A History of Indian Literature Vol.1Vol I. Introduction, Veda, National Epics, Puranas and Tantras

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Item Code: ISL37
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Author: Maurice Winternitz Trans. From the original German by Mrs. S.Ketkar and Miss B.Kohn
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 8121501001
Pages: 635 (Vol I. Introduction, Veda, National Epics, Puranas and Tantras)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 6.5" x 10.0"
Weight 1.05 kg
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Book Description

About the Book:

History of Indian Literature is a classic work covering the entire gamut of Indian secular and religious literature including epic, Iyric, dramatic and didactic poetry, as well as narrative and scientific prose. It includes not only the large number of works of religious literature - hymns, sacrificial songs, incantations, myths and legends, sermons, theological treatises, polemical writings, manuals of instruction on ritual and religious discipline but also the Iyrical and dramatic works, including the two great epics, the fairy-tales, fables, prose-narratives, the belles-lettres and works on various sciences.

The inclusion of this vast material, covering almost three thousand years of literary activity, could not be compressed into a single volume. Hence this was divided into two volumes by the author. Volume I includes, besides an introductory chapter, the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Tantras, while volume II deals with the Buddhist and the Jaina literature with an Index at the end of each volume.

About the Author:

Maurice Winternitz was born in Austria on 23 December 1863. After the completion of his studies at his native town, he entered the University of Vienna in 1880 for higher studies. In 1885, he was awarded doctorate for his theses on 'Ancient Indian marriage ritual according to Apastamba, compared with the marriage customs of the Indo-European peoples.' In 1898 he went over to Oxford as an amanuensis of Prof. Max Muller where he stayed for 16 years during which he worked for the preparation of the second edition of the Rgveda. During this period, he began the task of cataloguing the Vedic manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and the Whish Collection of South Indian manuscripts at the Royal Asiatic Society, London, besides working on a General Index to the 49 Volumes of the Sacred Books of the East series. In 1899, he was appointed Lecturer of Indo-Aryan Philology and Ethnology at the University of Prague and, in 1911, to the chair. In 1904, he established a special library of Indology and Ethnology at the University. He came to India, in 1922 at the invitation of Rabindranath Tagore. During the sojourn in India, he delivered lectures at Universities and learned societies. He also wrote over 450 articles. He died on 9 January 1937.

Preface To The English Translation

Both in Santiniketan, where I held the visiting professor- ship at Visvabharati University in 1922-23, and elsewhere in India, I often heard expressions of regret that my 'History of Indian Literature,' written in German, was not accessible to the majority of Indian students. I talked about this to some of my Indian friends, and one day Professor Tarapore- wala suggested that an English translation might be pub- lished by the University of Calcutta .. He spoke about it to the late Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, the great cbampion and inspirer of Oriental Studies in Calcutta University. who at once showed great interest in the work, and at his suggestion the Syndicate of the University agreed to undertake the publica- tion. It was not difficult to find a translator. When I came to Poena in November, 1922, to visit the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, I was introduced to Dr. S. V. Ketkar, the learned Editor of the Marathi Encyclopaedia, and to my great surprise he sbowed me two big volumes, containing a type- written English translation of the first two. volumes of my "History of Indian Literature." The translation, I under- stood, was the work of Mrs. Ketkar, who had made it for the use of her husband, not for publication. Mrs. Ketkar, being German by her mother tongue, English by education, and Indian by marriage, seemed to me as if predestined for the work, and she agreed to revise and rewrite her translation for tile purpose of publication.

But not only the translator had to revise her work, I myself had to revise mine. The first part of the German original, dealing with Vedic literature, had been published in 1905, the second part, treating the Epic and Puranic literature, in 1908. It was, therefore, necessary to revise the whole work for the English translation, in order to bring it up to date. Man) chapters had to be rewritten entirely, smaller changes, corrections and additions, had to be made almost on every page, and the more important publications of the last twenty years bad to be added to the references in the Notes. Thus this English translation is at, the same time a second, revised and, I hope, improved edition of the original work.

It is not for me to say how far the translator has succeed- ed in her task. But I know that she has spared no pains to make her translation as accurate and us readable as possible. And for this it is my pleasant duty to thank her. I have also to thank my pupil Wilhelm Gampert for preparing the Index.


The history of Indian literature is the history of the mental activity of at least 3,000 years, as expressed in speech and writing. The home of this mental activity which has been almost uninterruptedly continuous through thousands of years, is a land which reaches from the Hindu-kush to Cape Comorin and covers an area of one and a half millions of square miles, equalling in extent the whole of Europe with the exception of Russia,-a land which stretches from 8° to 35° N. Lat., that is, from the hottest regions of the Equator to well within the temperate zone. But the influence which this literature, already in ancient times, exerted over the mental life of other nations, reaches far beyond the boundaries of India to Further India, to Tibet, as far as China, Japan and Korea, and in the South over Ceylon and the Malay Peninsula far away over the islands of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, while to the West the tracks of Indian mental life may be traced far into Central Asia to Eastern Turkestan, where, buried in the sands of the desert, Indian manuscripts have been found.

