battle-axe, in
a fourth. But Crishna, when he appears, as he sometimes does appear, among the
Avatars, is more splendidly decorated than any, and wears a rich garland of
sylvan flowers, whence he is named Vanamali, as low as his ankles, which are
adorned with strings of pearls. Dark blue, approaching to black, which is the
meaning of the word Crishna, is believed to have been his complexion; and hence
the large bee of that colour is consecrated to him, and is often drawn
fluttering over his head. That azure tint, which approaches to blackness, is
peculiar, as we have already remarked, to Vishnu: and hence in the great
reservoir or cittern at Catmandu, the capital of Nepal, there is placed in a
recumbent posture, a large well-proportioned image of blue marble, representing
Narayan floating on the waters. But let us return to the actions of Crishna,
who was not less heroick than lovely, and, when a boy, flew the terrible serpent
Caliya, with a number of giants and monsters. At a more advanced age, he put to
death his cruel enemy Cana; and, having taken under his protection the king
Yudhishthir, and the other Pandus, who had been
grievously oppressed by the
Curus, and their tyrannical chief, he kindled the war described in the great
Epick Poem, entitled the Mahabharat, at the prosperous Conclusion of which he
returned to his heavenly feat [p.262] in Vaicont'ha, having left the instructions comprised in the Gita with his
disconsolate friend Arjun, whose grandson became sovereign of India.
In this picture it is impossible not to discover, at the first glance, the features of Apollo, surnamed Nomios, or the Pastoral, in Greece, and Opifer in Italy; who fed the herds of Admetus, and slew the serpent Python; a God amorous, beautiful, and warlike. The word Govinda may be literally translated Nomois, as Cesava is Crinitus, or with fine hair; but whether Go'pala, or the herdsman, has any relation to Apollo, let our Etymologists determine.
Colonel Vallancey, whose learned inquiries into the ancient literature of Ireland are highly interesting, assures me, that Crishna in Irish means the Sun; and we find Apollo and Sol considered by the Roman poets as the same deity. I am inclined, indeed, to believe, that not only Crishna, or Vishnu, but even Brahma and Siva, when united, and expressed by the mystical word O'M, were designed by the first idolaters to represent the Solar Fire; but Phoebus, or the orb of the Sun personified, is adored by the Indians as the God Surya, whence the sect who pay him particular adoration, are called Sauras. Their poets and painters describe his car as drawn by seven green horses, preceded by Arun, or the Dawn, who acts as his charioteer, and followed by thousands of Genii, worshipping him, and modulating his praises. He has a multitude of names, and among them twelve epithets or titles, which denote his distinct powers in each of the twelve months; those powers are called Adityas, or sons of Aditi by Casyapa, the Indian Uranus; and one of them has, according to some authorities, the name of Vishnu, or Pervader, [p.263] Surya is believed to have descended frequently from his car in a human shape, and to have left a race on earth, who are equally renowned in the Indian stories with the Heliadai of Greece. It is very singular, that his two sons, called Aswinau, or Aswinicumdrau, in the dual, should be considered as twin-brothers, and painted like Castor and Pollux; but they have each the character of Æsculapius among the Gods, and are believed to have been born of a nymph, who, in the form of a mare, was impregnated with sun-beams. I suspect the whole fable of Casyapa and his progeny to be astronomical, and cannot but imagine, that the Greek name Cassiopeia has a relation to it.
Another great Indian family are called the Children of the Moon, or Chandra; who is a male Deity, and consequently not to be compared with Artemis, or Diana; nor have I yet found a parallel in India for the Goddess of the Chase, who seems to have been the daughter of an European fancy, and very naturally created by the invention of Bucolick and Georgick poets; yet since the Moon is a form of Iswara, the God of Nature, according to the verse of Calidasa, and since Isani has been shown to be his consort, ox power, we may consider her, in one of her characters, as Luna; especially as we shall soon be convinced that, in the shades below, she corresponds with the Hecate of Europe.
