ONKAR, generally written down as Oankar in Sikh Scriptural writings, is derived from the Upanisadic word Oankara (om+kara) originally signifying pronouncing or rendering into writing the syllable Om. Known as synonym of Om it has been used in the Vedic literature and, in particular in its religio philosophical texts known as the Upanisads, as a holy vocable of mystical signification and as the most sacred of the names of Brahman, the Supreme Self or the one entity which fills all space and time and which is the source of the whole universe including the gods themselves. The word om, the most hallowed name of Brahman, is derived, according to the Gopathabrdhmana (I. 24), from dp `to pervade` or from av `to protect`.

This monosyllable is said to command the highest spiritual efficacy for the realization of the Supreme Spirit. Considering Brahma (a) to be inhalation, Visnu (u) to be suspension, Rudra (m) to be exhalation, the prdndydm is also indicated as obtainable by concentration on Om. The three sounds (AUM) have been described as symbolizing the material, the subtle and the causal world respectively (Man. Up., 8.11). This interpretation envisages the comprehension of the entities of matter (prakriti), spirit (jiva or dtman) and God (Brahma) within the concept of Om or Oankara.

The three sounds have also been identified with three quarters of Brahman representing, in their respective order, His waking, dreaming and sleeping states, His fourth quarter, all pervading Oarikar, having been described as transcending all conventional dealings and the phenomenal world (Man. Up., 9.12). Amidst the ksara or perishable objects of the phenomenal world. He is ekdksara, the Sole Im perishable One (Atharvaveda, V. 28. 8; BG VIII, 13). According to the Upanisadic seers, the word Om, known as Pranava also, serves as an aid or a medium to the meditation on, and the realization of, the Supreme Spirit (P.Up. V. 5; Sv Up. I. 1314; Katha Up. I. 2.17).

The Mundaka Upanisad (II. 2.3.4) metaphorically describes Pranava or the Oankara as the great bow which helps the arrow in the form of soul, sharpened with meditation, reach the target, that is, the Imperishable Brahman. According to the Svelasvatara Upanisad (I. 13), the Universal Spirit is realized through Oankara just as the form of fire is realized through the fuel. Identifying Oankara, the name or the signifier, with Brahman, the object signified, the seers imply that meditation on Oarikar means meditation on Brahman. The Mdndukya Upanisad accepts syllable Om as “all that is past, present or future, and whatever is beyond the three periods of time is also verily Om.”

The pantheistic concept of Brahman as the Supreme Self, one and impersonal in character, and often identified with Om or Oankara, continued to hold good along with the growth of the polytheistic concept of the personal gods like Brahma, Visnu and Siva, the two concepts acting and reacting and complementing each other in the long history of the religio philosophical tradition of India. Guru Nanak, in order to emphasize the strict monotheism of the creed he was preaching and to discountenance any possibility of the kind of polytheism prevalent in India reasserting itself, added the numeral 1 (one, pronounced as ek in most Indian languages) , the formula for the Supreme Being thus emerging from his revelation as Ek Oarikar.To this numeral one {ek or ik) a mystical significance attaches in the Sikh creed.Besides being the opening sentence phrase of the Mul Mantra, standing at the head of the Guru Granth Sahib, Ek Oarikar emphasizes the Nirguna (the unattributed) character of Brahman, the Supreme Being.

Ek or ik in this formula is called by mantra or the seed formula, out of which has grown the entire fabric of Sikh creed, which totally discountenances any polytheistic or even what is known as the henotheistic concept. This Ek is the very image of the Supreme Being, the Divine Essence (suddha svarupd), accepted in Guru Granth Sahib. Bhai Gurdas, the great savant and poet, thus expresses the relationship of Ek with Oarikar: `The creator first manifested the One; and after, set by its side the * ura` `Oarikar` {Varan, III. 15).For `0` the original is ura, the first neuter vowel letter of the Gurmukhi alphabet, representing according to its diacritical mark `0` or `U`.

From the above it will be indicated that the numeral Ek with Oankar is all important emphasizing the attribute lessness, soleness and transcendence of Brahman, also known in Sikh theology as Parbrahma `transcendent Brahman`. Among the names of the Supreme Being primarily belongs Ek Oankar, which is repeated in Mill Mantra by the initiates to Sikhism, when taking amrit. A distinction exists philosophically between Ek Oankar and Oankar.Ek Oarikar being the unattributed, transcendent aspect of the Supreme Being, Oarikar is the attributed {sagun, sargun) aspect, the Creator, to whom devotion and worship may be offered.

