(Transcriber's Note: x notation indicates a character with a macron.)
INDIA OLD AND NEW
BY SIR VALENTINE CHIROL
AUTHOR OF "INDIAN UNREST," "THE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM," ETC.
"We shall in time so far improve the character of our Indian subjects as to enable them to govern and protect themselves."—Minute by Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras, Dec. 31, 1824.
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 1921
It is little more than ten years since I wrote my Indian Unrest. But they have been years that may well count for decades in the history of the world, and not least in the history of India. Much has happened in India to confirm many of the views which I then expressed. Much has happened also to lead me to modify others, and to recognise more clearly to-day the shortcomings of a system of government, in many ways unrivalled, but subject to the inevitable limitations of alien rule.
At a very early stage of the Great War the Prime Minister warned the British people that, after the splendid demonstration India was already giving of her loyalty to the cause for which the whole Empire was then in arms, our relations with her would have henceforth to be approached from "a new angle of vision." The phrase he used acquired a deeper meaning still as the war developed from year to year into a life-and-death struggle not merely between nations but between ideals, and India claimed for herself the benefit of the ideals for which she too fought and helped the British Commonwealth to victory. When victory was assured, could India's claim be denied after she had been called in, with all the members of the British Commonwealth, to the War Councils of the Empire in the hour of need, and again been associated with them in the making of peace? The British people have answered that question as all the best traditions of British governance in India, and all the principles for which they had fought and endured through four and a half years of frightful war, bade them answer it.
The answer finally took shape in the great constitutional experiment of which I witnessed the inauguration during my visit to India this winter. It promises to rally as seldom before in active support of the British connection those classes that British rule brought within the orbit of Western civilisation by the introduction of English education, just about a century ago. It has not disarmed all the reactionary elements which, even when disguised in a modern garb, draw their inspiration from an ancient civilisation, remote indeed from, though not in its better aspects irreconcilable with, our own. A century is but a short moment of time in the long span of Indian history, and the antagonism between two different types of civilisation cannot be easily or swiftly lived down. It would be folly to underrate forces of resistance which are by no means altogether ignoble, and in this volume I have studied their origin and their vitality because they underlie the strange "Non-co-operation" movement which has consciously or unconsciously arrayed every form of racial and religious and economic and political discontent, not merely against British rule, but against the progressive forces which contact with Western civilisation has slowly brought into existence under British rule in India itself. These forces have been stirred to new endeavour by the goal now definitely placed within their reach. That we were bound to set that goal and no other before them I have tried to show by reviewing the consistent evolution of British policy in India for the last 150 years, keeping, imperfectly sometimes, but in the main surely, abreast of our own national and political evolution at home and throughout the Empire. Once placed in its proper perspective, this great experiment, though fraught with many dangers and difficulties, is one of which the ultimate issue can be looked forward to hopefully as the not unworthy sequel to the long series of bold and on the whole wonderfully successful experiments that make up the unique story of British rule in India.
I have to express my thanks to the proprietors of The Times for allowing me to use some of the letters which I wrote for that paper whilst I was in India last winter, and also to the Royal Society of Arts for permission to reproduce the main portions of a lecture delivered by me last year on Hinduism as the first of the Memorial Lectures instituted in honour of the late Sir George Birdwood, to whom I owe as much for the deeper understanding which he gave me of old India as I do to the late Mr. G.K. Gokhale for the clearer insight I gained from him into the spirit of new India whilst we were colleagues from 1912 to 1915 on the Royal Commission on Indian Public Services.
34 CARLYLE SQUARE, CHELSEA, August 24, 1921.
PAGE CHAPTER I THE CLASH OF TWO CIVILISATIONS 1
CHAPTER II THE ENDURING POWER OF HINDUISM 15
CHAPTER III MAHOMEDAN DOMINATION 46
CHAPTER IV BRITISH RULE UNDER THE EAST INDIA COMPANY 66
CHAPTER V THE MUTINY AND FIFTY YEARS AFTER 84
CHAPTER VI THE FIRST GREAT WAVE OF UNREST 111
CHAPTER VII THE MORLEY-MINTO REFORMS 125
CHAPTER VIII THROUGH THE GREAT WAR TO THE GREAT INDIAN REFORM BILL 139
CHAPTER IX THE EMERGENCE OF MR. GANDHI 165
CHAPTER X SIDE-LIGHTS ON THE ELECTIONS 193
CHAPTER XI CROSS CURRENTS IN SOUTHERN INDIA 214
CHAPTER XII THE BIRTH OF AN INDIAN PARLIAMENT 227
CHAPTER XIII ECONOMIC FACTORS 246
CHAPTER XIV SHOALS AND ROCKS AHEAD 268
CHAPTER XV THE INCLINED PLANE OF GANDHIISM 286
CHAPTER XVI THE INDIAN PROBLEM A WORLD PROBLEM 299
THE CLASH OF TWO CIVILISATIONS
On February 9, 1921, three hundred and twenty-one years after Queen Elizabeth granted to her trusty "Merchant-venturers" of London the charter out of which the East India Company and the British Empire of India were to grow up, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught inaugurated at Delhi, in the King-Emperor's name, the new representative institutions that are to lead India onward towards complete self-government as an equal partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations. To bring home to every Indian the full significance of the occasion, the King-Emperor did not shrink from using in his Royal Message an Indian word which not long ago was held to bear no other than a seditious construction. His Majesty gave it a new and finer meaning. "For years—it may be for generations—patriotic and loyal Indians have dreamed of Swaraj for their motherland. To-day you have the beginnings of Swaraj within my Empire, and the widest scope and ample opportunity for progress to the liberty which my other Dominions enjoy."
It was a bold pronouncement inaugurating another, some say the boldest, of all the many bold adventures which make up the marvellous history of British rule in India. The simplicity, rare in the East, of the ceremony itself enhanced its significance. It was not held, like the opening of the Chamber of Princes, in the splendid Hall of Public Audience in the old Fort where the Moghul Emperors once sat on the Peacock Throne, nor were there the flash of jewels and blaze of colour that faced the Duke when he addressed the feudatory chiefs who still rule their states on ancient lines beyond the limits of direct British administration. The members of the new Indian Legislatures, most of them in sober European attire, though many of them retained their own distinctive head-dress, were assembled within the white and unadorned walls of the temporary building in which they will continue to sit until the statelier home to be built for them in new Delhi is ready to receive them. But Delhi itself with all its age-long memories was around one to provide the historic setting for an historic scene, and Delhi still stands under the sign of the Kutub Minar, the splendid minaret—a landmark for miles and miles around—which dominates the vast graveyard of fallen dynasties at its feet and the whole of the great plain beyond where the fate of India, and not of India alone, has so often been decided.
On that plain were fought out, in prehistoric times, the fierce conflicts of ancient Aryan races, Pandavas and Kauravas, around which the poetic genius of India has woven the wonderful epos of the Mahabharata. Only a couple of miles south of the modern city, the walls of the Purana Kilat, the fortress built by Humayun, cover the site but have not obliterated the ancient name of Indraprasthra, or Indrapat, the city founded by the Pandavas themselves, when Yudhisthira celebrated their final victory by performing on the banks of the Jumna, in token of the Pandava claim to Empire, the Asvamedha, or great Horse Sacrifice, originated by Brahma himself. There too, on a mound beyond Indrapat, stands the granite shaft of one of Asoka's pillars, on which, with a fine faith that the world has never yet justified, the great Buddhist Apostle-Emperor of India inscribed over 2000 years ago his edicts prohibiting the taking of life. At the very foot of the Kutub Minar the famous Iron Pillar commemorates the victories of the "Sun of Power," the Hindu Emperor of the Gupta dynasty with whose name, under the more popular form of Raja Bikram, Indian legend associates the vague memories of a golden age of Hindu civilisation in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Pillar was brought there by one of the Rajput princes who founded in the middle of the eleventh century the first city really known to history as Delhi. There Prithvi Raja reigned, who still lives in Indian minstrelsy as the embodiment of Hindu chivalry, equally gallant and daring in love and in war—the last to make a stand in northern India against the successive waves of Mahomedan conquest which Central Asia had begun to pour in upon India in 1001, with the first of Mahmud Ghazni's seventeen raids. In the next century an Afghan wave swept down on the top of the original Turki wave, and Kutub-ed-Din, having proclaimed himself Emperor of Delhi in 1206, built the great Mosque of Kuwwet-el-Islam, "The Power of Islam," and the lofty minaret, still known by his name, from which for six centuries the Moslem call to prayer went forth to proclaim Mahomedan domination over India.
