The Sanskrit Alphabet (Part 4)

Swami Yogakanti Saraswati

Kam, Kham, Gam, Gham, Jnam, Cham, Chham, Jam, Jham, Nyam, Tam, Tham = the 12 petals of anahata


Now we are in time and space. The time is counted out by the sun and moon externally and by the energies of pingala and ida nadis (conveying the solar and lunar forces) internally.

Sooryaachandramasau dhattah kaalam raatrimadivaatmakam
Bhoktree sushumnaa kaalasya guhyametadudaahyatam.

The sun and moon divide time into day and night. Sushumna is the consumer of time. This is the conveyed secret.

(Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:17)

So, time relates to the two petals of ajna. Space opens up before us in vishuddhi chakra, with its 16 petals indicating the adharas, the bases of manifest consciousness. The 16 adharas are explained at different levels. The simplest and most profound explanation relates to the four dimensions of consciousness: jagrat (waking), svapna (dream), sushupti (deep sleep) and turiya (the fourth dimension that transcends). This is the classification of a human being’s potential modes of consciousness as explained by the Mandukya Upanishad that we referred to in Part 1 of this series. Other not so famous Upanishads such as the Advayataraka and the Mangalbhraman further subdivide each of these states into four so we have jagrat/jagrat, jagrat/svapna, jagrat/sushupti, jagrat/turiya, then svapna/jagrat, svapna/svapna etc. Swami Niranjanananda explains this in his books on yoga darshan.

Remember that the mantras of vishuddhi’s 16 petals are the 16 Sanskrit vowels and we started practising with them in Part 3. Vishuddhi chakra relates to akasha tattwa, the space element, and their bija mantra, seed vibration, is Ham. Of course, when there is space and time, communication is needed, for now things can move apart – before these first steps towards manifestation, when everything was in total union, who would need to communicate with whom? So vishuddhi is not only the chakra of space, but also of communication.

A is for anahata

The next chakra down in order of manifestation is anahata where the memory of union is most precious. The union of Shiva and Shakti, consciousness and energy, is symbolized by the interlacing of two triangles: one upright (Shiva) and one inverted (Shakti). The bija mantra, is Yam. What is air? It is gaseous, just atoms or simple molecules (tiny dances of energy in the space of consciousness).

Anahata chakra has twelve petals. Their mantras form the next group of Sanskrit letters that we will learn, and they are listed at the top of the first page. In Devanagari, the script of the gods, first come the 16 vowels of vishuddhi, then the 32 Sanskrit consonants are very systematically arranged on a phonetic basis, according to their precise sound and how it is made. The akshara, indestructible Sanskrit letters, are phonetic – which means that the name and sound of each letter is the same, and it never changes.

The first 25 consonants are arranged in five sets of five letters. Each set is called a varna. The first set of five sounds is made in the throat and to pronounce each varna we move further forward in the mouth from the throat till the last set is pronounced at the lips.

The varna of anahata

The order of the chakra’s petal matrikas is also the order of the sounds in the Sanskrit alphabet. The first varna is called kanthya in Sanskrit, meaning velar or guttural in English; its sounds are produced in the throat. Pronouncing the aksharas of the varnas is similar to reading anahata like a clock. The five aksharas of the alphabet’s first varna start with ka, then comes kha, ga, gha and jna. To recite anahata’s petal mantras you just add the ‘m’ sound of bindu to each.

The second varna is called talavya, meaning palatal in English, and its sounds are produced at the back of the palate by the tongue making a ‘soft’ sound. In anahata and dictionary order, they are ch, chh, ja, jha and a nya sound.

The third varna is called moordhanya, which means cerebral or retroflex in English, and its letters are pronounced by the tongue curling back and touching the front part of the upper palate with a ‘hard’ sound. The aksharas of anahata’s last two petals are the first two retroflex consonants written as ta and tha.

As an exercise in awareness, just close the eyes and feel inside the mouth. Be aware of how these sounds are made. It makes us realize that speech for the most part is an unconscious activity – the mouth does it without our awareness unless we have special training for some reason.

