Chapter 1 – OM OM OM! THE FIRST WORD OF GOD?

(Selected extracts from Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani, published by Penguin Books, India)

The entire tribe was there to greet the Chief, his party, and above all, Sindhu Putra, whom they had already accepted as their own god, a sight unseen. The Ithihasa Parade song had schooled them on how they should greet their God. Respectfully, their hands were raised in Namaste and then the tribe’s silent song of welcome began. It had alternating moods, with overtones of past sorrow, and the joy of the present. Everyone watched the fast hand-movement of so many, participating in the song, though only those who understood the sign language could listen to the song. Later, a poet even asserted that clearly, with his inner ear, Sindhu Putra could hear the song of the silent people, in all the richness and beauty of its melody.

Sindhu Putra went through the crowd. From Devita, he had learnt how to express Tat tvam ASI in sign language. He greeted each with Namaste and Tat twam asi.

Many poets say that the people of the silent tribe did not grasp the significance of the Tat twam ASI. Even so, somehow, faith had overtaken the frontiers of their knowledge and consciousness, and it seemed that all their questions were answered, unasked; and they had the feeling that their life had become purer and beautiful. Their hearts no longer ached for the unattainable. They felt that a god had come to fill the void between the earth and sky and that he had blessed them all.

Yet, poets love to contradict themselves and they also speak of the longing in the hearts of many, as Sindhu Putra went through the crowd. Perhaps, some even remembered the ancient prophecy of the tribe, handed down to them from one generation to another: Then the lord God shall send forth this command and you shall hearken and obey, that he might reveal unto you His First Word that you yourself shall utter, and having uttered it, it shall be yours as it is God’s and you shall then know that the First Word was always there within your reach and grasp, waiting for all eternity to be uttered, except that it was the covenant that you shall not come upon this inheritance unless the Lord God Himself sends down the Witness and the Source.

Was Sindhu Putra then the God foretold in the prophecy! Was he the Witness and the Source! Dare they ask? An old woman, however, was not daunted. Leaning on her son for support she was much too frail even to raise her hand for sign language, and kept nudging her son to ask the question. The son refused. Three times he declined by vigorously shaking his head. Sindhu Putra did not notice it, but a priest was furious to see the youth shaking his head. Quickly, with enormous pride in his own importance, the priest faced the young man with a rapid protest: “Are you denying Sindhu Putra?” The youth waived his arms to refute the charge, while everyone stared at him. Finding his own explanation inadequate, the youth knelt at Sindhu Putra’s feet. It was now Devita’s turn to explain the gestures of the son and the mother, who herself began to find strength for the few limited signs. “She is the mother of his young man” Devita explained, “and she waits to hear from you the First Word of God that she might utter it herself”. Devita was not clear what it all meant or what the First Word was, for she knew nothing of their ancient prophecy. Sindhu Putra, however, was lost in thought.

Sindhu Putra simply raised his hand to the sky and then placed it on his heart, in humility. As a poet explains, all he meant was that the “First Word of God resides in every heart”. But the effect of his gesture was magical. It was as if his simple gesture promised that he would be the one to receive from above the First Word of God and he should be the one to communicate it to them.

The old woman was in tears. He nodded to reassure her. He did not know that hers were tears of joy. Those nearby shared the old woman’s ecstasy that the ancient prophecy was soon to be redeemed. They were quick to transmit it to the others through their hurried sign language; and with each telling and repeating, the hope grew into certainty; and there was now in everyone’s heart, the exalting, exulting assurance that the First Word of God would be revealed and even uttered by them.

Later that day, Devita learnt much about the pre-ancient prophecy; and Sindhu Putra understood the enormity of the hopes he had raised. It is easy to claim knowledge of the first Word of God. Many in the past ”some guided by faith, others for motives of their own” had come forward to communicate the First Word to mankind. But how to get it uttered by those who had never articulated a single word!

Sindhu Putra did not know how it was that the people of this tribe found it impossible to articulate words. It was not as though they lacked a voice altogether. They could yell and even laugh. Their voices could be used for elementary exclamations to indicate joy and anger. But they just could not form words either to speak or sing.

