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The Great Epic of India (Character and Origin of the Mahabharata)



  • Dimensions:8.8 inch X 6.0 inch
  • Edition:1993
  • Author:E. Washburn Hopkins
  • Publisher:Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  • ISBN:8120809955
  • Cover Type:Hardcover
  • Number of Pages:480
  • From the Jacket

    Long ago when this book first appeared in the opening year of the century the Great Epic, Mahabharata, had not been thoroughly examined to see what literature it reflected, had not received a careful investigation from the metrical side, its philosophy had been reviewed only in a most haphazard fashion, and its relation to other epic poetry had been almost ignored. Yet critic after critic had passed judgement on the question of the date and origin of this poem, of which scholars knew as yet scarcely more than that; before a definitive answer could be given, the whole huge structure must be studied from many points of view. Such was the academic situation which prompted the present author to undertake a serious study of the Epic. During an almost whole century since then no appreciable improvement in the situation has been seen and no brilliant study on the subject, worth the name, has seen the light of the day, so far as the basic issues are concerned. This work thus still has its relevance and demand.

    The sub-title of the book places analysis before speculation and the author begins his study with an examination of the character of the Epic which, he rightly thinks, one should do when the origin of a work is unknown and one wishes to discover it, as the present case is.


    Tm sub-title of this book places analysis before speculation. In recent studies of the great epic this order has been reversed, for a method calling itself synthesis has devoted itself chiefly to dwelling on epic uniformity, and has either discarded analysis altogether or made it subject to the results of “synthetic” speculation.

    The best way, of course, to take up the historical investigation of a literary product the origin of which is well known is to begin with the source and afterwards to study the character of the completed whole. But if the origin be unknown, and we wish to discover it, we must invert the process, and begin our study with an examination of the character of the work. When the results of our analysis become plain, we may group together those elements which appear to have existed from the first, and thus, on the basis of analysis, reconstruct the past. To begin with a synthesis (so called) of whatever is preserved in the product, and so to postulate for the beginning exactly what we find to be the completed whole, is a process that leads us only to the point from which we started. As vaguely incorrect as is the designation synthesis for the method so called is the method itself, which thus does away with all analysis. Analysis is an examination of constituents. As a method it is, like any other, obnoxious to error, but it is not on that account an erroneous method. It is in fact, as turned upon history, nothing but inevitable critique; and synthesis without such critique becomes merely the exploitation of individual opinion, which selects what pleases it and rejects, without visible cause, what is incompatible with the synthetic scheme.

    In the case of the great epic of India, the peremptory demand that we should reject the test of analysis is the more remarkable as the poem has never been completely analyzed. The literature mentioned in it has been ably collected in the well-known memoirs of Professor Holtzmann, who has also indicated what in his opinion may be supplied from allusions; but the poem has not been thoroughly examined to see what literature it reflects from the age of the later Upanishads or Vedic schools; it has, not received a careful investigation from the metrical side; its philosophy has been reviewed only in the most haphazard fashion; and its inner relation to other epic poetry has been almost ignored. Yet critic after critic has passed judgment on the question of the date and origin of this poem, of which we know as yet scarcely more than that, before a definitive answer can be given, the whole huge structure must be studied from many points of view. And last of all the synthesist comes also, with his ready-made answer to a problem the conditions of which have not yet been clearly stated.