As regards its contents, Indian literature embraces everything which the word "literature" comprises in its widest sense: religious and secular, epic, lyric, dramatic and didactic poetry, as well as narrative and scientific prose. In the foreground stands the religious literature. Not only the Brahmans in their Vedas and the Buddhists in their Tipitaka, but also many others of the numerous religious sects, which have sprung up in India, can produce an enormous number of literary works-hymns, sacrificial songs, incantations, myths and legends, sermons, theological treatises, polemical writings, manuals of instruction on ritual and religious discipline. In this literature there is an accumu- lation of absolutely priceless material, which no investigator of religion can afford to pass by. Besides this activity in the sphere of religious literature, which reaches back through thousands of years, and is still being continued at the present day, there have been in India since the oldest times also heroic songs, which in the course of centuries have become condensed into two great national epics-the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The poets of the Indian Middle Ages during centuries drew upon the legends of these two epics, and epic poems arose, which in contradistinction to these popular epics, are designated as-ornate epics. But, while these poems, on account of their exaggerated artificiality, which often exceeds all bounds, do not by any means always suit our Western taste, Indian poets have bequeathed to us lyrical and dramatic works, which bear comparison for delicacy and intensity of feeling. and partly also for dramatic creative power, with the most beautiful productions of modern European literature. In one department of literature, that of the aphorism (gnomic poetry), the Indians have attained a mastery which has never been gained by any other nation. India is also the land of the fairy-tale and fable. The Indian collections of fairy-tales, fables and. prose narratives have played no insignificant part in the history of world- literature. Indeed, fairy-tale research-that most attractive study of fairy-tales and fairy-tale motives and of their wan- derings from people to people-has only become an indepen- dent branch of knowledge through Benfey's fundamental work on the famous Indian book of fables, the Pancatantra.

But one of the peculiarities of the Indian mind is that it has never drawn a distinct line between purely artistic production and scientific work, so that a division between "belles lettres 'f and didactic literature is not really possible in India. What appears to us a collection of fairy tales and fables is regarded by the Indians as a manual of political and moral instruction. On the other hand, history and biography have in India never been treated other than by poets and as a branch of epic poetry. Neither does a division between the forms of poetry and prose really exist in India. Every subject can be treated equally well in verses as in the prose form. We find novel s which differ from the ornate epics in hardly anything except that the metrical form is wanting. Since the oldest times we find a special predilection for the mixture of prose and verse. For that which we call scientific literature, the prose form has been employed in India only for a small part, whereas verse has been used to a far greater extent. This is the case in works on philosophy and law, as also in those on medicine, astronomy, architecture, etc. Indeed, even grammars and dictionaries have been written by the Indians in metrical form. There is perhaps nothing more characteristic than that there exists a great classical epic in 22 Cantos, which pursues the definitely stated aim of illustrating and impressing the rules of grammar. Philosophy was very early a subject of literary activity in India, first in connection with the religious literature, but later also independently of the latter. Similarly, already in very early times, law and custom were,-also first in connection with religion,-made into subjects of a special law literature, written partly in verse and partly in prose. The importance of this law literature for the comparative study of law and social science is to-day appreciated to the full by prominent jurists and sociologists. Centuries before the birth of Christ, g ram mar was already studied in India, a science in which the Indians excel all the nations of antiquity. Lexicography, too, attains to a high age. The Indian court poets (Kavi) of later periods did not give utterance to that which a god revealed to them, but they studied the rules of grammar, and searched in dictionaries for rare and poetic expressions; they versified according to the teachings and rules which were laid down in scientific works on prosody and poetics. Since the earliest times the Indian mind had a particular predilection for detailed analysis and for the pedantic scientific treatment of all possible subjects, Therefore we find in India not only an abundant, and partly ancient, literature on politic sand econ0mics, medicine, astrology and astronomy, arithmetic and geometry; but also music, singing, dancing and dramatic art, magic and divination, and even erotics, are arranged in scientific systems and treated in special manuals of instruction.