It is not known if Sindhu Putra was aware of the discourse of Dhanawantri, Sage Dhanawantar’s wife, to her students. According to her, voice and speech were two different aspects of human sound. Human speech, she said, was activated first by the will to speak, formed in the brain, and thereafter received its driving energy from a sound generated at the back of the lower throat. As it traveled higher in the throat, the sound was molded and a voice pattern shaped; and finally then, speech sounds emerged, refined by the articulatory organs of the mouth, such as lips and tongue. Her view was that as humans evolved enough to walk upright, they no longer had to use their mouths like their hands to gather food; they thence had the opportunity to devote their lips and tongues to more verbal articulation. She even speculated that in the future course of evolution, verbal articulation may becomes unnecessary and humans may come to acquire the ability to directly transfer thought signals without speech; and in such cases, the mouth along with tongue and lips may become even more specialized-for how it was that the evolutionary process of word-articulation had missed this silent tribe-maybe some hereditary defect, aggravated by inbreeding, arising from marriages among very close relations.

Throughout the day, Devita had to repeat to Sindhu Putra words of the ancient prophecy of the silent tribe. Perhaps he hoped its frequent reception would somehow reveal the secret of its fulfillment.

Sindhu Putra knew what these simple people expected from him. He was thinking; here is the largest tribe in the eastern region, ready and willing to surrender their slaves, for their faith in me! Yet is it right that I steal their faith for myself?

But then, how else do they give up their slaves? No, they have already decided to surrender them, have they not? So what? Surely they can change their minds and return to their ways, to cling to their slaves? Must I continue to betray myself and pose as a god, simply for slaves?

But this was a mock-battle in his mind. His decision was already made. He was committed to the cause of freeing the slaves. The incoherent, chaotic thought that he was putting his own conscience to hazard by allowing people to believe in his godhood, came to trouble him. But again he waved it off. There was no turning back from the commitment to liberate the slaves. Perhaps God would understand commitment to liberate the slaves. Perhaps God would understand! Perhaps God would forgive! But if not, so be it. Let the punishment for the falsehood be his, so that others may go free.

He sat, bent forward, his cheek supported on his hand, his brow knitted in deep thought. He was no longer questioning his own karma or his sin for his masquerade as a god. Instead, his mind was on his futile search for the secret that lay hidden behind the ancient prophecy. What is the First Word of God? What is the First Word which the tribe must utter for the first time? And yet that Word was always within their reach and grasp! But they could not utter it unless a god manifested himself as the Witness and the Source! What then was that First Word?

His thoughts led him nowhere. He feared that the First Word of God would never come within his grasp. What would be the consequence of his failure? Already he had sensed a vague suspicion and envy among the tribal priests. Maybe, the priests could kindle in the hearts of these simple people, resentments against a false god who promises but cannot perform, and yet seeks to deprive them of their cherished slaves. Sindhu Putra almost smiled at the thought. He would then be free-released from the burden and bond of godhood. But the smile was short-lived. His mission to free the slaves would then fail!

The silence around Sindhu Putra was unbroken. Everyone waited for him to speak. But he seemed in deep meditation; quietly they left to remain outside the hut. Actually, he was not meditating. His mind was filled with a maze of confused thoughts. At times, he went deep into the past, to search for a clue to what could be God’s First Word. Again he was bewildered by his own arrogance that he should aspire to discover the Word that none had discovered before. What was his claim to such knowledge and illumination? And even if he were inspired to divine the First Word, how was he to find a way for the mute tribe to utter it? A feeling of helplessness came over him and he heaved a deep sigh. It was more a groan than a sigh. He was not even sure if he heard the sound of his groan. But swiftly, his soul was on fire. A thought hit him so hard that it made him leap right up. It was as though he had heard an echo from a long forgotten age.

His eyes were now wide open. In his heart was tumultuous excitement. His turmoil was no more. Instead there was the radiant joy of blissful fulfillment though all he could have heard was his own whispered groan and a sigh. Yet his feeling was that his mind had reached deep into a limitless past and stretched far into the infinite future and the gates of perception were opened wide for him and he could see-all.

