Word document download: FCT-0303

  • Within the Hindu tradition there is no clear distinction between prayer, the chanting of mantras and the singing of songs and hymns.
  • A mantra is a standard phrase consisting of a number of syllables. It is often chanted repetitively a fixed number of times.
  • At the beginning of each mantra there is usually a seed (bija) mantra, such as ‘aim’, ‘hrim’ etc. The most common seed mantra is aum (om).
  • The mantra and symbol aum is associated with the primeval sound of creation. Some relate it to the sound of Krishna’s flute or the ancient Gayatri mantra. It consists of three sounds – A, U, and M – which represent the three stages of awareness – wakefulness, dreaming and deep sleep. The total sound represents the fourth state – the soul’s original spiritual awareness.
  • Mantras are usually chanted to invoke the favour and blessings of a particular deity.
  • Mantras can also be used for healing – or for ill intent, such as cursing.
  • According to tradition, the ancient warrior class would charge their arrows with mantra, thus invoking celestial weapons normally used by the residents of the heavenly realms. In the Mahabharata, we hear of weapons associated with various deities. The Agni weapon would produce great heat, the Varuna weapon torrents of water and the Vayu weapon could invoke a hurricane to destroy the enemy.
  • In many parts of rural India, physicians can still cure snakebites simply through using herbs and mantras.
  • Mantras are employed in meditation, mainly in two ways:
    (a) through chanting quietly or silently on beads (this is called japa).
    (b) chanting loudly, very often congregationally, to musical accompaniment (this is often called kirtan, glorification.
  • Prayers are of two main kinds:
    (1) The offering of one’s own heartfelt prayers in a spontaneous fashion.
    (2) The recitation of standard prayers. These are often from the ancient Vedic texts or more recent vernacular literature.
  • There are standard ways of offering prayer. It should at least consist of:
    (1) Some form of glorification.
    (2) Asking for a benediction (though not always selfish or material).
  • As with most forms of worship, prayer is usually preceded by the ritual washing of one’s hands and mouth.