With the monumental wreckage of those early Mahomedan dynasties, steeped in treachery and bloodshed, the plain of Delhi is still strewn. The annals of Indian history testify more scantily but not less eloquently to their infamy until the supremacy of Delhi, but not of Islam, was shaken for two centuries by Timur, who appeared out of the wild spaces of Tartary and within a year disappeared into them again like a devastating meteor. From his stock, nevertheless, was to proceed the long line of Moghul Emperors who first under Baber and then under Akbar won the Empire of Hindustan at the gates of Delhi, and for a time succeeded in bringing almost the whole of India under their sway. But their splendid marble halls in the great Fort of Delhi recall not only the magnificence of the Moghul Empire, but its slow and sure decay, until it became a suitor for the protection of the British power, which, at first a mere trading power that had once sued humbly enough for its protection, had risen to be the greatest military and political power in India. It was at Delhi at the beginning of the nineteenth century that Lord Lake rescued a Moghul Emperor from the hands of Mahratta jailers, and it was at Delhi again that in 1857 the last semblance of Moghul rulership disappeared out of history in the tempest of the Mutiny. It was on the plain of Delhi that the assumption by Queen Victoria of the imperial title was solemnly proclaimed in 1878, and, with still greater pomp, King Edward's accession in 1903. There again in 1911 King George, the first of his line to visit his Indian Empire as King-Emperor, received in person the fealty of princes and peoples and restored Delhi to her former pride of place as its imperial capital.
Where else in the world can such a procession of the ages pass before one's eyes, from the great "Horse Sacrifice" of the Pandavas at the dawn of history to the inauguration by a British prince in the King-Emperor's name of modern political institutions conceived in the democratic spirit of British freedom?
Yet at the very time when an Indian-elected assembly, representing as far as possible all creeds and classes and communities, and above all the Western-educated classes who are the intellectual offspring of British rule, were gathered together to hear delivered to them in English—the one language in which, as a result of British rule, and by no means the least valuable, Indians from all parts of a vast polyglot country are able to hold converse—the Royal message throwing open to the people of India the road to Swaraj within the British Empire, the imperial city of Delhi went into mourning as a sign of angry protest, and the vast majority of its citizens, mostly, it must be remembered, Mahomedans, very strictly observed a complete boycott of the Royal visit in accordance with Mr. Gandhi's "Non-co-operation" campaign, and went out in immense crowds to greet the strange Hindu saint and leader who had come to preach to them his own very different message—a message of revolt, not indeed by violence but by "soul force," against the soulless civilisation of the West.
In no other city in India would such an alliance between Hindus and Mahomedans have seemed only a few years ago more unthinkable. For nowhere else have we such a vision as in Delhi of the ruthlessness as well as of the splendour of Mahomedan domination in India. Nowhere can one measure as in Delhi the greatness of its fall, and its fall had begun before it ever came into conflict with the rising British power. It had been shaken to its foundations by the far more ancient power of Hinduism, which Islam had subdued but never destroyed. In the seventeenth century Shivaji, the hero still to-day of the Hindu revival of which Mr. Gandhi is the latest apostle, led out for the first time his Mahrattas in open rebellion against Delhi and started the continuous process of disintegration from which the Moghul Emperors were driven to purchase their only possible respite under British protection. Since India finally passed not under Mahratta, but under British rule, Hinduism has never again been subjected to the oppression which the fierce monotheism of Islam itself taught all her Mahomedan rulers, with the one noble exception of Akbar, to inflict upon an "idolatrous" race. British rule introduced into India not only a new reign of law and order but the principles of equal tolerance and justice for all which had struck root in our own civilisation. Nevertheless, at the very moment at which we were attempting to extend a wide and generous application of those principles to the domain of political rights and liberties, we were being confronted with unexpected forces of resistance which, even in Mahomedan Delhi, drew their chief inspiration from Hinduism.
But, it might be argued, Delhi, though restored to the primacy it had lost under British rule as the capital city of India, has continued to live on the memories of the past and has been scarcely touched by the breath of modern civilisation. For the full effect of close contact with the West, ought one not to look to the great cities that have grown up under British rule—to Calcutta, for instance, the seat until a few years ago of British Government in India, itself a creation of the British, and if not to-day a more prosperous centre of European enterprise than Bombay, a larger and more populous city, in which the Hindus are in an overwhelming majority? But in the life even of Calcutta features are not lacking to remind one how persistent are the forces of resistance to the whole spirit of the West which Mr. Gandhi mustered in Delhi to protest against the purpose of the Duke of Connaught's mission. Had not a great part of Calcutta itself also observed the Hartal proclaimed by Mr. Gandhi during the Prince's visit?
On the surface it seems difficult in Calcutta to get even an occasional glimpse of the old India upon which we have superimposed a new India with results that are still in the making. In Bombay, though it proudly calls itself "the Western Gate of India" the glow of Hindu funeral pyres, divided only by a long wall from the fashionable drive which sweeps along Back Bay from the city, still called the Fort, to Malabar Hill, serves to remind one any evening that he is in an oriental world still largely governed as ever by the doctrine of successive rebirths, the dead being merely reborn to fresh life, in some new form according to each one's merits or demerits, out of the flames that consume the body. On Malabar Hill itself, in the very heart of the favourite residential quarter whence the Europeans are being rapidly elbowed out by Indian merchant princes, the finest site of all still encloses the Towers of Silence on which, contrary to the Hindu usage of cremation, the Parsees, holding fire too sacred to be subjected to contact with mortal corruption, expose their dead to be devoured by vultures. Calcutta has no such conspicuous landmarks of the East to disturb the illusion produced by most of one's surroundings that this is a city which, if not actually European, differs only from the European type in the complexion and dress of its oriental population and the architectural compromises imposed on European buildings by a tropical climate. The Marquess of Wellesley built Government House over a hundred years ago on the model of Kedleston, and it is still the stateliest official residence in British India. Fort William with Olive's ramparts and fosses is still almost untouched, and with an ever-expanding Walhalla of bronze or marble Governors and Viceroys and Commanders-in-Chief, and at the farther end the white marble walls and domes of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hall—the one noble monument we have built in India—at last nearing completion, the broad expanse of Calcutta's incomparable Maidan is, even more than our London parks, the green playfield and the vital lung of the whole city. Along and behind Chowringhee there are still a few of the old-time mansions of Thackeray's "nabobs," with their deep, pillared verandahs standing well off from the road, each within its discreet "compound," but they are all rapidly making room for "eligible residences," more opulent perhaps but more closely packed, or for huge blocks of residential flats, even less adapted to the climate. The great business quarter round Dalhousie Square has been steadily rebuilt on a scale of massive magnificence scarcely surpassed in the city of London, and many of the shops compare with those of our West End. The river, too, all along the Garden Reach and far below is often almost as crowded as the Pool of London, with ocean-going steamers waiting to load or unload their cargoes as well as with lumbering native sailing ships and the ferries that ply ceaselessly between the different quarters of the city on both banks of the Hugli. The continuous roar of traffic in the busy streets, the crowded tram-cars, the motors and taxis jostling the ancient bullock-carts, the surging crowds in the semi-Europeanised native quarters, even the pall of smoke that tells of many modern industrial activities are not quite so characteristic of new India as, when I was last there, the sandwich-men with boards inviting a vote for this or that candidate in the elections to the new Indian Councils.
In all the strenuous life and immense wealth of this great city, to which European enterprise first gave and still gives the chief impulse, Indians are taking an increasing share. The Bengalees themselves still hold very much aloof from modern developments of trade and industry, but they were the first to appreciate the value of Western education, and the Calcutta University with all its shortcomings has maintained the high position which Lord Dalhousie foreshadowed for it nearly seventy years ago. In art and literature the modern Bengalee has often known how to borrow from the West without sacrificing either his own originality or the traditions of his race or the spirit of his creed. Some of the finest Bengalee brains have taken for choice to the legal profession and have abundantly justified themselves both as judges in the highest court of the province and as barristers and pleaders. In every branch of the public services open to Indians and in all the liberal professions, as well as in the civic and political life of their country, the Bengalees have played a leading part, not restricted even to their own province, and in the very distinguished person of Lord Sinha, Bengal has just provided for the first time an Indian to represent the King-Emperor as governor of a province—the neighbouring province of Behar and Orissa. Nor have the women of Bengal been left behind as in so many other parts of India. In Calcutta many highly educated ladies have won such complete release from the ancient restraints imposed upon their sex that they preside to-day over refined and cultured homes from which the subtle atmosphere of the East does not exclude the ease and freedom of Western habits of mind and body.
