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The Indian Mantra

Author(s): J. Gonda
Source: Oriens, Vol. 16 (Dec. 31, 1963), pp. 244-297
Published by: BRILL
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THE INDIAN MANTRA


by

J. Gonda
Utrecht

HellmutRitterzum 70o.Geburtstage

In the practiceof religiouslifethe importanceand decisivepowerof


thespokenword,and especiallyof the well-formulated
word,has always
been understood.The spoken word is an act, an exerciseof power,
creative.
revealingan attitudeof the speakerand containingsomething
in the
definite
into
when
combine
into
formulas, phrases
they
Especially
the
words
order
of
their
and
terms,
sound,rhythm
possess greatestmight
of ritual
The performance
whetherdangerousor beneficient.
and effect
of
the
utilization
the
Unseen,
acts,the exertionofinfluence
power
upon
as a rule requirea vocal expressionof the officiant'swill, desire or
theverbalreference
to a desiredresultbecomesan instrument
intentions;
lending
producingit. Wordsand ritesare closelyconnected,the former
the lattertheirspecificcharacter:acceditverbumad elementumet fit

sacramentum1.

In a long chapterof a recentbook2 FriedrichHeilerenumeratesno


oftheholyor sacred
less thantwelvedifferent
aspectsor manifestations
various formsof prayerand spell, oath and
word3. He distinguishes
invocationor
curse,conjuration(whether
,
citingor exorcizing),
i?xhynGo
of sins,adoration,praiseand the expressionof thankfulness,
confession
of desires.It
of faith,sacrificial
confession
forms,vow, and formulation
classification
can notbe partofmytaskhereto criticizethistwelvefold
and to ask forinstancewhypraiseand gratitudeare so closelyconnected
1
und
Augustinus,in Joan. 80, 3, quoted by F. Heiler, Erscheinungsformen
Wesen der Religion,Stuttgart1961, p. 266.
2 See note
i; chapter VII, esp. p. 3o6 ff.
3 For the significanceof the sacred word in general see also G. van der Leeuw,
London 1938; F. Heiler, Das Gebet,Miinchen
Religionin essenceand manifestation,

(1918), 61923; D. W. Steere, Prayer and Worship, New York 1934; F. Schwenn,

Gebetund Opfer. Studien zum griechischenKultus, Heidelberg 1927; V. Larock,


Essai sur la valeursacre'eet la valeursociale des noms de personnesdans les societds
infirieures,in Revue de l'histoiredes religionsioi (1930), and the bibliography
containedin the footnotesto Heiler,Erscheinungsformen,
p. 306 ff.

244

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The Indian Mantra

245

as to formone category.The onlyremarkwhichI shouldlike to make


hereis thatthewell-known
Indianmantrais, in thesepages,conspicuous
At
first
its
absence.
becausereferences
sightthisis rathersurprising
by
to the Indian religionsin whichthe mantrasfromthe beginningto the
presentday play a highlyimportantpart,are numerousin this book.
thatthe Indian
On second thoughtit becomeshoweverunderstandable
mantrahas eitherescapedtheattentionofthelearnedauthor,orperhaps
been leftout of account because it does not fit in well
intentionally
with the twelvefoldclassificationadopted by him. It is true that
Professor
Heilerhas no reasonto mentionthe Indianmantraundersome
of his twelveheadings:it is, forinstance,no expressionof thankfulness
towardsa deity.But it wouldbe incorrectto hold that it does not for
some of its aspectscomeunderthe headingof "Zauberwort,Segenund
Fluch", and for othersunder "prayer",or under "adoration,praise,
liturgicalformula,expressionof a wish, invocation"and even under
"confessionof faith".The conceptof mantracoversmuch morethan
"prayer"or "invocation",than"praise" or "formula".A mantrais now
thenagain conservatory.
invocatory,thenevocatory,now deprecatory,
It may be beneficentor hurtful,salutaryor pernicious.So we repeat:
this special Indian manifestation
ofthesacredworddoes not fitin well
withtheabove twelvefold
classification.
The same plurivalentcharacterof the Indian term-that is, the
of translating
it by one singlewordof one of our modern
impossibility
no
doubt
induced
otherauthorsto adopt, consciously
languages-has
or unconsciously,
but
short,
inadequate,and sometimeseven deceptive
translationswheneverthey are under the necessityof explainingthe
1 or "incantation"2 may, indeed,someIndian term. "Zauberformel"
times do duty, but are far frombeing a generalequivalent; "short
and "sacredsentences"3 too vague; "formule
prayers"is veryincomplete
magique pour prendrecontact avec la Verite"' may like "prayer"
("priere") 5, "liturgy"6, "formule
mystique"7 lead to misunderstanding;
neither"formule,g6ndralement
reciteeau cours du sacrifice
versifide,
1
See e.g. H. von Glasenapp, Die ReligionenIndiens, Stuttgart 1943, P. 141;
S. Dasgupta, A historyof Indian philosophy,13,Cambridge 1951, p. 69; W. Volz,
in G. Buschan, Die V6lkerAsiens, Australiensund der Siidseeinseln,p. 544.
2 A. K. Coomaraswamy,Pour comprendre
l'art hindou,Paris 1926, p. 62.
3 A. C.
Bouquet, Hinduism, London, p. 139.
hindoue,Paris 1953, p. 36. Cf. also H. Zimmer,
4 J. Herbert, La mythologie
Myths and symbolsin Indian art and civilization,WashingtonD.C. 1946, p. 72.
1 L. Renou, in L. Renou et
J. Filliozat, L'Inde classique, I, Paris 1947, p. 270.

6 M. Eliade,
7

Yoga, Paris 1936, p. 107.

J. Herbert,Spiritualitdhindoue,Paris 1947, p. 366.

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J. Gonda

246

v6dique et emprunteenotammentau RIgveda"1 nor "hymnaddressed


to somegod or goddess"2 give a correctidea; "son mystique","mystischerLaut" 3 and "name of God" 4 are as a generalexplanationno less
inadequate than "sacred hymn"5 or the unspecifiedand ambiguous
"formula"6. Even an enumerationlike "Verse, Gebete,Spriicheund
Zauberformeln"
were
7 failsto satisfya criticalreader.Lexicographers
confronted
withthe same difficulty:
"Spruch,Gedicht,Lied als Erzeugnissdes Geistes;die vedischenLiederund Spriiche;magischeBesprechung; Verabredung, Rat ..."
says the Petrograd Dictionary8;
"divine saying or decision ..., hence magic charm, spell; in particular a

secretreligiouscode or doctrine"the P5li Text Society's< Pli-English


9; "formulaetc." Edgerton's(Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
dictionary)>
dictionary,)
10. In a modernglossaryof 'special terms'it reads: "mystic
formulaor spell,derivingits powerfromtraditionalassociationwitha
particulardivinityor a desiredresult;it is renderedeffective
by means
of repetitiverecitation(japa) combinedwith meditation(dhydna)"
11.
It wouldbe unwiseto denythatforpracticalpurposesmanyof these
translations
may,in particularcontexts,serveto give the modernnonIndian readera fairlygood idea ofwhatis meant,but theymay not be
used as definitions
oftheconceptor as exactindications
ofwhatis meant
the
Indians
who
the
it
must
be
concededthat
use
term.
And
by
although
in particularcontexts,which have come into existencein different
centuriesand in different
thevariousaspectoftheconcepts
communities
weredifferently
is
on
the otherhand no denyingthat
there
emphasized,
the term has in the course of time and notwithstanding
its varied
a
in many
In
like
definite
semantic
kernel.
this
case,
applicationkept
others,our modernlanguagesdo not possessa singletermwhichmight
cover what the Indians understood,and oftenstill understandby a
mantra.The very diversityof translationsin dictionariesand books
L. Renou, Sanskritet culture, Paris 1950, p. 181.
Ch. Sharma, A critical Survey of Indian philosophy, London 1960, p. 14.
3 M. Eliade, Le Yoga, Paris 1954,p. 216;
Jos.Abs, IndiensReligionderSandtana1
2

dharma, Bonn 1923, P. 17.

Swami Akhilananda,Hindu Psychology,London 1947, p. 68.


5 B. A. Gupte, Hindu holidays and ceremonials, Calcutta 1919, p. 269.
6 S.
Konow, Die Inder, in A. Bertholet und E. Lehmann, Lehrbuchder Reli4

gionsgeschichte,II, Tiibingen 1925, p. 128; C. G. Diehl, Instrument and purpose,


Lund 1956, p. Ioo.
der indischenLitteratur,12, Leipzig (1907), p. 38.
7 M. Winternitz, Geschichte
8

A. B6htlingkund R. Roth, SanskritWrterbuch,V, 537.

Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and W. Stede, V, Calcutta 1923, P. 146 s.v.

manta.

10 F. Edgerton, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit dictionary, New Haven 1953, P. 419.


11 D. L. Snellgrove, The Hevajra Tantra, I, London 1959, P. 136.

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The Indian Mantra

247

touchingupon "the sacredword" in India showsus that the termis,


in point of fact,untranslatable.
Defining,provisionallyand for practicalpurposes,the termunder
as a generalnameforthe formulas,
consideration
versesor sequencesof
to myths,
wordsin prose whichcontainpraise and prayer,references
statements
etc.
ritual
etc., are
injunctions,religious
conjurations,
are recited,
believedto have magical,religiousor spiritualefficiency,
mutteredor sung in the Vedic ritual and whichare collectedin the
or conmethodicallyarrangedcorporaof Vedic texts called
I we must,however,
Sam.hitds
add thatthesame
tainedin otherspecialcollections
name is appliedto comparable'formulas'of different
originused in the
mantrasare
post-Vediccults2. In both periodsand in all communities
subjectedto fixedand
verysacred and theirrecitationis traditionally
and literature
strictrules.Thus a mantrais, as faras theVedicreligions
Indian
and
are concerned,
commentators
as
explainedby
lexicographers
"part of the Veda", "special Vedatext"; "words(to be) takenfromthe
and the othercorpora"and "meansofpropitiating
gods
RIgvedasamhita
not productsofdiscursivethought,
etc.". Theyare moreoverconsidered,
humanwisdomor poeticphantasy,but flash-lights
of the eternaltruth,
seen by thoseeminentmenwhohave comeintoa supersensuous
contact
withthe Unseen.
Not only do the translationsand definitions
of the termstrikethe
reader as considerablyvaried,also the literalexplanationsand interpretationsproposeddifferwidely.Whereassome authors,forinstance,
explain mantra-as "thought" ("pens'e" 3), otherspreferexpressions
such as "pensde formulheet structur'e"4. Beside the explanation
"mantrameans originallyreligiousthought,prayer,sacred utterance,
but froman earlydate it also impliedthat the text was a weapon of
supernaturalpower"5 we find "originallythe word mantra-meant
forproducingsomething
in our minds'" 6
simply'a verbalinstrument
or "to pronouncea mantrais a way ofwooinga deity,and, etymologically,thewordmantrais connectedwithGreekwordslikemeimao(read
1 The reader
may be referredto L. Renou, in Renou et Filliozat, L'Inde classique,
I, p. 270; J. Gonda, Die ReligionenIndiens, I. Veda und dltererHinduismus,
Stuttgart1960, p. 9 ff.For some particularssee also Winternitz,o.c., I, p. 148 f.;
236 f.; P. V. Kane, HistoryofDharmasdstra,II, 2, Poona 1941, p. 983; A. Minard,
Trois e'nigmessur les CentChemins,II, Paris 1956, p. 293.
2 This distinctionbetween Vedic and later, so-called Agamic mantras is also
made by the Hindu authoritiesthemselves(see, e.g.,
41, 63).
3 Thus Renou, Litterature
Brahma-purn.na
sanskrite,Paris 1946, p. 74.
4 L. Silburn,Instant et cause, Paris 1955, P. 25.
ofIndia, Oxford1920, p. 25.
5 J. N. Farquhar, An outlineofthereligiousliterature

6 Zimmer, o.c., p. 141, n.

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248
0al'ok&

J. Gonda
"to be very eager") which express "eager desire, yearning and

intensityof purpose" (this word is, however,by the best authorities


and withthe Old High Germanword
rightlyregardedas non-related),
minnia, (read minn(e)a "remembrance,
love"), whichmeans "making
love to" 1. "So ist mantra'Werkzeugzum Denken',ein 'Ding, das ein
Denkbildzuwegebringt'2. Mit seinemKlange ruftes seinenGehaltzu
unmittelbarer
Wirklichkeit
auf. 'Mantra' ist Gewalt,kein meinendes
oder sich entziehenkann. Was in
Sagen, dem der Geistwidersprechen
mantraverlautet,ist so, ist da, begibtsich. Hier,wennirgendwo,sind
WorteTaten, wirkenunmittelbar
Wirkliches"
3. "Mantra,das Symbolist
der
der
dem
vom Gurutibermittelt
wort,
heiligeLaut,
Eingeweihten
zum
Inneres
sein
Schwingen
bringtundes demhiherenErlebendffnet"
4.
In mattersof religionand 'Weltanschauung'explanationsbased on
the principleof folketymology
elucidatethe opinionsenterfrequently
tained by the adepts and adherentsof a doctrine,beliefor tradition.
Thus the termmantra-is often-of coursefromthe scientific
point of
viewincorrectly-explained
as thatwhichsaves (trd-"to save, rescue")
theone "who,in thought,formulates
it, meditatesupon it" (man-).In
6 whichgenerallyassociatesthe termwithtrd-as well
tantricliterature
as man-it is suggestedthat it liberateswhenproperlymeditatedupon.
"A mantraderivesits namefromthe factthatit is a means of 'mental
withthe natureof thingsand of obtainingthe salvation,
identification'
I
i.e., deliveranceof transmigration"
6. Sir JohnWoodroffeis no doubt
right in warningagainst regardingmantras as mere "formulasof
worship"or as stylingthem"prayers"or "mysticsyllables".The essence
of a mantra,he rightlyholds,is the presenceof the deity: only that
mantrain whichthe devatdhas revealedhis or her particularaspects
can revealthataspect.The deityis believedto appearfromthe mantra
whenit is correctly
pronounced.It is indeedtruethatthe termmantra,
because of the powerconsideredto be inherentin formulated
inspired
1 E. Conze, Buddhism, Oxford
1951 (1953), p. 183.

A wrong etymologicalexplanation is also given by S. B. Dasgupta, Aspects


of Indian Religious Thought,Calcutta 1957, P. 22.
2

3 H. Zimmer, Ewiges Indien, Potsdam 1930, p. 82.

Mystik, Ziirich-Stuttgart
4 Lama Anagarika Govinda, Grundlagentibetischer
1957, P. 93.
5 See furtheron.
8 A
similarand likewiseincorrect'etymology'occurs already in the Chandogyaupanisad 3, 12, I, wherein connectionwiththe gayatrimetrewhichis stated to be
"everythinghere that has come to be, whatsoever there is here", the author
observesthat speech both recites(sings:gdyati)of and protects(trayati)everything
here that has come to be. For the gdyatrisee furtheron.
7 Sir JohnWoodroffe,
Shakti and Shakta,Madras 1929, p. 454.

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The Indian Mantra

249

thoughtsand utteredwords,also impliedthatthe 'formula'was a means


ofwieldingsupranormal
power.A mantrais alwaysa sourceofactivity,
it is alwaysa potentialmeansof achievinga special effect.Let us conclude these quotationswith an enlightening
passage froma famous
modern Indian mystic and philosopher, Shri Aurobindo (1872-1950) 1:

"La th6oriedu mantraest que c'est un mot n6 des profondeurs


secretes
de notre Wtre
othil a 6t6couve par une conscienceplus profondeque la
consciencementale6veill~eet enfinprojet6au dehorssilencieusement
ou par la voix-le mot silencieuxconsiderecommeplus puissantpeutWtre
que le mot parld-pr6cis6ment
pourun but de creation.Le mantra
non
seulement
en
nous-mimes
de nouveaux6tatssubjectifs,
peut
crier
modifiernotre Wtre
une
connaissanceet des facultds
psychique,rev4ler
ne
nous
connaissions
il
que
pas auparavant, peutnonseulement
produire
des r6sultatssemblablesdans d'autresespritsque celui qui le prononce,
mais encoreil peut produiredans l'atmospherementaleet vitale des
vibrationsqui ontpoureffetdes actionset mimel'apparitionde formes
matdriellessur le plan physique.L'emploi vedique du mantra n'est
qu'une utilisationconscientede cettepuissancesecretedu verbe"2. The
surveyof the Vedic uses of the termwill showthat the essenceof the
above statementis indeedalreadycharacteristic
of the mantrasof the
Vedic period,--oneof the numerousindiciaofthe agelongcontinuity
of
Indian religiousthought.
II

The Sanskritwordsin -tra-< Indo-European-tro-,


whenneuter,are,
or sometimesnames of the
generallyspeaking,names of instruments
3. The formercategorymay
place where the process is performed
also
a
Sanskrit
?rotram"organ, act or
occasionallyexpress
faculty:
of
"the intellectualfaculty";or a "function":
faculty hearing";jAdtram
hotram"the functionor officeof a hotarpriest".The sense of the root
man-< I.E. men-was at the time definedby Meillet4 as "mente
agitare"; othersassumedsuch basic senses as "denken,geistigerregt
to hold that *men-"indiquaitles mouvementsde
sein" 5, or preferred
1

See, e.g., H. Chaudhuri and F. Spiegelberg, The integralphilosophyof Shri

Aurobindo, London I960.


2
Aurobindo, La Kena Upanishad (1944), P. 33.

3 For lists of examples see K. Brugmann (und B. Delbriick), Grundrissder

vergl. Grammatik der indogerm. Sprachen 2, II, I, Strassburg 19o6, p. 341.

A. Meillet,De indo-eur.radice men-"menteagitare",Thesis Paris 1897.


II, Heidelberg 1940-1954,
5 J. B. Hofmann, Lateinischesetymol.W6rterbuch,
derindogerm.Sprachen,II, Berlinp. 66; A. Walde-J. Pokorny, Vergl.Wdrterbuch
4

Leipzig 1927, p. 264-

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J. Gonda

250

l'esprit"1. Now the senseof Gr. E?evoq"bezeichnetsolcheErlebnisse,die


ein energisches
enthalten,Mut, Kampfgier"2; an active eager
Drfingen
be indicatedbywordssuchas "spirit,
energy,whichmay approximately
Skt.
fierceness;life etc."; the corresponding
passion,might,strength,
manas-means "mind,in the widestsense as appliedto a largevariety
of mentaland psychicalpowers;includingalso spirit,thought,imagidesire,mood etc.", the related
nation,invention,intention,affection,
Gr. ptiova "to be veryeager,to purpose,intend,to be minded",the
likewise related talvotm "to rage, to be filled by divine power"; a
is a "diviner, seer, prophet,foreboder,presager" 3;
"to
tLmOiV'S

EvoLVi
to rage"; in ancientIndia
desireeagerly"; ivEalvo "to desireearnestly,
a muni-was "any one who is movedby inwardimpulse,an inspiredor
ecstaticman". Withoutenteringinto linguisticdetails the root menbe assumed to have expressedalso such meaningsas
may therefore
directed'thought',experiencing
"emotional,moved,wilful,intentional,
impulsesin heartand mindetc.".
As shownby Renou4 the verbman-has in Vedicusage also the sense
of "evoking,callingup", and is then oftenassociatedwith the noun
I, 24,I kasyananam... mandmahe
ndma"name". Compare,e.g.,
do we nowinvokethebelovedname?";
R.gveda
cdrudevasyanama"ofwhichgod

4, 39, 4; 8, II, 5; Io, 64, I; 68, 7; Atharvaveda 7, I, I. A sumantundma

is a "name whichit is rightor appropriateto invoke", the phrase


ndmaexpressesthe oppositesense: cf.
6, 18, 8; io, 12, 6.
durmantu
R.V.
thatthismeaningof
Thereseems,however,to be occasionfortheremark
man-appearsalso in cases suchas 8, 47, 3-the wholepassageis a prayer
forhelp againstevil and the consequencesof sinfuldeeds-vilvdni .
varathydmandmahe;here Geldner's translation:"alle Schutzmittel
habenwirim Sinne" shouldprobablybe replacedby "we (theeulogist,
ourthoughts,
evokeorsummon(byconcentrating
poet,officiant)
priestly
in addressingyou, 0 gods) all means of protection";5, 22, 3 cikitvinte'vasa iydndsoamanmahi
manasamtvddevammartdsautaye/varenyasya
"indemwirSterblichedich,den Gott mit achtsamemSinne,um Gunst
angehen,haben wir an deine vorziiglicheGnade gedacht" (Geldner),
rather ".

