Tag Archives: Para

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine


Levels of speech

The various ancient texts speak of the levels of speech, which, generally, are taken to be four. Each School – Grammarians, Mimamsa, Upanishads, Tantra, Yoga, mythology etc – offers its own understanding and explanation of the four levels of speech. These levels are variously explained  as the varieties of  speech  that are said to be  spoken either in four regions of  the universe;  or spoken by divine beings and humans ; or as speech of the  humans , animals, birds and creatures .  These four are even explained as four levels of consciousness.

For our limited purpose, let us briefly scan through other interpretations, before we discuss  the Grammarians’ views and their explanations of the four levels of speech.


The Asya-vamiya – sukta  (Rig Veda: 1.140- 164) which is one the most philosophical , but  rather enigmatic Suktas (hymns) of Rig Veda, ascribed to Rishi Dīrghatamas  Aucathya  (son of  Ucathya  ),  who was  also called as Mamateya (son of Mamata) ,  mentions  about the levels of speech, among many other things.

According to Rishi Dīrghatamas, there are four levels of speech. Only the wise who are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. As for the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals know  only  the fourth.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

But, he does not specify what those four levels of speech are.


The notion that there are four quarters or  four levels of existence ; and of which, only  one quarter is within the experience of mortals also appears in the Purusha-sukta  (Rig-Veda 10.90.3) ascribed to Rishi Narayana – Paadosya Vishva Bhutaani Tri-Paada-Asya-Amrtam Divi .

That idea of four quarters is extended to speech as well. The texts of several traditions speak of four levels of speech. For instance :

The Maitrayaniya (Maitri) Upanishad (1, 11.5), of Krishna Yajur-Veda, mentions the four quarters of speech as those belonging:  to the upper region – the heavens (Divi); to the intermediate space (Antariksha); and, to the region of earth (Prithvi) as spoken by the humans (Manusi); and, to the animals (Pashu).

The Atmavadins (mainly those belonging to Nyaya and Vaisesika Schools) say: the four fold speech can be found in the animals; in musical instruments (such a flute); in the beasts ; and,  in the individuals (Atmani)

–  pasusu tunavesu mrgesu atmani ca iti atmavadinah

The Satapatha Brahmana (1.3.16) categorizes the speech into four kinds: as that of the humans; of animals and birds (vayamsi); of reptiles (snakes); and, of small creeping things (kshudram sarisrpam)

– varā vā ia iti hi varā io yadida kudra sarīspa

Similarly, those who believe in myths and legends say that – the serpents; birds; evil creatures; as also the humans in their dealings with the rest of the world – all use speech of their own.

Sarpanam vagvayasam ksudrasarispasya ca caturthi vyavaharika-ityaitihasikah 

The Jaiminiya-Upanishad-Brahmana (1.40.1)  deals with the four levels of speech in a little more detail. In a verse that is almost identical to the one appearing in Rig-Veda Samhita – 1.164.45, it mentions that the discriminating wise know of four quarters of speech.  Three of these remain hidden; while the fourth is what people ordinarily speak.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti //

Then, the text goes on to explain that of the four quarters of speech: mind is a quarter, sight is another quarter, hearing is the third quarter; and, speech itself is the fourth quarter. 

 tasya etasyai vaco manah padas caksuh padas srotram pado vag eca caturtah padah

Further, it says: what he thinks with the mind, that he speaks with speech; what he sees with the sight, that he speaks with the speech; and, what he hears with hearing, that he speaks with speech.

 tad yad vai manasa dyayanti tad vaco vadati; yac caksus pasyati tad vaca vadati; yac srotrena srunoti tad vaco vadati/

Thus, finally, all activities of senses unite (Sam) into speech. Therefore speech is the Saman.


In the later Upanishads, speech is said to be assimilated with consciousness. The four divisions of speech are explained as four states of consciousness. For instance; Sri Gauda-Paada, the Parama-Guru of Sri Sankara (the teacher of his teacher) , in his celebrated commentary (Gaudapada-karika) on the Mandukya Upanishad while explaining his concept of Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge,  identifies the four levels of speech with the four states of consciousness : Vishva or Vaisvanara in wakeful state (Jagrat); Taijasa in dream state (Svapna); Prajna in deep-sleep (Shushupti); and, Pranava AUM with Turiya, the fourth, the Absolute state which transcends all the three states and represents Ultimate Reality .


Explanations offered by Sri Sayana

Sri Sayana in his Rg-Bhashya   deals with the subject of four levels of speech in a little more detail. He says, people use speech in a variety of ways to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in life. And, similarly, the animals, birds, creatures and objects in nature do use their own sort of speech to serve their needs.  He  then , while explaining these four levels or quarters of speech (ani tani catwari ityatra bahavah) , remarks that  each School  offers explanations  (bahudha  varnayanti ) according to its own  tenets  (sva- sva-mantanu-rodhena). He, next, briefly mentions what those explanations are:

: – According to Vedantins, the four levels of speech could be the Pranava (Aum) – which is the sum and substance of all the Vedic terms (sarva-vaidika-vag-jalasaya), followed by three Vyahritis (Bhu, Bhuh and Suvah). Thus the Pranava along with three Vyahritis form the four quarters of speech.

: – According to Nirukta (Etymology), the language of the three Vedas (Rik, Yajus and  Saman ) and the speech commonly used  for dealings in the world , together make the four quarters of speech– (Rg-yajuh-samani-caturdhi vyavharikiti nairuktah )

: – The four levels of speech could also be related to four regions representing four deities : on the Earth as Agni (yo prthivyam sa-agnau); in the mid-air as Vayu (Ya-antarikshe sa vayau); and, in the upper regions as Aditya (Ya divi saditye). And whatever that remains and transcends the other three is in Brahman (Tasya-mad-brahmana).

: – The speech, though it is truly indivisible, is measured out or analyzed in the Grammar as of four kinds or four parts-of-speech (akhandayah krtsnaya vacah caturvidha vyakrtattvat).  Accordingly, the four divisions of speech are named by the followers of the various Schools of Grammar (vyakarana-matanus-arino) as: Naaman (Nouns), Akhyata (Verbs), Upasarga (prepositions or prefixes) and Nipata (particles)

:-  According to the wise who are capable of exercising control over their mind; the Yogis who have realized Sabdabrahman; and, others of the Mantra (Tantra) School,  these four levels of speech (Evam catvari vacah padani parimitani)  are classified as : Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.

Manisinah manasah svaminah svadhinamanaska brahmana vacyasya sabdabrahmani dhigantaro yoginah paradicatvari padani viduh jananti 

Apare mantrkah parkarantarena pratipadanti Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama   Vaikhariti catvariti 


The power of the spoken word

In the Indian traditions, it is believed that it is only  in its oral form that the language becomes fully alive and reveals  its true nature , provided it is spoken properly.  For Indian thinkers, language was  primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vac); while the written word, as a secondary aid, was only a coded-representation of the spoken word; but, without its nuances. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was its concern for preserving the purity of the spoken word.

