Subhanu.Saxena at INTL.PEPSI.COM
Tue Oct 27 05:59:09 CST 1998
On Friday 23rd October, Ravisankar wrote:
> Many years back I saw a documentary on Indian Television Station
> (Doordarshan, Madras) on memorizing vedic verses. Documentary
> showed techniques used to make the young brahmachAri-s memorize
> the vedic verses. I did not pay careful attention to that program
> at that point of time.
> Can you and other knowledgeable members (when you have time)
> write about that topic on the list?
> At this point of time, I memorize only shloka-s. I find that
> knowing the meaning helps a lot. Even then, texts like shrI
> lalitA sahasranAma (*) there certain similar patterns, which
> might make one go on to loops. I guess, this must be much more
> in vedic verses.
All I can talk about is the traditional method used in my Sakha. So, I will
briefly describe how I learnt, plus some other points. Those who belong to
other Veda Sakhas in the list will be able to give a description of the
salient points in their system. For a general overview, the relevant
section in the book "The Vedas"( published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), by
Kanchi Paramacharya of revered memory, is an excellent reference, with a
discussion of different Veda recitation styles across the country.
I should warn people that this is a long post. So, those who are not
interested may want to give this post a miss, as I am trying to give as
full an explanation to Ravisankar as possible without being able to
demonstrate in person. I apologise in advance to Veda mAtA for any typo's,
errors on transliteration that may exist in the following.
1) The Traditional Method
The Veda tradition is an oral tradition, hence the term Sruti, that which is
heard, as opposed to Smrti, that which is remembered. Learning is from
Gurumukha, ie directly listening and repeating what the Guru says and
recites until it is committed to memory. It is interesting to note the
differences in cultural approach between the West and the East. In the West,
we do not take anything as authoritative unless we see it WRITTEN.
According to our heritage, we do not take anything as authoritative unless
we have HEARD it from Gurumukha.
After proper initiation, having undergone the Upanayanam ceremony, Veda
studies begin. The start of every session begins with "Sri gurubhyo namaha
harihi om ", and ends with "Sri krshNArpaNam astu". The Guru will first
recite a line, which is then repeated twice by the shishya. The first
repetition is said to confirm the pronounciation. The second to commit it to
memory. Even if the pronounciation is correct, if the swara is repeated by
the student incorrectly, then the Guru will correct the mistake and repeat
the line again. When a new section of the Veda is begun the Guru will
initially break a long sentence into smaller phrases. Once the phrases have
been memorised, then the guru rejoins them into a whole sentence/paragraph ,
which is then repeated twice. Over time, longer and longer sections are
strung together and committed to memory. When the Guru breaks the sentences
into shorter phrases, he adheres to the rules of Sandhi and Swara. In
shorter phrases, the swara of the final syllables will change according to
the rules of Swara. For example, consider the opening portion of the shanti
mantra (which has very long sentences) of the Pravargya mantras in the
(note: the mark ' =swarita of prior sound, underlined words are anudatta)
Sri gurubhyo namaha harihi om
namo' vAche yA cho'ditA yA chAnu'ditA tasyai' vAche nama'aha ......
To start with, the guru might recite as follows:
i) namo' vAche, which will then be repeated twice by the sishya
ii) yA cho'ditA , repeated twice by shishya
iii) yA chAnu'ditA, repeated twice. Note that when recited as an independent
phrase, the final tA does not remain anudatta, but stays swarita.
after a few sessions, the guru would join up the whole phrase above, which
would then be repeated twice. And so on, until the whole passage is
Once an entire anuvaka or hymn is learnt. The guru and shishya will recite
the whole piece together, reciting each sentence twice. In addition, the
shishya will recite each sentence 5 times, as part of his self study.
Nambudiri brahmins of Kerala also have head movements for the boys to help
memorisation of swara.
