From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Sangeetha Rajah

Sabda or sound is the guna of Aakaasa. Its organ is the external ear. Sabda may be Vaidika (spiritual) or Loukika (material). In both the cases, it is made up of Aksharas or syllables. In the Tantras, these aksharas are traced back to their material source level, a particular deity of Shakti, the female cosmic power responsible for creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. The aksharas are connected to objects as Sabda (sound) and Artha (meaning).

The general perception is that when we speak, sound comes from the throat. But what happens actually is when we have the urge or the thought to speak, our life force in the form of vaayu, starts from the root chakra and brings Paraa, the subtle sound, then travels up to the navel, heart chakras as Pasyanti and Madhyamaa respectively, then comes to the throat, mouth, teeth and tongue as Vaikhari to come out as speech or sound at the gross level.

Just as Samkalpa - a pure thought, has to pass through several stages before it actually manifests as concrete creative force, the sabda also has to pass through several stages before it is fully audible at the gross level. These stages are termed as Paraa, Pasyanti, Madhyamaa and Vaikhari. Each level of sound corresponds to a level of existence, and one's experience of sound depends upon the refinement of one's consciousness.

During the process of creation, Purusha or the soul combined with Prakrti to form the first principle Avyakta, from which evolved Mahat or Buddhi, the intelligence principle. From Buddhi evolved Ahankaara or the Ego principle. Ahankaara expanded into three qualities namely Satva, Rajas and Tamas, from which evolved the sensory and motor organs, the mind and the subtle form of the five basic elements called the Tanmaatras. The Aakaasa was formed in its subtle form called Aakaasa Tanmatra with Sabda or sound as its quality. Aakaasa Tanmatra had both the gross and subtle form of the Aakaasa mahabhoota and its attribute, the sabda in an undifferentiated form.

According to Taitreeya Upanishad, Aakaasa evolved first. From Aakaasa evolved Vaayu, from Vayu evolved Agni, from Agni evolved Jala and from Jala evolved Prthvi. So Aakaasa is called Param, as it was the first one to form among the five basic elements. Its attribute Sabda is called Paraa. At the time of creation, this Paraa expressed itself as Bindu or a subtle particle. It is also called as Kaarana bindu, the cause for all sound manifestations within and outside our body.

Paraa means the highest or the farthest. Para vaak is the sound beyond the perception of our senses. Paraa is the first stage of sound in its unmanifest stage and is the source of all root ideas and germ thoughts. On the stage of Para-vaak there is no distinction between the object and the sound. The sound contains within it all the qualities of the object. This Kaarana bindu becomes Avyakta (meaning unclear). It undergoes transformation at various levels like bindu, naada, beeja to become Vyakta or clear. Before sowing, a seed is soaked in water to prepare it to absorb nutrients and grow into a tree. Likewise, Paraa has to go undergo some transformations to manifest as a clear sound at a gross level. All unmanifested positive energies of man like the Kundalini lay quiescent in his Moolaadhaara chakra or the root centre. For Paraa also, the root chakra is the abode. Nada Yogis claim that Paraa Nada is a high frequency sound, so high that it does not stir or produce any vibrations. By the urge of man to talk, with the help of vaayu or air, Paraa moves up to the Manipuraka chakra or the navel centre and gets transformed into Pasyanti.

The Paraa, kindled by the air in the root chakra, rises up to transform itself into bindu, naada and beeja and thus express itself as sound at a gross level. Just as a seed soaked in water bursts to express itself as leaf, flower, fruit and a tree, Paraa in the navel chakra expresses its subtle modifications by transforming into Pasyanti. Pasyanti literally means observing or seeing one's self. In the pasyanti stage sound possesses qualities such as color and form. Yogins who have subtle inner vision experience the Pasyanti state of a word which has colour and form, which is common for all languages and which has the vibrating homogeneity of sound. Here sound is neither produced nor heard by anatomical ears. It is more of a mental sound. Its frequency is less than the high frequency sound of Para Nada. When sound goes up to the navel with the bodily air in vibratory form without any particular syllable (varna), yet connected with the mind, it is known as Pashyanti-vaak. Pasyanti observes and analyses her impending changes in the heart, throat and the tongue, where the sound finally attains audibility.

Pasyanti, on reaching the Anaahata chakra or the heart centre, transforms into Madhyama vaak. Madhyamaa literally means in between or middle. Here there is a clear distinction between the sound and the object it denotes. Madhyama vaak is more of a mental speech rather than the external audible speech. The Anaahata chakra is the domicile of internal sounds called Naada, which can be heard only by our subtle ear (not the anatomical ear). The word Aahata means struck or beaten. The sound produced externally by beating a drum is an example of Aahata sabda. In the Anaahata chakra, naada (a kind of melodious sound) can be heard without any external source. The sounds of Anaahata chakra are not audible to the external ears. Anaahata naada can be heard by regular yoga and meditation. When a Yogi hears these sounds, he becomes adept in knowing hidden things, hears Para vak, develops divine eye and eventually becomes one with Para Brahman or the supreme reality.

The sound which has come all the way from the root chakra with the force of vaayu, travels further upwards to the throat, mouth, teeth and tongue, to become an articulate sound, audible to the external ear. This is called Vaikhari. The vaayu which helps to bring the sound from the Anaahata chakra to the throat is called Vikhara and hence the last stage of sound which is the source of all that is spoken and heard at the grossest level, is the Vaikhari. When sabda is spoken through the mouth with the help of syllables, that speech is Vaikhari vak.

These four levels of sound correspond to four states of consciousness. Paraa represents the transcendental consciousness. Pasyanti represents the intellectual consciousness. Madhyamaa represents the mental consciousness. And Vaikhari represents the physical consciousness. These states of consciousness correspond with the four states known technically as Jagrat, Svapna, Sushupti, and Turiya - or the wakeful state, the dreaming state, the dreamless state, and the transcendental state.

With regard to the powers of these three less subtle stages, within the Pasyanti-vaak exists the nature's Iccha-shakti, or the power of will. Within the Madhyama-vaak exists the nature's Jnana-shakti, or the power of knowledge. And within the Vaikhari-vaak exists the nature's Kriya-shakti, or power of action.

These four stages also correspond to the four types of bodies. The Sthula sarira, or physical body, operates in the state of Jagrat (wakeful state). It is in this realm of consciousness, and through this body, that the Vaikhari-vaak is manifested. The Sukshma-sarira, subtle or psychic body, operates in the state of Svapna. It is in this realm of consciousness, and through this body, that the Madhyama-vaak is manifested. The Kaarana-sarira, or causal body, operates in the state of Sushupti, or deep sleep. It is in this realm of consciousness, and through this body, that the Pashyanti-vaak is manifested. The Para-vaak is manifested through the fourth state of consciousness, known as Turiya.

The following table illustrates the relationship between the four stages of sound, the energy centres involved, the state of consciousness they represent, the type of body and the nature's power of will, knowledge and action.

Vedic sound table-image.png


  • The Vedic conception of the four stages of Sound by Sri Jahnava Nitai Das
  • Lalitha Sahasranamam commentary by Sri Ramaswamy Iyer