It was the speech, the spoken word not the written letter that is at the base of the Sanskrit grammar. All speculations and practices are concerned with the oral. Panini’s Astadhyayi is also based on the sounds of spoken Sanskrit. The spoken language in Sanskrit was/is the real language.

Therefore, right from the earliest period, the study of speech has been one of the major concerns of various Schools of Indian traditions. The power of the spoken word or still more of the potent un-spoken sound was well recognized.


Levels of awareness and speech

The notion of various levels of awareness and speech is accepted and discussed in almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar. Although numerous meanings are read into the term catvari vak (four kinds or levels of speech), the one that is commonly understood and commented upon by most Grammarians and philosophers is the classification of speech into four strata: Para; Pashyanti; Madhyama; and, Vaikhari.

The entire system of such classification is rooted in the faith that at the top of this language hierarchy, there is only One-indivisible (ekameva) Reality; and, it transforms itself (Vivarta), manifests itself , resulting (Parinama) in  variety of  sounds,  word, sentence etc.

The theory underlying the evolution of speech is an extension of that faith; and it asserts, though there are several levels in the hierarchy of language, they all emanate from one indivisible reality Sabdabrahman. And again, the Sabdabrahman is identified with Para Brahman, the Absolute.

The principle that is involved here is also based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of speech as emanating from a single source. The various levels of language from the most subtle to the gross are, therefore, treated as hierarchy or the levels of a unitary language-system. Most of the philosophical speculations on the process of manifestation of language; and, the discussions upon its various stages – from the subtlest (Para) to the most explicit (Vaikhari) – are based in that principle.


Grammarians’ view

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar tried to explain the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter ; and , also the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link connecting  the material and spiritual realms.

The analysis of the speech by the Grammarians is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is also a philosophical quest in an attempt to identify all forms of speech as originating from Sabda-Brahman, the ultimate ground of all speech phenomena. The study of Grammar was itself looked upon as a means or as a right-royal-path to liberation (moksha-manamam ajihma raja-paddhatih).


Speech was  regarded as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form of consciousness (chetana). Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or unmanifest thoughts and feelings.

That was meant to say; thinking is, in fact, a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech was regarded the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. It was also said; all knowledge is interpreted in terms of words; and, it is quite not possible to have any sort of cognition that is free from words (Vakyapadiya: 1.123)

The process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech is said to resemble the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Such process of unfolding is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to convey the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

Here, the latent, unspoken form of thought that instinctively springs up and is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’ stands for what is intended to be conveyed. That intention is instinctive (prathibha) and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process, the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention candidly. That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. As that cognition arises and takes a form within, he grasps it. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyama vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought – described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyama vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

And, the Madhyama, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, it is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). The head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist  the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.

[The King Pratardana of Kasi (Kasi-rajah-Pratardanaha), in the Kausitaki Upanishad, makes an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

Yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. Yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5]

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of effort: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyama), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti is regarded the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech. Though the Vaikhari gives expression to subtler forms of Vac, it is not considered as the’ ultimate’.


The ancient Grammarians went to great lengths, systematically, to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them. (Please see the Note * below)


[* In the Sanskrit, the vowels and consonants sounds are classified and arranged dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth, such as throat, palate, teeth or lips.

The vowels and consonants are so arranged that those emanating from the throat come first. These are followed by those pronounced through tongue; the palate; teeth and the lips. All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in that order. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.

The vowels (Svara-s) , alternating long and short, come first : अ(a)  (aa)  इ(i)   ई(ee)  उ(u)  ऊ(oo)  ऋ(r)  ॠ(r)  लृ(lr)  ए(e)  ऐ(ai)  ओ(o)  and औ(au)

The commencing vowels अ(a) and  (aa)  are pronounced in the throat – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). They are followed by vowels इ(i) and  ई(ee) produced by the tongue touching the base of the teeth ,Taalavya (तालव्य). The vowels उ(u)  and ऊ(oo)  are produced using the lips making a rounded opening – Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).  The vowels ऋ(r) and ॠ(r) are produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouth- Murdhanya (मूर्धन्य). The vowel लृ(lr) is produced by the tongue touching the upper teeth – Dantya (दंत्य).  The vowels ए (e) and ऐ (ai)   are produced near the throat by the tongue touching the bottom of the teeth and sucking in the air – Kanta-taalavya (कंटतालव्य).  The vowels  (o) and औ (au) produced near the throat by the rounding of the lips are called Kantoshtya (कंटोष्ठ्य).

The two ornamental nasal (Anusvara) letters अं (am) and  अः (aha ) ,which are used to decorate the vowels, are called the Visarga , meaning  sending forth . These sounds, which are neither consonants nor vowels, add a softening short burst effect at the end.  These are usually listed as a part of the vowel -group; but are shown at the end.

Similar is the emanation of the consonants – from throat outwards to the lips .

The set of consonants – क(ka) , ख(kha) , ग(ga) , घ(gha) , and ङ(nga) – are guttural (throaty) consonants – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). Then the consonants – च(cha) , छ(chha) , ज(ja) , झ(jha) , and ञ(nja)- are pronounced on the palate- Taalavya (तालव्य). The next set of consonants –  ट(ta)  ,ठ(tha) , ड(da) , ढ(dha)  and ण(na) – is  produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouthMurdhanya (मूर्धन्य). Next are  those on the teeth (दन्त्य), like – त(ta) , थ(tha) , द(da) , ध(dha) and  न(na) . And last come those on the lips प(pa)  फ(pha)  ब(ba)  भ(bha)  and म(ma) – (ओष्ठ्य). Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).

The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like – य(ya) , र(ra) , ल(la)  and व(va) ; and the aspirated and sibilant sounds like श(sha)  ष(sha) ,  स(sh)  and ह (ha ).

Such unique organization of the alphabet underlines the attention paid to the patterns of articulated sound; points  of its location; and , to degree of resonance,  in a way that has not been attempted in any other language]

[ Abhinavagupta offers a mystic explanation of the arrangement of the Sanskrit alphabets, which are placed in between A and Ha. According to him, in the Sanskrit alphabet, the very first letter A stands for Shiva, the primal source of all existence. A is the initial emergence of all the other letters; and hence is Anuttara, the absolute. And, A not only represents the origin of the language; but, also the expansion of consciousness.

If A  the first letter represents Shiva the transcendent source, then Ha the final letter of the alphabet represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. If A is Shiva, Ha the last letter is Shakthi, His cosmic outpouring that flows back into Him.

Again, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are Yoni identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants in a language are thus the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

Thus, the sequence of A to Ha contains within itself not only all the letters of the Alphabets, but also every phase of consciousness, both transcendental and universal.

