The Vedic Sanskrit imitates a still initial stratum in the advancement of language. Even in its external marks it is less restricted than any classical tongue; it exceeds in a variety of aspects and inflexions; it is fluid and ambiguous, yet richly subtle in its function of examples and tenses. And on its psychological viewpoint, it has not yet crystallised, is not thoroughly congeal into the strict aspects of intellectual accuracy. The word for the Vedic Rishi is nevertheless a living element, an element of energy, ingenuity, formative. It is not yet prominent for an idea, but itself the parent and obsolete of ideas. It transmits within it the remembrance of its roots, is still conscient of its history.
The Rishis’ use of language was regulated by this ancient psychology of the Word. When in English we use the word “wolf” or “cow”, we indicate it simply the animal specified; we are not aware of any justification why we should use that specific sound for the impression except the immemorial tradition of the language, and we cannot wield it for any other meaning or goal except by an artificial tool of style. But for the Vedic Rishi “vrika” signified the tearer and therefore, among other requisitions of the sense, a wolf; “dhenu” signified the fosterer, nourisher, and thus a cow. But the actual and widespread sense predominates, the derived and particular is secondary. Therefore, it was feasible for the fashioner of the hymn to employ these ordinary and common words with tremendous pliability, sometimes proposing the image of the wolf or the cow, sometimes wielding it to colour the more prevailing sense, sometimes restraining it solely as a traditional figure for the psychological belief on which his sense was abiding, missing sight of the image altogether. It is in the glint of this psychology of the old dialect that we have to understand the extraordinary figures of Vedic symbolism as expressed by the Rishis, even to the most distinguished and factual. It is so that words like “ghritam”, the clarified butter, “soma”, the divine wine, and a legion of others are utilized.
Moreover, the barriers made by the belief between distinct senses of the same word were considerably less separative than in current speech. In English “fleet” signifying a number of ships and “fleet” meaning swift are two distinct words; when we use “fleet” in the first sense we do not assume of the swiftness of the ship’s movement, nor when we employ it in the second, do we think of the image of ships wandering directly over the ocean. But this was exactly what was apt to exist in the Vedic use of language. “Bhaga”, joy, and “bhaga”, share, were for the Vedic sense, not different words, but one word which had cultivated two diverse uses. Therefore it was clear for the Rishis to utilize it in one of the two senses with the other at the back of the senses colouring its overt senses or just to use it equally in both connotations at a time by a sort of figure of total significance. “Chanas” meant food but also it meant “Happiness, pleasure”; therefore it could be wielded by the Rishi to propose to the profane mind only the food provided at the sacrifice to the deities, but for the initiated it implied the Ananda, the pleasure of the divine bliss reaching into the physical consciousness and at the same time indicated the picture of the Soma-wine, at once the food of the gods and the Vedic sumlem of the Ananda.
We notice everywhere this practice of language conquering the Word of the Vedic hymns. It was the extraordinary device by which the ancient Mystics overcame the difficulty of their task. “Agni” for the common worshipper may have inferred merely the god of the Vedic fire, or it may have meant the precept of Heat and Light in physical Nature, or to the most naive it may have meant just a superhuman personage, one of the many “givers of wealth”, satisfiers of human desire.
How suggest to those capable of a profound belief of the psychological functions of God? The word itself fulfilled that service. For Agni implied the Strong, it signified the Bright, or even Force, Brilliance. So it could easily recall to the initiated, wherever it happened, the belief of the illumined Energy which accumulates the worlds and which exalts man to the Highest, the doer of the considerable work, the Purohit of the human sacrifice.
Or how keep it in the sense of the hearer that all these deities are identities of the one universal Deva? The names of the gods in their very expressing that they are only sobriquet, meaningful names, definitions, not personal appellations. Mitra is the Deva as the Lord of affection and peace, Bhaga as the Lord of enjoyment, Surya as the Lord of illumination, Varuna as the all-pervading Immenseness and virtue of the Divine supporting and refining the world. As Rishi Dirghatamas says, “The Existent is One,” “but the sages express It differently; they describe Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Agni; they call It Agni, Yama, Matarishwan.” The ideas in the earlier days of the Vedic knowledge had no requirement of this distinct opinion. The names of the gods carried to him their importance recalled the great crucial truth which persisted with him always.
But in the later ages the very device wielded by the Rishis turned against the protection of knowledge. For language shifted its identity, denied its earlier pliability, shed off old familiar senses; the word rented out and shrank into its outer and substantial consequence. The ambrosial wine of the Ananda was forgotten in the material offers; the portrayal of the clarified butter reminded only the gross quencher to imaginary deities, lords of the fire and the cloud and the storm-blast, godheads void of any but physical energy and an external lustre. The letter dwelled on when the spirit was forgotten; the symbol, the body of the principle, continued, but the soul of knowledge had disappeared from its coatings.