16 JANUARY 1864, Page 19

A TAMIL DRAMA.* CONSIDERING that England has been sovereign in

Bengal for a hundred and eight years, and in India for seventy, it is remark- able how few Indian works have been translated into English. The laws of Munoo, part of the Vedas, a few Sanscrit plays, and a short poem or two are all which are widely known, and of the great Indian epics the Ramayuna and the Mahabharuta there is, so far as we know, no English translation extant. No nation can be thoroughly understood by foreigners until its literature has been studied, and every native who translates a Hindoo classic renders an essential service to his country—builds a bridge, as it were, between the Western mind and the unique Hindoo intel- lect. Matti Coomttra Swkniy—the name is as soft as Italian, if

• Arkin/10ra. By Meta Coouikra Swamp. London : Smith, Elder, and Co.

people will only trouble themselves to pronounce it in the Italian way—Madrassee Hindoo by birth, English barrister by training, member of the Ceylon "Parliament" by position, would seem especially qualified to explain the thoughts of Hindoo poets to the average English mind. His style has indeed something of feebleness about it, like the style of Englishmen when they write Latin, for he is translating not from, but into, a language not his own. Still it is clear, and the author sometimes catches a little energy from the poetry of the thought, while his adaptation is entirely free from that jarring tendency towards ideas strictly

Western which deforms almost all translations made by English- men from Asiatic writings. The only two exceptions we remem-

ber are the authorized version of the Scriptures and Mr. Sale's of the Koran.

Arichandra is a drama translated from a work written as a poem, but intended to be a play, in Tamil, the vernacu- lar of the eastern side of the Madras Presidency. The author's name is not given, and by an inexcusable neglect Mutu Coomkra makes no attempt to settle the ago of his text, which, however, we presume, from internal evidence, to be at least fifteen hundred years old. In the original there were no divisions into scenes, acts, or speeches, but these have been added for the convenience of European readers. The scene, however, is still not painted, but always verbally described by one

of the characters, who plays the chorus of the Greek drama, the rhapsodists of India not having got beyond the old cart and mask stage. They generally sit under a tree, the audience squatting around them, and recite in a droning sing-song, which, however, is not monotonous, and which, like the recitative of an opera, admits of consummate acting. The audience, not paying any- thing—the local notability, or temple guardian, finds the funds— do not express disapproval, except by going away ; but they frequently become madly excited, and the crowd, always sitting, sway hither and thither, like poppies in a high wind, groaning, crying and exclaiming the while till any note of the voice, save

the one selected by the rhapsodists, would be entirely drowned. That can he heard, like the creaking of cordage, in any gale.

The thought of the author of the play was simply to express the Horatian view of the Stoic philosophy, the mew conscia recti, the power of the man armed with the love of truth and the passion for rectitude, to face any amount of external pressure. This idea is expressed through a machinery somewhat similar to that of the Book of Job. Arichandra, King of Ayodiah (Oude), is blessed with every earthly gift and a beautiful wife, whose necklace can be seen only by her destined husband, and a world-wide reputation for virtue. His " sage," a stupid word used to express a cross between a Catholic spiritual director and a guardian angel, boasts iu heaven of his excellencies till he rouses the wrath of another sage, Wis Wamitra, who bets his own sanctity against his rival's—sanctity being a thing extorted from the All-Ruler, and not a quality— that he will tempt Arichandra into sin. Indra grants his per- mission, and Wis Wamitra returns to earth to execute his purpose. He first, as a great sage, makes Arichandra promise to give him some gold for a sacrifice, which is granted with true Oriental hyperbole :-

" Wis Wamitra : My wants are small. High as a missile would ascend if hurled from a sling by a man standing on the back of an elephant, should the mound of gold I require rise in height ; its other dimensions must be commensurate ; and I ought to have it directly."

That quantity, more than sixty times the Victoria gold column shown at the International Exhibition, is given him, and a single elephant sent to fetch a hundred times an elephant's load ; but Wis Wamitra interposes, and the gold remains a debt.

This debt is the instrument of temptation. Wis Wamitra first summons all the beasts of the forests and birds of the air, and orders them to ravage Oude to impoverish the King ; but Arichandra collects his huntsmen and speedily slays them all, only two remaining to tell the sage the melancholy tale. Wis Wamitra, accordingly, creates a giant boar to defeat the army ; but Arichandra kills him too, and the sage adopts a subtler wea- pon. He sends some dancing-girls to the King, who try to entice him ; but the King refuses to yield—Mutu Coomkra spoils this by inserting, for propriety's sake, a notion of marriage which never entered a Hindoo's head—grounding his refusal, of course, not on any strong idea of chastity, though he mentions his wife, but on the wickedness of a King having any connection with a Pariah. Wis Wamitra, accordingly, enters and offers him the option of sin or rain, and the King, driven wild with emotion, strives to buy him off with the sacrifice of his kingdom. Wis Wamitra thus enthroned, used his regal power to prosecute his purpose, and Arichandra passes through unheard-of trials. He is ordered to pay the gold he promised the sage, and sets out for Bmares to obtain it ; but the King's messenger sent with him