The entire sequence of alphabets, according to Abhinavagupta, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed.]


Philosophers’ view

In the ancient traditions of India, the Grammar, the philosophy of Grammar and the Philosophy run into one another. At times, it is hard to separate them.

While the Grammarians, generally, speak about three levels of speech, the philosophers identify four levels or stages of speech (Vac): Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.  Of these four forms of Vac, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The explanations of the Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari are almost the same as offered by the Grammarians; however, their interpretations and connotations differ slightly.


It is said; the sound has four divisions:  Para manifested in Prana (vital energy); Pashyanti manifested in the mind (Manas); Madhyama manifested in the senses (Indriyani); and, Vaikhari manifested in articulate expressions (Vac).

Para Vac is the ultimate and unmanifest principle of speech, the Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam), where there is no subject-object distinction; and, is of the nature of the Absolute (vag vai Brahmeti).

Para vac is identified with Pranava (Aum), the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated. It transforms or manifests (Vivarta or parinama) as all forms of sounds, speech etc.


According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol. The four stage of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari represent its four phases of evolution and also of absorption; the ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

It is explained; Para Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative energy (Shakthi) that brings forth all existence. It is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) and enlivens.

While Para Vac is pure consciousness; the three other forms are its transformations. The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent ts powers , such as :  iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will) , jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti) or the power of action (Kriya shakthi  ). Thus, out of the transcendent Para, the three phases of its power (Shakthi) emanate.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para into Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari   epitomizes the Cosmic act of One becoming many; and, the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter.

Thus, the speech, each time it emanates, is an enactment, in miniature, of the unfolding (Vimarsa) of the One into many.  And each time, when that speech is grasped by the listener and each time it merges into her/his intellect, it re-enacts the process of absorption (Samhara) of the many into One.

The process of manifestation of speech is, thus, compared to the evolution of the Universe. And, that process is said to take place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is Para-vac (the voice beyond).  This latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as Pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyama (intermediate)   and as Vaikhari  (explicit) speech).

In its second stage, the subtle thought visualised (pashyanthi-vak) is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed (Bija); and, is the second stage in the manifestation of thought or intention. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of thought into words, in the silence of the mind (Buddhi), is the third or the intermediate stage of Vac (Madhyama-vak). From this non-vocal or un-voiced thought, emerges the fourth stage – the audible sound patterns. It is in that fourth stage, the ideas acquire cognizable forms of speech; and, are transmitted through articulated audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the speech.



The three- Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari – are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (Bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion of Para-Vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as non-dual Shiva-Shakti.

In the traditions of Tantra, the process of evolution of the principle of speech (Sabda Brahman) from its most subtle and soundless state of sound – consciousness (Para), in successive stages, into the gross physical speech (Vaikhari) is explained through the principle underling the structure of Sri Chakra.


Sri Yantra is a ‘Cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the processes of evolution (Sristi) of the Universe emanating from its core; and, re-absorption (Samhara) of the created existence back into itself. And, at the very core or the centre of the Sri Chakra is the Bindu, the dimensionless point about to expand immensely. The Bindu denotes what is hidden; the subtle and the most sensitive.

It is said; the true nature of the Supreme Goddess is beyond mind and matter. She is limitless and formless. She is Arupa. But, when She takes a form, the Bindu is her intense representation. The Bindu symbolizes Her most subtle micro form as the Universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the created universe. It is this Bindu that is, in reality, the Sri Chakra; and, everything else is an expansion and manifestation of its aspects.

The Sri Vidya texts call the Bindu also as Sarva-ananda-maya (all blissful); and, the transcendental power (Para Shakthi). It denotes the absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi; as the immense potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakthi, the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

The evolution (shristi) from the primary state into the mundane level is said to be the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi (avarohana karma). And, the reverse process of re-absorption or withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara karma.

According to Sri Vidya ideology, in the process of evolution (Vimarsa), that is in the process of shristi or the outward movement or descending arc of creative activity, the speech proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And, in successive stages or forms,  it moves on to more cognizable forms as : Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka-word); Madhyama (the speech in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana prior to manifestation); and, Vaikhari (as articulated gross physical speech).

If the Bindu represents the Para-Vac, its immediate expanded form, the triangle formed by three points, represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound (Nada). The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called Matrka-s or the source of all transactions and existence.

Thus, in the process of Sristi, in the outward movement from the centre of Reality to the periphery, from the most sublime to the ordinary, the Para assumes different forms, in successive stages. All these four forms, apparently different, are indeed the manifestations of Para Vac which pervades the entire structure of speech and consciousness, in all their levels – from the highest to the lowest; and, it transforms (Vivarta) projects itself in various forms (Parinama).  

 (Abhinavagupta treats these aspects in a very elaborate manner. We shall talk about the explanations provided by Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari in the next part.)



 The Tantra explains the concept of Mantra and Japa in a similar manner.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac chittam (Shiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

[When one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).]

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyama towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vak.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

[The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra ( I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]



The system of Yoga also accepts and speaks in terms of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Here, those terms are meant to denote different sounds (Nada) or the stages of consciousness. It is explained:

: – Para is the most subtle form of sound, not audible; and, in its un-manifest (Avyakta) form resides as Nada at the base (Karana-bindu) in the centre of the Muladhara-chakra, solar plexus (Ekaiva nadatmika vak muladharadudita sati Para ityucyate)


: – And, with the ascent of Prana (vital energy) it moves up to Manipuraka-chakra in the region of navel; and, it is transformed to Pashyanti when it enters the heart-region (hradayakhya) and becomes visible to the Yogis (hradayakhya udiyamanatvat)


The Pashyanti (radiant) stage is compared to a well nourished seed (Bija) which sprouts into two leaves. it, then, acquires the qualities of subtle sound ( which is not audible to the physical ear) , and hue of colour (varna) which can be seen (Pashyan).

: – The Pashyanti, moving up and enters the mind (Buddhi) with a desire or the urge to express itself (Saiva buddhim gata vivaksam prapta madhyama ityucyate). And, on reaching the Anahata–chakra in the region of the heart, it is transformed into Madhyama Vac.  Anahata literally means un-struck. Here; the subtle sound (Nada) at the level of the mind is like ‘internal-speech’ which is heard, internally, by the Yogi.


[It is said; the Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyama; and, it blossoms in Vaikhari.]

: – When the Madhyama moves up further from heart-region to throat, tongue and mouth it becomes articulate (Vyakta) sound, clearly audible to the external ear at the Vishudhi -chakra. This is Vaikhari, the last stage of sound or speech when it emerges out of the mouth with the help of syllables, words etc and is heard by the listener. And, Vaikhari is the intended speech that comes out clearly through the mouth with the assistance of tongue, lips, teeth and the breath


(Atha yada saiva vaktre sthita talvosthadivyaparena bahirnirgacchati tada vaikhari ityuchyate)


Other explanations

Various other interpretations are also imposed on these four terms.

