We all have heard and chanted OM but the question is What is the History and significance of OM. This Sacred sound OM or AUM has its relevance not only in Hindu religion but also is a part of mantras in Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. OM in Hinduism is referred as Atman(Soul) and Brahman(Universe). Going back to the origin of the word OM, it is said that is was first mentioned in Upanishads. OM is also referred as a mystical syllable and it is said the word in itself is the whole universe. What is the significance of OM? It is said in Vedas that when you chant OM, then you are calling out the whole universe and also celebrating the creative powers of universe.
Joseph Campbell a historian in 1949 said that the OM symbol in Devanagari is a dance posture of Lord Shiva and it given the message that God is within a person. OM symbol can also be found outside India, it is called as AUM in Thailand and Cambodia. The famous Gayatri Mantra which is mentioned in the Rigveda Samhita starts with OM bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ. The whole idea of the Syllable OM is to recognise the power of universe and believe in the Holistic theory of God and Universe. Max Muller described that in Hinduism when battles are described between Gods and demons, it has to be understood that the battle is within a Human and the battle is between the good and bad inclination inside him. It is said in Upanishads that God took the syllable OM so that it helps to overcome the demons and thus chanting of OM has the significance of bringing positive inclinations within you.
In katha Upanishad , there is a famous story when a little boy meets Yama(God of Death) and then there is a conversation between the two regarding the purpose of life and what is the essence of life and it that story in which the significance of OM is mentioned as the the one who can look past what has happened and what will happen. Here is the phrase.
The word which all the Vedas proclaim,
That which is expressed in every Tapas (penance, austerity, meditation),
That for which they live the life of a Brahmacharin,
Understand that word in its essence:
Yes, this syllable is Brahman,
This syllable is the highest.
He who knows that syllable,
Whatever he desires, is his.
— Katha Upanishad
In Maitri Upanishad OM is described as Brahma and it has two forms which is Material and Immaterial form. It further illustrates that the Material form is changing and the Immaterial in Immortal and formless which is the truth and the eternal truth signifies the Sun and the SUN in itself is OM.
Mandukya Upanishad states that OM is the Universe describes OM as follows:
- AUM as all forms of time.
- AUM as all forms of Knowledge.
- AUM as all forms of Consciousness.
- AUM as all forms of self or Atman.
The crux of the matter is that OM as a syllable represents the whole universe and as Lord Krishna said in Bhagwad Gita that OM represents Meditation or Yanja. The fact of the matter is that if you do not know the History and significance of OM and if you do not understand the meaning of OM and just chanting OM will not help is mediation. Meditation in itself means self realisation and for that we must understand things.