Sanskrit: ॐ श्री परमात्मने नमः

Discussion in 'Indo-Iranian Languages' started by Au101, May 11, 2012.

  1. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Hello, I was wondering if anybody could help me with the translation of the following Sanskrit sentence, which appears in some copies of the Bhagavad-Gita, prior to the first chapter:

    ॐ श्री परमात्मने नमः
    (Om śrī paramātmane namaḥ)

    My translation of this would be something like:

    "In praise of the Supreme Spirit"

    But I wonder if anybody could confirm?

    Many thanks,
  2. drkpp

    drkpp Member

    Mumbai, India
    India - Marathi, Hindi, Sanskrit
    It means "A salutation to Supreme Spirit"
  3. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Perfect :) Thank you drkpp, I was going for a poetic translation, but I really appreciate the confirmation of its literal meaning :)
  4. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    In these translations ''OM'' has remained untranslated. Is there any way to translate OM (and since I've noticed dear Au101 is online (auM), in this context?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2013
  5. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Hi :)

    Well, I don't think so for two reasons: Firstly it is very much the representation of a sound. What I mean is, it is a sound of high liturgical importance and very much a sacred and important part of the religious tradition, but it is simply to be read as the sound [õː] (exact pronunciations vary). It is more an intonation (if one of symbolic importance) than a word. Secondly, as I say, it is a very important symbol. You could write a footnote in your translation briefly explaining what the oṃkāra is and what it's used for, but one couldn't really translate it and it is of importance that it be recognised by a reader for what it is and read as Oṃ. Sir Monier-Williams, in his dictionary, simply gives the translation: "ind. the sacred syllable of the शूद्रs".

    To get round this problem, I can think of a few solutions. It is possible that some authors have managed to find more ingenious solutions. I suppose, since it's used to mark the beginning of a recitation or religious text, one coud use an approximate English equivalent (linguistically and/or culturally) but it would be difficult to convey the appropriate religious elements. For example, in English texts it's common to mark the beginning of a text with a large drop cap, as in newspapers, and in Christian religious texts in European traditions, manuscripts often begin with an ornately decorated initial letter (e.g. This is a vague approximation of the idea of symbolically marking the start of a religious text, but it obviously has none of the theological intricacies of the oṃkāra and your reader would likely not realise what you were trying to represent. And of course, it's important to stress that the oṃkāra is supposed to be read out at the start of the text. So, as far as I can see, the only real options (apart from omitting it, which is perfectly reasonable as it contributes nothing to the meaning, even if it is an important symbolic part of the original) are to transliterate the oṃkāra or use ॐ. As ॐ is a symbol that's likely to be well-understood by your target audience, I think I would probably do the second, but there might be good reasons to transliterate it, such as font compatability, or simple consistency.

    You might be interested to know that the translators of the Bible had a similar problem and I bring it up as an interesting example of how an analagous situation is handled in other publications. Obviously for the translators of the Bible, fidelity was of great importance, and they could not make do with approximate solutions. In the Psalms of the Old Testament, there is a Hebrew word Selah (סֶלָה) which seems to roughly indicate that a pause is called for in the reading of the psalm. It is a very tricky word to translate. In the King James Version, I know that they simply transliterated the word when it appeared. In the New Internation Version I believe they give a footnote at the end of the verse explaining that the Hebrew original has this word giving a very short discussion about its use.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2013
  6. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Indebted for the reply, as ever. You have mentioned the Bible, would ''logos'' be appropriate to ''translate'' auM or to put it in a footnote?
  7. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    That's an interesting thought, and it's a possibility. I would have two concerns, firstly: the ॐ is, as I say, a specific religious and cultural symbol with very specific connotations and functions and a pronunciation unique to itself that is intended to be read aloud but also is a way of beginning a text. It is, therefore, very difficult to find an analogous word/symbol/form, but even if you could do so, it would not have the correct connotations and pronunciations and could be misleading, or even offensive. To my mind, it would be similar to translating Kāmadeva as Cupid. Although they are analagous deities, they are not different names for the same thing, in the same way that पुस्तक is a different name for book, which is a different name forكتاب and so on. To adopt another example, Allāh is almost always left untranslated in English, even though (in this case) God could be considered an acceptable translation. But in the case of Oṃ, it is even worse, because there is really no good approximation in English that I am aware of and many English speakers (especially those reading Sanskrit texts) are likely to be vary au fait with the ॐ.
  8. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    ^ I agree with all you have said about ॐ. It is a symbol with a unique sound which for Hindus is nothing short of linking man's soul with his creator. With this significance, it should be left untranslated.
  9. desi4life Senior Member