Yet these are still exceptions, and even in such a progressive city as Calcutta and even amongst the highest classes the social and domestic life of the majority of Hindus is still largely governed by the laws of Hinduism, and not least with regard to marriage and the seclusion of women. I was once allowed to attend a sort of "scripture lesson" for little high-caste Hindu girls, organised by a benevolent old Brahman lady, who has devoted herself to the cause of infant education on orthodox lines. None of these 40 or 50 little girls had of course reached the age, usually ten, at which they would be cut off from all contact with the other sex except in marriage. They had bright and happy faces, and as it was a Hindu festival most of them were decked out in all their finery with gold and silver bangles on their dainty arms and ankles, sometimes with jewelled nose-rings as well as ear-rings. They went through an elaborate and picturesque ritual with great earnestness and reverence and carefully followed the injunctions of the Brahman, a cultured and Western-educated gentleman who presided over the ceremony. It was an attractive scene, and would have been entirely pleasant but for the painful contrast afforded by some eight or ten poor little mites with shaven heads and drab-coloured dresses, almost ragged and quite unadorned. They were infant widows, condemned according to the laws of Hinduism by the premature death of their husbands to whom they had been wedded, but whom they had never known, to lifelong widowhood, and therefore in most cases to lifelong contempt and drudgery. For they were debarred henceforth from fulfilling the supreme function of Hindu womanhood, i.e. securing the continuity of family rites from father to son by bearing children in legitimate wedlock, itself terribly circumscribed by the narrow limits within which inter-marriage is permissible even between different septs of the same caste. Happily those I saw were probably still too young to realise the full significance of the unkind fate that already differentiated them so markedly from their more fortunate caste-sisters.
Nor has one to go so very far from the heart of Calcutta to be reminded that the "premier city" of modern India derives its name from Kali, the most sinister of Indian goddesses. She was the tutelary deity of Kali-Kata, one of the three villages to which Job Charnock removed the first British settlement in Bengal when he abandoned Hugli in 1690, and her shrine has grown in wealth and fame with the growth of Calcutta. Kali-Kata is to-day only a suburb of the modern city, but in entering it one passes into another world—the world of popular Hinduism. In its narrow streets every shop is stocked with the paraphernalia that Hindus require for their devotions, for everything centres in Kali-Kata round the popular shrine sacred to Kali, the black goddess of destruction, with a protruding blood-red tongue, who wears a necklace of human skulls and a belt of human hands and tongues, and, holding in one of her many hands a severed human head, tramples under foot the dead bodies of her victims. From the ghats, or long flights of steps, that descend to the muddy waters of a narrow creek which claims a more or less remote connection with the sacred Ganges, crowds of pious Hindus go through their ablutions in accordance with a long and complicated ritual, whilst high-caste ladies perform them in mid-stream out of covered boats and behind curtains deftly drawn to protect their purdah. Past an ancient banyan tree, from whose branches streamers of coloured stuffs depend with other votive offerings from grateful mothers who have not prayed for male offspring in vain, past the minor shrines of many favourite deities, a road lined with closely packed beggars and ascetics, thrusting forth their sores and their shrivelled limbs in the hope of a few coppers, leads up to the place of sacrifice in front of the temple. The pavement is still red with the blood of goats immolated to the Great Goddess, and her devotees who may have just missed the spectacle can at least embrace the posts to which the victims were tied. On an open pillared platform facing the holy of holies some of the high-caste worshippers await in prayer and meditation the moment when its ponderous bronze doors are from time to time thrown open. One old Brahman lady of singularly refined appearance presses her fingers alternately on her right and her left nostril, whilst she expels through the other, keeping her lips all the time tightly closed, the unhallowed air which may have contaminated her lungs on her way to the temple. Another worshipper lies full length with his face pressed to the ground in motionless adoration. Between them flit about laughing, bright-eyed little girls, the "daughters" of the temple, still unconscious of the life of temple prostitution to which they have been dedicated from their birth. The court-yard all around is packed with a surging, howling mob of pilgrims, many of them from a great distance, fighting for a vantage point from which they may get a glimpse of the Great Goddess in her inner sanctuary, even if they cannot hope to penetrate into it.
At last, after much clanging of bells and fierce altercations between the Brahman priests and the faithful as to payment of necessary fees, the bronze doors roll back, and in the dim religious twilight one catches a glint of gold and precious stones, the head-dress of Kali, whose terrific image barely emerges from the depth of the inner sanctuary in which it stands, accessible only to its serving Brahmans. They alone, though strangely enough temple Brahmans as a class enjoy little credit with their fellow-castemen, can approach the idol and wash and dress and feed it with offerings. Whilst the doors are open the frenzy and the noise increases, as the mob of worshippers struggle for a front place and bawl out their special supplications at the top of their voices. Then when they are closed again there is a general unravelling of the tangled knots of perspiring humanity, and those who have achieved the supreme purpose of their pilgrimage gradually disperse to make room for another crowd, one stream succeeding another the whole day long on special festivals, but on ordinary days mostly between sunrise and noon. At the back of the shrine, as I came away, some privileged worshippers were waiting to drink a few drops of the foul water which trickles out of a small conduit through the wall from the holy of holies. It is the water in which the feet of the idol—and those of the serving Brahmans—have been washed!
It was in this same temple of Kali that only some fifteen years ago, during the violent agitation provoked by the Partition of Bengal, vast crowds used to assemble and take by the name of the Great Goddess the vow of Swadeshi as the first step to Swaraj, and Bengalee youths, maddened by an inflammatory propaganda, learned to graft on to ancient forms of worship the very modern cult of the bomb. To this same temple resorted only the other day Mr. Gandhi's followers to seek the blessing of the Great Goddess for the more harmless forms of protest by which he exhorted the inhabitants of Calcutta to bring home to the Duke of Connaught during his stay in Calcutta their indignant rejection of the boon which he had been sent out by the King-Emperor to confer on the people of India.
Must we then be driven to the conclusion that there is a gulf never to be bridged between India's ancient civilisation and the modern civilisation which we have brought to her out of the West? In that case the great constitutional adventure on which we have just embarked would be, unlike all our other great adventures in India, foredoomed to failure, and those Englishmen would be right who shudder at its rashness and reiterate with added conviction, since the school of Indian thought for which Mr. Gandhi stands seems to bear them out, that "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." The whole history of the British connection with India surely excludes such a conclusion of failure and despair. It teaches us, not, as such Englishmen contend, that India was won and has been held and must be retained by the sword alone, but that British rule was established and has been maintained with and by the co-operation of Indians and British, and that in seeking to-day to associate Indians more closely than ever before with the government and administration of the country, we are merely persevering in the same path which, though at times hesitatingly and reluctantly, the British rulers of India have trodden for generations past, always keeping step with the successive stages of our own national and political evolution. The Indian extremists misread equally the whole history of British rule who see in it nothing but a long nightmare of hateful oppression to be finally overcome, according to Mr. Gandhi's preaching, by "Non-co-operation" and the immortal "soul force" of India, rescued at last from the paralysing snares of an alien civilisation. Not for the first time has the cry of "Back to the Vedas" been raised by Indians who, standing in the old ways, watch with hostility and alarm the impact on their ancient but static civilisation of the more dynamic civilisation of the West with which we for the first time brought India into contact. It would be folly to underrate the resistance which the reactionary elements in Hinduism are still capable of putting forth. I have shown how it can still be seen operating in extreme forms, and not upon Hindus alone, in the two pictures which I have drawn from Delhi and Calcutta. It meets one in a lesser degree at almost every turn all over India. But it would be just as foolish to underrate the progressive forces which show now as ever in the history of Hinduism, that it is also capable of combining with a singular rigidity of structure and with many forms repugnant to all our own beliefs a breadth and elasticity of thought by no means inferior to that of the West.
To those who hoped for a more rapid and widespread fusion of Indian and Western ideals, some of the phenomena which have marked the latter-day revival of Hinduism and the shape it has recently assumed in Mr. Gandhi's "Non-co-operation" campaign, may have brought grave disappointment. But the inrush of Western influences was assuredly bound to provoke a strong reaction. For let us not forget that to the abiding power of Hinduism India owes the one great element of stability that enabled her, long before we appeared in India, to weather so many tremendous storms without altogether losing the sense of a great underlying unity stronger and more enduring than all the manifold lines of cleavage which have tended from times immemorial to divide her. Hinduism has not only responded for some forty centuries to the social and religious aspirations of a large and highly endowed portion of the human race, almost wholly shut off until modern times from any intimate contact with our own Western world, but it has been the one great force that has preserved the continuity of Indian life. It withstood six centuries of Mahomedan domination. Could it be expected to yield without a struggle to the new forces, however superior we may consider them and however overwhelming they may ultimately prove, which British rule has imported into India during a period of transition more momentous than any other through which she has ever passed, but still very brief when compared with all those other periods of Indian history which modern research has only recently rescued from the legendary obscurity of still earlier ages?
