Omkara Pradhana

An Abhanga by Tukaram Maharaj

Sung by Lakshmi Joyce Wells.

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Omkara Pradhana - The Source of Om

Commentary on Tukaram Maharaj’s Abhanga Omkara Pradhana
by Swami Shantananda

The title of the abhanga Omkāra Pradhāna, means “The Source of Om.” This devotional song was composed by Tukārām Mahārāj, one of the great poet-saints of India.

Tukārām lived in the 17th century, and he hailed from the village of Dehu, Mahārāshtra. It was a golden era of saints in India; many of them were poet-saints like Tukārām Mahārāj, and they belonged to what historians call the Bhakti Movement.

The custom at the time was that ordinary people (i.e., those who were not scholars) were not allowed to learn the Sanskrit language—and therefore, they could not study the scriptures written in that language. However, the poet-saints—some of whom were themselves cobblers, farmers, potters, gardeners, and the like—had the direct experience, the living knowledge, of the teachings and the inner spiritual states described in the scriptures. So that this sacred knowledge could be accessible to everyone, they composed heartfelt poetry, devotional songs, and even erudite treatises on spiritual life in the vernacular languages and dialects of India. No longer did one have to be a great scholar to understand the nature of the Truth.

This abhanga, Omkāra Pradhāna, is one such devotional song. In its refrain, Tukārām Mahārāj declares that the origin and source, the pradhāna, of the primordial sound Om is Lord Ganesh.

According to the philosophy of Vedānta, Om is the first manifestation of supreme Consciousness. Moreover, Vedānta, like all the major philosophies of India, teaches that supreme Consciousness has two main aspects. One is nirākāra, transcendent and formless. The other is sakāra, taking on the forms of creation—everything from vast galaxies to the planet Earth, from the majestic mountains to the tiniest flowers, from sea creatures to human beings. The divine can be known and worshiped through both its form and formless aspects.

By saying that Lord Ganesh is the source of Om, Tukārām suggests that Lord Ganesh is supreme Consciousness. In other words, the saint is giving seekers the form—the sakāra—of Ganesh as a means to invoke, honor, and worship the formless—the nirākāra.

In this abhanga, Tukārām is taking the listener from the visual appearance of this beloved deity—always depicted with the body of a boy and head of an elephant—to that which is beyond time and space, the eternal primordial sound. Lord Ganesh, Tukārām says, is omkāra, the sacred syllable that resounds as Om.

In appearance, the rotund body of Ganesh and his curved trunk suggest the shape of Oṁ as represented in the devanāgarī script used for Sanskrit: ॐ. This may be why one of the names for Lord Ganesh is Oṁkāra Svarūpa, which means “the embodiment of Om.”1

Another name for Lord Ganesh is Gajānana, elephant-faced, and Tukārām invokes this name in his abhanga. The etymology of this name is noteworthy: the syllable ga means “sound” and ja means “to be born.” Thus, Gajānana refers to the birth of all things from the subtle vibration at the root of the universe.2

In this way, Tukārām sees Lord Ganesh as the origin of what he calls “the three gods.” These three deities—Lord Brahmā, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva—represent the powers by which supreme Consciousness manifests this universe, sustains it, and dissolves it. Tukārām associates these functions with each of the three sounds that constitute Om: A, U, M.

Brahmā, the Creator, also called Akshara, imperishable, is represented by A, the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which is a reminder that Brahmā is the first being to arise from the Supreme.

Vishnu, the Sustainer, is represented by U. This vowel corresponds phonetically to the Sanskrit semiconsonant V, which is here associated with Vishnu.

And Mahesha or Shiva, the Dissolver, is represented by the letter M.3

The names of Indian deities often have many layers of meaning. This is the case with the name Ganesh itself, which is derived from two words: gaṇa, group, and īśa, lord or master. The stories of the Purānas describe Ganesh as the master of Shiva’s army of attendants, the ganas. In a deeper sense, Ganesh is recognized as the lord of all living beings and the master of the various groups of shaktis, the powers that emanate from Om and are said to create this very universe.4

We can see from this why Tukārām calls Ganesh “the Mother and Father” of everything that exists.

In the third and final verse of this abhanga, Tukārām Mahārāj says, “This is what the Vedas say. You can read it in the Purānas of Vyāsa.” The poet-saint is saying that in this abhanga he is giving just a glimpse of the knowledge and experience of the primordial sound and how it can be accessed through worship of Lord Ganesh, but that there is much more to be said about it. In fact, there is so much more to be said about this subject that it is covered in detail in the hundreds of volumes of the Purānas. Such is the import and magnificence of Om, and of what Lord Ganesh represents.

1 John A. Grimes, Gaṇapati: Song of the Self  (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995), pp. 77–78.
2 Grimes, Gaṇapati, pp. 45-46.
3 The symbolic interpretation of AUM was provided through personal correspondence with Dr. Borayin Larios, University of Heidelberg, Germany, August 2018.
4 Grimes, Gaṇapati, pp. 41-42; and Larios correspondence.


The recording of this abhanga is available in the Siddha Yoga Bookstore.