    [Moderator note: Merged with the previous thread. Please, everyone, don't forget to search the forum before opening a new thread. Thanks. Cherine.]

    What is the correct transliteration of the Hindu sacred syllable/sound? Is it om or aum? I've seen both Romanized spellings, but surely they both can't be correct. Is oṃ/auṃ more accurate than om/aum?

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 12, 2017
  10. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Well it sort of depends what transliteration scheme you're using. ॐ is very much a specific symbol, but it can otherwise be spelled ओम् or ओं or ओ३म् so I tend to favour o. As for whether to use ṃ or m, there is a candrabindu in the symbol itself. Moreover, the actual pronunciation is generally ओ, which is pluta, and nasalised for its duration, followed by the stop म्. So the transcription oṃ makes the most sense to me since the vowel is nasalised for its duration. However the syllable ends in a full consonantal म् so om would also make sense. Wikipedia gives oṃ and auṃ as acceptable IAST transliterations.

    Otherwise Om will do in normal usage, but also in technical usage, since ॐ is a symbol, it's a glyph, representing the sacred syllable. It is not so much a spelling. It therefore makes sense to use the familiar-to-most rendering Om which has entered the lexicon of almost everyone who's likely to be reading what you've written :p

    As for where the aum/ṃ spelling comes from, I'm not really that sure. The Wikipedia article seems to be talking about ओ with extensive reference to the fact that Sanskrit ओ is a monophthongisation of a historical diphthong *au. This history of Sanskrit ओ shows itself very plainly in Saṃdhi rules, but not, to my knowledge, the pronunciation of ॐ. No more is ओ anywhere else transliterated as au because of its history. I don't favour it, but maybe I am insufficiently educated.
  11. desi4life Senior Member

    Thanks. I know ३ is 3 in Devanagari, but does the ३ in ओ३म् really represent the number 3 as the Wikipedia article states or is there a different reason for using it? Are there any other words in Sanskrit where a numeric symbol is inserted into a word? It's an odd but unique spelling.
  12. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    It marks that the vowel is pluta, it is marker of length. Quoting William Dwight Whitney:

    78. Besides these two vowel-quantities, the Hindus acknowledge a third, called pluta (literally swimming), or protracted, and having three moras or three times the quantity of a short vowel. A protracted vowel is marked by a following figure 3: thus, आ३ ā3.

    a. The protracted vowels are practically of rare occurrence (in RV., three cases; in AV., fifteen; in the Brāhmaṇa literature, decidedly more frequent). They are used in cases of questioning, especially of a balancing between two alternatives, and also of calling to a distance or urgently. The protraction is of the last syllable in a word, or in a whole phrase; and the protracted syllable has usually the acute tone, in addition to any other accent the word may have; sometimes it takes also anusvāra, or is made nasal.

    b. Examples are: adháḥ svid āsī́3d upári svid āsī3t (RV.) was it, forsooth, below? was it, forsooth, above> idám bhū́yā́3 idā́3m íti (AV.) saying, is this more, or is that? ágnā́3i pátnīvā́3ḥ sómam piba (TS.) O Agni! thou with thy spouse! drink the soma.

    c. A diphthong is protracted by prolongation of its first or a-element: thus, e to ā3i, o to ā3u.

    d. The sign of protraction is also sometimes written as the result of accentual combination, when so-called kampa occurs: see below, 87 d.

