■■ A single letter of the alphabet in Sanskrit is called akshara. In the Upanishads Brahman, the Unknown is also called akshara. For, akshara has neither any substance nor does it possess any attributes. It is indestructible and undifferentiated. That which is dissoluble and melts away is called kshara and the opposite is a-kshara where the prefix ‘a’ denotes the negative. In other words akshara is to be first understood as the Imperishable, the constant in the universe, it is the Brahman and is the very pivot of this creation.
The word aksha also means the axle or the beam on which the cart’s wheel is balanced so akshara is T.S. Elliot’s ‘still point’, ‘the fixity’ about which all things rotate but it itself remains unmoved. This unbounded sphere ‘whose center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere’ finds an ego-centric limitation, an adjunct within the individual self. This human body is endowed with the organs of speech and here the meaning of akshara becomes the syllable – a small utterance. And this is ‘a’ ( A ) – the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet.
● Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna in the Gita 10.33 :-
The Sanskrit alphabet, unlike English, has the collection of vowels as a primary list called svars . The consonants are a secondary list and are called vyanjan . The svars are the ‘shining’ sounds and the vyanjan are the ‘reflected’ sounds. The first svar is ‘a’ and it is added to the end of every consonant. From there it integrates into every word and sentence. Thus ‘a’ ( A ) , the Brahman becomes “woven into the warp and woof of everything” in the words of Late Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. This structuring is unique to the Sanskrit language.
The Imperishable akshara seeds each letter of the alphabet and becomes manifold. These voiced syllables, structured into words and sentences, give rise to action. In the Gita an entire Section 8, titled ‘Akshara Brahma Yoga’ explains how our karma arises from thought and how thought arises from the multiplicity of the Akshara Brahma.
● The Siva Sutras of Abhinavagupata treat the multiplicity of the aksharas as the various shaktis of Lord Shiva . We have seen how Shiva is likened to the spanda or ‘a throbbing point’ also called a bindu . This Shiva – Shakti dichotomy gives rise to the string of alphabets called the Matrika-chakra , literally meaning the ‘Mother-wheel’. These are arranged in a circle or chakra much like the beads in a rosary and each letter has its individual universal resonant energy, a Divine Shakti .
The letters in red are the svars , the vowels. These are 13 in number and if ‘a’ ( A ), that stands for Brahman , the Unknown is suppressed we are left with 12 – the number of sun-signs. The vowels are like the day and they are the ‘shining ones’. They contribute the maatra or the meter and timing to the words and the mantras.
The aksharas in black are the sparsh, the mute-consonants. These are the ‘dark ones’ and are 25 in number. Each letter e.g. the first ‘k’ needs the ‘a’ sound to complete it, for it is pronounced as ‘ka’. Therefore the mute-consonants have 26 syllables and this approximately is the number of waxing & waning cycles of the moon in a year.
The Divine reveals itself in serendipitous ways. There are many more symmetries embedded within this akshara-wheel that confirm this mysterious method.
Brahman – Ishvara, here the first term indicates Infinite being and possibility, and the second suggests creative freedom. Why should the Absolute Brahman perfect, infinite, needing nothing, desiring nothing, move out into this world ? It is not compelled to do so. It may have this potentiality but it is not bound or compelled by it. It is free to move or not to move, to throw itself into forms or remain formless. If it indulges its power of creativity, it is because of its free choice.
In Ishvara we have the two elements of wisdom and power, Shiva and Shakti. By the latter the Supreme who is unmeasured and immeasurable becomes measured and defined. Immutable being becomes infinite fecundity.
Now, we have seen that ‘a’ ( A ) is akshara and similarly its manifestation Ishvara is the lengthened second vowel ‘i’ ( [- ) . Thus it can be understood as i-svara, literally meaning the ‘i’ ( [- ) vowel.
The Vedic equivalent of Ishvara is Lord Indra . The Aitareya Upanishad I .3.14 explains why Indra is so named. Idam means ‘this’ and ‘that which can be seen’ is idam adarsham. This is shortened to idaṁdra and further to Indra, a cryptic version ‘because the Gods like mysterious names’. In essence Indra like Ishvara is the perceivable projection of Brahman .
The compilation of entire knowledge is the ‘universal song’, Gita. In its full form it should be called ‘udgitha’ . ‘Ud’ means ‘to evolve’ and ‘ut’ is the ‘life breath’ or prana ; coupled with speech this vital breath gives ‘name and form’ to all things in this conscious universe.
Ishvara is the eternal order. It can be sensed, yes, but yet it is strangely uniform, devoid of any dimensions of space, time and so forth. This is the samsara, the Sanskrit word for the world. Sam means ‘the same everywhere’. Sara means ‘the essence’. In this dimensionless world, the only disturbance, according to the Vedic Hymns of Creation, is a thought – “Let me be” – the Creator’s need to have a Self. This ‘thought’ disturbs the Uniformity, the Order, giving rise to the Chaos & Order dichotomy. The dimensions unfold and the Creator, Preserver & Destroyer trinity takes form.