Akshara, the Secret Power of the Mantras
Summary: This essay explains the meaning of akshara and its importance in knowing the secret of the mantras and their power (shakti) in the ritual and spiritual practices of Hinduism
Akshara (अक्षर) means a letter in Sanskrit. It has three syllables, a+ksha+ra. ‘A’ (अ) and ‘Ksha’ (क्ष) are the first and last letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. Ra (र) is the lord or Isvara or Shiva who supports them. There are 50 letters (matras) in the Sanskrit alphabet, starting from ‘A’ and ending with ‘ksha.’ Together they are known as Matrka Chakra (the wheel of matras) in Shaivism. Matrka Chakra is the wheel of creation or the force matrix of the cosmic ocean (the universe) which is filled with vibrations or waves of energy.
The matras are mothers or manifestations of Parashakti. She is the hub or axis (aksha) of the Matrka Chakra. ‘Ra’ (Isvara or Shiva) is the shaft or the pivot which supports the wheel and facilitates its cyclical motion. The spokes in the Chakra are the matras or the shaktis, who manifest from her. Thus, Akshara (aksha + ra) represents the AtoZ of whole reality or the wheel of creation itself which is characterized by the union of Shakti and Shiva respectively. Hence, Akshara also means the imperishable. It represents the sound (nada) form of Shiva as Isvara or Brahman (akshara brahma) who has Prakriti or Parashakti as his dynamic force.
If you reverse the syllables in Akshara it becomes Raksha (ra+ksha). ‘Ra’ means Shiva. ‘Ksha’ means Shakti. Raksha means protecting or guarding. As the upholder of the whole creation, Shiva along with Parashakti (ra+ksha) acts as the protecting and upholding (Raksha or ra+ksha) force of the universe. The same protective force is also hidden in the letters (aksharas) and sacred chants (mantras) which protects us from evil (rākshasas) if they try to steal that protective power or misuse it.
Akshara is the indestructible and eternal reality, the Brahman Wheel, which is mentioned in the Upanishads, represented by the illumination of Shiva and the force of Shakti. It contains, both movable (Shakti) and immovable (Shiva), and divisible (Shakti) and indivisible (Shiva) parts, and represents the reality itself, filled with Shiva Chaitanyam, which is pure consciousness inseparably infused with the force-matrix or the force-field of Parashakti.
Each letter in the Sanskrit alphabet contains a shakti as its presiding deity. When it is uttered, the shakti manifests and travels through space (chidakasam) of Shiva to produce vibrations (spanda). The shaktis who preside over the letters in the Matrka Chakra belong to two main groups, bija and yoni. The former represents all the vowels from a to aha (अ to अः).
The yoni varga matrkas represent the ka group shaktis from Ka to Ksha (क to क्ष). The ka group shaktis act as maya shaktis in the lower planes and in the beings. They are responsible for egoism (anvatvam), attachments, delusion and bondage. In the yoga practice, they have to be purified with the help of bijakshara mantras (such as Aum, Hrim, Kreem, etc.), infusing them with the triple shaktis namely, Iccha (will), Jnana (knowledge) and Kriya (active).
Now there are two ways to invoke the power of the mantras. The traditional approach is to chant them loudly or silently and mentally or physically. The other one is to engage in contemplative inquiry upon them. In some sects of Hinduism, mantras are used along with contemplative inquiry and breathing practices to cleanse the nadis (passages) in the body and illuminate the consciousness. Of the two, the traditional approach of chanting the mantras and invoking the shaktis in them through sounds is more common. In both cases the mantras are used either to manifest desired outcomes or to practice self-purification.
Thus, in Hinduism, letters and vocal sounds and thought forms which arise from them play an important role in both ritual worship and yogic practice. The mantras are not mere mumbo-jumbo. Upon their utterance, they release the power of Parashakti (Matrka) who is hidden in them and energize speech, mind, breath and other organs in the body. Shiva is their support. When used correctly, the sacred syllables of Sanskrit are transformative. They transform not only the mind and body, but also the atmosphere (antariksha). They also purify those who hear them, think about them (mananam), worship them, meditate upon them or touched by them.
Words and sounds affect you. They create diverse range of emotions and positive and negative states depending upon your intention or will (iccha) and knowledge. With them, you can perform the five function of Isvara namely creation, preservation, suppression, expression and destruction. However, in most people, such powers remain limited by their knowledge and purity, whereas they manifest fully in the siddhas or the perfect ones.
The sounds and thoughts which manifest from the mantras and sacred syllables (bijaksharas) reflect the power of speech and the power of thought. Which grows exponentially when they are illuminated by the light of Shiva or intelligence. With them, you can forge relationships or destroy them. You can build your life or destroy it. They are especially useful to cleanse your consciousness because consciousness is the inner space (chidakasam), and space (akasa) is the medium for sounds and thoughts, where they leave their vibrations, creating ripples in the force-field of Shakti and leaving their mark upon objects and beings.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- What is Dhyana? Definition and Significance
- Japa or Japam in Hinduism
- The Meaning and Concept of Mantra in Hinduism
- Om, Aum, Pranava or Nada in Mantra and Yoga Traditions
- The Nature of Consciousness
- What is Maya in Hinduism?
- Hinduism and Prayers
- Hinduism - The Role of Shakti in Creation
- Hindu God Lord Shiva (Siva) - the Destroyer
- Symbolism and Significance of Vibhuthi in Hinduism
- Mantras in Hinduism
- Ritual and Spiritual Aspects of the Vedic Tradition
- Tantra and Tantric Rituals of Hinduism and Buddhism
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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