It is said;   Para represents transcendental consciousness; Pashyanti the intellectual consciousness; Madhyama the cerebral consciousness; and, Vaikhari the physical consciousness.

Further, these levels of consciousness are said to correspond with varying levels of awareness:  Turia (the fourth, the transcendental or the one-beyond); Shushupti (deep sleep); Svapna (dream state) ; and Jagrat ( wakeful state) , in that order.

And again, these states of consciousness are said to relate to different states of being (bodies). Para which is referred to as the Supreme form; the first form; the pure and resplendent Highest-light etc, is indeed beyond all forms (Turiya); and it is formless. The sphere of consciousness at Pashyanti is said to be the causal body (Karana-sarira); at Madhyama, the subtle or psychic body (Sukshma-sarira); and at Vaikhari, the physical body (Sthula-sarira).

While Para is pure consciousness, the other three are said to be its powers through which it differentiates as its power of will (iccha shakthi) at the subtle level of Pashyanti; as the power of discrimination or knowledge (Jnana shakthi) at the mental level of Madhyama; and, as its power of action (Kriya Shakthi) at the physical  level of Vaikhari.


In the next part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari- on the subject.

Buddha Meditation Song




The next part

Sources and References

Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri

.Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India…Edited by John Muir

Devata Rupa-Mala(Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H



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Vishnu – Dwadashanamas – Part Three

Continued from Part Two – Narayana – Vasudeva Krishna -Para Vasudeva

E. The Vyuha

Para–Vasudeva and Lakshmi

13.1. As mentioned earlier, the central doctrine of the Pancharatra Agama is that the Absolute, the Brahman, out of loving- compassion, voluntary assumed bodily forms so that the devotees may gain access to his subtle form. He manifests himself in five-fold forms: Para or the supreme form of his transcendent being; Vyuha or the group of his forms called Vyuha-Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha brought together in worship and adoration as a complete body of divine power, and who represent the cosmic consciousness, intellect, mind, and the ego respectively; Vibhava or his glory seen through his incarnations or Avatars; Archa or his presence manifest in his idols and images worshipped by devotees; and as Antaryamin or his immanent presence within the Universe.

13.2. Para–Vasudeva represents the Pancharatra ideology of the transcendental form (para) of Narayana the supreme principle abiding in the highest realm paramapada. He is visualized as pure and resplendent like a clear crystal; and as the divinely auspicious charming form (divya mangala vigraha).  Para is the highest form and is referred to as ‘the first form’,’ the best of the Purushas’ and ‘the Highest Light’ etc. Para –Vasudeva is endowed with countless auspicious virtues (ananta kalyana guna), which include the important six ideal attributes: wisdom or gnosis (jnana), sovereignty (aishvarya), energy (sakthi), strength (bala), valour (virya) and splendour or glory (tejas).His other notable attributes are gambhirya (grandeur, majesty), audarya (generosity or benevolence), karunya (compassion), souseelya (chaste manners)and vaathsalya (affection).

13.3. Lakshmi (Sri) as energies intimately associated with Para –Vasudeva; and is regarded as the composite aspect of his transcendental form. While Para Vasudeva is pure consciousness, Lakshmi as creative energy is the cause of the material world. It is said, Lakshmi at his behest, that is by the power of his will (iccha sakthi), differentiates herself into the power of action (kriya sakthi) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti). Out of her three powers the next phase of emanations (vyuha) proceeds

It is also explained that Lakshmi and Vasudeva are two aspects of the One reality. Within Para Vasudeva’s unity He implies She; and She implies He. Para Vasudeva is pure consciousness while Devi Lakshmi is his expression of “I-ness”. She is the thought within his consciousness; She is the energy that manifests His glory. She exists because of Him; and He depends on her to manifest all that he intends. Lakshmi is Vasudeva’s power to intend an act (kriya-shakthi); She is also the power to bring this act into being (bhuthi – shakthi).As conscious intent She is Agni –the fire; and as fruitful act She is Soma – the life-juice that feeds the fire (meaning all that sustains life). Just as fire produces liquid and liquid produces fire, She brings forth everything into being. Whenever we speak of Him acting, we understand the actor in fact is She. The Bhagavatas address the Supreme Being as the Unity of He and She; as the Father and Mother of all existence. Some scholars say that in the ancient Tamil poetry, the term Tirumal (Tiru = Shri; Mal = Mahat the Great One) means the Majestic Devi with the Great One, suggesting the essential unity of Lakshmi and Vasudeva. [See Denis Hudson’s Book]

13.4. The later Pancharatra texts mention, in addition to Lakshmi, two other consorts – Bhu-devi and Nila-devi – who too are regarded as energies associated with Narayana. The three Devis are said to also represent the three aspects (gunas) of nature (prakriti): Lakshmi (satva –white); Bhu (rajas –red) and Nila (tamas –dark). She is also the Maha-Maya the transcendent and magical creativity.

Emanation – Shristi 

14.1. The appearance of gunas in Lakshmi and Narayana sets in motion the process of emanation, the vyuha. The term Vyuha stands for structure or group or groups of persons. In the Vyuha emanation, Narayana manifests himself as five heroes of the Vrishni-yadava clan:Vasudeva-Krishna; his brother Sankarshana; Samba (son of Krishna –Jambavathi); Pradyumna (son of Krishna -Rukmini) and Aniruddha (son of Pradyumna).These five are together known as ‘heroes of a family’; and, the Bhagavata cult came to be known as ‘the doctrine of heroes’ (vira-vada). However, with Samba having been omitted from the group, the other four Vrishni heroes were revered as chatur-vyuha, the four essential aspects of Vishnu. Initially worship was offered to them individually; and later they were worshipped together in group.

14.2. Some scholars of the Pancharatra School try to explain why the Vyuha was composed by the relatives of Vasudeva – Krishna. They say when Narayana appeared on the earthly plane as Krishna, some of his attributes too took form as persons surrounding him. While Krishna, they say, is the complete manifestation those around him were sparks of the divine essence. Yet, Krishna and Vrishni heroes all originated from the same source, Narayana.

It is said; the gods are to be celebrated by their name, form, glory of their achievements and together with their friends (sthutistu naama rupena karmana baandhavena cha: Brihad-devatha -17)

Chatur Vyuha

15.1. Para is the undifferentiated Vasudeva while Vyuha is the stage of differentiated creation. Among the four Vyuha forms, the Vyuha-Vasudeva is regarded the most complete representation of Para-Vasudeva or Narayana. He is the embodiment of the ‘para’ nature of Narayana and is endowed with the six gunas in full measure. He is the source of other three Vyuha forms and is the creator of the second Vyuha, Sankarshana. Vasudeva says ‘the four Vyuha forms rest in me’ (chatur murti dharo hyam).

