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An offering by Sadashiv

What is a mantra ?
Derived from man (thought) and tra (tool)
Words spoken in ritual
An effective word of action, not merely thought
Samhita portion of Vedas, spoken during shrauta rites
Collection of hymns, chants, spells, formulas
Used in both shrauta and Tantric puja invites comparison
The language of ritual is extra ordinary
It is NOT expression of a thought but is a machine for thinking
but to generate a thought and
in a ritual setting, to generate a concrete component of ritual

Mantra and Shloka

Mantra can be a sound or a small or long verse that is to be
recited in a particular manner, to appease the deity or to attain
inner peace and calm. Mantras come from ancient scriptures of
Hindus known as Vedas and Agamas.
They are in Sanskrit language and cannot be translated or
mispronounced as their spiritual effect is gone or not attained by
the person who recites them.
Mantra is not just the word, but the set of word, its intonation
and meaning. Any of these independently does not qualify to be
called mantra. It is said that the word along with its intonation is
mantra (sa swaro mantraah), while the same word when not
accompanied by its intonation is for contemplation of the
meaning alone.
Shloka is a word that comes from a Sanskrit root that means a
song. The origin of shlokas is credited to ancient poet Valmiki
who thought of writing in this form, to describe events.

Mantra and Shloka

What is the difference between Mantra and Sloka?
Mantras can be a sound, a small text or a long composition,
whereas slokas are verses only.
The smallest mantra is OM while there are very long mantras
such as Gayatri mantra and Maha Mritunjaya mantra.
Mantras are only in Sanskrit originating from ancient Hindu
scriptures such as Vedas, whereas slokas came later in the
form of verses and can be in languages other than
Chanting of both mantras and slokas bring inner calm and
peace, though sloka chanting requires understanding of their
meaning while even those not knowing Sanskrit can have
intended benefits through mantra chanting.
Both mantras and slokas are used for prayers and meditation.

Stotra, Sukta, Stuti, Ashtaka

Stotra or Stotram (stotra) is a Sanskrit word, that means "ode,
eulogy or a hymn of praise". It is a literary genre of holy texts designed
to be melodically sung, in contrast to shastras which are composed to be
recited. A stotra can be a prayer, a description, or a conversation, but
always with a poetic structure.
It is basically a vedic hynm in praise of a god/goddesses. (e.g. Purusha
Sukta, Ratri Sukta, Shri Sukta, Rudra Sukta(Shri Rudram) etc.)
Each mandala of Rigveda consists of hymns called skta (su-ukta,
literally, "well recited, eulogy") intended for various rituals. The sktas in
turn consist of individual stanzas called c ("praise", pl. cas), which are
further analysed into units of verse called pada ("foot"). The meters
most used in the cas are the jagati (a pada consists of 12 syllables),
trishtubh (11), viraj (10), gayatri and anushtubh (8) 36 suktams
Stuti is just a prayer; root is stu

Vishnu stuti, Vayu stuti, Lakshmi stuti, Krishna stuti,

Dashavatara stuti, Shiva stuti, Nakha stuti, Durga
stuti, Nrusimha stuti, Srinivasa stuti, Sahasrara stuti,
Ramesha stuti, Vyasa stuti, Shri Rudram Chamakam

Ashtaka is a sub category of stotras, stotras are non-vedic compositions
so it can be recited by anybody. Ashtaka is a collection of 8 verses
mostly in anushtup chanda (another vedic meter) , mahalaxmi ashtakam
was first composed by Indra deva.

Taittiriya Upanishad specifies six elements of chanting (Siksha
Valli, chapter 2):
Varna or alphabet (or in general syllable)
Swara or intonation of each syllable
Matra or duration of uttering each syllable
Balam or stress on each syllable
Saama or the balance of chanting (the tune of entire mantra)
Santana or the spacing of words
Broadly, there are 3 approaches bhava, tatva cintana & mantra.
In Bhakti marga Nama mantras, slokas and stotras (a collection of
slokas in praise of the Devata) are used for worship. The object of
worship is usually the devata, and object of meditation is usually
the form, qualities and glories of devata. The stuti or nama is
used as the symbol of devata.
While mantra vidya is dhvani pradhana, these are bhava
pradhana, meaning devotion is all important in them. It is good to
chant them without errors, but errors in pronunciation or
intonation are not harmful as they are in mantra vidya.

