AUM (ॐ) is considered the essence of the Supreme Absolute in Hinduism – a sonic representation of the Divine. It is the most ubiquitous incantation in Vedic, as well as later Hindu texts, repeated before and during various mantras and invocations. It is considered the primordial sound, defined, and qualified by various names. It is the tone before sound, the source of sound, the first song, the imperishable (Pranava, Omkar, Udgeeta and Akshara). In Yoga, it is considered the primordial, unending (Anahat/Anhad) tone that navigates the soul’s inner journey towards the Absolute.
The concept of AUM fascinated people in many lands, having varied beliefs and cultures. It travelled along various parts of Indian sub-continent and beyond that, to south, central and south-east Asia. It permeated in Buddhist, Jain and other canons and beliefs.
The essential sound of AUM cuts across geographical barriers of communities, codified languages, and different strata of societies. However, this primordial sound has been represented in writing through specific symbols, in sync with the styles of written languages and scripts of different communities, spread across different civilizational/linguistic/geographical regions, displaying regional varieties and essential similarities.
Writer-painter Kalpana Palkhiwala has traced this variety and essential unity of AUM in different communities, having different languages, scripts, as well as different social milieus and environment, in her well-researched and emotionally elevating book ‘The Journey of Aum ( published by Zen Opus, Ahmedabad, web-site: www.zenopus.in)
Aum in Meitei script
Kalpana Palkhiwala is an experienced editor, writer, and imaginative painter. She has assiduously worked on the spread of the sound-symbol (in scripts, the word-symbol) AUM with insightful text and enriching visuals. There are 69 black & white drawings, in pen and brush, covering many ancient Indian languages/scripts/beliefs (Brahmi, Grantha. Arya Samaj. Jain etc.), Indian languages (with a wide range of Hindi, Kashmiri, Kannada, Konkani, Marathi, Odia, Maithili, Urdu, Meiitei, Maithili, Punjabi, Sanskrit etc.) and foreign languages (many south-east Asian languages, like Japanese, Khmer, Javanese etc. Maldivian, Mangolian, Sinhala, Tibetan (and even English which, according to the author, she conceptualized and added at the insistence of her grand son!).
The beauty of these paintings is explained in the illuminating Prologue by veteran painter Nanu Parikh. He explains that the ‘Planning of Three’ is the Golden Ratio in the arts. In the centre of each illustration is the AUM symbol, with minute artistic network inside that is symbolic of the complexities of life. The network design of each letter is unique. It is not repeated, just the way each country (or language/script community) is unique though essentially part of one single world.
The second ratio contains the. essential defining features native to the community/belief-system/script dealt with, e.g. trees, nature, architecture etc.. spread across the word-symbol.
The third aspect of the Golden Ratio is the border on four sides of each painting, again with intrinsic motifs and designs native to the community dealt with.
Aum in Persio-Arabic script
Palkhiwala’s succinct but simple and fluent text explain these details for each painting. Thus, the reader is able to appreciate the presence of walnut tree in the painting depicting AUM in Sharda script of Kashmir. Again, in Persio-Arabic script of Kashmiri language, a discerning reader would notice the presence of lotuses, nightingales (Bulbuls), Chinars and fine embroidery inside the rectangular border. Buddhism with AUM in Trianka (three aspects of Buddhism – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) symbol is surrounded by feathers, symbolising a burden-free life. Similarly, the architecture of Asokan edicts in the AUM in Brahmi painting is not difficult to find. The Kannada AUM has the backdrop of majestic Gagan Mahal of Bijapur. The Badugu language AUM painting, one can see the four heights of Nilgiri hills. The Maithili painting has distinct Madhubani style. Similarly, even at the first sight, we can not miss the distinct Vaishnavite impression in the AUM painting in Meitei language of Manipur. The variety is in plenty!
However, a Table of References/source material for the text/drawings could have been provided in the book. That would have added to its value. and would have been handy for the readers who would like to explore further in this area.
I am tempted to add some subjectivity as art is often defined by the artist. I know the writer-painter since last three decades and always respected her personal and professional qualities – a well-read editor who adds value to the content and presentation of the text, a versatile artist whose intricate and delicate strokes have soothing and ennobling effect, and above all, a liberal, empathetic human being. The basic kindness in her temperament prompted her to compile Bapugeetika disseminating the Mahatma’s message through poems turned into melodious songs.
Before the depiction of AUM in present volume, Kalpana Palkhiwala has experimented with many art forms and figures. I am tempted to quote her own words about the artistic journey she undertook:
“(Through art), I seek to see my soul. I see within myself and get lost in different alleys and valleys. This journey has taken me down many paths- listening to discourses, singing, dancing, painting, acting in theatre, reading, travelling, writing and meditation. The search is still on. Expression through various art media has delighted me. Since childhood, I used to paint beautiful flowers and leaves in water colours..I love to express myself through art- currently- ink on paper, ink on canvas, acrylic on canvas and carving.
“My botanical background is over-powering my paintings. The world of trees, growing in two opposite directions with beautiful canopy, attracts me. I try to depict the hum, rustle, crackle, murmur and whisper of leaves in the breeze. I love the moods of leaves – interacting with each other, scratching and scraping one another, whirling like an innocent child or dancing, curling or hiding behind each- other
“Ghats of Benaras always attracted me. I had also seen great artists of the music fraternity, particularly classical Gharanas, drawn towards the flowing Ganges.There is no class, no creed, no reputed, rich person in front rows…. Benaras offers this serene atmosphere of harmony and equality.
“Unique subjects of one’s choice is a great pleasure. For example, a horse with saddle, straps, whips, guards is standing in a jungle, waiting for the boss, and a herd of wild horses watching it.”
Kalpana Palkhiwala has also drawn beautiful Mandala paintings . Mandala is a circular geometric design or pattern that represents the cosmos or deities in various heavenly worlds. Mandala motifs are prevalent in Hindu and Buddhist iconography and symbolism.
Mandala Painting by Author
I find an ennobling shloka from Mundaka Upanishad to sum up this journey of AUM.:
प्रणवो धनुः शरो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुच्यते।
अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत्तन्मयो भवेत।।
“Pranava (AUM) is the bow, the soul is the arrow and the object of aim is the Brahma..The arrow can reach the object if one can repose total concentration and identify self with the arrow itself.”
Let the soul and the Sound (ॐ) sync together to reach the Absolute. Let the journey is filled with breeze and blossoms.
Rajendra Bhatt has been associated with editorial and publishing activities for over last three decades. As an independent writer for last some years, he now regularly contributes to this web magazine, covering a wide range of social, cultural and literary issues. His recent series of articles on the state of education in the country was amongst the most noticed articles on this website.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author and do not reflect the views of raagdelhi.com which does not assume any responsibility for the same.