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Akshara (Sanskrit: अक्षर, romanizedakṣara, lit.'imperishable, indestructible, fixed, immutable') is a term used in the traditional grammar of the Sanskrit language and in the Vedanta school of Indian philosophy.

The term is derived from अ, a- "not" and क्षर्, kṣar- "melt away, perish". The uniting aspect of its use is the mystical view of language, or shabda, in Hindu tradition, and especially the notion of the syllable as a kind of immutable (or "atomic") substance of both language and truth, most prominently, the mystical syllable Aum, which is given the name of ekākṣara (i.e. eka-akṣara), which can be translated as both "the sole imperishable thing" and as "a single syllable".

Grammatical tradition[edit]

The akshara is the unit of graphemic symbols in the Brahmic scripts. An akshara is more a syllable-like unit for writing which requires the knowledge of syllables and the matra, i.e. the measure of prosodic marking. In writing it prototypically stands for CV, CVV, CCV, CCVV, CCCV, CCCVV, V and VV where "C" stands for a consonant, "V" for a vowel and "VV" for a long vowel. It is usually a sub-syllabic representation which stands for onset, onset plus nucleus and nucleus alone; the coda part of a syllable goes into the next akshara in a word.[1]

Its nature favours the phonological mediation i.e. the non-lexical strategy of reading, which may be interpreted in stages such as the "Visual Analysis System" and proceeding to the "Aksara Recognition System" and then to the "Aksara sound Conversion System" and the "Phonological Assembly System" before ending with the "Response Buffer" prior to reading aloud.[clarification needed][dubious ][2]


As part of basic instructions of Shiksha and Sanskrit grammar, it is explained that among the Word-entities, both, Aksara and Brahman stand out as especially important because both refer to a special form of ritual word. In the Brahmanas and the Upanishads both come to mean the Absolute. Aksara is a part of the Sacred Word "Om" and possesses a unique and intensified power and dignity. In the Upanishads, in a condensed and intensified form, it signifies the transcendent Principle of all that exists. Its significance is derived from its role as a "syllable", the essential and embryonic core of speech.[3]

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad[edit]

The eighth brahmana of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad focuses on the concept of the imperishable (akshara). Verse 3.8.8-9 describe akshara having certain qualities. It is neither physical nor subtle, and it is not defined by physical characteristics such as size, length, or physical traits like blood or fat. It exists beyond shadows, darkness, air, and space, untouched by sensory experiences like taste, smell, sight, or hearing. It does not possess attributes like speech, mind, energy, breath, and form. Akshara is immeasurable, existing without internal or external elements, and is neither a consumer nor consumed. Akshara governs the universe and influences various aspects of existence including the sun, moon, earth, sky, time, rivers, human behavior, and the dependence of gods and ancestors on ritual offerings.[4][5] Verse 3.8.10 emphasizes the significance of understanding this imperishable:[5]

Without knowing this imperishable, Gargi, even if a man were to make offerings, to offer sacrifices, and to perform austerities in this world for many thousands of years, all that would come to naught. Pitiful is the man, Gargi, who departs from this world without knowing this imperishable.

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 3, Brahmanam 8, Hymn 10

Manduka Upanishad[edit]

The Manduka Upanishad partitions the symbol Aum in three different morae and adds a fourth mora-less part instructing that the mora-less part alone is ultimately real and not the other three representing "wakefulness", "dream" and the "sleep" states of consciousness. The mora-less part of Aum has correspondence with the fourth dimension of metaphysics, the Atman.[6]

Munduka Upanishad[edit]

Madhavananda, in his commentary on the Brahmopanishad belonging to the Atharvaveda, explains that, as per the Mundaka Upanishad I.7 and II.1-2, the term Aksara signifies Brahman in Its aspect of the manifesting principle. Pippalada suggests that this manifesting Brahman is the thread (Sutram) to be worn instead of the sacrificial thread on the body which should be discarded.[7]

Bhagavad Gita[edit]

Aksara means one who is present everywhere, denotes the name of Shiva and Vishnu, and also that of Brahman, literally it means imperishable, indestructible. And, because it is the term applied to Aum it is called the Aksara, the symbol of God who is the lord of all created things. It is a descriptive synonym of Brahman (Bhagavad Gita VIII.3) who is said to have arisen from Aksara (Bhagavad Gita III.15).[8]

With regard to Vallabha’s view of Aum it is said that Aksara itself is imperishable and appears as souls endowed with Sat and Chit but not as Ananda.[9] For Vallabha, Ananda, which is the first manifestation of God, is the actualisation of the absolute identity and selfness, whereas the second manifestation of God is the Aksara, the impersonal ground from which all determinations arise because it is the substratum of all finite forms that pre-exist but issue forth from it which though by itself is the intermediate form that lacks plenitude.[10]


  1. ^ Joshi, R. Malatesha; McBride, Catherine (2019-06-11). Handbook of Literacy in Akshara Orthography. Springer. p. 46. ISBN 978-3-030-05977-4.
  2. ^ Misra (September 2009). Psychology in India Vol.1. Pearson Education India. p. 125. ISBN 9788131717448.
  3. ^ Arij A.Roest Crollius (1974). Word in Experience. Gregorian Biblical Workshop. pp. 183–5. ISBN 9788876524752.
  4. ^ Paul Deussen (1905). Sixty Upanisads Of The Veda -part- Ist. p. 463.
  5. ^ a b The Early Upaniṣads in Sanskrit and English Parallel Texts. p. 91.
  6. ^ Ramachandra Dattatrya Ranade (1968). A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 246.
  7. ^ Swami Madhavananda. Minor Upanishads. Advaita Ashrama. p. 11. Archived from the original on 2018-07-27. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  8. ^ Ganga Ram Garg (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World:Ak-Aq. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 308–9. ISBN 9788170223757.
  9. ^ Veeraswamy Krishnaraj (2002). The Bhagavad Gita:Translation and Commentary. iUniverse. p. 387. ISBN 9780595226788.
  10. ^ Synthesizing the Vedanta:The Theory of Johanns Sj. Peter Lang. 2006. p. 246. ISBN 9783039107087.