Ancient India

One of the great branches, we have said, of the Caucasian family of mankind was the Indo-Persian, which, spreading out in. the primeval times from the original seat of the Caucasian part of the human species, extended itself from the Caspian to the Bay of Bengal, where, coming into contact with the southern Mongolians, it gave rise, according to the most probable accounts, to those new mixed Caucasian-Mongolian races, the Malays of the Eastern Peninsula; and, by a still farther degeneracy, to the Papuas, or natives of the South Sea Islands. While thus shading off into the Mongolism of the Pacific, the Indo-Persian mass of our species was at the same time attaining maturity within itself; and as the first ripened fragment of the Mongolians had been the Chinese nation, so one of the first ripened fragments of the Indo-Persian branch of the Caucasians seems to have been the Indians. At what time the vast peninsula of Hindoostan could first boast a civilized population, it is impossible to say; all testimony, however, agrees in assigning to Indian civilization a most remote antiquity. Another fact seems also to be tolerably well authenticated regarding ancient India; namely, that the northern portions of it, and especially the north-western portions, which would be nearest the original Caucasian seat, were the first civilized; and that the civilizing influence spread thence southwards to Cape Comorin.

Notwithstanding this general conviction, that India was one of the first portions of the earth's surface that contained a civilized population, few facts in the ancient history of India are certainly known. We are told, indeed (to omit the myths of the Indian Bacchus and Hercules), of two great kingdom - those of Ayodha (Oude) and Prathisthana (Vitera) - as having existed in northern India upwards of a thousand years before Christ; of conquests in southern India, effected by the monarchs of these kingdoms; and of wars carried on between these monarchs and their western neighbors the Persians, after the latter had begun to be powerful. All these accounts, however, merely resolve themselves into the general information, that India , centuries before Christ, was an important member in the family of Asiatic nations; supplying articles to their commerce, and involved in their agitations. Accordingly, if we wish to form an idea of the condition of India prior to that great epoch in its history - its invasion by Alexander the Great, B.C. 326 we can only do so by reasoning back from that we know of its present condition, allowing for the modifying effects of the two thousand years which have intervened; and especially for the effects produced by the Mohammedan invasion, A. D. 1000. This, however, is the less difficult in the case of such a country as India, where the permanence of native institutions is so remarkable; and though we cannot hope to acquire a distinct notion of the territorial divisions, etc., of India in very ancient times, yet, by a study of the Hindoos as they are at present, we may furnish ourselves with a tolerably accurate idea of the nature of that ancient civilization which overspread Hindoostan many centuries before the birth of Christ, and this all the more probably that the notices which remain of the state of India at the time of the invasion of Alexander, correspond in many points with what is to be seen in India at the present day.

The population of Hindoostan, the area of which is estimated at about a million square miles, amounts to about 120,000,000; of whom about 100,000,000 are Hindoos or aborigines, the remainder being foreigners, either Asiatic or European. The most remarkable feature in Hindoo society is its division into castes. The Hindoos are divided into four great castes - the Brahmins, whose proper business is religion and philosophy; the Kshatriyas, who attend to war and government; the Vaisyas, whose duties are connected with commerce and agriculture; and the Sudras, or artisans and laborers. Of these four castes the Brahmins are the highest; but a broad line of distinction is drawn between the Sudras and the other three castes. The Brahmins may intermarry with the three inferior castes - the kshatriyas with the vaisyas and the Sudras; and the vaisyas with the Sudras; but no Sudra can choose a wife from either of the three superior castes. As a general rule, every person is required to follow the profession of the caste to which he belongs: thus the Brahmin is to lead a life of contemplation and study, subsisting on the contributions of the rich; the Kshatriya is to occupy himself in civil matters, or to pursue the profession of a soldier; and the Vaisya is to be a merchant or a farmer. In fact, however, the barriers of caste have in innumerable instances been broken down. The ramifications. too, of the caste system are infinite. Besides the four pure, there are numerous mixed castes, all with their prescribed ranks and occupations.