Mantras are an
important aspect of Hinduism. They are used in ritual and spiritual practices
to express devotion, establish communication or fulfil desires, and in many
respects serve the same purpose as prayers and supplications. Chants and
incantations have been used since the earliest times by various ancient
cultures to invoke or appease gods, ancestors and spirits or to cast spells.
In ancient India,
mantras formed a vital part of Vedic religion. It is possible that the Indus
people also might have used similar practices to invoke their gods. Vedic
mantras are derived mainly from the Vedas, which are primarily books of
mantras, which go by different names such as the Riks, Samans and Yajus. They
were chanted or sung or used in formulae in elaborate Vedic, sacrificial
traditionally been used in both ritual and spiritual practices and worldly
activities for various ends. They still occupy an important place in Hinduism
as the manifestations of divine speech and expression of gods and heavenly
knowledge. In Hindu ritual practice and prayers, mantras are used to
communicate with gods and invoke their power to achieve certain ends.
Mantras constitute the
heart of Hindu sacrificial ceremonies, which cannot be performed without the
intervention of experienced priests. On such occasions, the mantras are usually
chanted aloud by one or more priests while others may join them in chorus or
when required. One may also silently chant them to maintain secrecy or for
convenience. The Vedas suggest that the efficacy of prayers and mantras
increase manifold when they are silently chanted in mental worship rather than
when they are uttered aloud.
Hindus also have the
tradition of writing mantras (usually the name of a god) on paper as an
offering to God or to express love and devotion to a particular deity. The
practice usually consists of writing the name of a deity or a specific mantra
for a certain number of times, which is usually ten million times. Once the
goal is reached, devotees carry the papers or the notebooks in which they have
written the name and leave them as an offering at the temples or sacred places
of the deity.
Literally speaking, in
Sanskrit “mantra” means to consult, seek advice or help, think or deliberate.
The source of the mantras is God. In the human body it is the breath in the
speech which gives each mantra a verbal form, awakens its hidden power and
sends it across the space as sound vibrations to its desired destination.
Mantras are thus divine vehicles which carry the thoughts and prayers of
devotees to the heaven and help them establish communication with gods.
Thus, in the religious
parlance, mantras are primarily meant to communicate with gods, consult them or
seek their advice and help. An associative or derivative word is mantri, which
means a minister who gives counsel or advice to a ruler or a head priest
(pradhan mantri). As the products of the mind, mantras are also associated with
intelligence or mental brilliance. In a pure mind, mantras manifest themselves,
as they did in the minds of the Vedic seers. Each divine mantra (man + tra) is
an expression of the pure mind, or a mind suffused with the brilliance of the
Self. The purer the mind is, the greater will be the effect of a mantra. Since
mantras manifest on their own in the minds of pure devotes, they are also
considered eternal, not man-made (apauruseya) and only heard (sruti) as in case
of the mantras from the Vedas.
In traditional usage, a
mantra is a sacred utterance, word, phrase, syllable, sentence or prayer
containing one or more of the five divine powers of God namely creation,
preservation, concealment, destruction and revelation. A mantra may have a
specific meaning or not. However, most mantras and even single syllables
(bijaksharas) which are used in Hinduism have either a literal meaning or a
symbolic or hidden meaning or both.
Of all the mantras, Aum
is considered the source (mula) mantra. It is the highest and the purest and
Brahman himself in word form (Sabda Brahma). It is also known as mantra Purusha
(God as mantra) Pranava (life supporting mantra) and Taraka (secret), having
potency to divinize and purify all other verbal expressions and word forms.
Hence, it is customarily used as a prefix to all other mantras to infuse them
divine power and purity.
