From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Prof. M.A. Alwar


Transliteration of अ in English: a

The letter ‘अ’ is the first letter of the alphabet and the first among the nouns. When spoken, the letter is pronounced gutturally (i.e., in the throat).

The methodology of orthographically representing this letter "अ" is mentioned as follows: Towards the right there should be circle which begins from the left. Then the shape should be drawn until the top. In the course of this letter, resides the trinity of Gods viz. Shiva, Brahma and Narayana respectively. The half matra that is beyond the triad is in the form of the spiritual power and hereafter, the method of meditating upon the same will be explained[1]

Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are all present in the orthographic representation of the letter along with the shakti[2] that is in the form of half a matra, which is to be meditated upon[3][4]

The Kamadhenu Tantra states:

O beautiful lady! Please listen to the tattva[5] of the letter अ. This is a deep secret. It resembles the moon of the winter (which is unusually bright) and has five corners. Each of these corners represents a particular demigod. It consists of three powers (Shakti-s). It represents the personification of emancipation (moksha). It has two predominant forms: One is the form that consists of the three primordial attributes (viz. sattva, rajas and tamas). The other form is beyond the attributes. It also represents the primordial nature (prakriti) that is of the nature of a ‘bindu’[6]

The letter अ is the first letter of the ‘Pranava’ (mystic sound ‘Om’) which consists of three alphabets viz. ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘m’. The ‘Pranava’ is supposed to be the first syllable of all the Vedas. Since the word ‘a’ is the first alphabet of the first mystic sound, it has the greatest significance. Further, it is also mentioned as: ‘akaro vai sarva vak’ literally meaning अ contains all of the letters.

All speech sounds are, in one way or the other, modifications / variations / mutations of this principal sound. Therefore it is said to represent Lord Vishnu who is so named as he pervades in everything. Similarly, the sound of अ is also present in every spoken sound. All the spoken sounds are its manifestations. Without this letter, there cannot be speech in this world. Just as nothing can exist without a cause, अ is also the primary cause of all speech sounds. Therefore it represents Lord Vishnu[8], who is said to have manifested into every form of this Universe.

Thus, the letter अ and the sound it represents has a huge significance from the points of view of Vedas, Yoga, Sanskrit grammar as well as from the point of view of a layman.

Notes & Citations

  1. दक्षतः कुण्डली भूत्वा कुंचित्वा वामतो गता ।
    ततोऽर्धसङ्गता रेखा दक्षोर्धा तासु शङ्करः ॥
    विधिर्नारायणश्चैव सन्तिष्ठेत् क्रमशस्तदा ।
    अर्धमात्रा शक्तिरूपा ध्यानमस्य च कथ्यते ॥

  2. supreme power
  3. by Yogin-s who wish to attain higher states of consciousness
  4. Varnoddhara-tantra
  5. real / hidden meaning
  6. ‘bindu’, here is a representation of the Gods viz. Siva, Vishnu, Ananta (the primordial serpent on which Lord Vishnu reclines) as well as the Goddess Shakti. It is also a dot or point, which is of great significance in the field of Yoga
  7. शृणु तत्त्वमकारस्य अतिगोप्यं वरानने ।
    शरच्चन्द्रप्रतीकाशं पञ्चकोणमयं सदा ॥
    पञ्चदेवमयं वर्णं शक्तित्रय समन्वितम् ।
    निर्गुणं त्रिगुणोपेतं स्वयं कैवल्यमूर्तिमान् ॥
    बिन्दुतत्त्वमयं वर्णं स्वयं प्रकृतिरूपिणी ॥

  8. The etymology of the word (Vishnu) itself states "to be present in everything"
  • This article based on the entry 'अ' in the Shabdakalpadrumah