[Advaita-l] Difference bet. slokas and Mantras

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Wed Mar 10 15:57:13 CST 2004

On Tue, 9 Mar 2004, Ramesh Badisa wrote:

> What is the difference between Mantras and slokas. I read some where that
> all that present in Vedas are mantras, while in remaining scriptures, they
> are called slokas. Interestingly, Upanishads are also catagorized as having
> slokas only there. I understand that Upanishads are part of Vedas, and if
> Vedas have mantras, then, accordingly, the Upanishads should also considered
> to have mantras than slokas. But we have Gita, where we call all of them as
> slokas. Also we know that Gita is essence of Upanishads. Since Gita is
> considered as having slokas, as per the same rule, can we now say that
> Upanishads are also have slokas only. Or this difference is only
> superficial?

In terms of the Vedas, the mantras are those texts typically found in the
samhita portion which are invoked at particular places in the ritual.  So
by that definition a text concerning jnana cannot be a mantra.  A mantra
which is in verse is called a rk while one in prose is a yajuh.  And one
which is sung is called a saman.  The vedas are often called trayi
because of these three types of mantras.  (The fourth Veda, Atharva
contains rks so it doesn't count for this purpose.)

One of the Vedic metres is called anushtubha.  It has 32 syllables with
particular accents.  It is the literary ancestor of the shloka which also
has 32 syllables but no particular rhyme or accent.  A reason for the name
shloka is that Maharshi Valmiki who wrote the Ramayana once observed a
pair of birds singing to each other in a tree.  A hunter came by and shot
the male.  On seeing the sorrow (shoka) of the widowed bird, he was
reminded of the sorrow Sita felt on being seperated from Shri Rama and
began composing the Ramayana in shlokas.  For this he is called the
Adikavi (first poet.)

Sometimes in the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads, one does see
shlokas quoted ("tadesha shloka bhavati" -- on this topic there is a
shloka.)  So the usage of the shloka is not necessarily a sign of lateness
however it does signify a different literary environment from the mantras
and thus histrians use its presence as a test of the genuineness of
purportedly "Vedic" works such as the minor upanishads.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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