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The symbol Aum in the Tamil script
The symbol Aum in Kannada, Telugu script
The symbol Aum in Tibetan script

Aum (also Om, written in Devanagari as ,written in Tamil as ஓம், in Chinese as , in Japanese as 阿吽, in Tibetan as , in Sanskrit known as praṇava प्रणव lit. "to sound out loudly" or oṃkāra ओंकार lit. "oṃ syllable") is a mystical or sacred syllable in the Indian religions which originated from Hinduism.

Aum is commonly pronounced as a long or over-long nasalized close-mid back rounded vowel, [õːː]) though there are other enunciations pronounced in received traditions. It is placed at the beginning of most Hindu texts as a sacred exclamation to be uttered at the beginning and end of a reading of the Vedas or previously to any prayer or mantra. The Mandukya Upanishad is entirely devoted to the explanation of the syllable. The syllable is taken to consist of three phonemes, a, u and m, variously symbolizing the Three Vedas or the Hindu Trimurti or three stages in life ( birth, life and death ). Though ostensibly in some traditions it is polysyllabic and vocalized as a triphthong, the Omkara is held to move through and contain all vowels possible in human speech.[citation needed]. One important version has five components, flowing from h through a, u, oo to m.

The name Omkara, (Sanskrit: the syllable om) is taken as a name of God in the Hindu revivalist Arya Samaj. Similarly, the concept of om, called onkar in Punjabi, is found in Sikh theology as a symbol of God. It invariably emphasizes God's singularity, expressed as Ek Onkar ("One Omkara" or "The Aum is One"), stating that the multiplicity of existence symbolized in the aum syllable is really founded in a singular God.[1]


Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

The Sanskrit name for the syllable is praṇava, from a root nu "to shout, sound, praise", verbal pra-nu- being attested as "to make a humming or droning sound" in the Brahmanas, and taking the specific meaning of "to utter the syllable om" in the Chandogya Upanishad and the Shrauta Sutras. More rarely used terms are akṣara or ekākṣara, and in later times omkāra becomes prevalent.

Phonemically, the syllable is /aum/, which is regularly monophthongized to [õː] in Sanskrit phonology. It is sometimes also written with pluti, as o3m (ओ३म्), notably by Arya Samaj. When occurring within a Sanskrit utterance, the syllable is subject to the normal rules of sandhi in Sanskrit grammar, however with the additional peculiarity that after preceding a or ā, the o of om does not form vriddhi (au) but guna (o) per Pāṇini 6.1.95.

The Aum symbol Aum.svg is a ligature of Devanagari + (oṃ, encoded in Unicode at U+0950 , the Tibetan script variant at U+0F00, and the Chinese at U+5535 or at U+543D).

It is thought that "Amen" in Christianity and "Amin" in Islam came from AUM, but lost its original pronunciation through history.[2][3][4]

In Hinduism

God Ganesha is sometimes identified with the Aum

The syllable Aum is first described as all-encompassing mystical entity in the Upanishads. Today, in all Hindu art and all over India and Nepal, 'Aum' can be seen virtually everywhere, a common sign for Hinduism and its philosophy and theology. As the creation began, the divine, all-encompassing consciousness took the form of the first and original vibration manifesting as sound "OM".[5] Before creation began it was "Shunyakasha", the emptiness or the void. Shunyakasha is more than nothingness, because everything existed in a latent state of potentiality. The vibration of "OM" symbolizes the manifestation of God in form. "OM" is the reflection of the absolute reality, it is said to be "Adi Anadi", without beginning or the end and embracing all that exists.[5] The mantra "OM" is the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme. When taken letter by letter, A-U-M represents the divine energy (Shakti) united in its three elementary aspects: Bhrahma Shakti (creation), Vishnu Shakti (preservation) and Shiva Shakti (liberation, and/or destruction).[5]

In Hinduism, Om corresponds to the crown chakra and diamond white light.[5]

Upanishads and Sutra literature

The Balinese Om symbol

The syllable is mentioned in all the Upanishads, specially elaborated upon in the Taittiriya, Chandogya and Mandukya Upanishad set forth as the object of profound religious meditation, the highest spiritual efficacy being attributed not only to the whole word but also to the three sounds a (a-kāra), u (u-kāra), m (ma-kāra), of which it consists. A-kara means form or shape like earth, trees, or any other object. U-kara means formless or shapeless like water, air or fire. Ma-kara means neither shape nor shapeless (but still exists) like the dark matter in the Universe. When we combine all three syllables we get AUM which is a combination of A-kara, U-kara, and Ma-kara.[6]

