This book is a compilation of Stories from Sanskrit Classics representing the best that ancient India offered in the form of moral and spiritual education.
They have been compiled from the Puranas which enshrine truths which have an abiding vitality. Puraapi navam, though old, the Puranas are ever new.
Time cannot make them obsolete nor is their value confined to the land of their origin. They are eternal in their import and universal in their application. They represent some of the brilliant facets of the uncut diamond of our ageless Culture.
In the words of Sister Nivedita, they have been the ‘Cradle Tales of Hinduism’ uttered in song and story providing lullabies with which the Indian mother steeped in tradition rocked her babies to sleep. They have also furnished a worthwhile pastime with which, in solitude or in society, the aged beguiled the creeping hours of their leisured evenings.
Whether one believes in the factural content of these stories or not, their didactic purpose is unescapable. They will serve to inspire generations of mankind filling them with noble resolves and urging them to purposeful endeavour.
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan——that institute of Indian Culture in Bombay needed a Book University, a Series of books which, if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, so of which were to be taken in hand almost at once. Each book was to contain from 200 to 250 pages and was to be priced at Rs. 2-50.
It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English, but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an all-India. organization. The Bhavan •is exerting its utmost to supply them.
The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of the Indian culture in the light of modern knowledge and to suit our present. Day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.
Let me make our goal more explicit: We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the- creation of social conditions which would allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities; we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the framework of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God, and is able to see Him in all and all in Him.
The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach.
In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modern, will be published in a form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.
This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate currents of world thought, as also the movements of the mind in India, which, though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration.
Fittingly, the Book University’s first venture is the Mahabharata, summarised by one of the greatest living Indian C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita by H. V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and a student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: ‘What is not in it, is nowhere." After twenty-five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.
The Mahabharata is not a mere epic; it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival ; but, above all, it has for its core the Gita, which is, as the world is beginning to find out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sagas in which the climax is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.
Through such books alone the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.
I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan’s activity successful.
Indian Culture has always upheld the practice of Dharma both in individual and social life. From king to commoner, the ascetic and the aristocrat, gods and men, even bird and beasts, everybody has stood by swadharma. Their motto has been in the words of Gita: "Even death in the practice of svadharma is to be preferred to another’s dharma however well it may be- performed."
The stories narrated in this book have been translated from the Sanskrit Puranas and are illustrative of the rule of dharma in the lives of the men and women in ancient India. They have been selected from a Sanskrit compilation known as' Aryacharitam brought out by the late Shri V. Krishnaswami Aiyar who was Judge of the Madras High Court and later, Member of the Governor’s Executive Council. The circumstances leading to this compilation are interesting and they are narrated in the Preface to the book written by the learned judge. The same is reproduced separately. His observations are as true today- as they were when they were written sixty years ago —— perhaps more relevant now than ever.
These stories in their English rendering were serialised in the Bhavan’s Journal and they have now been collected together in this book.
The idea of making such a collection as this was first suggested by the now famous Convocation speech of Lord Curzon* wherein he challenged the ideals of the 'Indian people glorified in the literatures of their country, scattered in volumes of enormous bulk, some of them even unprinted and practically inaccessible to most even of those who have a knowledge of the sacred language of India. They could not easily be quoted in refutation of His Excellency’s strictures. Many of his hearers and most of his readers felt that the attack- was undeserved, but could make no effective reply except an indignant repudiation of what they felt to be a piece of gross injustice. It is not pretended that the collection is exhaustive. But its purpose will have been achieved if it brings home to Indians- and foreigners alike that the country has no need to be ashamed of the ideals of life and conduct, held up to the admiration of the people by the literary genius of its greatest men.
The problem of the moral and religious education of the youth of this land- has been repeatedly pressed upon the attention of the public. Various solutions have been attempted. All are agreed that no- copy-book maxims inculcated by the teachers will strike a responsive chord in the minds of their youthful pupils. The biographies of great men; especially of those who have adorned the annals of the country’s past, are bound to train the conscience and character of the young at an age when good impressions are calculated to produce the most lasting benefits. Examples of truth, of self-denial, of heroic self-sacrifice, of womanly chastity, and of high filial duty are calculated to capture the imagination and guide the conduct of boys and girls who now receive instruction merely in the secular learning of the west.
A Christian Missionary once asked me what were the ideals which have guided the Indian people in the past. It was easy to give the answer that to the Indian, life was a sacrifice. All the acts of his life, all the avocations he •pursues and all the pleasures and rewards he seeks are associated with the consciousness of a religious background which is a preparation for suceeding lives. The missionary wished to know whether there were any stories which illustrated and enforced this need. It is hoped that this present volume will supply the answer.
The time is well suited for the appearance of this volume when there is an awakening of a national consciousness. The cry of love for mother and, which seems to be the expression of a new national life, is a call to all who have hopes of a great future of their country to join in the noble work of blending in a common unity the deversified peoples of India on the basis of a heroic past the memories of which still live amongst us. No nation has ever achieved greatness with a contempt for its past.
The stories of heroes and martyrs, of sages and saints are the necessary fuel to the flame of national life and national enthusiasm. India has great- reason to be proud of her past; for men and women have been born in the course of her- long and ancient-history whose feats of arms, whose love for humanity, whose ideal lives and whose splendid self-sacrifice have been unto this day a lesson to the world. We Indians have every cause to cherish them and, in, the love of their greatness and their goodness, to kindle in every Indian breast a new longing for national unity as a foundation on which may be built a new` greatness.
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