The worship of Solar or Vestal Fire maybe ascribed, like that of Osiris and Isis, to the second source of Mythology, or an enthusiastick admiration of Nature's wonderful powers; and it seems, as far as I can yet understand the Vedas, to be the principal worship recommended in them. We have seen, that Mahadeva himself is personated by Fire; but subordinate to him is the God Agni, often called Pavaca, or the Purifier, who [p.264] answers to the Vulcan of Egypt, where he was a Deity of high rank; and his wife Swaha resembles the younger Vesta, or Vestia, as the Eolians pronounced the Greek word for a hearth. Bhavani, or Venus, is the consort of the Supreme Destructive and Generative Power; but the Greeks and Romans, whose system is less regular than that of the Indians, married her to their divine artist, whom they also named Hephaistos and Vulcan, and who seems to be the Indian Viswacarnan, the forger of arms for the Gods, and inventor of the agnyastra, or fiery shaft, in the war between them and the Dauya, or Titans. It is not easy here to refrain from observing (and, if the observation gives offence in England, it is contrary to my intention) that the newly-disfavoured planet would unquestionably he named Vulcan; since the confusion of analogy in the names of the planets is inelegant, unscholarly, and unphilosophical. The name Uranus is appropriated to the firmament; but Vulcan, the slowest of the Gods, and, according to the Egyptian priests, the oldest of them, agrees admirably with an orb, which must perform its revolution in a very long period; and, by giving it this denomination, we shall have seven primary Planets with the names of as many Roman Deities, Mercury, Venus, Tellus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Vulcan.
It has already been intimated, that the Muses and Nymphs are the Gopya of Mat'hura, and of Goverdhan, the Parnassus of the Hindus, and the lyrick poems of Jayadeva will fully justify this opinion; but the Nymphs of Musick are the thirty Raginis, or Female Passions, whose various functions and properties are so richly delineated by the Indian painters, and so finely described by the poets: but I will not anticipate what will require a separate Essay, by enlarging here on the beautiful allegories of the Hindus in their system of musical modes, which they call Ragas, or Passions, and suppose to be Genii, or Demigods, A very distinguished son of [p.265] Brahma, named Nared, whose actions are the subject of a Parana, bears a strong resemblance to Hermes, or Mercury: he was a wise legislator, great in arts and in arms, an eloquent messenger of the Gods, either to one another, or to favoured mortals, and a musician of exquisite skill. His invention of the Vina, or Indian lute, is thus described in the poem entitled Magha: "Nared sat watching from time to time his large Vina, which, by the impulse of the breeze, yielded notes that pierced successively the regions of his ear, and proceeded by musical intervals." The law tract, supposed to have been revealed by Nared, is at this hour cited by the Pandits; and we cannot, therefore, believe him to have been the patron of Thieves; though an innocent theft of Crishna's cattle, by way of putting his divinity to a proof, be strangely imputed, in the Bhagavat, to his father Brahma.
The last of the Greek or Italian Divinities, for whom we find a parallel in the Pantheon of India, is the Stygian or Taurick Diana, otherwise named Hecate, and often confounded with Proserpine; and there can be no doubt of her identity with Cali, or the wife of Siva, in his character of the Stygian Jove. To this black goddess, with a collar of golden skulls, as we see her exhibited in all her principal temples, human sacrifices were anciently offered, as the Vedas enjoined; but, in the present age, they are absolutely prohibited, as are also the sacrifices of bulls and horses. Kids are still offered to her; and, to palliate the cruelty of the Daughter, which gave such offence to Buddha, the Brahmans inculcate a belief, that the poor victims rife in the heaven of Indra, where they become the musicians of his band.
Instead of the obsolete, and now illegal, sacrifices of a man, a bull, and a horse, called Neramedha, Gomedha, and Aswamedha, the powers of nature are [p.266] thought to be propitiated by the less bloody ceremonies at the end of autumn, when the festivals of Cali and Lacshmi are solemnized nearly at the same time. Now, if it be asked, how the Goddess of Death came to be united with the mild Patroness of Abundance, I must propose another question. How came Proserpine to be represented in the European system as the daughter of Ceres? Perhaps, both questions may be answered by the proportion of natural philosophers, that "the apparent definition of a substance is the production of it in a different form." The wild musick of Cali's priests at one of her festivals, brought instantly to my recollection the Scythian measures of Diana's adorers in the splendid opera of Iphigenia in Tauris, which Gluck exhibited at Paris with less genius, indeed, than art, but with every advantage that an orchestra could supply.
That we may not dismiss this assemblage of European and Asiatick Divinities with a subject so horrid as the altars of Hecate and Cali, let us conclude with two remarks, which properly, indeed, belong to the Indian Philosophy, with which we are not at present concerned. First; Elysium (not the place, but the bliss enjoyed there, in which sense Milton uses the word) cannot but appear, as described by the poets, a very tedious and insipid kind of enjoyment: It is, however, more exalted than the temporary Elysium in the court of Indra, where the pleasures, as in Muhammed's paradise, are wholly sensual; but the Mucti, or Elysian happiness of the Vedanta School, is far more sublime; for they represent it as a total absorption, though not such as to destroy consciousness in the Divine Essence; but, for the reason before suggested, I say no more of this idea of beatitude, and forbear touching on the doctrine of transmigration, and the similarity of the Vedanta to the Sicilian, Italick, and old Academick Schools.
