THE SANSKRIT FICTION.
The Sanskrit literature, it has often been remarked, is an arid waster in respect of fiction cultivated as an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of things, as a useful miniature for mirroring the ever varying, but single, human tale. The talent, it is also urged, displayed by at least some of the practitioners of the form distinctly great, did not reach even a promising condition. The productions of Valmiki and Bhavabhuti are considered to be no better than mere tales of terror and "Minerva Press" inanities. The lack of pure fiction, many might reasonably fancy, has led to the correlative atrophy of a very important limb of literature and one-sided development of Sanskrit poetry in all its branches so as to have embraced within its every-expanding fold even works of science, treatises on mathematics, and books dealing with medicine and surgery. To it we should trace the utter paucity of conversational literature in Sanskrit such as that we meet with in "Realmah" "Friends in Council" and the like, the want of cultivation of Rhetoric and Oratory as distinct departments of intellectual activity unlike the Greeks and the Romans, and the absolute extinction of Sanskrit as a spoken tongue. Just on the very threshold of our discussion, we may pause to reflect whether there was anything inherent in the language itself that deterred it from perfecting a good literary prose. A glance at the colossal scholia of some of the Upanishads, at the volumes of glosses written on some of the Nyaya works, at the vociferous disputations around some cruxes or knotty enigmas of Brahma-Sutras would not fail to profoundly impress one with the virulent facility and majestic marc of "Scholastic" Sanskrit prose. One that is able to wield such a caustic weapon could, by no means, be deemed a despicable controversialist but, ought to be a positively dreadful hand at polemics. The language is so fiery and violently nervous, the expressions so supple and so forcible, the prose informed with so much of gusto and bedecked with so little of labored varnish, that everything seems natural and vivacious in the extreme. The ponderous and sonorous prose of Patanjali is only equaled by his minuteness of analysis and closeness of ratiocination. His Mahabhashya with its Miltonic jingle and leviathan-movement, and the half-metric solemn prose of the Brahmanas are the primary vestiges of earlier and decided efforts at prose composition. Coming down to purely classical levels, the sort of Sanskrit prose we get here, in point of terseness and grace, simplicity and vigor, remind us of Thackeray and George Eliot. It is clarified melody to hear a Mallinatha, or a Katayaverma in their luscious Sanskrit prose, with the quaint aroma of cultured elegance breathing from it, discoursing upon on the sense of some abstruse passages of a Magha or a Kalidasa and making them as limpid and transparent as a gentle cascade that washes down a rock-boulder. The names of a few authors like Bana and Dandin, Subandhu and Vishnusharma must be remembered by every student of Sanskrit Literature as they were the last in essaying to revive the moribund body of systematic literary prose. Though their efforts in their respective generations seemed to augur complete success, the reaction was only too destructive at the next step. When we look at the vicissitudes of Sanskrit prose even in this skimming fashion, when we bestow some thoughts on the varying aspects of the Sanskrit style, the notion enchains our attention that the craggy prose of Carlyle with its piercing angularity and jolting movement, the sober and elaborate rhythm of DeQuincey with its ornate eloquence, the over-jeweled language of Macaulay with its opalescent sheen, the sinewy vigor and adamantine hardness of Mathew Arnold, the orient splendor of Ruskin with its streaming iridescence, the lark-like sweetness of Keats have all had their embryonic fountainheads in Sanskrit literature. The ingenious marshalling of ideas, the rhetorical grouping of all minor thoughts round one principal theme and the poignant verbal quibbles have struck the shrillest note in the gamut in works of, and scholia on, Nyaya. There has been nothing in the genius of the language to deter the development of an organic and graceful prose. On the other hand the weight of evidence that goes to assure us about the perfect success, the Sanskrit prose as a flexible instrument of thoughtful expression would be enjoying at this moment, if we had followed the lead of such paramount masters of Sanskrit style as Bana in vitalizing and rejuvenating the famishing strength of Sanskrit prose, is simply overwhelming. But Sanskrit as a means of conversation is entirely out of the question to consider, since, Panini to be recognized as the most immediate grammarian to govern the speech of Sanskritists, and the religious use of verbal paradigms, to be made the only channel to denote all the nicest shades of time, would only be to end, and excel, in acrobatic feats of no common order, even in the case of most learned Pundits, if they were asked to speak fine and racy Sanskrit. While Sanskrit as a cultured and literary language, as an ornate prose of excellent fiction would have been quite possible if we had heard the warning voice of Bana. There can be suggested another reason for the dominance of poetry, rather versification, in Sanskrit apart from the apathy of the soil on which fell the seeds from Bana's hands. The ancient times when alphabet was yet to be invented, the enthusiastic attempts of the unlettered old Hindus to make memorial verses as the first step in mnemonics, suggested by the ready pleasure the ear derived in hearing the accents struck at regular intervals, and the rhythm fall in an even manner, the days when the ear, to the total exclusion of the eye, was the sole channel for literary instruction, may account for the initial progress of Sanskrit poetry. This may have biased the mind of the ancient "Aryans" (I don not use the term in the sense of the English Philologists) towards the inception of poetry to the entire negligence of prose. Even when the primary cause that necessitated the exclusive adoption of poetry was removed or remedied, things took their once-wonted course. And so, when poetry ought to have gone back to some distance to give room to its legitimate partner, prose, so far from what we might expect, the ill-starred prose grew jejune and died an ill-deserved death, while poetry flourished unmolested and supreme. Poetry grew into such literary favor with people as to bring prose into positive bad odor in India. With the rapid widening of the poet's limits and influence, prose-writing was deemed flaccid and vapid, and the use of flowers of fancy or ornamental glitter was never thought compatible with prose composition till Bana showed to what sublime poetic heights prose might soar.
