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29 Re-post : The origin of the alphabet

The origin of the alphabet - The Maheshwara Sootram

Note: For some reason while managing the posts, this one post was deleted from the blog. So re-posting it as it was. First posted in March 2009.

Out of all the Sanskrit text that I learnt in the school, this one verse has stuck to me more than others. I do not know why or how. It was not even part of the syllabus, but one day our Sanskrit teacher told us about the beginning of the language, I guess that took my fancy. The lines of the verse I am talking about go like this:

नृत्यावसाने नटराजराजो  ननादढक्काम नवपञ्चवारम ।

उद्धर्तुकामः सनकाऽदि सिद्धाः नेतद्विमर्षे शिवसूत्रजालम ॥

Nrittya avasaane Nataraja Rajo, Nanaada Dhakkaam Nava Pancha vaaram |

Uddhartu kaamah Sanakaadi Siddhaa Netadwimarse Shiva Sootra Jaalam ||


At the end of his (celestial) dance, the king of natyashastra (i.e. the Supreme god Shiva), sounded the Dhakka (Damaru - his famous two-sided drum) 9 and 5 times (i.e. 14 times). ... This (he did), in order to to grant salvation / enlightenment * to Sanaka and other siddhas (basically the four Kumaras - sons of Brahma born out of his mind) ... and thus weaved the net of shiva-sootras (the Varnamala).

This is a famous Sootram - also called the Maheshwara Sootra - and is attributed to by Paanini - the sage who is credited for building the grammar of the language.

The story goes like this: When Brahma decided to commence the sequence of creation, he first of all created four Kumaras by just having a wish in his mind. They were Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumara. They were all embodiment of pure qualities. Brahma created them so that they could help in the process of creation. But they were so pure - almost child-like - that they had no idea how to go about the business of creation. They also refused to take part in creation, thinking that the lowly mode of reproduction was not for them.

When Brahma found that the four Kumaras are not interested in the purpose they were supposed to be interested in, but are rather happy in learning knowledge and siddhis (yogic powers), he got angry and asked Shiva to help them understand life and its purpose better. Shiva, who is erotic in the nine worlds below and an ascetic in the five worlds above, played on his drum 9 + 5=14 times, representing the paths to be found in all the fourteen worlds and thus provided enlightenment to the yogi Kumaras.

These drum beats are none other than the seed mantras (sounds) of Sanskrit alphabets:

1. A I Un.
2. Ar Al Uk
3. E Ong
4. Ai Ouch
5. Ha Ya Va Rat
6. Lan.
7. Nga Ma Jna Nna Nam
8. Jha Bhany
9. Gha Dha Dhash.
10. Ja Ba Ga Da Dash
11. Kha Pha Chcha Ththa Ththa Ca Ta Tav
12. Ka Pay
13. Sha Shsha Sar
14. Hal

[Copyright Dr. Prahalada Sastry aka Amritananda Saraswati]

And that is how the alphabet came into existence!

Since these 14 varnas i.e. alphabets came out of Shiva himself, who has no death, these varnas are known as Aksharas (deathless). The jaal (net) that the Supreme God knitted is called Aksharamala. They are also called Chaturdasa Vidyasthanam (14 places of knowledge).

- Shreekant

* Uddarty Kaamah: The Hindi word 'Uddhar' means granting a salvation. The exact meaning of this is much debated. However most translations use another Sanskrit word "Sayujyam" - meaning 'an irreversible & complete merging (into the Supreme Godhead)'.