We are witnessing to-day a new phase of this great struggle, the clash of conflicting elements in two great civilisations. A constitution has been inaugurated at Delhi to bring India into permanent and equal partnership with a commonwealth of free nations which is the greatest political achievement of Western civilisation, and the latest prophet of Hinduism, applying to it the language of the West, has banned it forthwith as a thing of Satan, the offspring of a Satanic government and of a Satanic civilisation. His appeal to India is intended to strike many and various chords, but it is essentially an appeal to the ancient forces of Hinduism which gave India a great civilisation long before Europe, and least of all Britain, had emerged from the savagery of primitive man. Englishmen find it difficult to understand the strength of that appeal, perhaps because they do not realise how deep and vital are the roots of the civilisation to which it appeals.
THE ENDURING POWER OF HINDUISM
India's civilisation, intimately bound up from its birth with the great social and religious system which we call Hinduism, is as unique as it is ancient. Its growth and its tenacity are largely due to the geographical position of a great and populous sub-continent, on its land side exposed only to incursions from the north through mountainous and desolate regions, everywhere difficult of access and in some parts impenetrable, and shut in on the other two sides of a roughly isosceles triangle by broad expanses of sea which cut it off from all direct intercourse with the West until, towards the close of the Middle Ages, European navigators opened up new ocean highways to the East. India owes her own peculiar civilisation to the gradual fusion of Aryan races of a higher type that began to flow down from Central Asia before the dawn of history upon the more primitive indigenous populations already in possession. Its early history has only now begun to emerge from the twilight of myths and legends, and cannot even now be traced with any assurance of accuracy nearly as far back as that of other parts of the world which preceded or gave birth to our own much more recent civilisation. The pyramids of Ghizeh and Sakkara and the monumental temples of Thebes bore ample witness to the greatness of Egyptian civilisation long before the interpretation of her hieroglyphics enabled us to determine its antiquity, and the discovery of its abundant art treasures revealed the high degree of culture to which it reached. Excavations in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates have yielded an almost equally valuable harvest in regard to Babylonian and Assyrian civilisation, and Cnossus has told us its scarcely less wonderful story. Yet the long line of Pharaohs was coming to an end and Egypt was losing the national independence which she has never once recovered; Nineveh had fallen and Jerusalem was destroyed; Greece and even Rome had already started on their great creative careers before any approximately correct date can be assigned to the stages through which Indian civilisation had passed. India only becomes historical with the establishment of the Sasunaga dynasty in the Gangetic kingdom of Magadha, which centred in what is now Behar, about the year 600 B.C.
As to the state of India before that date, no sort of material evidence has survived, or at any rate has yet been brought to light—no monuments, no inscriptions, very little pottery even, in fact very few traces of the handicraft of man; nor any contemporary records of undoubted authenticity. Fortunately the darkness which would have been otherwise Cimmerian is illuminated, though with a partial and often uncertain light, by the wonderful body of sacred literature which has been handed down to our own times in the Vedas and Brahmanas and Upanishads. To none of these books, which have, for the most part, reached us in various recensions often showing considerable discrepancies and obviously later interpolations, is it possible to ascribe any definite date. But in them we undoubtedly possess a genuine key to the religious thought and social conceptions, and even inferentially to the political institutions of the Aryan Hindus through the many centuries that rolled by between their first southward migrations into the Indian peninsula and their actual emergence into history. The Vedic writings constitute the most ancient documents available to illustrate the growth of religious beliefs founded on pure Nature-worship, which translated themselves into a polytheistic and pantheistic idea of the universe and, in spite of many subsequent transformations, are found to contain all the germs of modern Hinduism as we know it to-day—and, indeed, of all the religious thought of India. In the Vedic hymns Nature itself is divine, and their pantheon consists of the deified forces of Nature, worshipped now as Agni, the god of Fire; Soma, the god and the elixir of life; Indra, the god of heaven and the national god of the Aryans; and again, under more abstract forms, such as Prajapati, the lord of creation, Asura, the great spirit, Brahmanaspati, the lord of prayer; and sometimes, again, gathered together into the transcendent majesty of one all-absorbing divinity, such as Varuna, whose pre-eminence almost verges on monotheism. But the general impression left on the Western mind is of a fantastic kaleidoscope, in which hundreds and even thousands of deities, male and female, are constantly waxing and waning and changing places, and proceeding from, and merging their identity in, others through an infinite series of processes, partly material and partly metaphysical, but ever more and more subject to the inspiration and the purpose of the Brahman, alone versed in the knowledge of the gods, and alone competent to propitiate them by sacrificial rites of increasing intricacy, and by prayers of a rigid formalism that gradually assume the shape of mere incantations.
This is the great change to which the Brahmanas bear witness. They show no marked departure from the theology of the Vedas, though many of the old gods continue to be dethroned either to disappear altogether, or to reappear in new shapes, like Varuna, who turns into a god of night to be worshipped no longer for his beneficence, but to be placated for his cruelty; whilst, on the other hand, Prajapati is raised to the highest throne, with Sun, Air, and Fire in close attendance. What the Brahmanas do show is that the Brahman has acquired the overwhelming authority of a sacerdotal status, not vested merely in the learning of a theologian, but in some special attribute of his blood, and therefore transmissible only from father to son. The Brahman was doubtless helped to this fateful pre-eminence by the modifications which the popular tongue had undergone in the course of time, and as the result more especially of migration from the Punjab to the Gangetic plains. The language of the Vedic hymns had ceased to be understood by the masses, and its interpretation became the monopoly of learned families; and this monopoly, like all others, was used by those who enjoyed it for their own aggrandisement. The language that had passed out of common usage acquired an added sanctity. It became a sacred language, and sacred became the Brahman, who alone possessed the key to it, who alone could recite its sacred texts and perform the rites which they prescribed, and select the prayers which could best meet every distinct and separate emergency in the life of man.
In the Brahmanas we can follow the growth of a luxuriant theology for the use of the masses which, in so far as it was polytheistic, tended to the infinite multiplication of gods and goddesses and godlings of all types, and in so far as it was pantheistic invested not only men, but beasts and insects and rivers and fountains and trees and stones with some living particle of the divine essence pervading all things; and we can follow there also the erection on the basis of that theology, of a formidable ritual of which the exclusive exercise and the material benefits were the appanage of the Brahman. But we have to turn to a later collection of writings known as the Upanishads for our knowledge of the more abstract speculations out of which Hindu thinkers, not always of the Brahmanical caste, were concurrently evolving the esoteric systems of philosophy that have exercised an immense and abiding influence on the spiritual life of India. There is the same difficulty in assigning definite dates to the Upanishads, though many of the later ones bear the post-mark of the various periods of theological evolution with which they coincided. Only some of the earliest ones are held by many competent authorities to be, in the shape in which they have reached us, anterior to the time when India first becomes, in any real sense, historical; but there is no reason to doubt that they represent the progressive evolution into different forms of very ancient germs already present in the Vedas themselves. They abound in the same extravagant eclecticism, leading often to the same confusions and contradictions that Hindu theology presents. The Sankhya Darshana, or system, recognising only a primary material cause from which none but finite beings can proceed, regards the universe and all that exists in it and life itself as a finite illusion of which the end is non-existence, and its philosophic conceptions are atheistic rather than pantheistic. In opposition to it the Vedantic system of mystic pantheism, whilst also seeing in this finite world a mere world of illusion, holds that rescue from it will come to each individual soul after a more or less prolonged series of rebirths, determined for better or for worse by its own spirituality according to the law of Karma, not in non-existence, but in its fusion with God, whose identity with the soul of man is merely temporarily obscured by the world illusion of Maya. Only the inconceivable is real, for it is God, but God dwells in the heart of every man, who, if and when he can realise it and has detached himself from his unworthy because unreal surroundings, is himself God. Akin to Vedantic mysticism is the Yoga system, which teaches extreme asceticism, retirement into solitude, fastings, nudity, mortification of the flesh, profound meditation on unfathomable mysteries, and the endless reiteration of magic words and phrases as the means of accelerating that ineffable fusion of God and man. The materialism of the Sankhya and the idealism of the Vedanta combine to provoke the reaction of yet another system, the Mimansa, which stands for the eternal and divine revelation of the Vedas, codifies, so to say, their theology into liturgical laws, admits of no speculation or esoteric interpretation, and seems to subordinate the gods themselves to the forms of worship that consecrate their existence.