Mantras are used as
sacred sounds or utterances. Since they are taken from the sacred texts, they
are considered auspicious and God in word form. As stated before, they are
endowed with one or more of the five divine powers of God. Hence, they been
extensively used to in the pursuit of the four chief aims of human life namely
dharma (religious duty), artha (wealth), kama (sexual desire) and moksha
They have also been
used in the study and recitation of scriptures and contemplation. Many mantras
are still used as mental hooks to remember complex philosophical concepts or
religious ideas. There is also a lot of secrecy associated with the mantra
tradition. Because of their potency or specific effects, some mantras cannot be
revealed to all or revealed to qualified people only. For example,
traditionally the Upanishads are considered secret knowledge and taught only in
person by a teacher to qualified students. A student or disciple is also
expected to keep secret any initiation mantra given to him by his teacher or
Each mantra will have a
seer (rishi) who composed it, a rhythm or meter (Chhanda) which determines its
sound, and a deity (devata) who presides over it and manifests when the mantra
is correctly pronounced. It also contains a seed syllable (bija) which imparts
to it manifesting power (Shakti) and a support (kilakam) which makes it strong
or stable until it delivers the intended result.
Because of these hidden
components and their divine aspects, many rules are associated with the
chanting of the mantras. The attitude and the personal purity of the person who
utters them also matter. Pronunciation is of utmost importance in the use of
mantras. Without right pronunciation and intonation, the deity in the mantra
may not respond. Equally important is the intention for which a mantra is used,
since the use of mantras for any purpose produces karmic consequences and
influences the destiny of its user.
Mantras are used both
for positive and destructive purposes. The following are some of the most
important purposes, for which mantras are used in Hinduism.
To communicate with gods and express devotion
To invoke gods and seek their help or counsel
To propitiate fierce gods who are displeased or
angry and avoid their wrath.
To seek divine protection against evil forces
To cleanse the mind and body for liberation or
To stabilize the mind in the contemplation of
To consecrate a place of worship before
starting a sacrificial ritual or ceremony
To install the images of gods in a temple or
during domestic worship.
To fulfill worldly desires and achieve peace
and prosperity in life
To attract opposite sex and enchant them or
repel rival lovers and discourage competition
To overcome death, diseases adversity, bad
karma, or unfavorable circumstances
To help the departing souls who are on their
way to liberation or rebirth
To cast spells, charm, delude or destroy
To control or enchant animals, wild beasts,
To restrain the mind and enter deep sleep or
higher states of consciousness
To earn divine grace or the grace of a guru
To gain siddhis or spiritual powers (siddhis)
To express profound spiritual and philosophical
To validate truths with verbal testimony (sabda
To achieve success in sports, duels, debates
Depending upon their
use and purpose, mantras can be classified into various categories, which are
They are popular
mantras (such as Hare Rama Hare Krishna or Jayaram Sri Ram), which are known to
general public and which are used by devotees for various purposes, without the
need to follow austerities, rules and restraints. Devout Hindus use them in
their daily lives to express devotion, overcome fear, ward off evil, instill
confidence, or just to calm their minds. Some are also used as autosuggestions
or affirmations to change their thinking or behavior or train their minds.
These mantras are
chanted for specific purposes or on specific occasions, and only by people who
have the permission to use them because of their birth, virtue, knowledge or
allegiance to a particular sect or teacher tradition. A few examples are the
mantras which are used in Vedic and Tantric rituals by priests to address
specific gods and goddesses or to achieve specific ends. Mantras which are used
in sacrificial formulas and mystic diagrams (yantras) also come under this
category. Those who use them have to observe certain rules and restraints to
obtain desired results. The rules pertain to how many times they should be chanted,
when, where and under what circumstances.
They are usually
chanted at the beginning of sacrificial ceremonies, yoga, spiritual discourses
or to begin new tasks. They are also used to ritually cleanse homes and places
of worship, drive away evil forces or in meditation to stabilize the mind and
the body. Most peace mantras are used to address Brahman or the triple gods,
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They usually end with the phrase “peace, peace,
peace,” which means peace in the heaven, peace upon earth and peace within.
They are used to
cleanse ritual places and sacrificial pits where sacrificial ceremonies
(yajnas) are performed. They are also used to purify sinners, those who are
afflicted with impurities (doshas), the host of sacrifice (yajaman), the images
used in worship, or the offerings and utensils that are used in ritual worship.
Most purification mantras are chanted along with the sprinkling of ritual
water. One may also chant them while taking a bath or a dip in a sacred river
or on auspicious occasions to cleanse the house, the host of sacrifices or all
the people who participate in them.
