THE OLD AND THE NEW.
THE expression 'changeless East' embodies a time honored fallacy, and the sooner it is exploded, the better will it be for the future of this country and for all parties concerned. The average foreigner who knows so little of our past and much less of our inner life and institutions and their rationale, becoming conscious of the difference of his own institutions and manners of the West from the East, and meeting with reluctance and sometimes with opposition on the part of the oriental to swallow his gilded pill is easily led into this belief. This view only assists the hardy oriental and serves to keep him in the error he had all along been brought up in. the oriental is as much in a hallucination about this as the European; and this is due in a great measure to the want of the historic faculty, so often pointed out by European Scholars. The oriental has the inveterate habit of referring every thing to what his ancestors did and what his ancestors said; and if we, however, haul him up and test his lore as regards his past history, he cannot carry himself past one or two generations – and his whole evidence breaks down as the barest hearsay and he breaks down miserably. Let the newest practice be introduced into a person's family by the most immediate ancestor, and only let it be started without his knowledge, he will speak of it as the oldest custom prevailing in his family for hundreds of years. Though he will often refer to the days of Rama and Yudhistra, we don't believe he has read half of a page of either authorities. The most inconsistent practices are ascribed to the most ancient Vedas, and whether they are actually found there, is a different question. The veriest modern day dreamer traces his doctrines to the remote Vashista; the latest story teller quotes Vyasa and Suta as his authority; and the veriest plagiarist of the Gujili book bazaar does not hesitate to palm off his garbled Vade Mecum of medicine as the work of the sage Agastya. And all these untruths are swallowed wholesale by a credulous mob, while they will suspect the most approved schemes of sanitation and thoroughly tested modes of medical treatment by European experts. The reason for the belief on one side and disbelief on the other side is not far to seek. It is not that the oriental does not change. If he did not, he would be acting against nature. Whole nature is ever changing but its gradations are very minute. If we are to believe Geologists, whole continents and the highest of mountain peaks had not been lifted up all at once by the earth's cataclysm, so much as by the slow and unperceived heaving to and fro that is ever going on. If by this constant heaving for several centuries, the surface is only raised by a few feet, how slow must be this incessant change. No doubt, cataclysms in nature, now and then occur such as earth quakes and volcanic eruptions. And similarly also societies undergo such cataclysms, but the results will be awful and terrific in many cases. Whole societies may be doomed for ever as are countries by earth quakes. In India the real fact is, the oriental has changed often enough. His is an ancient past. And in this vast sea of time, what storms he has not encountered and how many under ground rocks he has not tilted against and how many sand banks he has almost grounded in. And the wonder is that he ahs come out so whole in spite of all these changes. There is however one peculiarity in his case. Like his soil, he is not prepared for deep ploughing. No doubt the soil can be ploughed deeper than at present but the foreign plough is not the best of the machines for doing this. If used, it is apt to turn up to the surface more of laterite and sands and the land made unit in consequence for years to come. Foreign civilization wakes in him up more of his vices than his virtues (speaking generally of course and its effect as a whole) and to wean him from these new vices will take another age. As it is, the Indian agriculturist has, by slow and steady work, attained the best results and enduring ones too, by adapting the existing means to the best of his ability. He does not exhaust the soil too much by his haste to show astounding results. There was not so much of worry and selfishness in his old mode of life. And as a matter of fact, he-has slowly built up a civilization as high as his mountain peak, though no doubt there are inaccessible and unattainable heights and most slippery precipices therein. The much despised Kali age has seen much greater reforms in religion and morals and much greater advancement in Philosophy and Science. To only mention one or two instances. As to the evil effects of meat and drink, there ought to be now no two opinions among Hindus, at any rate. The Honorable Dr. W. R. Cornish, late Surgeon-General of Madras in his address to the assembled alumni of the Madras University at the Convocation of 1884, exhorted them to adhere to the two excellent qualities of 'plain living' and 'high thinking' which characterized the Indian philosophers of olden days and pointed out that "in adhering to the simplicity of life practiced by your forefathers, you will have the sanction and approval of some of the most eminent of modern scientists who have come to the conclusion, that alcoholic drinks and strong meats are not essential to health, life, or mental and physical vigor, while the abuse of strong drinks, at any rate, has proved a curse to the northern people". And it was only yesterday a writer in the North American Review counselled to his countrymen about moderation in taking meat and drink. And yet, is it not a fact that in the far famed Dwapara age and Vedic age, people of the highest caste were