In Mantra marga Mantras, shlokas, suktas are used for worship. This
involves practice of chanting, uniting ones consciousness with
the sound. The mantras can be beejas, nama mantras, portions of or
complete suktas. While mantras and suktas are used primarily
in mantra marga, shlokas also get the status of mantras. For instance
each verse of the Candi Saptasati of Markandeya Purana is used as a
mantra in Candi Yaga. The shlokas of Saundaryalahari are also used as
mantras. Besides, the individual names in stotras are arranged as a
sequence of nama mantras (called namavali) for worship. Namavali is
one of the popularly practiced norms.
Thus while reading the same stotra is bhakti marga, doing it in the
form of namavali is part of mantra marga.
In Jnana marga, the meaning of mantra is contemplated on, through
which the nature (tatva) of the mantra/devata, and eventually the
object of spiritual philosophy is realized. The mantras used in jnana
marga are usually the nishkala or mahavakyas (four mantras taken
from each of the four Vedas that are said to contain their essence).

Rules of Chanting
There are specific rules for chanting a mantra. These are found in
Siksha, the text on science of chanting. The various factors involved in
chanting, such as pronunciation, intonation, stress are explained in it.
The chanting of a mantra, though it involves intonation and rhythm, is
different from singing.
Some of the rules of chanting are:
The duration of each tone is fixed and one should chant the manra
according to the swara with each syllable stressed to the required
extent, and each tone (for the corresponding syllable) chanted for that
Chanting should not be done like singing, or like reading. It should not
be muttered fast, each syllable should be properly uttered with the
required stress and pronounced with clarity.
While chanting one should sit with his back upright, and not shake or
move while chanting. Chanting should be done with a fixed posture to
allow the complete effect of the sound energy. While this rule in general
applies to singing also (say for instance classical music), it applies even
more rigidly in case of chanting a mantra.
Whether the mantra is chanted aloud or internally, it should be done
along with the swara.
Chanting mantra like a song, chanting like reading a text quickly,
muttering, chanting louder than required, makeing unnecessary
movements of hands or head, are incorrect ways of chanting.

Chanting Purusha Suktam

In praise of Lord Vishnu or Narayana is one of the Pancha Suktams
of the Vedic tradition.


Chanting Kanakadhara Stotram

Adi Shankaracharya's Kanakadhara Stotra comprised of 21
mellifluous hymns on Goddess Lakshmi. Sung to alleviate suffering
& grant boons


What is Bija Mantra?

Bija = seed.
The Bija mantras are nonsentence, onesyllable seed sounds
when said aloud, activate the energy of the
chakras in order to purify & balance the mind
& body.
Sonic manifestations of cosmic powers

What is Bija Mantra?

LAM- chakra 1 (root) - earth
VAM- chakra 2(navel) -water
RAM- chakra 3 (solar plexus)
- fire
YAM- chakra 4 (heart) - wind
HAM- chakra 5 (throat)
OM- chakra 6 (third eye)
OM- chakra 7 (crown)

Veda Shastra
The word word vda "knowledge, wisdom" is derived from the
root vid- "to know, in Sanskrit. The Vedas have a structure.

Tantra Shastra
The word tantra is made up by the joining (sandhi in Sanskrit) of
two Sanskrit words: tanoti (expansion)and rayati(liberation).
The Tantrika Parampara, or 'Tantric tradition' is considered parallel or
intertwined with the Vaidika Parampara or 'Vedic tradition'
Tantra means liberation of energy and expansion of consciousness
from its gross form. It is a method to expand the mind and liberate
the dormant potential energy, and its principles form the basis of all
yogic practices.
Hence, the Hindu Tantra scriptures refer to techniques for achieving
a result.
The Hindu Tantras total 92 scriptures; of these,
64 are purely Abheda (literally "without differentiation",
or monistic), known as the Bhairava Tantras or Kashmir
aivite Tantras,
18 are Bhedbheda (literally "with differentiation and without
differentiation" monistic or dualistic), known as
the Rudra Tantras), and
10 are completely Bheda (literally "differentiated" or dualistic),
known as the iva Tantras.

