You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : September 1998

Mantra Recitation - Part - 3
Date: Mon Sep 14 1998 - 05:51:19 PDT

Mantra Recitation- Part 3
Anbil Ramaswamy
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 Stotram:
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 SriSasranama Jape = Viniyogah (Its purpose/

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"

(To Continue)