The History, Development, and Character of Sanskrit

[Chapter 1 from Sanskrit Keys to the Wisdom Religion by Judith Tyberg, 1940]

The cultural value in a study of the Sanskrit language lies in the way it trains the mind in logical thinking, in clarity of expression, in true intellectual strength, in keen insight into the meanings and sources of philosophical words generally, and with especial reference to our own Theosophical teachings. This study gives to both student and inquirer the inner meaning of Sanskrit words, so many of which have now been adopted as Theosophical terms and which to the Theosophist who has grasped their rich content of philosophical thought, become so meaningful, so ripe with wisdom-teaching. We could hardly do without them.
One who has the time to undertake a study of Sanskrit will benefit enormously by it. Clearer thinking, grander philosophical and religious outlooks, a finer appreciation of the clarifies and niceties of expression, of subtil metaphysical, philosophical, and scientific distinctions that not one of the Occidental tongues so richly has: these one will learn by a continued study of the Sanskrit language. -- G. DE PURUCKER, from a lecture delivered at Theosophical University, July 14, 1940.

I am going to open a door and let you vision the wisdom-treasure that the Sanskrit Language, the ancient and sacred language of India, holds for those who love Truth and its wondrous mysteries.

Sanskrit is one of the noblest languages that human genius has brought forth. Because of its grandeur it is one of the most difficult to understand. Sanskrit is the pride of the people of India, and knowledge of it gives the key to their hearts. It is the learned language of India, the language of its cultured inhabitants, the language of its religion, philosophy, literature, and science, a language very much alive in the heart-life of its people. The Hindus are a nation of philosophers and mystics. Max Muller called them "the most highly gifted race of mankind." Almost every phase of philosophical thought in the West is represented in one form or another in Hindu philosophical works.

Philologists well recognise that Sanskrit is the mother of Aryan languages. Comparative philology gives us indisputable proof of the fact that the ancestors of Hindus, Iranians and Greeks, of Slavs and Lithuanians and Germans, of Italians and Celts, in far distant ages spoke one language, and as a single people had dwelling-places in common, wherever that home may have been situated. H. P. Blavatsky thus rightly speaks of Sanskrit as "the divine language," and the Devanagari the Sanskrit characters, as the "speech of the Gods". -- Blavatsky: Collected Writings, Vii, p. 264

She also writes in an article "Was Writing Known to Panini?" (Op. cit. V, 303):

Everyone sees -- cannot fail to see and to know -- that for a language so old and so perfect as the Sanskrit to have survived alone, among all languages, it must have had its cycles of perfection and its cycles of degeneration. And, if one had any intuition, he might have seen that what they call a "dead language" being an anomaly, a useless thing in nature, it would not have survived, even as a "dead" tongue, had it not its special purpose in the Reign of immutable Cyclic Laws; and that Sanskrit which came to be nearly lost to the world is now slowly spreading in Europe, and will one day have the extension it had thousand upon thousand of years back -- that of a universal language . . . .

The India of old is constantly rising in estimation since the discovery of its grand achievements in language, literature, art and philosophy. It will be realized more and more that a knowledge of the culture of old India is essential to the foundation of a proper understanding of the origin and growth of Western civilization. Sanskrit is a language which, though possessing voluminous and valuable works in prose and verse, has but recently become known to Europe. Just as a botanist may estimate the age of a tree from the number of its branches and the circumference of its trunk, so in like manner, a linguist can estimate the age of a language from the number of its branch-dialects and the area of the country over which it is spoken. As there is no language so perfect in its forms and with so many branches and sub-branches as the Sanskrit, it must be regarded as the oldest of all the existing literary languages. Besides being the oldest of our literary languages it is also the most replete with knowledge concerning the wonderful and recondite potentialities of the human spirit.

H. P. Blavatsky tells us in Five Years of Theosophy:

The Vedas, Brahmanism, and along with these, Sanskrit, were importations into what we now regard as India. They were never indigenous to its soil. There was a time when the ancient nations of the West included under the generic name of India many of the countries of Asia now classified under other names. There was an Upper, a Lower and a Western India, even during the comparatively late period of Alexander; and Persia (Iran) is called Western India in some ancient classics. The countries now named Tibet, Mongolia and Great Tartary were considered by them as forming part of India. When we say, therefore, that India has civilized the world, and was the Alma Mater of the civilizations, arts, and sciences of all other nations (Babylonia, and perhaps even Egypt, included) we mean archaic, pre-historic India, India of the time when the great Gobi was a sea, and the lost "Atlantis" formed part of an unbroken continent which began at the Himalayas and ran down over Southern India, Ceylon, and Java, to far-away Tasmania. -- p. 179 (orig. ed.)