immoderately fond of meat and madhu, and prayed to the Gods for plenty of these. No Brahmin writer of today will lay down rules for the eating of particular kind of meat and fish as does the great Manu in his Smiriti. And it must be confessed that the institution of animal sacrifices was a remnant of savagery. As the sentiment of the people became refined in course of long ages, the more intelligent and educated classes slowly gave up these reprehensible practices, and not to be pronounced guilty of Avaidika practices, substituted others altogether innocent and called them after the old names. The modern Temples which took the place of the old Yagnasalas, only retain the 'Balipita' in name. And modern Saivaism is so rigid in the exclusion of meat and drink that even a Vaishnava who is an abstainer says he is a 'Saiva'. The rare performances of Yagna today find very few sympathizers and supporters. In this connection, we might give an anecdote of the Great Appaya Dikshita, which an Iyengar pandit mentioned to us when we spoke of the improvement in the Kali age in this respect. The Great Dikshit performed a great Yagna and as a matter of course, a number of cattle had to be sacrificed. He saw the sight and it was most heart-rending and repugnant to him and he burnt out crying 'வேதமே உன்னை நம்பினேன்' 'O Vedas, I believe you, meaning thereby that he would not have done it of his own free will. Unthinking and ignorant men (Indian and foreign) frequently flaunt against Hinduism, excesses in these respects in certain forms of Saktaism and Vaishnavism in bygone days and even now in some forsaken and unseen corner. It has only to be remembered that mature opinion of both these sects are dead against these practices and the general sense of the people itself, which like anything else has grown, is against them, and it is thereby that these few out-castes who indulge in it, do it unseen. Then it is seen that in the Vedic days, the people prayed to Agni and Varuna and Vayu and Indra and Vishnu (Sun) and Maruts and all the gods. And the author of a District Manual complains that the country people have given up their Vedic practices; and we know a learned brahmin friend of ours used to observe that the worship of the fire was the strictly 'Vaidika' practice and the worship in the temples was 'Avaidika' and that he desired to see in every brahmin household the kindling of the sacred fire and its upkeep. But if instead of worshipping these elements themselves as gods, the modern Hindu sects, in Siva (Rudra) and Vishnu, see the one True God present in the fire and the one True God present in the Sun, does it not show an advance in thought. The old form of prayer 'I pray to the visible Agni, to the valiant Vayu and puissant Indra, give me health, wealth, children and cattle,' is substituted by the new form, 'O Siva, who art all Love, who art present in Akas, Agni and air and water and earth and being present in each and everything givest each its peculiar beauty and power, and yet art not any of these." The change in these respects, the struggle in the old belief and the subsequent conquest is recorded most vividly in the Kean Upanishad, the earliest of the Upanishads. That Lady wondrous fair, Uma tricked out in gold had to point out "Brahman! In Brahman's conquest do ye triumph." Then only did the Devas know that it was Brahman. If the very Devas could only come to know this great truth from Uma, The Light of
Grace (Arul Sakti) then how was it possible else to those who believed in the Devas themselves, as all powerful. Does it not show an advance if, instead of setting up a pot of fire in each house and worship it as fire, we set up a symbol (of the form of Pranava) in a Temple, and worship it as the God present in fire, and which the greatest Devas could not discover after very great search; if instead of worshipping a sea and a river and tank as a God, we introduce a symbol and make it surrounded on all sides by water in almost a miraculous way and we worship this symbol as that of the one True God, who is present in water. The Tantric or Agamic form of worship was a distinct advance on the old Vedic Worship and though the old Mantras were continued to be recited, yet the ideas and forms are all based and derived from the later Vedas and Upanishads and it will be interesting to enquire and note at what precise point of time, the old rituals were given up and the new forms substituted. This, no scholar, has as yet attempted. Those only who do not understand this slow growth and advance in thought in Indian symbolism cavil at modern Image worship. We will in no wise be gainers by reverting to the old practice in the days of Rig Veda. Improve the modern worship if possible by cleansing it of the dross which age and ignorance have coated it with, but it will be absurd to talk of going back. The modern day living Religious Systems (we can only mention two, Saivism and Vaishnavism, others come clearly under one or the other) contain the best Theology and Philosophy, theoretical and practical. If a few missionaries and bigoted sectarians stoop to take up stories from a forgotten rubbish box, which tend to lower the divinity of the one or the other, wise men will remember that these stories only dwell in the filthy imagination of these people and not in the devout minds of the respective worshippers. The Saiva rejects the stories of the Vaishnavas as altogether spurious and late malicious productions and the Vaishnava rejects the authorities against him as being 'Tamasa.' So both parties wish to forget and have forgotten anything that, may be repugnant to their High Ideal and the modern Saiva prefers the address 'என் அன்பே'
and the Vaishnava, 'பரமதயாளா.'
