The Sanskrit Alphabet (Part 5)

Swami Yogakanti Saraswati

Dam, Dham, Nam, Tam, Tham, Dam, Dham, Nam, Pam, Pham = the matrikas of manipura

In Part 4, we had started exploring the 32 Sanskrit consonants and found that the first 25 of them were arranged in five sets, varna, comprised of five letters each. Varna is an interesting word, often translated as caste, as in the infamous ‘caste system’, it also means colour. As each mantra has its own particular colour, there is a very interesting story hidden in this word. To put it simply, mantra means ‘that which when repeated (mananaat) brings liberation (trayate)’ and is the vibration perceived as sound. Yantra means ‘vehicle or form which brings liberation’ and is the vibration perceived as a vision, as a form, usually in sparse geometric lines like the blueprints of a building, along with its colour. Mandala means the circular form emanating from the vibration and often contains symbolic life forms.

When the scriptures and gurus describe the colour of a chakra that they see, they do not always agree. Are some of them mistaken? Are apples always the same colour as each other? Is one apple the same colour all its life? A chakra is fundamentally composed of forces or elements that we perceive as mantra and/or yantra, mandala according to the way we tune into things. According to the intensity of the energy in any nadi, for example, its colour would be more intense and this would influence the whole chakra. So we can see that knowledge of the colour of a chakra is not a static thing to be memorised, it is a living experience that comes sometimes as a by-product of sadhana.

A is for anahata – varnas and outcasts

In Part 4, we focused on the first 12 consonants in alphabetical order and thus studied the first two varna mala, garlands of letters, and started the third. These sounds related to the twelve mantras on the petals of anahata chakra, the heart centre. Now the theme to pick up is the inter-relatedness of the chakras, and this is reflected in the relationship between the varnas and the chakras.

Anahata’s first five petal mantras comprise the first varna and are therefore kanthya, guttural sounds, and as these are made in the throat it emphasises anahata’s connection with vishuddhi chakra because vishuddhi’s location point is the throat. Also, the aspirate Ha, which forms the essence of vishuddhi’s bija mantra Ham, is a guttural sound – though not a member of kanthya varna or any other. Pronounce Ha right now and feel the activity in the back of the throat.

Ha is not the only outcast. Only 25 of the 32 Sanskrit consonants are members of the varna. Are the missing seven in some way inferior? Let us see. Certainly if Ha is a guideline they are not lacking in any way; this is a Karna among letters, an unacknowledged emperor, the aspirate sound which freely gives its strength to half the consonants!

The second varna is comprised of the set called talavya, palatals, being sounds pronounced with the tongue at the back of the palate. Now this group of sounds seems central to anahata. Firstly, they are soft and tactile, and anahata relates to feelings – both because its jnanendriya, organ of knowledge, is the tactile skin and because anahata is the realm of emotional feelings. Also Yam is the bija mantra of anahata and Ya is also a palatal consonant (though once again not a member of the varna). Pronounce Ya right now and you can feel the tongue gently touching the back of the palate – go on experiment! You can’t see it but you can feel it.

The last two petals of anahata belong to the third varna, the moordhanya, retroflex group where the tongue curls back and strikes the front of the palate giving ‘hard’ sounds. This third varna is shared between anahata and manipura.

Transformation in manipura

The mantras of manipura’s ten petals, in clockwise order, begin with the remaining three consonants from moordhanya varna: da, dha and a na sound. So we can see that anahata and manipura are mutually interactive, just as the wind fans the flames.

Vaayuh parichito yasmaadagninaa saha kundaleem
Bodhayitvaa sushumnaayaam pravishedanirodhatah.

When the vayu is increased then the gastric fire (samana) should be taken along with kundalini in the aroused sushumna and blocked.

(Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:19)

The mantras of the next five petals relate to the dantya varna, dental sounds. So the tongue moves forward and hits the back of the teeth for Ta, Tha, Da, Dha and Na. Dantya varna is the only complete varna in manipura and so is of actual importance. Also manipura chakra has fire as its tattwa or essence and so its bija mantra is Ram. The fire symbolises transformation. Digestive fire transforms our food into our body, domestic fire transforms wood into heat and light, yogic fire transforms man into superman, and so forth. Ra is a dental sound, but is not confined to any varna.

The last two petals begin oshthya varga, and are the labial consonants produced by the lips. Practise these sounds so you can feel them: pa, pha.

In precisely the same way that the sounds of anahata glide into those of manipura, those of manipura phase smoothly into swadhisthana. It reflects the interactive relationship between the chakras. The fire dries up the wetness of swadhisthana and transforms it into clouds and the gases of the sky.

Similarly, in our personalities, once we overcome the limitations of the habitual instinctive swadhisthana/mooladhara survival mode programming of the old brain, we can move into manipura’s more expansive vision. As the drive for power that is characteristic of manipura gets refined, working only for oneself and one’s own movie expands into a feeling for others and it becomes appropriate to activate anahata’s wish fulfilling tree. Helping others becomes as important as helping oneself. Like the sensitive elephants who broke their chains and ran from the beach to the hills, we may also pick up other people not related to us in any way, and carry them on our backs to safety from the tsunami.

U are the immortal atman

Awakening manipura means we overcome that fear which is an underlying shadow side of the lower chakras, mooladhara and swadhisthana. The fear of the unknown, whether it be the unconscious lurking within us like a crocodile or the fear of death, abhinivesha.

We have to overcome abhinivesha as the first step in overcoming the five kleshas, or causes of pain. How do we overcome this fear of death? By self-confidence, atma vishvas, knowing that the body is just a phenomena, but we are the immortal atma, learning the lessons our lives are spelling out. In manipura we overcome fear and its consequences and obsessions. We move into the agni mandala, the circle of fire. Because there is light we begin to see, so the eyes are the jnanendriya, organs of wisdom, for manipura. And we become free to move, so the feet are its karmendriya, organs of action.

M is for meditate

So – manipura sadhana? Draw a lotus flower with ten petals, write in the matrikas on the correct petals and meditate on the journey of life.

Yadyat pashyati cahkshurbhyaam tattadaatmeti bhaavayet.
Yadyachichrinoti karnabhyaam tattadaatmeti bhaavayet
Labhate naasayaa yadyat tattadaatmeti bhaavayet.
Jihyayaa yadrasam hyeti tattadaatmeti bhaavayet
Trachaa yadyat sprishedyogee tattadaatmeti bhaavayet
Evam jnaanendriyaanaam tu tattadaatmeti dhaarayet.

Whatever one sees with one’s eyes let one consider as Atman
Whatever one hears with one’s ears let one consider as Atman
Whatever one smells with one’s nose let one consider as Atman
Whatever one tastes with one’s tongue let one consider as Atman and
Whatever the yogi touches with the skin let one consider to be Atman.

(Yogatattvopanishad 69–71)

Continued in the next issue.