Where did the Sanskrit language originate? Dr. G. de Purucker has said [The material of this and the following two paragraphs are paraphrased from a letter written by G. de Purucker, in answer to questions sent him on the subject; extracts from which appeared in Lucifer, September, 1935.] that one of the earliest of the Aryan tongues, a lineal descendant of an Atlantean progenitor was the philologic parent of what is now known as Sanskrit. In ancient times in India, and in the homeland of the Aryans before they reached India by way of Central Asia, this very early Aryan speech was used not only by the Aryan populace, but in the sanctuaries of the Temples was taken in hand and developed to be a far finer vehicle for expressing abstract religious and philosophic conceptions and thoughts. And this tongue thus developed and worked upon by Initiates of the Aryan stock was finally given the name of Sanskrita (perfected), signifying an original natural language which had become perfected by Initiates for the purpose of expressing far more subtil and profound distinctions than ordinary people would ever find needful. So great was the admiration in which the Sanskrit language thus perfected was held that it was commonly said of it that it was the work of the Gods, because it had thus become capable of expressing godlike thoughts and profound spiritual subtilties and philosophical distinctions. Thus it was that Sanskrit became the mystery-language of the Initiates of the Aryan race. This refers to the Sanskrit of the original Vedic writings, a more complete form than appears in the later or classical Sanskrit which has lost many of its former, more original, and, when effectively used, very telling grammatical beauties.

Was Sanskrit known to the Atlanteans? It was not known to the Atlanteans in their prime as a spoken tongue, but in the degenerate or later times of Atlantis, when the earliest Aryans already had appeared on the scene of history, this early Aryan tongue, the root of Sanskrit, was already in existence; and the Aryan Initiates were then in course of perfecting it as their temple-language or mystery tongue.

Thus Sanskrit was not spoken among the Atlanteans, nor can it be called an Atlantean language, although its verbal roots go back to earliest Atlantean times. Sanskrit is a typically Aryan tongue, i.e., highly inflected, perhaps the most highly inflected language known today; even more so than ancient Greek, the next most highly inflected language. The language of the Third Root-Race was largely onomatopoetic, i.e., reproducing certain sounds of Nature which by human usage and long custom finally became established and understood as the means of conveying human thought, human needs, and human wishes. These sounds are the roots of all languages as they existed in later races. Then came the Atlantean, which was what philologists call agglutinated speech, i.e., a combination of verbal-roots or words without change or inflection. Some of the languages existing on Earth today are of this type; such as most of the languages of the American Redskins and the Mongolians. This agglutinated tongue became more and more complex and more and more grammatical as inflexions slowly developed through the ages; until finally agglutination passed over into inflexion, thus giving rise to the early languages of the Fifth Root-Race. Sanskrit being a perfected Aryan tongue is highly inflected.

It is important to remember that Atlantis, like modern Europe, comprised many nations and many dialects which were issues from the three primeval root-languages of the First, Second and Third Root-Races. As the chief element in the languages of the Fifth Race is the Aryan-Sanskrit, so the predominating element in Atlantis was a language which has now survived but in the dialects of some American Red-Indian tribes, and in the speech of the inland Chinese, the mountainous tribes of Kivang-ze. H. P. Blavatsky tells us in her Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, p. 199, that the present yellow races are the descendants of the early branches of the Fourth Race. The only pure and direct descendants of the Third Race are a portion of the fallen and degenerated Australians whose far remote ancestors belong to a division of the seventh Sub-race of the Third Race.

The rest of them are of mixed Lemuro-Atlantean descent. They have since then entirely changed in stature and intellectual capacities.

