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The same class, deriving supreme authority from the offices and the mysteries of their priesthood, were the sovereigns of the whole land and of all its inhabitants. As lawgivers, they alone were able, not only to establish, but to interpret, the forms of justice, which they also, in great part, put into execution.* A judge in one of the old dramas describes his duties in language that sounds as well to our ears as to those which first heard it. “A judge,” he says, “should be learned, sagacious, eloquent, dispassionate, impartial; he should pronounce judgment only after due deliberation and inquiry; he should be a guardian to the weak, a terror to the wicked; his heart should covet nothing, his mind be intent on nothing, but equity and truth.” But though this might be said and heard openly, the drama, as well as every other vehicle of cultivation or expression, was under the control of the Brahmins; so that any sentiments to which it gave utterance were tolerated by them, not breathed against them. It is more to our purpose to observe, that the duties of the judge, as one of the sovereign class, were intended to be observed towards his own order, and towards this alone. No words, at any rate, could make the Brahmins responsible; their authority was universal over religion, government, property,” and the occupations and habits of private life; but there was no claim upon it from those it swayed with absolute dominion. In the acquirements and the powers they themselves possessed, compared with those of the other castes, their title to such superiority rested upon grounds that were then, at least, indisputable; and it is in remembering how the development of the higher qualities of the human mind was confined entirely to them, that their liberty, though it was but the narrow freedom of a single class, assumes the importance it really deserves in the history of universal civilization. It will presently, however, appear that the liberty which the priesthood retained from the rest of their race could redound but little to their own activity, however powerful it might at first have assisted them to become. But, for the moment, we have some view to take, as rapidly as is consistent with our purposes, of the inferior castes, whose condition, however painful, will exhibit more exactly the prečminence of the Brahmins. The highest of these subject castes was that of the Chatriyas or warriors, perhaps subdued by the priests in earlier wars, perhaps attaining to the estate they held in after times through the victories they gained in concert with the Brahmins. They could give alms, it was said in the law, but receive none; they could read, but never expound the holy volumes of their people; and as if these distinctions were but the foundation of their subordination, it was further enjoined upon them, that they had no duty “superior to fighting,” nor any object except to obey the Brahmins, and live in the magnificence which characterized the rich, or the easy discipline to which the poor amongst them were constrained. The season of “fighting ” appears soon to have passed away; and a campaign, did it occur, would scarcely rouse the Chatriyas to dangerous conflicts, if the habits of war corresponded in any degree to those of peace. It is worth adding, that the Chatriyas, though they had been more martial than they really were, would have still been quite incapable of resisting the skilful and encroaching management of their superiors. From the same Chatriya caste, a king, or a chiefwarrior, as he ought rather to be called, was appointed to play the nominal sovereign over each community and state. His function was “conquest”;” his duty, “never to recede from combat”;” and yet he might be destroyed, “with troops, elephants, horses, and cars,” according to the pleasure of the Brahmins.” As for civil authority, there was none that the king could independently possess or exercise. His reign, if such it can be styled, began with the instructions of the priesthood; and from any powers with which he was invested, the broadest exceptions were made in favor of the same august and inviolable caste. “Dying of hunger,” the king could lay no charge on a Brahmin;” nor could he condemn a criminal to death, if he were a Brahmin, though “convicted of all possible crimes.” The 27 Menu, X. 119. 30 Ibid., VII. 133; LX. 313.
23 Menu, VIII. 1. Wilson, in his “Hindu Theatre.” 24 The Mrichchakati, or The This extract is from Act IX. Toy-Cart, a drama written proba- 25 See note 19. The question of
bly before our own era, and trans- property is a disputed one. lated, twenty years ago, by Mr.
28 Ibid., VII. 88. 31 Ibid., VIII. 381. So he who 29 Ibid., IX. 313. knew the sacred texts, that is, the Brahmin, had only to repeat a few virtue, yet conceal within their bo
old drama of Sacontala” contains a delightful picture of a monarch who “ had felicity at his command,” and was capable of fulfilling the desires natural to a bold and a merciful heart; but this was poetry. The reality is still to be observed in the laws of Menu, ancient, perhaps, as any other code in history, that royalty was but an office in the gift and under the dominion of the Brahmins.” The people, properly speaking, of India were composed of the Vaisyas and the Chatriyas, as the middle and the lower classes below the superior Brahmins. The Vaisyas were the husbandmen or farmers, and the tradesmen; * with whom alone industry was honorable, in remembrance of the tradition which made their existence indispensable to the warriors and the priests above them. They had the privilege of offering certain sacrifices and of receiving some limited instruction in the holy writings; but they were not secured against exactions or injuries from stronger men than they were themselves. Their weakness as a caste, and their insecurity as individuals, were the source, undoubtedly, of many bitter evils; but in a land whose soil was so prolific, the Vaisyas must have lived without much hardship, except when their crops were carried away or their dwellings plundered by the invader or by their own marauding countrymen. The Sudras were the slaves of the three other castes;” and however ingeniously their condition has been represented” as tolerable in comparison with the slavery among other ancient nations, it must be confessed that they were most unhappy beings. Even though emancipated by his master, the Sudra could never be released from servitude.” The doom pronounced upon the caste by the great god Brahma was remembered from generation to generation; and the Sudra was deprived, not only of all present comfort and independence, of the right of property.” and of social happiness, but of hope itself, which seemed to be too sacred for the slave to know. He could receive no instruction in the law, no “spiritual counsel” of any kind.” The mysteries of earth and heaven would have appeared polluted in his possession, and not even the “remains from a Brahmin’s
of them in order to be absolved of
WOL. I. 4
soms a scorching flame,” etc. (Act