. we have concentratedour minds on thy assistance (in order

1 A. Ernout-A. Meillet, Dictionnaire e'tymol.de la langue latine, Paris 1951, p. 704.


2 E. Struck,
Bedeutungslehre 2, Stuttgart 1954, P- 98.
3 See also Hj. Frisk, Griechisches
II, Heidelberg (I96I), p.
etym. Warterbuch,

16o f.; 172 f.


4 See L. Renou, Etudes sur le vocabulaire du R gveda, Pondich6ry 1958, p. II n.;
the same, Etudes vddiques et panine'ennes, IV, Paris 1958, p. 79; 118; ibid. VII,
Paris 196o0,p. 71. K. F. Geldner's (Der Rig-veda iibersetzt,Harvard 1951) trans-

lation "gedenken" is inadequate.

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TheIndianMantra

251

to evokeit and makeit active)"; 5, 52, 3 marutdm


adhdmahodiviksamd
ca manmahe"thenwe evoke the majestyof the Maruts(a class ofgods)
in heavenand on the earth" (in the nextstanza the poet statesthathe
dedicates eulogy and sacrificeto the gods who protectmen against
injury; similarly 10, 26, 4; 97, I; AthV. 4, 23, I; 24, I; 26, I; IO, 4, I 1;
not
Vdjasaneyi Samrh. 4, 11 daivlm dhiyam mandmahe ...
abhis.taye,
"foraid we meditatedivine
2 but rather"we

concentrate
Intelligence"
our mindson (theproductof our) divineintuition(i.e., themantras)(in
orderto invoke)forassistance(the powerwhichis inherentin them)".
Passingmentionmayalso be madeofthenounmantu-3 which,mainly
in the
has beentranslatedin different
occurring
ways4.Anyhow,
Geldner's"eureR.gveda,
seemsless
Sorgensindununterbrochene
(Regen)str6me"

acceptable as a translationof I, 152, I acchidrdmantavoha sargdhthan

"yourflawlessintentionaland efficient
thoughtsare emanations"5. The
other occurrenceshave been taken to express a personal meaning
"Berater,Lenker,Walter"6, whereasin the two Avestanplaces exhibitingmantu-(Y. 33, 4; 46, 17) thismeaningis at least dubious1.
Let us now turnto the use of the nounmantrah
in the RIgveda.In I,
as
31, 13 II-a line of difficult
syntaxwhichI wouldpreferto interpret
follows"thou lovesthimwho withall his heartoffersliberallyin order
to procurehimselfsafety,who < recites> the mantraof the praising
poet" 8-the recitationof the productof the inspiredmindof the poet
is, as to its effect,put on a par witha sacrifice(cf. also Io, io6, ii).
"Dichterspruch,Dichterwort"is Geldner'stranslationin this place.
Similarly, I, 40, 5; I, 74, I where the reciterexpresses his intentionto
address a mantra to the god Agni; I, 152, 2; Io, 50, 6; 2, 35, 2 where

it is said to comefromthepoet'sheart,thewell-known
'place' wherethe
1 Here W. D.
Harvard 1905,
Whitney-Ch.R. Lanman, AtharvavedaSarmhitd,
translate "reverence",in connectionwith "name" (AthV. 7, I, I), however,"perceive".
The TextsoftheWhite Yajurveda, Benares 1927, p. 32.
2 R. T. H. Griffith,
3 For words in -u- used "in der sakral-rechtlichen
Sphare" etc.: W. Havers,
in Anthropos49 (1954), P. i99 ff.This word is dealt with under "Kiinste und
Fertigkeiten",S. 202. (Cf. also Havers, in Anzeiger,Osterr.Akad. d. Wiss., ph.-h.
Kl., 84 (1947), p. 139 ff.).
4 See L. Renou, Monographies sanskrites II, Paris 1937, P. 10; 17.

5 Cf. L. Silburn,Instantet cause, Paris 1955,

p.
6 See e.g. K. Grassmann, W6rterbuch
zum Rig-veda, 1872 (Leipzig 1936), 999;
25.

Grammatik,
II, 2, Gbttingen1954, p. 665.
J. Wackernagel-A.Debrunner,A Itindische
7 Nor does Humbach's "Rathschluss" appear to hit the mark (H. Humbach,

Die Gathas des Zarathustra, Heidelberg 1959, p. 101; 134); rather something like

"intentionalthought".
8 For otherinterpretations
see K. F. Geldner,Der Rig-vedaiibersetzt,
I, Harvard
1951, P. 35.

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J. Gonda

252

intuitionis conceived,the supranormal


visionsare seen,the inspiration
is received1; it is, moreover,
"well fashioned";this adjective
sutas.taderivesfromtheverbtaks-"to fashion"
whichis oftenusedin connection
with intuitionsand inspirationswhich are transformed
into poetical
"the
mantras
fashioned
with (in) the
compositions(see 7, 7, 6; I, 67, 4
heart"; and cf. also 7, 32, 13) 2. In 6, 50, 14 "all the gods, increasing
throughrta3, the invokedones (and) the mantrasproclaimedby inspiredpoets must,praised,lend assistance".The powerof the mantras
is also emphasizedin I, 67, 5 "he (thegod offire,lightand inspiration,
withmantraswhichare in harmonywith
Agni)has fixedheavenfirmly
d
tvd
kavigastd
vahantu"the mantras
mantrdh
reality(satya-)";IO, 14, 4
the
must
thee
inspiredpoets
bring
proclaimedby
(the god Yama)
hither"; Io, 88, 14. In 10, 50, 4 bhuvo. . jyesthas ca

the god

mantrah,
in a personal
Indra is calledthebestmantra;Grassmann
4 tooktheterm
and
Geldner
"du
der
translated:
wardst
besteRat".
"Berather",
meaning
I wouldventureto suggest:"thouart (i.e.,thynameis) thebestmantra
on the name of a mighty
(potentformula)".As will be shownfurther
god is a potentmantra,just like the name of Christenables man to
exorcizedemonsand to workwonders(Mark16, 17 f.).The term"name"
in thiscorpus:3, 37, 3 ndmdni
is in connectionwiththisgod mentioned
imahe
te 'atakratovilvdbhir
"we 'approach',
gfrbhir
/indrdbhimdtisdhye
i.e., we make an appeal to, thynames,O thou who art ofhundredfold
resourcefulness
5, withall wordsof praise,O Indra,if it comesto conthe
quering insidious";7, 22, 5 "I do not forgetthe wordsof praiseto
be addressed to thee ... I always proclaim thy name ...". See also 7,
32, 17 wherethenameofthegod is invokedby thosewhoare in needof
protection;10, 54, 4 "thou possessestfour divine names which are

imperviousto deceit": the textno doubtrefersto the mightynamesof


"killerof the demon(power)of obstruction"
epithetssuch as v4rtrahanetc. whichexpresssomeof the mostimportantqualitiesand abilitiesof
the god or whichmythologically
speakingreferto some of his most
In
the
impressiveexploits. 8, 46, 14
god and his name are coupledtogether: "celebrate thy hero with mighty words of praise ... Indra, the
famous name ...", in 6, 18, 7 the god and his majesty. "Der Name ist
See The vision of the Vedicpoets,'s-Gravenhage1963, especially chapter XII.
The same meaning,not "Rat" (Geldner) or "counsel" (Whitney-Lanmanin
the correspondingstanza 6, 64, 2) may be admittedin io, 191, 3 wheresamitihno
doubt refersto the gatheringof those concerned in sacrificing,mantramabhi
mantrayevah means "I pronounce,for your sake, mantras".
3 See H. Liiders, Varuna, II, Gittingen
1959, p. 555 ff.
1

4 Grassmann, Wirterbuch, Iooo.

5 See Epithetsin theRgveda,'s-Gravenhage1959, p. 36 ff.

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The IndianMantra

253

Menschenkein blosser'Schall und Rauch', sondern


fiirden primitiven

ein Doppel-Ich ..., identisch mit dem Trager. Der Name ist kraftgeladen ... Der Name macht einen Menschen oder Gott prasent ...

Der Name ist der Stellvertreter


Gottes,Gott selbst"1. The Samaritans
evenread "the name" insteadof "the Lord" 2. In I, 57, 3 Indra's name
thatit was createdto be a light3.
is calleda light,thecontextsuggesting
Similarobservations
mightbe made in connectionofthe namesofother
gods: 5, 44, 2 (Agni).The poet of9, 99, 4 makesmentionof "intuitions
4
into eulogieswhichbear the names of the gods"
(to be) transformed
Finally,the phraseswith the verb
(dhitayodevdndmndma bibhratih).
to whichhas alreadybeen
man-and the nounndma"name", reference
made, may be recalledto mind.
A perusalof the Atharvavedabringsto lightsimilardata: 6, 76, 4
"the ksatriyawho knowingtakes the name of Agniin orderto enjoya
fulllife-time
5; in 19,35, I "taking
(is securefrompernicious
influences)"
the name of Indra into the mouththe seers (rsayah)gave the jaftgida
(a sort of amulet),whichthe gods in the beginningmade a remedy,
spoiler of the viskandha (a power provoking a disease 6)": here the

as anything
elsethanas a mantra7.
"nameofthegod" can hardlyfunction
In Hinduismthe name of a god alone is a greatprotectioneven when
pronouncedunconsciously,unintentionallyor when fallen asleep8.
in
Examples fromotherreligions,e.g., the holinessand powerinherent
thenameofJesusChrist,and thenameofAllahused by IndianMuslims,
as a mantraare too well knownto need quoting.
The masculinegenderof the termmantra-(the neuteris rare and
1
Heiler,Erscheinungsformen,
p. 275. The wordsleftout in the above quotations:
.. . dem melanesischentopui "tabu machen" entspricht,
"ob schon das Wort 6voyac

ist etymologisch fraglich" should be replaced by: ". .. ist etymologisch vollkommen

unm6glich".
2 J. E. H. Thompson, The Samaritans,Edinburgh 1919, p. 178.

3 Cf. also I,
55, 4; 5, 30, 5; 8, 52, 7; AthV. 3, 14, I; 5, 28, 12. See J. Herbert,
c Shiva, Lyon 1944, P. 17 fl.
Hymnes
Shanikara,
4

For dhiti-see The intuitionof the Vedicpoets,chapter III.

5 Cf. also 7, 20, 4; 19, 38, 2.


6 See Filliozat, L'Inde classique,p. io6.

7 Cf. also Chandogya-upanisad7, 4, 2 "the mantras find their unity in name


in the mantras".
and ritual acts
(karmdni)
8 See, e.g., E. Abegg, Der Pretakalpa des Garuda-Purinza2,Berlin 1956, p. Iio;
for divine and holy names on amulets in general see Heiler, Erscheinungsformen,

p. 276; 341 f. (with a bibliography). Tulsi Dds (1532-1574) for instance went to

exaggerated lengthsin glorifyingthe name of his God, Rama, assertingthat the


name is greaterthan God himselfwho is unknowableuntil revealed by the Name,
which has saved millions of votaries and will, when duly muttered,continue to
save them to the end of time (see also W. D. P. Hill, The holy lake of the acts of
iRama, Oxford 1952, p. XXIX).

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254

J. Gonda

secondary)is exceptional1. Brugmann2 attemptedto accountforit by


observing"gleichsam 'der lebendigeGedanke'", Niedermann
3 more
that
term
aptly remarkedthat instruments
'originally'(whatever
may
mean in this connection!)were conceivedas 'selbstandigehandelnde
Wesen'; without enteringinto speculationsabout a historical(i.e.,
prehistorical!)earlieror later a double conceptionof the instrument
namesis quite understandable
(in Dutch and in otherlanguageswords
like veg-ermean "sweeper"and "brush").
It may in thisconnectionbe remembered
that the Avestanmq?rais
likewisein a large majorityof cases masculine.Accordingto Bartholomae4 it means "Wort, Ausspruch,Spruch"; sometimes"Zauberspruch"5, especially,in the singular,the mqfra par excellence,often
"
6] 'das heiligeWort'" 7,
accompaniedbyspanta["intrinsically
powerful"
"der Inbegriff
der gdttlichen
auch vielfachals Gottheit";
Offenbarung;
the neutermq?ra-means"Gedanke,im Gegensatzzu Wortund Werk"
(once) and "Bedenken,Nachdenkenfiber"(once). From the Gdthdsit
is clearthata mq&ra-is a powerful
word,phrase,verseor formulawhich
beingformedand communicated
by the Lord and beingpronouncedby
men is, forinstance,capable of destroying
or chasingaway evil powers
"we
should
like
to
avert
the
evil
(28, 5
beingsthroughthe tongue")8.
Also frompassagessuch as Ya't I, 28 it appearsthat thespantamq&ra
is the "powerfulword" whichemanatingfromAhura Mazddhreturns
to himin the formof the liturgicalversesand formulasspokenby the
poets and reciters.Subjoiningsome places of interestI draw attention
to Yt. 13, 81, wherethe spantamq?ra is said to be the white,bright,
radiant'soul' ofAhuraMazddh,to Yt. I, 3 wherethenameofthe Lord,
thenameofthe "immortalSaints" (Ama~aSpantas)is, by the mouthof
victoriousand brilliant
AhuraMazddhhimself,
calledthemostpowerful,
elementin the spantamqe3ra;God's nameis moreoverthatwhichin the
1
J. Wackernagel-A. Debrunner,AltindischeGrammatik,II, 2, Gittingen 1954,
p. 70o6.
2 Brugmann,Grundriss,p. 346.
3 M. Niedermann,in Indogerm. Forsch. 37, p. 154; see also Wackernagel-Debrunner,Altind.Gramm.,p. 706.

4 Chr. Bartholomae, Altiranisches Wdrterbuch,Strassburg 1904, 1177 f.

5 This term should be used with caution, because the contentsof the concept
'Zauber' are in different
times and on different
levels of civilization,liable to vary.
I forone cannot agree with Humbach's translation"Zauberspruch" forthe 'holy

word or formulas' inspired by Ahura Mazda (Yasna 29, 7; 31, 6; 43, 14; 44, 14;

45, 3): H. Humbach, Die Gathasdes Zarathustra,I, Heidelberg 1959.


6 See
my relative paper in Oriens 2 (1949), P. 195 ff.

7
I. Gershevitch,The Avestanhymnto Mithra,Cambridge1959, p. 84 translates
"the incrementaldivine word".
8 Cf. also Humbach, Gathas,II, p. 9 f.

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The IndianMantra

255

spgntamqira helpsmostto conquerthe enmitiesofmen and anti-gods,


mostsupremesalvation,which"im ganzenk*rperlichen
whichfurthers
und den Willenreinigt"
Dasein am meistendas Denken durchdringt
.
It appearsmoreoverfromVidivddt4, 45 that this'holyword'was the
to be givento thosewho soughtinstruction
best instruction
(cf.also 14,
46 wherethe adjectivespantadoes not turnup), fromY. 71, 5 etc. that
it is worthyof worshipand veneration.
it may,on the strengthof
Leavingsome detailsout of consideration
a numberof particularsconcerningthe Indian term mantrahto be
discussedin this article,safelybe contendedthat fromthe prehistoric
onwardthe mantraconcept-created
periodof Indo-Iraniancommunity
no doubt by the mysteryof speechas that whichexpressesthoughtplayed an importantrole in the religiouslife and conceptionsof the
Aryanpeoples2. A mantramay therefore,
etymologically
speakingand
be
judgingfromthe usage prevailingin the oldesttexts,approximately
definedas follows: "word(s) believed to be of 'superhumanorigin',
received,fashionedand spokenby the 'inspired'seers,poetsand reciters
in orderto evoke divinepower(s)and especiallyconceivedas meansof
and realizingintentional
and efficient
concentrating
creating,conveying,
and
of
into
touch
or
oneself
with
theessence
coming
thought,
identifying
ofthe divinitywhichis presentin the mantra".
The 'semanticlink'betweentheabove meaningofthetermmantraand
the otherwhichwillbe touchedupon hereafter
seemsto be constituted

by phrases such as Io, 134, 7 "we do not, 0 gods, transgress ...

we

observeobedience(0 Indra) to thymantras(mantrasrutyam


cardmasi)".
In thiscontextthe termfor"powerfulexpressiongivento inspiredmen
by the god who in his turnis expectedto be invoked,evoked and influencedby it" assumes a connotationwhich may lead a modern
to choosesucha termas "Rat" (Geldner).Anothercontextual
translator
variantshowingthe transitionto the 'meaning'"counsel,advice etc."
occurs Paficavim'a-brdhmana
18, 9, 21 vdcyevdsyamantramdadhdty
bhavati
"he
dmantranfyo
bringsthe 'holy word' into his voice; he
becomesa personwho shouldbe consulted"3.
The wordmantra-has, in othercontexts,not rarelyanother'meaning'
-that is to say, it is to be translatedotherwise,
viz. by "consultation,
in
advice,counsel,design,plan, secret".Hence also mantrinresolution,
themeaningof"counsellor(ofa king),'minister'". It wouldbe expedient
H. Lommel, Die Ydi?t's des A westa,Gittingen-Leipzig1927, p. 14.
See also J. Filliozat, La doctrineclassique de la me'decineindienne,Paris 1949,
p. 343 Cf. also W. Caland,
Calcutta 1931, p. 496.
Pan-cavirma-bryhmana,
1

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256

J. Gonda

to devote by way of digressionsome attentionto this use, because it


will proveto shed somelighton the veryessenceof the conceptunder
A mantra,theepicsteachus (Mbh.2, 5, 27 and R-m yana
consideration.
2, Ioo, 16), "is the root of victory".Accordingto Kautilya's famous
Handbook of politics (ArthaSistra I, 15, 20) a mantra accomplishes the

ofwhatis not or cannotbe seen; impartsthestrength


ofa
apprehension
definiteconclusionto what is apprehended,removesdoubt when two
of an entirematterwhenonlya
coursesare possible,leads to inference
1.
Mutatis
is
seen
mutandis
the
same
part
description
appliesto mantrain the religiousmeaning.All undertakings,
the same authorityholds
on consultation (mantra-),which should take place in
(I, 15, 2), depend

he informs
us elsewhere(6, 2, 33), thefirst
secret.Powerbeingthreefold,
'Macht-oder Verwirklichungsmittel'
2 is jiadnabala-,
i.e., "the powerof
It
that
is
understandable
the
term
knowledge".
may also admitof the
"Rat
des
Herzens"
or
meaning
3,
"plan, scheme,intention":one should
not betrayone's mantrasby facial expressionetc. (ibid. 5, 5, 6). The
conclusionseems to be warrantedthat both 'meanings'of the term
mantra-"speechwhichexpresses,conveys,or leads to theconcentration
contextualuse 4
of, thought"owe theiroriginto different
Thus quotationsfromthe greatVediccollectionsofmetricaltextsare
to by the term
in the youngerprose texts of the brdhmanasreferred
mantra: atap. Br. I, 31, 28 (with referenceto VdjS. I, 31), where the

translation'prayer'5 is not applicable;2, 6, 2, 14. The termappliesalso


to largerportionsof the ancienttexts: in Aitareya-brdhmana
5, 14, 8,
name.
that
is
and
62
so-called
61
io,
Ndbhhnedistha)
given
(the
R1V.
Also formulassuch as svdhd(an exclamationused in makingoblations
mantras(Satap. Br. I,, 44, 6) 6.
to thegods)arein thesetextsconsidered
Occasionallya textwhichdoes notoccurin thegreatVediccollectionsis
alreadyat a comparatively
earlydate styleda mantra:Maitri-upanisad
to a god (?atap. Br. 2, 3, 4, Io)
6, 9. A mantrais addressedor offered
and accompanies oblations and libations (4, I, 2, 19; 7, 3, I, Io) and
ritual acts (2, 6, 2, 15). It is consideredextremelypowerful:Ait Br. 5,
1 See The
edited by R. P. Kangle, I, Bombay 196o, p. Ig.
Kau.tilfyaArthagdstra,
Cf. also the Kashmirian (Xth cent. A.D.) Nitivdkydmrta,
p. 114.
2
J. J. Meyer, Das altindischeBuch vom Welt-und Staatsleben,Leipzig 1926,

p. 404. Cf. V. A. Ramaswamy Sastri, in: P. K. Code Comm. Vol., Poona 1960, II,

P. 373.
3 Meyer,
o.c., p. 388.
4 In RV. 3, 53, 8 Grassmanntranslates"Entschluss, (geheimerPlan)", Geldner
"Ratschluss"; here also thereis question of realisationofintentionalthought.RIV.
10, 95, I admits of the translation"words", althoughthereis a similar undertone.
6 Thus J. Eggeling,The ?atapatha-brahmana
translated,Oxford 1882, p. 78.
6 Cf. also
Satap. Br. 2, 3, 3, 17; 4, I, I, 26.

