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From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aum

The Significance of the Symbol Aum

The symbol Aum (also called Pranava), is the most sacred symbol in Hinduism. Volumes have been written in Sanskrit illustrating the significance of this mystic symbol. Although this symbol is mentioned in all the Upanishads and in all Hindu scriptures, it is especially elaborated upon in the Taittiriya, Chandogya and Mundaka Upanishads. From the Katha Upanishad (- I, ii, 15-17):

The goal, which all Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which humans desire when they live a life of continence, I will tell you briefly it is Aum. The syllable Aum is indeed Brahman. This syllable Aum is the highest. Whosoever knows this symbol obtains all that he desires. This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahman.

The symbol of Aum consists of three curves, one semicircle and a dot. The lower curve denotes the waking state, the upper curve denotes deep sleep, and the right-side curve (which lies between deep sleep and the waking state) signifies the dream state. These three states of an individualís consciousness, and therefore the entire physical phenomenon, are represented by the three curves. The dot signifies the Absolute (fourth or Turiya state of consciousness), which illuminates the other three states. The semicircle symbolizes Maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. The semicircle is open on the top, which means that the absolute is infinite and is not affected by maya. Maya only affects the manifested phenomenon. In this way the form of Aum symbolizes the infinite Brahman and the entire Universe and the world. Aum is made out of the three gods Shiva and Ganesh and Gayatri.

Uttering the monosyllable Aum, the eternal world of Brahman, One who departs leaving the body (at death), he attains the superior goal.
-Bhagavad Gita, 8.13

When Om is a part of a place name (for example Omkareshwar), or is used as a man's name, it is spelled phonetically using ordinary letters of whatever Indian alphabet is used in the area.

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