From the Greek historians we learn that at the time of Alexander the falsification of Indian history had only gone the length of duplication . If we assume the Kaliyug, 3101 B.C., to represent the first immigration of the Aryans, the time that elapsed between that epoch and the accession of Chandragupta is, as nearly as may be, one half of the period, 6,042 years,1 during which Aryan tells us 153 monarchs succeeded one another on the throne of India. As this is as nearly as may be the number of kings whose names are recorded in the Puranas, we may fairly assume that the lists we now possess are the same as those which were submitted to the Greeks, while as according to this theory the average of each king’s reign was little more than 18 years, there is no inherent improbability in the statement. It is more difficult to understand the historian when he goes on to say, “During all this time the Indians had only the liberty of being governed by their own laws twice. First for about 300 years, and after that for 120.”2 If this means that at two different epochs during these 30 or rather 28 centuries the Dasyus had asserted their independence it would be intelligible enough. It may have been so. They had, however, no literature of their own, and could not consequently record the fact, and their Brahmanical masters were hardly likely to narrate this among the very few historical events they deign to record. If, however, it should turn out to be so, it is the one fact in Dasyu ancient history that has come down to our days.
The ancient history of the Dravidian race is nearly as barren as that of the Dasyus. It is true we have long lists of names of Pâṇḑyan kings, but when they commence is extremely doubtful! There is no one king in any of the lists whose date can be fixed within a century, nor any event recorded connected with any of these fainéant kings which can be considered as certain. It is not indeed till inscriptions and buildings come to our aid after the 5th or 6th century of our era, that anything like history dawns upon us. Between that time and the 10th or 11th century we can grope our way with tolerable certainty, and by the aid of synchronisms with the other dynasties obtain a fair knowledge of what was passing in the south some 8 or 10 centuries ago.3
Though all this is most unsatisfactory from an historical point of view, it fortunately is of comparatively little consequence for the purposes of this work. It does not appear that the Dravidians ever adopted the Buddhist religion, to any extent at least, and never certainly were excavators of caves. The few examples that exist in their country, such as those at Undavalli and Mahavâllipur, are quite exceptional, and though extremely interesting from that very cause, would hardly be more so, if we knew more of the history of the great dynasties of the country in which they are situated. They are not the expression of any national impulse, but the works of some local dynasties impelled to erect them under some exceptional circumstances, we do not now know, and may never be quite able to understand. We are thus for our history thrown back on the great Aryan Sanskrit-speaking race of northern India, and for our present purposes need not trouble ourselves to investigate the history of the long line of Solar kings. These from their first advent held sway in Ayodhya (the modern Oudh), till the time of the Mahâ Bharata when, about 12 centuries before the Christian era, they were forced to make way to their younger but less pure cousins of the Lunar line. Even then we may confine our researches to the rise of the Sisunâga dynasty in the 7th century B.C., as it was under one of the earlier kings of this dynasty that Śâkya Muni was born about 560 B.C., and with this event our architectural history practically begins.
It is fortunate we may be spared this long investigation, for even the much lauded Vedas, though invaluable from a philological or ethnographic point of view, are absolutely worthless in so far as chronology and history are concerned, while the Epics on which the bulk of our knowledge of the ancient history of India is based, present it in so poetic a garb that it is difficult to extract the small residuum of fact its passioned strophes may contain. For the rest of our ancient history we are forced to depend on the Purâṇas, which have avowedly been falsified in order to present the history subsequently to the Mahâbhârata or great wars of the Pandus as a prophecy delivered by the sage Vyasa who lived contemporaneously with that event. In this case it happens that a prophecy written after the events it describes, is nearly as unreliable, as writings of the same class, that pretend to foresee what may happen in the future.
Had any fragments of contemporary Buddhist literature survived the great cataclysm that destroyed that religion in the 7th and 8th centuries of our era, we would probably know all that we now are searching for in vain. We know at all events that in the Buddhist island of Ceylon they kept records which when condensed into the history of the Maháwanso4 present a truthful and consecutive narrative of events. Meagre it may be, in its present form, but no doubt capable of almost infinite extension if the annals of the monasteries still exist, and were examined with care. In like manner we have in the half Buddhist country of Kashmir, in the Râja Tarangini the only work in any Indian language which, as the late Professor Wilson said, is entitled to be called a history.5 If such works as these are to be found on the outskirts of the Buddhist kingdom, it can hardly be doubted that even fuller records existed in its centre. We have indeed indications in Hiuen Thsang6 that in the great monastery of Nalandâ the annals of the central kingdom of Magadha were in his time preserved with all the care that could be desired. The Chinese pilgrims, however, who visited India between the 4th and 7th centuries were essentially priests. They came to visit the places sanctified by the presence and actions of the founder of their religion, and to gather together on the spot the traditions relating to him and his early disciples. Beyond this their great object was to collect the books containing the doctrines and discipline of the sect. Secular affairs and political events had no attraction for these pilgrims of the faith, and they pass them over with the most supercilious indifference . It is true nevertheless that the great encyclopædia of Ma- twan-lin does contain a vast amount of information regarding the mediaeval history of India, but as this has not yet been translated it is hardly available for our present purposes.7
- 1. Indica, chap. ix.
- 2. Loc, cit.
- 3. Wilson, Essay J. R. A. S., vol. iiL p, 199, et seq.
- 4. Translated by the Hon. Geo. Tumour, 1 vol. 4to., Colombo, 1837.
- 5. Translated by Wilson, Asiatic Researches, vol. xv. p. 1, el seqq.
- 6. Hiuen Thsang, translated by Stanislas Julien, vol. iii. p. 41, et scq.
- 7. This was partially done by the late M. Pauthier, and his extracts republished, 1837, in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. vi. p. 61, et seq., and Journal Asiatique, 1839; also partially by M. Stan. Julien in the Journal Asiatique and by M. Favre. These, however, are only meagre extracts, and not edited with the knowledge since acquired. There are scholars willing to undertake the task of translation, but the difficulty is to obtain a copy of the original work. There are several in the British Museum, but the rules of that establishment do not admit of their being lent outside their walls, and as the would-be translators live at a distance, we must wait till this obstacle is removed before we can benefit by the knowledge we might thus attain.