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PRINCIPAL DYNASTIES.

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sire capitals: first, Mahesvati, in Malwa; next, Allahabad, called the Pooraj, and afterward Hastinapoori, higher up the Ganges. Colonel Tod, upon some probable grounds, considers that the subjects of this empire must have entered it as invaders from the great plains of Scythia or Tartary. Several bloody wars were waged between these states, striving for pre-eminence or final conquest. The most dreadful of these contests took place at the close of the treta yug, in which almost all the powers of India appear to have been engaged. It is celebrated under the title of the Mahabarat, or great war, in the remarkable Hindoo composition bearing that title. The chief actors were Krishna, Arjoona, Yadhisthur, and Jarasandha; the first of whom has, as an incarnation of Vishnu, been enrolled among the principal deities. This sanguinary conflict appears to have terminated in the premature fate of almost all the leaders on both sides. The lunar and solar dynasties continued to reign contemporaneously, during almost the whole of the third, or dwapar yug. Yet the prevalence of fable is strongly marked in the genealogy of the leading princes throughout this period; one of whom is the offspring of Pavana, the god of the winds, another of Indra, or the firmament, a third of the river Ganges. These two lines, according to Sir William Jones, come down for thirty generations, into the cali yug, or present age, when both are supposed to have become extinct. There reigned, however, along with them another dynasty, sprung from the lunar branch, which rivalled and soon surpassed them both in power. This was that of the kings of Magadha, whom the Greeks found reigning at Palibothra over the greater part of the Gangetic provinces, and spreading their sway even to the remoter quarters of India. Chandragupta, after the murder of Nanda, one of the Magadha kings, became the founder of a new dynasty, called Maurya, and is supposed to be the same with Sandracottus, whom the ambassadors of Seleucus found ruling at Palibothra. Other successful usurpers established the dynasties of Sunga, Canna, and Andhra, till that of Magadha became extinct by the death of Chandrabija; which, according to Sir William Jones, took place in 452 B. C. Very considerable obscurity envelops the succession of during the next four hundred years. In that period there would seem to have been no extended empire, though Sir William Jones and Colonel Tod have collected lists of kings belonging to some detached and local dynasties. About the Christian era, however, Vicramaditya and Salivahana disputed the supremacy, and rank among the most potent of Indian warriors and sovereigns. The relations concerning them bear a somewhat more sober character. They rank as mortal, not as celestial, heroes; yet as Vicramaditya is said to have had power over spirits, and to have made captive the king of the devils, his contemporaries, it would seem, were by no means inclined to abandon their love of the marvellous. Malwa being mentioned as his favourite region, it may be concluded to have been his native one, and that he employed its rude inhabitants in extending his dominion over the more fertile provinces. Major Wil- ford has traced nine individuals to whom the name has been applied, of whom one appears contemporary with Solomon; and probably this may have been an appellative, like that of Cajsar, applied in succession to monarchs of the same dynasty. After this period, the history of the Hindoos again relapses into obscurity, giving occasion to Mr. Mill's remark, that while the annals of every other nation become more distinct as they approach a modern date, those of India, on the contrary, become darker and more imperfect. This is probably to be accounted for by the fact that the country had again ceased to be united in any extensive empire, being split into those small kingdoms which were successfully assailed by the Ghiznevide conqueror, before they could be induced to form a general league to oppose him. After this very imperfect sketch of the history of the Hindoo people, a more interesting and accessible object remains in the delineation of their mind and character. Under this view, their religious belief and mythology must first command our attention. It forms, as it were, the basis of their whole social existence. Their ceremonies employ every day, and almost every hour; its ministers rank above every other class, even above kings; there is no history, scarcely any poetry, but what relates to the actions of the gods and deified heroes. Unhappily, this devotion, unenlightened by divine instruction, and misled by the mysterious perversities of the human heart, instead of being

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PRINCIPAL DEITIES.

a lamp to their path, has involved them in an abyss of absurdity, and impelled them to follies, and even crimes, of which there is scarcely an example in any other pagan worship. Notwithstanding its extravagance, the Hindoo system claims attention, from its striking features, from the view which it affords of the history of the human mind, and from its paramount influence on the ideas and institutions of the natives themselves. It is impossible, therefore, without premising an outline of this religion, to convey any distinct idea of the character of those who profess it. The learned books of this people contain some sublime doctrines respecting the nature of the Deity. They distinctly recognise the existence of one supreme and invisible Author and Ruler of the universe. They even describe his attributes in lofty terms, superior to those employed in the philosophical writings of Plato, and approaching nearer than any other human composition to the delineations of the inspired penman. We may illustrate this by quoting the Gayatri, or holiest text of the Vedas, from Sir William Jones's translation.