Vedas & Tantra Shastra


: |
Uttisthata Jagrata Prapya Varannibodhata
Kshurasanna Dhara Nishita Duratyadurgama Pathah tat
kavayo Vadanti.. 1.3.14 Kathopanishad..Yama to Nachiketa
Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn (i.e. from a
competent teacher and start moving along the path of
Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path,
so the wise sayhard to tread and difficult to cross (so
move along carefully)
The process of Tantra progressively develops the qualities latent
in human beings and at the same time eliminates the defects.
SoTantra suggests that spiritual aspirants should rid their minds
of fear of razor's edge" from the very beginning.
The Vedas maintain, however, that fear will be automatically
removed from the mind some day in the process of sa'dhana';
but who knows when that auspicious moment will come?

Mantra in Vedic & Tantric Ritual

In all religious traditions words spoken in ritual are
considered special in terms of author, content, form, mode
or context of delivery
Vedic ritual

Tantric ritual

Elaborate priestly sacrifices

Personal worship (puja)

Yagnya and homa

enormously expanded and

Sadhaka uses mantra in

sadhana, ritual worship of

Involves yajamana, wife,

adhvaryu, agnidhra, hotr &

Essentially a personal
worship service done at

In both there is :
Preliminary cleansing, followed by worship of Gods along a
set pattern invocation, praise, offerings and petition
Closing patterns similar restoring the situation to normalcy

Categorising ritual utterances

Presentation of characteristics . Usually indicative
phrase in
2nd person
- identities and qualities
Presentation of attitudes

. Usually optative verbs

- personal feeling of desire

Presentation of intentions

. First person future

- commitments to action

Presentation of requests

. Invariably 2nd person

- petitioning

Categorising ritual utterances

Presentation of characteristics . Usually indicative phrase in

2nd person

- identities and qualities

Presentation of attitudes

. Usually optative verbs

- personal feeling of desire

Presentation of intentions

. First person future

- commitments to action

Presentation of requests

. Invariably 2nd person you

- petitioning

Ritual transformations
Transforming the object involved in performance
and site preparation
e.g. Sadhaka through achyutaya namaha
Prthvi tvaya dhrta lokah for the site
Gange ca Yamune caiva for the water
Purification & transformation into replica of a
sacred cosmos

Ritual performers
In Tantric puja, two-fold procedure
Defilements of gross body are removed
Recreation of worshipper in divine image
Bhutashuddhi and Nyasa through bija mantras

Ritual performers
Nyasa follows bhutashudhhi
Nyasa is ritual touching of the body
in communion with the Supreme

offered to body anga nyasa

To the heart, namalj.
To the head, svaha,
To the crown-lock, vasat
To the upper arms, hum
To the three eyes, vausat.
To the two palms, phat.

Tantric worship culminates with sadhaka identity with

Supreme via Hamsa-mantra soham
In Vedic ritual, the adhvaryu identifies his body
parts with parts of different Gods with arms of
Indra, I pick you up; I look at you with eye of Mitra

Ritual performers
Tantric performer more concerned about proper
Vedic priest more concerned about proper

Ritual objects
Tantric worshipper prepares the site by
sprinkling water; using bija mantras
The Vedic priest uses a wooden sword to draw
the protective boundary;water sprinkled utensils

Ritual objects
the pesonalized treatment of ritual objects is
much more in Vedic ritual willing cooperation
is sought
Belief in causal efficacy of arrangements ability
to produce benefits independent of the gods
being honoured, is prominent in Vedic approach
The hand of the adhvaryu is seen as creating a
set of potent forces to bring about prosperity
Yajamanas hopes are on the performance of
the ritual, more than the gods under worship