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TheIndianMantra

257

14, 8. The mantra is in ?atap. Br. 7, I, I, 5 explicitly identifiedwith

brahman,the ultimateand most fundamentalprinciple.The termis


withveda-;see,e.g.,Sdyana'scommentary
also regardedas synonymous
on Pafic.Br. II, 8, 8. A mantrahas firstbeen 'seen' by eminentpersons
or beings (cf. Ait Br. 5, 23, 2; Jaiminiya-br.3, 193).

III
Wordsacquirea condensedpowerwhentheyassumea fixedform,a
phrasedefinitein the soundand rhythmofits terms,a formula.Almost
universallyin law and religionthe formulaholds together,as it were,
the powerimmanentin the words1. Withthe ancientRomansa carmen
was requiredforall servicesof prayerand dedication,and none of its
elementsmightbe alteredor omitted.In ancientEgypt the destinyof
of the recital,and in other
the departeddependedon the correctness
in
a
the
carmen
also
liturgyis, fact,
religions
enjoyingat least to some
extent,compellingpower2. Thus mantraswere an absolutelyessential
elementin the Vedic ritual. They were to invoke and to praise(i.e.,
the gods,to exertinfluenceon the powers,to avertevil,to
strengthen)
oftheritual
dedicatetheoblations,to expressthemeaningand functions
acts and therebyto give them theirspecificcharacter.The priestis
believedto knowhow to invite,by meansof thesetextswhichproved
forhisancestors,
thegodsand to attracttheirinvisiblepresences
effective
area.
intothe sacrificial
For instance,all 'Sacraments'(Samskdras)3 fromthe conceptionto
the cremationare, accordingto the ancientIndian authorities,to be
formale members4 of the threeAryanclasses of society,
performed,
withVedicmantras.Compare,e.g., Manu,DharmaSdstra
(+ 200A.D.) 2,
are forinstanceaccompaniedby mantras
16; 26. The funeralceremonies

which are mostly taken fromVedic funeralhymns,such as


10, 14;
R.V.
authorities
16; 18; AV. 18, 1-46. At the end of a funeralceremony

prescribethe so-calledSantikarmaor pacificatoryrites for the wellbeingof the living . The formulasutteredduringit have regardto life
1 G. van der Leeuw, Wegen en Grenzen 2, Amsterdam 1948, p. 155

if.

London 1938,
See, e.g., van der Leeuw, Religion in essenceand manifestation,

p. 422 ff.
3

R. B. Pandey, Hindu Sarmsk'ras.A socio-religiousstudyof theHindu sacra-

ments, Benares 1949.

4 Women are not allowed to hear the Veda.


5 For a complete descriptionof the Vedic funeralrites and the mantras used
in performingthem see W. Caland, Die altindischen Toten- und BestattungsA hnenkult,
AmsterdamAcademy 1896; thesame,A Itindischer
Leiden 1893.
gebrduche,
6 I referto Die
ReligionenIndiens, I, Veda und iltererHinduismus, Stuttgart
I96O, 133.

Oriens i6

17

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J. Gonda

258

measuresbeingtaken to ward offevil


and avertingof death,effective
and to returnto theordinary
wayoflife.The relativesby bloodassemble,
a fireis kindledand thosepresentare requestedto sit downon thehide
the following
of a bullockof a red colour,whilepronouncing
mantras:
a
as
wish
to
live
to
"ascend on this life-giving
skin, you
decrepitold
age ... Go, 0 Death, the otherway etc." In moderntimesthe women
are no longerrequiredin the riteand the hideis no longerutilized,but
the mantrasare stillpronounced;meanwhilethosepresenttoucha red
bull. On the departureof the last man the priestshouldplace a circle
of stonesbehindhim to preventdeath fromfollowingthose who are
mantraswhichare an
home. He does so whilepronouncing
returning
of his intentions:
exact descriptionof the ritualact and a formulation
"I place these stones for the living .. ., may we live a hundred years,

drivingdeath away fromthisheap".


Accordingto the dharmatextsit is part of the daily observancesof
an asceticto mutter,on a varietyof occasions,mantras.For instance,
beforepartakingof beggedfoodhe shouldplace it on the groundand
announce it with

I, 50, I and I, 115, I (cf. Baudh. DhS. 2, 10, 18,

R.V.
which are, in the ritual,frequently
prescribedto
4-15), two stanzas
he
should
and
after
announce
it to
oblations;
bathing
accompanygifts

Brahman with TA. io, I, io, etc. 1. The firststanza, which is of very

and manifoldapplication2, formspart of the Sfirya


frequentoccurrence
I,
50, I-Io; it runsas follows:"Therehis raysliftup
hymn,
(Sun)
R.V. (Fireand Light),thatthewholeuniversewillsee the
the god J~tavedas
sun". RV. I, 115, I is likewisededicatedto the Sun: "The face of the
the eye of Mitra,Varuna,Agni; it has filled
gods has arisenbrightly,
heaven,earthand atmosphere;Siiryais the 'soul' ofthemovingcreation
and of the stationary".
That the mantrasbelongto those 'entities'whichwerealreadyat an
or representatives
of the One or
early date consideredmanifestations
and the
of the Lord may appear also fromMaitriUp. 6, 16 "the offerer
the
the
oblation,
sacrifice),
enjoyer (of
-the Mantra,worship,Visnu,
whatsoever
is
the
lord,the witnesswho shinesin
Prajdpati,everyone
The
sacramental
powerof mantrasis no doubt
yonderorb (the sun)".
to in the ChdndogyaUp. 7, 4, 2: as the mantrasare dependent
referred
ofritualacts dependson mantras.
so theperformance
on livingcreatures,
As alreadystated,mantrasare to accompany,to sanctifyand 'ratify'
the ritual acts, permeatingthemwith the transcendent
powerof the
1

H. D. Sharma, Contributionsto the historyof brahmanicalasceticism,Poona

1939, P. 40 f.
2

Harvard 19o6, p. 369.


See M. Bloomfield,A Vedic concordance,

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TheIndianMantra

259

divine Word1. This consecratoryfunctionmanifestsitselfin a large


numberofcases in whichmodernmenwouldnot expectit. By pronouncingthe propermantrathe sexual act is forinstanceraisedto the rank
and wieldingthatparticularpart of the universal
of a riteresuscitating
creativeforcewhichis active in the creationof new
and omnipresent
humanlife: Brhaddr.Up. 6, 4, 21. "Then he spreadsher thighsapart,
with
apart,Heaven and Earth" (identification
saying:"Spread yourself
the cosmicand mythicprototype).Afterhavinginsertedhis memberin
herand joinedmouthwithmouth,he strokesherthreetimesas thehair
lies,saying:"Let Visnumakethewombprepared.Let Tvastar (thegod
of the gods etc.) shape the (various)forms!
who makesthe implements
Let Prajdpati (the deitypresidingover creation)pour in etc.", these
an
versesand somewhichare to followbeingmantrasand constituting
Two
in
stanzas
occur
also
almostliteralquotationof
Io, 184.
R.gveda
a
of
is
to
as
text
which
theAtharvaveda(5, 25, 3 and
5) parts
accompany
a riteforsuccessful
conceptionand in theGrhyasfitra
(a ritualhandbook
of Hiranyakesin
fordomesticritesand ceremonies)
containingdirections
(I,

25, I) among the rules and formulas of the "impregnation-rite"2.

textson dharmasuchas Y jfiiavalkya


The authoritative
I, 99 prescribe
of the Gdyatri3 and otherVedic mantras,as the
japa, i.e., muttering
principalpartof themorningand eveningadoration4. By recitingthese
versesa man becomespure (VisisthaDhS. 28, 10-25).It is even taught
by
(VisnuDhS. 55, 21) that a brahmanattainsthe highestperfection
japa alone. The japa should(ibid.64, 36-39)compriseverysacredtexts,
the Gdyatri(RV. 3, 62, io) and the Purusasiikta(io, 90o),
particularly
as thereis nothingsuperiorto these.A Hinduistictext (Vrddhahdrita
6,
a
for
the
number
of
times
mantra
down
rules
33; 45; 613; 213) lays
shouldbe repeated(the 'special' numbersio8 or ioo8 are obligatory).
5.
Japa withoutcountingthe numberis fruitless
From the numberof thoseVedic mantraswhichremainedin use for
over twentycenturiesI mentionthe formulaagne vratapatevratam
carisydmi"0 Agni(thegod offire),lordofvows! I willobservemyvow
(; may I accomplishit; may it be successfulforme)" which,occurring,
of the WhiteYajurveda (I, 5) was to be
e.g., in the Vdjasaneyisamhitd
1 Cf., e.g., also W. Eidlitz, Der Glaube und die heiligenSchriftenderInder,Olten
1957, p. 92 ff.
2 See also P. V. Kane,
History of Dharmas'stra, II, i, Poona 1941, p. 201 ff.
3 See furtheron.
4 Kane, History,II, I, p. 313; 685 ff.
5 The countingcould be done by means of a rosary: see W. Kirfel,Der Rosenkranz, Walldorf-Hessen1949. The term japamdled"Gebetskranz" occurs only in
comparativelyrecentmanuscripts.

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260

J. Gonda

who togetherwithhis wifewas about to take the


spokenby a sacrificer
of religiouscereprescribedvow of abstinenceduringthe performance
monies(see, e.g., 8atapathabrahmanaI, I, I, 2). The samemantrawas
in the second half of the XVIth centuryA.D. still prescribedby the
authorof the Prdya'cittaprakta1 in cases when somebodywishedto
undertakea vow or penance.
The recitationof mantrasmay also serveas a substitutefordefinite
religiousduties.Thus, if one is ill or otherwiseunable to undergothe
regulardailybath or ablutionone may resortto the mantrasndna(lit.
which consistsin sprinklingwater with the
"the mantra-bathing")
stanzas RIV.10, 9, 1-3 "ye watersare indeedrefreshing;
procurevigour
forus thatwe may see greatdelight;make us participatein yourmost
auspicious juice ... you quicken us and make us live (anew)".

of mantrasin Indian religionscan indeedhardlybe


The significance
over-estimated
2. They are one of thoseelementsof the Indian culture
whichexistedalreadybeforethe dawn ofhistoryand survive,untilthe
and applications.Thereeven is a
presentday, in a varietyof functions
Hindusayingthatthewholeworldis subjectto thegods,thegodsto the
the brahmansare
mantras,the mantrasto the brahman,and therefore
if we remember
our gods3. This beliefbecomesmore understandable
a
of
first,that the brahmansare manifestation the fundamental
powerconceptBrahmanand, in the secondplace, that a mantrapossessesthe
same kind of creativeforcewhichwas presentat the creationof the
universe.
WhereasthethreeAryanor twice-born
classesare entitledto formulas
fromthe Vedas, forthe conglomeration
of the lowerclasses,collectively
knownas SMidras,
textsfromyoungerworks,e.g.,thepurdnas,are used.
Because the Veda was forbiddento womenas strictlyas to sildrasa
resultwas that, with the exceptionof the marriageceremony,every
domesticsacramentwas performed
withoutmantrasin the case of girls
(A'valdyana-grhyastitraI, 15, Io; Manu 2, 66). These circumstances

have no doubt contributedmuch to the increasinguse of non-Vedic


of old Vedic stanzas and formulasby somantrasand the replacement
called Hinduistformulaswhichmay be consideredto be at least in part
of younger,and in part of olderextra-Vedicorigin.
In Hinduistictexts4 it is taughtthat whereasformerly
the Vedic
1 See Kane, History,IV, p. 124.
Calcutta
See, e.g., also Sh. Bh. Dasgupta, Aspectsof Indian religiousthought,
1957, p. 22 ff.; E. Thurston,Omens and superstitionsof SouthernIndia, London
2

1912, passim.

3 L. S. S. O'Malley, Popular Hinduism,Cambridge1935, P. 190.


hindou, 1960, p. 501 ff.;Arthur
4 See, e.g., also A. Daniblou, Le polythdisme

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The IndianMantra

261

of theGayatri
methodof worshipcomprisinginteralia the muttering
it is in thepresentKali age notpossibleto worshipaccording
couldsuffice,
to that method.Of course,the twice-born
who wilfullyor negligently
omits to recite this fundamentalmantra makes himselfso to say lower

than a foreigner,
unworthyof takingthe name of God, because that
whichmakesa brahmanby its presenceand a foreigner
by its absence
and
universalmantrapower,and the Gdyatriis a
is the greateternal
mass of radiantmantraenergy(tejas).One should,nevertheless,
adopt,

in the present age, other mantras which are to stimulate one's faculties

with divine radiantenergy.The superiority


of the powerinherentin
in
mantrasis, Hinduism,illustratedby manymythicaland legendary
tales. WhenforinstanceVisnuhad to fightthe twodemonsMadhuand
Kaitabha who had stolenthe Vedas and thus createdgreatconfusion,
as long as he reliedon his physicalenergies;when,
he was unsuccessful
he
had
resorted
to his "mantraenergy"he ultimately
however,
destroyed
them(Jaydkhya-samrhitd).
In orderto illustratethe efficacy' attributedto mantrasin postVedic timessome quotationsfromvarioustextsmay be subjoinedhere.
"That demonwillnotbe able to destroymyson,forhe is a hero,thorough-

ly versed in mantras and energetic" (Mbh. I, 161, 14). When no particular

fortheremovalofsinsVedicmantrasare powerful
hymnsare prescribed
and become purifiersif accompaniedby tapas ('asceticism')and the
versesfromthe Sdmavedamay, fromten times as the minimum,be
I, 5, 2). Not
repeatedforthe same purpose (Sdmavidhina-brdhmana
onlyin the textsbelongingto the Atharvaveda,but also in such 'handbooks' as the Rigvidhdna
2, so much importancewas attachedto the
wordsof the Veda that numeroushymnsof the IRgvedaare prescribed
for the removalof sins, diseases,misfortune,
the conquestof enemies
etc. etc. "What is the use of many mantrasand the performance
of
Avalon (Sir JohnWoodroffe),Principles of Tantra 2, Madras 1952, ch. IV and ch.
XI;

the same, Shakti and Shhkta 3, Madras 1929, ch. XXIV;

B. Bhattacharyya,

An introduction
toBuddhistesoterism,
Oxford1932, p. 55 ff.;C. G. Diehl, Instrument
and purpose, studieson ritesand ritualsin SouthIndia, Lund 1956, passim; S. Bh.
Calcutta 1957, p. 22 ff.;W. Y. EvansDasgupta, AspectsofIndian religiousthought,
Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and secretdoctrines
2, Oxford 1958, passim.
1 Sometimes a simile or comparison may help us in formingan idea of the
process supposed to take place when a mantra produces the effectdesired. In the
?risamputikd (quoted by S. Bh. Dasgupta, Obscurereligiouscults as background
Calcutta 1946, p.
the actual presentationof the desired
of Bengali literature,
119)
object throughthe 'power of attraction' stimulatedby the rightuse of a mantra
is compared to the productionof juice fromsugarcanes throughpressure,to that
of light fromwood throughfriction,to that of cream produced in milk etc.
2
See my English translationof the RIgvidhAna,Utrecht 1951.

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J. Gonda

262

religiousobservances(vratas)",the author of the VisnuiteNrsimhapurina exclaims(63, 6), "when the mantraOm namo Nardyandyais
capable of securingall desiredobjects?" Accordingto tradition,the rsi
Durvdsahad givento Kunti,themotheroftheepicheroes,thePdindavas,
whohad shownrespectful
devotionto him,a mantraby meansofwhich
shemighthave a childby anygod shepleasedto invoke.She calledupon
the Sun-godand became by him and withoutany detrimentto her
the motherof the hero Karna (MahibhSrataI, III).
virginity
mantrasa templeor the image of
Withoutthe special consecratory
a god remainsa merebuildingor a 'profane'image,not an objectfilled
withthedivineessence,worthyofworship,capableofhelpingthedevout
are
in theirattemptsto reach theirhighergoals. Thus Rudra-mantras
in
to be mutteredin establishingan image of Rudra, Visnu-mantras
an imageof Visnu.Brahmd-mantras
are to be pronounced
consecrating
the image of Brahms etc. (MatsyaPur. 266, 39). The
in consecrating
formulasto be pronouncedrunforinstanceas follows:"I establishthe
Sun-godwho holds a lotus in the hand and who has long arms". The
mantrasare identicalwiththe god; forinstance,the fivemantrasused
in establishinga five-faced
image of 8iva are equivalentto these five
faces whichrepresentthe god's jThna,Tatpurusa,Aghora,Vdmadeva
and SadyojSta aspects.A fewreferences
may sufficeto give an idea of
withtheerectionofa temple1.
ofmantrasin connection
theimportance
Amongthe substancesto be used in buildinga sanctuaryare bricks,
which,beingmade of earth,sharein the natureof earth.Throughthe
firein whichtheyare baked the sacrificialessenceremainsburntinto
the brick,in its substance,whichis earth.They are settledwith the
settling(sddanam)mantra which makes them lie steady and firmly
a layer,sit steady
established(VdjasaneyiSamhitd12, 53 "thouformest
withthat deityas thouwast wontto do with(themythicalfire-priest)
Afigiras .. ."). When the bricks are laid other 'rhythmic formulas'

(mantras)are recitedto ensurethattheylie steadyand firm.At another


momentformulasare pronouncedto ensurethat the bricksand the
will functionwell,that the buildingwillbe
otherpartsof the structure
Beforeconstructing
the house of God and his concretemanifestation.
a 'fireplace'forthe Vedic sacrificialfirethe expert"goes throughthe
wholeprescribed
processof construction
imaginingall the whilethathe
in
brick
its
is placingevery
properplace withthemantrathatbelongsto
it"

1 S.

Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, University of Calcutta 1946, p. 104; 136;

140 etc.
2

Cf. Baudhayana Sulva Sitra 2, 62 ff.

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The IndianMantra

263

The ceremonyof bringingthe goddess Kali into an image,i.e., of


the merestatue of carved stone into a sacred object by
transforming
inducingthe divinityto live in it, is-to mentionanotherinstancedescribedas follows(Mahinirv~natantra
6, 70 ff.):"Havingthusinvoked
thegoddessintothe 'figure'one shouldinstallhervitalbreathintoit by
meansofthe 'Foundation'(Pratistha)mantra:Having firstrecited(the
and svdhd,one shouldexclaim: 'let the
mantras)aum,
hr.m,
be kri.m,
here'?ri.m
etc. Next one shouldrecitethe fivemantras
life of this deity
and pronounce(the formula):'may jiva (the individualsoul) of the
goddessbe in thisimageand may the imagehave all the sensesof the
goddess'. Againrecitingthefivemantrasone shouldsay: 'speech,mind,
one should recite
sight,smell,hearing,touch be unto it'. Afterwards
twice the mantra'may the prdna (vital breaths)of the goddesscome
here and live happily for ever, svdhd'.Afterwelcomingthe goddess
("hast thou had a good journey?") ..., one should recite the principal

herimageand sprinkleit thricewithsacred


(mfla)mantraforpurifying

water. Then ...

one should worship her". It should in this connection

be rememberedthat the aspect of divinityis twofold,one, 'coarse',


by the image,the other,'subtle',by the mantra.being represented
Objects of minorcults,forinstancevotive stonesknownas ndgakals,
which are set up by women desiringchildrenin honour of snakedivinities,are likewiseconsecratedwith a special ritual and sacred
formulae,i.e., mantras.
Bathingwhen done with the propermantraswashes away all sins.
When forinstancebathingin the sacred pool belongingto the temple
ofSiva in Benareswhichaccordingto the tradition(BrahmapurBna
56,
the devoteehas to dip his head three
72 f.) was built by Mdrkarndeya
times,to uttera mantra"Save me who am immersedin the sea of
mundaneexistence,swallowedby evil, senseless,0 thou who art the
of the eyes of Bhaga, 0 enemyof Tripura,homageto thee!".
destroyer
Afterwards
he mustgo to thetemple,worshipthegod withtheso-called
viz.
mantraofhisreligion,
i.e., theprincipalor fundamental
milamantra,
Om namah Sivdya "Om, adorationto Siva", with the Vedic Aghora
mantra (oimaghorebhyo
'tha ghorebhyo
sarvatah
aghoraghoratarebhyah,
namas te 'stu rudraripebhyah"Om, be thereadoration
sarva sarvebhyo
0 Rudra, and to the terrific
to thyreassuringmanifestations,
ones,to
whichare (at thesame time)reassuring
and terrific,
the (manifestations)
in all respects"1 and a mantra
O Sarva, to all these (manifestations)
1 In this formthe mantra occurs in the Mahanirayana Upan.
Maitr.
2, 9, lo, etc.
Sa.mh.

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282.