15.2. The chatur vyuha is compared to a pillar (visaka yupa) having four nodes (parva) bearing four resplendent lights, each light at a different height and each facing a different direction. The brightest of the four lights, at the top, glowing like a gem is Vyuha-Vasudeva the pure effulgence; it is all brightness. The other three lights, at the lower level, shining not-so-brightly, represent Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. The light at the second level glowing red like a ruby is Sankarshana; the next one below that burning yellow like gold is Pradyumna; and the light at the lowest level dark like a rain bearing cloud is Aniruddha.

The Vyuha structure, attributes and functions

16. The structure, the symbolisms and the functions assigned to each vyuha-murti is not only elaborate but also very interesting.

It is explained; Vasudeva as the Supreme (para) and Vasudeva as formation (Vyuha) differ only in relation to the beings produced. It is said; the Supreme Being Para-Vasudeva cannot be seen within space-time, just as an embryo cannot see the mother in whom it resides. But Vyuha-Vasudeva as a formation can be seen just as the infant can see its mother soon after birth. Sadhana the devotional way of disciplined and dedicated life is the means to see and experience Vasudeva as the formation Vyuha.

Vasudeva, as formation, re-produces his body, its content and actions, in three specific re-arrangements of himself in sequence. The primary Vasudeva changes into the formation of plougher Sankarshana. He then changes into the pre-eminently mighty Pradyumna. He thereafter changes into the formation of unobstructed Aniruddha.

The four Vyuha forms are in essence the four aspects of Para-Vasudeva from whom they all originate. They represent the four dimensions of the created universe; and regulate the cosmic order, rta.

The emanation of the four Vyuhas follows a certain sequence. The Vyuha Vasudeva is the first emanation. From him arises the second Vyuha: Sankarshana who in turn gives rise to the third Vyuha: Pradyumna.   The fourth Vyuha, Aniruddha, is produced by Pradyumna.

In this process of emanation Para-Vasudeva remains unaffected, unchanged and ‘rests in his nature ‘.The other Vyuha forms are the differentiated aspects of the Para.

This evolution in stages is compared to lighting one lamp from another. Para- Vasudeva is also compared to a seed that holds in its womb the entire tree, but grows and flourishes richly into a visible form, over a period of time.

  • The Vyuha –Vasudeva white in colour like fresh snow or cow’s milk  complete in all aspects (kala) has four arms representing four stages in the evolution and dissolution of the universe: creation or emergence (sristi), maintenance (sthiti), dissolution (samhara) and emancipation (mukthi).

Sankarshana who was dragged out of Vasudeva’s body (akrasya tu svakaad dehaath) too is complete in all the four aspects (chatuskala).He is red in colour. And, he produced Pradyumna

The four armed Pradyumna bright like burnished gold represents universal soul (vishva-atma).He in turn produced from half of his body (dehaardha) Aniruddha dark in colour, the master of yogis.

The alternate names assigned to the four forms are Paramahamasa or Purusha for Vyuha-Vasudeva; Vyoma or Satya for Sankarshana; Naada or Achyuta for Pradyumna; and Hamsa or Narayana for Aniruddha.

Vyuha-Vasudeva represents Purusha (the all inclusive cosmic person); Sankarshana the Prakrti (individual soul or the material manifestation); Pradyumna the Manas (consciousness and mind) and Aniruddha the Ahamkara (the ego or the individual identify).

The four Vyuha forms are also said to represent the four states of consciousness; Vyuha-Vasudeva represents Turiya (the state beyond all states); Sankarshana the Shushupti (dreamless sleep); Pradyumna the Svapna (dream state) and Aniruddha the Jagrat (wakeful state).

Each Vyuha form is associated with a Yuga (a great period or an era). Vyuha-Vasudeva is associated with Krita-yuga; Sankarshana with Treta-yuga; Pradyumna with Dwapara-yuga; and Aniruddha with Kali-yuga.

Among the Dashavataras (the ten avatars of Vishnu) Vyuha-Vasudeva is associated with Vamana and Vasudeva-Krishna; Sankarshana with Matsya, Kurma, Parushuarama, Sri Rama and Kalki; Pradyumna with the Buddha; and Aniruddha with Varaha and Nrusimha.

When Vyuha forms are depicted on the Vimana of a Vishnu temple, the Vyuha-Vasudeva is placed on the East, Sankarshana on the South; Pradyumna on the West; and Aniruddha on the South face of the Vimana.

The Vyuha-Vasudeva who virtually is Para Vasudeva himself, is complete and endowed with all the six divine attributes (shad-guna): wisdom or gnosis (jnana) , sovereignty (aishvarya) ,  energy or potency (sakthi), strength (bala) , valour (virya) and splendour or glory (tejas)

The six attributes (gunas) are grouped into three sets. The first set comprising the first three gunas (jnana, aishvarya and shakthi) is said to be in the ‘plane of rest’; the second set comprising the latter three gunas (balavirya and tejas) is said to be in ‘the plane of activity’; and the third set comprises three pairs of two each :  jnana and Balaaishvarya and virya; the third pair being shakthi and tejas. The scheme of grouping in the third set is such that a guna each from the first set is paired with a guna from the second set. (Please refer to the table appended).

The Vyuha forms are thus significant both in spiritual and in physical planes.

  • It is said that all the six divine attributes (shad-guna) are present in Vyuha-Vasudeva, in full measure. He is the pure aggregate of the six supreme qualities; but they rest in him undifferentiated and un-manifest.

However, only two each of those gunas appear dominantly in each of the other three Vyuhas. The dominant gunas in Sankarshana are: jnana and Bala; in Pradyumna: Aishvarya and Virya; and in Aniruddha: Shakthi and Tejas.

It is clarified that it should not be construed that all six attributes are not present in each of the other three Vyuha forms (Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha). But, it is implied that two specific gunas are dominant or explicit in each of those three Vyuhas, while the other four gunas are present in them in seed or potent form.

  • It is said, while Vyuha-Vasudeva represents Dharma, rta the cosmic order, the other Vyuhas are each assigned two distinct types of functions: one related to creation and the other related to guiding the jivas on the path to salvation.

As regards the creation- functions, it is said, that with Sankarshana (Bala) creation assumes an embryonic form; through Pradyumna (Aishvarya) the duality of Purusha and Prakrti makes its appearance; and Aniruddha (ShakthI) enables the body and soul to grow.

[There are various versions of this concept. For instance, Lakshmi Tantra mentions the function of Aniruddha as creation; of Pradyumna as preservation; and of Sankarshana as destruction.]

