On MantrAs

Dr. S.R.Marur smarur at EASI.SOFT.NET
Fri Sep 24 07:37:18 CDT 1999

Recently, Shri VA Ganesan had asked:
> 5) What are the rules regarding the chanting of the mantra?

I've an article that I've collected and preserved from a bhakti
list posting on Mantras. I don't remember the date nor the name
of that scholarly author.

I'm enlcosing that article herewith with the permission of our
moderator, Shri Vyas.

If any one remembers the author of this excellent article, I
would acknowledge his original contribution, a posteriori.



                Mantra Recitation - 1

`MANTRA' - `Mananath Thrayathe iti Mantraha' - That which protects by
being remembered and recited. It consists of the silent recitation
(japa) of a sacred formula repeated indefinitely. A mystic recitation
that invokes the desired deities and establishes a spiritual
relationship with them. It has the effect of quieting the mind and
integrating the gross bodies  with the divine- educing  the latent
spiritual experiences (sukshma) into the realm of the patent.(stula)

Though `Mantra' is generally defined as a `formula comprising words
and sounds which possess a magical or divine power' no single
definition can adequately express its significance. It is a verbal
instrument which possesses power. A word or formula which represents
a mental presence or energy; by it something is employed to denote
this magic power possessed by words when they are brought together in
a formula.

May be the word `spell' partly explains the meaning of `mantra.'
Sound as we know creates vibration. Mantras have been `recovered'
from ether through vibrations set in motion by the meditation of
Rishis. The utterance of `Mantras' unleash a force of nature vivid
and vibrant, effective and efficacious. And, such `Mantra' came to be
regarded as an entity by itself (e.g.), Gayatri mantra is regarded as
a personification of Gayatri - the word means
        "Gayantam trayate iti gayatri" -
the one who protects the one who sings (utters) the Mantra by
exercising a unique effect on the person uttering the same.

The sounds of Mantras constituted a secret initiatory language to be
uttered according to particular rules if this esoteric meaning and
power were to be assimilated and the initiate fully awakened.
Particular attention is directed to the dictum that the mantra
imparted by his GURU to his SISHYA must never be divulged "even if
SIVA himself should demand it"

Mantra is a Quasi morpheme or a series of Quasi morphemes or a series
of mixed genuine and Quasi morphemes arranged in conventional
patterns, based on codified esoteric traditions and passed on from
one preceptor to one disciple in the course of an initiation ritual.

AGNI PURANA points out that a mantra softly uttered is more
efficacious than if repeated loudly and that when its utterance can
be discerned only by the movement of the lips, it is hundred fold
more potent and when mentally repeated its power increases thousand
MANTRA JAPA of 14 kinds have been identified in JAPAYOGA- a treatise
on the union through recitation of Mantras as follows:

 1. Nitya-( Daily recitation)
 2. Naimittika (Circumstantial recitation)
 3. Kaamya (for desired results)
 4. Nishiddha (forbidden)
 5. Praayaschitta (repentant)

 6. Achala (Immobile)
 7. Chala (Mobile)
 8. Vaachika (Articulate)
 9. Upaamsu (Whispered)
10. Bramara (Humming)

11. Manasa (Meditative)
12. Akhanda (Unceasing)
13. Ajapa (Inarticulate)
14. Pradakshina (Circumambulatory)

                Mantra Recitation - 2

"Mantra combines the old Vedic root `man' to think with the element
`tra' to indicate `kra' a suffix meaning instrumentality. Both mantra
and sandhyaabasa are cryptic, esoteric utterances deliberately
unintelligible to the uninitiated. Of the 70 million mantras, some
contain bizarre and unintelligible phonemes like `hrim', hram',
`hrum', `phat' etc. But, 'OM' -is the most sacred of all belonging to
a special class as `m' and `n' which unlike most consonants can be
sustained as long drawn out humming sounds.

"The Bijakshara" (the seed Mantra) bestows great benefits on being
repeated.  The Moolamantra (the root Mantra) is a.k.a.Pranavam or OM
or the Akshara or Ekakshara and is the most powerful and can bestow
unimaginable benevolence on the person uttering it. There are a
number of shorter Mantras. Even exclamations used  during
sacrificial  rituals are regarded as Mantras though of less
significance- svast: fortune; samyoh: all hail; svadha: oblation,
svaha: offering; vashat: Bravo, phat: crack (a weapon used to drive
off evil spirits)

The Sanskrit `O' is  a `diphtong' and is a contraction of A and  U
when pronounced quickly result in the sound O. With `m' it gives the
whole the sound of " OM"

There are also a number of specific Mantras which are believed to
confer special benefits apart from the moolamantra (brahmabija)
which  alone  leads to realization, to liberation from bondage and
attainment of Moksha:

1.'AIM" (Vak bija): for acquiring knowledge and wisdom, mastery over
words, powers of speech.

