Studies have proved over and over that mantras have the power to do a great many things in our lives. They are pure energy and create the most positive vibrations which can do wonders in the human body and mind, not to mention–the environment.
Scientific studies of the Pranava mantra ॐ have found its vibrational frequency to be 432 Hz, which corresponds with the frequency of everything in Nature, thereby connecting it and the one who chants it, to the entire Universe. How wonderful is that!
I love sitting through long havans, just soaking in the vibrations of the mantras chanted by the pandits–the rising and falling cadences, the crystal clear diction, the inherent power in every syllable–making me feel part of the Universe, even if I don’t understand the meaning of the mantras. But there is a catch. These mantras, even ॐ, the simplest of them all, needs to be pronounced correctly to get the desired vibrations.
On the other hand, stotras and namavalis which are also mantras, don’t need such strict adherence to form and structure, though the pronunciation should be correct. They can be chanted aloud or silently and can even be set to tune and sung like a bhajan as they are the stuti or glorification of the deity. If mantras are structured and rigid in form and delivery, stotras are free-form. Most of the practising Hindus are familiar with shlokas. Today shloka chanting groups, both physical and virtual have caught up in a big way with even virtual classes being conducted.
Starting with the Ganpati Vandana with which we start every auspicious ritual, to the Guru Vandana and many others, we chant shlokas routinely. In fact, we have a shloka for almost every daily activity starting with waking up to bathing to eating to travelling and sleeping. Children are taught these short shlokas, thus inculcating the habit of praying all through their lives.
As a child and young girl, I used to wake up to the Bhakti Ranjani programme on AIR Hyderabad and Vijayawada, with stotras set to tune, invoking various deities depending upon the day of the week. Father would, of course, have begun his shloka chanting much before that. His puja routine would have more recitation, archana with ashtotram followed by Ramayana parayanam. His crystal-clear diction made it easy for me to learn and remember the stotras.
In the evenings, the entire family used to sit down to recite a series of stotras. When I was a little older, I attended shloka classes, where we were taught the chanting of Vishnu Sahasranama and Bhagavad Gita, the 100 verse Soundarya Lahari composed by Adi Shankara invoking Shakti and many more. It is all thanks to those recitations and chanting that today, all I need to hear are the opening lines of a shloka and it all comes rushing back. And this, even after several decades of ‘secular ignorance’ when I had rebelled against all the rituals and traditions of my childhood.
This the reason why the oral tradition has been so strong in our culture, especially in the learning of Vedas and in folk art forms. Vedic chanting certainly can’t be learnt by reading from the texts. Listening to a guru reciting the Vedic mantras not only helps perfect the diction, cadence and emphasis on syllables, but also to memorise them easily. Older readers would remember how as children, we used to learn the alphabets, the tables and poems – all by repeating after the teacher, often in tune. I do feel that old methods of teaching and learning by repetition had great merit.
What I like best about shloka chanting is that one feels close to the deities it invokes. It is like a child reaching out to one particular relative in a large joint family, to redress a specific complaint. The child instinctively knows who will comfort him. If it is the mother at one time, at others it could be an uncle, aunt or grandfather. Even the words, ‘Everything will be okay,’ can provide immense comfort to a distraught child. Likewise, we can go to any one of the manifestations of the Supreme in the form of various deities, to get our problems sorted out.
Some sit in meditation when they need to connect with their inner self to deal with some issue plaguing them; others go to a temple; yet others chant sahasranama or sing a bhajan; some start doing japa. Sadly, none of the above work for me. What does, unfailingly, is chanting of a shloka, a short one at that, invoking the deity Who I feel would comfort me the most at the time.
At the first sign of some distress, physical or psychological, it is to one of the shlokas that I turn to. I call them my ‘shloka pills’. I am fortunate to know and remember so many of them and my store of them keeps growing as I learn more new ones for specific purposes. Most of us would know at least some short shlokas and mantras. It does not matter even if you don’t know many.
- When I was a kid, I called upon Rama to come and help me out of my troubles. I have recounted them in my post here. The image of Rama as the protector is so indelibly etched in my mind’s eye that even today, I chant a few verses from the Aapaduddharaka Rama Stotram that father used to chant, to feel completely protected.
- I turn to Anjaneya for courage, when the scary statistics of the current pandemic rob me of sleep. I visualise Him flying with the Sanjeevani mountain, healing the suffering masses. There is one that especially mentions ‘mahamari’ (epidemic), but any shloka is fine.
- Sometimes a shloka picks itself up and I begin chanting that, not quarrelling with my mind for picking up one on Durga, instead of Anjaneya. Durga appears resplendent on her simha vahana, carrying her fearsome weapons to vanquish the asuras of fear and doubt and provide mental peace and health.
- When I have been running impossible deadlines or when something didn’t seem to have any chance of happening, panic prompts my tongue to begin chanting the Asaadhya saadhaka shloka of Hanuman–who can make the impossible, possible. The impediments clear as if by magic.
- Before any travel, we invoke Sri Margabandhu Shiva, the divine guide, by chanting the Marbabandhu stotram to prevent any obstacles on the way.
- When I am nervous about talking to someone or anticipate some difficulty in expressing myself properly at an important meeting, I invoke Saraswati to guide me.
- Shiva as Vaidyanatha, the king of physicians Himself helps me when someone close to me is ailing. While the stotra is an ashtakam, which is eight verses long, the phalashruti is all that I need to bring the desired result. This is another of the unfailing ‘shloka pills’ that has come to my aid time and again. When combined with medicines, the effect is nothing short of miraculous.
The best thing about these ‘pills’ is that, they can be taken by anyone close to the person suffering! Their efficacy, of course, depends on how deep the faith is, in the power of the deity to help you and your loved one.
For those who would like a rational explanation for the success of the ‘shloka pills’, could be that I stop working myself into knots thinking about the problem when I begin chanting these reassuring shlokas. Perhaps too, instead of being paralysed by anxiety, I begin working on a solution wherever possible, having unburdened my worries to the deity. There is little doubt that the monotonous repetition of the shloka soothes fraught nerves like nothing else does.
But for me, these ‘shloka pills’ are divine supplements that help me tackle any problem. The sceptical might say that they are lucky coincidences, but I know differently!