Of all the doctrines that these early speculations evolved, none has had a more enduring influence on Hinduism than that of the long and indeed infinite succession of rebirths through which man is doomed to pass before he reaches the ultimate goal either of non-existence or of absorption into the divine essence. For none has done more to fortify the patriarchal principle which from the earliest times governed the tribal family, and to establish the Hindu conception of the family as it prevails to the present day. With that curious inconsequence which frequently characterises Hindu thought, even when it professes to be ruled by the sternest logic, the belief that every rebirth is irrevocably determined by the law of Karma, i.e. in accordance with the sum total of man's deeds, good and bad, in earlier existences, is held to be compatible with the belief that the felicity of the dead can only be assured by elaborate rites of worship and sacrifice, which a son alone, or a son's son, can take over from his father and properly perform. The ancient patria potestas of tribal institutions has been thus prolonged beyond the funeral pyre, and the ancient reverence for the dead which originally found expression in an instinctive worship of the ancestors has been translated into a ceremonial cult of the ancestral manes, which constitutes the primary duty and function of every new head of the family. Hence the Hindu joint family system which keeps the whole property of the family as well as the governance of all its members under the sole control of the head of the family. Hence also the necessity of early marriage, lest death should overtake the Hindu before he has begotten the son upon whose survival the performance of the rites essential, not only to his own future felicity, but to that of all his ancestors depends, and, as an alternative, to mitigate the awful consequences of the default of heirs male of his own body, the introduction of adoption under conditions that secure to the adopted son precisely the same position as a real son would have enjoyed. Hence again the inferiority of woman, whom early marriage tended to place in complete subjection to man. Her chief value was that of a potential breeder of sons. In any case, moreover, she passed on her marriage entirely out of her own family into that of her husband, and terribly hard was her lot if she were left a widow before having presented her husband with a son. Even if she were left an infant widow of an infant husband and their marriage could not possibly have been consummated, she was doomed to an austere and humiliating life of perpetual widowhood, whilst, on the other hand, if she died, her widowed husband was enjoined to marry again at once unless she had left him a son. To explain away this cruel injustice, her fate was supposed to be due to her own Karma, and to be merely the retribution that had overtaken her for sins committed in a former existence, which condemned her to be born a woman and to die a childless wife, or worse still, to survive as a childless widow. The misfortune of the widowed husband who was left without a son should logically have been imputed in the same way to his own Karma, but it was not. All through life, and in death itself, man was exalted and woman occupied a much lower plane, though in practice this hardship was mitigated for the women who bore sons by the reverence paid to them in their homes, where their force of character and their virtues often gave them a great and recognised ascendancy. However hard the laws that governed the Hindu family might press on individual members, the family itself remained a living organism, united by sacred ties—indeed more than a mere living organism, for the actually living organism was one with that part of it which had already passed away and that which was still awaiting rebirth. It is undoubtedly in the often dignified and beautiful relations which bind the Hindu family together that Hinduism is seen at its best, and Hindu literature delights in describing and exalting them.
Traditional usages, or Smriti, were ultimately embodied in codes of law, of which the most famous is that of Manu; and though disfigured by many social servitudes repugnant to the Western mind, they represent a lofty standard of morality based upon a conception of duty, or Dharma, narrowly circumscribed, but solid and practical. Though these codes of law, and notably that of Manu in the form in which we possess them, are of uncertain but probably much later date, they afford us, in conjunction with the vast body of earlier religious and philosophic literature, and with a certain amount of scientific literature dealing with astronomy and astrology, with mathematics and specially with geometry, and with grammar and prosody, sufficient materials for appraising, with a fair measure of accuracy, the stage of progress which the Aryan Hindus had reached in the sixth century B.C. When the world was young, and they revelled in their recent conquest of a fair portion in it, they delighted to worship the bright gods who had helped them to possess it, and worship and war were the ties that kept their loose tribal organisation together. Out of the primitive conditions of nomadic and pastoral life, under the leadership of tribal elders who were both priests and warriors, they gradually passed, after many vicissitudes of peace and war, into more settled forms of agricultural life and developed into distinct and separate polities of varying vitality, but still united by the bond of common religious and social institutions in the face of the indigenous populations whom they drove before them, or reduced into subjection and slowly assimilated as they moved down towards and into the Gangetic plain. As the conditions of life grew more complex, with increasing prosperity and probably longer intervals of peace, differentiation between classes and professions grew more marked. There was time and leisure for thinking as well as for fighting, for contemplation as well as for action. The "bright" gods that Nature had conceived for the early Aryans were fashioned and refashioned by speculations already laden with the gloom of melancholy and awesomeness that pervades India. Caste, it may be inferred from the Sanskrit word Varna, which means colour, originally discriminated only between the Aryan conquerors of relatively fair complexion and the darker aborigines they had subdued. It was extended to connote the various stratifications into which Hindu society was settling, and in the stringent rules which governed the constitution of each caste, and the relations between the different castes, the old exclusiveness of tribal customs was perpetuated and intensified.
To the supremacy which the Brahman, as the expounder of the scriptures and of the laws deduced from them, and the ordained dispenser of divine favour, through prayer and sacrifice, was able to arrogate to his own caste, the code of Manu, above all others, bears emphatic witness:
The very birth of Brahmans is a constant incarnation of Dharma.... When a Brahman springs to light he is born above the world, the chief of all creatures, assigned to guard the treasury of duties, religious and civil. Whatever exists in the world is all in effect, though not in form, the wealth of the Brahman, since the Brahman is entitled to it all by his primogeniture and eminence of birth.
Every offence committed by a Brahman involves a relatively slight penalty; every offence committed against him the direst punishment. Next to the Brahman, but far beneath him, is the Kshatrya and beneath him again the Vaishya. The Shudras are the fourth caste that exists chiefly to serve the three twice-born castes, and above all the Brahman. As Sir William Jones observes in the preface to the translation which he was the first to make a little more than a century ago of these extraordinarily full and detailed ordinances, they represent a system of combined despotism and priestcraft, both indeed limited by law, but artfully conspiring to give mutual support with mutual checks. But though they abound with minute and childish formalities, though they prescribe ceremonies often ridiculous, though the punishments they enact are partial and fanciful, for some crimes dreadfully cruel, for others reprehensibly slight, though the very morals they lay down, rigid enough on the whole, are in one or two instances, as in the case of light oaths and of pious perjury, dangerously relaxed, one must, nevertheless, admit that, subject to those grave limitations, a spirit of sublime devotion, of benevolence to mankind, and of amiable tenderness to all sentient creatures pervades the whole work, and the style of it has a certain austere majesty that sounds like the language of legislation and extorts a respectful awe. Above all it is well to remember that the ordinances of Manu still constitute to-day the framework of Hindu society, and Brahman judges of the Indian High Courts, who administer our own very different codes, still cling to them in private life and quote them in political controversies as the repositories of inspired wisdom.
It is on this background of tangled religious beliefs and abstruse philosophic speculations and very precise and elaborate laws framed to safeguard the twofold authority of priests and kings, but of the latter always in subordination to the former, that we see men and cities and organised states assume for the first time historic substance towards the sixth century B.C. From that date onwards we are on firmer ground. For though even in much later times the Hindus never produced historians in the strict sense of the term, we are able to call in aid the valuable testimony not only of a few indigenous chroniclers but also of Greek and Chinese and Arab writers and travellers, as well as the authoritative evidence supplied by epigraphy and numismatics; and though for many centuries still very infrequently, the precious remains of ancient monuments. But the original background is never effaced, for the whole religious and social system, the whole philosophic outlook upon the world of which I have sought to outline the long and laborious evolution through prehistoric ages, remained fundamentally immune against change until the advent of the British to India subjected them to the solvent of Western civilisation.
One of the most striking peculiarities of Hinduism is that its origin cannot be associated with any single great teacher or prophet, however legendary. Still less can it be identified with the personal inspiration of a Moses or a Christ, of a Confucius or a Mahomed. Only when we reach the firmer ground of historic times does any commanding personality emerge to leave a definite and abiding impress upon successive ages. The first and the greatest is Buddha, and we can still trace to-day his footsteps in the places where he actually stood and delivered his message to the world. It was at Buddh Gaya that, after fleeing from the pomp and luxury of his father's royal palace, he sat and meditated under the Bo-tree on the vanity and misery of human life, but it was at Rajagriha, "the King's House," that he first began to preach. Rajagriha, about 40 miles S.S.E. of the modern Patna, was then the capital of one of the many small kingdoms that had grown up in the broad valley of the Ganges. It was already an ancient city of some fame, for the Mahabharata mentions all the five hills which, as the first Chinese pilgrim, Fa-Hien, puts it, "encompass it with a girdle like the walls of a town." It was itself a walled city, and some of the walls, as we can still see them to-day, represent most probably the earliest structure raised in India by human hands that has survived down to our own times. They were no jerry-builders then. Strengthened at sundry points by great square bastions, the walls of Rajagriha measure in places over seventeen feet in width and eleven or twelve feet in height, and they are faced with undressed stones three to five feet in length, without mortar or cement, but carefully fitted and banded together with a core of smaller blocks not less carefully laid and packed. They merely supplemented and completed the natural line of defences provided by the outer girdle of hills, rising to 1200 feet, which shut off Rajagriha from the plain of Bihar. On one of those peerless days of the cold season in Upper India when there is not a cloud to break the serenity of the deep blue sky, I looked up to the mountain Ghridrakuta, on whose slopes Buddha dwelt for some time after he had found enlightenment at Buddh Gaya, and saw it just as the second Chinese pilgrim to whom we owe most of our knowledge of Rajagriha described it—"a solitary peak rising to a great height on which vultures make their abode." Many had been the revolutions of the wheel of time since Hiuen-Tsang had watched the circling of the vultures round the sacred peak some twelve and a half centuries before me, and as Buddha himself, another twelve and a half centuries earlier, must have watched them when he miraculously stretched forth his hand through a great rock to rescue his beloved disciple Ananda from the clutch of the demon Mara, who had taken on the shape of a vulture. The swoop of those great birds seemed to invest the whole scene with a new and living reality. Across the intervening centuries I could follow King Bimbisara, who reigned in those days at Rajagriha, proceeding along the causeway of rough, undressed stones, which can be traced to-day to the foot of the mountain and up its rocky flanks, after his men had "levelled the valley and spanned the precipices, and with the stones had made a staircase about ten paces wide," so that he should himself be carried up to wait in his own royal person on the Lord Buddha. There, marked to the present day by the remains of two large stupas, was the place where the king alighted from his litter to go forward on foot, and farther up again the spot where he dismissed his followers and went on alone to invite the Buddha to come down and dwell in his capital.
