Some Problems of Indian Literature consisting of six Readership Lectures of Calcutta University delivered by Maurice Winternitz in 1923 and published by the University is going to be reprinted for the use of the academic world. The book was published 83 years ago. And even then the problems discussed in this book are still burning questions with every student of Sanskrit literature are facing today. This book of Winternitz has passed during these days, into the land of oblivion. And there are few books where the reference to this book is met with, the reason being that the circulation of this book was very much limited. However, even after the lapse of 83 years. It is felt that the problems discussed in this book should be circulated widely once again for the benefit of the readers. There is a section of scholarly people who labours the idea that there is no need of reprinting the old valuable books after such a long time. To this class of people the answer is simple. The value of a book does not depend on its being publication earlier or later; it depends on the intrinsic merit of a book, it depends on what sort of information exhibits, and it depends on the progress of the subject-matter that the book professes. Most of the books published from the 19th to the middle of the 20th century are fundamental research books and discovery of Sanskrit from on all sides and naturally most of the books are supposed to be out print and available only in some libraries of the world. In order to consult them. It is necessary that some of the outstanding meritorious type of books should be reprinted for the use of the present generation; otherwise the present generation will be deprived of the benefit of reading the book.
The contents of the book will tell us the value and utility of the treatise. The problems which Winternitz has raised and discussed in the book are research orientated topics which every student of Sanskrit must be acquainted with. Let us discuss the problems one by one.
As far as the first lecture. The Age of the Veda, is concerned. Winternitz is, in a sense, perplexed in determining the age of the Vedas. This question is tagged on to the question of the history of the India. The history of India is primarily divided into two broad periods prehistoric and historic. And to the prehistoric period belong the Paleolithic Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages whose dates cannot be fixed with any amount of certainty. It belongs to a hoary antiquity marked by the use of primitive stone implements. And these ages are associated with the Copper, Bronze and iron Ages whose dates cannot also be ascertained with any amount of imagination. In the last phase at the juncture of these two periods come the Indus Valley civilization of Mahenjo-daro, Harappa and other localities whose date is more or less fixed at 3000 B.C... if not a little earlier, and can go on a par with the Sumerian, Acadians, Babylonian, Egyptian and Assyrian civilizations whose dates start from 4000 B.C.
Besides these, the traditional history of India as far as can be gleaned from the Vedic and the Puranas, historians coincide the dates with the modern line of things from Manu and the flood legend which starts from 3100 B.C. then we have the periods of yayati (c. 3000-2750 B.C.), the Parasurama period (c. 2550-2350 B.C.), the Ramacandra period (c. 2350-1950 B.C...), the krsna period (c. 1950-1400 B.C.), the Bharata war (c. 1400 B.C.) and the Vedic period (c.1500 B.C. onwards).
Even though the traditional history is based on the Indian sources the academic or the literary of India start from Vedic period which beings from 1500 B.C. in determining the dates of the Reseda different scholars have different opinions. Max Muller in his history of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (1859) was the first to say 5that dates of the Rgveda would be 1200B.C. and it would take every 200 hundred years to grow the other branches of vadic literature. That is to say, 1200-1000 B.C. for the Mantra period, 1000-800 B.C. for the Brahmans, 800-600 B.C. for the Aranyakas and the Upanishads, 600-200 B.C. for the Sutra period.
These Periods of max Muller are more or less accepted by the scholars except the dates of the Rgveda which are pushed back to 1500 B.C. Max Muller, of course, in his Gifford Lecture (Physical Religion) has admitted that “whether the Vadic hymns were composed 1000 or 1500 or 2000 or 3000 years B.C. no power on earth determine.” The date of Bal Gangadhar Tilak on the basis of Orion (Margaritas) as 6000 B.C. and that of Hermann Jacobi as 4500 B.C. are not as such accepted. Winternitz, after much deliberation, has come to this conclusion that Vedic literature was nearer to 2500 or 2000 B.C. But in his History of Indian Literature. Vol. I, published by the University of Calcutta in 1927, Winternitz said that 1200or 1500 B.C. would be the date of the Rgveda. As a result, most of the scholars take 1500 B.C. as the starting point Vadic literature.
In the second lecture, Ascetic Literature in Ancient India, Winternitz has said that type of literature is not practically found in the Vadic age, but it is mostly found in post Vedic age mainly in the Buddhist and in the Jaina literatures. But in the Mahabharata, it is found in many places in the Pita-putra-samvada, in the speeches of vidura, in the verses sung by king Vicakhnu, in the Gokapiliya section, in the Tuatara- Jajali samvada and in many other places. The ideas of ascetic poetry as found in the Mahabharata are found again in the santi and Vairagya Satagya of Bhartrhari and other poets. At the end, interknits say that this ascetic poetry first arose in an old for of Yoga that could be combined with Samkhya as with the Buddhist and Jaina teaching.
In the third lecture, Ancient Indian Ballad Poetry, Winternitz has traced the origin of ballad poetry from the Rgveda. There are Samvada, Akhyana or Itihasa hymns which form the nucleus of the ballad poetry. The best known specimen of this kind of poetry is the Akhyana of Pururavas and Urvasi (RV. X. 95) also found in the Satapatha-Brahmana (XI. 6.1). Similarly, the dialogue between Yama and Yam! In the Rgveda (X. 10) is another instance of ballad poetry. After the Vedic age we find the ballad poetry in the Mahab hii rata. This ballad poetry is also found in the Buddhist literature and partly also in the Jaina poetry. In Buddhist literature the most beautiful ballad is that of Subha (Therigatha 366 ff) and that of Sundari (Therigatha 312-327). On the whole this chapter is very interesting and thought- provoking.
In the fourth lecture Indian Literature and World- Literature, the author has essayed to depict the position of Indian literature in the terrain of world-literature. In the initial stage the author has explained what he means by world-literature. In his words "In the great national literatures of the world we find some works which have become the common property of all nations". Then the author gives examples of the types of world-literature. He says that "the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. the poems of Homer the fables of Aesop the Arabian Nights, the plays of Shakespeare-to mention only some of the best known examples - belong to 'world-literature' in this sense." The author has used the 'world-literature' in another sense also. "But we also speak of 'world- literature' as distinguished from the national literature when by a comparative study of the literature of different nations we try to trace the mutual relations between them, the influences exercised by one literature upon another." When world-literature is used in this sense we want to see "what each of them has contributed to the common stock of ideas thoughts political motives and literary treasures." Later on, in his discussion he has mentioned that the Upanisads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Bhagavadgita the Buddhist literature on the Gospels the pancatantra the sakuntala the mrcchakatika the vetalapanca vimsatiika the Vikramacarita the Sukasaptati and the like do come on a par with word literature. Incidentally he mentions the name of Gundhya Brhatkatha which is a store house of world stories. The author has rejected the Greek influence on the Indian Dramas.
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