The service of worship

Vedic & Tantric rituals are banquets honouring gods
Invocation (Avahanam)
Vedic: deity descends from heaven
Tantric: drawn out of the heart of sadhaka
Vedic: Hotrs task praise from Rig veda;
describes deeds and functions of the gods
Tantric: directly praises deity describing
Shashi-Varnnam Catur-Bhujam |
Prasanna-Vadanam Dhyaayet Sarvaattributes
Vighno[a-U]pashaantaye ||

The service of worship

Tantric: series of bija mantras forming
the moola-mantra of deity as sonic
manifestation repeated 108 or 1008
Hreem Shreem Kleem
Parameshwari Svaha
The mantra of a
devata IS the devata
Praise demonstrated with offerings16
Tantric exudes bhakti: pranam concludes puja
Vedic : priest expresses God having enjoyed at
the sacrifice

The service of worship

Vedic: hotr wishes directly for earthly prosperity
Tantric: very few direct requests; oneness with
deity is the goal; however may insert
kavaca (protective mantra)
Kamya puja for specific ends disease, children

In Summary
Theories of Rituals


While aiming to overcome

man-god separation, accepts
distinction priest acts like
god during ritual

Seeks to affirm eternal

truth of oneness with

Vedic ritual is a complex

social institution creating a
web of relationships
Ritual becomes a reification
an immaterial treated as
material (wedding ring sign
of love)
Sacrifice is seen as vehicle
for prosperity

The deity becomes the

Ritual seen as an end in
Goal of siddhi or moksha
will be realised within the
ritual itself

In Summary

Theories of Language

Vedic mantra :
is means to an end (the sacrifice)
describes &creates a bandhu
between ritual object and cosmic
Purva-Mimamsa virtually ignores
mantras; Vedas provide basis for
dharma, not mantras
Vedic mantras focus on accurate
sound not necessarily understood
mere utterance is effective act
So, in entire darsa-purna masa
isti, less than 24 repetitions
among 1500 utterances

Tantric mantra :
Mantra is the essence &
object of value in itself
Mantra is itself the ritual
terminus of bandhu with
So tantra focuses on nature
and language of mantras
sadhaka repeats one
mantra many times
not mechanical, but with
proper thought

In Summary
Continuity & Change
Vedic mantra:
Hotr chants loudly for all to hear
Hotr represents/ maintains/
inspires tradition of Rig Veda
Priestly action is that of a
precisely skilled technician
Brahmanas stress yo evam veda
knows concept of the sacrifice

Tantric mantra:
Begins with assumption that
most effective ritual is silent
External worship of image of
deity is for lowest human
personality type
Vachika Upamsu Manasa

A grid for comparing mantras


Grhya ritual/ Domestic mantras




Bhakti/ Theism
Devotional mantras


Yoga/Meditative Mantras





A final word
Padoux's remarks (1978b, 238 f) merit citation:
All the [Indological] researches [previously mentioned],
important as they are, still do not suffice for a complete
understanding of the problem of mantra, if only because
they remain on the surface: they limit themselves to
reporting what different texts, schools, authors, say on
the subject.
They report a discourse, they contribute to clarify it, they
unveil its relations to other discourses, or its historical
origins and developments, but they do not explain it: what
really are mantras? How do they "function"? What can one
say about the mantric phenomenon as a peculiar type of
human praxis and discourse? Those, indeed, are the most
important problems.

A final, final word

So, what do we
conclude ??

I conclude as to what does it

all mean to me ??
I am a staunch Hindu
. but not one driven by dogma (rigid beliefs)
I am an advaitin by choice (besides being born one)
I accept & respect all shrutis Vedas & Agamas (Tantra)
Vedic rituals and tantric rituals each have their own

efficacy and reasons for me to perform for a peaceful

and successful life

While I will attempt to understand the meaning and

reasoning behind chanting mantras, not understanding

them will not reduce my practice or my belief about their

Mantraheenam Kriyaheenam
there to rescue me !!

is afterall

1. Bibliography
2. Some useful links
Understanding Mantras >>
Mantra Interpretation in the Satapatha Brahmana >>
Divine Life Society >>
Hindupedia >>
Sanskrit Documents >>
Sanskritmantra >> >>
Auromere Wordpress >>
Hindu Dharma Forums >>
Facts of Human Civilisations >>
Green Message >>