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History of Sanskrit Literature

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History of Sanskrit Literature
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Item Code: NAF937
Author: A.A. Macdonell
Publisher: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788180901546
Pages: 280
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 512 gms
About The Book

This book is about the Sanskrit literature in various aspects e.g., Sanskrit literature in ancient or Vedic period, later vedic period, early post-vedic period epic and classical literature and technical literature. Vernacular and Indian languages have also been touched. Sindhi, Bengali, Assamese, Tamil, Malaylam have also been touched. Religious and literary personalities such as Tukaram, Rabindranath Tagore have also found place in the book. By and large, the language and the contents of the book are so interesting that they make the book must for the students and the scholars of the Sanskrit literature.



This work summarizes India’s intellectual history, which in its various aspects has been the subject of my studies for slightly more than half a century (1875 to 1926). It sets forth in nine chapters the mental development of the most easterly branch of Aryan civilization since it entered India by land till it came in contact by sea with the most westerly branch of the same civilization after a separation of at least 3,000 years. The four centuries that have since elapsed (1498 to 1926) are here touched upon only as showing the most recent distribution of the Indian vernaculars and the rise of their literatures, as well as the process by which the development of the purely indigenous period gradually became known to the new-corners from the west. This process was so slow that three centuries passed before the alien arrivals recognized that they themselves were the inheritors of a civilization which was the same in origin as that of the recently occupied eastern land. An account of the influence of this western civilization on that prevailing in modern India, I have left to the political history of the last four centuries; for it would in any case have proved too extensive as well as unsuitable for inclusion in this volume. All such matter will be found in The Oxford History of India by the late Dr. Vincent Smith. An actual ground covered by the present volume is The introductory chapter describes the physical India and their resulting effect on migrations of into this area. The next chapter tells of the later literature, and the religion of the earliest period of Aryans in India. Then follows an account of the later Vedic period and the introduction of writing. The fourth chapter describes the early post-Vedic age, including the rise of Jainism and Buddhism as well their art. The next chapter deals with the epic and classical literature of India. The sixth chapter is concerned with Indian stories, fairy tales, and fables, together with their important place in world literature. The seventh chapter treats of the various aspects of technical literature such as grammar, lexicorgraphy, philosophy, law, practical arts, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. The next chapter embraces the vernacular languages of India and their literatures. The final chapter shows how Europeans became acquainted with India’s past by a study of her early literature, her inscriptions, her archaeology, and her coinage, pointing out the most efficient means of extracting from these sources further facts relating to the past. It also gives some account of the labours of those scholars by whom India’s bygone history has been recovered.

Each chapter concludes with a selected bibliography including works that supply further references. For the range of our knowledge of India’s past is now so extensible that the information supplied by this book could only cover the main and essential points, the selected bibliography being intended to serve as an up-to-date and trustworthy guide for both the general reader and the student in whichever direction further details are sought. The contents are meant, within a small compass, to direct the English and the Indian reader through the long time from the beginning of the Vedic age down to when the modem European became acquainted Indo-Aryan. These two civilizations, starting from a common source, have after a separation of at least 3,000 years again become united during the last four centuries, representing together a quarter of the total of the earth’s inhabitants. During these four centuries the new-corners from the west have gained acquaintance with and recovered the history of India’s past mental development. All this, as set forth in the following pages, will, I trust, contribute something to clearer mutual understanding by two civilizations which in their origin were one and the same.



Physical characteristics of India Two great triangular areas: Hindustan, continental, shut off by mountain ranges; Deccan, maritime, shut off by the sea Land access by migration practicable on north-west only Three great river systems of Hindustan Early trade between Mesopotamia and west coast of Deccan Arabian coasting trade Discovery of maritime route from Europe to India in 1498 Its results Recent archaeological discoveries in the Indus valley Their interpretation as yet uncertain.

A glance at the physical map of the world suffices to show that no country forming part of the old continents, in which the civilization of mankind has been evolved, is so isolated by nature as India. Rhomboidal in outline or roughly diamond-shaped, it extends from its northern angle in Kasmir to Cape Comorin as its southern most extremity; and from the mouths of the Indus in the west to somewhat beyond the estuary of the Brahmaputra in the east, its utmost length, some 1,900 miles, being about equal to its greatest breadth. Its total area, which, excluding Burma, covers a surface of rather more than one million and a half square miles, is somewhat larger than fifteen times that of Great Britain. It is divided by the tropic of Cancer (23° N. lat.) into a northern and a southern triangle. These are separated from west to east across the greater width of the peninsula by the Vindhya and other connected ranges that lie between the longitude of Mount Abu (73° E.) and Parasnäth Hill (87° E.). The northern triangle consists of an alluvial plain, which in an earlier geological age formed the floor of the ocean, but in later, though still prehistoric, times became raised above the level of the sea. It is continental in character, being surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. On the west it is shut off from the neighbouring countries of Asia by high mountains. On the east it is separated from Burma by a series of high hills and by impenetrable jungle. On the north it is bounded by the most stupendous range in the world, at least 1,400 miles in length and about 19,000 ft. in height, its peaks varying from 25,000 to 29,000 ft. In this great barrier there are some mountain tracks by which men have found their way to India. Such are the passes from the Pamirs by Gilgit, as well as those from Tibet by Leh, by the gorge of the Sutlej, and by Sikkim. But these are not highways by which migrations or invasions from the north have reached or could reach southwards to India. Nor has the eastern frontier, protected by hills and jungles, ever been exposed to hostile attack. It is only on the western side, though even this is guarded by almost continuous ranges of lofty hills, that from time immemorial immigration, conquest, and commerce made their way before 1500 A.D. by narrow roads into India. Access can here be gained either from southern Balochistan by the rocky track leading to the Indus delta, or from Afghanistan by the Bolan, the Tochi, and the Khaibar passes, as well as by the river valleys of the Komal, the Kurram, and the Kabul, to the banks of the Indus farther north.

Only through the western gateways have passed the two major invasions that have vitally affected the fortunes of India. By this way came in prehistoric times the wave of Aryan migration that overspread India with its civilization from that day to this. It was perhaps two thousand years or more afterwards that the Semitic conquest by Islam began on the western frontier about 700 A.D. A considerable part of India was held under this alien despotic sway for more than seven hundred years, down to the middle of the eighteenth century. This dominion, though unifying India politically, did not essentially modify its civilization, in spite of the fact that one-fifth of the entire population professes Islam at the present day. With the exception of the Greeks, from 326 B.C. till about 200 A.D., only Asiatics have come in contact with the continental half of India by land.

This great northern plain is enclosed not only by mountain ranges but by rivers on every side. Two of the three largest of these rise close together in Tibet, near the great Kailäsa group of peaks and the Mãnasarovar lake at the back and about the middle of the Himalayan barrier. The Indus in the first half of its course follows a north-westerly direction; then, bending round the extremity of the Himalayan chain, it flows southward till it falls into the Arabian Sea just north of the tropic of Cancer. Its whole course is about 1,500 miles in length. The Brahmaputra, rising slightly to the east of Lake Manasarowar (c.82,° E.), after an easterly course of many hundreds of miles through Tibet, turns southward at the end of the Himalayan range (c.96.° E.) and, flowing slightly westward of Dacca, finally enters the Bay of Bengal somewhat to the south of the tropic of Cancer, almost opposite the mouths of the Indus on the other side of India. Its whole length is about 100 miles.

The third great river of northern India, the Ganges (in Sanskrit Ganga), which is about 1,540 miles long, uses (c. 80°E.) somewhat to the south-west of the sources of the Indus and the Brahmaputra. Breaking through the southern range of the central Himalaya, it flows in a south-easterly direction through the eastern half of the alluvial plain of Hindustan. At Goalanda it joins the Meghna, the largest and most easterly estuary of the Brahmaputra. Between this and the Hugli, the most westerly and main branch of the Ganges, lies the combined delta of the two mighty rivers.

Parallel to the southern slopes of the Vindhya range, which shuts off the northern plain, flows the Narbada river from its source at Amarkantak (82°E.) with a slight northern trend past Jabalpur (80°E.) and then westward, by Broach2 (thirty miles from its mouth) to the Bay of Cambay.

The area of the great alluvial plain of northern India is called by the Persian name of Hindustan, the ‘country of the Indus’, the river on the western side of the country, with which foreigners first became acquainted.

The area of the great alluvial plain of Hindustan is shut off by the Vindhya range, which forms the northern buttress of the Deccan, the name of southern India, the whole of which lies within the tropics south of the Narbadã river. It is a rocky plateau, bounded on both sides by high ridges of hills called Ghäts, which are separated by narrow strips of lowland on the west from the Arabian Sea, and on the east from the Bay of Bengal. The plateau slopes gradually from the western Ghats, which average about 3,000 ft. in height, to the eastern Ghats which are 1,500 ft high. Owing to this fact many of the rivers of the Deccan rise near its western edge and all fall into the eastern sea.

Though less exposed to migration and conquest from the rest of Asia than Hindustän, the Deccan did not oppose a difficult barrier to Aryan incursion within India itself, as is proved by the occurrence of Indo-Aryan inscriptions quite in the south, dating from as early as the third century B.C. But at a later period Muhammadan rule did not acquire so firm a hold of the Deccan as it did of Hindustan.

Contact with the outer world by land has always been restricted to Hindustan. More Than 500 years before Christ the region on both sides of the Indus, comprising the western Panjab and Sindh, from the district in ancient times called Gandhãra (with its capital Taxila, twenty miles north of the modern Rawal Pindi) to the mouths of the Indus, became (from 530 B.C.) and remained part of the neighbouring Persian Empire till the destruction of that empire by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.

The Deccan was really more completely isolated from the rest of the world by the sea than Hindustãn by its mountain barriers, till little more than four centuries ago. While every cape and bay of the Mediterranean and East Africa were known to the Phoenicians, the coasts of India seem to have remained unknown to them. But the evidence available warrants the belief that maritime commerce between India and Babylon by the Persian Gulf flourished from about 700 to 480 B.C. Specially Indian products rice, peacocks, and sandalwood were known in the west by their Tamil designations. That they must have been imported from the west coast of India into Babylon by sea is an inference to be drawn from an early Buddhist book, dating from perhaps 400 B.C.

The Indian products must have been first imported not later than the sixth century B.C. because direct intercourse between Babylon and India practically ceased after 480 B.C. and because rice and peacocks must have reached Greece at the latest by about 460 B.C., so as to become familiar at Athens in the time of Sophocles (495-406 B.C.). Corroboration of the date of the early trade between Mesopotamia and India is supplied by the alphabetical Phoenician writing, which was introduced into India and must have been in use there not later than about 700 B.C. A similar conclusion is indicated by numismatic evidence: the oblong silver coins bearing no legend and known as puranas, which are the oldest coinage of India and are represented by Buddhist bas-reliefs of the second century B.C., resembled the coins of Babylon of about 500 B.C. and are noteable probably an imitation of them.

When Babylon and Egypt declined, the merchants of Yemen in South Arabia entered into the commercial inheritance of those two countries, and the greater part of the trade with India, as well as with equatorial Africa, passed into their hands. But the Arabs do not seem to have been among the early sea-going races, though southern Arabian tribes were from remote ages the carriers of the East. Their caravans traversed the Arabian peninsula in every direction, but their traffic was by land and not by sea.

With the establishment of Islam, in 622 A.D., the trade of the Arabs spread not only on land over a great part of Asia Minor, the Black Sea region, northern Africa and south-western Europe, but also acquired control of the harbours of the Arabian Sea and the African coasts, as well as of the maritime route from the Persian Gulf to India and China.

Contact with the rest of Asia by sea thus remained restricted to the coasting trade on the western side of India down to the end of the fifteenth century A.D. Then for the first time India became known to the nations of Europe by maritime intercourse. The discovery of the ocean route to India by Vasco da Gama, in 1498, brought India not only within the range of world commerce, but under the influence of Western civilization. It has led to the establishment of a new empire which, though like that of Rome in being incorporated and ruled from the centre, is gradually being attained to progress and the attainment of autonomous powers. The result is that India has already been more westernized on the surface than any other Asiatic country. The European influence, superficial though it still may be, found in the inevitable march of progress, to modify with everlasting rapidity its indigenous civilization in all its aspects: political, economic, social, educational, intellectual religious, and moral.

In the new era the European settlers, whose chief interest was commercial, became acquainted, though in a very imperfect manner, with the latest forms of Indian language, custom, and religion. But after the consolidation of British rule, in the middle of the eighteenth century, administrators and scholars began to study with increasing intensity India’s past in all its aspects literary, linguistic, religious, archaeological. The result of their aggregate researches is that the history of Indian civilization has in every direction been reconstructed and revealed to the modern world. It can now be presented to the reader as a whole, not only as a picture of the past, but as a guide for the days that are to come.

After Alexander’s invasion, in 326 B.C., we have from about 300 B.C. fairly clear archaeological evidence of man’s activities in India. This supplies the basis on which the early political history of India has been established. But before the third century B.C. we have only glimmerings of what happened on Indian soil. We have had nothing more than prehistoric graves in the south and some cyclopean walls at Rajagrha in the north to throw uncertain light on the remoter past. Suddenly there has been revealed by the operations of the archaeological survey of India, quite recently, a new class of objects which may illuminate, much better the prehistoric period of the country. At present (1926), however, they furnish insufficient evidence to establish their age and origin. These finds lie at two sites in the Indus region, 400 miles apart, at Harappa in the lower Panjab, about half-way between Multan and Lahore on the railway, and at Mohenjodaro in the Larkhana district of Sindh on the Indus. At both sites there are numerous artificial mounds rising as much as sixty feet above the plain and especially conspicuous along dried-up beds of the main stream of the Indus. There is little doubt that this region will prove a valuable area for systematic archaeological exploration. At Mohenjodaro has been found in the dry bed of the river a Buddhist stupa of the second century A.D. Below this have been excavated at least two other strata containing brick structures, the character and age of which can as yet only be conjectured. The remains at these two sites consist of pottery painted and plain, some hand-made, some turned on the wheel ; terracottas ; new types of coins; dice and chessmen; a number of engraved and inscribed seals. The legends on the stone seals are engraved in an unknown script, the figures and style being different from anything in Indian art; but they show a certain general affinity to the pictographs of the Mycenaean age. The coins here found may turn out to be the oldest in existence, the earliest as yet known being the Lydian coins of the seventh century B.C. Iron is found only in the latest layer of these deposits. The culture here revealed must have extended over many centuries, but seems to have come to an end not long before the rise of the Maurya dynasty (320 B.C.).

Nothing very definite can yet be said about this newly discovered forgotten civilization. It may have developed in the Indus valley and have died out without any influence on the civilization of India proper. Similarity has already been discovered between Plaques found here and tablets found at Susa. This similarity may point to intercourse between Susa and north-western India. It is possible that the people who made these seals were in close contact with Sumerian civilization, and borrowed their artistic style and the elements of their writing from the Sumerians at some period about 3000-2800 B.C. We must, however, await the results of careful research before being able to decide what light, if any, these recent discoveries can throw on the early civilization of India. Though the excavations began to be made some four years ago, nothing about them was known in England till the appearance of some articles and letters regarding them by Sir John Marshall and others in the last quarter of 1924.




1 Introduction 1
2 The Ancient or Vedic Period 9
3 The Later Vedic Period 36
4 Early Post-Vedic Period (c. 500 B.C. to 1 AD.) 46
5 The Later Sanskrit Period: Epic and Classical Literature 64
6 Stories, Fairy Tales, and Fables 94
7 Technical Literature 110
8 Vernacular Indian Languages and Literature 158
9 The Recovery of India’s Past 191
  Index 223
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