2.'HRIM' (Saktibija) for   conquest of the unmanifest, of the power
of nature, going beyond the constraints of time and space.

3.'SRIM" (Laksmi bija) for gaining worldly wealth, power, beauty,

4."KLIM" (Kaama bija) for gaining transcendent knowledge, pleasure,
victory, royal power etc.,

5."KRIM" (Aadhya bija) for gaining detachment, power over death,
transcendent knowledge.

Items 6 to 10 are the sacred Mantras relating to the elements. They
are used in performing NYASA (Consecration of the various parts of
the body to the  deity presiding over them). -- a kind of relating
the human with the elemental cosmology.

10."HAM"= Ether

11.PARASAKTI BIJA-      for acquiring supreme energy
12.KHECHARI BIJA-        for flying through the void
13.GAYATRI BIJA -       for acquiring and protecting vital energies
14.KRODA SANTI BIJA- for calming of anger
15.AGNI PRAJVALANA BIJA- for kindling fire

16.NIDRA STAMBANA BIJA- for preventing sleep
17.PANCHAKSHARA- for invoking Siva with his 5 lettered mantra
18. PANCHADASI- the 15 syllable Mantra of the primordial Goddess.

And, many more like Brahma Gayatri, Brahma Mantra, Mantra Raja, Rudra
Mantra and special Mantras for preventing misfortune most of which
are found in Atarva Veda.

                Mantra Recitation - 3

Mantra language is not a senseless prattle merely because it is not
intelligible to us. Thus, mantra should not be confused with Kavacha
(protective formula) or with Yamala (a Mantra based on a certain
text) or with Dharani (Mnemonic magic formula that are similar to
Mantra but much longer) containing mantras which also sound as mere
babbles and probably are so.

"`Mantras' are relics of an eon old language; Naturally, their real
meanings are lost to the modern man. But, the value of mantra lies in
its antiquity - an apparently meaningless mantra handed down for
generations are inherited, preserved and passed on in its `pristine'
form and are never altered.

The power of the mantra is in its effect on the invisible forces of
nature. A mantra properly delivered and repeated often enough can
tear through the material sphere to derive power from the occult
planes for the Sadaka - one who practices the mantra.

How mantras came to acquire such enormous significance can be better
understood by the fact that `oral' transmission was the only means of
communication in the early days of Vedic tradition. The oral
tradition was called `VAC' which means `language of speech' (i.e.,),
the sounds (Sabda) produced vocally as a means of communication. Lack
of a written language in early Vedic times made oral transmission the
only way of communicating the sacred truths of the Veda `heard' by
holy men. Thus, arose the necessity not only for correct words but
also for correct intonation and accent without which the mantral and
sacrificial rituals would be ineffective.

Whether it is Mantra (esoteric chants) or Tantra (secretive
mnemonics) or Yantra (diagrammatic exposition)- it should be used
only for good and never for harming anyone. It lends itself to both
purposes like a double edged weapon. If misused it will recoil on the
practitioner. He who digs a grave for another may indeed himself fall
into it.

The words in prayers (mantra) have a magical power since the right
form of words, the right tone and right delivery by themselves would
confer the desired effect.

Let us see how it works: A note created by a mere touch on the
strings of an instrument may not be more than the sound of a
monosyllable hardly audible. But, a constant playing at a high pitch
with certain specific decibel cadence can and have in reality been
seen, to generate vibrations, say in a glass cubicle, that a point is
reached, when the elasticity of the glass cannot bear any further
vibration and actually breaks. The power of Mantra similarly
increases vibrations of an astral kind (for good or bad) and impacts
on the psyche of the person uttering it (favorably or adversely as
the case may be).

To ensure the correctness of recitation, hymns were taught in several
ways - with the words connected in their isolated forms (Padapatha),
with the words interwoven as in AB, BC, CD pattern (Krama patha) and
other complicated ways like jata, gana, varnakrama, mala, ratha,
sikha, danda, rekha etc.

This system of mnemonic checks combined with the admirable patience
and razor sharp memory power of many generations of Guru - Sishya
tradition preserved the Vedas for posterity in the same pristine form
in which they were `captured' by the ancient rishis  millions of
years back.