See also

J. Gonda

264

belongingto the categorytaughtin the purinas, the large body of


Hinduisticreligious
forinstance:"0 three-eyed
One,adoration
literature,
to thee,O thouwho bearestthe (half-)moon
as an ornament,
save me,
great god, adorationto thee". Such
O thou who art diversely-eyed,
mantrasare farfromrare:"O Lordwhoartinvincible
prayer-like
through
in
the all-conquering
thousandspokes(ofthydiscus),I amtakingrefuge
Thee" (Ahirbudhnya-Samhiti,
37).
In his Arthakistra
Kautilyainstructedthat thereshouldnot be any
sowingwithoutthe appropriatemantras:"Always,whilesowingseeds,
a handfulofseed bathedin waterwitha pieceofgoldshallbe sownfirst
and thefollowing
mantrarecited:'Adorationto god PrajdpatiKasyapa;
must
(the goddess)Sitd (whopresidesover the furrowand agriculture)
always prosper in respect to seeds and wealth' " (2, 24, 41). From other

texts,e.g., Rdjatarafigini
(XIIth cent.),it appearsthat thecropon the
fieldswerewatchedbymdntrikas,
i.e.,guardswhoexercizedtheirfunction
by means of mantras (I, 234).

That evengreatphilosophers
tookan interestin mantrasmay appear
fromRdminuja's (? Iroo) attitudeto them.He is not onlythe author
adoration
ofa specialworkon thedailyritesconnectedwithpurification,
the
and meditation(Nityagrantha)
but is also relatedto have conferred
fivesacramentson his discipleswho desiredto be initiated:a branded
disc and shell (Visnuist'symbols')on the shoulders(tdpa),the markof
the religiouscommunityon the front,a religiousname, the mantras,
and theritualpresentation
to theimageofthegod 1.Oneofhissuccessors,
number
thefamousscholarVedintade'ika(? 1380)wrotea considerable
of theologicalworksin explanationofthe mantraswhich,togetherwith
some othertexts,were consideredto be of fundamentalsignificance.
Amongthe mantrasto be impartedto thosewho are initiatedinto the
?ri-Vaisnava school of thoughtand devotion is also the so-called
caramagloka,
i.e., Bhagavadgit 18, 66 "Abandoningall duties,cometo
Me aloneforprotection;I shallreleasetheefromall evils;be notgrieved".
The great teacher of an ecstatic VisnuistdevotionalismCaitanya
(? 1485-1533)"futprotegeau momentde sa naissancepar deux mantra
dit Visnuraksdet DevirakSi. On croyaitque la recitationde ces deux
mantraempechaitles mauvaisespritsde nuireAl'enfant.On les repetait
en faisanta I'exterieur
le tourde la chambrenatale" 2. OfCaitanya'swife
1

K. Rangachdri, The Sri Vaisnava Brahmanas, in Bull. Madras Govt. Mus.,

N.S., Gen. Sect. II, 2, Madras 1931, p. 35 f. Cf. also H. W. Schomerus, Der QaivaSiddhanta, Leipzig 1912, p. 372 f.
2

Paris
du moyen-dge,
J. Helen Rowlands, La femmebengaliedans la litterature

1930, p. 110.

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TheIndianMantra

265

it is toldthat"elle ne mangeaitque du rizsans sel. Elle s'asseyaitdevant


deux pots d'argile:l'un contenaitdu riz,I'autre6taitvide. Elle rdp6tait
seize foisle mantrade Hari (Visnu)en tenantun grainde riz: puis elle
plagaitle graindans le pot vide. Elle continuaitainsijusqu' Amidi.Elle
ne mangeait jamais que ce qu'elle avait consacr6 de cette fagon ..."

The masterhimselfwho laid down,by his preceptand example,sincere


zeal and devotion,and a passionatelove forKrsna as theonlymeansof
salvation,elevatedthesimplerecitationofGod's namesto the level ofa
highspiritualdisciplineas a sacredmantra.
In Bengal whenevera personsuffersfroman illnesspresentingany
it is attributed
unusualfeatures,
to possession,and theremedyis sought,
butin exorcism."The exorcistorojha is believedto have
notin medicine,
in his powera bhit (evil spirit),and by meansof mantrashe forceshis
ownfamiliarspiritto driveaway theone whichis causingthetrouble"
2.
The controlof such 'evil spirits'is indeedassuredby the use of certain
mantras,whicheveryexorcistlearns,and usuallykeepssecret,unlesshe
imparts-sometimesonly on his death-bed-themto his son or his
successorin office.To give an instance3: "Bind the Evil Eye! Bind the
fist!Bind the spell! Bind theBh?itor the Churel(thespiritof a woman
who has died in child-birth)!
Bind the witch'shandsand feet!Who can
bind her? The teachercan bind her! I, the discipleof the teacher,can
bindher!Go,witch,to thyshrinewherever
it maybe! Sit thereand quit
the afflicted
These
modern
in
exorcists,like theirpredecessors
person!"
the Atharvaveda,ofteninvokedivinebeings,forinstancethe ape-deity
Hanuman and noted 'witches'to assistin the ceremony.
It is needlessto dwellon the existenceof mantraswhichcounteract
the influenceof enemiesor ofless potentmantras,whichcause or avert
death, inspirelove or hatred,preventthievesfromenteringa house,
enablea manto crossriversor to overcomeotherdifficulties
4,to conjure
snakes (Rajatarafigini
win
to
or
women
or to
the
favour
of
5, 102),
girls
findthema husband,etc. The wholeexistenceof an Indian princeor
peasantis, a modernIndian author6 holds,regulatedby mantras,which
have no less than sixteendifferent
functions:theyenable the devotee,
to realize finalemancipation;to worshipthe manifestedformsof the
withthe gods; to
divine; to honourthe minordeities;to communicate
1
Ibidem, p. 209 f. Cf. also R. C. Majumdar, in R. C. Majumdar and A. D.
Pusalker, The Historyand CultureoftheIndian people,VI, Bombay I960, 568.
2 E. A. Gait, Census
Report, Shillong 1892, p. 132.
3 W. Crooke,Religionand folkloreof NorthernIndia, Oxford1926, p. 134. Compare, e.g., also B. Bonnerjea, Ethnologiedu Bengale, Thesis Paris 1927, p. 135.
4 See, e.g., J. Herbert,Spiritualitdhindoue,Paris 1947, passim.
5 B. K. Majumdar, Principlesof Tantra,p. 38.

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266

J. Gonda

acquire supranormalabilities;to feed the gods and the deceased anwiththe dead, withspiritsetc.; to avertevil
cestors;to communicate
to
exorcize
influences;
demons; to cure men of diseases; to prepare
officinal
water; to destroylivingbeings;to counteractthe strengthof
on thoughtsand deedsofotherpeople;to have
to
poison; exertinfluence
controlovermen,animals,spiritsetc.; to purifyone's body.
The sacramentalforceof a mantrais apparentfromits use as an
initiatoryformula,for instanceat the ceremonyof receivinga new
memberin a religiousorder1. Generallyspeakingthe guru (religious
teacheror spiritualmentor),initiatestheadeptintothemysteries
ofthe
to be
sacred words.Masteryover spells (mantravidyd)
came therefore
consideredas a creditablequalification
ofteachersand spiritualguides2.
In assigninga particularmantrato a disciplethe Hinduistgurusare
speakingverypunctilious,
generally
seeingto it thattheydo notmistake
therightdeityand choosingtheone whomaybe in spiritualattunement
withthe neophyte3. The accuracyof the mantras,whichare not rarely
composedin an enigmaticlanguage,was moreoverjealouslyguarded.In
a mantramusthave been handed
orderto 'live' and to be efficacious
downorallyfromtheveryfirst'seer'who 'saw' it in a suprasensualway
and be pronouncedby a personwho believesin it. It is 'the powerof
the mindwhichmakesit efficacious'.
of
The mantrasweregenerallyrecitedor chantedin accompaniment
the rites4. Hinduism,like Vedism,however,regardsas rites a large
numberof acts whichin our modernview wouldbe classifiedas social
or economic,hygienicor utilitarianactions or performances.
For instancewhena personis aboutto pass awayhisrelativesshould,according
to medievalauthorities
6, makehimgive a giftof cows,land, gold etc.
The verbaldeclarationof the donationsis made in the words: "I shall
make giftsforthe attainmentof heaven (forthe removalof all sins)".
At thetimeofmakingthegiftsa numberofnon-Vedicmantrasare to be
recited.
The so-calledprdya'cittas,
i.e., "expiations"or "ritesofatonement",
1 See, e.g., M. Monier-Williams, Hinduism, 1877, ed. Calcutta 1951, p. 70; G. W.
Briggs, Gorakhnath and the Kanpha.ta Yogis, Oxford 1938, p. 28; 32; K. Rangachari, The 9ri Vaisnava brahmans, Madras 1931, p. 22.

See, e.g., P. B. Desai, Jainism in SouthIndia, Sholapur 1957, P. 74.


For the esotericcharacterof mantrassee also S. Dasgupta, A historyof Indian
philosophy,III, Cambridge1940, p. 102; see also B. Bhattacharyya,An introduction
2

to Buddhist esoterism, Oxford 1932, P. 59.


4 The number of Vedic mantras included in the ritual handbooks for the

ofthe domesticrites
performance
to 2500.

5 See Kane, History, IV, p.

comes, forinstance, approximately


(G.rhyasUtras)

182.

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TheIndianMantra

267

to the accompaniment
are likewiseperformed
of appropriatemantras1.
of a
For instance,whenin orderto atone fora crimeor a transgression
rulea specialporridgeshouldbe prepared,a seriesofformulas
was to be
with: "thou art barley,thouart the king
pronouncedoverit, beginning
of corn, thou belongest to Varuna ...

as a dispeller of all evil, trans-

... thou art nectar;purifyme of all


mittedas a meansof purification
I
have
the
evil, of any sin
committed,and so on". Not infrequently
mantra expressesthe speaker's intentionsvery accurately: thus in
to a
sacrificing
by way of expiation,one's own hair as a preliminary
in
fire
words:
death
one
has
the
to
(symbolical)voluntary
pronounce
"I sacrificemy hair to Death; I clotheDeath with my hair". Under
certain circumstancesthe mantrasare to be mutteredthree times,
"becausethegodsare threetimesin accordancewithtruth"(MaitrdyanisamhitdI, 4, 8) 2. Special potentmantrascould,whenaccompaniedby
ascetic behaviour, serve as prdyadcittas
I, 5, 2).
(Sdmavidhdna-brdhman.a
Thus in the religiouspracticeof the Hinduist
period-and, we can be

sure, also in the unwrittentraditionof earliertimes-the conceptof


mantracoversalso all potent(so-called'magical')formsof texts,words,
sounds,letterswhichbringgood luck to those who know or 'possess'
themand evil to theirenemies,spirits,demons,castersof the evil eye
etc. 3. As charmsthese mantrasneed not always be spoken.They are
also whenwritten,wrappedin cloth,inscribedon plates of
efficacious
stone,wood or metal,and carriedabout in amulets4, attachedto walls,
on prayerflags,so commonin Lamaism,
orswallowed.The charmswritten
a
at
produce 'prayer' everyseparateflutterofthecloth.Wheninscribed
on paper,the ink in whichtheyare writtenis sometimesdrunk,or the
mantrasthemselvesare kept in metal cases or inscribedon metal to
serve as talismans.
are
Thus untilthepresentday mantrasbothwrittenand pronounced,
held a verypowerful
evil
diseases,
spirits.
protectionagainstwitchcraft,
Holy names occurringin themare sovereignmeans of preventingthe
evil influences
fromfindingflawsin the material,designor consecration
of these protectiveobjects. Patients are not only rubbed with consecratedoil, or rubbedand beatenwithmagicallypotentobjects; they
are also freedfromthe 'spirits'by a continuousrecitationof mantras,
to whichthe evil powerscannotofferresistance.Formulaswrittenon
1 See W. Gampert, Die Siihnezeremonienin der altindischenRechtsliteratur,

Prague 1939, P. 59; io8; 178; 221 etc.


2 For the 'liturgical'threesee also Heiler, Erscheinungsformen,
p. 165.
3
Jacfar Sharif, Islam in India, Oxford 1921, p. 187; 244; 251; 259.

4 See, e.g., Briggs,Gorakhnathand theKmnpha.taYogis, p. 178.

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268

J. Gonda

evennowadays,hungon thedoor
palm leafare,in Orissaand elsewhere,
in orderto securea house againstthe entryof evil 'spirits'.In timesof
epidemicsvillagesmay be protectedby bamboopoststo whichflagsor
otherpowerful
devicesare attached,furnished
withtdntric
prophylactic
mantras--orin Moslimmilieus,textsfromthe Koran,writtenwithink
or the blood of moles or bats 1. Amongthose communities
wherethe
beliefin mantrasis still widelyspread are the Oraons,or Kurukh,as
tribeof
theyare called in theirown language,a Dravidianagricultural
Chota Nagpur. Pupils spend, every week, a whole nightin learning
mantrasand purificatory
or apotropaeicrites.Sometimesa greatdivine
wonderful:
one of thepupilsseemsto
guruis said to producesomething
learnall the mantrasand incantationsby intuitionor revelation.Even
in moderntimesmany a one believesthat a considerablevarietyof
magicalacts maybe performed,
providedtheadepthas foundtheproper
mantra 2

A mantramay therefore
be describedas a power(Sakti-)in the form
of formulated
and expressedthought."Thereis nothingnecessarily
holy
or prayerfulabout a mantra", Sir John Woodroffe
3 observedwith
regardto the usagesand opinionsprevalentin Tantristcircles."Mantra
is a power (mantrasakti-)
whichlends itselfimpartiallyto any use. A
manmaybe injuredor killedby mantra;by mantraa kindofunionwith
thephysical?akti-is by somesaid to be effected;
by mantrain theinitiaofpowerfromtheguruto thedisciple
tion... thereis sucha transference
thatthelatterswoonsundertheimpulseofit; by mantrathe sacrificial
firemayand,accordingto ideal conditions,
shouldbe lighted;by mantra
man is saved, and so forth".

IV
No unanimityexisted among the ancient Indian authoritieswith
ofmantrasand
ofmantra4. The Veda consisting
regardto thedefinition
brahmanas (see, e.g., Sdyana, 1 gveddbhhsya,bhilmika,p. 3 "), the
formerare--e.g.,in Jaimini'sMimamsddariana2, I, 32 f.--defined
as
"texts indicatingthingsconnectedwiththe performance
of actions",a
view rejectedby Sdyana because of the extremeheterogeneity
of the
1

A. N. Moberly,Amuletsas agentsin theprevention


ofdiseasein Bengal,Memoirs

As. Soc. of Bengal, I (Calcutta 1906), p. 227 ff.


2

P. Dehon, Religion and customsof the Uraons, MemoirsAs. Soc. of Bengal I

(Calcutta 19o6), p. 176 ff.


3

ArthurAvalon (Sir JohnWoodroffe),The serpentpower,Madras 1950, p. 83 f.


A briefsurveyof opinionsis presentedby K. Satchidananda Murty,Revelation
and reasonin Advaita Vedanta,Waltair-NewYork 1959.
r Poona edition.
4

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The IndianMantra

269

mantras.Accordingto othersmantrasthrowlighton the thingsand


thedeitiesoftherituals(Madhusfidana
Sarasvati,Prasthdnabheda,
p. 3).
The Veda, however,"reveals the means of obtainingthetranscendent
goal of man" (Sayana, ibid.,p. 22), or "makesknownthe transcendent
means of obtainingthe desirableand avoidingthe undesirable"(the
same, on the Taitt. Sarmh.,Upodghata,p. 2); it is the only sourceof
knowledgeof dharmaand brahman(IRVbh.,bhilm.,p. 24).
Now, accordingto the traditionaltheoryof the Indians the Veda is
eternaltruth:"the sacredmetricaltextsoftheVeda are not made,they
Thisinfallible,
are eternal"(na hi chanddmsi
kriyante,
chanddmsi).
nitydni
and omniscient
all-embracing
corpus-"that whichis in it is elsewhere,
whichis not in it is nowhere"(Mbh.I, 62, 33 P. yad ihdstitad anyatra,
consideredto have emanated
yan nehdstina tatkvacit)-is traditionally
and omnipresentPrinciple,
the
eternal
fromBrahman,
fundamental,
thatis to say, to be Brahmanin the specialformofWord1. It hasbeen
and 'exhaled' by deitieswho are, in this connection,given
formulated
the somewhatdeceptivetitle of "maker of the Veda" (vedakartd)-a
termwhichforinstancewhen attributed,in Mahdbhhrata3, 3, 19, to
the Sun (Sfirya),is coupledwithveddisgah
"auxiliarypart of the Veda
the
whole
and
its
and employserving properunderstanding
preserving
the
Veda".
That
is
to
and
vedavdhanah
"bringing
say, God (e.g.,
ment)
in the later epic, Visnu) emitsthe Veda as he does all else at the beginningof everynew aeon, and particulardivinities,especiallythose
connectedwithlight(e.g.,Agni,thegod offireandlight)transmit
them,
the
of
to
those
exalted
supranormal
way inspiration
hymnby hymn,by
mencalled rsi,the receiversof the eternaltruth,who beinggiftedwith
the powerof vision (dhih)'see' the wordsof the Veda, and transform
them,in theirheart and mind,into sacred texts,into the rhythmical
sacred speech,whichcomingfromthe Unseen enables the man who
knowshow to use and to recitethemto wieldextraordinary
influence,
to comeforhis benefitintocontactwiththe Unseen.Althoughthe term
is occasionallygiven to
"makersof mantras"(mantrakrt,
mantrakartd)
theseinspiredpoets (kavih),this termshouldnot createthe misunderIt is, according
standingthatthemantrasare productsofhumaneffort.
of the Mahibh~rata (12, 328, 50) the Self-existent,
to the formulation
i.e., Brahman,whocreatedthe Veda in ordertopraise(i.e.,to strengthen
iha devdndm
veddh
by meansof powerfuleulogies)the gods (stutyartham
s.rstdh
svayambhuvd).
1
See, e.g., Renou, in etudes v6diques et pAnin6ennes6, Paris 1960, p. I ff.;
A. Holtzmann,in ZDMG 38, p. 188; E. W. Hopkins, The greatepic of India, New
York 1902, p. 3 f.; J. Gonda, The vision of the Vedicpoets,'s-Gravenhage1963.

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J. Gonda

270

The Vedic versesbeingused as liturgicaland sacramentaltexts and


of opinionarose withregardto the
formulasforsacrifices,differences
relationofwordsin a sentenceor theirrelativeimportance
withreference
to the generaltenorof the utterance.Anotherpointof disputewas, for
instance,the use to whicha definitetextmightbe appliedas a mantra,
because manyVedic versesand stanzaswereused in connectionwitha
considerablevarietyof ritualacts 1 and the relationsbetweentext and
action oftenwere far fromevident.It was the so-calledphilosophic
2 whichfoundeda
school of the Pi~rvamim~msi
systematizedcode of
to
mantras
which
the
Vedic
could
be interpreted
for
according
principles
and establish
ritualpurposes.One ofits otherobjectswas to demonstrate
the nature of the mantrasthemselvesand to prepareby means of
speculationswithregardto word,soul, perception,the validityof the
Veda, etc., a rationalgroundfor its doctrineof mantrasand their
practicalutility.
The largemetricalpartsof the Vedic literatureconsistingof mantras
werealso made a
it is smallwonderthat theirnatureand composition
those
who
of
themselves
philosophers
applied
subject
especiallyto
was
It
that
the
fixed
combination
of words
taught
linguisticproblems.
markedby a definiteand rigid syntacticalorderdid not allow any
alterationwhatsoever(Nirukta,I, 15) 3: a doctrinewhichis in conwiththe 'orthodox'view that the mantrasare eternal.The use
formity
4. The mainof synonymswas-to mentiononly this-not permitted
tenance of this principlewas howeveralso necessaryto preventthe
Vedic versesi.e., the mantras,frombeing affectedby distortions
and
a
a
To
mantra
was
sin.
The
Vedic
mantras
corruptions. repeat
incorrectly
in commonwithcomparablereligious,
have theirreputedunchangeability
sacramental
formulas
or
authoritative
textsof othermoreor
juridical,
Thereis no denyingthat the fixedform
less traditionalcommunities.
servesto differentiate
themalso fromthe bhdsad,
the currentor spoken
all
as
human
and
which,
language,
things
sublunary,is changeable.It
and
that
believed
these
vestedwitha capacity
was,
is, strongly
formulas,
if properlypronouncedwith strictly
beyond human understanding,
1 A recentstudy is P. K. Narayana Pillai,
Non-Rgvedicmantrasin themarriage
ceremonies,Trivandrum 1958.
2
London 1921.
See, e.g., A. B. Keith, The Karma-Mimadmsa,
3
Cf.,e.g., PrabhatchandraChakravarti,The linguisticspeculationsoftheHindus,

Calcutta 1933, P. 103.

