The OM Sound: what is it, how to practice?

OM, the primordial sound. The vibrational sound that awakens us to a world of possibilities...then you find the breath which leads to the inner essence of your true being.

Om is an ancient Sanskrit “word” that was first felt by rishis as they meditated. It was more about the essence of Om than the chanting of it. 

We have heard it before that OM is the primordial sound, the sound of everything, the seed sound of the universe, the seed of all of creation. Just like an acorn seed has the immense power and beauty of a mighty oak tree. 

This seemingly small word contains all the power of the universe. It is the beginning, middle and the end of it all or the past, present and future (the picture below gives you some of the meaning associated with OM). 

As the Mandukya Upanishad tells us the perfect state of consciousness and all that precedes it, are a part of Om.

“Ooo” sound represents the energy of the universe and the “Mmm” sound represents transformation. 

Chanting OM, you can feel the evolution of the sound. From the sound 'O',  the vibration from the complexity of 'O' sound merge into 'M' as a continuous sound, then there is the humming sound followed by the silence where the sound resonates within our body and unify us with the sound of all things and the universe.

When you chant OM,  you will feel it rising from the bottom to the top as the vibrations activate your upper chakras. 

This should enhance a state of calm and well-being, relaxing your nervous system and preparing you for yoga or meditation.

Everything in the universe is vibrating and the sound Om, vibrates at the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature.  When we chant it, we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and recognizing our connection to everything within the universe.

There is a beautiful practice called; "OM Circle" which is very empowering and during this practice, it is possible to experience the unstruck sound: anahata means "unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten". Anahata Nad refers to the Vedic concept of unstruck sound (the sound of the celestial realm). Anahata is associated with balance, calmness, and serenity.
I was lucky enough to experience it and it's amazing!

As we all know the word Om is considered as most sacred and powerful utterance across all Dharmic traditions of India. Be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or even Sikhism as Omkar.   

As it is Sanskrit word we need to look into its Sanskrit etymology to understand what Om means.  For this we turn to three different Sanskrit sources of ancient Indian Lore; Aṣṭādhyāyī, avateṣṭilopaśca’ (Uṇādi Sūtra) and Dhātu Pātha.

The Sanskrit word ‘om’ is derived from the verb (root) ‘av’ by the rules ‘uṇadayo bahulam’ (Aṣṭādhyāyī 3.3.1) and ‘avateṣṭilopaśca’ (Uṇādi Sūtra 1.128). 

The derivation is: ava rakṣaṇa-gati-kānti-prīti-tṛptyavagama-praveśa-śravaṇa-svāmyartha-yācana-kriyecchā-dīptyavāptyāliṅgana-hiṃsādāna-bhāga-vṛddhiṣu (DP 1.600) → uṇadayo bahulam (PS 3.3.1) → avateṣṭilopaśca (US 1.128) → av man → ṭilopa → av m → jvaratvaraśrivyavimavāmupadhāyāśca (PS 6.4.20) → ū m → sārvadhātukārdhadhātukayoḥ (7.3.84) → ārdhadhātuka guṇa → o m → om 

The meaning is ‘avati iti om’: the performer of the action denoted by the verb ‘av’ is called ‘om’ in Sanskrit. 

The Pāṇinīya Dhātupāṭha lists the verb ‘av’ as the 600th entry with as many as nineteen meanings: ‘ava-rakṣaṇa-gati-kānti-prīti-tṛptyavagama-praveśa-śravaṇa-svāmyartha-yācana-kriyecchā-dīptyavāptyāliṅgana-hiṃsā-dāna-bhāga-vṛddhiṣu.’ 

In accordance with these nineteen meanings of the verb ‘av’, there are nineteen meanings of the word ‘om’ in Sanskrit as follows:

(1) rakṣaṇa (protection): ‘om’ means the protector; that which protects those who chant it.

(2) gati (motion): ‘om’ means eternally moving, unstoppable.

(3) kānti (charm or beauty): ‘om’ means the divine charmer, beauty. Accordingly, OM means the possessor of divine charm, attracting the minds of all those who meditate on it.

(4) prīti (bliss or favorable disposition): ‘om’ means blissful or favorably disposed. As a result, the word OM means the possessor of bliss or Aanand and that who is favorably disposed towards everybody.

(5) tṛpti (satisfaction): ‘om’ means satisfied or contented.

(6) avagama (knowledge): ‘om’ means the omniscient. As a result, the word OM means the knowledgeable, the knower, the omniscience.

(7) praveśa (entrance): ‘om’ means all-pervading.  As a result, the word OM means that which enters all places and form in the Universe.

(8) śravaṇa (hearing): ‘om’ means the listener, to be understood as the listener of both expressed words and unexpressed emotions.

(9) svāmyartha (rule): ‘om’ means the ruler. As a result, the word OM means ruler of all sound that exists in Dhātu tradition. 

(10) yācana (entreaty): ‘om’ means entreater. As a result, the word OM means it urges us to be on the righteous path.

(11) kriyā (action): ‘om’ means the doer. As a result, the word OM means doer or performer of all actions including Sristi (Creation), sthiti (Preservation), samhara (rejuvenation), Tirobhava (putting in Illusion) and Anugraha (Liberation).

(12) icchā (desire): ‘om’ means the well-wisher, desirous of well being of everybody, as reflected in our motto: Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinaḥ (ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः).

(13) dīpti (radiance): ‘om’ means radiant.  As a result, the word OM means which is brilliant or radiant, the divine aura.

(14) avāpti (attainment): ‘om’ means the supreme attainer. There is nothing out of reach of all this pervading sound.

(15) āliṅgana (embrace): ‘om’ means all-embracing.

(16) hiṃsā (violence): ‘om’ means the destroyer [of vices or Karma], to be understood as the destroyer of our karmās.

(17) ādāna: ‘om’ means the receiver, to be understood as receiver of all our material offerings and our spiritual efforts.

(18) bhāga: ‘om’ means one that divides itself [into many], to be understood as that which is one that divides itself and resides within soul or Atman.

(19) vṛddhi: ‘om’ means the ever-growing, that which grows, ever growing, expanding like the cosmic universe.

So these are the 19 meaning of Sanskrit word OM.

Sanskrit reference compiled by : Nityananda Misra


[1] T. R. Chintamani (ed.) (1933), The Uṇādisūtras with the Vṛtti of Śvetavanavāsin, Madras: University of Madras, pp. 49–50.

[2] Pushpa Dikshit (ed., tr.) (2011), Pāṇinīyadhātupāṭhaḥ Sārthaḥ, Mahādevaśāstrigranthamālā 19, New Delhi: Samskrita Bharati ISBN 978-93-81160-12-1, p. 17.

[3] Pt. Ishwar Chandra (ed., tr.) (2004), Aṣṭādhyāyī of Maharṣi Pāṇini (Volume 1), Delhi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Pratisthan, p. 351.

[4] Pt. Ishwar Chandra (ed., tr.) (2004), Aṣṭādhyāyī of Maharṣi Pāṇini (Volume 2), Delhi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Pratisthan, p. 784.

[5] Jagadguru Rāmānandācārya Svāmī Rāmabhadrācārya (2000), Īśāvāsyopaniṣadi Viśiṣṭādvaitaparakam Śrīrāghavakṛpābhāṣyam, Chitrakoot: Śrītulasīpīṭhasevānyāsa, pp. 6–9 (Sanskrit part), 6–11 (Hindi part).