by Syama Charan Banerji | 1915 | 50,976 words
The English translation of the Brihaddharma Purana, one of the several minor or Upa Puranas, and represents an epitome of several important (Major) Puranas. In this book one can observe the attempts made to reconcile the three main forms of Hindu worship, viz. the Shaiva Vaishnava and Tantrika (worship of God in the form of Kali, Durga, Ganga, and ...
In laying this free and abridged English translation of a Hindu Purana before you, I feel I owe you a word or two of explanation for haying thus ventured to intrude upon your time and, it may be, your purse also. Several, well known Puranas have already been translated by sound oriental scholors—both European and Indian—who have made Sanskrit literature and philosophy their lifelong study, and you may well ask how a man of my insignificant abilities, with not a single passport to name or fame, dared enter a field already traversed by eminent men.
My taste for religious literature gradually attracted me to the Puranas and I studied a few of them in my own humble and unscientific way. What conclusions I came to as to their intrinsic worth are neither worth relating nor material to the present purpose; but, having regard to the interesting narratives contained therein, one question constantly arose in my mind, and pressed for a solution. It was, “Why does such a mass of attractive literature not command the popularity it so richly deserves among the educated Indians?”
The answer which has suggested itself to me is that the Puranas owe their unpopularity greatly to the fact that they are full of repetitions and dry uninteresting details interspersed with passages which, to our present occidentalized taste, appear obscene. If all the important Puranas were reduced to a third, or even a quarter of their actual size, I am sure that the complaint of their dulness would entirely disappear, and they would make as interesting reading as any of the popular story books which are so much in requisition among our young men.
The existing English translations are faithful reproductions of the originals, which very few of the educated men of these hard and matter-of-fact times have either leisure or patience to read. Besides, they are generally priced so high that they are beyond the reach of the ordinary reader.
Our forefathers, as is well konwn, were so indifferent to temporal matters that they left us no secular history worth the name, and what little we can gather about their doings, manners and customs, is from the Puranas and other similar books in which religion, history and mythology have been almost inextricably intermixed. If these books can be made more popular among the educated Indians, a healthy spirit for research is sure to arise in time, and a foundation laid for a more satisfactory History of India than can be found at present.
There are few Indians who do not feel proud of their ancestors, but ask them what their pride is based upon, and they will probably be at a loss for an answer; for beyond a hazy idea that the ancient Indians were renowned for their wisdom, they know nothing, or next to nothing, of the concrete examples of their wisdom which those ancients have left behind.
Do not suppose, gentle reader, that it is my intention to impute the above sort of ignorance to every educated Indian indiscriminately. I am perfectly aware that among our educated gentlemen, there are many who are eminent Sanskrit scholars of whom we may well be proud, and whose indefatiguable industry in the direction of the revival of ancient wisdom is worthy of all credit. I alltide to those Indians who, although masters of English Arts and Sciences, know the existence of Sanskrit by hearsay evidence only. They do not also know that the English language has now become a great medium through which the ancient wisdom of the East can be studied with ease and advantage. I am sure I shall not be guilty of exaggeration if I assert that, compared with the latter class of educated Hindus, the former dwindle into almost a negligible minority.
It is simply with the object of creating an interest in the Hindu mythological love that I have ventured to approach you with this little book. In accomplishing my task of translation I have applied the pruning knife to the original Sanskrit text with a rather unsparing hand. Besides repetitions and dry details, I have eliminated most of the indelicate passages save where such elimination would obscure the sense of the narrative. In such cases I have tried to make them as un-objectionable as possible.
As my sole object is to create a taste for this sort of literature among my English educated countrymen, and not to help the scientific researcher, I have tried to give the book the form of popular Fairy Tales or Folk-lore, and have avoided the use of the Greek and Latin equivalents of the technical terms of Sanskrit philosophy which have been coined by scholars, as far as possible.
If my attempt succeeds in popularizing this literature, I am confident that better scholars than I will find it worth their while to draw the attention of students in the direction of Research, in due time. We all know that insignificant beginnings have frequently led to great ends. The search for the “philosopher’s stone” which was laughed at as a wild fancy at the start, resulted in discoveries which culminated in the establishment of some branches of the most useful science of Chemistry. Similarly, enquiries into witchcraft which were once considered a mere waste of time and intellectual powers, have resulted in the discovery of animal magnetism, mesmerism and hypnotism.
I have changed the arrangement of the original Sanskrit text which is divided into three parts, each of which has its separate numbering of chapter. I could not find any advantage in adhering to this arrangement. In the first place, a reference to the original text will show that the division is arbitrary, and, in the second place, as I have omitted whole chapters in several places, the adherance to the original arrangement would have made the parts of unequal length. I have, however, appended a comparative table to this book giving side by side the parts and chapters of the original and the chapters of this book.
This book, as will appear from the title page, is the first of a series to be called “Rambles in Scripture Land”. If it receives even a tolerably fair support, and pays its own costs only, similar translations of other Puranas, such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Srimadbhagavata and others, will follow. I shall altso try, if God spares my life, to bring out the stories of the Upaniṣads and other religions books in a popular form.
I have selected the Brihad Dharma Purana to head the list because it is an epitome of several important Puranas, and in it one watches with interest the attempts made to reconcile the three main forms of Hindu worship, viz. the Saiva Vaiṣnava and Tantrika.
Although written for English educated Indians, I trust this book will be read with interest by such foreigners also as are curious to know the mythology of the Hindus, but have neither the time nor the patience to wade through voluminous English translations of the Hindu Scriptures.
S. C. BANERJI.
The 15th July, 1915.
Footnotes and references:
Worship of God in the form of Siva
Worship of God in the form of Viṣṇu
Worship of God in the form of Kali, Durga, Ganga and other female gods