4 However, in practice the mantras have generallyspeaking proved to be far


frominvariable; of the text-unitswhichin many cases are used by morethan one
Vedic 'school' it is estimated that about io.ooo show variations (M. Bloomfield

and F. Edgerton, Vedic variants, I, Philadelphia 1930, p.


i1).

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The IndianMantra

271

and movementofhands,have the


accent,intonations,
enjoinedrhythm,
of
the
result
forinstanceof influencing
the
desired,
capacity achieving
and
of
the
deities
invoked
of
active, working
higherpowers,
making
themone must,however,
miracles.Whilepronouncing
concentrate
one's
thoughtfirmlyon the god whose poweris containedin the formula.
"That is called mantraby the [evocative]meditation(manana-)upon
which the soul in the livingbeing (jiva-) acquires freedomfromsin,
ofheaven,and liberations,
and by theaid ofwhichhe acquires
enjoyment
endeavour(i.e., religious
the fruitof his fourfold
subsistence
obligations,
etc.)" 1.

The psychicalattitudein whichmantrasare to be recitedis farfrom


The disciplesof the famouspreacherof the Krsnabeing indifferent.
Rddhd faithCaitanya (1485-1533) 2 for instance formulated elaborate
ruleswithregardto themoodin whichKrsna'snameand themantrasof
theircommunity
shouldbe recitedand meditatedupon3. It is,in general,
deemednecessarythatin studyingand recitingmantrasa largenumber
of veryintricatedirectionsare observed.The mindof the adept should
be completelycalm and purified,the recitationmust not take place
beforea definitestateofmentalconcentration
has beenreached;no sign
offatiguemaybe perceptible.
a worshipper
the
more
advances
Moreover,
in hisjapa themoredoeshe partakeofthenatureofthedeityhe worships
and thesoonerwillhe effecthis salvation.In thepracticeofpraisingthe
an instrument
of power.The
gods the numberof mantrasis therefore
effectis assuredonlyifthenumberis complete.Hence theunmistakable
for'homage'consistingof a largenumber("thousand")of
predilection
names. It is forinstancetaughtthat praisingVisnu with a thousand
names removessins and gives good thingsforthis lifeand the lifeto
come4. A mantrawhichunderordinarycircumstances
is to be read io8
to be overcome.
times,mustbe recitedioo8 timesifthereare difficulties
thenameofthegod Subramanyan
Reportsspeakofbrahmansmuttering
5 x 100 x loo8 timeswhile showeringflowersover his image5.
It should,however,be added that therewerealso milieusinwhichthe
greatestefficacywas attached to meditationin which there is no
1 Gdyatri Tantra, quoted by A. Avalon, Principles of Tantra 2, Madras 1952,
p. 263. See also the same (Sir John Woodroffe),Introductionto Tantra Shastra2,

Madras 1952, p. 81 ff.

See, e.g., D. Ch. Sen, Chaitanya and his companions,Calcutta 1917.


W. Eidlitz, Die indischeGottesliebe,
Olten 1955, 179.
p.
4 Ramanujacariyan, Sri-Visnu-Sahasra-Ndma-Stotra,
Preface. Hence the existence and popularity of treatises such as Sivasahasrandma-stotra"Praise of the
2

thousand (loo8)

names of ?iva"

(e.g., Mahabhdrata 13, 17). Cf. also S. Siauve,

Les noms vddiquesde Visnu, Pondich6ry1959.


5 Diehl, o.c., p. 332.

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J. Gonda

272

at all, and thatalso amongthosewhoconsideredthepersonal


muttering
intimatedevotioncalled bhaktithe bestreligiousattitudemantraswere
not always considereda necessity
1.
As impliedin the above part of this articlethe functionof mantras
does not end in conveyingan ordinarysense2. It is even generally
admittedthat they exert extraordinary
power with which they are
vested not so much throughexpressingthat sense3 as throughtheir
'sound-vibrations'4. They oftenhave no ordinarymeaningat all 5. Or
theyhave, in additionto a 'grosssense',a 'subtlesense' whichmay be
explained in different
ways, namely fromthe different
standpoints
of variousreligioussystems.For instance,theVedic syllableOm means,
51 ff.O(ta) m(ita),i.e., "(Everyaccordingto theAhirbudhnya-Samhitd,
limited
is
threaded
thing)
(mitam)
(otam) (on Him)" (gross sense), or
and
Siva
etc.
Brahman,Visnu
(subtlesense). Accordingto the belief
rationalizedand systematizedby the philosophersof the
Mimdms.a wordis eternaland
a soundschool,thesoundproducedin pronouncing
of
an
eternal
The
mantras
exist
Vedic
6.
representative
principle
eternally,
1

Cf. Bhaktivijaya 15, 175 (J. E. Abbott and Pandit Narhar R. Godbole) I,

Poona 1933, P. 257.

2 In this connectionpassing mentionmust be made of the remarkabledoctrine,


attributedto an ancient authority,Kautsa, but also foundin the Mimimsasiitras

(I, 2, 32): the mantras do not convey a meaning at all because the words as well

as the orderin whichtheyoccurare traditionallyfixedor determined.This doctrine


must however not be misunderstood."La d6terminationde la parole est d'une
importancecapitale dans les mantra et l'emporte sur leur sens litt6ral,en tant
grammaticaleet lexicale
qu'elle fixe leur formeet rend impossiblela transf6rence
par des modificationsde positionet des substitutionsde mots suivant le sens qu'on
voudrait exprimer.C'est d'ailleurs uniquementen raison de sa formed6termin6e
a l'histoire
que le mantra poss6de une valeur rituelle" (D. S. Ruegg, Contributions
de la philosophie linguistique indienne, Paris 1959, P. 27).

3 As appears fromthe mantras


quoted in thisarticletheyoftenexpressa perfectly
clear exotericalsense (not rarelyhomage or praise), but fromthe esotericalpoint
of view this sense is not necessarilyconnectedwith the true value, thoughit may
have a mnemonicvalue.
4 It is not even always considerednecessarythat a brahman should understand
the meaning of the formulahe utters,and for those who hear them the exact
meaning,couched in wordsof a dead language,is almost always incomprehensible.
According to some authorities (see P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasdstra,IV,
Poona 1953, P. 51) it is necessaryto understandthe meaningof Vedic ritesin the
great Vedic ?rauta-rites,but not in the smirta-rites,i.e., those of the traditional
Hinduistic orthodoxywho did no longerperformthe ?rauta-rites(Die Religionen
Indiens, I, p. 217).

5 That is why experts were particularlyfastidious with regard to the right


pronunciationof mantras. See, e.g., also F. O. Schrader,IntroductiontothePdicaratra, Adyar 1916, p. 141; 143.

6
See, e.g., P. Ch. Chakravarti, The philosophyof Sanskritgrammar,Calcutta
193o, esp. p. 87 ff.; Sudhendu Kumar Das, Sakti or divinepower,Calcutta 1934;
S. Bh. Dasgupta, Aspects of Indian religious thought,Calcutta 1957, P. 22 if.;

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The Indian Mantra

273

principleswhich are co-existentwith the very cosmic


representing
processand theyare even to survivethat process.They are aspectsof
the eternaltruthrevealedto worthymenin the formof sound1. These
ideas came to be linguisticallyand philosophicallyfoundedon the
bearerof
the imperishable,
eternal,and self-existent
theoryof spho.ta,
the wordsensewhichis not createdor constituted
by the soundsof an
enunciation,but beinginherentin themexistsover and above them,
producingthe knowledgeof the meaning.Sphota whichbearsa permais so to say theessenceofthesounds
nentrelationto thethingssignified
used in languagewhichproducesthe cognitionof things.We cannot
enterintoa detaileddiscussionofthisremarkable
theorywhichforeshadand must
discoveriesofmodernlinguistics
owedone ofthe mostfruitful
to its importin connection
limitourselvesto somecasual references
with
the beliefin mantras,whichis in religiouspracticecloselyassociated
with 'mystical',psychologicaland mythological
conceptsand lines of
thought.
The doctrineofmantrasis therefore
closelyconnectedwiththetheory
of the eternal Word2 whichis the subtle link betweenconceptand
is
utteranceand whichintheHinduistakta systemofsoteriologic
thought
identified
withGod'sSaktiorcreativepower-ina personalformrepresented as His spouse,-a categoryintermediate
betweenGod,whois pureconThe Eternalbrahmanexists
sciousness,and Matter,whichis unconscious.
in its formas thesound-brahman
i.e.,qualifiedorsaguna(?abda-brahman,
all
substance
of
which
is
the
mantras,in the embodiedsouls
brahman),
It
is
from
gabda-brahman
this
that the whole universe
(jfivdtman).
Umesha Misra,Physical theoryofsound and its originin Indian thought,
Allahabad
Universitystudies, II, 1926; J. N. Farquhar, An outlineof thereligiousliterature
of India, Oxford 1920, p. 201.

1 Hence also the doctrinethat in the higheststage in which speech is believed


to exist (i.e., the non-manifested,transcendentstage which, being devoid of all
succession in time, exists only in pure consciousnessor in spiritual contact with
the basis and essence of our being), speech is also called mdntrivek "mantric
speech". For a better understandingit may be recalled to mind that according
to the Indian philosophersof grammarthe sound of a word is only the outward
manifestationof that word (vaikhariform);it presupposesa subtle form(madhyama), in whichthe wordsare not articulatedas aerial vibrations,but are articulated
as mental processes. This state presupposes the still subtler form (pasyanti), in
which the word and the concept forwhich it stands lie inseparable as a potency
like the seed of a tree beforesprouting.Behind this potential state is the state
called pard, i.e., the above-mentionedhigheststate.
2 The high importanceof human speech was early understood and made the
object of speculative thought; see, e.g., Chdnd. Up. 7, I and 2 and, in generalB.
Essers, Vdc, Thesis Groningen1952. See also N. Macnicol, The livingtraditionsof
theIndian people,London 1934, p. 70. On alphabet and power see also G. van der
London 1938, p. 435.
Leeuw, Religionin essenceand manifestation,

Oriens 16

18

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274

J. Gonda

proceedsin theformofsound(sabda)and theobjects(artha)denotedby


soundor words."This is themeaningof thestatementthatthegoddess
(devf)(i.e., the sakti)and the universeare composedofthesignsforthe
soundswhichdenoteall that is" 1. If this ?aktigenesisof the mantras
is lost sightof, the Thntricschoolsof thoughthold2, theywill be as
futileas the autumnalclouds whichgive forththundersbut seldom
pour down rain. The philosopherKsemardja(XIth cent.) even argued
betweena mantra-which
that theredoes not exist any real difference
ofthedevotee-and the SupremePrincipleofDivine
is themind-energy
instinctwiththe power
energy3. Everysoundof a languageis therefore
ofGod's?akti, and mantrasframedfromthemare omnipotent
formulas,
4. Every
of
initiate
at
the
the
with
unconceivable
service
power,
replete
mantrabeinga divinecreationor emanationthe wholebodyof themis
identicalwith the ?akti 5.
For instance,the so-called
i.e., the 'mystic'syllableOsmpran.ava,
a
'numinous
sound'
whichis still utteredwiththe
primeval
originally
utmostreverence-isthroughout
manycenturiesregardedas a positive
emblemof the Supreme.It is said to have flashedforthin the heartof
Brahmd,whilehe was absorbedin deep meditation.It unfoldeditself
in theformof the Gdyatri,which,in its turn,becamethemotherof the
Veda's 6.
theiressence-theyare in
The mantrasrelatingto the gods represent
a sense identifiablewith them,-and the gods have, accordingto the
teacherswhoseviewsare reproducedin thisparagraph,no powerother
than that of the mantras,each of thembeingrepresented
by a special
mantra,in whichthe deityhas revealedone of its particularaspects.
One may also say that-as alreadyobservedin a formerpart of this
article-thepowerofa divinebeingresidesin its nameor formulawhich
is a means of establishingconnectionsbetweenthe divinity
therefore
Sir JohnWoodroffe,Shakti and Shakta 3, Madras 1929, p. 453.
For particularssee S. K. Das, p. 176.
3 It is my intentionto devote a separate article to this point.
4 Accordingto the traditionthe patriarchManu was the firstto perceive the
mental formulaswhich are the subtile formsor 'body' of thingsand ideas and to
explain themto men,creatingby doingso the firsthuman language,the primordial
speech of mankind,the mostauthenticderivativeofwhichis Sanskrit,the language
of the sacred formulas.
6 See, e.g., also E. A. Payne, The ?dktas,Oxford1933, p. 18 f.
6 Accordingto the authors of the brdhmanas the Vedas with all the mantras
are the thousand-foldprogenyof Vdk (Speech), who is also identifiedwith each
1

of the Vedic metres (cf., e.g., TaittS. 5, I, 9, I; PBr. 5, 7, I). Cf. also R V.
0io, 125, 3.

This idea of Vdk bringingforththe mantrasgave rise, in the laterTrika school of


thought (i.e., the Kashmirian?ivaism), to the idea of the MdtrkdSakti (maternal
power) of Pari Vak (the Highest Speech). See also S. K. Das, p. 25 ff.

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The Indian Mantra

275

a means also of conjuringup any divine being.


and its worshippers,
clear
Thusit becomes
thatforinstancethenameKrsnais in theNarasirnhapurinacalleda mantragrantingall bliss1. "The bodyofgod proceeds
fromhis mentalformula,fromhis 'wordseed'" 2. The mantrasare in
thistrendof thoughteternaland indestructible
'prototypes'fromwhich
the phenomenalformscan always be derived.When we use themwe
come into touch withthe verynatureof the idea it represents.They
enable man to transgress
the limitsof his phenomenalexistence3.
The gabda or sound of a mantrais conceivedas a 'spiritual'sound,
producedby the worshipper'smind heard by the heart and understandableonlyby the initiated."Kraftund WirkungeinesMantrasind
abhangigvon dergeistigenHaltung,demWissen,derVerantwortlichkeit
und der seelischenReifedes Individuums"4. Each being,in all statesof
existence,and each inanimateobjectpossessesa bodilyformattunedto
ofvibration.That is to say, thereis associatedwith
a certainfrequency
humanand super-human)
and with
each organiccreature(sub-human,
each phenomenalobject or element,a particularrate of vibration.If
this be known and formulatedas sound in a mantra and if it be used

the objectwithwhich
expertlyit is consideredcapable ofdisintegrating
it is in vibratoryaccord,or of impellingdeitiesto emit theirdivine
To knowthe mantraofany deityis therefore
influence.
to knowhow to
set up psychiccommunication
withthat deity5. A mantrais fromthis
as
pointof view a syllableor seriesof syllables,of the same frequency
the (usuallyinvisible)beingto whichit appertains;by knowingit one is
able to commandthe elementsand phenomenaof the universe.In
to concentrate
one's mindupon the
employingmantrasone is therefore
whichis to result.Realizationof
mysticprocessof the transmutation
1

See P. Hacker, Prahldda, Wiesbaden 1959, p. 159. According to the Visnuist

philosopherVallabha the only God is Krsna-Visnu,the mantrasonly are his name,


and the only work his service.
2 Ydmala-tantra,

quoted by A. Daniblou, Le polythdisme hindou, 196o, p. 502.

In orderto illustratethe importanceattached to mantrasalso by those intellectual leaders who foundedthe great schools of thoughtit may be observed that
Kandda, the firstto give a systematicexposition of the atomistic pluralismand
philosophyof distinctions,the scientificand analyticVaiSesika (see, e.g., S. Radhakrishnan,Indian philosophy, II, London 1923 (51948),p. 176 ff.),explicitlyteaches
that it is Vedic "works", such as holy ablutions, fasting,sacrifice,retiredforest
life, and the mutteringof mantras which lead to the unseen mysteriousvirtue
throughwhich the desired object will be achieved.
4 Lama Anagarika Govinda, Grundlagentibetischer
Mystik, Ziirich-Stuttgart
3

1947, p. 16 f.; 25.


5 For particularssee, e.g., also W. Y. Evans-Wentz,The TibetanBookoftheDead2,
Oxford 1949, 220 ff.; the same, Tibet's great yogi Milarepa 2, Oxford 1951, P. 37,

n.

2.

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J. Gonda

276

ofmantra-caitanya)
is the unionof the consciousa mantra(occurrence
in the form
whichmanifests
ness of the sddhakawiththatconsciousness
of the mantra.It is thisunionwhichmakesthe mantra'work'."Worte
sind Siegel des Geistes,Endpunkte-oder richtigerStationen-unendin
die aus fernster,
licherErlebnisreihen,
unvorstellbarer
Vergangenheit
zu neuen
und ihrerseitsAusgangspunkte
die Gegenwarthineinreichen
ferne
unendlichenReihenwerden, die in eine ebenso unvorstellbar
das am Unh6rbaren
Zukunfttasten. Sie sind das HOirbare,
haftet,das
Gedachte und das Denkbare, das aus dem Undenkbarenwaichst"1.
des individuellen
"Omin seinemdynamischen
Aspektist derDurchbruch
zum fiberindividuellen
Bewusstsein,der Durchbruchzum 'Absoluten',
die Befreiungvom Ichsein,von der Ich-Illusion"2. "Special emphasis
is put upon mantra,an infalliblemeans to liberation.Mantrais concentratedthoughtof greatpower.It is builtupon ?abda (sound),nada
of cosmicenergy.In gross
(resonance),and prdna(breath),synonymous
formndda supportsthe thingsof the universeas theirsoul, in subtle
formit is representedby the AbsoluteGoddess. The subtle formis
realizedin thegrossone. So mantra,breathing,
japa, generatevibrations
ofnddaas souloftheuniverse.... Ndda (vibration)and Riidna
(illumination) are two parallel manifestationsof ?akti ..." 3. Some schools of

yogiswentso faras to assumethatthe 'sounds'producedby theprocess


of breathing('ha' + 'sa'), becomesa mantra,viz. hamsa-which as a
noun meaning"goose" or "swan" is a name forthe 'soul' or spirit,the so-called unmutteredgdyatri(ajapagdyatri).By involvingthis
to its own definitive
mantra the breathingprocess adds effectively
superfluity.
In thoseHinduisticcircleswhichbeingcharacterized
by sacral magic
based on the convictionthat thereis a consistentconnectionand correspondencebetweenthe (psychical)microcosmosand the (physical)
macrocosmosare knownas tantristic,mantrasare creditedwith an
unlimitedpower4. Nothing,not even the final emancipationfrom
mundaneexistence,is consideredimpossibleif one knowshow to recite
a particularmantrain accordancewith the fixedrules5 and how to
realize,by meansofthesemantras,theidentityofoneselfwiththegreat
cosmicpowers,whichare,like our ownsoul-and-body
onlya manifesta1

Lama Anagarika Govinda, Grundlagentibetischer


Mystik,Ziirich 1957, P. 3.

2 Lama

A. Govinda, o.c., p. 140.

3 Briggs,Goraknathand the Kanpha.ta Yogis, p.

282.

L'enseignement de Ramakrishna 9, Paris 1949, p. 191.

Cf., e.g., also J. Herbert,

* The reader may, in general,be referredto the many books by ArthurAvalon


(Sir John Woodroffe),which should, however,be consultedwith some caution.
5 Cf., e.g., Sadhanamald, ed. B. Bhattacharyya,Baroda 1928, p. 575; P. 31.

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TheIndianMantra

277

tion of brahman1. A definitemantracalled lokandthaenablestheman


ofmortalsins.The complete
whoknowshowto use it to obtainremission
attainmentof anythingfrompurelymundaneaffairssuch as successin
on the highestspirituallevel may be realizedby
love to achievements
meansof a special mantra.Branchesof sciencemay,throughthem,be
masteredwithoutstudy,a state of absolutesafetybe acquiredwithout
delay.The formulawhichgivesa perfectrdsumbof the essenceof brahman,Om sac cid ekambrahmalit. "Om (absolute)being,(absolute)consciousness,one is brahma"securesnot onlyfinalemancipationbut also
successin worldlyaffairs,safetyagainstevil and dangersetc. The man
who knowsthe powerwhichis inherentin this mantrais blessed,his
familyhas becomerituallypure.The literatureof Pdficardtra
Vis.nuism
a groupofHinduisticsystemspartlybased on
whichthoughconstituting
Tantrismis notwithoutstarting-point
in theVedictradition2, deals not
with
cult, ceremonies,dharma,bhakti,yoga, etc. but also with
only
i.e., a kind of 'mysticand esotericlinguistics'
applying
mantraMstra,
itselfto the secretsenseof mantrasin orderto exercizepoweroverthe
themselvesin them.The Pdficardtrins
believein
potenciesmanifesting
the esotericnatureof the mantraswhichare regardedas the energyof
The firstmanifestation
of thispower
God (Visnu)as pureconsciousness.
can onlybe perceivedby the greatyogins,the nextis the identityof a
name and the object or objectivepowerdenotedby it. The evolution
of this objectivepoweris the thirdstage. Togetherwiththe evolution
ofeverysoundofthelanguagethereis also theevolutionoftheobjective
3. Whereasthe energy
ofthevowels
powerofwhichit is thecounterpart
intoaudiblesounds4,theconsonantsoundsare considered
is transformed
of world-energy,
which
to be the prototypesof different
manifestations
of
deitiesor superintendents
again are regardedas 'symbols'ofdifferent
foran
energy.An assemblageof some of the sounds stands therefore
assemblageof typesof energy,forcomplexpower.The meditationand
be expectedto bringtheseobjective
worshipof thesemay consequently
powersundercontrolof the man who knowshow to deal withmantras.
and
"Whilethe Vedic Aryanssubjectthemselvesto severepunishments
to atone for the crimescommitted,the Pificardtrashave
self-torture
1 In tantric literaturethe term mantra-was, by way of popular etymology
(see above), generally associated with man- "to think" and trd(i)- "to rescue,
liberate" so as to suggestthat it is that which liberateswhen properlymeditated
upon and rituallypronounced.
2 Cf. Die
Religionen Indiens, I, p. 247 f.
ch. 16 and 17.
3 See especially Ahirbudhnya-sarmhita,
4 For particulars see also S. Dasgupta, History of Indian philosophy,III,

Cambridge 1940, p. 58.