Secondly; in the mystical and elevated character of Pan, as a personification
of the Universe, according to the notion of Lord Bacon, there arises a sort of
similitude between him and Crishna, considered as Narayan. The Grecian God
plays divinely on his reed, to express, we are told, ethereal harmony. He has
his attendant Nymphs of the pastures and the dairy. His face is as radiant as
the sky, and his head illumined with the horns of a crescent; whilst his lower
extremities are deformed and shaggy, as a symbol of the vegetables which the
earth produces, and of the beasts who roam over the face of it. Now we may
compare this portrait partly with the general character of Crishna, the
Shepherd God, and partly with the description in the Bhagavat, of the Divine
Spirit exhibited in the form of this Universal World; to which we may add the
following story from the same extraordinary poem. The Nymphs had complained to
Yasoda, that the child Crishna had been drinking their curds and milk. On being
reproved by his foster-mother for this indiscretion, he requested her to examine
his mouth; in which, to her just amazement, she beheld the whole universe in all
its plenitude of magnificence.
We must not be surprised at finding, on a close exanimation, that the characters of all the Pagan Deities, male and female, melt into each other, and at last into one or two; for it seems a well-founded opinion, that the whole crowd of gods and goddesses in ancient Rome, and modern Varanes, mean only the powers of Nature, and principally those of the Sun, expressed in a variety of ways, and by a multitude of fanciful names.
Thus have I attempted to trace, imperfectly at present, for want of ampler materials, but with a confi- [p.268] dence continually increasing as I advanced, a parallel between the Gods adored in three very different nations, Greece, Italy, and India; but which was the original system, and which the copy, I will not presume to decide; nor are we likely, I presume, to be soon furnished with sufficient grounds for a decision. The fundamental rule, that natural, and most human, operations proceed from the simple to the compound, will afford no assistance on this point; since neither the Asiatick nor European system has any simplicity in it; and both are so complex, not to say absurd, however intermixed with the beautiful and the sublime, that the honour, such as it is, of the invention, cannot be allotted to either with tolerable certainty.
Since Egypt appears to have been the grand source of knowledge for the western, and India for the more eastern, parts of the globe, it may seem a material question, whether the Egyptians communicated their Mythology and Philosophy to the Hindus, or conversely: but what the learned of Memphis wrote or said concerning India, no mortal knows; and what the learned of Varanes have asserted, if any thing, concerning Egypt, can give us little satisfaction. Such circumstantial evidence on this question as I have been able to collect, shall nevertheless be stated; because, unsatisfactory as it is, there may be something in it not wholly unworthy of notice; though, after all, whatever colonies may have come from the Nile to the Ganges, we shall, perhaps, agree at last with Mr. Bryant, that Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, and Italians, proceeded originally from one central place, and that the same people carried their religion and sciences into China and Japan: may we not add, even to Mexico and Peru?
Every one knows that the true name of Egypt is Misr, spelled with a palatial
sibilant both in Hebrew and Arabick. It seems in Hebrew to have been the proper
name of the first settler in it; and when the Arabs use the word for a great
city, they probably mean a city like the capital of Egypt. Father Marco, a
missionary, who, though not a scholar of the first rate, is incapable, I am
persuaded, of a deliberate falsehood, lent me the last book of a Ramayan, which
he had translated through the Hindi into his native language, and with it a
vocabulary of mythological and historical names, which had been explained to him
by the Pandits of Betiya, where he had long resided. One of the articles in his
little Dictionary was, "Tirut, a town or province, in which the priests from
Egypt settled:" and when I asked him what name Egypt bore among the
said Misr; but observed, that they foretimes confounded it with Abyssinia. I
perceived that his memory of what he had written was correct; for Misr was
another word in his index, "from which country (he said) came the Egyptian
priests who settled in Tirut." I suspected immediately that his intelligence
flowed from the Muselmans, who call sugar-candy Mijri, or Egyptian; but, when I
examined him closely, and earnestly desired him to recollect from whom he had
received his information, he repeatedly and positively declared, that it "had been given him by
several Hindus, and particularly by a Brahman, his
intimate friend, who was reputed a considerable Pandit, and had lived three
years near his house." We then conceived that the seat of his Egyptian colony
must have been Tirohit, commonly pronounced Tirut, and anciently called
the principal town of Janacadesa, or North Bahar; but Mahesa Pandit, who was
born in that very district, and who submitted patiently to a long examination