But in each single one of the above enumerated branches of literature there has accumulated, during the course of the centuries, a mass of literary productions which it is almost impossible to survey, largely through the fact that in nearly all departments of religious literature, as well as of poetry and science, the commentators developed a very eager activity. Thus especially some of the most important and most extensive works on grammar, philosophy and law are only commentaries on older works. Very frequently other commentaries were again written on these commentaries. Indeed, it is not a rare thing for an author in India to have added a commentary to his own work. Thus, it is no matter for wonder, that the sum total of Indian literature is almost overwhelming. And in spite of the fact that the catalogues of Indian MSS. which can be found in Indian and European libraries contain many thousands of book-titles and names of authors, innumerable works of Indian literature have been lost, and many names of older writers are known only through quotations by later writers, or have even completely dis- appeared.

All these facts-the high age, the wide geographical distribution, the extent, and the wealth, the aesthetic value and still moro the value from the point of view of the history of culture, of Indian literature-would fully suffice to justify our interest in this great, original, and ancient literature. Butt here is something else in addition to this, which gives, just to Indian literature, a quite particular interest. The Indo-Aryan languages, together with the Iranian, form the most easterly branch of that great family of languages, to which also our language and indeed most of the languages of Europe belong, and which is called Indo-European. It was indeed this very literature of India, the investigation of which led to the discovery of this affinity of languages, a discovery which was so truly epoch-making, because it threw such an astonishing new light upon the pre-historic relations between the peoples. For, from the affinity of languages, one was forced to conclude that there was a former unity of languages, and this again presupposed a closer tie between the peoples speaking these Indo-European languages. There certainly are widespread and considerable errors concerning this relation- ship of the Indo-European peoples prevailing even to-day. People speak of an Indo-European "race," which does not exist at all, and never has existed. One also hears at times that Indians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Germanic peoples and Slavs are of the same blood, descendants of one and the same Indo-European" primitive stock." These were far too hasty conclusions. But though it is even more than doubtful whether the peoples which speak Indo-European languages are all descended from a common origin, still it must not be doubted that a common language, this most important instru- ment of all mental activity, implies a relationship of mind and a common culture. Though the Indians are not flesh of our flesh, or bone of our bone, we may yet discover mind of our mind in the world of Indian thought. In order, however, to attain to a knowledge of the “Indo-European mind," i.e. of that which may be called the Irido-Europear peculiarity ir thought, reflection and poetry of these peoples, it is absolutely essential for the one-sided knowledge of the Indo-European character, which we have acquired by the study of European literatures, to be completed by an acquaintance with the Indo-European mind as evidenced in the distant East. It is for this reason that Indian literature, more especially, forms a necessary complement to the classical literature of Ancient Greece and Rome for all who would guard themselves against a one-sided view of the Indo- European character. Indian literature cannot, indeed, be compared with Greek literature in regard to artistic merit. The world of Indian thought has not, it is true, exercised by any means such an influence over modern European ideas as did Greek and Roman culture. But if we wish to learn to understand the beginnings of our own culture, if we wish to understand the oldest Indo-European culture, we must go to India, where the oldest literature of an Indo-European people is preserved. For whatever view we may adopt on the problem of the antiquity of Indian literature, we can safely say that the oldest monument of the literature of the Indians is at the same time the oldest monument of Indo-European literature which we possess.


Preface to the English Translationix-x
Preface to the German editionxi-xiv
List of Abbreviations used in the Notesxv-xix
Directions for Pronunciation of Indian Names and Wordsxx
Extent and Significance of Indian Literature1-8
The Beginnings of the Study of Indian Literature in Europe8-25
The Chronology of Indian Literature25-30
The Art of Writing and the Transmission of Indian Literature31-40
Indian Languages in their Relation to Literature40-51
What is the Veda?52-56
The Rgveda-Samhita57-119
The Atharvaveda-Samhita119-163
The Samaveda-Samhita163-169
The Samhitas of the Yajurveda169-187
The Brahmanas187-225
Aranyakas and Upanisads225-247
The Fundamental Doctrines of the Upanisads247-267
The Vedangas268-289
The Literature of Ritual271-282
The Exegetic Vedangas282-289
The Age of the Veda290-310
The Beginnings of Epic Poetry in India311-316
What is the Mahabharata?316-327
The Principal Narrative of the Mahabharata327-375
Ancient Heroic Poetry in the Mahabharata375-387
Brahmanical Myths and Legends in the Mahabharata387-405
Fables, Parables and Moral Narratives in the Mahabharata405-422
The Didactic Sections of the Mahabharata422-442
The Harivamsa, an Appendix to the Mahabharata443-454
The Age and History of the Mahabharata454-475
The Ramayana, both a Popular Epic and an Ornate Poem475-479
Contents of the Ramayana479-495
The Genuine and the Spurious in the Ramayana495-500
The Age of the Ramayana500-517
The Puranas and their Position in Indian Literature517-530
Survey of the Purana Literature530-586
The Tantra Literature (Samhitas, Agamas, Tantras)586-606

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