What are the components of the word om (ॐ)


The Omkāra is made up of 3 letters: (1) akāra - अ; (2) ukāra - उ; (3) makāra - म and also an anusvāra (ardhamātrā).

It is often a misconception that it has only the first three letters but the Upanishads are clear that it has even an anusvāra. So you will pronounce it as Om and let the ma resonate after for a bit in the mouth/ nose area.

The Nādabindūpaniṣad verse 1 beautifully describes the components of Omkāra in the form of a swan:

अकारो दक्षिणः पक्ष उकारस्तूत्तरः स्मृतः । मकारं पुच्छमित्याहुरर्धमात्रा तु मस्तकम्॥१॥

The syllable A is considered to be its (the bird Om's) right wing;the syllable U, its left; the syllable M, its tail; and the ardhamātrā (half-metre) is said to be its head.

A better description of the Omkāra can be found in the Praṇavopaniṣad:

It has 3 full matra (a, u, m) and one half matra (anusvāra) and that is its auspicious Shiva form. (Verse 3b)

The Rigveda, Earth, Gārhapatya Agni and Lord Brahma are described as the syllable ‘a’ by knowers or Brahman (verse 4)

The Yajurveda, Antariksha, Dakshinagni and Lord Vishnu are known as the syllable ‘u’ (verse 5)

The Samaveda, Dyuloka, Ahvaniya Agni and Lord Shiva are described as the syllable ‘m’ (verse 6)

One can better understand the components of Om by looking at the Tamil and Telugu symbols for it though all scripts focus on mainly the anusvāra and omit the makāra altogether, while yet pronouncing it as a makāra and omitting to pronounce the makāra in combination with the anusvāra.

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