As regards guiding the souls, Sankarshana (jnana) teaches the ‘siddantha’ the governing principles (ekantika –marga); Pradyumna (virya) helps its translation into practice (tatkriya); and Aniruddha (tejas) brings about the fruit of such practice (kriya phala), which is liberation.

The Vyuha context

17.1. There are arguments among various schools including the Vaishnavas on the Vyuha-concept. All agree with possibility of Vasudeva Parama-purusha manifesting himself in several forms in order to be accessible to the aspirants. However, some, notably Parashara Bhattar (12th century CE), point out that Vyuha- Vasudeva is virtually the Para_vasudeva in full measure. And, wonder if there was a need or relevance for Para-Vasudeva to replicate as Vyuha-Vasudeva –murti. They remark, it would suffice if the Vyuha is restricted to three forms: Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha.

17.2. The Vyuha concept appears to be ancient and much older to that of the Avatars. It also appears to be better structured and function- oriented. Each Vyuha form has a designated position, specific aspects and defined functions. The Vyuha manifestations are actively associated with the processes of creation, evolution and maintenance of the world and the world-order. They also protect and guide the devotees on the path to salvation. In other words, Vyuha is a dynamic group which is closely associated with the functions of the world and expresses itself eloquently.

17.3. In the Pancharatra tradition which recommends icon worship (Archa) in the place of rituals like Yajnas, the approach to the divine is graded. And, in its   hierarchy of divinities, the Vyuha murtis are ranked higher than the Avatars. The Vyuha murtis are regarded celestial beings while Avatars are those who descended to the earthly plane.  The devotees, it is said, attain to or gain approach to the Vyuhas only after worship of Vibhava forms (Avatars) such as Sri Rama and others. A devotee contemplates on the subtle form of Vasudeva only through worship of Vyuha murtis.

17.4. In comparison, the Avatar concept appears rather nebulous. Avatar is the Vibhava form of emanation, the pragmatic stage, in which the God makes himself visible (avirbhava) descending to the earthly plane, for a specific purpose. And, only a handful of such Avatars are the major ones (purna), most others being either partial (amsha) or in passing (avesha). The recognition of an Avatar appeared to have come about as a response to the then popular sentiments. Each tradition follows its own interpretation of Avatar; the number of recognized Avatars too varies from School to School. For instance the Pancharatra Samhita lists as many as thirty-nine Avatars, while the Bhagavata – Purana mentions twenty-two Avatars; and the most recognized Avatars are ten. The legends connected with those Avatars also vary. Their virtues or position in the pantheon are often vague.


18. The Vyuha concept is one of the most significant features of the Vaishnava traditions, particularly of the Pancharatra. In its schema of cosmology, Para is the undifferentiated Vasudeva while Vyuha is the stage of differentiated creation closer to the beings. The Vyuha influence is wide spread across its various texts of philosophy, theology and Shilpa (temple architecture).For instance, Sri Parashara Bhattar (c.12th century) in his celebrated commentary on Vishnu-sahasra-nama observed that the Vishnu-names from 1 to 122 glorify Vishnu’s transcendental form Para; the next set of names from 123 to 146 expound the Vyuha forms; and then the stotra moves on to Vibhava (Avatars), Archa and other attributes.

The Vyuha in turn gave raise to twenty-four classical forms of Vishnu, the names of which are recited each day with devotion and reverence by most Hindus. Of the twenty-four secondary Vyuha (Vyuhantara), the first twelve (Dwadasha murti) are regarded more important.

We shall talk about the Dwadasha murti   in the next post.The following is the brief iconographic description of the Vyuhas, in summary.Vyuha murtis are manifestations of Para-Vasudeva, the chief of the Vyuha (adyaksha); and, therefore their general features follow that of Vasudeva. The Agama texts of the Vaishnava persuasion (Vishvaksena Samhita, Isvara Samhita, Vishnudharmottara and Padma Samhita) as also the Shilpa texts such as Rupamandana carry elaborate descriptions of the Vyuha-murtis. The texts prescribe that icons of the four Vyuhas be installed separately. It is also mentioned that Vyuha -Vasudeva be depicted in standing posture (sthanaka); Sankarshana in seated posture (aasana); Pradyumna in resting or leaning posture; and Aniruddha in moving posture(yana karmani). The Vishvaksena Samita (11:145) however states that the Vyuha murti (images) may be depicted either as seated (aasana), recumbent (sayana), standing (sthanaka) or as in motion (Yana).



Vyuha –Vasudeva murti

Vyuha Vasudeva is represented as bright and clear as the pure crystal (shuddha spatika mani), as the cow’s milk, as jasmine or as the fresh snow. His aspect is peaceful and benevolent (saumya); and he wears yellow or red garments. He may be two or four armed. His lower right hand assumes the gesture of protection or it holds a lotus (padma); and his lower left hand holds the mace (gada).His upper right hand holds the discus (chakra) and the left hand holds the conch (shankha).He is adorned tastefully with ornaments. His image is scaled in uttama-dasatala measure.

Vyuha –Sankarshana murti

Vyuha-Sankarshana is lustrous and glowing red as a ruby or the morning sun. He is depicted as a very strong and vigorous person. He wears yellow or blue garments ; and an earring in one ear (kundalaka vibhushita).In his lower set of hands he holds pestle (musala) and a plough (hala or langala). In the upper hands he holds a bow (dhanus) and a conch (shankha).He is richly ornamented.

Vyuha –Pradyumna murti

Pradyumna is the colour of tender durva –grass or lustrous like the light of a glowing blue gem (durva- marakata prakhyam).He is very handsome; his disposition is as if slightly intoxicated (madothkata) and he wears yellow or red silken garments. His ornaments are rich and delicate.  He holds in the lower set of hands a conch (shankha) and a mace (gada).In the upper hands he holds a lotus (padma) and a discus (chakra).

When he is two-armed he is shown in white garments holding a bow and an arrow.

Vyuha –Aniruddha murti

Aniruddha is dark-blue like the rain- bearing cloud. He is very handsome. He wears yellow silken garments (pitambara). He is also described as rather pinkish like a fresh red lotus, wearing red garments. He is richly ornamented and has flowing long flower- garlands (vanamala). He holds in his lower set of hands a dagger (khadga) and a shield (khetaka). In the upper hands he holds a bow and an arrow.

He is also shown in recumbent position, resting on Sesha and in company of his consorts.


Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge the line-drawings and notes from Brahmiya Chitrakarma Sastram

by Prof G Gnanananda

Vishnu Kosha by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao


Details Vyhua –Vasudeva Vyuha –






Alternate  names ParamahamsaPurusha VyomaSathya NaadaAchyuta HamsaNarayana
Gunas (JananaAishvarya,












Nature Purusha Prakrti Manas Ahamkara
Function Dharma;rta Destruction;


Preservation Creation
State of consciousness Turiya Shushupti Svapna Jagrat

in  Kali







Dark blue


Yuga Krita Treta Dwapara Kali
Dasavathara Vamana&Vasudeva Matsya,



Sri Rama



Buddha Varaha



Dwadasha murtis
















The Next Four Vasudeva Sankarshana Pradyumna Aniruddha
The Next Eight Nrusimha







Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Vishnu


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Sabda- The Spoken Word – Grammarians’ View

“The three worlds would have merged in darkness had there been no light called Sabda” said Acharya Dandin (6th century) the celebrated author of prose romance and an expounder on poetics.