As their name suggests,
these mantras are used to seek forgiveness for any mistakes one may have intentionally
or unintentionally committed while performing the sacrificial ceremonies or
domestic worship. Most Vedic rituals and methods of worship contain a provision
for expiation, since they are elaborate rituals with a number of steps which
require the participation of many people. The expiation is usually performed by
the head priest or the Brahman priest, who chants the mantras on behalf of all
to seek mercy and make the worship complete.
These mantras are used
in elaborate Vedic ceremonies (yajnas), daily sacrifices (nitya karmas),
domestic worship (puja) or sacraments (Samskaras) such as conception, the birth
of a child, initiation, marriage or death. The mantras are taken mostly from
either the Vedas or Tantras or vernacular literature. Depending upon their use
they may be introductory mantras, invitation mantras, main mantras, conclusion
mantras farewell mantras, etc., which may be uttered by one or more priests or
individuals. The chanting may last for hours or days or even months.
It is customary during
the initiation ceremony (upanayana), for a teacher or an elderly person in the
family to utter certain sacred syllables or words in the ears of the young
initiates to mark the beginning of his education in the Vedas or initiation
into spiritual knowledge. These mantras are also used by spiritual teachers, or
his appointed disciples, to initiate new members who join their tradition, or
the monastic discipline either as a lay disciple or as advanced practitioners.
These mantras are meant
to cause mental or physical harm or injury. There is a whole branch of demonic
knowledge (kshudra vidya) which is meant for this purpose. The Vedas also
contain many hymns which are used for negative purposes to destroy lives and
property or cause psychic damage. The epics and the Puranas suggest how mantras
were used in warfare to unleash destructive weapons and arrows upon enemies to
kill them, shock them, delude them or weaken their resolve. The Atharvaveda contains
many mantras which are ritually used to inflict harm or destruction upon
enemies, and potential rivals in marital relationships, love affairs, etc. The
Veda also contains hymns for use during animal sacrifices.
Ignorance and Superstition surrounding mantras
On the negative side
mantras contribute to ignorance and superstition. Because of their popularity
they are used by unscrupulous charlatans and religious frauds to attract
gullible people with the promise to cure diseases, remove adversity, enchant
opposite sex, exorcise evil energies and attract abundance in exchange for
money or personal favors. People end up paying large sums for charms, amulets,
rings and bracelets inscribed with secret mantras to fulfill their desires or
overcome some problem. Some also indulge in gory rituals and superstitious
practices, using mantras, to gain evil powers for destructive purposes. Mantras
are meant for the welfare of society and the order and regularity of the world.
They have to be used as an offering to God by people who are pure and devoted,
as part of their obligatory service to God. Any misuse of mantras with selfish
intention produces sinful karma and leads to one’s spiritual downfall.
The chanting of Om in
Transcendental Meditation has now received widespread recognition. Mantras can
be used to treat tension and many other difficult diseases that are yet to
come. The Brahmvarchas Shodh Sansthan, a research center for integration of
science and spirituality in Shantikunj, Haridwar, India, is the only place
which carries out extensive experiments on "mantra shakti." The
result of these experiments is used to testify that Mantropathy can be used
scientifically for healing and environment cleansing.
There are many schools
of thought on the methods of chanting. A Mantra chanted correctly or
incorrectly, knowingly or unknowingly, carefully or carelessly, is sure to bear
the desired result for the physical and mental well being. It is also believed
by many that the glory of Mantra chanting cannot be established through
reasoning and intellect. It can be experienced or realized only through
devotion, faith, and constant repetition of the Mantra.
According to some
scholars, Mantra chanting is Mantra Yoga. The simple yet powerful Mantra, Om or
Aum harmonizes the physical forces with the emotional forces with the
intellectual forces. When this happens, you begin to feel like a complete
being—mentally and physically. But this process is very slow and requires a lot
of patience and unfailing faith.
It is important to have
complete faith in the recitation of Mantras. It is primarily through
faith—aided by strong will—that one achieves one's goals. A sound body and calm
mind are essential for the chanter of Mantras. Once you are free from all worries
and have achieved stability in mind and body, you will derive maximum benefit
through the recitation of Mantras. You must have a definite object in view and
a strong will power to obtain the desired objective, and then direct that will
to achieve the goal.
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