takes him through a desert,—where he saves the messenger by carrying him on his shoulders; through venomous reptiles,—

where he protects hint ; through hunger,—which would be relieved but that he offers the messenger the food; through an inundation, —whence he rescues his tormentor ; through goblins,—whenee Atichandra, delivers him by offering himself in his stead. It is a really noble picture, only Arichandra's reason for thus acting is not benevolence, but simply reverence for his tormentor's privileges as a Brahmin! All these terrors have failed to induce him to tell a lie, and now Wis Wamitra tries still harsher means. Arichandra is horribly tortured, is compelled to sell his child and his wife as slaves, to become himself the slave of a vile corpse-burner, and at last as public executioner to put his wife to death as a proved murderess. All is in vain, he will not sin, and as he strikes his wife's neck the sword becomes a string of pearls, the Gods descend, the dead are restored to life, and Arichandra in triumph remounts the throne of Oude.

This, it will be perceived, is, when told with a poetry scarcely concealed by a bald translation, a really striking realization of the ancient idea of the sovereignty of the human will, when

animated by a firm trust in God, and in that ultimate victory of the right which follows of necessity from His government. The Hindoo author, however, is not content to state and follow out his grand idea, he must arsa state, though he only partly follows out, the converse side of the insoluble problem, the whole theory of Arichandra's action, his reputation, and his reward is based upon free will ; but the Hindoo believing free will, believes at the same time, and as absolutely, in destiny. Consequently, the holiest human beings introduced into the piece teach incessantly the contrary dogma, the hermits, for instance, summing up the ground- belief of Asia in this not ineloquent style :-

" The Hermits (as they enter the Hermitage): Ali ! how it rends our hearts to think what sufferings the King has to endure ! Yet how can we assist him ? Life is misery : all men are unhappy—only seemingly happy. To be born is to suffer; to cease to exist, is alone to be happy. Deluded man ! he must know himself to know aught beyond himself. Then may he find that all is delusion—that happiness and unhappiness are the same ; We and death but one; the whole universe a dream— aye, not oven a dream ; for there is nothing to dream of, and none to dream. As others, so also must Arichandra pay the penalty of exist- ence, till the holy light shines in his understanding,—till he knows and feels that pleasure and pain exist in idea alone ; in fact, never ! Why sorrow we ? Let what will be done be done."

It is this belief which produces alike the admiration of the Hindoo for resignation as the greatest of virtues, and his belief that gods and sages are not bound by moral laws. How can they be bound ? They are but conscious instruments of destiny, and when Wis Wamitra tortures Arichandra, or the Gods bear part in plots of unheard-of wickedness, they do no wrong ; for there is no law save the decrees which they may utter as mouth- pieces of inexorable fate. Wis Wamitra does not derive his power from them, or from holiness, or from intellect, but from fate ; as Southey, with his marvellous and intuitive comprehen- sion of Hindooism, sings:—

" I have seen Indra tremble at his prayers,

And at his dreadful penances turn pale ; They claim and wrest from Seeva power so vast That even Seeva's self, The highest, cannot grant and be secure."

Except that Seeva is a blunder, he being only the highest of the Gods, and himself subject to the inexorable, the author of Arichandra has expressed the wild notion of his creed with less poetry and greater accuracy. The sage enters in a very bump- tious mood, which, however, is accepted as quite proper, it being

Wis Wamitm's nature to be bumptious, and a Hindoo respecting individual caprice almost as much as a Frenchman :-

"Wis Wamitra: I can convert all these infinite systems of worlds into cinders in a trice; yea, I can place under duress even the great Triad—Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. I am the destroyer of him who displeases me—I am the patron of him who pleases me. All virtues and power I possess—such is Wis Wamitra, the royal sage; such am I."

"'mire : Sage Wis Wamitra! none can surpass thee in the perform- ance of sacred austerities. A king by birth, thou didst renounce all kingly pomp and power, to become a devotee. Whilst ages rolled past —whilst worlds ceased to be and renewed their existence—whilst the earth was swept over by repeated deluges, or devastated by over-recur- ring fires—hast not thou, 0 great Being ! continued undisturbed in a state of solemn meditation in the caves of Mount Meru, thy mind con- centrated on God, thy frame reposing in a state of sleepless sleep and deathless death ? Well may all dread the wrath of one endowed with such prowess—well may all court his favour. The hero is not he whom victory crowns on the field of battle ; the hero of heroes is even the man of God who has conquered his own mind." The belief that when one penetrates to the depths of thing one will find a void, is the root of Hindoo thought, the rensr : why Christianity makes no way, the secret influence wh?t- instant civilization has secured physical comfort, bars all Anther progress. The fact that with this belief the Hindoo also believes that "the virtuous heart and resolute will are free," is the most inexplicable of all psychological problems. We can offer but one reconciling suggestion, and of that one Hindoo literature affords no proof. It is just possible that the ancient Hindoo held, and the modern Hindoo has forgotten, Witt the virtuous will had, in itself, like austerity, a controlling force over destiny, and though it could not render life more than a dream, it could extort such favour as would make that dream a happy one.