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278

J. Gonda

in all cases,to themagicpowerofthesectarian


recourse,forpurification
mantras,so deep-rootedtheir belief in these mantrasis. Whatever
heinouscrimesa Vaisnava may commit,he is sure to be freefromsin,
accordingto the Pdficar~tras,
by mutteringa sectarianmantra,the
that
the
nature
of the mantraand the numberof
peculiaritybeing
differwiththe natureof the crime"1. Whereasforinstance
mutterings
in thecase ofadulterywiththewifeofone's gurutheancientauthorities
as lyingon a heatedbed ofironor embracing
prescribesuchpunishments
the ironimage of a womanglowingwithheat, a Pdficar~traVaisnava
who is guiltyof this great sin is, accordingto the Jaydkhyasamhit~
(25, 31 ff.), to mutter the Nrsimhamantra,the number of mutterings

This text (whichis dated


varyingas thecrimeis voluntaryor otherwise.
about 450 A.D.) is permeatedby such a strongbeliefin mantrasthat
it is assertedthat they are not only capable of conferring
enjoyment
but even final emancipation(mukti-).
(bhukti-),
It is also theJaydkhya-samhitd
whichmaintainsthatofthetwoways
to realizesamddhi(the intensivemeditativeconcentration
whichleads
to finalemancipation)the methodof the practiceof (concentration
on)
thanthatwhichproceedsthroughabsorptive
mantrasis moreefficacious
emotions,because the formerdoes not fail to removeall obstaclesto
that is, to revealthe ultimatereality.-The importance
self-realization,
ofmantrasmayalso appearfromthefactthatin thetextsofthisreligion
separatechaptersweredevotedto thissubjectbesideotherswhichdeal
withimages,initiation,self-control,
ritualisticworshipetc.,
meditation,
thattherearealso chaptersdealingwiththechantingof,ormeditation
on,
theseformulasetc.
In the?ivaistkkta systems?iva's ?akti(creativepower)is a category
between?iva, God as pureconsciousness,
intermediate
and Matter,which
is unconscious.Mythologically
his spouse, this ?akti is not only the
creativeforcebut also the cause ofbondageand release.Sheis, however,
also theeternalWordand thesubtlelinkbetweenconceptand utterance.
To thisbasic theoryis attachedthewholedoctrineofmantras,thewhole
bodyofwhichis identicalwithGod's?akti, everysoundofthelanguage
beinginstinctwithherpower.An importanttenetof the?ivaist school
ofphilosophicthoughtwhichflourished
in Kashmirwas theidea ofpard
?akti (HighestPotence)assumingtheformofenergyresiding,
in a latent
condition,withinthe sounds-and the symbolsused forthesesoundsin
writing-ofthe mantras2. Here also the esotericaspectof mantrasand
1 R. C. Hazra, Studies in the
Purdnic recordson Hindu ritesand customs,Dacca

1940, p. 220 f.
2

I referto Sudhendu Kumar Das, Sakti or divinepower,Calcutta 1934, P. 161.

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The Indian Mantra

279

withthemwereconsiderably
the spiritualexercisesperformed
developed
doctrines.
with
philosophical
together
The doctrinethat God's CreativePoweris incarnatein sound led to
the convictionthat the mantraexpressingthe highestreligiousbeliefis
not only a bearer of supranormalpower,but also the concentrated
essenceof all divinetruth.Thus a special spiritualvalue is not rarely
attachedto the mereutteranceof the name of the god one adoresor of
whichin this
the repetitionof the mantraof the religiouscommunity
1: the idea containedin the
connectionhas been called its 'watch-word'
mantrais, indeed,"the sum of all spiritualtruth","the spiritualfood
whichhas to be assimilatedby thesoul". A mantrais identicalwiththe
aspectof the god whichis invokedwithor by meansofit, or to express
the same thoughtotherwise:beingthe deityitselfit expressesan aspect
is awakenedthe deityis revealed.
ofhis being;whenthe mantra-power
Each religiousgrouphas indeedits own specialadoration-mantra;
thus
ofVisnuworshippers
Omnamondrd-ynndya
amongreligiouscommunities
authorities
or Om namo bhagavatevdsudevdya
2. Accordingto
pur.nic
thosewhomeditateon that"mantraoftwelvesyllables"
("O'madoration
the cycle of
V.
not
return
to
do
to the venerable = Krsna-Visnu")
whereas
birthsand deaths.The numberof the syllablesis significant;
or
twelve
of
mantras
consist
of
the
followers
Visnu's
eight
syllables-that
ofVallabharunning,
e.g.,as follows: ri-Krsnasaranammama"the holy
Krsna is myrefuge"-thoseof Giva (namah ivdya)have onlyfive.The
importanceof a special mantramay forinstancebe illustratedby the
traditionthat NarahariSarkdr,a friendand followerof Caitanyawho
was the firstto preach the worshipof this XVIth centuryBengal
Visnuitespiritualguide,did not onlywritethe firsthymnsdevotedto
himbut preparedalso the code and the mantraforhis worship3. Hence
also the aversionof the adherentsof a particularreligionto mantras
belongingto another religiouscommunity.The oppositionbetween
Visnuistsand Givaistsbeingritualand sociologicalin natureratherthan
1 J. N. Farquhar, The crownofHinduism,Oxford1913, p. 449.-To add another
instance: the chief mantra of the Visnuite Narasirmhareligionis glorifiedin an
by 'mystic' identificationsand interUpanisad called the N.rsimhapiirvatapaniya
pretations; the same text gives also directionsfor the making,by means of this
formulaand other famousVisnuite mantras,a yantra,i.e., a diagram,whichworn
on the neck etc., is considereda potentamulet (Farquhar, An outlineof the rel. lit.
of India, Oxford1920, p. 189). The use of this famousformulawas not confinedto
of the Pdiicathis community,but also expounded in the Ahirbudhnya-Samhita
rdtrins.
2 See,
e.g., also R. C. Hazra, Studies in thepuradic recordson Hindu rites and

customs, p. 97 ; 00o.
3 D. C. Sen, Chaitanya and his companions, Calcutta 1917, p.

102

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f.

280

J. Gonda

dogmaticor philosophical,the formerwere not allowed to perform


?ivaist ritesor to pronounce?ivaist mantras1. Even the mantrasused
in different
sectionsof the same religiouscommunity
may be different;
in the Chaurdsectionofthefollowers
of Kabir thereis onlyone mantra,
but in the Chattisgarhsectiontwo mantrasare given at the time of
initiation.Amongthe followersof Rdmdnuja,the 'SouthernSchool',
being moreliberal,providesforthe teachingof the mantraOm namo
ndrdyandyato all classes of people, whilethe Northernschoolomits
the syllableOm whenthe formulais taughtto non-Brahmans.
2 and
These beliefs,being indicativeof a special mental structure
of manyhumancommunities
at a
whichare in substancecharacteristic
were systematizedand made a
certainstage of culturaldevelopment,
oftheirdoctrines
ofmantras
corner-stone
by theTantrists3.The efficacy
their
cardinal
the
tenet,
constituting
spiritualbackgroundof their
an effortto awakenthe power('consciousness')of
worshipis primarily
themantrain orderto visualizethedeityfrominside.Basingthemselves
betweena nameand
on thenaivebeliefthatthereis a naturalconnection
between
the object so named,that thereis an inseparablerelationship
these-the Visnuistsgoingeven so faras to considerthe deityand his
name coincidentor identical-theydescribethe mantras,whichare full
as livingrepresentatives
ofdeities.A mantrais therefore
ofpotentiality,
is
consideredto be the riipa (form)of the deity. Any modification
Thus, if the adherentsof the ?ri-Vaisnavafaithadd the
significant.
name?ri to theirmantraOmnamondrdyandya
theywishto indicatethe
the
of
divine
and
the
effort
the spiritualaspirant.
of
grace
importance
This is why at the timeof muttering
(japa) 4 an adept (sddhaka)is
requiredto ponderoverthe elementsofthemantrasand to call to mind
the personof the deitypresidingover it. What are called bijamantras
("seed-mantras"or basic mantras)are thus namesand subtleformsof
deities,i.e., of powers.Accordingto Hinduistbeliefthe so-calledbfias
("germs",i.e., "sources" or "primaryprinciples")are potentsyllables
believedto formthe essentialpart of definitemantraswhichexpress
the specialpowerof a deityor a degreeof 'holiness'and are correlated
with the very essenceof that god or state. Even the cosmositselfis
1 Hacker, Prahlada, p. 172. See also F. E. Keay, Kabir and hisfollowers,Oxford

1936, p. 153.

See G. van der Leeuw, L'hommeprimitifet la religion,Paris 1940.


Cf. also M. P. Pandit, Kundalini Yoga, Madras 1959, p. 32 ff.
4 See, e.g., M. Eliade, Yoga, Essai sur les originesde la mystiqueindienne,Paris

1936, p. 214; J. Herbert, Spiritualite' hindoue, Paris 1947, p. 366 ff.; A. Dani6lou,
Le polythdismehindou, Paris I96O, p. 503 if.

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The IndianMantra

281

structuredand supportedby potentformulasof this category'. Each


deityhas his or herownb'ja; thuskrzmbelongsto Kdli,rahito Agnietc.
associatedwiththe principalmantraenables the
The bijamantra
kl.m on theuniversein its entirety
becauseit grants
initiateto exertinfluence
of all desires.The mdydmantra
the fulfilment
puts him in a
and the Sarasvati
(hri.m)
positionto be as small,light,greatetc. as he wants,
him
the
mantra
Indian
highestdegreeof
Minerva)
grants
(aim)
(the
mantras'
of
'basic
2.
Combination
may help to express
intelligence
that
It
be
added
ideas'.
monosyllabicand in them'complicated
may
selves senselesswordsplayed alreadyan importantpart in the chant
of the Vedic Sdmanhymns."The sacrificeis not (correctly)
performed
withoutthe Sdman (chant), and the Siman is not chantedwithout
having uttered hiui... the word hiA means 'breath' " ...

(?atap. Br. I,

withoutthe hiA"
4, I, I f.); "theysang praiseswiththe gdyatri-stanza
(ibid. 2, 2, 4, 1) 3.
The muttering
of the divinename is even a special systemof japa,
whichis believedto producegreateffectbecausethenameand its bearer
are identical.In that case the name-the sound-symbol
pregnantwith
of the SupremeBeing-is accompaniedby a bzia,
all the potentialities
because therecannot be an effectivemantrawithouta bija. In the
opinionsof some authoritiesndma-japamust be executedalong with
That is to
meditatingover the meaningof the name (artha-bhdvand).
say, in repeating,forinstance,the name of Krsna one must feelthat
the god,who is the SupremeBeing,is constantlyattractingone's whole
being towardsHimself.
Amongthosewho followedthe famousweaver-saintKabir (? 14401518),whowhilebeinginfluenced
by ancienttantricand yogictraditions
made themdevelopinto elementsof reallydeep spiritualsignificance,
the idea of mantragrew,on the otherhand, to become the inspired
throughhim,the key to
messageof the spiritualteacher,furnishing,
1 Some particularson japa are mentionedby P. V. Kane, HistoryofDharmasdstra
II, Poona 1941, p. 685 ff.Mantras were for instance io8 or ioo8 times repeated.
2
Trailokyasammohanatantra,
quoted in Haribhaktivildsa16, 82-85.
3 Generallyspeakingall bijamantras are tantricin origin,"mais en m~me temps
il est tres int6ressantde d6couvrirque l'incantationOrmutilis6eavec l'incantation
principale peut d6truiretoutes les actions pr6c6dentesqui pouvaient constituer
des obstacles sur le chemin de la lib6rationd6finitive(Haribhaktivildsa 17, 86).
L'incantation Om aide donc l'adorateur k trouver le salut. NaturellementOm
est 6galementun bijamantra, mais au lieu d'avoir son originedans la tradition
tdntrique,elle remontek la p6riodev6dique. Aucun bijamantra cr66 la p6riode
tdntriquene sertk l'obtentiondu salut, ce n'est que par le bijamantrade la p6riode
v6dique qu'il peut tre trouv6" (R. V. Joshi, Le rituel de la ddvotionK.rsnaite,
Pondich6ry 1959, p. 38).

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282

J. Gonda

the meaningof the universe."Everythingconnectedwith the three


letters"(Adi Granth,Gauri I, 2).
worldsis containedin the fifty-two
utteranceofspeechwhich
themysterious
The word(?abda)is, moreover,
and
makes
wiseuntosalvation,-an
of
the
unknown
conveysknowledge
were
of
these
which
ancientthought
simplepeople
fullyconscious.But
this truthwas especiallyunderstoodin connectionwith the name of
God, the Satndm("the name of the one truthand reality").Kabir was
"but speechwas obviouslya mediationoftheunknown,
no philosopher,
It is
and as such,whenthatunknownwas God, mysticand wonderful.
not logos, or reason, but ratherthe testimonyof him who knows,
howeverhe may have come to know-and that remainsobscure-or
again it is the name of God, whichis itselfthe unutterableuttered,the
1
hiddenmanifested"
As we now knowthe imageof an Indian deitymustconform
strictly
to the traditionally
correctvisionof the deity2. Otherwiseit wouldbe
useless for the purposesof worship.When fashioningan image the
attitudeof the artist-who must be a memberof one of the upper
classes-is to be the same as that of the devotee (bhaktah)who while
it in dailyworshipendeavoursto realizehis identitywith
contemplating
the god he worshipsand whosepresenceis sustainedby the image.The
artistmustproducein clay,stoneormetaltheexactexternalcounterpart
oftheinwardvisionofthegodwhichhe has 'seen'in yoga,accomplishing
in thiswaya meansofguidinga processofvisualization
and identification
on the part of the devoteewho will use the image. "The devotee"the
Gandharva-tantra
teaches,"havingcontrolledhis breathand takenup
a handfulofflowers,
shouldthenmeditateon thedeityin his heart;and
beholdingthereby his gracethatimage,the substanceof whichis consciousness,he mustmentallyestablishthe identityof the internaland
the externalimage". Next, the effulgent
energyof the consciousness
withinis to be conductedwithoutby meansof the mystic,magicbijaThat is to say, this
whichis yant.
syllabledenotingwind,i.e., life-breath,
of
within
which
and
evokes
the
force
the
life-breath
syllable
represents
must
be
that
that
is
infused
into
the
flowers.
so
force
him,
muttered,
Theseflowers
thenfunction
as a vehicleto bringtheinitiate'slife-breath
intotheexternalimageofthegod so as to establishits identitywiththe
essenceof the god.
1 N. Macnicol, Indian Theism, Oxford 1915, P. 140 f.
See also H. Zimmer, The art of Indian Asia, I, New York 1955, P. 318 ff.;

A. K. Coomaraswamy,Pour comprendre
l'art hindou,Paris 1926; D. Seckel, BuddhistischeKunst Ostasiens, Stuttgart 1957, passim, and bibliography,p. 257,
n. 27; R. H. van Gulik, Siddham,Nagpur 1956.

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TheIndianMantra

283

the superhuman
Whereasthe imagesrepresent
forceof somedivinity
or divinesaviourthesepowersor powerful
beingsare believedto exist
not only in visual forms-whichshould be visualizedin dhydna,i.e.,
meditation-butalso in oraland written
concentrated
forms;specifically,
in the mantraswhichare to evokeand conjurethesepowersintomanifestation.The muttering
ofthe rightmantrasin a silentand continuous
repetitionof its powerfulelements(japa) steadies the mind bent on
visualizinga divinityand invitesthepresenceofthe same.The mantras
constitutethe spiritualbody,as knownto mindand ear, whereasthe
fortouchandsight.Thetwo
tangibleand visibleimageis themanifestation
and completeeachother,becausetheyareparallelrevelations
supplement
oftheselfsamedivineessencewhichessentially
is beyondbothspheres1.
The theoryand practiceofmantrasis also closelyassociatedwiththat
of gestures(mudrds).As the mudrdsare believed to contain all the
secrecyof touch as associated with the potency attributedto the
physiological
(microcosmical)-macrocosmical
system,so the mantrasare
all
to
contain
the
of
the
supposed
secrecy
potencyofsound.Mantraand
mudrdpresupposethetheoryand practiceof the yantrasor mandalas2,
i.e., complex arrangementsof patternsor picturesused in tantrist
Hinduismand Buddhism,consecratedareas to be kept pure forritual
and liturgicalends, protectingthemselvesfromdisintegrating
forces,
and-what is more-a representation
of the cosmos,in its processof
emanationand of reabsorption,
as it developsfromthe one essential
it is in a verycomplexliturgyused as
Principle;in religiousceremonies
a meansofreintegration
intothe One thatis All: the meditatorhas for
that purposeto identify
himselfwiththe SupremeEssence or Principle
is not interrepresented
by the graphicsymbol."If this concentration
rupted,in the centreofhis ownheart,the matrixof all thingsthatcan
be created,he will see the syllable[mantra]hiamlightup and fromits
he willsee emanatingthe infinite
incandescence
numberofdivineforms
whichplace themselvesroundabout him,accordingto the plan of the
mandala. They then reabsorbthemselvesin Him, thus renewingthe
withthe One Being,is
primordialdrama.The mystic,consubstantiated
outside
time
at
that
moment.
He
can
then substitutefor
transported
thesevisualizedformsthe moresubtlestructure
of the man1dala,
which,
insteadofsuchimages,presentsthemantrasor germinalformulaeofthe
Universal Essence" 3. Like mantras, yantras " 'mystic' figures" and

Cf., e.g., H. Zimmer,Philosophiesof India, New York 1951, p. 23 f.