    Noted by the way 78c. "A diphthong is protracted by prolongation of its first or a-element: thus, e to ā3i, o to ā3u." Which actually, now I actually go back and read, would explain the Auṃ transliteration. However, it is not actually usually pronounced this way in my rather limited experience. Well, anyway, there's your answer I suspect.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
  13. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Yes the symbol is to be found used this way in the Vedas. For example, in the famous Nāsadīya Sūkta, verse 5: Rg Veda with Sayana's Commentary Part 4

    Also, if you go to the English wikipedia page for Sanskrit, you will find an image of a Pada-Pāṭha manuscript with an interesting hybrid spelling of ॐ in the first line: Sanskrit - Wikipedia
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
  14. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    There is, of course, very little to add to the very detailed and thorough exposé from Au101. I'd, however, like to throw in my 2 pence about this part:

    These are, of course, quite likely possibilities. But additionally, Hindu scriptures also tend to analyze it as "a-u-m", as can be seen in Aitareya Brahmana 5.32 (also refered to by the English wikipedia article on Om), where the chain of creations by प्रजापति is described:

    "तेभ्योऽभितप्तेभ्यस्त्रयो वर्णा अजायन्ताकार उकारो मकार इति तानेकधा समभरत्तदेतदो३मिति।"
    On heating (? अभि-तप्‌), from these (three शुक्र-s: भू, भुवः, स्वः) three letters/sounds (वर्ण) were born - a*, u and m. He (=प्रजापति) brought them together, and that is this Om.

    The same "a-u-m" analysis occurs in Mandukya Upanishad.

    *Strictly speaking, the text is ambiguous as to whether it is a or ā.

    Again Au101 has quite adequately answered the question. However, for the sake of completeness, though it is irrelevant to the spelling of ओ३म्, let me add that the numerals ३ and १ have another function in the Rigvedic orthography. They are used to mark the pitch accent in some marginal cases, namely when an independent svarita (an orthographic falling tone without a corresponding preceding orthographic high pitch) appears right in front of an udātta (high pitch). Yes, Vedic had grammatical pitch accent. :)
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
  15. desi4life Senior Member

    Thank you both for the excellent answers. :)

    I noticed Monier Williams has entries for both om and aum. For the latter, he defines it as "the sacred syllable of the Shūdras". What particular association does aum have with Shūdras or is it a misinformed definition?
  16. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    For examples see verse 3 of Atharva-Veda Saṃhitā 30 over here.

    And Ṛg-Veda 1.4.10 over here.
  17. desi4life Senior Member

    ^ Any opinion about my question above regarding the definition of aum? :)
  18. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    Hehe not really. For his flaws as a man, and for the flaws in his work, Monier-Williams' dictionary is a tour-de-force and the fruits of extensive researches. I'm not in any way educated on the shortcomings of his dictionary, but it's not that easy to imagine him getting this wrong. He also wrote a bit about Hinduism, and while he didn't like it, and his writings about it would probably be pretty offensive to most Hindus, it's hard to imagine that he didn't know what he was writing when he gave that definition.

    However, I had a look at the time, and I can't myself see an obvious explanation. Chasing the references around the dictionary doesn't get you very far either. In his definition of औम् it says "(see 3. au)". If we do indeed see 3. au, we have "the Setu or sacred syllable of the Ṡūdras", his reference being the Kālikā-purāṇa. So there we have the assertion again. If we check the definition of Setu, it reads "the Praṇava or sacred syllable Om (which is said to be mantrāṇāṃ setuḥ)". The reference is the same. But here the definition of Setu leads us to Om, not Aum. And the definition of Om makes no reference to Śūdras at all.
  19. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    I am also in the same boat as Au101. I had also arrived at the dead-end of the Kālikā-purāṇa. But lacking a more pointed reference or a consultation with someone intimately acquainted with the text, I could make no more headway.
  20. desi4life Senior Member

    Thank you both. It'll be interesting to find out what the Kālikā-purāṇa has to say.

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