Continuing from the first day of Spandana 2016 (Intensive Sanskrit Workshop), the second day started with Mantra Yoga – a 45 minute chanting session. This was one of the striking parts of this workshop. Dr. Sampadanandaji took up Mantras from the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the devotional literature. He explained the meaning of the verses by literal translation and also explained Sri Aurobindo’s psychological interpretation of it.

First things first – How to Chant?
Before beginning the Mantra chanting, Dr. Sampadanandaji made us aware of the important points to be kept in mind while. While chanting, it is important to be careful towards

  • Maintain the short and the long forms – While chanting one cannot make a long short and a short long, else the meaning changes. For example, if the word is दिनमणि (DinaMani), दिनमणि = दिन (Day) + मणि (Jewel), so दिनमणि means Jewel of the day and it is a word used for the Sun. Here all the 4 syllables here are short. But while chanting, if one prolongs the short syllables then it ends up being long, we get the word दीनमणि (DiinaMani), now दीन means Poor. This changes the meaning. So, if the short gets converted to a long or a long to a short, then we will have problems, however, if long is prolonged then we won’t have any issues.
  • Conjunct Consonants – when 2 consonants come together, then one has to apply some stress on them during articulation. For example take the word – आनन्दमयी (Anandamayi), here the conjunction – Nan has to be stressed.
  • Anusvara – the dot above the sound which is the pure nasal sound. For example – take the word रामं (Ramam), some pronounce it as Raman and that’s incorrect.
  • Visarga – the 2 dots besides the character. It is incorrectly pronounced by stressing the prominent ह (Ha) as in aspirated sound. For example, like in ‘aha’ or ‘ihi’. The correct pronunciation is that of a relaxing sound – Ah. One relaxes by giving the air up.
  • Have little understanding of Chandas – the metre in which the mantra is sung. A metre is the physical framework of the verse:
    • Number of lines.
    • Number of words.
    • Arrangement of syllables by short and long.
    • Taking correct pauses.
  • The most important thing is that following the above, one can chant in a technically perfect manner. But, no amount of technical perfection based on the knowledge of the language, the understanding of the chandas, the phonetical correctness can make it complete, if the central element भाव (Bhava) is missing. In the absence of भाव (Bhava), the effect of chanting or prayer will not be there. भवेहि विद्यते देवः तस्माद भवोहि केवलम् means that God exists in feelings, hence in order to get the correct connect, it is only the feelings that matter and not the structure or the grammar.

1. Always begin with ॐ
Finally, every mantra chant begins with the word ॐ (Om) – it is the essential sound because it is the essence of all sounds. Many definitions of ॐ exist, however, The Mother has given a very simple and a powerful definition, She says – “Om is the signature of the Lord”. Every thing in the universe has the stamp of the Divine. With ॐ we can get connected with everything in the creation. Chant ॐ and all will go well. To get the correct articulation of ॐ we need to maintain the 60-40 ratio between O-m, but again, we don’t want to go strictly by this mathematical split, instead go by the भाव (Bhava), the feel.

In the tradition, there is a verse, by which we pay our homage and bow down to ॐ. Using this verse, we began the Mantra Chanting –

ॐकारं बिंदुसंयुक्तं नित्यं ध्यायंति योगिनः ।
कामदं मोक्षदं चैव ॐकाराय नमो नमः ॥

The above verse means – ॐकारं बिंदुसंयुक्तं (Omkaram Bindusamyuktam) means Om with the dot, नित्यं (Nityam) means constantly, ध्यायंति (Dhyayanti) means contemplating, योगिनः (Yoginah) means yogis; So the sentence reads – Om with the dot, one that is constantly contemplated by the yogis.

कामदं (Kamadam) means fulfill all the desires, मोक्षदं (Mokshadam) means liberation, चैव (Chaiva) means and, ॐकाराय नमो नमः (Omkaraya Namo Namah) means salutations to Om again and again. So, the complete sentence would be – fulfills all the desires and liberates, salutations to that Om again and again.

2. शान्ति मन्त्र (Shanti Mantra)
In one of her writings, The Mother has said that there is lot of chaos inside and outside that we need to strongly invoke peace every time. By tradition, the Rishis/Sages have given us the Shanti Mantra –

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

In this mantra, the word शान्तिः (Shantih) is repeated 3 times. This is because the maximum chaos is at the ordinary level of consciousness – at the physical level, at the vital level and at the mental level. When शान्तिः (Shantih) is said 3 times, we are invoking peace in the physical, peace in the vital and the peace in the mental. Rest of the levels of consciousness are already peaceful, however we don’t feel that peace because of the way in which we function and work, that is, at the ordinary level of existence. The Mother says that when you begin anything, you start with this invocation – ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः She further says that if you do it before and after your food, then the digestion happens properly.

Again, like in every chanting, one has to feel the peace within as well, else its just a mechanical chanting – one that is devoid of feeling. Note that after the word शान्ति (Shanti) there is Visargah and we need to articulate it properly. We don’t articulate it like “Shantihi” – ending with हि (Hi) – “ihi” to be precise; instead the correct articulation would be “Shantih” – releasing or giving up the breath as if one is relaxing and blend the Visargah correctly between 2 शान्ति (Shanti) words (you can replay the above mantra).