See G. Tucci, The theoryand practiceof theMandala, London 1961 (esp. p.
47 f.); and compare Anagarika Brahmacari Govinda, Some aspects of stiipa symbolism,in Journalof the Indian Society of OrientalArt II (1934), p. 87 ff.
1

3 Tucci, o.c., p. 104 f.

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284

J. Gonda

mudrds"gestures"play a role as outwardmeansin the aspirationof a


being towardsthe One and universalwith the object of obtainingan
inwardillumination.
The mantrasand the otherdevicesare accessory
supportsoftheinwardact. Theyare believedto have as theireffectthe
ofrhythmic
vibrationscausinga repercussion
the
production
throughout
indefinite
seriesof states of the being.
The sacred formulaor sequenceof wordsmay therefore
be said to
'symbolize',nay to representor incarnatethe one pure and infinite
Subject, the universalground,"pure light and consciousness",by
it, leadingthe spiritlost in the labyrinthof objectivation
objectivizing
back to the One, i.e., the puresubject.That is whywiththeaid ofthe
to the deeds and qualitiesof the divine
divinename or withreferences
the spiritwhichhas goneastrayand feelsseparatedso to say recollects
that it is pure 'self',pure 'subject',pure'consciousness'
1.
V
Fromthe above it maybe clearthata mantrais not a prayer.Thisis,
however,not to contendthat thereare no mantraswhichmaybe used
as prayers,or whichare prayersfromno pointof view. In additionto
some examplesalreadygivenin the precedingpages, the Gdyatrimay
be quoted as an instance.This most famousstanza R1gveda3, 62, Io
composedin the Gdyatrimetreand dedicatedto the Sun (Savitar,the
conceivedof as the divinevivifying
divinestimulator
powerof the sun)
is in itselfmost evidentlya prayerfor illuminationor inspiration;
tat saviturvarenyambhargodevasyadhimahi/dhiyoyo nah pracodaydt
"that we obtainthat desirable(excellent)radianceof god Savitarwho
into
is to impel our 'visions' (intuitions,
whichare to be transformed
to
Savitar
it
addressed
is
also
called
mantras)". Being
Sdvitri.The
a
is
an
instance
of
which
need
not
'prayer'
necessarilybe acGdyatri
forms,fromremotetimesto the
companiedby a sacrifice.Its muttering
a
vital
of
brahman's
a
part
day,
daily worship.No oblation,
present
other
sacrificial
of
or
rite
accompaniesit when it
offering somajuice
a
as
so-called
or
sometimes
threetimesa day
two,
is,
sandhyd2, offered
--in themorning(, at noon,)and in theevening3.
Nowadaysit is said at
in
but
the
This mantra,daily
one
convenient
time,
any
mostly
morning.
the
to
tended
alive
also
thememoryof the
twice-born,
keep
repeatedby
the
life
and
eternal
source
of
Sun-god4,
inspiration.
See also F. Schuon, Language of the self,Madras 1959, p. 15 ff.
Religious acts performedby membersof the three highestclasses of society
at the juncturesof the divisionsof the day.
3 For some particularssee Avalon, Principlesof Tantra 2, p. 270 f.
Hinduismus(= Die Religionen
4 For the worshipof Sfiryasee my Veda und dilterer
1

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The Indian Mantra

285

in the Gayatri
on Vedicritualprescribetheinstruction
The authorities
as partof theupanayanaceremony:a boy is to be taughtand initiated
by a spiritualguide (guru)who investshim with the sacred thread,
teacheshim,in a veryelaborateand ceremonialway, the Gdyatrietc.
Formerlythis ceremonyprecededa long period of educationduring
whichthe boy was also initiatedinto the Veda 1. In morerecenttimes
the Gayatriis whisperedthreetimesinto the boy's ear and the latter
has to repeatit as manytimes.As the mantrais not repeatedin the
presenceofothers,guestsetc.haveto leavetheroom.Afterthatceremony
to participatein theritesand to reciteversesofthe
theboyis permitted
Veda 2. The ceremonyitselfmakes the youtha dvia, i.e., impartshim
hissecondorspiritualbirth."That birthwhicha teacheracquaintedwith
the wholeVeda in accordancewiththe rulesprocuresforhim through
the Sdvitriis real,exemptfromage and death" (Manu2,148). According
to some authoritieson Vedic ritual3 the Sdvitriinto whicha brahman
youthwas to be initiatedmustbe the Gdyatristanza. For a ksatriya,
stanza,viz.
however,it musthave the formof a
I, 35, 2,in
tris.tubh
R.V. at world
whichSavitaris said to approachon a goldenchariot,looking
and creaturesand, when bringingdarkness,causingthem to rest. A
memberof the thirdclass (vaigya)must be initiatedby means of a
jagatsstanza,e.g., RiV.4, 40, 5 (whichpraisesAgni,as sun,atmospheric,
ritualand domesticfireetc.) or I, 35, 9, in whichSavitaris describedas
movingbetweenheavenand earthand wardingoffdiseases4.
For the applicationof the Sdvitrione mightreferto SatapathaBrdhmana2, 3, 4, 39 "Then followsthe versededicatedto Savitar,-for
ofthegods; and thusall his (i.e.,thesacrifiS. is theimpeller(prasavitd)
fulfilled
impelledas they are
(sam.rdhyante),
cer's) wishes (kdmdh)are
by S. (savitrprasitdieva) . . .". Whereas in 13, 6, 2, 9 the recitation of

the stanzasVS. 30, 1-3,one of whichis the Sdvitri,is said to please or


the god Savitar, so that he impels (prasauti)the
propitiate
(prn.dti)
the
of
rite,the BrhaddraInyaka-Upanisad
6, 3, 6 (= Sat. Br.
performers
14, 9, 3, II) combiningthis mantrawith otherformulasalreadyprescribesits use in an elaboratedrite,viz. a ceremonyand incantationfor
Indiens I) Stuttgart1960, p. 94 f. and J. N. Farquhar, An outlineof thereligious

literature of India, Oxford 1920, p. 151 ff.

See A. Hillebrandt,Ritual-Literatur,
Strassburg1897, p. 53 f.
For a somewhatdetailed descriptionof the ceremonyas performedin modern
times see M. Stevenson, The rites of the Twice-born,London 1920, p. 27 ff.; P.
Thomas, Hindu Religion,customsand manners,Bombay, p. 89 f.
3 I referto Hillebrandt,o.c., p. 54. Cf.,e.g.,
2, 5, 4-7.
i?zkhayanag.rhyasitra
4 A long article could be writtenon the 'mysticism'of the metres.The gayatri
"the smallestmetre" is forinstance said to have, as a falcon,carriedoffthe Soma
1
2

from heaven (gatap. Br. I, 7, I, I; I, 8, 2, Io).

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286

J. Gonda

ofa greatwish:sippingfroma definite


mixedpotionone
theattainment
should pronouncethe Svitri togetherwith the Sweet-verseswhile
the wish: "May I becomeall this,0 Earth,Atmosphere,
pronouncing
and Sky!" The traditionaltranslationof the verb dhimahiis herealso
"let us meditate"1. For worshipofthesun,i.e., oftheAtmanin theform
of the sun the stanzais used MaiUp. 6, 7, statingthataccordingto the
the sun, Savitar,is to be soughtby one desirousof the
brahmavcdina1h
Atman. "Because Savitaris God (devah)I meditate(cintaydmi,
explication of dhimahi)upon that whichis called his light(bhargah)".The
last line is explainedas follows:buddhayovai dhiyastadyo 'smdkam
pracodaydt"thoughtsare meditations;and he will stimulatethese
forus".
It is small wonderthat the Sivitri like so many otherimportant
as a person.As such
conceptsin Indian thoughtcould be represented
the wifeof Brahmd;in Hinduismshe becamethe object
she is Sdvitrf,
of worship2. It may be added that the two namesof the mantragive
tale3
rise to two femalefigures:accordingto the purdnicmythological
a
was
the
Indra
to
Brahma
as
substitute
for
procuredby
Gdyatri
god
Sdvitriwho, beingengagedin managinghouseholdaffairs,could find
no timeto attenda sacrificeinstitutedby herhusband!
In thepurinasstoriesare notwantingtheunderlying
motiveofwhich
is to raisethepositionof theVedas, to attractthepublicto theirstudy
to thosewhoread themand to
by holdingout a prospectofomniscience
win morerespectforthe Sdvitri,"the motherof the Veda" 4.
The sametendency
is obviousin thecase ofindividualspiritualleaders
and founders
ofso-calledsects(whichin somecasesare,rather,religions).
Gorakndth
about thebeginning
ofthe XIIIth
(whomayhave flourished
century6) for instancetaught that by the mere desire to recite the
the yoginsare freed
Gayatriwhichis the giverof finalemancipation,
fromall sins and demerit(Goraksa'ataka44); "knowledgeand insight
1
Paris 1934, P. III: "l'6clat
See, e.g., also E. Senart,
du dieu,consid6rons-le".Similar
B.rhad-dran.yaka-upanisad,
reinterpretations-anduntilthe presentday differences in translating-may, e.g., be signalized with regardto RV. 5, 82, I turam
bhagasyadhimahi;the last quarter quoted in ChUp. 5, 2, 7 is translatedby R. E.
Hume, The thirteen
principal Upanishads,Oxford1934,P. 230 "the Giver'sstrength
may we attain!", by Radhakrishnan,Princ. Upan., p. 425 f.: "we meditateon the
strengthof the god".
2
For particularsAvalon, Principlesof Tantra,p. 268 ff.
3 R. C. Hazra, Studies in thepuranic recordson Hindu ritesand customs,Dacca

1940, p. 121.
4 See e.g. Hazra,

o.c., p. 238 f.
5 J. N. Farquhar, An outlineof thereligiousliteratureof India, Oxford 1920,

p. 253.

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TheIndianMantra

287

likethisneitherwas norshallbe". In orderto givean idea ofthe severe


involvedin the practicesof the Indian asceticsO'Malley1
self-discipline
the
of a teacherwho orderedthosewho resortedto himthe
case
quotes
repetitionof the Gdyatriuntil the total of a milliontimeshad been
reached;moreover,each timethat it was repeatedthe disciplehad to
meditateon its meaning.Those whomhe judged to be weakervessels
weremerelyorderedto writethe nameof RMmaon bits ofpaperand to
throwtheseinto the river.
What,however,deservesour specialattentionis thatthisfamousand
importantmantrahad alreadyat an earlymomentbecometheobjectof
esotericalspeculationand 'mystic'explanation.In the Brhaddranyakaupanisad(5, 14) thesacredGayatrimantrais esoterically
explained.The
long passage begins with the observationthat the formula"earth,
heaven" (bhiamir
atmosphere,
antariksam
diyauh)makes eightsyllables,
that is, one "foot" (part) of the gdyatrimetre(whichconsistsof three
timeseightsyllables)2. "He who knowsthe 'foot' of the Gayatrito be
such winsas muchas thereis in thesethree'worlds'". That manis,in
a similarway,said to be possessedofall thatwhichthereis in thethreefold knowledgeof the Veda, because the wordsrcas, yajamsi,sdmdni
(the names of the threecategoriesof mantrascontainedin the three
Vedas 3 make, again, eightsyllables.He wins,moreover,as much as
breathesin this world.There is, however,a fourth'foot',thevisible,
whichis above-the-darksome,
i.e., the Sun. The man who knowsthat
footto be thusglows,like the Sun, withlustreand glory.The Gdyatri
is based upon that fourth,visiblefoot,whichin its turnrestson truth,
whichagain is based on life-breath.
At thispointof the argumentthe
conclusionis drawnthat the Gdyatrimantraprotectsthe life-breath
of
themanwholearnsit,becausetheformulais "thusfoundedwithregard
to thedtman,the'self'or 'soul' ": it protects(trd)thegaydh,i.e.,literally
"the house, household",but here,for the sake of this 'etymological'
as "the life-breaths"
4. The firstfoot of the
explanation,interpreted
1 L. S. S. O'Malley, Popular Hinduism, Cambridge 1935, p. 198 f.

Among the subjects developed in the later Tantric speculations is also the
doctrinealready foundin the Upanisads that the metreshave an importantinfluence on life.Being creditedwitha special psychologicalsignificancetheycorrespond
with our emotions; there exists a relation between the specificcharacter of the
metreand the specificspiritualoscillationsin our being (see also M. Sircar,Hindu
2

mysticism according to the Upanisads, London 1934, P. 251).

3 The.rcas (RI.gveda)are to be recited,the yajimnsi(Yajurveda) are to accompany


the sacrificialacts; the samani (Simaveda) are sung.
4 This passage has recentlybeen discussed also by Dr. J. M. van Gelder, Der
's-Gravenhage 1957. As is well known
Atman in der Grossen-Wald-Geheimlehre,
are, in the brdhmanas,oftenused as arguments.
etymologiesor pseudo-etymologies
See, e.g., my articlein the periodicalLingua 5 (1955), p. 61 ff.

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J. Gonda

288

stanzais, as a gift,equivalentto thewealthofthethreefold


universe,the
of
the
Vedas etc.
secondfootis equivalentto the threefold
knowledge
The warningis added thatone shouldnotteacha pupiltheSivitrias an
the anustubhis
metre,because,accordingto someauthorities,
anus.tubhto
and
in
this
would
be
to the
speech
speech
imparted
way
equivalent
we
that
there
existed
From
this
first
infer,
may
alreadyat an
pupil.
of
this famous
one
variant
at
least
cent.
moment
B.C.)
early
(VIth
strophe,and, in the secondplace, that the Indianswere,thenalready,
keenlyaware of the fact that speechmay be reducedto a definiteor
orderby meansofthemetres.Towardstheend ofthechapter
systematic
author
the
subjoinsa 'magical'application:shouldthe man who knows
the Gdyatribear hatredtowardsanyone,he should (whilerecitingthe
mantra)pronouncethe words: "may his wishnot prosper!"
One of thoseupanisad-liketextswhichconstitutea considerablepart
1 is the interesting
so-calledGdyatri-upanisad
of the Gopathabrdhmana
2. In this treatise there is question of the study of "the
(I, I, 31-38)

'wombs'(yoni)and twelvepairs (mithuna),


Sdvitrigdyatrioftwentyfour
ofwhichthe Bhrgusand Afigirases
(twomythicalfamiliesofpriests)are
the
universe
is contained".The wordsofthe
in
which
the eye,
complete
thequestion
formulaare made theobjectofan esotericalinterpretation:
as to what the inspiredsages (kavayah)mean by saviturvaren
yam is
answeredthus: "the desirableofthesun" is theVedas and theirmetrical
text (veddmichanddmsi);the "brilliantlightofthegod" is explainedby
theinspiredsagesas "food",dhiyahas "works"3. NextSavitar,theSun,
identified
witha largenumberofentities,
and theSdvitriare successively
whichare declaredto be yonis,and pairs,forinstancethesunis identified
a yoni,
withmanah('mind'),theSdvitriwithspeech;bothare considered
and togethertheyconstitutea pair. Thus both Savitarand the Sdvitri
twelve'cosmicpairs',Agniand the earth,
are explainedas representing
Sun and heaven,sacrificeand sacrificial
giftetc. Thenfollowsan exposiof
thethreeverses(pddas)ofthe
correlation
tionofthesupposedmystic
entitiesof twelveeach, the first
mantrawiththreesets of fundamental
with the earth,the Rlgvedaverses,fire,prosperity,
woman,pair, offbrahman
truth,
work,
asceticism,
(neuter),the brahman
spring,(ritual)
and
vow
or
devotion
observance,religious
(vratam)which
(masculine)
are successively"connected"or "broughttogether".The man who
knowsthis and who while knowingthis recitesthe firstverse of the
1

M. Bloomfield,The A tharva-vedaand theGopatha-brahmana,


Strassburg1899,

Calcutta 1872, p. 19 ff.


Cf. Rajendraldla Mitra, Gopatha-Brahmanza,
For this equation see also my The visionofthe Vedicpoets,chapter on dhi-.

p. 10I ff.,esp. p. iio.


3

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The IndianMantra

289

be securefrominterruption.
Savitriwill,as to lifeand lineofdescendants,
The second verse correlateswith the atmosphere,the formulasof the
Yajurveda,windetc.,thethirdwithheaven,thechantoftheSamaveda,
the sun etc. The finalmemberof each seriesis the vrata.The subject
to themanwhoreverently
endswithholdingout a prospectofprosperity
himselfwithits contents.
studiesthistext and identifies
In orderto give an idea of the soteriological
speculationsof which
much-usedmantras,and especiallythe Gayatri,came in the courseof
timeto be the subject,the contentsof the shortSdvitriUpan. may be
in whichthe Sun (Savitar)is
summarizedhere. Afteran introduction
identifiedwith a numberof entitieswhich for the greaterpart are
masculine,Savitriwithotherentities,so as to formpairs (e.g. Savitar
as "mind"(manas),Sdvitrias "speech" (vdc))1,theformulais explained:
the firstverse (bhis tat saviturvaren
yam) refersto Fire, Water,Moon
etc. "He whounderstands
theSdvitrithus
whichare desirable(varenyam)
conquersrepeateddeath.The textmay also be appliedwhenone wishes
to averthunger.Aftersomeindicationswitha viewto ritualapplication
and meditationthe authorfinallysubjoinsan extendedversionof the
formula:hrim(a bija) bale mahddevihrimmahdbaleklfim
(a bija) caturtat savitur varaddtmike
vidhapurusdrthasiddhiprade
varenyam
hri.m
atibale
bale
varaddtmike
sarvadaydmfirte sarvaksudbhrabhargodevasya
mopandlini dhimahidhiyoyo no jdte pracuryahyd pracodaydddtmike
hum pha.tsvdhd. The inserted words are to invoke
pran.avasiraskatmike
as a giverofsuccesswithregardto the four
thegoddessas verypowerful,

all boons,as theembodiment


ofall compassion
goalsoflife,as conferring
ofall hungerand confusionetc. "He who knowsthus
and the destroyer
has attainedhispurposeand willresidein thesameheavenas thegoddess
S~vitri".- Otherinstancesare foundMahdndr.Upan. 71 ff.;284.
In later times the much-usedstanza has oftenbeen the subject of
The main reinterpretation-which,
speculationsand re-interpretations.
however,as alreadyobserved,occursalreadyin the MaitriUpan. 6, 7concernsthe verb dhimahiin the second stanza. It is secondarilyextam cintaydmi
plained as "may we meditate" (yo 'sya bhargdkhyas
"upon that whichis called his (the sun's,Savitar's,God's splendourdo
I reflect",Maitri Up.). Hence frequenttranslationssuch as: "that
excellentgloryof Savitar,the god we meditate,that he maystimulate
our prayers". It is, however,not advisable to substitutethisinterpretationforthe originalone when translatingolder texts2
1

This passage is similarto and in part identicalwith Gopatha-br.I, I, 33.


The above translationwas givenby A. B. Keith (Taittiriya-Sarmhitd,
I, 5, 6, 4):

The Veda of the Black Yajus School, Harvard 1914, P. 75 (similarly, TS. 4, I,
II, I).
Oriens 16
19

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290

J. Gonda

Hence also such interpretations


as: "Om; let us contemplateupon
the AdorableSpiritoftheDivine Creatorwhois in theformofthe Sun;
aims
may He directour minds towardsattainmentof the four-fold
(dharma,artha,kdma,moksa)of all sentientbeings; Om" 1
Accordingto the explicationthe Self of all that existsin the three
regionsassumesa visibleappearancein theformoftheSun-god.Brahman
beingthecauseofall becomesvisibleas thegreatEye oftheworldwhich
reveals and vivifiesall beingsand all things.Accordingto the later
prevalentin Tdntriccircles,Savitar,the Sun,is regarded
interpretation,
as the cause or producerof all that existsand of the state in whichit
exists.He is the deityfromwhichthe universehas emanatedand into
whichit willbe again absorbed.Time is of and in Him. By bhargahthe
mean the Adityadevatadwellingin the regionof the
same interpreters
sun in all his mightand gloryand being to the sun what the dtman
("soul") is to ourbody.Bhargahis, however,notonlythelightin thesun,
it also dwellsin our innerselves.That is to say, that beingwhomthe
sddhakarealizesin the regionof his heartis the sun in the firmament.
in theeyesoftheseinterpreters,
to theideas
The termbhargah
referring,
of ripening,maturing,destroying,
revealingand shining;Sfiryain this
is he whomaturesand transforms
all things,and whoreveals
connection
all thingsbyhislight;it is moreover
he whowillinhisformofdestructive
fire destroy all things. Semanticallyspeaking, this explicationof
is an extravagance.
As is oftenthecase,herealso an etymological
bhargah
withtheformer,
but
explicationis added whichnotonlyis incompatible
This translation,apart fromexhibitingsome less felicitousrenderingsof single
words follows the tradition according to which dhimahi belongs, as a present
injunctive to the verb dhi-, didhi- in the sense of "thinking,meditating". This
form,however "belongs here only as thus used later, with a false apprehension
of its proper meaning" (W. D. Whitney,The roots,verb-forms
... of theSanskrit
language, Leipzig 1885, p. 83): compare, e.g., Sdyana's paraphrase: yah savitd
devahnah
va buddhihpracodayJt
dhiyahkarnmaidharmddi-visaya
prerayet
tattasya devasya
savituhsarvdntarydmitayd
asmakam,
parameivarasya
prerakasyajagatsras.tuh
bhargah avidyatatvarenyamn
sarvaih updsyataydinieyataya ca sarmbhajaniyanm
parabrahmatmakhartejah dhimahi
karyayor bharjandd bhargah
in this explanation the verb with a formof dhydvayamn
dhy~yamah.Identifyingsvaya.jyotih
"to contemplate,meditate on" the same commentator,however,subjoins several
other interpretations.Accordingto the firstthe words bhargodhimahiare to be
commentedupon by: kim tad ity apeksdyama;accordingto the second theymean:
tdpakamn
tejomandalamdhimahidhyeyataydmanasa dh~rayema.Explainin the next lines, bhargahby annam, he also proposes: yah savitJdevodhiyah
Pdpana.n
ing,
procodayatitasya prasJdad bhargo'nnddilakhsananphalamndhimahi dharayamah;
bhavemety
arthah,quotingGopBr. I, 32, 6. Cf. also K. R. Venkatatasyddhdrabhitat

raman, in: The Cultural Heritage of India, IV, Calcutta 1956, p. 257, and L. A.
Ravi Varma, ibidem, p. 460 f.
1 See
J. Woodroffe,Shakti and Shakta 3, Madras-London 1929, p. 457.

