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Parisista / Parisishtas

A series of works called Parisista [much less commonly Parisishtas] [A supplement or appendix] belong to the Vedic period, but they are the last of the series, and indicate a transition state. After the Sutras there is no literature of a purely Vedic character except the PariSistas. The value of the Parisistas is, unhappily, seriously diminished by the uncertainty of their date.

The object of the Parisishtas, considered to have been composed later than the Sutras, is to supply information on theological or ceremonial points which had been passed over in the Sutras, most likely because they were not deemed of sufficient importance, or because they were supposed to be well known to those more immediately concerned. But what most distinguishes the Parisishtas from the Sutras is this, that they treat everything in a popular and superficial manner : as if the time was gone, when students would spend ten or twenty years of their lives in fathoming the mysteries and mastering the intricacies of the Brahmana literature. A party driven to such publications as the Parisishtas, is a party fighting a losing battle.

After the Sutras there is no literature of a purely Yedic character except the Parisishtas. They still presuppose the laws of the Sutras and the faith of the Brahmanas. There is as yet no trace of any definite supremacy being accorded to Siva or Vishnu or Brahman. New gods, however, are mentioned ; vulgar or popular ceremonies are alluded to. The castes have become more marked and multiplied. The whole intellectual atmosphere is still Yedic, and the Vedic ceremonial, the Vedic theology, the Vedic language seem still to absorb the thoughts of the authors of the Parisishtas.

Any small matter that had been overlooked by the authors of the Sutras is noted down as a matter of grave importance. Subjects on which general instructions were formerly considered sufficient, are now treated in special treatises, intended for men who would no longer take the trouble of reading the whole system of the Brahmanic ceremonial. The technical and severe language of the Sutras was exchanged for a free and easy style, whether in prose or metre ; and however near in time the Brahmans may place the authors of the Sutras and some of the Parisishtas, certain it is that no man who had mastered the Sutra style would ever have condescended to employ the slovenly diction of the Parisishtas.

The change in the position and the characters of the Brahmans, such as is foundd in the Sutras, and such as found again in the Parisishtas, has been rapid and decisive. The men who could write such works were aware of their own weakness, and had probably suffered many defeats. The world around them was moving in a new direction, and the old Vedic age died away in impotent twaddle. Considerations like these tend to fix the Sutra period, as a phase in the literary history of India, as about contemporaneous with the first rise of Buddhism ; and they would lead to recognising in the Parisishtas the exponents of a later age, that had witnessed the triumphs of Buddhism and the temporary decay of Brahmanic learning and power.

The real political triumph of Buddhism dates from Asoka and his council, about the middle of the third century BC, and while most of the Yedic Sutras belong to this and the preceding centuries, none of the Parisishta were probably written before that time.



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