The ancient Indian philosophers and Grammarians loved elaborate discussions on all aspects of the spoken word: its origin in the mind and body of the speaker; its articulation; its transmission; the grasp of the sound and the essence of the word by the listener; its ultimate reception by the speaker’s intellect and such other related issues.

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy such as Mimamsa, Tantra, Yoga and Prabhakaras viewed and interpreted the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter and as the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link between the material and spiritual realms.

Even Gaudapada, Sri Sankara’s parama Guru, in his Karika, dealt at length the sacred syllable OM composed of three maatras : A, U and M, which according to him represented three levels of consciousness. He also came up with his theory of a super consciousness, the turiya, the fourth,para-vak.

The great Indian poetic genius Kalidasa spoke of speech (Vak) and its meaning (Artha) as functional in sustaining the universe and their need to be in unison as Parvathi and Parameshwara the originators of the Universe.

The many-sided genius, the Philosopher Abhinavgupta (10th century) described the word as the incarnation of the divine mother. The Sabda and Artha as shabdartha-brahman  are the embodiment of Shiva and Shakti.

I do not propose to discuss here any of those philosophical or mystical aspects of sound and the spoken word. I would be content to restrict myself to the Grammarians’ point of view of Sabda, its constituents and the related issues.


The Grammar in the ancient Indian context was a highly respected subject. Bhartṛhari in his Vakyapadiya described grammar as the “purifier of all the sciences.” He said the use of correct forms of language makes possible   the philosophic or any other pursuit of knowledge.

The spoken word too enjoyed a premier position. That might be because the speaker and listener are both present to the utterance simultaneously and the communication is almost instantaneous. This immediacy seemed to guarantee the genuineness of the exchange.

It appears to me, the questions, among others, that engaged the attention of the Grammarians such as Panini, Kathyayana, Patanjali and Brthrihari were:

How does a word consisting of a succession of phonemes generate a unique meaning? How does a sentence consisting of a succession of words generate a meaning?

Whether a given element in a sequence carries a self-sufficient meaning or whether the constituent element conveys not only its own independent meaning but also simultaneously an additional qualified meaning determined by the dynamics of the context.


Sabda, in Grammar, is a technical term; and,  is commonly used to denote sound .  Grammatically, Sabda is a masculine term. And ,  it   stands for a vast variety of references that include  “ sound , noise, voice , tone , note , word , speech , language , the sacred symbol  Aum , verbal  communication ,  testimony , oral tradition , verbal authority or verbal evidence”.  Although the term Sabda is used in rather countless ways , in the Indian thought , it basically  relates to theories of sound; and,  it is generally understood as linguistic sound , mostly connoting vocal sound which carries meaning (Artha) , either in the form of an object or a thought.

Here, I have used the word “spoken word” to represent the term ‘Sabda’, rather loosely, for want of a better term.

In Grammar, Sabda stands for word manifested by Dhvani (sound). It has the innate power to convey a certain sense (Artha). Further, in all schools of Indian thought there is an assumed relationship between Sabda (word) and Artha (meaning).

Sabda, it is said, normally, has two aspects: un-lettered sound (Dhvani) and the lettered sound (Varna).

The signifier (Dhvani) is tied to the signified (Artha).It is also said; Dhvani and Artha together make a word (Sabda).

The relation between Sabda and Artha is one of identity. The word, sound, sense and knowledge overlap each other. Generally, Sabda denotes a meaning-bearing word-sound, while Nada signifies ‘voiced’ or vowels or non-linguistic sounds.

Similarly, Vak is another term that has varieties of references.  Vak , grammatically , is a feminine noun meaning – speech , voice , talk , language ( also of animals and birds) , sound ( also of inanimate objects such as stones or of a drum) , a word , saying , phrase , sentence , statement and speech personified.

But, in the ancient texts, Vak is not mere speech. It is something more sacred than ordinary speech; and carries with it a far deeper significance. The Rishis are said to have visualized the sublime form of Vak which is regarded eternal and beyond the ordinary senses.

In Rig Veda there are three kinds of references to Vak: Vak is speech in general; Vak also symbolizes cows; and , Vak is personified as goddess revealing the word.  It also appears that Vak is the energy that is underlying every kind of speech; and it also is the language of nature in which the sounds of cows, animals, frogs , birds , trees and hills find expression  . The extant of Vak is said to be as wide as the earth and fire.

Here, in this post , Vak , in a limited sense, refers to human speech.


A speaker wills to give expression, through intellect, to something that arises in him. For this purpose, he employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other.

The spoken word emerges out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of several body parts in order to manifest itself. The throat, head, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are the eight places where the sounds of the letters originate.

Generally, a two-fold effort is needed to utter a letter or a syllable: the internal effort (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds while the latter (the external) into eleven kinds. The ancient Grammarians obviously went great lengths to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda then manifests through Dwani – sound, with the assistance of appropriate organs. That Sabda or the Vak, which term roughly translates to speech or utterance, becomes manifest.

Grammarians classify Vak into subtle and gross forms. Of these, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vak; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

Para is the highest manifestation of Vak and is often referred to as Sabda Brahma. Para and Pashyanti are inaudible; they are beyond the range of the physical ear. It is said, Sri Dashinamarthy and other sages communicated through these very subtle forms of vak. Pashyanti which also means the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; meaning that the origin and destination of speech are one.

Madhyama is an intellectual process, during which the speaker becomes aware of the word as it arises and takes form within him; and he grasps it. Madhyama vak is a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought, Here, the sound is nada  and is in a wave or a vibratory (spandana) form .

Vaikhari vak is sequenced and verbalized speech. Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, in a waveform, reaches the ears and to the intellect of the listener. Vaikhari is the physical form of nada that is heard and apprehended by the listener. It gives expression to subtler forms of vak but is not its ultimate.


[The theological explanation of the manifestation of speech could briefly be as under:

It is explained; the process of manifestation of speech, like that of the Universe, takes place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is para-vak (the voice beyond).  Gradually, this intention takes a shape .We can visualize the idea (pashyanthi-vak) though it is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed; yet searching for words to give expression to the intention. This is the second stage in the manifestation of the idea. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of an idea into words, in the silence of the mind, is the third stage .It is the intermediary stage (madhyama-vak) .The fourth stage being manifestation of non-vocal verbalized ideas into perceptible sounds .It is the stage where the ideas are transmitted through articulated  audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the word.