3. Shraddha Mantra
Dr. Sampadanandaji then took up a Mantra from the Rig Veda hymn श्रद्धा सुक्तम् (Shraddha Suktam) containing set of mantras – It is an invocation to श्रद्धा देवी (Shraddha Devi)

श्रद्धां प्रातर्हवामहे श्रद्धां मध्यंदिनं परि
श्रद्धां सूर्यस्य निम्रुचि श्रद्धे श्रद्धापयेह नः

What does the word श्रद्धा (Shraddha) mean? It has ranges of meaning – faith, focus, attention, respect, devotion etc… Usually it is used for faith. Srimad BhagvadGita says – श्रद्धावान लभते ज्ञानं (Shraddhavan labhate gynanam) meaning – one who has श्रद्धा (Shraddha) can attain to knowledge.

However श्रद्धा (Shraddha) is not mere faith, let us look at it deeply by starting with the de-construction of the word. Essentially, there are 2 components in the word श्रद्धा (Shraddha) = श्रत् (Shrat) + धा (Dha). धा (Dha) is a root sound, which essentially means – to hold on to, to cling to, or to grasp, to seize, to take, to place. श्रत् (Shrat) etymologically in the traditional interpretation of the Vedas is सत (Sat) and it means Truth. So, श्रद्धा (Shraddha) means holding on to Truth.

Sri Aurobindo when interpreting a mantra which has got the word श्रद्धा (Shraddha) in it says – श्रद्धा (Shraddha) means whatever is true to our aspiration. Let us understand this with an example, say that – one’s central aspiration is the realization of the Divine, and each and every movement of our being must collaborate with that aspiration. If one part within our consciousness does not want to help and says – No; whereas the other part wants to participate and says – Yes, then we will be living in Divided Consciousness and this means we don’t have श्रद्धा (Shraddha). So, श्रद्धा (Shraddha) means that each and every part, each and every movement of our being comes forward to participate and collaborate with the central aspiration. In his book – The Mother, Sri Aurobindo says that if one part of the being says – Yes, while the other part has any hesitation or any shrinking or any reservation then the Truth cannot be realized. Everything and every movement of our being has to be one. So, collaboration of all the movements coming from different parts of our being need to be one with central aspiration and that is called as श्रद्धा (Shraddha). So, when Srimad BhagvadGita says – श्रद्धावान लभते ज्ञानं (Shraddhavan labhate gynanam), it is not to be interpreted as mere faith, instead, the total sincerity of the being is meant by the word श्रद्धा (Shraddha).

Dr. Sampadanandaji pointed out that when one visits Sri Aurobindo’s room on your birthday, while going up the stairs, there is a message – Cling to Truth and this is the exact translation of the word श्रद्धा (Shraddha). So, every part of our being needs to cling to truth, the truth that is central to our aspiration. So the above invocation to श्रद्धा (Shraddha) was most important for the Rishis, because it was the basis of their sadhana and progress, and hence they invoked श्रद्धा (Shraddha) as a deity, as a force.

प्रातर्हवामहे (Pratarhavamahe) = प्रातः (Morning) + हवामहे (we invoke), so प्रातर्हवामहे (Pratarhavamahe) means in the morning we invoke the presence of श्रद्धा (Shraddha) and मध्यंदिनं means Mid-day. So the first sentence essentially means – we invoke the presence of Shraddha Devi in the morning and throughout the mid-day.

सूर्यस्य (Suryasya) means Sun and निम्रुचि (Nimruchi) means setting. Again at the Sunset, we invoke the presence of Shraddha Devi. श्रद्धे श्रद्धापयेह नः means fill us with more Shraddha and Shraddha Devi be founded in us, be seated in us, so that we can proceed on the path of progress. All of us then chanted the above mantra starting with ॐ.

4. Devotional Literature – अधरं मधुरं (Adharam Madhuram)
Dr. Sampadanandji then took up अधरं मधुरं (Adharam Madhuram) is a part of मधुराष्टकम् (Madhurashtakam) composed by Shri Vallabhacharya, dedicated to description of Lord Krishna and created while moved by intense devotion, singing the praises of the Lord. Here Krishna’s beauty is described and he is described as मधुराधिपति (Madhuradhipati) = मधुर (Madhur) means Sweet + अधिपति (Adhipati) means Lord and so मधुराधिपति (Madhuradhipati) means Lord of sweetness.

अधरं मधुरं वदनं मधुरं
नयनं मधुरं हसितं मधुरम् ।
हृदयं मधुरं गमनं मधुरं
मधुराधिपतेरखिलं मधुरम् ॥

अधरं (Adharam) means lips, वदनं (Vadanam) means face, नयनं (Nayanam) means eyes, हसितं (Hasitam) means smile, हृदयं (Hridayam) means heart, गमनं (Gamanam) means gait/walk/movement. So essentially the verse means that Lord Krishna’s lips are sweet, face is sweet, the eyes are sweet, smile is sweet, heart is sweet, gait is sweet and every thing about you is sweet, O Lord of sweetness.

This is composed in the Sanskrit metre called तोदकम् (Todakam). The above verse has 4 lines and each line has 12 syllables. The arrangement of the syllables is in the pattern – SSL, where S = Short Syllable and L = Long Syllable. There are 2 Short syllables followed by 1 Long syllable. This pattern repeats for 4 times in a line. While singing, one can take a pause after every 6th Syllable. Lets see this arrangement visually –

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
रं धु रं नं धु रं
नं धु रं सि तं धु रम्
हृ यं धु रं नं धु रम्
धु रा धि ते खि लं धु रम्

This session was then followed by the regular classes. For the second day, we dived on to an introduction to Chandas – The Rhythm of Sanskrit Metrics, which I’ll post next.