There are three outstanding features of India's cultural and social life. First, its fundamental unity in the midst of the baffling diversity; second, its capacity to absorb and adjust, and third, Its power to survive and consequent continuity.
The physical .and geographical entity known as India lies between the high Himalayas in the north and Cape Comorin (Kanya Kumari) in the south, and the two seas on the east and the west. Within this territory live today more than 360 millions of human beings who profess and follow all the known and existing religions of today, who speak, apart from the innumerable dialects, at least twelve well known languages, each of which has its own literary style and literature, whose mode of dress, life and food differ considerably from each other, and who, to a foreign observer, would appear to be altogether different from one another. Yet, in spite of all this truly baffling diversity, there is running behind and beneath it a fundamental unity which at once distinguishes an Indian from any foreigner and which, though not easily' explained or understood, is none the less real and living. That unity has remained intact and uninterrupted during the millennia of which any record is available.
This culture is a composite culture in the sense that, although in the ultimate analysis, it is Indian in origin and can be traced to Indian origin in the main, it has not hesitated to absorb whatever came in its way from other lands and other peoples in its long and chequered career. Thus, in the languages, in the religions, in the life, customs and traditions of the people, there has been a continuous flow and intake from outside. Whatever has come in its way has been absorbed and assimilated and has become part and parcel of its own inheritance.' It has not remained as a mere adjunct or addition, but has become an unrecognisable part and parcel, a true accretion. This power of absorption and assimilation is as live and active today as it was ever before.
Lastly, it has shown an amazing capacity of survival and continuity. India has had a most chequered. political history. Until the establishment of the present Republic of India, it has remained divided into a number of political units, large 'and small, despite the existence of what may be termed as an empire from time to time. Whether it was during the time of the Hindu Rajas or the Muslim Badshahs, there were many principalities, each more or less independent of every other, and all owing allegiance of a sort varying in degree from State to State to the Central authority of the Chakravarti, Raja or the Shahanshah, and not a few covering large tracts having not even that slender connection. During the British period also, nearly a third of the country was ruled by Indian Princes whose States varied from a few square miles in extent to the size of one of the larger countries of Europe except Russia, although' they owed allegiance to and were under an overall effective but not obvious. control of the suzerain power. It is only now for the first time that in the whole of the country minus the portion cut out and known as Pakistan the writ of one Supreme Parliament runs and the whole country is governed by one Constitution on modern democratic principles. It has faced and often succumbed to many foreign invasions and submitted to foreign rule, but its social and cultural life has remained intact and, instead of being damaged or destroyed by these violent impacts, has been enriched and endowed with strength to develop and grow.
In this anthology entitled The Indian Heritage, I have presented renderings and narrative accounts of selections from Sanskrit literature. In making the selections, I have concentrated on those early phases of Sanskrit literature which were responsible for the moulding of the concepts and values and for the formation of the attitudes and ideologies that are fundamental to Hindu culture. In substance and message, the later phases of this literature are but an extension of the earlier; in diverse media and with variation of emphasis, the poem or play and the school of religion or philosophy, in later times, but reinforced and elaborated those basic ideas embodied in the primary texts. These later phases, not represented in the main anthology, I have dealt with in the Introduction, where I have shown also the proper perspective for evaluating them.
For the appearance of this anthology in its present form in the Unesco's collection of representative works, I am indebted to the authorities of the Unesco, particularly to Dr. A. Lakshrnanaswami Mudaliar, Vice-Chancellor, Madras University, and Chairman of the Executive, Unesco, and Mr. P. N. Kirpal, Deputy Director of Cultural Activities, Unesco. To Professor H. G. Rawlinson, London, and Mr. H. M. Barnes of the Arts and Letters Division, Unesco, I desire to express by thanks for their reading the type- script of this work and offering many suggestions. My gratitude is due to the Indian Institute of World Culture for the readiness with which it undertook to print this work and bring it out in time for the Delhi Session of the General Assembly of the Unesco, and to the William Quan Judge Press, Bangalore, I am much beholden for the care and expedition with which the work was seen through the press. I must also record here my obligations to Professor Kenneth Morgan of the Colgate University, Hamilton, New York and the Ronald Pres-s Company, New York, for permitting me to utilize for the present anthology some material contributed by me to their publication The Religion of the Hindus (1953).
