Some time ago I wrote and published, in a paper entitled "The Iliad and Odyssey of India," the following passages:- "There exist two colossal, two unparalleled, epic poems in the sacred language of India, -the Mahâbhârata and the Râmâyana, -which were not known to Europe, even by name, until Sir William Jones announced their existence; and one of which, the larger, since his time, has been made public only by fragments, by mere specimens, hearing to those vast treasures of Sanskrit literature such small proportion as cabinet samples of ore have to the riches of a mine. Yet these most remarkable poems contain almost all the history of ancient India, so far as it can be recovered; together with such inexhaustible details of its political, social, and religious life, that the antique Hindu world really stands epitomized in them. The Old Testament is not more interwoven with the Jewish race, nor the New Testament with the civilization of Christendom, nor the Koran with the records and destinies of Islam, than are these two Sanskrit poems with that unchanging and teeming Population which Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, rules as Empress of Hindustan. The stories, songs, and ballads; the histories and genealogies; the nursery tales and religious discourses; the art; the learning, the philosophy, the creeds, the moralities, the modes of thought, the very phrases, saying, turns of expression, and daily ideas of the Hindu people are taken from these poems. Their children and their wives are named out of them; so are their cities, temples, streets, and cattle. They have constituted the library, the newspaper, and the Bible-generation after generation-for all the succeeding and countless millions of Indian people; and it replaces patriotism with that race, and, stands in stead of nationality, to possess these two precious and inexhaustible books, and to drink from them as from mighty and overflowing rivers. The value ascribed in Hindustan to these too little known epics has transcended all literary standards established in the West. They are personified, worshipped, and cited as being something divine. To read or even listen to them is thought by the devout Hindu sufficiently meritorious to bring prosperity to his household here, and happiness in the next world; they are held also to give wealth to the poor, health to the sick, wisdom to the ignorant; and the recitation of certain parvas and shlokas in them can fill the household of the barren, it is believed, with children. A concluding passage of the great poem says:- "’The reading of this Mahâbhârata destroys all sin and produces virtue; so much so, that the pronunciation of a single shloka is sufficient to wipe away much guilt. This Mahâbhârata contains the history of the gods, of the Rishis in heaven and those on earth, of the Gandharvas and the Rákshasas. It also contains the life and actions of the one God, holy, immutable, and true,-who is Krishna, who is the creator and the ruler of this universe; who is seeking the welfare of his creation by means of his incomparable and indestructible power; whose actions are celebrated by all sages; who has bound human beings in a chain, of which one end is life and the other death; on whom the Rishis meditate, and a knowledge of whom imparts unalloyed happiness to their hearts, and for whose gratification and favor all the daily devotions are performed by all worshippers. If a man reads the Mahâbhârata and has faith in its doctrines, he is free from all sin, and ascends to heaven after his death.’" The present volume contains such translation, as have from time to time made out of this prodigious epic, which is seven-fold greater in bulk than the Illiad and Odyssey taken together. All the stories here extracted are new to English literature, with the exception of a few passages of the Sâvitrî and the "Nala and Damayanti," which was long ago most faithfully rendered by Dean Milman, the version being published side by side with a clear and excellent Sanskrit text edited by Professor Monier Williams, C. I. E. But that presentation of the beautiful and brilliant legend - with all its conspicuous merits - seems better adapted to aid the student than adequately to reproduce the swift march of narrative, and old-world charm of the Indian tale, which I, also, have therefore ventured to transcribe; with all deference and gratitude to my predecessors. I believe certain portions of the mighty poem which here appear, and many other episodes, to be of far greater antiquity than has been ascribed to the Mahâbhârata generally. Doubtless the "two hundred and twenty thousand lines" of the entire compilation contain in many places little and large additions and corrections, interpolated in Brahmanic or post- Buddhistic times; and he who ever so slightly explores this poetical ocean will, indeed, perceive defects, excrescences, differences, and breaks of artistic style or structure. But in the simpler and nobler sections the Sanskrit verse (ofttimes as musical and highly wrought as Homer’s own Greek) bears, as I think, testimony-by evidence too long and recondite for citation here-to an origin anterior to writing, anterior to Purânic theology, anterior to Homer, perhaps even to Moses.
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