To quote H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine:

And as languages have their cyclic evolution, their childhood, purity, growth, fall into matter, admixture with other languages, maturity, decay and finally death, so the primitive speech of the most civilized Atlantean races -- that language, which is referred to as "Rikshasi Bhasa," in old Sanskrit works -- decayed and almost died out. While the "cream" of the Fourth Race gravitated more and more toward the apex of physical and intellectual evolution, thus leaving as an heirloom to the nascent Fifth (the Aryan) Race the inflectional, highly developed languages, the agglutinative decayed and remained as a fragmentary fossil idiom, scattered now, and nearly limited to the aboriginal tribes of America. -- II, 199

In her Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky quotes from Jacolliot's Histoire des Vierges: Les Peuples et les Continents Disparus and says that the legend therein told agrees with the occult records. The following is the passage:

One of the most ancient legends of India, preserved in the temples by oral and written tradition, relates that several hundred thousand years ago there existed in the Pacific Ocean, an immense continent which was destroyed by geological upheaval, and the fragments of which must be sought in Madagascar, Ceylon, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the principal isles of Polynesia.
The high plateaux of Hindustan and Asia, according to this hypothesis, would only have been represented in those distant epochs by great islands contiguous to the central continent. . . . According to the Brahmans this country had attained a high civilization, and the peninsula of Hindustan, enlarged by the displacement of the waters, at the time of the grand cataclysm, has but continued the chain of the primitive traditions born in this place. These traditions give the name of Rutas to the peoples which inhabited this immense equinoctial continent, and from their speech was derived the Sanscrit. -- I, 594

One may ask where did the alphabetical script of Sanskrit known as Devanagari originate? It is derived from Senzar, the ancient mystery-language which was known to all Initiates in every part of the inhabited and civilized world. Senzar was the secret sacerdotal language or mystery-speech of all Adepts belonging to the chief Esoteric Brotherhood. It was the language in which were written the secret works preserving the history of the archaic continents and races, as well as the prophecies of the future. It was Senzar which was the direct progenitor of the Devanagari and Vedic Sanskrit, the language that had been developed in the sacred temples by those Initiates who were all versed in this occult language. This mystery-speech, Senzar, was used in the secret Commentaries and in the Stanzas of Dzyan, those old, old scriptures which formed the basis of H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. H. P. Blavatsky says that the most ancient Chaldean document on occult learning, the Siphrah Dtseniouta, was compiled from the Book of Dzyan, and at a time when the latter was already considered in the light of a literary relic. Further H. P. Blavatsky, speaking of the Book of Dzyan, says:

Tradition says, that it was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manushis, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races. -- The Secret Doctrine, I, p. xliii

H. P. Blavatsky further states about this Universal language:

With regard to the claim made by some Kabalists that there was in antiquity one knowledge and one language, this claim is also our own, and it is very just. Only it must be added, to make the thing clear, that this knowledge and language have both been esoteric ever since the submersion of the Atlanteans. The Tower of Babel myth relates to that enforced secrecy. Men falling into sin were regarded as no longer trustworthy for the reception of such knowledge, and, from being universal, it became limited to the few. Thus, the "one-lip" -- or the Mystery-language -- being gradually denied to subsequent generations, all the nations became severally restricted to their own national tongue; and forgetting the primeval Wisdom-language, they stated that the Lord -- one of the chief Lords or Hierophants of the Mysteries of the Java Aleim -- had confounded the languages of all the earth, so that the sinners could understand one another's speech no longer. But Initiates remained in every land and nation, and the Israelites, like all others, had their learned Adepts. One of the keys to this Universal Knowledge is a pure geometrical and numerical system, the alphabet of every great nation having a numerical value for every letter, and, moreover, a system of permutation of syllables and synonyms which is carried to perfection in the Indian Occult methods, and which the Hebrew certainly has not. -- The Secret Doctrine, III, 176

Sanskrit is truly the mystery-language of the Initiates of the Aryan race; while Senzar was the mystery-language of the later Atlanteans, and is still used as the noblest mystery-language by the Mahatmans.

H. P. Blavatsky tells us that Sanskrit has never been known nor spoken in its true systematized form except by the Initiated Brahmans. This form of Sanskrit was called, as well as by other names, Vach, the mystic speech, signifying the pulsating or vibratory tones that lie latent in its syllables and words. These tones, arranged in a Mantra, are a power in the hands of one who is familiar with the correlations of sounds, numbers, colors, and hierarchies in the Cosmos.