To the revered President of Indian, Dr Rajendra Prasad, I tender my most respectful thanks for the Foreword he has contributed to this book.
The selections, renderings and narratives presented in this anthology are from Sanskrit, which Sir William Jones who rediscovered it for the West in modern times described as a language "of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either." "Since the Renaissance," says Professor A. A. Macdonell in his History of Sanskrit Literature, "there has been no event of such world-wide significance in the history of culture as the discovery of Sanskrit literature in the latter part of the eighteenth century." This "light from the Orient" directly led to the formulation of four important branches of scientific study in modern times, Comparative Philo- logy, Comparative Mythology, Comparative Religion and Comparative Literature. The comprehensive Indo- European outlook and the spirit of comparative study which these studies fostered may legitimately be considered the harbinger of the expanding world-wide view which is today sufficiently pronounced to hold the promise of a one-world ideology. From Schopenhauer who saw in the Upanishads the solace of his life and the solace of his death and Emerson in the New World who sang of the Brahman to T. S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley, the influence of Indian thought on writers, critics, thinkers and even scientists in the West has been steadily, though slowly, growing, so that one can truly claim for Sanskrit culture a world significance at the present time.
It is in fact this spiritual culture, that has gained for Sanskrit today a world-wide vogue, which has been its distinctive feature from the earliest times of its history. Sanskrit, with the spiritual culture enshrined in that language, has been the most potent force that had welded the whole of the Indian subcontinent into unity.
Sanskrit, from whose literature these selections, renderings and narratives are given, is the eastern-most branch of the family of languages called the Indo-European, whose members are spread over a vast area from India in the East to Ireland in the West. The transparent structure of Sanskrit, the minute analyses made by its early grammarians and the conservatism with which the language had been preserved through the centuries made Sanskrit an inestimable tool for the modern linguist to reconstruct the history of the parent and member languages of this great Indo-European family. In India, Sanskrit has had an unbroken history for at least four thousand years, during which period the language gave birth to a rich literature, comprehending many branches of knowledge and varied forms of literary expression.
The earliest phase of Sanskrit is represented by the Rigveda in which we find the language more archaic than that of the later works. Three main stages are clearly distinguishable in the history of Sanskrit, the Vedic, the Epic and the Classic. The Vedic Sanskrit, which was characterised by a pitch accent, was rich in both dialectal and grammatical forms; the Epic language was easier and closer to the spoken tongue; out of these, by a process of selection and standardisation, was evolved the classical idiom called Samskrita, meaning the "refined" language. This classical norm was the result of the work of a succession of early grammarians the greatest of whom was Panini (c. 500 B.C.); it was also the result of the creative activity of generations of poets, the foremost of whom is Kalidasa (c. 4th century A.D.). The great Classical Age which produced the masterpieces in poetry and drama and the technical and philosophical works may be said to extend roughly up to c. 1000 A.D. During this period Sanskrit, which had lost its accentuation, was steadily falling out of speaking vogue, with however its prestige and authority progressively waxing. In the literary field, the early Vedic dialects had given birth to different spoken forms, in the different localities, called Prakrits, two of which were adopted by Buddhism and jainism, and two others especially were used for lyric poetry and parts of the drama. When these Prakrits again became standardised by literary use, there arose the new Indo-Aryan vernaculars from which the modern North Indian languages developed. In the course of this history, Sanskrit came in contact with three other families of languages on the Indian soil, and between them and Sanskrit; there was, naturally, a process of give-and-take.
The chief of these other language-groups is the Dravidian in the southern part of the country, and, in all its four cultivated forms and the literatures that grew up in them, there was a permeation of Sanskrit, resulting in an overall cultural synthesis which consolidated the country.
Whether it was in the Sanskrit-born Northern dialects or in the Dravidian 'languages of the South, it was the same fundamental religious tenets, philosophical outlook and conceptions of values expounded in the Sanskrit classics that the poets and saints of the popular tongues embodied again and again in their poems and songs. It is from the Sanskrit epics that all later. Indian poetry, in Sanskrit itself or in the regional languages, drew its inspiration; and again, it is on the same foundation that the arts of dance and drama, sculpture and painting are based. Thus this Sanskritic culture in its own as well as its derivative phases is of equal significance to India itself, particularly in the present transitional stage of its history when men, swayed by conflicting ideologies start behaving like people devoid of a heritage.
Children’s Books (241)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend