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STORIES OF INDIA'S
GODS & HEROES

 

Stories of India's gods and heroes (1911) (14773288743).jpg

Fr.
(p. 70)
"Amazed she saw the Magic Deer"

STORIES of INDIA'S
GODS & HEROES


BY
W. D. Monro M.A.


WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS BY
Evelyn Paul

Stories of India's Gods & Heroes title page.jpg

 

NEW YORK
THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY
PUBLISHERS

 

UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, THE GRESHAM PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON.

Preface

THE word "Preface" suggests to many youthful minds something learned and dry, and the result is that the Preface is not read. Certainly a book of stories like these ought not to be burdened with anything dry at the outset; but if the stories themselves are to prove reasonably interesting, it will do no one any harm to know something about the books in which they are found and the people among whom the books were written.

The language in which these tales have come down to us is called Sanskrit, a name which has nothing to do with that of any people—like the names English, French, German, etc.—but is simply an adjective of which our term "high class," though not an exact translation, gives a good idea; because Sanskrit was the language spoken by the Brahmans,—i.e. the priests—and kings of various different nations of ancient India, while other classes of society commonly spoke what was called Prákrit, a vulgar form of Sanskrit.

Many centuries before the time of Christ, there came into India a people who called themselves Áryas, which means simply "nobles." From this name we derive the word "Aryan," denoting races belonging to the same great family, which includes, besides these invaders of India, many Western races, as may be easily seen by comparing Greek and Latin, and most modern languages of Europe, with the ancient Sanskrit.

The Aryan invasion of India doubtless covered many years, or even centuries; but it seems reasonable to think of 1500 B.C. as an average date for their settlement and earliest writings. From that time, they spread over the whole of Northern India, but made far less impression upon the South. The languages of Southern India are markedly different from those of the North; all the latter—excepting those of Mongolian or Muhammedan origin—bear the most evident tokens of close relationship to Sanskrit; and some words are used to this day in Northern India exactly as they appear in the most ancient Hindu Scriptures, not less than 3,000 years old.

These first Hindu Scriptures take the form of hymns, of which a large number were, sooner or later, gathered together in collections known as Vedas. Of these there are four, though one of them is clearly altogether later than the others, and is much less respected. The most famous of all is the Rig-Veda, a collection of rather over a thousand hymns. These are addressed to gods who bear a strong resemblance to the gods of the Norsemen—the distant cousins, so to speak, of these old Aryans, and who are nothing more nor less than the great forces of Nature personified. Fire and water, sky and sun, thunder and rain: all these and many lesser natural phenomena were worshipped under one name or another. And these hymns, as may be imagined, are full of every sort of myth and fancy drawn from the various manifestations of God in Nature.

As time goes on, we find, on the one hand, attempts to discover some foundation underlying this simple Nature-worship, to ask deeper questions on the problems of religion; and, on the other, new stories about the old gods, and new gods coming to join the ranks of the others, all with a strong tendency to exaggeration and to many things resembling and, unhappily, far surpassing in impropriety the grosser features of the Greek mythology.

While none of our stories are drawn wholly from the Veda, some of the characters mentioned in this book appear more or less frequently in the hymns. Vasishtha and Viswamitra are supposed to have written some of them; traces of the Urvasi myth appear; and many of the gods of whom we shall hear are mentioned, though the position they occupied in Vedic days changed, in many cases, as time went on.

Passing over a large mass of important literature attached to the Vedas—though some of it contains a great deal of matter similar to that from which our tales are drawn—we should notice next the great Epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The former deals with the South of India, the latter with the North. The word Ramayana simply means "Story of Rama," a great hero, who is represented as the seventh of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. This deity, according to Hindu legend, had appeared several times on earth already, generally in forms not human: for example, a fish, a tortoise, a boar, etc. This Vishnu, under one name or another, is, perhaps, the most popular of all the Hindu gods. Under the name of Rama, he still receives the worship of millions; and Krishna, the incarnation following Rama, is even more popular than his predecessor, though, according to Western notions, very much less worthy of honour.

The Ramayana is a poem of great length—about 60,000 lines—but it is short compared with the Mahabharata. This enormous poem—evidently the work of many hands, at widely differing dates—runs to no less than 210,000 lines as long as those of Macaulay's Armada. The main subject is the struggle between two branches of a royal family for supremacy in the country round Delhi; but every part of the poem abounds in "side shows" of every sort, and there are few well-known subjects or legends of Hindu religion which are not handled in the Mahabharata.

The main story of each of these great poems is shortly told in this book; and several of the minor tales are taken, either wholly or in part, from one or the other.

The last important class of books which gives us material for these tales is called the Puranas. These are, generally speaking, much later than the Epics, and some of them clearly belong to a date comparatively recent. The main idea of the Puranas is definitely religious, and most of them are written to glorify some god in particular. They generally begin with an account of the origin of the world, and go on to describe the various appearances and achievements of the god. The scope which this arrangement gives for stories of every kind is practically unbounded.

If we turn now to consider very briefly some of the most remarkable points about this great literature, the first thing to which I would draw attention is the vast period which it covers. We are fairly safe in carrying the limits of "classical" Sanskrit as late as about 1,000 A.D.—a very rough estimate, no doubt—and we thus see that, beginning with the Vedas, the whole covers a period of no less than 2,500 years. The Sanskrit of the Veda differs from that of the Epics much as the language of Homer differs from that of Sophocles; but we still have a period of something like 2,000 years during which the language has continued to put forth books great and small with less alteration in the style and vocabulary than has taken place during the last three centuries in Britain. This is due mainly, no doubt, to the fact that Sanskrit was a sacred language, and occupied, among the various kingdoms of India, a place similar to that taken by Latin during the Middle Ages in Europe.

Considering the enormous time which the literature had for its development, three further points strike us as remarkable.

In the first place, all the works from which these tales are taken, and the great majority of Sanskrit writings in general, are either properly religious or, at any rate, saturated with religious ideas. Gods and demons, prayers and sacrifices, appear everywhere. This is not without parallel, to some extent, in Western literatures; but in these the religious element, without being suppressed, has come to be only one of many branches of writing, generally within the course of a few centuries from the birth of any given literature.

Secondly, it is astonishing to find in a literature of such antiquity and extent as that of India, an almost entire lack of anything worthy of the name of history. A foundation of historical truth, doubtless, underlies both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and, possibly, parts of some Puranas. There is, again, a poem called the Rajatarangini, which relates, in poetry, the history of the kings of Kashmere at a certain epoch. But the great Epics and the Rajatarangini are, at best, a very poor and distant equivalent for that solid work of historical prose which has played so great a part in every important Western literature and in that of Muhammedan kingdoms as well. That little or nothing of the kind appears in the best twenty-five centuries of Sanskrit literature is a phenomenon truly extraordinary. Hundreds of racy and interesting stories may be culled from Persian and Arabic historical works; and it is deeply to be regretted that, from its many centuries and its vast opportunities of observation, ancient Hindu literature has left us no similar sources of instruction and entertainment.

It would not be fair to pass from the subject without some notice of a feature of Hindu literature which is the less attractive because so peculiarly characteristic. Exaggeration holds a place in these writings altogether without parallel in any literature of similar extent. For thousands and tens of thousands, the old Hindus wrote millions and billions, or millions of billions; and the dimensions of mountains, rivers, beasts, birds, fiends, etc., etc., are described in terms which are not merely absurd but often too wild to be even amusing. It must also be admitted that along with this rather wearisome feature one finds, in the records of Hindu gods and heroes, many things that are unpleasant and disgusting, not merely to ourselves, but to cultivated and even common-place Hindus: dark spots which only show the darker for the gaudy setting of fantastic miracles in which they are generally framed. For this book we have naturally chosen only the brightest and best, and the tendency to exaggeration has been moderated as far as possible, though to omit everything would be to disfigure the original beyond recognition and to present a picture of ancient Indian life quite remote from the truth.

I confess, for my part, that I find in the Wonderland of Hinduism no hero half as interesting as Odysseus, in the West, or Rustem, in the East. But, when all is said and done, I hope my readers will find among the heroes and heroines of these stories some who are worthy of their interest and not wanting in the best elements of dignity and courage.

W. D. M.

September, 1911.

 

Contents

chapter
page
 
I.
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
17
II.
The Tale of Rama & Sita
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
43
III.
The Tale of Prahlada, the Good Danava
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
108
IV.
The Tale of Kuvalayaswa
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
120
V.
The Tale of Savitri & Satyavan
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
144
VI.
The Tale of Nala & Damayanti
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
164
VII.
The Tale of the Pandava Brethren
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
180
 
Appendix
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
241
 
Index
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
249

 

Illustrations

"Amazed she saw the Magic Deer"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
Frontispiece

page

The Rider on the Snow-white Bull
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
20
"Whate'er thou desirest, Great Sage"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
32
The Breaking of the Bow of Janaka
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
46
"Rama launched at his Foe a Fearsome Bolt"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
100
"The God of Fire rose from the Midst"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
104
Prahlada overcoming the Elephants
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
110
The Meeting of Kuvalayaswa and Madalasa
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
128
Kuvalayaswa slays the Danavas
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
132
"Savitri laid down her Husband's Head"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
152
"The Maiden was loth to hearken to Nala's Message"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
166
"They gazed on her with Wonder"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
168
Draupadi dragged from her Chamber
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
196
"The Voice came to Him"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
200
"Bhima hurled his Mace with Fury"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
216
"Dark and Difficult was the Road"
.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .
234

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).