    Thus far, indeed, the synthetic theory has not succeeded in winning over a single scholar to accept its chief conclusions, either as regards the contention that the epic was composed 500 B. C., or in respect of the massed books of didactic material and their original coherence with the narrative. Though the results of the method have not proved to be entirely nugatory, yet they are in the main irreconcilable with a sober estimate of the date and origin of the epic; but the hypothesis is, in truth, only a caricature of Buhler’s idea, that the epic was older than it was thought to be. In its insistence upon the didactic element as the base of the whole epic tale it bears a curious resemblance to a mediaeval dogma, the epitaph of which was written long ago. For there were once certain ingenious alchemists who maintained that the Legend of the Golden Fleece was a legend only to the multitude, whereas to the illuminati it was a didactic narrative teaching the permutation of other metals into gold; on the tomb of which brilliant but fallacious theory was finally inscribed

    But though this theory has failed as a whole, yet, owing to the brilliant manner in which it was first presented by its clever inventor, and perhaps also to its sharing in the charm which attaches to all works of the imagination, it has had a certain success with those who have not clearly distinguished between what was essential and adventitious in the hypothesis. The Rev. Mr. Dahlmann, to whom we owe the theory, has shown that epic legends and didactic motif are closely united in the epic as it is to-day; but this is a very different proposition from that of his main thesis, which is that complete books of didactic content were parts of the original epic. One of these statements, is an indubitable fact; the other, an historical absurdity.

    This historical absurdity, upheld by the Rev. Mr. Dahlmann in a rapidly appearing series of somewhat tautological volumes, is of much wider application than has perhaps occurred to the author. For in the later additions, which the Rev. Mr. Dahlmann regards as primitive parts of the epic, are found those sections which reflect most clearly the influence of Buddhism. If these sections revert to 500 B. C., all that Buddha as a personality stands for in the history of Hindu religious thought and practice belongs not to him but to his antecedents, and therewith vanishes much, of the glory of Buddha. Though the author has not publicly recognized this obvious result of his theory, yet, since it is obvious, it may have appeared to some that such a darkening of the Light of Asia added glory to the Light of the World, and this is possibly the reason why the synthetic theory has been received with most applause by the reviewers of religious journal, who are not blind to its bearings. But however important inferentially, this is a side-issue, and the historian’s first duty is to present the facts irrespective of their implication.

    On certain peculiarities (already adversely criticised by disinterested scholars) characteristic less of the method of investigation than of the method of dialectics which it has suited the Rev. Mr. Dablmann to adopt, it is superfluous to animadvert in detail. Evidence suppressed by one seeker, in his zeal for truth as he see it, is pretty sure to be turned up by another who has as much zeal and another method; nor has invective ever proved to be a satisfactory substitute for logic. As regards the claims of synthesis and analysis, each method has its place, but analysis will always have the first place. After it has done its work there will be time for honest synthesis.

    The material here offered is by way of beginning, not by way of completing, the long task of analyzing the great epic. It is too varied for one volume, and this volume has suffered accordingly, especially in the chapters on philosophy and the interrelation of the epics. But the latter chapter was meant only as a sketch, and its worth, if it has any, lies in its appendix; while the former could be handled adequately only by a philosopher. The object of these and other chapters was partly to see in how far the actual data rendered probable the claims of the synthetic method, but more particularly to give the data without concealment or misstatement. For this reason, while a great deal of the book is necessarily directed against what appeared to be errors of one sort or another, the controversial point of view has not seldom been ignored. Pending the preparation of a better text than is at present available, though Dr. Winternitz encourages the hope of its eventual appearance, the present studies are intended merely as signboards to aid the journey toward historical truth. But even if, as is hoped, they serve to direct thither, they will be rendered useless as they are passed by. Whether they are deficient in their primary object will be for travellers on the same road to say.




