These different religious orders and families are now almost exclusively the spiritual directors of the Hindus. Some of them aie rich and of Brahrnanical descent ; some are poor, and com posed of persons of all castes. They 0,re almost all, whether rich or poor, illiterate, and several of them are profligate. Such literature as they occasionally cultivate—and it is one of the means by which they act upon the people—is vernacular literature, compositions in the spoken languages. These are mostly songs and hymns addressed to Vishnu, Krishna, or Radha ; tales and legends of individuals celebrated amongst them as saints, always marvellous, mostly absurd, and not un frequently immoral ; and vague and dogmatical expositions of elements of belief, which, although in some degree discoverable in the Puranas, have assumed novel and portentous prominence in the doctrines of the Vaishnava teachers and the prac tices of the people. These elements are passionate devotion and all-sufficient faith.
According to the geography of the Pnranas, the earth c,onsists of a series of central circles and six other annular continents, separated from each other by as many oceans of different fluid substances.
Tbe Puranas do not afford any reliable infor mation as to the state of the early occupants of India. The account which these books contain of the periods, dynasties, races, genealogies, and kings of Vedic India, looks imposing, minute, and circumstantial. They describe two great dynasties of the sun and moon, branching off into separate kingdoms ; four great ages of the world, with an accurately defined list of kings for each, and these lists all so framed as in appearance to strengthen and support each other. Containing also the very names found in the Vedas, with an elaborate system of dynastic change, and of intermarriages. But the Hindu of the middle ages had an immoderate speculative ness, a love of N,ild extravagance, fiction, and untruth. Colebrooke tells us p. 100) that the Raghiva-Pandivegam, an extraordinary poem by Kaviraj, is composed with studied ambiguity, so that it may at the option of the reader be interpret,ed as relating to the history of Ram4 and other descendants of Dasaratla, or that of Yudishthra and other sons of Pandu. It tells, in short, two distinct stories in the same words, as the following sentence will show :— Writers with such perverted imaginations issued the yogas and genealogies of the Puranas, the little lettven of truth in sonie of them being the 113111CS of a few Vedic kings, interspersed appar ently at haphazard. The writer of the Vishnu
Purana, in such a simple matter as writing out a list of rivers, puts down all he can remember, some twice over, and then adds to it the names of about a dozen rishis, taken bodily from the Vedas. The I'uranas have not only added nothing to our stock of knowledge as to the state of ancient India, but have done much to retard research. For, partly from the skill and elaborate ness of the fiction, and partly front the mutual support which the Puranie writers g,nve each ot her,—astrotionly, poetry, legend, chronology, and history all helping on the deceit,—modern scholars received the dynasties and the historical eras of two or perhaps three of the yogas as having some reality. But the Rig Veda does not contain many of the Puranie munes, nor even an allusion to them. It makes no mention of Solar or Lunar races. It knows nothing, and indeed can kilow nothing, of Ayodliya, and Kusi, and Mithila, and Vesali, and Magadlia, or even of Indrapra.stha ; while the Puratias, on the other hand, know nothing of dynasties in the l'anjab or on the Indus.
The best known is the Vishnu Purana, which is referred to the llth century by Professor 1Vilson. The Puranas have been thought by some to represent Egypt as the theatre of action, and the wars related of Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu to be the legend of the wars between Osiris, Horus, and Typhon ; for Brahma, in his character of all-destroying time, corresponds with Typhon ; Mahadeva or Siva, that of the productive prin ciple, witla Home or Ilara, who assumes each of his characters on various occasions either to restore the powers or to subdue the opponents of Vishnu, or active nature, from whom his auxiliary springs.—Wilson's Hind. That. p. 58 ; Wilson's Religious Practices aud Opinions of the Hindus, p. 24 ; Calcutta Review, No. 109, p. 52 ; As. Res.
p. 375 ; Coleman; Moor, p. 441; Colebrooke's .S'anskrit and Prakrit Languages, As. Res. vii. p. 202; Tod's Rajasthan, i. p. 20.