In the Sikh creed the Supreme Being is both `attributed` and `unattributed`, no distinction being made between His two aspects attributed aspect not represented by any deities or such other beings. The combination in Him of both aspects is emphasized in Sukhmam (GG, 287, 290). In numerous places in Gurbani the combination in the Supreme Being of transcendence and immanence, the unattributed and the creative (attributed) aspect, is emphasized through various images and similies.Maha Kavi Santokh Singh, in his Tikd Garab Ganjam affirms that Oarikar, the creative aspect of the Supreme Being is Brahma associated with mdya.

In the hymn RdmkaK Dakhm Oankar, at the very outset, the Creator is saluted as Oarikar. Guru Amar Das in Mdru Solahe (18), affirms: “Oankar sabh sristi updl” Oarikar created the universe. Bhai Gurdas {Varan, XXXVII. 1) represents Oarikar as the Creator. He further endorses that by becoming and uniting Siva and Sakti, the creation is brought about by Oarikar. Ik Oarikar is likened to the sun which shines in sole splendour, while the manifest universe is likened to the numberless stars.

In Varan, 26. 2, the melody of the word rising from Ek Oarikar is said to have created the Oarikar (with attributed form).In Varan, 29.19, Bhai Gurdas recounts three stages of the Supreme Reality. They are: Nirarikar, Ekarikar and Oarikar. Nirarikar being the Sunn Samadhi (seedless trance) stage, Ekarikar and Oarikar may be considered as grosser stages of the Nirarikar Brahman, in and through which He creates the cosmos. This elucidation by Bhai Gurdas is consistent with Guru Nanak`s thought in Vdr Asd where he expounds: “dpmai (Nirarikar) dpu sdjiu (Ekarikar) dpinai rachio ndu (Oarikar) dui qudarali sdjiai (creation from Oarikar) kari dsanu ditho chdu (all pervading Nirarikar creative as Oarikar).”

It may be further noted that all the three aspects of Aphur Brahman, i.e. Nirarikar, Ekarikar and Oarikar,have been delineated as creators by saying “Oankar sabh sristi updt” (GG, 1061), “Nirankdr dkdru updid” (GG, 1065) and “Ekankdru eku pdsdrd ekai apar apdrd” (GG, 82l). In Varan, 18.12, also Oankar is presented by Bhai Gurdas as the Creator. To contrast with Oankar, terms Nirankdr (the formless) and Nirddhdr (the absolute) are used. In Sukhmam (GG, 276, 284), after creation is dissolved, the Supreme Being remains Sole Absolute (Ekarikar, Ik Oarikar).

Guru Gobind Singh also, in Akdl Ustati, salutes the Absolute by saying: `pranvo ddi ekankdrd` (I bow to the Primal Absolute).The signification attaching to Ik Oarikar must have become clear, which while using the syllabic Oarikar from Upanisadic literature has given to it a meaning and conceptual content different from what it bears in those texts. This concept of Ik Oarikar (the Sole Oarikar), also written down as Ekankdr (GG, pp. 153, 276, 608, 736, 838 etc.) represented by the holy syllables (1) in the Granth Sahib, is the basic tenet of the Sikh religion and its theology.

This symbol precedes the Mul Mantra or the basic formula of the Sikh theology, prefixed to the Japu and all the musical measures in the Guru Granth Sahib. The Mul Mantra enunciates in succint form, the concept of Ek Oarikar, who is the Sole Supreme Self, the Truth Eternal, the Creator of all and Selfexistent. While defining Him, the Mul Mantra, uses some negative terms also.Thus He is described as Nirbhauwithout fear; Nirvairwithout rancour; AkalMuratiform eternal; AjunT not subject to the cycle of birth and death.

This concept of Oarikar has been expounded in elaborate and inspiringly sublime form in the Guru Granth Sahib which time and again has put a special emphasis, in view of the socially as well as the spiritually disintegrating thought necessitated by the prevailing circumstances, on the oneness of the Supreme Being. It is only with reference to His infinite creation or the multiplicity of the beings, both animate and inanimate, created by Him that He has been described as anek (not one, i.e. many) and saguna in the Guru Granth Sahib; otherwise, primarily, He has been conceived and described as nirguna.

Nirguna Aphur Brahman in Sikhism being Saphur, without changing His transcendent character and stimulating His creative divine power, Oarikar, which hitherto was latent and un manifest, creates the cosmos by assuming the role of the KartaPurakh. He is not that Nirarikara becomes sdkdr in any gross sense; he rather, in the Guru Granth Sahib, is explained as a creative divine power. In Indian philosophical and theological thought where av is considered as the root of Om, the emphasis is laid upon its protective aspect, whereas in Sikh Scripture its creative divine power has been taken into account. Of the other terms considered equal to Oarikar or Brahman, the term sat and its cognates satya and sack being the basic need of a spiritually as well as socially wellknit society, get a preferential treatment by the Gurus in the Guru Granth Sahib.

References :

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2. Harbans Singh, ed., Perspectives on Guru Nanak. Patiala, 1975
3. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
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