    The Vedas 2
    Division of Veda 7
    Upanishads 9
    Upavedas and Upangas 11
    Sutras 15
    Dharmacastras 17
    Vedic citations in the Epic 23
    Upanishads in the Epic 27
    The Cvetacvatara Upanishad 28
    The Kathaka or Katha Upanishad 29
    The Maitri Upanishad in the Epic 33
    The Atharvaciras Upanishad 46
    Acvalayana Grhya Sutra 47
    Puranas and Itihasas 47
    Drama 54
    Epic Systems 85
    Heretics 86
    Authority 90
    EPIC PHILOSOPHY-Continued  
    Vedanta 93
    Nyaya 95
    Vaicesika 96
    The Four Philosophies 96
    Kapila and his System 97
    Samkhya and Yoga 101
    Fate and Free-Will 103
    Samkhya is atheistic 104
    Yoga as deistic and brahmaistic 106
    Difference between Samkhya and Yoga 111
    Sects 115
    The different Schemata 118
    The Gunas 119
    Plurality of Spirits 122
    The Twenty-fifth Principle 125
    Samkhya is Samkhyana 126
    The Samkhya Scheme 127
    The Twenty-sixth Principle 133
    Maya, Self-Delusion 138
    Pancacikha’s System 142
    The Thirty-one Elements (Pancacikha) 152
    The Secret of the Vedanta 157
    Details of philosophical speculation 162
    The Sixty Constituents of Intellect 163
    The Seventeen 165
    The Sixteen (A) Particles 168
    The Sixteen (B) or Eleven Modifications 169
    The Eight Sources 170
    The Vital Airs and Senses 171
    The five Subtile Elements. Gross and Subtile Bodies 173
    The Colors of the Soul 179
    The Five faults of a Yogin 181
    Discipline of the Yogin 181
    The Destructible and Indestructible 182
    The Gods and the Religious Life 183
    Heaven and Hell-Death 184
    The Cosmic Egg and Creations 187
    The Grace of God 188
    Epic Versification 191
    Cloka and Tristubh. The Padas 194
    Rhyme 200
    Alliteration 202
    Similes and Metaphors. Pathetic Repetition 205
    Cadence in Cloka and Tristubh 207
    Tags 211
    Common forms of Cloka and Tristubh 214
    Epic Versification 191
    Cloka and Tristubh. The Padas 194
    Rhyme 200
    Alliteration 202
    Similes and Metaphors. Pathetic Repetition 205
    Cadence in Cloka and Tristubh 207
    Tags 211
    Common forms of Cloka and Tristubh 214
    The Epic Cloka. The Prior Pada of the Cloka. The Pathya 219
    The Vipulas 220
    The Posterior Pada of the Cloka 239
    The Diiambus 242
    Poetic Licence 244
    The Hyopermetric Cloka 252
    Dialectic Sanskrit 261
    Prose-Poetry Tales 266
    The Epic Tristubh. I, The Regular Tristubh in the Mahabharata 273
    Bird’s eye View of Tristubh Padas 275
    The Ramayana Tristubh 276
    The Scolius 277
    Catalectic and Hypermetric Tristubhs 281
    ii-iii, The Catalectic Tristubh 282
    iv-ix, The Hypermetric Tristubh. iv-vi, Simple Hypermeters 286
    vii-ix, Double Hypermeters or Tristubhs of Thirteen Syllables 298
    Defective Tristubhs 299
    v, b, and ix, Mora-Tristubhs 301
    The Tristubh-Stanza. Upajatis. Upendravajras and Indravajras 309
    The Syllaba Anceps 314
    Emergent Stanzas 317
    The Fixed Syllabic Metres 321
    Rathoddhata 322
    Bhujamgaprayata 323
    Drutavilambita 324
    Vaicvadevi 325
    Atijagatis. Rucira 326
    The Fixed Syllabic Metres (continued)-  
    Praharsini 329
    Mrgendramukha 331
    Asambadha 332
    Vasantatilaka 333
    Malini 334
    Cardulavikridita 336
    Ardhasamavrtta (Matrachandas). A – Puspitagra and Aparavaktra 336
    B – Aupacchandasika and Vaitaliya 341
    Matrachandas in the Mahabharata 343
    Matrasamakas 353
    Ganacchandas 354
    The Distribution of Fancy Metres in the Epic 356
    Appendix A. Parallel Phrases in the Two Epics 403
    Appendix B. Illustration of Epic Cloka Forms 446
    Appendix C. Illustrations of Epic Tristubh Forms 459
    INDICES 477

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