concerning Misr, overset all our conclusions; he denied that the Brahmans of
his country were generally surnamed Misr, as we had been informed; and said,
that the addition of Misra to the name of Vachespet'a and other learned au-
[p.270] thors, was a title formerly conferred on the writers of miscellanies, or
compilers of various tracts of religion or science, the word being derived from
a root signifying to mix. Being asked, where the country of Misr was, "There
are two (he answered) of that name; one of them in the west, under the
dominion of Muselmans; and another, which all the Sastras and Puranas
mention, in a mountainous region to the north of Ayodhya." It is evident
that by the first he meant Egypt; but what he meant by the second it is not easy
to ascertain. A country, called Tiruhut, by our geographers, appears in the maps
between the north-eastern frontier of Audh and the mountains of Nepal; but
whether that was the Tirut mentioned to Father Marco by his friend of
cannot decide. This only I know with certainty, that Misra is an epithet of two
Brahmans in the drama of Sacontala, which was written near a century before the
birth of Christ; that some of the greatest lawyers, and two of the finest dramatick poets, of
India have the same title; that we hear it frequently in
court added to the names of Hindu parties; and that none of the Pandits, whom I
have since consulted, pretend to know the true meaning of the word, as a proper
name, or to give any other explanation of it; than that it is a, surname of
Brahmans in the west.
On the account given to Colonel Kyd by the old Raja of Crishnanagar, "concerning traditions among the Hindus, that some Egyptians had settled in this country," I cannot rely; because I am credibly informed by some of the Raja's own family, that he was not a man of solid learning, though he possessed curious books, and had been attentive to the conversation of learned men: besides, I know that his son, and mod of his kinsmen, have been dabblers in Persian literature, and believe them very likely, by confounding one source of information with another, to puzzle themselves, and mislead those with whom they converse. The [p.271] word Misr, spelled also in Sanscrit with a palatial sibilant, is very remarkable; and, as far as etymology can help us, we may safely derive Nilus from the Sanscrit word nila, or blue: since Dionysius expressly calls the waters of that river "an azure stream;" and, if we can depend on Marco's Italian version of the Ramayan, the name of Nila is given to a lofty and sacred mountain, with a summit of pure gold, from which flowed a river of clear, sweet, and fresh water.
M. Sonnerat refers to a dissertation by Mr. Schmit which gained a prize at the Academy of Inscriptions, "On an Egyptian Colony established in India." It would be worth while to examine his authorities, and either to overturn or verify them by such higher authorities as are now accessible in these provinces. I strongly incline to think him right, and to believe that Egyptian priests have actually come from the Nile to the Ganga and Yamuna, which the Brahmans mod assuredly would never have left. They might, indeed, have come either to be instructed, or to instruct; but it seems more probable that they visited the Sarmans of India, as the sages of Greece visited them, rather to acquire than to impart knowledge: nor is it likely that the self-sufficient Brahmans would have received them as their preceptors.
Be all this as it may, I am persuaded that a connection subsisted between the old idolatrous nations of Egypt, India, Greece, and Italy, long before they emigrated to their several settlements, and consequently before the birth of Moses: but the proof of this proposition will in no degree affect the truth and sanctity of the Mosaick History, which, if confirmation were necessary, it would rather tend to confirm. The Divine Legate, educated by the daughter of a king, and in all respects highly accomplished, could not but know the mythological system of Egypt; but he mull have condemned the superstitions of that people, and despised the speculative absurdities of their priests; though some [p.272] of their traditions concerning the creation and the flood were grounded on truth.
Who was better acquainted with the mythology of Athens than Socrates? Who more accurately versed in the Rabbinical doctrines than Paul? Who possessed clearer ideas of all ancient astronomical systems than Newton? or of scholastical metaphysicks than Locke? In whom could the Roman Church have had a more formidable opponent than in Chillingworth, whose deep knowledge of its tenets rendered him so competent to dispute them? In a word, who more exactly knew the abominable rites, and shocking idolatry, of Canaan than Moses himself? Yet the learning of those great men only incited them to seek other sources of truth, piety, and virtue, than those in which they had long been immersed. There is no shadow then of a foundation for an opinion, that Moses borrowed the first nine or ten chapters of Genesis from the literature of Egypt: still less can the adamantine pillars of our Christian faith be moved by the result of any debates on the comparative antiquity of the Hindus and Egyptians, or of any inquiries into the Indian Theology.
