1. The Language.—2. The Social Constitution of India. Brahmanism.—3. Characteristics of the Literature and its Divisions.—4. The Vedas and other Sacred Books.—5. Sanskrit Poetry; Epic; The Ramayana and Mahabharata. Lyric Poetry. Didactic Poetry; the Hitopadesa. Dramatic Poetry.—6.. History and Science.—7. Philosophy. 8. Buddhism.—9. Moral Philosophy. The Code of Manu.—10. Modern Literatures of India.—11. Education. The Brahmo Somaj.
1. THE LANGUAGE.—Sanskrit is the literary language of the Hindus, and for two thousand years has served as the means of learned intercourse and composition. The name denotes cultivated orperfected, in distinction to the Prakrit or uncultivated, which sprang from it and was contemporary with it.
The study of Sanskrit by European scholars dates less than a century back, and it is important as the vehicle of an immense literature which lays open the outward and inner life of a remarkable people from a remote epoch nearly to the present day, and as being the most ancient and original of the Indo-European languages, throwing light upon them all. The Aryan or Indo-European race had its ancient home in Central Asia. Colonies migrated to the west and founded the Persian, Greek, and Roman civilization, and settled in Spain and England. Other branches found their way through the passes of the Himalayas and spread themselves over India. Wherever they went they asserted their superiority over the earlier people whom they found in possession of the soil, and the history of civilization is everywhere the history of the Aryan race. The forefathers of the Greek and Roman, of the Englishman and the Hindu, dwelt together in India, spoke the same language, and worshiped the same gods. The languages of Europe and India are merely different forms of the original Aryan speech. This is especially true of the words of common family life. Father, mother, brother, sister, and widow, are substantially the same in most of the Aryan languages, whether spoken on the banks of the Ganges, the Tiber, or the Thames. The word daughter, which occurs in nearly all of them, is derived from the Sanskrit word signifying to draw milk, and preserves the memory of the time when the daughter was the little milkmaid in the primitive Aryan household.
It is probable that as late as the third or fourth century B.C. it was still spoken. New dialects were engrafted upon it which at length superseded it, though it has continued to be revered as the sacred and literary language of the country. Among the modern tongues of India, the Hindui and the Hindustani may be mentioned; the former, the language of the pure Hindu population, is written in Sanskrit characters; the latter is the language of the Mohammedan Hindus, in which Arabic letters are used. Many of the other dialects spoken and written in Northern India are derived from the Sanskrit. Of the more important among them there are English grammars and dictionaries.
2. SOCIAL CONSTITUTION OF INDIA.—Hindu literature takes its character both from the social and the religious institutions of the country. The social constitution is based on the distinction of classes into which the people, from the earliest times, have been divided, and which were the natural effect of the long struggle between the aboriginal tribes and the new race which had invaded India. These castes are four: 1st. The Brahmins or priests; 2d. The warriors and princes; 3d. The husbandmen; 4th. The laborers. There are, besides, several impure classes, the result of an intermingling of the different castes. Of these lower classes some are considered utterly abominable—as that of the Pariahs. The different castes are kept distinct from each other by the most rigorous laws; though in modern times the system has been somewhat modified.