The Katha Upanishad has:

"The goal, which all Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which humans desire when they live a life of conscience, I will tell you briefly it is Aum"
"The one syllable [evākṣara, viz. Aum] is indeed Brahman. This one syllable is the highest. Whosoever knows this one syllable obtains all that he desires.
"This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma." (1.2.15-17)[7]

The Chandogya Upanishad (1.1.1-1) states:

om ity etad akṣaram udgītham upāsīta / om iti hy udgāyati / tasyopavyākhyānam
"The udgitha ["the chanting", that is, the syllable om] is the best of all essences, the highest, deserving the highest place, the eighth."

The Bhagavad Gita (8.13) has:

Uttering the monosyllable Aum, the eternal world of Brahman, One who departs leaving the body (at death), he attains the superior goal.

The Bhagavad Gita (9.17)has: Krishna says to Arjuna - "I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable Oḿ. I am also the Ṛg, the Sāma and the Yajur Vedas."

The Bhagvad Gita (17.23) has:

om tatsatiti nirdesho brahmanstrividhah samratah
"OM, tat and sat has been declared as the triple appellation of Brahma, who is Truth, Consciousness and Bliss."

In the following sutra it emphasizes, "The repetition of Om should be made with an understanding of its meaning".[8]

Puranic Hinduism

In Puranic Hinduism, Aum is the mystic name for the Hindu Trimurti, and represents the union of the three gods, viz. a for Brahma, u for Vishnu and m for Mahadev which is another name of Shiva. The three sounds also symbolize the three Vedas (Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda).

According to Hindu philosophy (see Mandukya Upanishad), the letter A represents creation, when all existence issued forth from Brahma's golden nucleus; the letter U refers to Vishnu the God of the middle who preserves this world by balancing Brahma on a lotus above himself, and the letter M symbolizes the final part of the cycle of existence, when Vishnu falls asleep and Shiva has to breathe in so that all existing things have to disintegrate and are reduced to their essence to him. More broadly, Aum is said to be the primordial sound that was present at the creation of the universe. It is said to be the original sound that contains all other sounds, all words, all languages and all mantras.


Omkar in Bangla Script

Vaishnava Dvaita philosophies teach that 'Aum' is an impersonal sound representation of Vishnu/Krishna while Hari Nama is the personal sound representation. A represents Krishna, U Srimati Radharani and M jivas. According to Sridhara Svami the pranava has five parts: A, U, M, the nasal bindu and the reverberation (nada). Liberated souls meditate on the Lord at the end of that reverberation. For both Hindus and Buddhists this syllable is sacred and so laden with spiritual energy that it may only be pronounced with complete concentration.


File:Thai Om.jpg
Aum symbol in Thai language

In Thailand times, Thais make Thai scripts and an om in the end: File:Thai Om.gif.


Aum symbol on a temple elephant's forehead

In Advaita philosophy it is frequently used to represent three subsumed into one, a triune, a common theme in Hinduism. It implies that our current existence is mithyā and maya, "falsehood", that in order to know the full truth we must comprehend beyond the body and intellect the true nature of infinity. Essentially, upon moksha (mukti, samādhi) one is able not only to see or know existence for what it is, but to become it. When one gains true knowledge, there is no split between knower and known: one becomes knowledge/consciousness itself. In essence, Aum is the signifier of the ultimate truth that all is one.

Examples of sacred triunes (three in ones):[citation needed]

  • Creation (Brahma)- Preservation (Vishnu)- Destruction (Shiva) into Brahman the Atman
  • Waking- Dreaming- Dreamless Sleep into Turiya (transcendental fourth state of consciousness)
  • Rajas (activity, heat, fire) - Tamas (dullness, ignorance, darkness) - Sattva (purity, light, serenity/shanti) into Brahman
  • Body, Speech and Mind into Oneness
  • Generate(Brahma-Saraswati), Operate(Narayan-Lakshmi), Destroy(Shiv-Shakti) as GOD within
  • Satchitananda

In proper names

When Aum is a part of a place name (for example Omkareshwar), or is used as a man's name, it is spelled phonetically using ordinary letters of whatever Indian alphabet is used in the area. The adherents of Arya Samaj always use the ordinary letters अ, ऊ and म to write Aum.