The chanting of a Mantra is not a prayer, but rather a magical sentence in which the law of Occult causation connects itself with, and depends on, the will and acts of its singer. It is a succession of Sanskrit sounds, and when its string of words and sentences is pronounced according to the magical formulae in the Atharva Veda, but understood by the few, some Mantras produce an instantaneous and very wonderful effect. In its esoteric sense it contains the Vach (the "mystic speech"), which resides in the Mantra, or rather in its sounds, since it is according to the vibrations, one way or the other, of ether that the effect is produced. The "sweet singers" were called by that name because they were experts in Mantras. Hence the legend in China that the singing and melody of the Lohans are heard at dawn by the priests from their cells in the monastery of Fang-Kwang. -- The Secret Doctrine, III, 410

This Vach, or the 'mystic self' of Sanskrit, was the sacerdotal speech of the initiated Brahmans and was studied by Initiates from all over the world.

As to the mode of writing this 'Mystery-speech', H. P. Blavatsky states:

The sacerdotal language (Senzar), besides an alphabet of its own, may be rendered in several modes of writing in cypher characters, which partake more of the nature of ideographs than of syllables. -- The Voice of the Silence, p. viii (orig. ed.)

The Neter-Khari or hieratic alphabet or divine speech of the Egyptians is very closely related to this old Senzar, and also to Devanagari.

In her Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky tells us:

In addition to other travellers, the Abbe Huc gives us an account of that wonderful tree of Thibet called the Kounboum; that is to say, the tree of the 10,000 images and characters. It will grow in no other latitude, although the experiment has sometimes been tried; and it cannot even be multiplied from cuttings. The tradition is that it sprang from the hair of one of the Avatars (the Lama Son -- Ka-pa) one of the incarnations of Buddha. But we will let the Abbe Huc tell the rest of the story: "Each of its leaves, in opening, bears either a letter or a religious sentence, written in sacred characters, and these letters are, of their kind, of such a perfection that the type-foundries of Didot contain nothing to excel them. Open the leaves, which vegetation is about to unroll, and you will there discover, on the point of appearing, the letters or the distinct words which are the marvel of this unique tree! Turn your attention from the leaves of the plant to the bark of its branches, and new characters will meet your eyes! Do not allow your interest to flag; raise the layers of this bark, and still OTHER CHARACTERS will show themselves below those whose beauty had surprised you. For, do not fancy that these superposed layers repeat the same printing. No, quite the contrary; for each lamina you lift presents to view its distinct type. How, then, can we suspect jugglery? I have done my best in that direction to discover the slightest trace of human trick, and my baffled mind could not retain the slightest suspicion."
We will add to M. Huc's narrative the statement that the characters which appear upon the different portions of the Kounboum are in the Sensar (or language of the Sun), characters (ancient Sanscrit); and that the sacred tree, in its various parts, contains in extenso the whole history of the creation, and in substance the sacred books of Buddhism, -- I, 440

Imagine the wonderful heritage of the Sanskrit script -- Devanagari! Senzar is its divine parent. Subba Row, a chela of the Masters of Wisdom, said the Devanagari was held so sacred that

the Brahmans, first under penalty of death, and later on of eternal ostracism, were not even allowed to mention it to profane ears, much less to make known the existence of their secret temple libraries. -- Five Years of Theosophy, p. 360 (orig. ed.)

The Dwijas, i.e., the 'Twice-born', and the Dikshitas, the Initiates, alone were originally permitted to use this literary art. In India, as indeed in many other countries which have been the seat of the archaic civilization, it was the religious custom of its esoteric institutions to have all the sacred and secret records committed to memory, rather than have them engraved or written in a material form. It was only the priesthood who had, in addition to the mnemonic records, an ideographic or syllabic script which was used when considered convenient or necessary, as in the case of intercommunication between themselves and brother-initiates speaking other tongues. In those far past times writing was not found to be a need among the populace and was kept as a sacred art for the temple scribes alone.

Subba Row further states in connexion with this secret script:

Real Devanagari -- non-phonetic characters - meant formerly the outward symbols, so to say, the signs used in the inter-communication between gods and initiated mortals. Hence their great sacredness and the silence maintained throughout the Vedic and the Brahmanical periods about any object concerned with, or referring to, reading and writing. It was the language of the gods. -- Op. cit., p. 423 (orig. ed.)