The speed at which a section is committed to memory depends on the ability
of the student, the frequency of the sessions, and the amount of self study
practised by the student. For example, typically, Purusha Suktam is
committed to memory by young boys in about 6 days. Older students can take
up to 10 days to 2 weeks. In my own case, in my initial period of study,
which was 2 months, I would spend 2 hours every evening with my Guru after
work (I was an investment banker back then during the day time), learning
mantra. After that 2 month period, I had committed to memory about 90
minutes of mantra (The whole of the Taittiriya Upanishad, important Suktas
including Purusha Suktam, Sri Suktam etc and a quarter of Maharanarayana
Upanishad, which I finished when I met my guru next). Younger boys would
have been able to accomplish more in that short time period.
In Mattur village, where brahmacharis undergo intensive training, they teach
the entire Taittiriya Sakha in 6 years vs the normal period of 12 years.
Reciting the whole of Taittiriya Sakha from memory non-stop takes 48 hours!
That should give people a sense of what is possible. Youth is the best time
to start (traditionally after Upanayanam). After the age of thirty the
power of one's memory decreases. It takes me roughly 6 times longer now to
commit mantra to memory (I am in my mid thirties) compared to when I started
Veda study in my late teens. I am fully aware it will be impossible for me
to master the whole Sakha in this lifetime. My 10 hours worth is enough for
Brahma Yajna, or swAdhyAya, allows the student to revise sections he has
learnt over a period of days
2) Styles of recitation
As well as reciting "straight through" the mantra, there are other forms of
recitation ( such as pada, mala, jatha, sikha, krama, ghana ) which aid the
memorisation process. These styles only apply to the samhita portion of the
Veda. In Taittiriya Sakha, we do not recite, for example, krama pATHa of the
Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad portions. Those interested can find more
details in the pratisakhyas, particularly Rig Veda Pratisakhya: For example
i) samhitA pATHa
This is the normal style of reciting, the word order being 123456 etc
ii) pada pATHa
Here , each word is recited individually. samAsa'a are split as well, using
the word iti (see example below). The word order is as per samhita, but each
word is recited separately, breaking the sandhi
iii) krama pATHa
Here, the word order is 12, 23, 34, 45 etc
iv) Ghana pATHa
Here, the word order is
1221123321123, 2332234432234 etc
Here, the swara will modify according to the rules of swara, depending on
how the phrase is split. The are probably only around 200 "ghanapATHi's",
who can recite ghanapATHa of their whole samhita portion in the whole of
India. There are some who believe that the Veda mantras should not all be
recited in the style of ghanapATHa. As you can see, in ghanapATHa
recitation, the words are recited in reverse order. The concern amongst
these scholars is that the sense of the mantra could be changed, hence it
should not be recited in ghanapATHa. I personally find ghanapATHa
exhilerating to recite, particulalry in a group.
As an example, consider the following mantra from Taittiriya Samhita, 1st
suvIryA'ya twA gr^iNhAmi suprajAstwAy'atwA gr^iNhAmi...........etc
suvIryAyeti' su-vIryA'ya ; twA ; gr^iNhAmi ; ....etc
suvIryA'ya twA ; suvIryAyeti' su-vIryA'ya ; twA gr^iNhAmi ;gr^iNhAmi
and so on. Note how the swara changes from pada etc to samhita
The above is much easier to explain face to face by reciting and showing the
examples. Hopefully the written form above will give you an idea. What I
suggest is that, for those who are interested, they seek out a Veda scholar
in their area and ask them to demonstrate. (Alternatively, come and visit me
3) Word groups
Also to aid memorisation, there is usually a break every 50 words, where
there will be a pause in recitation as if it were the end of a sentence. At
the end of the section concerned, the phrases at the breaks are repeated,
and the phrase at the final break is then followed by the number of words
that exist till the end of the section. Finally, at the end of a kanda, the
1st words of each anuvaka are repeated, as an aid to memorise the sequence
As an example, consider the 5th prasna of the 4th Kanda of Taittiriya
Samhita. This is more commonly known as Sri Rudram, commencing with
"namaste rudra manyave...etc", and consists of 11 anuvaka's.
In the first anuvaka, the first break after 50 words or so is:
yAmishu'm girishanta haste' ; bibharshyasta've | The ";" indicates where
the student will pause in the recitation
In samhita recitation, there would be no pause, and we would have:
yAmishu'm girishanta haste bibharshyasta've |
Note how the "e" in "haste" now becomes anudatta.