Brihadaranyaka up. considers `Vak' to be an aspect of the eternal
principle (BRAHMAN) for only by means of language can sacred
knowledge (or any knowledge) be apprehended. Without it, the Vedas,
legends (Itihasas), ancient lore (Puranas), magic doctrines
(Upanishads) and the sciences (Vidyas) would have remained unknown.

"Not only should anyone repeating a Vedic hymn know the name of the
`Rishi' to whom it was revealed, the name of the God (Devata) to whom
it was addressed but also be aware of the proper accents (Chandas) to
be used and the correct interpretation (Viniyoga) of the mantra"

We can see all these requirements fulfilled in Sri Vishnu Sahasranama

Sri Vedavyaso = Bhagavaan Rishih (Its Sage)

Anushtup = Chandah (Its Meter)

Sri Maha Vishnu: Paramatma Sriman Narayano =
                 Devata (Its Presiding Deity)

Amrutamsutdbhavo Banu Iti = Beejam (Its Seed)

Devaki Nandana Srashteti = Saktih (Its Power)

Trisaamaa Saamaga Saama Iti = Hridayam (Its Heart)

Saanthyarthe = Viniyujyah ( Its Purpose)

Udbavah kshobano Deva iti = Paramo Mantrah (Its Essential Part)

Sankabrun Nandaki Chakree iti = Keelakam (Its Pin)

Saarnga Dhanvaa Gadaadhara iti = Astram (Its Weapon)

Rathaangapaanirakshobya iti = Netram (Its Eye)

Trisaama Saamagah Saameti = Kavacham (Its Armor)

Anandam Para Brahmeti = Yonih (Its womb)

Ritus Sudarsanah Kaal Iti =
           Digbandah (The Enclosure binding the directions)

Sri Viswaroopa iti = Dhyanam (Contemplation)

Sri Maha Vishnu Preethyarte SriSahasranama Jape =
               Viniyogah (Its purpose/ Utility)

SAYANACHARYA continues- " Anyone not knowing these and attempting to
repeat a portion of the Vedas is called `mantra - kantaka' - a thorn
whose ignorance and carelessness assuredly cancel or obstruct the
efficacy of the recital"

                Mantra Recitation - 4

A few examples from - our daily prayers in Morn, Noon and Evening
when the Mantra, Rishi, Chandas, Devata and Viniyoga are uttered is
given below : Knowingly or unknowingly, we recite them by rote,
without making any effort to consciously remembering the same. Such a
rememberance would make the mantras really efficacious.

     MANTRA        RISHI          CHANDAS       DEVATA    VINIYOGA

1. Aapohishta   Sindudveepa     Devi Gayatri     Apah      Prokshana
                                               (water)   (sprinkling)

2. Suryascha                                     Surya/    Prasanae
   Ityanuvaka/  Agni/           Devi Gayatri/              (sipping
   Apah punanthu                                 Brahmana     of
   Ityanuvaka/  Apah/           Anushtup/        spati/     water
   Agnischa                                                at morn.,
   Ityanuvaka   Surya           Devi Gayatri     Agni      noon &
                                                           eve reps.)

3. Dadigravana  Vamadeva        Anushtup         Dadig     Prokshane
                                                 rava      (sprink

4. Argya        Visvamitra      Devi Gayatri     Savita    Argya
   Pradana                                                 Pradane
                                                           of water)

5. Prayaschita  Sandipani       Devi Gayatri     Savita    Prayas
   Argya                                                   chita
                                                           for delay)

6. Aasana       Pritviya        Sutalam          Srikurma    Aasane
                Meruprushta                                  (in

7. Pranavasya   Brahma          Devi Gayatri     Paramatma   Prana
                                                             yame (in

8. Buradi       Atri/           Gayatri/         Agni/
   Sapta        Brigu/          Ushnik/          Vayu/
   vyahru       Kutsa/          Anushtup/        Arka/
   teenam       Vasishta/       Brihati/         Vagisa/
                Goutama/        Pankthi/         Varuna/
                Kasyapa/        Trushtup/        Indra/
                Angirasa        Jagati           Visvedeva

9.  Savitrya    Visvamitra      Devi Gayatri     Savita

10. Gayatri     Brahma          Anushtup         Paramatma

11. Aayatu      Vamadeva        Anushtup         Gayatri     Aavaa
    Ityanu                                                   hane (in
    vakasya                                                  invoking

12. Buradi      Atri/           Gayatri/         Agni/       Gayatri
    Vyahriti    Brigu/          Ushnik/          Vayu/       Jape (in
    Trayasya    Kutsa           Anushtup         Arka        reciting

13. Uttama      Vamadeva        Anushtup         Gayatri     Udvasane
    Ityanva                                                  (in
    kasya                                                    bidding
                                                             Good Bye

