Regarded as one of the most significant religious symbols, Om is also the most chanted mantra in Hinduism. Chanting of the Om is believed to have a deeply profound influence on an individual. The significance of Om is such that most of the Vedic prayers and mantras begin with Om. It is also an extremely auspicious sign used on numerous occasions.
Etymology of Om
Om is also called Pranava that means ‘that (symbol or sound) by which the Lord is praised’. It is not mentioned in Rig-Veda and Atharva Veda. In Taitiriya Samhita it appears once in the context of Pranava.
In Brahmana texts it is used to make statement. During sacrifice it was used for showing acceptance, as mentioned in Shatapatha Brahmana.
Definite origin of Om is not yet deciphered. Max Muller says, it originated from Ava\, which is pronominal basic form. Then it converted into the form Avama\. Then by sound change processes it became A]ma. The final form was arrived at by assimilation or Sandhi.
But this theory is not accepted by Roth and Bottling as it lacks scientific evidence. According to them Om is the nasalized verbal form of sound O and it also has connection with sound Aa. However, we find evidence for this etymology in Vedic literature only.
Symbolism of Om
‘A+] + ma\ + ^’ this can be given as the breakup of Om. These four parts of Om are symbolic of the four stages of human life; Jagruti, Swapna, Sushupti and Turya. These are also the symbols of Vishva, Teja, Pradya and Atma. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha are also associated with Omkar. A stands for Brahma, U stands for Vishnu and Ma stands for Mahesha (Shiva).
In Kathopanishada it is considered as the origin of the universe.
Brahmacharyam charantitattepadam samgrahena bravimyomityetat
Why is Om auspicious?
The Upanishads developed the Pranava as Omkar. Shroutasutra gave the explanation of its use in the sacrifice. Boudhayan Dharmasutra states that the learning of Vedas prefaced with the Pranava can be called as Brahmayadnya. Grammar scholar Durgadas considers Omkar as auspicious because it came out from the thought of Lord Brahma.
It is believed that before creating the world, the Lord chanted Om and Atha. It is for this specific reason that Om is chanted to usher an auspicious aura before undertaking any task.
Om is chanted during all the Vedic and Puranic rituals of Hindus. It is also accepted by Buddhists and Jains. The Buddhist mantra Of Avalokiteshvara starts with Om.
In Buddhist philosophy Pranava is created from zero and the universe as created from that Pranava is mentioned.
In Puranic period different cults described Om according to their deity. In Shiva Purana Om is the symbol of Shiva with five heads. In Vishnu Purana Pranava is the symbol of Vishnu, Shree and devotees. Om is also believed as three Veda, three Lokas, three fires and three feet of Vishnu.
Why and when do we chant Om?
The Lord is also universally regarded as Om. As per Indian philosophy Om is believed to be a medium for realizing the Supreme Self.
A sutra from Patanjaliyogasutra says that Pranava is the letter of Ishvara and it should be recited again and again. Hence it has more importance in the Yoga Darshana.
It is said by Manu that Brahmans should recite Om before and after the studies of Veda otherwise his knowledge will slowly perish.
cha sarvadasravatyanonkrutam purvamparastachchavishiryate (Manu 2. 74)
It is said that every day if one performs Pranayam with Pranava for sixteen times in a month, he becomes free from all the sins.
How to chant Om?
As per traditions, the chanting of Om should resemble the sound of a bell. The chanting engrosses the mind with serenity and peaceful subtlety. It is also believed that upon meditating on its meaning one can attain self realization.
Omtatsad itinirdeshobrahmana strividha smritah brahmanastena vedashchayadnyashchavihitah puratasmado
Pravartantevidhanoktah satatam brahmavadinam (Bhagavad-gita 17. 23-24)
Diverse ways of writing Om
The most used form of inscribing an Om is the one that epitomizes Lord Ganesha (:j;). It is believed that Om symbolizes everything such as the world and its truth, the physical and the spiritual as well as the form and the formless.
What is the meaning of Shanti?
Shanti essentially means the state of being in peace. Disturbances are existent owing to the inherent and the external influences. Shanti or Peace can be achieved only when such external disturbance can be eviscerated from an individual.
Peace is a natural phase in any particular moment until and unless an external noise disturbs it. Once internal disturbances can be addressed properly, peace is experienced by that individual. It is also believed that chanting Shanti three times can deliver peace.
Why do we say Shanti thrice?
It is a general belief that any word that is spoken thrice becomes true (trivaram sat yam). Even in the legal courts the witness says ‘I shall speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ to emphasize the seriousness of the oath. Our intense need for peace is established by the fact that we usually chant Shanti thrice.
As per traditions, all sorrows and problems originate from three major sources i.e.
1. Aadhidaivika: The unforeseen divine forces such as natural disasters over which we have no control.
2. Aadhibhautika: The evident factors such as accidents, crime, pollution etc.
3. Aadhyaatmika: Physical and mental problems such as illnesses, frustration, mental imbalance etc.
Shanti is chanted thrice to neutralize the effects of the above mentioned three forces. Chanting it three times is essentially a prayer to the Almighty seeking his blessings and protection from these negative forces. Shanti is chanted aloud the first time to address the unforeseen forces. Next time it is chanted a little softer and is focused towards out immediate environment. The last time it is addressed directly to oneself.