Hence the name Devanagari, a word meaning 'divine-city' or 'temple', may be interpreted as 'divine-city-writing' or 'temple-writing.'

Occult Science claims that the Devanagari characters are all musical and that they have the power within to convey the occult significance of sound. Each letter or combination of letters corresponds to certain spiritual or terrestrial things. There being some fifty letters to the Devanagari alphabet, besides numberless combination-characters, the margin for conveying mystic truth is very great. Every letter has its equivalent in other languages, its equivalent in a figure or figures of the calculation-table, besides numerous other significations. (See The Secret Doctrine, III, 99-100.)

The Devanagari characters as they were first used among initiates and privileged men were symbolical and ideographic in form. Dr. de Purucker has said that all ancient types of script, i.e., all ancient lithographic characters, were originally symbolic in form. Each alphabetical character or ideograph was an outline originally conveying a picture; then these outlines by use gradually lost their picture-form, or idea-suggesting power, and through constant use and rapid writing continuously lost more and more of the detail of the picture, until they finally became merely conventional signs or letters of the alphabet.

Speaking of the hidden meaning of the Sanskrit words found in ancient myths and allegories Mr. T. Subba Row gives us some rules and advice:

1. Find out the synonyms of the word used which have other meanings.
2. Find out the numerical value of the letters composing the word according to the methods given in ancient Tantrika works.
3. Examine the ancient myths or allegories, if there are any, which have any special connection with the word in question.
4. Permute the different syllables composing the word and examine the new combinations that will thus be formed and their meanings, &c., &c. -- See Five Years of Theosophy, 106-7 (orig. ed.)

Sanskrit, like all ancient languages and like even some of our modern languages, has been through many stages of development. Subba Row wrote:

Every one sees -- cannot fail to see and to know -- that for a language so old and so perfect as the Sanskrit to have survived alone, among all languages, it must have had its cycles of perfection and its cycles of degeneration. And, if one had any intuition, he might have seen that what they call a "dead language" being an anomaly, a useless thing in Nature, it would not have survived, even as a "dead" tongue, had it not its special purpose in the reign of immutable cyclic laws; and that Sanskrit, which came to be nearly lost to the world, is now slowly spreading in Europe, and will one day have the extension it had thousands upon thousands of years back -- that of a universal language. The same as to the Greek and the Latin: there will be a time when the Greek of Aeschylus (and more perfect still in its future form) will be spoken by all in Southern Europe, while Sanskrit will be resting in its periodical pralaya; and the Attic will be followed later by the Latin of Virgil. Something ought to have whispered to us that there was also a time -- before the original Aryan settlers among the Dravidian and other aborigines, admitted within the fold of Brahmanical initiation, marred the purity of the sacred Sanskrita Bhasha -- when Sanskrit was spoken in all its unalloyed subsequent purity, and therefore must have had more than once its rise and fall. The reason for it is simply this: classical Sanskrit was only restored, if in some things perfected, by Panini. Panini, Katyayana or Patanjali did not create it; it has existed throughout cycles, and will pass through other cycles still. -- Five Years of Theosophy, 419-20 (orig. ed.)

William Quan Judge, one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society, said:

The Sanscrit language will one day be again the language used by man upon this earth, first in science and in metaphysics, and later on in common life. -- The Path, May, 1886, p. 58

H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, p. 199, says that language proceeds in cycles and is not always adequate to express spiritual thought.

As the time moves on spiritual thoughts and spiritual teachings will be more and more prevalent, and a language, or a terminology, will be sought to express these loftier ideas. The Sanskrit language already has words and terms for all the most intricate workings of the spiritual and inner worlds of being. It is a scientific language and has been enriched by ages of study of metaphysics and the true occult science.

H. P. Blavatsky declared:

The attempt to render in a European tongue the grand panorama of the ever periodically recurring Law -- impressed upon the plastic minds of the first races endowed with Consciousness by those who reflected the same from the Universal Mind -- is daring, for no human language, save the Sanskrit -- which is that of the Gods -- can do so with any degree of adequacy. -- The Secret Doctrine, I, 2 69

Mystery upon mystery is wrapped in the Sanskrit language and its alphabetical script, the Devanagari. It was one of the instruments that the Gods and high Initiates used to impart Truth to men in the early days of our Fifth Race during the Satya-Yuga, or 'Age of Truth.'