In Jainism

Depiction of Om in Jain script

In Jainism, Aum is regarded to be a condensed form of reference to the five parameshthis, by their initials A+A+A+U+M (o3m). The Dravyasamgrah quotes a Prakrit line:

ओम एकाक्षर पञ्चपरमेष्ठिनामादिपम् तत्कथमिति चेत "अरिहंता असरीरा आयरिया तह उवज्झाया मुणियां"
oma ekākṣara pañca-parameṣṭhi-nāmā-dipam tatkabhamiti ceta "arihatā asarīrā āyariyā taha uvajjhāyā muṇiyā"
"Aum" is one syllable made from the initials of the five parameshthis. It has been said: "Arihanta, Ashiri, Acharya, Upadhyaya, Muni" .

Thus, ओं नमः (oṃ namaḥ) is a short form of the Navkar Mantra.

In Buddhism

Buddhists place om at the beginning of their Vidya-Sadaksari or mystical formulary in six syllables (viz., om mani padme hum) as well as most other mantras and dharanis. As a seed syllable (bija mantra), it is also considered holy in Esoteric Buddhism.

The syllable is often written with the Chinese character (pinyin ǎn) or (pinyin wēng) in Buddhist texts of East Asian provenience.

"Onkar" in Sikhism

Gurmukhi Ek Onkar symbol

Guru Nanak dev ji writes that, "From Onkaar, the One Universal Creator God, Brahma was created. He kept Ongkaar in his consciousness. From Ongkaar, the mountains and the ages were created. Onkaar created the Vedas."[9] Khushwant Singh writes that, "The concept of om, which is somewhat elusive in Hinduism, is crystallized in Sikh theology and is given a status of symbol - the symbol of God." The singularity of God is expressed in the saying, Ek Onkar ("There is one God").[10] Guru Nanak's teaching about God is summed in the Sikh Mool Mantra.[11]


  1. ^ Wazir Singh, Aspects of Guru Nanak's philosophy (1969), p. 20: "the a, u, m of aum have also been explained as signifying the three principles of creation, sustenance and annihilation. ... Onkar in relation to existence implies plurality, ... but its substitute Ekonkar definitely implies singularity in spite of the seeming multiplicity of existence. ..."
  2. ^ Sri H.W.L Poonja, 'The Truth is', Published by Samuel Weiser, 2000, ISBN 1-57863-175-0
  3. ^ Mandala Yoga
  4. ^ Om, Amen and Amin
  5. ^ a b c d Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda , The hidden power in humans, Ibera Verlag, page 15., ISBN 3-85052-197-4
  6. ^ Satyarth Prakash by Swami Dayanand Saraswati
  7. ^ :sarve vedā yat padam āmananti / tapām̐si sarvāṇi ca yad vadanti / yad icchanto brahmacaryaṃ caranti / tat te padaṃ saṃgraheṇa bravīmy / om ity etat //
    etad dhy evākṣaraṃ brahma / etad dhy evākṣaraṃ param / etad dhy evākṣaraṃ jñātvā / yo yad icchati / tasya tat //
    etad ālambanaṃ śreṣṭham / etad ālambanaṃ param / etad ālambanaṃ jñātvā / brahmaloke mahīyate //
  8. ^ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, English translation by Bon Giovanni. (
  9. ^ Siri Guru Granth Sahib (English Translation) (3rd ed.). pp. 929. 
  10. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2002). "The Sikhs". in Kitagawa, Joseph Mitsuo. The religious traditions of Asia: religion, history, and culture. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 114. ISBN 0-7007-1762-5. 
  11. ^ Mahinder N. Gulati (2008). Comparative Religious and Philosophies. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 330. ISBN 8126909021. 

External links

Simple English


Aum (also spelled Om), is the most sacred symbol in Hinduism. Hindu scriptures tell many things about this symbol. In Hinduism, Aum is like calling god's name towards you. This name is generally said three times, before chanting any prayers. Om is usually related to the Hindu God [Shiva] who is the creator and the Desroyer . He has a third eye that does all the destroying when it opens when Shivji gets angry.

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