Hellenism in Ancient India

By Gauranga Nath Banerjee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
LITERATURE

The supposed Indian origin of the Greek Romances--Resemblance between the Greek and Indian Epics--the Iliad and the Ramayana.--The Great Epic, the Mahabharata--its time of composition--The Yavanas in India--The age of the Ramayana.

NOTWITHSTANDING the wonderfully unbroken continuity of Hindu writings, the spirit of classical Sanskrit literature differs greatly from that of the Vedic. The chief distinction between the two periods is that the Veda is essentially a religious collection, whereas classical Sanskrit is with rare exceptions such as the Bhagvad-Gita profane. In the Veda, lyric poetry as well as legendary and expository prose mainly deal with prayer and sacrifice; in classical literature, epic, lyric, didactic, and dramatic forms are all used for the purposes of literary delectation and æsthetic or moral instruction. In classical Sanskrit moreover with the exceptions of the grand compilations of the Mahābhārata and the Purānas, the authors are generally definite persons, more or less well-known, whereas the Vedic writings go back to families of poets or schools of religious learning, the individual authors being almost invariably submerged.

Now, every form of artistic literature, whether epic, dramatic or confessedly lyric, has a strong lyric cast. At the bottom, these three kinds, in the Hindu poets' hands, are but thematically differentiated forms of the same poetic endowment. Ornate figures of speech, luxuriant richness of colouring, introduced into literary composition from the gorgeous climate, flora and fauna of India, subtle detail-painting of every sensation and emotion -- these are the common characteristics of classical Sanskrit literature. But even in erotic lyrics the Hindu's deep-seated bias for speculation and reflection

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