The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanthi, madhyama and vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expressionare said to represent iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will),jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and kriya-shakthi (power of action).These three are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the center of which is the dot-point (bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion para-vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as Sabda-brahman.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para-pasyanti into vaikhari epitomizes, in miniature, the act of One becoming Many; and the subtle energy transforming into a less_ subtle matter. Thus the speech, each time, is an enactment in miniature of the involution of the One into Many and the evolution of the Many into One as it merges into the intellect of the listener. ]


The comprehension of the verbalized and sequenced vaikhari vak entails pratibha or “flash of insight” that reveals to the listener the pasyanti vak, in the form it originated within the speaker. A perfect communication is when vak is identical and is sequence less at both the ends. Bhartrhari in hisVakyapadiya contends: “Just as light has two powers, that of being revealed and that of being the revealer, similarly, all words have two distinct powers. No meaning is conveyed by words which by themselves are not the objects of knowledge”

That, roughly, is the Sphota vada of the Grammarian Philosopher Bhartrhari.  Some say it is analogous to the creation theory of Big Bang and the withdrawal.

For more on Sphota vada, please see –Who was Upavarsa ?

[ In his Sarva-darshana-samgraha, Sri Madhava describes Sphota in two ways. The first as: that from which the meaning bursts forth or shines forth. And, the second as: an entity that is manifested by the spoken letters and sounds. Sphota may, thus, be conceived as a two sided coin. On the one side it is manifested by the word-sound; and , on the other it simultaneously reveals word meaning.

In philosophical terms, Sphota may be described as the transcendent ground on which the spoken syllables and conveyed meanings find their unity as word or Sabda.

Nagesha Bhatta identifies this theory with Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rules. Bhartrhari, however, considers Audumbarayana (mentioned by Yaska) as having put forth views similar to the Sphota concept.In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.  Perhaps, this claom provided the the model upon which the Vyakarana philosophers based their concept of Sphota. Indeed Sphota is often identified with Pranava.

Patanjali the Grammarian holds that knowledge is the key factor – a word is a word when it has a meaning. Further, he makes a distinction between Sphota and Dhvani. According to him, Sphota is permanent element in the word, and is the essence of it; while Dhvani – the uttered sound – is an fleeting element, and is only an aspect of Sphota. For Patanjali, Sphota may be a singular letter or a fixed pattern of letters. He concludes that Sphota is permanent , unchanging and is manifested by the changing sounds (Dhvani ) uttered by the speaker and heard by the listener.

On the basis of Patanjali’s explanation, Sphota is both internal and external. The internal form of Sphota is the innate essence of the word –meaning. The external aspect of Sphota is the uttered sound which is perceived by the sense organs. It merely serves to manifest the inner Sphota with its inherent word-meaning ]


The ancient Grammarians used the term Dwani to denote the sound of an utterance that reaches the ears of the listener. Dwani is therefore the physical form or the vehicle of a word. Dwani in turn  is determined by the nature of the varnas (syllables) composing it .

[Later , the medieval Indian aestheticians such as Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta used the term Dwani  to imply the subtle  mood or the rasa evoked by a poem or a gesture in a play or in dance. Here, in this post, let us stick to the meaning of Dwani as termed by the Grammarians.]

Dwani is the auditory aspect   of the Sabda.  The intellect of the listener grasps Dwani as in a flash, Sphota.  The Sphota is therefore the intellectual, subtle and inaudible aspect of the Sabda.

Bhartahari employed the term Sphota to indicate the whole, Artha to refer to the concept or meaning and Dwani to refer to the uttered and heard sound.

The term Sphota does not easily translate into English.  The Sphota is derived from the root ‘sphut’ which means ‘to burst’, but it also describes what ’is revealed’ or ’is made explicit’. Sphota, therefore, means that from which the meaning bursts forth, shines forth etc.  Sphota thus refer to the abstract or conceptual form of a word. Sphota is somewhat similar to the Ancient Greek concept of logos or Word.

For instance, as Patanjali explains, the word ghtata consists letters/syllables gh, a, t and a, uttered in a sequence. The letters as heard are Dwani .Immediately after the last letter is uttered the whole (akhanda), indivisible (not sequential) sense bursts forth in a flash Sphota.

The Grammarians  believed that It was not mere  memory or the past association with the object (jnapaka) , but a unifying higher cognition , superior to  memory ,  termed “pratibha ” that revealed in a “flash” or Sphota the single indivisible sequence less meaning of a word or a sentence .

According to Bhartṛhari, this pratibha or flash of understanding is the insight into the whole meaning of a word or a sentence and it is the light, which removes ignorance. It is indefinable (avicarita) because what it reveals is not some “thing” or an “idea,” but rather the dynamic interrelatedness of all things.


That sound of the word Ghata (gh, a, t and a) can be produced in any number of ways, either naturally (prakrta) or in a modified manner (vikruta). That word can be uttered slowly (vilambita), a little more quickly (madhyama) or even very quickly (druta).The variations in speed or in the mode of utterance are called vritti. The vritti might vary the form in which the word is uttered (Dwani); but it does not alter the content and the sense of the word.

For instance, a pot in bright light can be seen clearly. The pot could be seen for a longer time if clear light continues to fall on it. The visibility of the pot depends on the quality of light that falls on it. The variation in the quality of light does not alter the very nature or the status of the pot. Similarly, the change in speed or accent or mode of uttering a word (vritti) does not alter its Sabda or Sphota. The physical aspect of the word that is the quality of its sound (Dwani) might vary but its Sphota remains unchanged. Thus, in effect Sabda too remains unchanged.

Again, Dwani the physical form of the sound could be articulate (like human voice) or inarticulate (like sounds of animals, drums etc.)  Nevertheless, the intellect perceives that Dwani in a flash (Sphota) depending on the listener’s experience (anubhava), reasoning (yukthi) and authority of scriptures (Sastras and Grammar).

The distinction between Sabda and Dwani is basic to the Indian philosophy of language. Thus, in Sanskrit Grammar Sabda stands for the word manifested by Dwani, the articulated sound. While Dwani is variable, Sabda is not. The purpose of the Dwani is to give expression to and to act as a vehicle for Vak. The Dwani as perceived by the intellect of the speaker in a flash is Sphota. The Sphota is the intellectual impression of the audible sound patterns. The Sabda therefore combines in itself the physical form (dwani) of word and its intellectual inaudible from (Sphota).


For a detailed and an intellectual discussion on the above concepts and their relevance in modern times, please check Sequence from Patanjali to Post _modernity by Shri A.V. Ashok.

Please also read a highly interesting paper “Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartahari “By Harold G. Coward

For a discussion on Sabda, Vak and other concepts in various schools of Indian philosophy, please check The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5  – edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja


Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Speculation


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