14. Mitrasya    Visvamitra      Beerut           Gayatri    Mitro
                                                            up at

15. Aasatyena   Hiranyastupa/   Gayatri/         Adityo     Madyah
                Visvamitra/     Jagati/                     nika
                Kutsa/          Ushnik/                     Upastane
                Vashista        Trushtup                    (in
                                                            up at

16. Imam Me     Varuna          Gayatri/         Savita     Sayam
                Devaraata       Jagati/                     sandya
                                Trushtup                    Upastane
                                                            up at

                Mantra Recitation - 5

In this context, the role of meter (Chandas) is considered to be very
important. Though there are a number. of other meters, the more
important are :

1.GAYATRI       :      3 Padas of 8 Syllables or 16 Syllables
                       in Ist line + 8 in second line
                       3 x 8 = 24 or 16 + 8 = 24

2.USHNIK        :      4 Padas of 7 Syllables 4 x 7 = 28

3.ANUSHTUP      :      4 Padas of 8 Syllables 4 x 8 = 32 or
                       2 lines of 16   2 x 16=32

4.BRIHATI       :      4 Padas of 9 Syllables 4 x 9 = 36

5.PANKTI        :      5 Padas of 8 Syllables 5 x 8 = 40

6.TRUSHTUP      :      4 Padas of 11 Syllables 4x11 = 44

7.JAGATI        :      4 Padas of 12 Syllables 4 x 12 = 48

We give below the names of some meters used in `Slokas' though over
100 different meters with fanciful names have been employed by
writers :

8.  ARYA (The Lady)
9.  DANDAKAM (Staff )
10. DRUTA VILAMBITAM (Fast and slow)

11. DRUTIH CHANDAH (Steady rhyming)
12. HARINI (the doe)
13. INDRAVAMSA (Indra's lineage)
14. INDRA VAJRA (Indra's thunderbolt)
15. MALINI (the girl wearing a garland)

16. MANDAKRANTA (the slow stepper)
17. MANJU BASHINI (Sweet talking )
18. NATKUDAKAM (Curved one )
19. OUPA CHANDASIKAM (Auxiliary prosody )
20. PRITHIVI (the earth)

21. PUSHPITAGRA(Blossoming on top )
22. RATODDATTA (raised in the chariot )
23. SALINEE (bountiful )
24. SARDULA VIKRIDITHA (the sport of the tiger)
25. SIKHARINI (the supreme lady)

26. SRAGDARA (the girl with a garland)
27. SUTALA (the nether world of that name)
28. UPAJATI (Sub caste)
30. VAITALEEYAM (pertaining to ghost )

31. VAMSASTHA (belonging to a lineage)
32. VASANTA TILAKA (the ornament of spring)
33. VIRAJ (Universality)

                Mantra Recitation - 6

A slight inflection or deflection in pronunciation would alter the
meaning  so thoroughly with disastrous consequences (eg) as you know
the story of Kumbakarna who desired immortality NItyatva, but asked
for sleep Nidratva and he got what he asked for.

Similarly, in the Atharva veda, there is a stotra called "SRILAKSHMI
NARAYANA HRIDAYAM" akin to Adityahridayam. One Sloka in that reads
"yasya smarana matrena THUSHTAA syath vishnu vallabha" meaning one
who becomes "pleased" on being remembered. If instead of THUSHTAA, it
is pronounced as ` DUSHTAA' by mistake, it would mean `one who
becomes wicked on being remembered' and this would run counter to
what is intended.

Again, the word `Agni' (fire) used in Sacrificial rites has another
word ` Vahni ' also meaning fire. But, it cannot be substituted for
Agni and we are told that the efficacy of the yagna will be very much
affected detrimentally when the wrong word is used instead of the
correct word prescribed in the Sastras.
This accounts for the preservation of the Vedic mantras in their
pristine form and glory to this day.

Apart from grammar, the accent, intonation, articulation and
pronunciation play a vital role in preserving the heritage. They are
variously defined as - Ucha stayi (high pitch) neecha stayi (low
pitch) madhyama stayi (middle pitch) deergha (elongated) hrasva
(shortened), gana (repetition back and forth) udatta (high key),
anudatta (low key) swara (tone) etc. so that even the letter, let
alone the words of the mantras and other sacred literature could not
be altered or tampered with at will. It  would be sacreligious to do
so. This also accounts for how the recitation tradition has come down
over millions of generations unaltered, unsullied and unaffected by
what they call `emandations' and `interpolations' which we find even
in later works like those of Shakespeare and even Kalidasa - which
have several versions or readings in several contexts.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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