The ineptitude of Sanskrit Prose as a vehicle of thought have become a very common enough idea, after almost a death-still silence of a long number of years, Bana appeared on the literary horizon in meteoric suddenness, freshness and splendor, with his full-voiced dispassion, to show to the dazed Sanskrit world, what an excellent instrument Sanskrit really was, whether or not it was destined to, or could, advance cheek by jowl with Sanskrit poetry, and, after a time, eclipse it. The delicious rural scenes of Hall Cine, the vivid realism and minuteness of details of Thomas Hardy, the intensity of feeling and fervid passion of George Eliot, the mystically bald and rancorous admonitions of George Meredith, the bland serenity of Kingsley, the godly and devotional tone of Mrs. Humphrey Ward, even "the new Hedonism" of Grant Allen appear in gorgeous tints and with consummate maturity in Bana's Kadambari. True romance, genuine love-thrills, the recalcitrant sweet heart and the submissive spark, the hazardous flirtations of the drab, the go-betweens making up a rendezvous between people of quality, lovely landscapes and balmy wood-land avenues, the flower-bespangled meadows with birds making music and choosing mates over them, the roseate east in the early morning, the crimson after-glow in the west at sun-set are in lavish profusion. We have in Kadambari, Chandrapida and their respective retinues, the counterparts of the English Monarch and his fawning valet, the coy maiden really vain of her charms gently rebuked by her chaperon in the presence of her worshipper, the smile of the blushing bride, the titter and giggle of her companions. The lubberly Dravidian hermit, the waggish girls in the full bloom of their bewitching heyday in Kadambari's boudoir, are very unctuous to an imaginative soul. Bestmen and bridesmaids are hardly less common. We have all the humor and naïve sarcasm of Thackeray, all the chivalry described in Scott's novels, all the homely caressing in Jane Austen, and the heart-melting sentimentalism of a Charlotte Bronte well brought out in Bana's Novel. In rank portraiture of sensualism M. Zola may without loss of dignity take long lessons from Bana. In preaching abstinence, resignation and the other Indian virtues, Bana's romance our-does the teachings of Bhagavat Gita. The only imputation that could be cast on Bana is that he at the same breath not only commits prurient outrages to decency with the impudence of "Laus Veneris" of Swinburne's, but also preaches the awe-inspiring sermon that surpasses the trained pulpit-eloquence of Archdeacon Farrar or Cardinal Newman. He is all-comprehensive, all-universal. His information is encyclopedic and his language the music of the flute. The linked sweetness of Bana proved after all to be "a pearl before the swine" in the case of Professor Weber. The learned German Professor has no words sufficiently contemptuous for the clumsy invention of Bana in whom he is not prepared to admit a single merit. Weber, rare and delicate critic as he is, is yet too profoundly out of sympathy with Sanskrit prose to be able to judge it at all! English criticism has been far more just to the claims of Bana, and Professor Peterson, in particular, has given him praise in some places which to an Indian ear sounds excessive. Bana's Mission was not to idealize any single moral trait, nor to accentuate any foible of human nature, but he came to point out what genuine function prose was meant to fulfill, how the noblest thoughts of a writer could be enshrined in rhythmic yet fragrant prose, how the various modern divisions of fiction down to the latest "local novel" and "the novel of adventure" were possible in the ancient language of Bharatavarsha. He has taught how to paint the best landscapes in nature, how to picture sylvan retreats fuming with altar-smoke and odorous with sacrificial butter, how to study humanity, what the delineation of human heart means, how its emotional nature can be deified, how its amorous tendencies refined into a pure and unspotted love and knit into a delicate but strong knot of gossamer-web which cannot be untied either on earth below or in Heaven above, how a tube can be dramatized, how to analyze the various passions, emotions and softer affections human-kind is capable of, what the various qualities of mind and heart are that adorn human nature, and what the grand lesson is we are to learn from the fleeting play of human action and destiny. He was the last man who came to speak unto us in encouraging tones of the future capabilities of Sanskrit prose as a vehicle of fiction in every sense of the term, but his extant works, quite surprisingly, became a death knell to inform us that the regal grandeur, and gay march of the elaborate Sanskrit prose with its flowing periods was becoming a matter of the hoary past. So that the interest which Bana has for us, is one of intense melancholy, and all the more so when we reflect that he was crying in the wilderness, and with his death we have sung the requiem, along with his son, for the faded glory of Sanskrit prose,
"Yathe divam pithari thadvachasiva Sardham,
Vicchedamapa bhuvi yasthu Katthaprabandhah."
V. V. RAMANAN.