"Let us adore the supremacy of that divine Sun, the Godhead, who illuminates all, who recreates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright in our progress towards his holy seat.

"What the sun and light are to this visible world, that are the Supreme Good and Truth to the intellectual and invisible universe; and as our corporeal eyes have a distinct perception of objects enlightened by the sun, thus our souls acquire certain knowledge by meditating on the light of truth, which emanates from the Being of beings; that is the light by which alone our minds can be directed in the path to beatitude.

"Without hand or foot he runs rapidly, and grasps firmly ; without eyes he sees, without ears he hears all; he knows whatever can be known; but there is none who knows him. Him the wise call the great supreme pervading Spirit."

The Supreme Mind, according to the Braminical system, displays its energies in the three grand operations of creating, preserving, and destroying. These are expressed by the letters A U M united in the mystic syllable O'M, which the Hindoo always pronounces with the profoundest veneration. These three powers are separately imbodied in Brama, Vishnu, and Siva, whose names, according to the philosophers, express only attributes of the one Supreme Mind; but the popular theology views them as distinct persons, with visible, human, and even fantastic forms, mixing with mortals, committing extravagant and often scandalous actions, controlled and oppressed by inferior deities, giants, and even by men. Their history accordingly presents a strange collection of the loftiest and the meanest, the purest and most corrupted features in moral nature.* * In the engraving here given of the principal Hindoo deities, the figure in the centre, with four heads, is Brama. On his right, in front, is Vishnu, and behind, Indra. On the left, Rama is seated in front, while Siva stands behind. These figures are taken from Sir William Jones, Asiatic Researches, vol. i., except Siva, the representation of whom is borrowed from Sonnera.

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VISHNU HIS AVATARS. 215

"To Brama, the first and highest person in the Hindoo trinity, is assigned the work of creation. Mr. Ward thinks that he is considered by the Indian sages as the Soul of the world; yet, from the examination of their writings, it does not appear that they took so refined a view of the subject. They represent him rather as having produced or drawn the universe out of himself, so that all that ever was, or is, once formed a part of his essence. His own origin was very singular. The Supreme Mind, it is said, having by a thought created the waters, laid in them an egg, which remained inactive for many millions of years, till Brama, by the energy of his own thought, caused it to divide, and from it he himself was born in the shape of the divine male, famed in all worlds as the great forefather of spirits. Brama, among the Indian deities, holds decidedly the pre-eminence, sharing even the essence of the Supreme Mind; yet, perhaps from the very circumstance of this lofty position, he attracts comparatively little attention or worship. He has neither temples erected, nor sacrifices offered to him, nor festivals celebrated in his honour. He gives name indeed to the great caste of the Bramins or priests; but no sects derive from him their appellation, or specially devote their lives to his service. In return the priests in regard to him have indulged less in those scandalous and indecent fictions which crowd the history of inferior divinities. Vishnu, in the sacred annals of India, makes a much more frequent and conspicuous figure. In his character of preserver, or more properly deliverer, he is represented as having interposed whenever the world and the race of men were threatened with anypeculiar danger. The avatars of Vishnu, his descents to the earth in various animated forms, furnish the most fertile theme of Hindoo legend and poetry. The chiefs and heroes whose exploits appeared to indicate a celestial origin were considered as incarnations of this deity. These illustrious personages, in becoming Vishnu, did not lose altogether their own identity; they acquired a sort of compound existence, and had worship paid to them under both characters. It were tedious as well as disgusting, to trace at any length the many marvellous and ridiculous transformations ascribed to this god. A few instances will afford a sufli

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