He stood up, swaying unsteadily, as though intoxicated. He uttered a sound to match and imitate his own groan. He tried it again. He felt an overwhelming emotion and was filled with it to bursting. Tears came to him but they were tears of thanksgiving and he knelt to pray.

Well before dawn, the Chief and many others peeped into Sindhu Putra’s room. They found him kneeling in prayer. Those that went nearer him had the feeling that there were tears flowing from his eyes.

They tiptoed out. Outside, a sea of people had collected. Many asked what their new god was doing. The Chief’s hand-signals said, “He prays”. But others added, “He weeps”.

He weeps! For whom does a god weep? They asked. For us; who else! For no reason at all, tears came to the eyes of many.

The sun had risen. Silently, the crowd waited. Only the twittering of birds and the murmur of the breeze could be heard. Hours passed. Vening shadows were about to fall, though the sun was still gleaming in a far corner, when Sindhu Putra emerged. He walked through the crowds. His steps were sure and firm, as if he knew where he must go, in this unfamiliar village. They all followed. He turned to the valley ringed by hills. Suddenly, he stopped and sat down on a stone. It was not a comfortable seat. But he looked calm, serene, rested.

Silently they watched him. He had closed his eyes. Was he listening for a voice from within? A vision! An illumination? Many in the crowd were afraid even to blink lest something escape them, unseen! Then suddenly it began. With his lips parted, Sindhu Putra emitted a sound, emanating from the base of his throat, though everyone was certain that it came from his heart. It was a long inarticulate sound and some would swear that it had the intonation of “O”, while others were certain that it sounded like “AU”, by the impulse rolling forward in the mouth; then gently Sindhu Putra closed his lips, while continuing the sound. Clearly, without effort on his part, the sound changed itself, and came out at “M”. Thus the entire phenomenon of this sound-utterance came to be heard as “AU”, or more clearly, “OM”.

There was silence as Sindhu Putra uttered this OM mantra. But the hills were not silent and they reverberated to return the echo of the sound. They all listened in awe and wonder, as Sindhu Putra repeated the sound. Again the hills responded with the echo.

No one knows at what stage the crowd joined in the chant. Maybe, they all were moved to join in, all together.

OM! It was national, inarticulate, universal sound that required no effort from the mute and speechless; whosoever could utter a sound, could easily chant OM; and the silent tribe chanted it easily, effortlessly and worshipfully OM! OM! OM! The chant went on. And the hills resounded “OM! OM! OM!”.

Oh! Was it the symbol, the name, the essence of the Infinite and the Imperishable? Was OM everything? Was everything from OM? Did OM identify God in all his fullness-in His transcendence and immanence?

Those questions would come to them later. For the moment, there was only one realization in their minds, as they came under the enticing spell of this mantra which they recited again and again-yes, indeed OM was the very First Word that God of All had uttered.

OM! They chanted, and they felt in the depth of their beings a cosmic vibration, mystical and radiant! It was like the flowering of a spiritual consciousness, carrying with it exalted experience, and an overall vision of reality combined with humility, that transcendent truth is yet to be discovered and the eternal search must continue.

A golden mist descended from the sun, setting on the green hills around them. The chant continued. OM!-and their hearts were lofty and soaring, in the ecstasy of love and beauty within. With each chant, they came more under the magical spell of, what was to them, a truly sacred utterance of utmost power and mystery.

And they wondered-did the universe itself arise from this word-OM?

Later, for centuries, even up to the modern era, scholars would emerge to analyze, examine and interpret the sacred symbol of OM. The silent tribe itself needed no explanation. It was after all a sound that a mute or even a baby could produce, without effort or preparation. All it involved was to begin from the base of the throat, with lips open, the sound of A and U, and connect them together to coalesce into the sound of O and finally close the lips while continuing the sound, with the inevitable result that the entire utterance emanated as OM. It was purely intonational and needed no articulatory function from tongue and lips, except that the lips would be open when the sound began, and they would remain closed while the sound continued to its end.

