Similarly ‘a’ ( A ) combines phonetically with the fourth pure vowel ‘ri’ ( ? ) to give ( ?+A) – ‘ra’ ( r ) and this is the bija-mantra for the Navel or Manipur chakra. Ritah is the word for ‘order’ and it is through the navel that the umbilical cord introduces prana into the human body.
In the same manner‘a’ ( A ) combines phonetically with the third & fifth pure vowels ‘u’ ( ] ) & ‘lri’ ( ; ) respectively to give ( ]+A) – ‘va’ ( va ) and ( ;+A) – ‘la’ ( la ) these are the bija-mantras for the lowest two charkas – ‘la’ for the Genitals and ‘va’ for the Faecal position. These are called the Swadishthan & Muladhar chakras respectively.These four aksharas are also called the yam ( yama\ ) symbols. And this is the name of Lord of Death in the Vedas thus it signifies time-bound decaying of energies. Interestingly, if we look at the akshara-wheel ( ma ) and ( ya ) are contiguous. If we go clockwise ‘yam’ ( yama\ ) could be the pratyahara for the entire alphabet signifying its closure or death. On the other hand if we go anti-clockwise from ( ma ) to ( ya ) and add an extra matra or meter to each syllable for extension in time – we get the unfolding of maya !
■■ Involution is the path of looking within ourselves. It is the path of meditation and yoga. And a very important role, in this entire process, is played by the mantras – a string of words well-knitted to enhance this inward journey. We went through four stages of evolution of speech in reaching matrika – the exposition of words and language. To summarize, these were, para-vaak, pashyanti, madhayma and vaikhari. Similarly there are four mantras to assimilate the returning energies of the sadhak or practitioner.
The first mantra, according to the Shiva- sutras, is ‘hamsa’. This mantra brings about the awareness of breathing. For, ‘ha’ is samhara-bija or the mystic letter denoting inspiration of breath and ‘sa’ is the shrishti-bija or the mystic letter denoting expiration. These sounds just happen as we inhale and exhale 21,600 times approximately everyday and the concentration on this fact enhances deep-breathing or pranayama. Incidentally, the word ‘hamsa’ is also the name of the mythical white, swan-like bird which is very rarely seen and in folk-lore the flying away of this bird is likened to the release of prana at the time of death. These are the white swans on Goddess Saraswati’s sides.
The second mantra is ‘soham’. Here the sequence of awareness is reversed – the ‘sa’ syllable for exhaling comes before the ‘ha’ syllable for inhaling. This mantra, therefore, starts the sadhak on his inward journey and at the same time makes him aware of his deeper self. For, ‘aham’ means self and this mantra should be understood as ‘sa-aham’ being chanted rapidly.
The third mantra envelopes the second and adds the sound of the presiding deity Lord Shiva. Thus it is ‘Shivoham-shivoham’ and it is chanted in unison with the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breathing. The sadhak rises above the multiplicity of the external reality and begins to merge with the dichotomy of the self and Shiva. Note that the sound of ‘aum’ is already ensconced in this and the previous mantra.For, ‘aum’ is the last mantra. It is the bija sound for the ‘third-eye’ or the Ajna-chakra. We have seen it is the abbreviation of the entire Sanskrit vowels and mute consonants from ‘a’ to ‘ma’ . Its annunciation traces the entire organ of speech from the glottis to the lips or the labial region. When chanted it resonates sonorously in the cranial cavity urging the sadhak back towards the realm of para-vaak or the Unknown Naad-Brahman.
As a word of caution, this is not as simple as it sounds. It requires proper instruction from a Guru, the correct yogic positions and austerities, and a tremendous will power to take on this initiation.
This then is the circle of Divine sound in Hindu thought. We have journeyed from the mind of the enlightened rishi that was home to shruti – the first inspired thought. This thought precipitated as shabd, the first word and then into the multiplicity of the shlokas. Then came the speech or vaak, the rhythm and chhands that together gave birth to the sargam or music. All this combined in the Divine song or vaani.
We then reached the larger, more metaphysical concept of all sounds as Naad-Brahman and how it unfolds from Naad-bindu into all vocal and semiotic forms.
Next, we studied the matrika-chakra and learnt how the Divine and the akshara are intertwined. The Creation, the language, the human life processes are all part of One large symmetry. The Sanskrit alphabet reflects this symmetry in an amazingly profound manner leading to root verbs, its meters and other structures giving one the feeling of many more layers of meaning.
Subsequently, we looked at the seven chakras of the human body and their respective bija-mantras or ‘seed-sounds’.
And at the end, the returning path to coalesce all this drama back into the Unknown – sans speech, sans music, sans sound, sans everything . Just ‘aum’ the Universal mantra – the final merger.