Writing the Sacred Syllable: the History of OM in Script and Image

Key information

6:30 pm to 7:45 pm

About this event

Dr Finnian Gerety

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For the better part of three millennia, the Sanskrit mantra OM has been the “sacred syllable” of South Asian religions, central to chanting, ritual, meditation, and yoga. While OM is primarily a phenomenon of sound and contemplation, the syllable has also had a rich career as a graphic sign and icon. Taking many different forms across the centuries, OM has been inscribed in a wide array of media, from stone to metal, birch bark to palm leaf, skin to the subtle body.

Notwithstanding OM’s ubiquity in South Asian visual culture, scholarship has seldom addressed the epigraphic and iconographic history of the sacred syllable. What is the oldest written OM? How has the graphic sign for OM developed across different scripts, regions, periods, and traditions? How have visual representations of OM shaped (and been shaped by) religious doctrines and practices? This talk offers some preliminary answers to these questions.

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Speaker Biography

Finnian M.M. Gerety is a historian of Indian religions focusing on sound and mantra. After earning a PhD. in South Asian Studies from Harvard University, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music. Finn is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, the Contemplative Studies Program, and the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University, where he teaches courses on mantra, yoga, ritual, and the senses. Integrating the study of premodern texts with insights from fieldwork in contemporary India, Finn’s research explores how sound has shaped religious doctrines and practices on the subcontinent from the late Bronze Age up through today. His current book project for Oxford University Press, This Whole World is OM: A History of the Sacred Syllable in India , is the first-ever monograph on OM, the preeminent mantra and ubiquitous sacred syllable of Indian religions.

Website: www.finniangerety.com

Instagram: @thiswholeworld_is_om