After five years spent in the collection of materials for an edition of the Rigveda and its Sanskrit commentary by Sayanakarya, the first volume is now completed, comprising the first Ashtaka (Ogdoad), and about the fourth part of the whole.
When I first entered on this undertaking, I saw but little chance that I should ever succeed in carrying it out, and my only hope of success was derived from the firm conviction that, in the present state of philological, historical, and philosophical research, no literary work was of greater importance and interest to the philologer, the historian, and philosopher, than the Veda, the oldest literary monument of the Indo-European world. There were many difficulties to be overcome in carrying out this work. In the public libraries of Germany no MSS. of the Rig-veda and its commentary were to be found, except some old copies of the text and a small and worm-eaten fragment of Sayana's commentary in the Royal Library at Berlin. It was necessary, therefore, to spend several years in the libraries of Paris, London, and Oxford, in order to copy and collate all the necessary Vaidik MSS. A complete apparatus criticus having been brought together in this manner, it became possible to commence a philological study of the Rig-veda, and to prepare upon a safe basis a critical edition of both its text and commentary. But a still greater difficulty remained, the expense of publishing such a work. These obstacles have been such, that although the want of an edition of the Veda has been keenly felt by all Sanskrit scholars, and although there were many fully qualified for such a work, yet no one has been found to undertake it, since the first edition of the Rig-veda by the late Dr. Rosen was interrupted by the early death of that highly-gifted scholar. It is owing to a concurrence of many fortunate circumstances, and particularly to the kind encouragement and liberal assistance which I have received from various quarters, that these difficulties have boon at length overcome. For several years I was able to advance but slowly, being entirely left to my own resources, and having but few leisure hours to bestow upon Vaidik studies. But the further I proceeded in my work, the more encouragement I received. Amongst those who took an active interest in it, I have to mention with sincere gratitude the names of Alexander von Humboldt and Professor E. Burnouf in France, and of Chevalier Bunsen and Professor H. H. Wilson in England. The final success, however, of this undertaking is owing to the well-known liberality of the Honourable the Court of Directors of the East-India Company, whose enlightened views on this subject cannot be better expressed than in their own words: 'The Court consider that the publication of so important and interesting a work as that to which your proposals refer, is in a peculiar manner deserving of the patronage of the East-India Company, connected as it is with the early religion, history, and language of the great body of their Indian subjects.'
This first edition, however, of the Rig-veda and its sanskrit commentary is not intended for the general scholar, but only for those who make Sanskrit their special study, and for those among the natives of India who are still able to read their own Sacred Books in the language of the original. It would have been more agreeable to myself to have kept for my own use the materials which I had collected for the Veda, (I allude especially to the Sanskrit commentary,) devoting all my time to their study, and communicating to the public the last results only of my researches. But I felt that I should perform a more useful work by at once making public those materials, without which no philological study of the Veda was possible. A greater number of Sanskrit scholars will thus be enabled to contribute their share towards the elucidation of Vaidik antiquities, and we may now look forward to a more complete study of Vaidik literature than it is ill the power of any single individual to bestow upon so comprehensive a subject, and to a better understanding of Vaidik language, religion, and mythology, than can be expected from a scholastic Indian commentator of the fourteenth century after Christ.
I determined therefore on publishing first a complete text of the Rig-veda-samhita, (the Samhita and the Pada texts,) together with the only complete commentary on the Rig-veda now existing, the Ma.dhaviya-vedartha-prakA.sa by Sayanakarya. As the limits of this publication were fixed, it became necessary to save space as much as possible, in order to get at least the whole of the text and commentary into the prescribed compass of the edition. For this reason, as well as because this edition was destined for the use of Indian as well as European scholars, I had to exclude, and to reserve for a separate work, all critical and explanatory notes of my own, together with the various readings of the MSS.
My principal object in this present edition is therefore to give a correct text of the Rig-veda, and to restore from the MSS. a readable and authentic text of Sayana's commentary. The former was by far the easier task. The MSS. of the Rig-veda have generally been written and corrected by the Brahmans with so much care that there are no various readings in the proper sense of the word, except those few which are found noticed as such in the commentaries or in the Pratisakhyas. Even these are generally of small importance, and seldom affect the meaning of a sentence. For the most part they arise from niceties of orthography and calligraphy, which by themselves are of little importance to a European scholar, though they may become of interest if considered with reference to the peculiarities of the old Sakhas or branches of the Veda. The hymns of the Rig-veda are happily much more free from these orthographic minutiae than the prayers of the Sama and Yagur-vedas. Of real importance, however, for critical purposes, are the alterations which the verses of the Rig-veda have undergone when incorporated into the ceremonial prayers of the Sama, Yagur, and Atharva-vedas. But neither are these alterations to be considered in the light of variae lectiones, and, as they cannot be used for a critical restoration of the received text of the Rig-veda, they will better be considered in a general critical account of the whole Vaidik literature.
Since the publication of the third volume of this edition of the Rig-veda, the age and authenticity of the sacred writings of the Brahmans have become the subject of new and animated discussions, and many points in the history of the ancient literature of India which seemed almost beyond the reach of reasonable criticism, have become overcast by doubts and surmises. Although it would be impossible to examine every objection that has been raised, there are some which deserve a careful consideration; and I feel that it becomes part of the duty incumbent on me, as the editor of the Rig-veda, to state how far the convictions which I expressed on former occasions as to the age and character of the Vedic literature in its four divisions, the Khandas, Mantra, Brahmana, and Sutra periods, have been either changed or strengthened by the researches and arguments of other scholars.
The first question which requires to be considered anew is, Can the age of the Vedic hymns be fixed by astronomical evidence?
In my 'History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature' I have endeavoured to show that it is possible to distinguish four great classes of literary compositions, corresponding to four great periods in the growth of the Vedic religion and of the theological system of the Brahmans, The most recent of these four periods extends to about 200 B. C., and from the peculiar style in which all the works belonging to it are composed, it has received the name of the Sutra period. Several of the most eminent among the authors of Sutras or aphorisms lived prior, if not to the origin, at least to the spreading and the political ascendancy of Buddhism, and hence the date 600 B. C. was assigned as the most probable for the beginning of the Sutra period.
It is, I believe, admitted by all scholars, that the Sutras presuppose the existence of the Brahmanas, another class of Vedic writings, which together constitute what I call the Brahmanas period. As that period comprehends the first establishment of the elaborate Brahmanical ceremonial with its four classes of priests, the composition of separate theological treatises, the so-called Brahmanas, their collection, and again the schism of sects which were founded originally on the basis of the great collective Brahmanas, it would seem impossible to bring the whole of this literary and theological activity within a narrower space than 200 years. I therefore assigned to it a duration from 800 to 600 B.C.
The Brahmanas, again, presuppose the existence of a complete collection of Vedic hymns, such as we now possess in the ten books of the Rig-veda-Samhita. Seven out of these ten books belonged originally to separate families or clans, and each contains a number of hymns, clearly the productions of different generations of poets. Some of these hymns are written in imitation of others, and the more modern assume a decidedly ritual character. As Mantra is the technical name of a hymn employed for sacrificial purposes, I have designated the period during which the latest sacrificial hymns were written, and collected, together with the older hymns, at first into separate books, and afterwards into a complete body of' sacred and liturgical poetry, the Mantra period. Several generations of modern poets, and probably two classes of collectors, have to be accommodated in it; so that if we allow 200 years to this period, this is hardly out of proportion to the work which had to be performed in it.
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