That must have been about 500 B.C., and Buddha spent thereafter a considerable portion of his time in the bamboo garden which King Bimbisara presented to him on the outskirts of Rajagriha. There, and in his annual wanderings through the country, he delivered to the poor and to the rich, to the Brahman and to the sinner, to princes and peasants, to women as well as to men, his message of spiritual and social deliverance from the thraldom of the flesh and from the tyranny of caste.
With the actual doctrines of Buddhism I do not propose to deal. There is nothing in them that could not be reconciled with those of the Vedanta, and they are especially closely akin to the Sankhya system. But the driving force of Buddhism, as also of Jainism, which grew up at the same time as Buddhism under the inspiration of another great reformer, Mahavira, who is said to have been a cousin of King Bimbisara, was a spirit of revolt against Brahmanical Hinduism, and a new sense of social solidarity which appealed to all classes and castes, and to women as well as to men. The Vedanta reserved the study of the scriptures to men of the three "twice-born" castes, and placed it under the supreme authority of the Brahmans. Both Buddha and Mahavira recognised no such restrictions, though they did not refuse reverence to the Brahman as a man of special learning. The religious orders which they founded were open to all, and these orders included nuns as well as monks. This was the rock on which they split with Hinduism. This was the social revolution that, in spite of the religious and philosophical elasticity of Hinduism, made Buddhists and Jains unpardonable heretics in the eyes of the Brahmans, and produced a conflict which was to last for centuries.
Though King Bimbisara welcomed the Buddha to his capital, and Buddhism made rapid headway amongst the masses, he does not appear to have himself embraced the new religion, and it is not till after Alexander the Great's expedition had for the first time brought an European conqueror on to Indian soil, and a new dynasty had transferred the seat of government to Pataliputra, the modern Patna, on the Ganges, that perhaps the greatest of Indian rulers, the Emperor Asoka, who reigned from 272 to circa 232 B.C., made Buddhism the state religion of his Empire. Tradition has it, that when Buddha on his last wanderings passed by the fort which King Ajatasatni was building at Pataliputra, he prophesied for it a great and glorious future. It had already fulfilled that prophecy when the Greek Ambassador, Megasthenes, visited it in 303 B.C. A few remains only are being laboriously rescued from the waters of the Ganges, under which Pataliputra is for the most part buried. But at that time it spread for ten miles along the river front; five hundred and seventy towers crowned its walls, which were pierced by sixty-four gates, and the total circumference of the city was twenty-four miles. The palace rivalled those of the Kings of Persia, and a striking topographical similarity has been lately traced between the artificial features of the lay-out of Pataliputra and the natural features of Persepolis, King Darius's capital in Southern Persia.
Pataliputra became the capital of India under Chandragupta Maurya, who, soldier of fortune and usurper that he was, transformed the small kingdom of Magadha into a mighty empire. Known to Greek historians as Sandrokottos, young Chandragupta had been in Alexander's camp on the Indus, and had even, it is said, offered his services to the Macedonian king. In the confusion which followed Alexander's death, he had raised an army with which he fell on the Macedonian frontier garrisons, and then, flushed with victory, turned upon the King of Magadha, whom he dethroned. After eighteen years of constant fighting he had extended his frontiers to the Hindu Kush in the north, and nearly down to the latitude of Madras in the south. He had, at the same time, established a remarkable system of both civil and military administration by which he was able to consolidate his vast conquests. His war office was scientifically divided into six boards for maintaining and supplying his huge fighting force of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, 9000 elephants, and 8000 war chariots, besides fully equipped transport and commissariat services. No less scientific was the system of civil government as illustrated by the municipal institutions of Pataliputra. There, again, there were six boards dealing respectively with trade, industries, wages, local taxation, the control of foreign residents and visitors, and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, with vital statistics. Equally admirable was the solicitude displayed for agriculture, then, as now, the greatest of Indian industries, and for its handmaid, irrigation. The people themselves, if we may believe Megasthenes, were a model people well worthy of a model government, though if he does not exaggerate, one is driven to wonder at the necessity for such fearful penalties as were inflicted for the most trivial breaches of the law. But behind Chandragupta the power of the Brahman was still clearly entrenched, for his chief minister was a Brahman, Chanakya, who had followed his fortunes from their first adventurous beginnings.
The stately fabric which Chandragupta built up during his own twenty-five years' reign, circa 322-297 B.C., endured during the reign of his son Bendusara, of whom scarcely anything is known, and at the end of another twenty-five years passed on, undiminished, to his great successor, Asoka, whose unique experiment would have been scarcely possible had he not succeeded to an empire already firmly consolidated at home and abroad. When he came to the throne, about 272 B.C., Asoka had served his apprenticeship in the art of government as viceroy, first in the north at Taxila, and then in the west at Ujjain. He had been brought up by Brahmans in the manner befitting his rank. Buddhist tradition would have us believe that until his conversion he was a monster of cruelty; but there is scarcely enough to warrant that indictment in the fact that he began his reign with a war of aggression, for which he afterwards expressed the deepest remorse. It was, indeed, from that moment that he determined to be henceforth a prince of peace; but it is quite as probable that his determination inclined him more and more to turn his ear to Buddhist teaching as that Buddhist teaching prompted his determination.
No monarch has ever recorded the laws which he gave to his people in such imperishable shape. They are to be seen to the present day cut into granite pillars or chiselled into the face of the living rock in almost every part of what was then the Empire of the Mauryas, from the Peshawar district in the north to Mysore and the Madras Presidency in the south, from the Kathiawar Peninsula in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east. The pillars are often at the same time monuments of artistic design and workmanship, as, above all, the Garnath pillar near Benares with its magnificent capital of the well-known Persepolitan type and its four lions supporting the stone Wheel of the Law, first promulgated on that spot. Many more of Asoka's monuments may yet be discovered, but the eleven pillar edicts and the fourteen rock edicts, not to speak of minor inscriptions already brought to light and deciphered, constitute a body of laws which well deserve to have been made thus imperishable. For no temporal sovereign has ever legislated so fully and exclusively and with such evident conviction for the spiritual advancement and moral elevation of his people. Scarcely less important is the autobiographical value of these inscriptions, which enable one to follow stage by stage the evolution of the Apostle-Emperor's soul. Within a year of the conquest of the Kalinjas, for which he afterwards publicly recorded his remorse, Asoka became a lay disciple of the Buddhist law, and two and a half years later studied as a Buddhist monk. In 257 B.C., the thirteenth year of his reign, he began to preach his series of sermons in stone—sermons that were at the same time laws given to his Empire. His profession of faith was as lofty as it was simple:
The gods who were regarded as true all over India have been shown to be untrue. For the fruit of exertion is not to be attained by a great man only, because even by the small man who chooses to exert himself immense heavenly bliss may be won.... Father and mother must be hearkened to. Similarly, respect for living creatures must be firmly established. Truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of the law of piety which must be practised.... In it are included proper treatment of slaves and servants, honour to teachers, gentleness towards living creatures, and liberality towards ascetics and Brahmans.... All men are my children, and just as I desire for my children that they may enjoy every kind of prosperity and happiness in both this world and the next, so I desire the same for all men.
