IT is not always that one reads a book and keeps it by one’s bedside for ever and ever, to read and re-read, to satisfy one’s deep urge for peace, joy, relaxation and spiritual elevation. Such books are rare. I can think of Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury, a book of English poems from times earlier to Shakespeare right up to Dylan Thomas. Tennyson has described this book as including “the best original lyrical pieces and songs in the English language”. Think of Swinburne, Robert Bridges, Gerard Manley Hopkin, AE Housman, not to speak of Edmund Blunden and WH Auden. They are all there and one can open the book at any page to feel profoundly recompensed.
But now I have a better and even more satisfying option: Mantramala: Mantras to Live By. It is unbelievable, the joy it has brought me. Mantras are a tool of the mind, we are told, which can influence our lives. But the belief in mantras must come from within us, it can’t be imposed from outside. What is a mantra? If there is one word in Sanskrit that is most commonly used, it is mantra, a combination of two syllables: man and Tra. A mantra is a tool of the mind. Tra also means ‘to protect’. Hence mannaat trayati iti mantra. That which protects the mind is a mantra. Mantras have come to us in India from many different sources, mostly from the Vedas which are the oldest texts in the world – the most famous of them being the Gayatri. It is probably the most chanted mantra in India, gaining its incredible power over thousands of years. The Puranas – eighteen of them – are full of mantras which, one understands, are graded according to the power they have on the human mind, like Chalisas, Shlokas, Stotras, Sahasranaams and Shatnaams and most powerful of all, Kavachas. They number in thousands.
This study by Rohini Gupta is a gem of a work. She has recounted some of the most commonly known which are recited by the devoted and their meanings are provided for the uninitiated. Take, for example, this one which is meant to begin a day with: Karaagre vasate Laxmi karamadhye Saraswati karamule stihaa Gauri prabhate karadarshanam. (At the tip of the fingers lives Laxmi; in the middle is Saraswati; at the bottom of the palm resides Gouri. Early in the morning we got darshan of the sacred by merely looking at our palm). There are mantras for all times and places. There are prayers for the sun and the moon; one can utter a mantra even while having a bath:
Ganga cha Yamune chaiva Godavari Saraswati
Narmade Sindhu Kaaveri jalasmin sannidhim kuru,
(May the sacred waters of the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri, may all these waters mingle in this water).
There are deity mantras like Yaa devi sarvabhuteshu shakti rupena sansthithaa namastasyai, namastasyai, namastasyai namo namah. (Salutations to Her, who is the Shakti, the power in all beings, salutations again and again). There are quotations, beautiful beyond words, from Sankara’s Saundarya Lahiri (The Wave of Beauty). The book quotes among others, Laxmi mantras, Devi mantras, Shiva mantras, the Mritunjaya mantra, right from the Rig Veda, credited with supernatural healing power and even with bringing back people from the brink of death, it goes as follows:
Om trayambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushti vardanam
Urvarukameva bandhanaan mrityur muksheeya mamrutaat
There are variations of the Mritunjaya mantra to suit different occasions. The healing energies of Sun God, Surya, are well known and the Puranas are full of stories in which those who prayed to Surya were cured even from dire illnesses.
People have different needs and they aspire to meet them in their many ways. Many believe that prayer helps them. One thing that is said of mantras is that they should never be used to harm others. By all means pray for riches, pray for happiness, pray for peace, pray for one’s family, pray for rain. My own favourite mantras is this:
Kara charana krutam vaak kaayajam karmajam vaa
shravan naya najam vaa maanasam vaaparaadham
vihitamavihitam vaa sarvametat shamasva
jai jai karunabdhe shri maha deva shambho
“Whatever I have done with my hands and feet or speech, my body or my actions, whatever I have heard or seen, or thought, all my mistakes, whether knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive them all, great, all-forgiving God, Mahadeva Shambhu.”
There could possibly be other books recalling mantras, but this one by Rohini Gupta is something to treasure.
(Dronequill Publisher Pvt Ltd, 777 M, 13th Main, 1st Cross, HAL, Second Stage, Bangalore-560 008) -MVK