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The IndianMantra

291

also untenable:bhargah
wouldalso indicatethatthesun divides(bha)all
the
different
colours(ra) and is constantlygoingand
things,produces
The
term
deva
returning
"god" accordingto thesameinterpretations
(ga).
indicatesthat Silrya,beinga god, is radiantand playful(lild): he is
indeed in constantplay with creation,existence,and destruction;by
his playfulness(radiance) he pleases all. He should be adored and
meditatedupon (dhkmahi)
thatwe maybe relievedofthemiseryofbirth
and death.Althoughthe stanza does not expresslystate so it is understood that the deityis hoped to directthe devotee along the above
four-fold
path1. It maybe noticedthatamongtheinterpretations
given
of the Savitrithereis also a grammatically
impossibleone according
to whichthe firstwordtat (= tesdm)refersto bhilrbhuvahsvah "earth,
atmosphere,heaven" whichare made to precedethe ancientformula:
"let us ... the light of these, viz. earth, atmosphere,heaven"

2.

On the fixed formand stereotypedfeaturesassumed by a ritual


prayer Heiler3 at the time made some remarkswhich-with some
in orderto reducetheirevolutionistic
modifications
character-maybe
here.
'Die
fixierte
Gebetsformel'
is
not foreignto sorepeated
streng
called primitivepeoples. "Am Feste der Erstlingsfriichte
sprichtder
das
in
derselben
Weise
ein
Gebet,
jaihrlich
Buschmann-Hiuptling
wiederholtwird"3. "Das biegsame,elastischeSchema, das in freier
Weise dem konkretenAugenblicksbediirfnis
angepasst wird, ist das
zwischen
der
formlosen
und der
Bindeglied
spontanen,
Affektaiusserung
wird.Die
genau fixiertenFormel,die als Traditionsgut
weitergegeben
diesen Erstarrungsprozess
Momente
bedingendenbzw. begiinstigenden
sinddie hWiufige
Wiederkehr
des Gebetsanlasses
wie die engeVerbindung
mit bestimmtenRitualhandlungen... Als sekundaireMomente kommen

in Betracht ein wachsendesGeffihlder Unsicherheitgegeniiberder


Gottheit,das sich nur bei festenFormelnberuhigt,sowie der Mangel
der zur Beniitzungvon Formularen
selbstindigerAusdrucksftihigkeit,
"Die
Gebetsformel
ist
ihre Wortlautist
zwingt".
strengverbindlich,
sakrosankt... Sie besitzteineungeheuere
unantastbar,
Stabilitit..." 4.
There are, however,also ritualformulaswhichweremade or composed
with a view to definiteaims. "Diese sind jedoch keinefreienGebete,
eingegebenvon dem Affektdes Augenblicks,sondernabsichtlichvernach dem Muster anderer
fasst, komponiertoder doch prdimeditiert
1 See Sir John Woodroffe,The Garland
of Letters2,Madras 1951, p. 265 ff.;see
also p. 276 ff.Cf. also the same (A. Avalon), Principlesof Tantra,ch. IV.
2 See Sir
JohnWoodroffe,The GarlandofLetters2,p. 265.

3 F. Heiler, Das Gebet, Miinchen 1918, p. 133 ft.

4 Cf. also Heiler, Das Gebet,p. 363.

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J. Gonda

292

Sie sindmeistdas Elaboratbewusstschaffender


Gebetsformeln.
Priester
oderBeamten.Die FassungsolcherGebetemussstrengen
Anforderungen
the
marked
forfixed
However,
notwithstanding
predilection
genfigen".
prayers,creeds,hymnsetc.instancesofvariationdo, likecasesofreinterpretation,not failto occur1. Luther,forinstance,in prayingthe Lord's
prayerdid notkeepcloseto thewordsofthetext,because,he observed,
withmoreorlesswords"2.
"thesamethoughtcan be expressedotherwise,
Vdlmiki,the 'author' of the Rdmdyanawho receivedthe name of
of the god Visnu-as a
Rdma-who was considereda manifestation
also
was
the
inverse
of
this name: mard,which
order
mantra,
taught
was explainedas "I9vara (Lord)Jagat(World)",i.e., "firstGod,thenthe
Universe"3. Anotherform of variation is frequentlyprescribedin
Hinduisthandbooks(purinas,tantras): takinga mantraof a certain
numberof syllables(i.e., aksaras,vowel+ consonant)fora god-e.g.,
the well-known
Om namo bhagavateVdsudevdya("Om homageto the
reverendVdsudeva")one has to repeat each aksara accordingto the
formulaOm omkdrdya
namahsvdhd"Om, homageto the syllableOm,
svdhd etc." 4. Already in the Brhaddranyaka-upanisad,
6, 3, 6 the
threeversesof the famousmantraare separatedfromeach otherso as
to combinewiththe threeversesof RV. I, 90, 6; 7 and 8, constituting
Each stanzais followed
in thiswaythreestanzasoffourlines
(anus.tubh).
three
words
bhfir
of
the
one
bhuvahsuvah(svar)"earth,atmosphere,
by
of the Gayatri.Thereis
heaven" whichare a frequentaccompaniment
in this connectionroom forthe observationthat in harmonywith a
principleofVedic poeticaltechnics(their'formulaic'character)part of
the elementsof R.V. 3, 62, Io combinealso elsewhere:cf. I, 159, 5
tad rddhoadya saviturvarenyaim
vayam devasyaprasave mandmahe.
have no doubt facilitatedthe productionof variants.
Such occurrences
to fidrasand womenof all
Whereasthe Vedic Gdyatriis forbidden
have
the
Tantras
a
of
own
whichdoes notshowsuch
their
rank,
Gdyatri
of
exclusiveness.In the Mahdnirvinatantra
3, og9ff.the worshippers
oftheBrahma-Gdyatri
whichconfers
Brahmanareinformed
thesuccessful
of all aims of life,finalemancipationincluded.It runs as
fulfilment
follows: parameivardyavidmaheparatattvdya
dhimahi,tan no brahma
whichis usuallyinterpreted
as "let us know the Supreme
pracodaydt
the SupremeReality;and thatBrahmanmust
Lord; let us contemplate
See also Heiler, Erscheinungsformen,
p. 325 if.
5
2
Heiler, Das Gebet, p. 293.

3 See J. Herbert,L'enseignement
de Ramakrishna,Paris 1949, p. 270.
4 The complete alphabet could in this way serve as a varied mantra (Kane,
History,IV, p. 900goo
f.). For the power inherentin the alphabet see also G. van der
London 1938, p. 435 ff.
Leeuw, Religionin essenceand manifestation,

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The Indian Mantra

293

stimulate(direct)us" 1. It maybe observedthatapartfromthe general


metricalformthis formulahas the words dhimahiand pracodaydt,
in thesameplace,in commonwiththefamousIRgvedicstanza.
occurring
whichis done,the textcontinues,be it worshipor sacrifice,
Everything
or eating,shouldbe accompaniedby the recitationof
bathing,drinking,
thismantra.
In a moreextendedformand in accordancewitha traditionalformthe
Gayatriruns also as follows2: "This new and excellentpraise of thee,
O splendidplayfulsun, is offeredby us to thee. Be gratifiedby this
speech of mine; approachthis cravingmind as a lovingman seeks a
woman. May that Sun (Pfisan)who contemplates,and looks into, all
worldsbe our protector.Let us meditateon the adorablelightof the
Divine Ruler. May it guide our intellects.Desirousof food,we solicit
thegiftofthe splendidSun (Savitar)withoblationsand praise".
In thepurdnicand tantricliturgiestheancientGdyatriwas notrarely,
in accordancewiththistantricmodel,modifiedand adaptedto theneeds
of a Hindu religion.In othercases it was made a
and requirements
model or standardto be followedand imitatedby the worshippers
of
or
a
Hindu
the
of
Thus it reads
some
god
adepts
soteriologic
mysticism.
in the Garu<daPurdna23, 5 f. "thenhe shouldmutterthe Gdyatri'Om
dhimahi/tan no rudrah
hdm tam mahe'dya vidmahe,vdgvisuddhdya

pracodaydt'", which means "we (let us) make the Great Lord the aim

letus contemplate
thepurityofspeech,Rudra(= iva)
ofourknowledge,
muststimulateus withregardto that". In the KhlikdPurina, 66, 22
thereoccursa similarand somewhatextendedvariant,the stanza conca vidmahe
tudhimahi/
kdmesvaryai
sistingoffourquarters:kdmdkhydyai
mahddevi
tata
the
to
be
meditated
tatahkurydn
cdnupracodaydt, goddess
on beingKdmdkhyd,
i.e., Durgdor Kdli. Thus the ancientformula
was,
and evenpartoftheoriginalwords,
whileretainingits metreor rhythm
enrichedby new elementsso as to be equal to new applications.Those
ofCaitanyawhosemaininterestis a lifeofdevotionmayfollow
followers
elaboratedirectionsforthe worshipof the guru,Caitanyaand Krsna
(with Radha). The second part of these threefoldceremoniesis
interalia, by a repeatedmuttering
ofthe'Gdyatri'"I know
characterized,
I
meditate
on
Vi'vambhar
Caitanya,
(= C.); maytheknowledgeofGaur
(= C.) be revealedunto me" 3. Thus the Gdyatrihad, in later times,
variousdevelopments,
many gods and religiousmovementspossessing
1 See, e.g., A. Avalon, The GreatLiberation,Madras 1927, p. 55; the same (J.
Woodroffe),The Garland of Letters2,
p. 267.
2 See,
e.g., Thomas, o.c., p. 32.

3 M. T. Kennedy, The Chaitanyamovement,


Oxford 1925, 190,.
p.

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J. Gonda

294

theirown variation.Preservingan evidentanalogywith the original


patternthesevariationscontainaftera bija mantra,the statementof
a particulardeity(vidmahe),
nextthe'meditation'
knowingorrecognizing
of
then
the
last
the
stage soliciting god's guidanceand stimu(dlhmahi),
lation(pracodaydt).
These variations,like the nameof the mantraitself,even foundtheir
way into Indonesia1. Moreover,the secondverseof the Gdyatriproper,
i.e., thewordsbhargodevasyadhlmahiare-it is trueina corrupted
form,
dewo
siadi
mahi-found
in
a
of
remarkable
mantras
which
medley
barga
thread.The
are to be recitedby thepriestwhenputtingon thesacrificial
thewordsvedamantra
abovewordsareintroduced
bya formula
containing
gdyatri
2.
VI
It is easily intelligiblethat the Vedic mantrasused for ritual or
sacramentalpurposesthoughbelievedto be divinelyinspiredare by the
greatmassofthepeopleoftenregardedas merelya spellor charmwhich
3 or bringabout supranormal
4.
effects
willkeep offevil and misfortune
Buddhisttextsofgreatphilosophical
Suchis thefateofimportant
value,
whichdegeneratedinto magicalformulasor charmsused to assuage all
pains or to preservea man fromcalamity5. But also definiteBuddhist
schoolsof thought,especiallythe Vajraydnists
6, a Buddhistvarietyof
Tantrism,believeblindlyin the greatsupranormalpowerof thatcontruthand mightthatare themantras:
centratedformoftranscendental
whenappliedaccording
"whatis thereimpossibleformantrasto perform
are
it
must
be
to therules-which,
added, strict,minute,andnumerous-"
(Sdhanamdld,p. 575). They are even consideredto be a meansof obtainingthe statusof a buddha or of washingaway the fivegreatsins.
1

See R. Goris,Bijdrage totde kennisderOud-Javaanscheen BalineescheTheologie,

Leiden 1926, p. 18; 44 ff.; 83; 142.

For the so-called Balinese Vedas see Goris,o.c., p. 137.


3 The speculations of the medical schools, the so-called "knowledge of a full
life-time"(Ayurveda) is closely connectedwith the Atharvaveda (see, e.g., S. Dasgupta, A historyof Indian philosophy,II, Cambridge1932, ch. XIII): a physician
should, accordingto the Carakasarmhita
I, 30, 20 particularlybe attached to this
authoritative body. The Atharvaveda, consisting of texts mainly intended to
counteractdiseases and calamities,deals, the authorcontinues,with the treatment
of diseases by advisingpropitiatoryrites,offerings,
penances,purifications,fasting
and mantras.
ofSouthernIndia, London 1912,
4 Cf., e.g., E. Thurston,Omensand superstitions
passim.
5 See, e.g., C. H. S. Ward, Buddhism,II, London 1952, p. 68 f.
2

See, e.g., H. von Glasenapp, Die Entstehung des Vajraydna, in ZDMG go (1936),

p. 546 ff.;R. Tajima, Etude sur le Mahavairocanasiitra,Paris 1936.

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TheIndianMantra

295

Whereasat firstthe mantras,as far as we know,weremainlyused in


of wordlyinterests
rites,forthe purposeoffurtherance
magico-religious
and protectionfromdanger,in the course of time, and among the
Buddhistsfromthe VIIth centuryonward,an ever-increasing
use was
made of themin orderto preventevil powersfrominterfering
withthe
devotee's spirituallife.They became in sectionsof the religiouscommunitiesthe devicepar excellenceby whichthe spirit ascends toward
the deity,the chiefvehicleof salvation,the very key to finalemancipation.This was especiallythe case whenin MahayvnistBuddhism,
not only numerousHindu-Buddhistelementsbut
whichincorporating
and non-Indiancults,provedto be veryaccessible
also local,non-Aryan
a largenumberofgeneralIndian ritualshad been
to Tantricinfluences,
In
the
eyes of those who believedin theiromnipotenceand
adopted.
theycan confereven Buddhahood.Thus the wholesubject
infallibility
ofmantrascame to be treatedas an elaborate'science'.Specialchapters
on 'charms'came,fromthe IIIrd centuryA.D. onwardto be added to
importantBuddhisttexts,and a specialformofBuddhistTantrism,the
Mantraydna,came into existence. As is indicatedby its name its
In a certainstageofdevelopdoctrines
centredroundthepotentformulas.
mentthe outstanding
of
the
Bodhisattva
whoby
Avalokitesvara,
figure
his miraculouspowerand by his infinitecare and skillaffordssafetyto
thosewhoare anxious,acquiring,in thecourseoftime,sovereignty
over
the world,endedby becominga greatmagicianwho owes his powerto
hismantras.As theancientVedicmantraswereinspiredby godsor 'seen'
by rsis,thus the Buddhistmantrasweregivento the devoutby benevolenthigherbeings.The famousTibetanOmmanipadmehiamis one of
Avalokite'vara'smostpreciousgiftsto mankind.
The mantra-element
seems to have been introducedin Mahayana
Buddhismfirstin the formof the dhdrani,the 'mystic'syllablecredited
with the capacityof keepingup the spirituallifeof the initiate.The
famousphilosopherVasubandhu(IVth cent. A.D.) gave, in his Bodhian expositionofthenatureofthedhiranisand a philosophsattvabhfimi,
ical explanationforthe utilizationof mantrasfortherealizationofthe
one ofthem
ultimatetruth.Severalclassesofdhdranisare distinguished,
to
the mantraetc.,
another,
leading memory,
perfectinsight,generosity
2
to
What
interest
us
most
is
that
Vasubandhu
may
dhdran.i, perfection.
adds a philosophicalexplanationof how the mantrasenablethe initiate
to realizethe verynatureofthe dharmas(i.e.,potencies,
atoms-of-being,
which throughthe influenceof karma combine
or elements-of-existence
1 See, e.g., G. Rosenkranz,Der Weg des Buddha, Stuttgart1960, p. 91 ff,
Vasubandhu, Bodhis, p. 272 ff.U.W. (Tokyo).

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296

J. Gonda

so as to constitute
thetransient
thatis to say,howsyllables
phenomena),
the
ofwhich
suchas iti mi.tikitibhiksdmti
paddnisvdhi, meaninglessness
is expresslytaught,enabletheinitiateto understand,
by pureintuition,
that the natureof the dharmasis meaninglessand to bringabout the
revolutionof a uniqueand immutabletranscendental
meaningwhichis
the real natureof All 1. However,the same Vasubandhualso observed
scepticallythat herbsratherthan mantrasare, in case of illness,the
curativeagent,but thatthedoctorsclaimthatthedrugis successful
only
formula
which
the
is
their
The
secret
fact
2.
professional
may
through
indeednot be suppressedthat a reactioncame in the formof groupsof
spiritualleadersand yoginswho revoltedagainstthis'magical'beliefin
mantras,ritualsand ceremoniesetc. and who while stressingesoteric
and purelyspiritualrealizationoftheonenesswiththe
religiousdoctrines
Absolute,dispensedwiththeseexternalmeans: "the truthis not to be
mutteredas a mantra".
In orderto appreciatethe functionof mantrasin TantricBuddhism
the processof muttering(japa) accordingto the Mahdvairocanastitra
whichhas
recitation,
may be recalledto mind.Afterthe contemplative
theirelements
fouraspects-recitingthe mantrawhile contemplating
the soundsof the
distinguishing
(the so-called'heartenlightenment');
the significance
of the phrases;the regulation
elements;understanding
of
of the breathin orderto contemplatethe mutualinterpenetration
the devoteeand the Buddha-there followsthe recitationaccompanied
etc.) and the 'recitationofrealization'whichbrings
(flowers
by offerings
about the success(siddhi)desired.
Naturallyenough,the relationsbetweenmantrasand othersupraThus the
normalpower were susceptibleto different
interpretations.
authorof the Mahivairocanastitra
(ch. 4) was of the opinionthat the
miraculousforceresidingin theseformulaswas due to theoriginalvow
themone
of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,so that by pronouncing
The
Buddha
to
consecrated
merit
without
so
limits.
has,
say,
acquires
them and exerted upon them an inconceivableinfluence.According
to the Tibetansit is in orderto attain to an enlightened
attitudeeven
in
not
to
be
with
the dharma,
only
harmony
nowadays necessary,
to
be
and
and
but
also
able
to
understand
learned,
disciplined,
grasp
what is meantby the mantras3. In theircountrymantrasappear in
1
See, e.g., also S. Bh. Dasgupta, Obscurereligiouscultsas backgroundofBengali
Literature,Calcutta 1946, passim.

2 E. Conze, Buddhism, Oxford 1951 (1953), P. 181.

sGam.po.pa, Jewel Ornamentof Liberation, translated and annotated by

H. V. Guenther, London 1959, p. 118.

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The IndianMantra

297

TibetanizedSanskrit.For instance,on sittingdown to expound and


learn the dharmaone should recitethe mantrawhichovercomesthe
thephenomenal
worldas opposed
powerofMdra (i.e.,Death representing
to Liberation)in orderto makesurethatno obstaclescan arise: "Peace,
peace, appeaserof enemies,conquerorof Mdra, thou who wearest a
garlandof skulls,thou resplendentone, thou who lookestaround,art
pureand immaculateand removestall stains; thou who lookesteverywhere,who bindestall evil and art thyselffreefromthe fettersof
Mdra ..., let all the devilish impedimentsvanish"'

ofmantrasin Indonesiantradition-whichin cultand


The importance
beliefhas been stronglyinfluencedby India-may appear fromthe
followingnarratives."?iva and his wifeDevi ?ri werewalkingonce in
the mountainWaralau. Moved by the lovelybeautyof the place ?iva
wantedto enjoyhiswife.She wouldnotand whilehe strovewithhertwo
dropsofspermafellintoa hollowofthemountain.The god said mantras
over them, and they became twins, a boy and a girl ..."

2.

When

Indian tale Smara,the god of love,wished


accordingto the well-known
to disturb?iva's meditationin orderto focushis attentionon Parvati,
his thoughtsso as to
but ?iva did not awake, Kdma concentrating
a
let
this
mantra
enter
?iva's mind with the
powerfulspell
produce
resultthat the latterawoke3. In the medievalstoryof the witchCalon
Arangthe famousrsi Bharadah was unable to restoreby means of a
mantraa treewhichhad been burnedto ashes by the strongglanceof
the witch.In anotherstorya childis made a demonby the mantrasof
a priestand whenthis man hid himselfto listento the priest'ssecret
and so heard the mantras,the priesthad no choicebut to
instruction
ordain him 4.

1
Guenther,o.c., p. 159.--For the reinterpretationof the well-knownTibetan
mantraOrmmagipadme humsee, e.g., E. J. Thomas, in JRAS 19o6, p. 464.

B. de Zoete and W. Spies, Dance and drama in Bali, London 1938 (1952), p. 105.
3 Ibidem, p. 324-

mantras in the island of Bali see also the


4 Ibidem, p. 305.-For
Gan.zapatitattwa,? 28 (ed. Sudarshana Devi Singal, New Dehli 1958). For the migrationof
the 'magic syllable' Om (India, Tibet, FurtherIndia, Indian Archipelago)see J. J.
Boeles, in: India Antiqua (FestschriftJ. Ph. Vogel), Leiden 1947, p. 40.

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