These principles are applied in all the instructions to his officials. He commends to their special care the primitive jungle folk and the untamed people of the borderlands. He bestows much thought on the alleviation of human suffering, and his injunctions in restriction of the slaughter and maiming of animals and the preservation of life are minute and precise. It is in this connection that the influence of Buddhism on Hinduism has been most permanent, for whilst the primitive Aryan Hindus were beef-eaters, their descendants carried the vegetarian doctrines of Buddhism to the extreme length of condemning cow-killing as the most awful of crimes, next to the killing of a Brahman.
Determined to preserve the unity and discipline of his own church, Asoka's large tolerance sees some good in all creeds. He wishes every man to have the reading of his own scriptures, and whilst reserving his most lavish gifts for Buddhist shrines and monasteries, he does not deny his benefactions to Brahmans and ascetics of other sects. Nor is he content merely to preach and issue orders. His monastic vows, though they lead him to forswear the amusements and even the field sports which had been his youthful pastimes, do not involve the severance of all worldly ties. He is the indefatigable and supreme head of the Church; he visits in solemn pilgrimage all the holy places hallowed by the memory of Buddha, and endows shrines and monasteries and convents with princely munificence; he convenes at Pataliputra a great Buddhist council for combating heresy. But he remains the indefatigable and supreme head of the State. "I am never fully satisfied with my efforts and my despatch of business. Work I must for the welfare of all, and the root of the matter is in effort." He controls a highly trained bureaucracy not unlike that of British India to-day, and his system of government is wonderfully effective so long as it is informed by his untiring energy and singular loftiness of purpose.
With Asoka Buddhism attained to a supremacy in India which may well be compared with that of Christianity in Europe under Constantine; and it is only by measuring the height to which Buddhism had then risen that we can realise the enduring power of Hinduism, as we see it through successive centuries slowly but irresistibly recovering all the ground it had lost until Buddhism at last disappears almost entirely off the face of India, whereas it continued to spread, though often in very debased forms, over the greater part of Eastern Asia, and still maintains its hold there over more than a third of the total population of the globe.
As with most of the great rulers and conquerors that India has from time to time thrown up, Asoka's life-work fell to pieces almost as soon as he had passed away. Not only did the temporal empire which he built up disintegrate rapidly in the hands of his feeble successors, but Buddhism itself was dethroned within fifty years with the last of his dynasty, slain by the usurper Pushyamitra Sunga, who, after consecrating himself to the Hindu gods with the rites of Rajasuya, celebrated his advent to Paramount Power by reviving the ancient ceremony of Asvamedha, the Sacrifice of the Horse—one of the most characteristic of Brahmanical rites.
It was not till after another great conquering inflow from Central Asia in the first century of our era that Kanishka, the greatest of a new dynasty which had set itself up at Purushpura, situated close to the modern Peshawar, shed a transient gleam of glory over the decline of Buddhism and even restored it to the position of a state religion. But it was a Buddhism already far removed from the purity of Asoka's reign. The most striking feature of this short-lived revival is the artistic inspiration which it derived from Hellenistic sources, of which the museums of Peshawar and Lahore contain so many remarkable illustrations. The theory, at one time very widely entertained, that Alexander's brief incursion into India left any permanent mark on Indian civilisation is now entirely discarded by the best authorities. No Indian author makes even the faintest allusion to him, nor is there any trace of Hellenic influence in the evolution of Indian society, or in the elaborate institutions with which India was endowed by the Mauryan dynasty that followed immediately on the disruption of Alexander's empire. But the Kushans, or Yueh Chis, during the various stages of their slow migration down into Northern India, came into long and close contact with the Indo-Bactrian and Indo-Parthian kingdoms that sprang up after Alexander. The populations were never Hellenised, but their rulers were to some extent the heirs, albeit hybrid heirs, to Greek civilisation. They spoke Greek and worshipped at Greek shrines, and as they were in turn subjugated by the forebears of the Kushan Empire, they imparted to the conquerors something of their own Greek veneer. In the second century of our era Kanishka carried his victorious arms down to the Gangetic plain, where Buddhism still held its own in the region which had been its cradle; and, according to one tradition, he carried off from Pataliputra a famous Buddhist saint, who converted him to Buddhism. But as these Indo-Scythian kings had not been long enough in India to secure admission to the social aristocracy of Hinduism by that slow process of naturalisation to which so many ruling families have owed their Kshatrya pedigrees, Kanishka, having himself no claim to caste, may well have preferred for reasons of state to favour Buddhism as a creed fundamentally opposed to caste distinctions. Whatever the motives of his conversion, we have it on the authority of Hiuen-Tsang that he ultimately did great things for Buddhism, and the magnificent stupa, which he erected outside his capital, five-and-twenty stories high and crowned with a cupola of diamonds, was still 150 feet high and measured a quarter of a mile in circumference when the Chinese pilgrim visited Purushpura five centuries later. To the present day there are traces outside the northern gate of Peshawar of a great Buddhist monastery, also built by Kanishka, which remained a seat of Buddhist learning until it was destroyed by Mahomedan invaders; and it was only a mile from Peshawar that the American Sanskritist, Dr. Spooner, discovered ten years ago the casket containing some of Buddha's bones, which is one of the most perfect specimens of Graeco-Buddhist art. The Buddhist statues and bas-reliefs of that period are Greek rather than Indian in their treatment of sacred history, and even the head of Gautama himself might sometimes be taken for that of a young Greek god.
These exotic influences may indeed have acted as a further solvent upon Buddhism. But in any case, its local and temporary revival as a dominant state religion under Kanishka, whose empire did not long outlive him, failed to arrest its steady resorption into Hinduism. On the one hand, Buddhism itself was losing much of its original purity. The miraculous legends with which the life of Buddha was gradually invested, the almost idolatrous worship paid to him, the belief that he himself was but the last of many incarnations in which the Buddha had already revealed himself from the very beginning of creation—all these later accretions represent, no doubt, the reaction upon Buddhism of its Hinduistic surroundings. But they doubtless helped also to stimulate the growth of the more definite forms of anthropomorphism which characterised the development of Hinduism when the ancient ritual and the more impersonal gods of the Vedas and of the Brahmanas gave way to the cult of such very personal gods as Shiva and Vishnu, with their feminine counterparts, Kali and Lakshmi, and ultimately to the evolution of still more popular deities, some, like Skanda and the elephant-headed Ganesh, closely connected with Shiva; others like Krishna and Rama, avātaras or incarnations—and in many ways extremely human incarnations—of Vishnu. At the same time, the Aryan Hindus, as they went on subduing the numerous aboriginal races of India, constantly facilitated their assimilation by the more or less direct adoption of their primitive deities and religious customs. The two great epics, the Mahabharata, with its wonderful episode, the Baghavat-Ghita, which is the apotheosis of Krishna, and the Ramayana, which tells the story of Rama, show the infusion into Hinduism of a distinctly national spirit in direct opposition to the almost cosmopolitan catholicity of Buddhism, sufficiently elastic to adapt itself even to the political aspirations of non-Hindu conquerors as well as of non-Hindu races beyond the borders of Hindustan, in Nepal and in Ceylon, in Burma and in Tibet, in China and in Japan. The conflict between Buddhist and Hindu theology might not have been irreconcilable, for Hinduism, as we know, was quite ready to admit Buddha himself into the privileged circle of its own gods as one of the incarnations of Vishnu. What was irreconcilable was the conflict between a social system based on Brahmanical supremacy and one that denied it—especially after Hinduism had acquired a new sense of Indian patriotism which only reached fuller development in our own times when it was quickened by contact with European nationalism.
Hindus themselves prefer, however, to-day to identify Indian nationalism with the period when from another long interval of darkness, which followed the downfall of the Kushan kingdom, Indian history emerges into the splendour of what has been called "the golden age of Hinduism" in the fourth and fifth centuries of our era under the great Gupta dynasty, who ruled at Ujjain. Few Indian cities are reputed to be more ancient or more sacred than the little town of Ujjain on the Sipra river, known as Ozenī to the Greeks, and where Asoka had ruled in his youth as Viceroy of Western India. It owes its birth to the gods themselves. When Uma wedded Shiva her father slighted him, not knowing who he was, for the mighty god had wooed and won her under the disguise of a mere ascetic mendicant, and she made atonement by casting herself into the sacrificial fire, which consumed her—the prototype of all pious Hindu widows who perform Sati—in the presence of gods and Brahmans. Shiva, maddened with grief, gathered up the bones of his unfortunate consort and danced about with them in a world-shaking frenzy. Her scattered bones fell to earth, and wherever they fell the spot became sacred and a temple sprang up in her honour. One of her elbows fell on the banks of the Sipra at Ujjain, and few shrines enjoy greater or more widespread fame than the great temple of Maha-Kal, consecrated to her worship and that of Shiva. Its wealth was fabulous when it was looted and destroyed by Altamsh and his Pathan Mahomedans in 1235. The present buildings are for the most part barely 200 years old, and remarkable chiefly for the insistency with which the lingam and the bull, the favourite symbols of Shiva, repeat themselves in shrine after shrine. But it attracts immense numbers of pilgrims, especially in every twelfth year, when they flock in hundreds of thousands to Ujjain and camp as near as possible to the river. The peculiarity of the Ujjain festival is that, in memory of the form which Shiva took on when he wooed Uma, it attracts a veritable army of Sanyasis, or mendicants, sometimes as many as fifty thousand, from all parts of India. Seldom, except at the great Jaganath festivals at Puri, is a larger congregation seen of weird and almost inhuman figures; some clothed solely with their long unkempt hair, some with their bodies smeared all over with white ashes, and the symbol of their favourite deity painted conspicuously on their foreheads; some displaying ugly sores or withered limbs as evidence of lifelong mortification of the flesh; some moving as if in a dream and entirely lost to the world's realities; some with frenzied eyes shouting and brandishing their instruments of self-torture; some with a repulsive leer and heavy sensuous jowls affecting a certain coquetry in the ritualistic adornment of their well-fed bodies.