The silent tribe readily recognized OM as a natural symbol, nature’s word, a pure genuine impulse of the heart, as distinct from a word of knowledge arising from the head. Surely then it was nature’s own mantra, their very own mantra, a part of their being. No wonder it produced harmony, peace and bliss in their hearts. With it, came also the realization that this sacred utterance was always within their “reach and grasp”, as foretold in the prophecy, but they had patiently waited for a god to manifest himself as “Witness and Source”.

For all these 7000 years, philosophers, theologians, spiritualists, poets and scholars would weave their learning, love and fancy around the magical mantra of OHM. Some would say that OM covered the full range and entire phenomenon of sound, traveling from one extremity to the other-from throat to lips-beyond which no sound existed. Others held that OM was the symbol of supreme Brahma, the ultimate and infinite reality. Yet others characterized OM as an “idol” representing the divine ideal, arguing that an idol does not need the shape and form of a statue but can be subtle, like sound itself (to them sound was the subtlest of all idols, even more subtle than fire, because only one of the five senses viz, the ear, detects it). Some even claimed that OM was the real name of the Almighty and that it was also the key that unlocked the kingdom of god. Some thousands of years later, the Vedic Upanishads would also extol concentration with the aid of OM. For instance Mundaka Upanishad would say OM is the bow, the soul is the arrow, and Brahma is the target; one must pierce it with a concentrated mind, and become like an arrow, one with it (Mu. U, II 2.3-4). The Bhagvadgita recognizes OM as a mantra which existed from creations beginning ”Om Tat Sat, to express absolute supremacy, universality and reality of the inexpressible Absolute. The Bhagvadgita also reserves the highest goal for those that utter the single symbol OM while they remember the Almighty (VIII 13). Again in the Bhagvadgita, Lord Krishna would declare the existence of the syllable OM in all the Vedas; I am the sound in ether and manhood in men” (VI 8). To the vast majority in the Hindu fold and beyond, OM came to stand for the pure consciousness that pervades the three stages of walking, dreaming and dream-sleep, and it came to be known as pranave, to mean that it pervades life and runs through prana or breath.

Modern scholars also say that OM is a Hindu mantra. That may be so in the sense that it was a Hindu-Sindhu Putra-who first uttered it. But it was uttered for the sake of the silent tribes. They inspired it and they were not Hindus when the mantra was first uttered. It is true that eventually the tribe became a part of the Hindhu fold, but that was later. The fact however remains that for a long time the sacred utterance OM was regarded as the mantra of this silent tribe as it had been foretold in their own prophecy. Certainly, they rejoiced when other tribes adopted their OM mantra, as for instance, Jalta tribes embraced it from the very inception. The slaves freed by the silent tribe would also go back to their lands to spread it all over. Almost instantaneously, it found acceptance throughout the vast territory of the lands of the Hindu. The Hindu took it up worshipfully, lovingly, longingly, in their hearts, and later in their sacred literature. But that does not make it an exclusively Hindu mantra!

Another misconception about the OM mantra may be that it comes from the Sanskrit language. The fact is that the mantra was uttered before Sanskrit matured. Besides, the word OM in Sanskrit is not subject to the conjunction, reflection and grammatical manipulations applied to all the other Sanskrit words. This is simply in recognition of the fact that it is a natural word-that exists in silence, in the heart, in meditation, independent and apart from any language. Hindus and Sanskrit made good use of it, but it can belong to all and every language-and does. The words omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, refers to the infinite power, knowledge and presence of all-seeing god, in many languages. Every prayer, everywhere, when it reaches its point of silence, will utter OM in its various formulations, like Amen and Amin.

People from the silent tribe, who soulfully chanted OM with Sindhu Putra, would remain unaware of the rich and colorful analysis which succeeding generations would extend to this mantra. But they needed no such analysis. The feeling in their heart was of radiant joy and pride over the revelation to them of the First Word of God. That they could ever utter that word was, for them, the height of bliss. Their hearts were full to overflowing. Nothing that later scholars have said to extol and exalt the magical utterance of OM could ever match their own indescribable feeling of bliss and fulfillment.

OM! The silent tribe changed with Sindhu Putra in the valley ringed by hills-their minds released from all wayward thought. In its place was the feeling that their ears had opened to the song of the universe and their eyes, to the radiance of the mind of God.