Now we know that breathing is also an activity which is unconscious for the most part. We also know the enormous benefits we gain by breathing consciously with awareness in the discipline of yoga. So what are the consequences of placing similar awareness on speech and sounds? In yoga, nada yoga, mantra yoga and even swara yoga investigate just that point.

Not only that, there is the power of satya, the first of the yamas recommended by Patanjali, to be considered too. Satya, speaking the truth, is related to the root sat, which means Truth, Existence or Reality. Patanjali says that if you perfect satya, the siddhi or attainment is that whatever you say will happen. He is referring to the power of the word to create, and that conviction of the creative power of sound vibrations is the basis of mantra yoga, nada yoga, ajapa japa, the Vedas, the Bible and so forth. Also, in many ‘primitive’ cultures keeping one’s word was a mark of honour. Men and women were known to die to keep their word. It was thought to be something essential for integrity of character. What more can be said?

Phenomenal reality is for phenomena

The word anahata means ‘unstruck’. It refers to the subtle vibrations that exist but are not made by two objects colliding, as is the case with the gross sounds perceptible to the senses. This implies tuning into the subtle vibration of Truth that underlies phenomenal reality. Phenomenal reality means the reality we piece together from our senses and then pretend is Reality. Phenomenal reality is like the movie projected by the beam of light that we relate to, more or less, as if it is real, though we know it isn’t. Phenomenal reality – the sensory material world ‘we’ inhabit – is not even as real as the underlying reality of physics, i.e. that everything is actually made up of energy dancing in space.

Nevertheless, in anahata we become more involved. For the embryo in the womb the first sense to develop is touch. This is the sense that relates to anahata and is the twin of feeling in the sense of emotion – from the sticky, tacky, tamasic ones right through to the selfless sattwic kind of feelings. So in anahata the movie begins. The yogi attempts to view the movie as though it is real while maintaining awareness of the underlying Reality. So we love other beings, from mountains to fishes to people, while maintaining the awareness that they are manifestations of Ishvara or God, the immortal Reality within phenomenal reality.

Kh is for Kham Brahman

Khechari mudra is the state or attitude where the tongue is rolled back inside the mouth, stimulating the higher chakras and energy junctions from inside, and the mind is merged in Reality. The Upanishads say ‘Kham Brahman’, space is Brahman. Brahman means the transcendental Reality, Kham means space, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains that khechari means moving freely in Khe (which is another inflection of the word for space).

Chittam charati khe yasmat-jihvaa charati khe gataa
Tenaishaa khecharee naama mudraa siddhairniroopitaa.

The mind moves in Brahman, Khe, because the tongue moves in space, Khe. Therefore, the perfected ones have named this mudra khechari, moving in space or Brahman.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika 3:41

Why all this talk of space when we have left vishuddhi and are looking at anahata? Nothing can exist without space, similarly each of the consonant petals of anahata refer to vishuddhi because they include the ‘a’ vowel sound as the unseen part of their inheritance. Also they all include bindu, the ‘m’ sound which is one of vishuddhi’s vowels. Also, we can now see the power of, the aspirate Ha sound which is the basic bija mantra of vishuddhi and its element space. If you look at the following table of the petals of anahata, you will see that half are aspirated sounds. The power of Ha!

If only we could read their story

Well, matrikas, the sounds and symbols of the Sanskrit alphabet, are known endearingly as little mothers, because of their propensity to create things. One mantra of sahasrara created two in ajna, the 16 vowels create vishuddhi’s petals and the first two and a bit varnas give anahata’s petals. The essence of vishuddhi is Ham, akasha, space, and the essence of anahata is Yam, vayu, air, or atoms in gaseous form. Vishuddhi and anahata chakras are similar in their subtlety, but anahata is filling in the space with energies and feelings and the breath of life.

Let’s not be too ambitious, and just practise writing these new letters and memorizing them in order. Practise their pronunciation. Feel where the sounds are made when you say them. Feel where the tongue touches the palate in khechari mudra, listen to the breath. Remember the message of anahata as we maintain the witness position in our daily dramas. Listen for the subtle messages in the silences and we will find another story.

Continued in the next issue