One more instance of such change and growth of ideas, which the Tamils have stereotyped in such familiar sentences as:
"பழையன கழிதலும் புதியன புகுதலும்
வழுவல கால வகையினானே."
("The old changeth and the new entereth;
This is no wrong. It is the effect of time)."
"தொன்மைய வாமெனு மெவையும் நன்றாகா,
இன்று தோன்றிய நூலெனு மெவையும் தீதாகா."
("Everything old cannot be good
and everything new cannot be bad)."
The instance we would select from the field of Hindu Sociology. We refer to the question of widow remarriage. Independent scholars and pandits with some honesty will freely admit that the custom was not one unknown in India in remote times. In lower classes of society they still prevail. But the pandits say that such remarriage is prohibited in the bad Kali age. Who prohibited it, we ask? Is it not the fact that the thought slowly and steadily dawned on the mature minds in this Kali age (Be it said rather to its credit) that singleness is better than wedded life (one of the checks to population in the Kali age) and that a widow would do well to keep faithful to the memory of her first lord, if she can afford to do so. It marks the highest sentiment in love that the lovers should remain true unto death. The Europeans have also built their faith on St. Paul's words: - "I say therefore unto the unmarried and widows. It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn." It was only the other day, the Indian Social Reformer, praised Her Most Gracious Majesty for her noble widowhood. If such is the sentiment in modern Europe, need we wonder that in India, where the people attained an early civilization, these thoughts became crystallized and handed down as custom (unfortunately some evil practices have had this tendency too) and the higher castes began to prohibit it altogether; and the mistake was made, in not remembering the wise caution of St. Paul that it is better to marry than to burn. Besides this rigorous custom is opposed in one sense to the generally recognized freedom in Hindu Principles, as deduced from the doctrine of Karma. It is freely held that no one man's or woman's capacity is equal to that of another and that as such no man or woman can be forced to undertake the duties and responsibilities beyond his or her strength, and that as such, if he or she fails to undertake such duty, even thought it be regarded as the highest, she cannot be blamed. Actions or omissions can only be prohibited if they are positively harmful. And when we contemplate, as in the case of widow, that in some instances, the forcing of a widow to bear a burden which she cannot afford is likely to cause enduring injury to her and to society, we do not think that such a contingency was ever actually foreseen by the Law which enunciates 'Ahimsa Paramo Dharmo.' Anything likely to cause pain is regarded as Papam (உயிர்க்கதம்செய்தார்) and Punyam is, anything likely to give pleasure (உயிர்க்கிதம்செய்தல்). We know positively that in many cases great suffering is caused by enforced widowhood, tempered though it be by the unexciting and generally contented, even, pious tenor of their lives. This feeling of contentment and being utterly resigned, it has only to be feared, stands every chance of being undermined by the hysterical cries of a few people and by the character of education which is thrust on them. Modern education (European) knows no content and if we duly contemplate the chances of our young girls reading Reynolds and other one penny novels, the chances indeed are awful. There is vice even now in consequence of this enforced widowhood but by these new evil influences there is room for greater vice to prevail in the future. Already there are girls who brook not their parental control and are flying from their homes and offering themselves in the open market; but man is extremely selfish and though by his preaching &c., (purely didactic) he induces an innocent girl to leave her former, perhaps even happy mode of life, yet he would not himself under go a like sacrifice. As it is, caution has to be exercised, even on prudential considerations, in creating a supply before we create a demand. Man has to educate himself much far than he has to educate his female-kind. It is a perfectly frivolous excuse that we have often heard, that but for his females at home, he would have effected this and that reform; and all the while the speaker is a person whose other vices his wife or mother had not sought to eradicate him from. From the foregoing discussions we wish to draw prominent attention to the fact that change and freedom are not opposed to the genius of Hindu Dharma and religion; and that on the other hand, change has been its special characteristic and that it has all along been improving and adapting itself to its new environments.*
[* It should be apparent to every one, how, but for our established courts of Law, Hindu law in the hands of the people would have undergone many changes; and to how many shifts and contrivances people have recourse to, to keep themselves clear of the presumptions of our law courts. Even the Legislature is too slow (perhaps justly) to move with the times, and we know what difficulty the Hon'ble Mr. Sankaran Nair had in carrying a mere permissive piece of legislation through the Council; and the Hon'ble Mr. Bashyam Ayyangar's tiny bill is still hanging fire.]