The Key Parts of Mantra

By Rudra Shivananda

grayscale photography of man sitting on grass field

I’ve written a number of articles on mantra yoga and it seems like a good time to go deeper into the science of mantra by looking at the components that constitute all mantras.

Remember that for classifying mantras, we can consider that there are two primary reasons to chant mantras – to fulfill our ego-desires or for Self-realization. Some mantras can be used for both purposes such as the mahamritunajaya mantra¹ for preventing untimely death as well as for liberation from the cycle of karmic suffering.

Every mantra has six parts (shadanga): rishi, chandas, devatha, beejam, keelakam, shakti. Knowing the six parts for the specific mantra we are following is critical for achieving the benefits in a timely manner. It is not always possible to know all the six parts and sometimes it is not necessary but in all cases, the benefits can still be attained albeit in a slower pace through intense and regular practice.

Rishi identifies the sage who discovered the mantra first – that is he is the seer of the mantra such as Vishwamitra for the Gayatri mantra. In the case of  some tantric mantras, the rishi is the first one who attained perfection or siddhi in that mantra. In either case, the initial life force of the mantra comes from the kundalini shakti of the rishi. It is necessary to connect with the rishi if one is seriously going to undertake the practice of a mantra.

Chandas includes the proper pronunciation of that mantra as well as in some cases the proper manner or melody that accompanies its chanting. The pronunciation is critical for all mantras as the sound patterns form the body of the universal energy that is being invoked by the mantra and a badly formed body will not be a suitable vehicle to carry the energy needed. The melody is more important in the case of mantras designed for satisfying desires as these require an additional instrument to give external effects. The melody is absent or less important in the case of liberation mantras recited primarily in the mind.

Devatha is the aspect of the universal power that will give the benefits for that mantra. Generally for each mantra there will be an inherent deity (adhisthan devatha) with specific meditative form (dhyana rupa). There may also be a separate meditative mantra called dhyana sloka that can be learned to supplement the main mantra. Also, a mantra may have several deities and it needs the direction from the initiator to correctly point to the right one for the student. An example is the Gayatri which is said to have three deities – Gayatri, Savitri and Saraswati.

Beejam is the seed from which the mantra is formed and gives the basic character (tattva) of the mantra – soft (jala tattva) or hard (agni tatva). There are some single-syllable or one-word mantras that encapsulate the seed and are called beeja mantras.

Keelakam is the key to open the lockto get results. Most of the powerful mantras are locked and require a key to open. Some mantras such as Om or Nama Shivaya are unlocked and can practiced without the keelakam, but others are closely locked with hidden keys such as the Gayatri. The keelakam can be another mantra or sloka or can be the transference of a particular touch or energy during the initiation by the mantra siddha.

Shakti is the power of mantra. This is the power we get from perfecting the mantra. Besides these six parts of the mantra, there are three supplementary parts that are only present for some mantras – sankalpam, kavacham and ardham. Sankalpam is the intent for the mantra practice – it incorporates the willpower of the practitioner and announces to the universe the results desired. If the sankalpam is moksha, then it is not necessary to repeat it every time but if the goal is a material desire, then it necessary to continually remind oneself the reason for the practice.

Some mantras attract obstructions to those who try to practice them and so a protective armor is necessary – this is the kavacham that needs to be recited before commencing the primary mantra.

Ardham is the meaning of that mantra – this is mostly of subsidiary importance and even absent in the case of beeja mantras but play an important role in meditative slokas for deities. In some mantras, the key is the devotional fervor of the seeker.

It is important for a student to receive the proper guidance when undertaking the practice of a mantra – the critical elements should be identified and incorporated into the mantra yoga sadhana.

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