Very respectable natives have assured me, that one or two missionaries have been absurd enough, in their zeal for the conversion of the Gentiles, to urge, "that the Hindus were even now almost Christians, because their Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesa, were no other than the Christian Trinity;" a sentence in which we can only doubt whether folly, ignorance, or impiety, predominates. The three powers, creative, preservative, and destructive, which the Hindus express by the triliteral word O'm, were grossly ascribed by the first idolaters, to the heat, light and flame of their mistaken divinity the Sun; and their wiser successors in the East, who perceived that the Sun was only a created thing, applied those powers to its Creator; but the Indian Triad, and that of Plato, which he calls the Supreme Good; the Reason, and the [p.273] Soul, are infinitely removed from the holiness and sublimity of the doctrine which pious Christians have deduced from texts in the Gospel; though other Christian, as pious, openly profess their dissent from them. Each sect must be justified by its own faith, and good intentions. This only I mean to inculcate, that the tenet of our Church cannot:, without profaneness, be compared with that of the Hindus, which has only an apparent resemblance to it, but a very different meaning.
One singular fact, however, cannot be suffered to pass unnoticed. That the name of Crishna, and the general outline of his story, were long anterior to the birth of our Saviour, and probably to the time of Homer, we know very certainly; yet the celebrated poem entitled Bhagavat, which contains a prolix account of his life, is filled with narratives of a most extraordinary kind, but strangely variegated and intermixed with poetical decorations. The incarnate Deity of the Sanscrit romance was cradled, as it informs us, among herdsmen; but it adds, that he was educated among them, and passed his youth in playing with a party of milkmaids. A tyrant, at the time of his birth, ordered all new-born males to be slain; yet this wonderful babe was preserved by biting the breast, instead of sucking the poisoned nipple, of a nurse commissioned to kill him. He performed amazing, but ridiculous, miracles in his infancy, and, at the age of seven years, held up a mountain on the tip of his little finger. He saved multitudes, partly by his arms, and partly by his miraculous powers. He railed the dead, by descending for that purpose to the lowest regions. He was the meekest and bad-tempered of beings, washed the feet of the Brahmans, and preached very nobly, indeed, and sublimely, but always in their favour. He was pure and chaste in reality, but exhibited an appearance of excessive libertinism, and had wives or mistresses too numerous to be counted. Lastly, he was benevolent and tender, yet fomented and con- [p.274] ducted a terrible war. This motley story must induce an opinion, that the spurious Gospels, which abounded in the first age of Christianity, had been brought to India, and the wildest parts of them repeated to the Hindus, who ingrafted them on the old fable of Cesava, the Apollo of Greece.
As to the general extension of our pure faith in Hindustan, there are at present many sad obstacles to it. The Muselmans are already a fort of heterodox Christians. They are Christians, Locke reasons justly, because they firmly believe the immaculate conception, divine character, and miracles of the Messiah; but they are heterodox, in denying vehemently his character of Son, and his equality, as God, with the Father, of whose unity and attributes they entertain and express the most awful ideas; while they consider our doctrine as perfect blasphemy, and insist, that our copies of the Scriptures have been corrupted both by Jews and Christians. It will be inexpressibly difficult to undeceive them, and scarce possible to diminish their veneration for Mohammed and Ali, who were both very extraordinary men, and the second a man of unexceptionable morals. The Koran shines, indeed, with a borrowed light, since most of its beauties are taken from our Scriptures; but it has great beauties, and the Muselmans will not be convinced that they were borrowed. The Hindus, on the other hand, would readily admit the truth of the Gospel; but they contend, that it is perfectly consistent with their Sastras. The Deity, they say, has appeared innumerable times, in many parts of this world, and of all worlds, for the salvation of his creatures; and though we adore him in one appearance, and they in others, yet we adore, they say, the same God, to whom our several worships, though different in form, are equally acceptable, if they be sincere in substance. We may assure ourselves, that neither Muselmans nor Hindus will ever be converted by any million from the Church of Rome, or from any [p.275] other Church; and the only human mode, perhaps, of causing so great a revolution, will be to translate into Sanscrit and Persian, such chapters of the Prophets, particularly of Isaiah, as are indisputably Evangelical, together with one of the Gospels; and a plain prefatory discourse, containing full evidence of the very distant ages, in which the predictions themselves, and the history of the Divine Person predicted, were severally made publick; and then quietly to disperse the work among the well-educated natives; with whom, if, in due time, it failed of producing very salutary fruit by its natural influence, we could only lament more than ever the strength of prejudice, and the weakness of unabided reason.