The next breaks are at "ye chemagum rudrA abhito' dikshu ; shritAha.....",
then "hasta isha'vaha ; parA tAha....", and "ubhAbhyA'm uta te namo' ...".
The ";" shows where the break occurs. Note how the break does not always
coincide with the start of a verse. It can happen in the middle of a
At the end of the 1st anuvaka, the student will repeat all the break points,
"haste' dikshwisha'va ubhAbhyAm dvAvigum'shatishcha",
summarising all the word groups. "dwAvigumshatishcha", or "dwAvimshat cha",
means there are 21 words from the last break to the end of the anuvaka. Note
how even in this final phrase the rules of sandhi and swara apply
At the end of the 11th anuvaka, which is the end of the 5th Prasna, the
first 2 words of each anuvaka are repeated, so help to memorise the
sequence. Again, the rules of swara and sandhi apply.
This system aids the student to build word "blocks" in his mind that he can
string them together. This modulear approach makes it easier to systematise
in one's mind the sections, and gives a student an inbuilt reference finder.
There is also the habit of "mantra pratIka", where,if a mantra has already
appeared earlier in the samhita, it is not repeated in its entirety. The
first few words are simply restated to "remind" the student of the whole
section. For example, the shanti mantra at the start of the the Pravargya
brahmana section (5th prasna) in the Taittiriya Aranyaka is the famous maha
shanti mantra, which is the final anuvaka of the pravargya mantras. These
mantras form the 4th prasna of the Taittiriya Aranyaka. The mantras begin
with "sham no vAtaf pavatAm...". When reciting for swAdhyAya, the student
will simply recite "shannas tanno mA hA'sIt" . Here "shannas"="sham naha",
are the first 2 words of the anuvaka and "mA hAsIt" are the last 2 words of
the anuvaka. All the intervening words (about 8 minutes of recitation) are
understood to have been recited. Similarly, in the Maharayana Upanishad
(10th prasna of Taiitiriya Aranyaka), we have the mantra "krNushwa pAja iti
pancha" . This is short hand reference to the whole 5 sections from thre
samhita portion, beginning "krNushwa pAjaf prasitim na prthvIm...."
These devices help the student memorising new portions. All he has to
remember is the "shorthand" form of verses that have occurred before. This
shorthand notation was powerfully used by Panini. There, the Maheshwarani
Sutrani is reference by its sections using this shorthand. Eg "ach" stands
for all the vowels, hence ach sandhi meaning vowel sandhi.
4) Pattern recognition
A student learning Veda can easily spot certain patterns or shapes to help
him memorise the mantras. Some mantras appear to be deliberately composed
in a way to help memorisation. Eg Bhrgu Valli in the Taittiriya Upanishad
has similar phrases and structures repeated, which make memorising these
mantras extremely easy. Also, the swara and metre are an enormous help.
Although initially it seems to students that having to learn the words with
swara is tough, it actully gives the mantra a structure that makes it easier
to learn. Unfortunately, a lot of the brahmana portions and prose sections
have no easy structure, and learning them is not easy. Some of these
sentences go on for 2-3 minutes without a break or a repetition of words.
Here, there is no substitute for hard work! I found learning some of the
samhita portions particularly difficult because of their long prose nature.
Well, there you have it. Mantra cannot be learnt form just a book, as the
vocal nature of the mantra cannot be captured (I am also wary of printing
errors), but by dedicated effort, regular study and the grace of one's guru.
Since the pronounciation requires shudha uccharana, or pure recitation,
which is so important, depth is better than breadth. It is better to master
a few mantras to perfection rather than try and learn a vast number, but
recite them with poor swara or pronounciation. As we saw in the posting on
the mantra "gaurI mimAya", if you understand and have mastered one mantra,
you can unfold all the mysteries of the universe from that mantra alone.
Harihi Om. Sri krshNArpaNam astu
mantrahInam kriyAhInam bhaktahInam janArdana |
yat krtam tu mayA deva paripUrNam tadastu me ||
"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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