Tracing the journey of a word that is eternal


It was here first. The first sound of creation from where life begins, 'Aum' is a deeply powerful sound or a mantra. The word is deeply embedded in Indian spirituality, philosophy, language, and even culture. In 'The Journey of Aum' artist Kalpana Palkhiwala has chosen to undertake a daunting task by attempting to depict Aum—visually and across language and culture.

The book—in black and white—is as much personal as it is philosophical. “From childhood to this day, Aum has been a constant,’’ she writes in the book. “It was a syllable sound entering my ears. However, it was only after 33 years, post-retirement that I took up my brush and pencil and made an effort to put Aum on paper.”

The book, in a way, is her life’s work. "At the age of sixty, I finally gave life to Aum that lay deep in my subconscious for many years."

Depicting this sound across languages, whether it is in the curvy Hindi with the crescent moon with a dot arched delicately or as trianka, triyanka or triratna which is one of the oldest forms of Aum in Buddhism, Palkhiwala takes the reader on a journey of the word that was there before there was a word.

There is also Aum in Grantha, which has been derived from the Pali script in the third century CE and went through many transformations before it reached the modern form used in Tamil and Malayalam. In the book, Palkhiwala shows Aum with plants and motifs that are found in South Indian temples. "Looking at its spread, I searched the language of a range of Asian countries and found it everywhere. It is assimilated in people's lives, their cultures and their way of living. It embodies divine energy,'' she writes.

The book is an attempt to depict just how deeply enmeshed Aum is in language culture and life. She also includes Siddham, the Brahmic script which is derived from the Gupta script in the late sixth century CE as well as Kashmiri, Tibetan, Lepcha and Thai. Palkhiwala also tries to root the sound in culture. So, her Aum in Maithili is decorated with nature and flowers as it is in the Madhubani art that comes from this region. And in Odiya, she has chosen to use the spokes of the famous Konark temple dedicated to the sun.

Her works make the reader expand their horizons as they see Aum written across languages, each intricately sketched.

Book: The Journey of Aum

Author: Kalpana Palkhiwala

Price: Rs 700

Pages: 150

Publisher: Zen Opus

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