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In Hinduism, the syllable Om, also spelled as ‘Aum’, is a sacred sound known as the sound of the universe. It’s considered the greatest of all the mantras and sacred formulas, appearing at the beginning and the end of most Sanskrit prayers, texts and recitations.
If you’ve ever visited a yoga class, you may have heard this syllable chanted at the beginning and end of the session. It’s also used as a powerful meditation tool. The word sounds consists of three syllables and when chanted in the right way, it has a calm and relaxing effect on the mind and body.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the origin of the symbol, dig up a little history and explore the meaning of the sacred Om syllable and sound.
History of the Om Symbol
The Om sound and symbol are known by several names, including:
- Aum – which are the three syllables of the sound
- Pranava – which means the giver of life
- Omkara – which means female divine energy and the giver of life
- Udgitha – which likely means chanting
The syllable Om originated in the late Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious ideas and teachings, also called the ‘Upanishads’, roughly around 5000 years ago. The om syllable and its corresponding symbol are unique to Hinduism and other religions of India, including Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
The symbol became highly revered by Hindu devotees. From the 6th century onwards, the written representation of om was used to mark the beginning of a text in inscriptions and manuscripts. Today, Om remains one of the most revered symbols in the world just like it was when it first originated.
Meaning and Symbolism of Om
The Om symbol is rich in depth and meaning. The symbol of Om represents unity, creation, intuition, knowledge.
On a more spiritual level, the symbolic meaning becomes more complex. The symbol consists of several elements including three curves, a semicircle on the top, and a dot just above it. There are numerous interpretations surrounding the symbol.
1. Lower Curve
This represents the waking state in which consciousness is turned out and away from the gates of the senses.
2. Upper Curve
This denotes a state of deep sleep, also called the unconscious state. It’s in this state that the sleeper doesn’t desire anything or even dream.
3. Middle Curve
This lies just between the state of deep sleep and the waking state. It symbolizes the dream state in which the consciousness of the sleeper is turned inwards and they see an enthralling view of the world.
The semicircle above the three curves symbolizes maya and keeps the dot separated from the other curves. The illusion of maya is what prevents one from realizing the highest state of bliss which we struggle to achieve.
If you look at the symbol closely, you’ll see that the semicircle is open and doesn’t touch the dot which means that the maya does not affect the highest state but the manifested phenomenon. In simpler terms, it prevents one from reaching the ultimate goal.
5. The Dot
This represents the fourth state of consciousness which is transcendental, blissful, and peaceful. It is the highest state of consciousness to achieve.
Triadic Meanings of Om
Om also represents the word of god and is the primary vibe, the vibration from which every single material thing in the universe originates. The threefold nature of the symbol is central to its meaning and stands for important triads, including the following:
- The three worlds: The atmosphere, the earth and the heaven
- The three sacred Vedic scriptures: Rig, Sama and Yajur
- The three main Hindu gods: Vishnu, Siva and Brahma
Hindus see the Om as a fundamental component of the metaphysical and physical principles of Hinduism. One of the most chanted symbols in India, those who chant it say that it has a profound effect on the mind and body. The Hindus consider it to be the universal name of the Lord, surrounding all of creation.
Connection Between Om and Lord Ganesha
Some Hindu devotees claim to see similarities between the shape of the Om and the shape of Lord Ganesha’s body (the Hindu god of Beginnings, depicted with the head of an elephant).
The curves on the left side of the symbol loosely represent his head and belly while the curve on the right side is his trunk. The semi-circular curve with the dot on top is the sweetmeat ball seen in Ganesha’s hand.
Ganesha is the god who removes all obstacles,. This correlates to the meaning of Om, which is that one must overcome all obstacles and let everything go before being able to reach the absolute state of being.
The Sound of Om for Relaxation
When chanting Om correctly, the sound reverberates through the entire body, filling it with tranquillity and energy. Physically, the act of chanting it relaxes the body, slows down the nervous system and calms and relaxes the mind.
Many yoga or meditation classes begin with the chanting of om. As such, the symbol and the sound are widely known across the globe, even in the West where Easter practices have become highly popular.
On YouTube, you will find videos that play back the sound of Om for hours at a time. Listening to such sounds is believed to be calming and removes negativity and mental blocks.
Om Symbol in Use Today – Jewelry and Fashion
The Om symbol is highly popular in jewelry and is usually worn as a fashion statement in the west. However, if you’re travelling to the East, it can cause some conflict since wearing a sacred and revered symbol may be controversial.
The free-flowing lines and curving swirls of the om symbol make it an ideal design for elegant jewelry. It can also be stylized for a modern take on the design.
Jewelry featuring the symbol has gained popularity since it represents unity and can be used as a reminder to slow down, breathe and focus one’s mind. The symbol is also popular in contemporary body art and tattoos. Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the Om symbol.
Because the Om symbol has meanings that transcend religion, it can be worn by even those who are non-believers and still have meaning.
The Om symbol and sound are both highly popular and in use around the globe by people from various cultures and walks of life. Although it’s a symbol of the Hindu religion, in the West, the symbol has become a representation of meditation and is associated with spirituality.