Chandragupta I., the founder of the great dynasty which Hindus extol above all others, was only a petty chieftain by birth, but he was fortunate enough to wed a lady of high lineage, who could trace a connection with the ancient Maurya house of Magadha, and, thanks to this alliance and to his own prowess, he was able at his death to bequeath real kingship to his son, Samadragupta, who, during a fifty years' reign, A.D. 326-375, again welded almost the whole of India north of the Nerbudda river into one empire, and once even spoiled Southern India right down to Cape Comorin. His victories are recorded—with an irony perhaps not wholly accidental—beneath the Asokan inscription on the Allahabad pillar. Of his zeal for Hinduism we have a convincing proof in gold coins of his reign that preserve on the obverse in the figure of the sacrificial horse a record of the Asvamedha, which he again revived. Strange to say, however, his fame has never been so popular as that of his son, Chandragupta II., Vikramadytia, the Sun of Power, who reigned in turn for nearly forty years, and has lived in Hindu legend as the Raja Bikram, to whom India owes her golden age. It was his court at Ujjain which is believed to have been adorned by the "Nine Gems" of Sanskrit literature, amongst whom the favourite is Kalidasa, the poet and dramatist. Amidst much that is speculative, one thing is certain. The age of Vikramadytia was an age of Brahmanical ascendancy. As has so often happened, and is still happening in India to-day in the struggle between Urdu and Hindi, the battle of religious and political supremacy was largely one of languages. During the centuries of Brahmanical depression that preceded the Gupta dynasty, the more vulgar tongue spoken of the people prevailed. Under the Guptas, Sanskrit, which was the language of the Brahmans, resumed its pre-eminence and took possession of the whole field of literature and art and science as well as of theology. Oral traditions were reduced to writing and poetry was adapted to both sacred and profane uses in the Puranas, in the metrical code of Manu, in treatises on sacrificial ritual, in Kalidasa's plays, and in many other works of which only fragments have survived. Astronomy, logic, philosophy were all cultivated with equal fervour and to the greater glory of Brahmanism. Local tradition is doubtless quite wrong in assigning to Raja Bikram the noble gateway which is the only monument of Hindu architecture at its best that Ujjain has to show to-day. But to that period may, perhaps, be traced the graceful, if highly ornate, style of architecture, of which the Bhuvaneshwar temples, several centuries more recent, are the earliest examples that can be at all accurately dated. To the credit of Brahmanism be it said that in its hour of triumph it remained at least negatively tolerant, as all purely Indian creeds generally have been. Fa-Hien, who visited India during the reign of Vikramadytia, though dismayed at the desolation which had already overtaken many of the sacred places of Buddhism, pays a generous tribute to the tolerance and statesmanship of that great sovereign. The country seems, indeed, to have enjoyed real prosperity under a paternal and almost model administration.
Yet the Gupta dynasty endured only a little longer than had that of the Mauryas. Its downfall was hastened by the long reign of terror which India went through during the invasion of the White Huns. Europe had undergone a like ordeal nearly a century earlier, for when the Huns began to move out of the steppes of Eastern Asia they poured forth in two separate streams, one of which swept into Eastern Europe, whilst the other flowed more slowly towards Persia and India. What Attila had been to Europe, Mihiragula was to India, and though the domination of the Huns did not long outlive him, the anarchy they left behind them continued for another century, until "the land of Kuru," the cradle and battle-field of so many legendary heroes, produced another heroic figure, who, as King Harsha, filled for more than forty years (606-648) the stage of Indian history with his exploits. He had inherited the blood of the Gupta emperors from his mother, though his father was only a small Raja of Thanesvar, to the north of Delhi. The tragic circumstances in which he succeeded him made a man of him at the early age of fourteen. By the time he was twenty he was "master of the five Indias"—i.e. of nearly the whole of Northern India from Kathiawar to the delta of the Ganges, and henceforth he proved himself as great in peace as in war. In his case the knowledge we owe to Chinese sources is supplemented by the valuable record left by the Brahman Bana, who lived at his court and wrote the Harsha-Charita. Taxation, we are told, was lightened, and the assessment of land revenue was equitable and moderate. Security for life and property was enforced under severe but effective penalties. Education received impartial encouragement whether conducted by Brahmans or by Buddhist monks, and both as a patron of literature, which he himself cultivated by composing dramas, and as a philanthropic ruler King Harsha bestowed his favours with a fairly equal hand on Hinduism and on Buddhism alike. For Buddhism still lingered in the land, and Harsha, who was a mystic and a dreamer as well as a man of action, certainly inclined during his later years towards Buddhism, or, at least, included it in his own eclectic creed.
Hiuen-Tsang, who spent fifteen years in India during Harsha's reign, searching for the relics of early Buddhism in a land from which it was steadily disappearing, has given us a wonderful picture of a religious state-pageant which makes Prayaga, at the triple confluence of the Ganges and the Jumna with the sacred but invisible river, Saraswati, near to the modern city of Allahabad, stand out as another striking landmark in Indian history. Hindus attach great holiness to rivers and their confluence, and this Triveni, or triple confluence, had been specially consecrated by Brahma, who chose that spot for the first Asvamedha. "From ancient times," says the Chinese chronicler, "the kings used to go there to distribute alms, and hence it was known as the Place of Almsgiving. According to tradition more merit is gained by giving one piece of money there than one hundred thousand elsewhere." So King Harsha having invited all alike, whether "followers of the law or heretics, the ascetics and the poor, the orphans and the helpless," the kings of eighteen subordinate kingdoms assembled there with their people to the number of 500,000, and found immense refectories laid out for their refreshment, and long rows of warehouses to receive silk and cotton garments and gold and silver coins for distribution to them. "The first day a statue of Buddha was placed in the shrine erected on the Place of Almsgiving, and there was a distribution of the most precious things and of the garments of greatest value, whilst exquisite viands were served and flowers scattered to the sound of harmonious music. Then all retired to their resting-places. On the second day a statue of the Sun-god was placed in the shrine, and on the third day the statue of Shiva," and the distribution of gifts continued on those days and day after day for a period of over two months, ten thousand Brahmans receiving the lion's share, until, having exhausted all his wealth, even to the jewels and garments he was wearing, King Harsha borrowed a coarse and much-worn garment, and having "adored the Buddhas of the ten countries," he gave vent to his pious delight, exclaiming: "Whilst I was amassing all this wealth I was always afraid lest I should find no safe and secret place to stow it away. Now that I have deposited it by alms-giving in the Field of Happiness I know that it is for ever in safety. I pray that in my future lives I may amass in like manner great treasures and give them away in alms so as to obtain the ten divine faculties in all their plenitude."
Here one sees India as it was before the Mahomedan invasions, in the days of the last of the great Indian rulers who succeeded for a time in bending the whole of Northern India to his will. As always in India, behind whatever form of temporal power might for the moment appear to be paramount, religion and the social order which it consecrates represented the real paramount power that alone endures. In this extraordinary festival which marked the close of Harsha's reign the picture left to us is singularly complete. The first day is a sort of farewell tribute to the waning glory of Buddha, and the second to the ancient majesty of the Vedic gods; but they only prepare the way for the culminating worship, on the third day, of the terrific figure of Shiva, who had already been raised to one of the highest, if not the highest, throne in the Hindu pantheon, which he still retains—Shiva, the master of life and death, whose favourite emblem is the phallus, and from whose third eye bursts forth the flame which is one day to consume the world. Around Harsha, and devouring his gifts until, at the end of two months, they are wholly exhausted, are the Brahmans, "born above the world, assigned to guard the treasury of duties, civil and religious," through whom alone the wrath of angry gods can be appeased and present and future life be made safe in the descending hierarchy of caste.