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Mantra is derived from the Sanskrit root “man” – (to think). Mantra is a thought, indicating something subtler, deeper and unknown to the five senses of knowledge.  In this article let us check out the meaning of mantras and the types of different mantras in Hinduism.

All the scientific principles like the ‘Law of Gravity’ or the ‘Theory of Relativity’ are unknown to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. Knowledge is directly revealed to the ‘inner instrument’ or antahh-karan-a.

Mind is also called by that name in Sanskrit. Mind in an intuitive state directly understands all the higher laws. One who knows these higher and subtler laws, unknown to the five senses, is called a scientist in the modern world and is called a rishi in Sanskrit.

Rishi means rishati janati iti rishih ie. the one who sees and knows. Sees and knows all these higher and subtler laws. Rishi is a seer: a seer of Mantras. Mantras are codified forms of the various facets of the Truth.

Mantras are seen by rishi’s in their transcendental mental states, in higher realms of consciousness. Every mantra has a Rishi, a meter and a deity indicating a facet of the Ultimate.

Mantras are sound symbols and are all codified. Mantras consist of one or more letters. A letter in Sanskrit is called aksharam. Na ksharati iti aksharam – one who does not perish is called aksharam.

The ultimate Truth also is called aksharam. This is in the relative phenomenal existence. According to the Veda’s and even to the Hindu mythology the whole creation is a manifestation and unmanifestation.

The same thing is now more or less accepted by all of the top physicists, that whatever is now manifesting was there earlier in an un manifest condition. The Truth according to the Veda’s is Absolute Existence-Knowledge-Bliss and contains the whole creation including time and space.

By knowing this ultimate truth one becomes that or gains that, according to the Veda’s. Hence keeping this goal of gaining the ultimate to become completely free from sorrow, suffering and all limitations, individuals take to the study of scriptures, prayers, austerities and deep contemplation and meditations.

In that process some of them happen to see various facets of the Truth. They are called rishi’s or Mantra Drashtaraha, one who sees mantras. Thus mantras are facets of the Truth in codified or capsule form. A mantra contains at least one syllable and can contain any number of syllables.

These one-syllable mantras are called bija aksharas or bi-ja’s. Bija means a seed. In Sanskrit when bija is reversed it becomes jiba or jiva, which means the individual. Both the individual and the seed are eternal because no one can ever say when the first individual or the first seed started.

They started with the creation itself. Now each of these bija mantras reflects different aspects of the Truth in a subtler way. Some examples for bija’s are Om, Hrim, Shrim, Klim, Im, Dum and so on.

Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism

Mantras can be categorized in various ways.

1. The Origin

2. The Purpose

According to the Origin:

1. Vedic Mantras

2. Tantric Mantras

3. Pauranic Mantras

Vedic mantras ( Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism )

Veda is from the Sanskrit root Vid (to know). Veda is a body of knowledge covering all aspects of life and creation. It is one body of knowledge, but as it was too vast for the sake of convenience a great rishi – Veda Vyasa divided it into four parts and gave them four names.

He was called Veda Vyasa because he divided the Veda. The four Veda’s are Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda. Each Veda again is divided into four parts called

1. mantra bhâga

2. brahmana bhâga

3. âranyaka bhâga

4. upanishad or Vedanta.

Bhâga means a part. ( â indicates a pronunciation of elongation of a, like a in ‘are’). All the verses in the mantra bhâga are also called mantras only. All Vedic Mantras are having intonations for pronunciation and it is very important for them.

Correct pronunciation of words is essential. Intonation is over and above this condition. There are various important mantras from the Veda’s, like gayatri mantra – maha mrutyunjaya – mantra – panchakshari mantra – ashtakshari mantra etc.

There are many Shanti Mantras for individual as well as universal peace and happiness. Vedic mantras are mainly used in Vedic fire rituals called yajñyâs and yâgâs. Every mantra has a particular place in the ritual and is to be associated with a particular procedure to offer oblations in the fire.

Nowadays, since these rituals became rare, individuals are using these mantras mainly for chanting to promote individual and universal peace.

In general all these mantras for peace are ended with uttering of the word Shanti (Peace) three times. Shanti or Peace can be disturbed by various reasons.

These reasons can be categorized into three groups viz. âdhi davika tâpa, âdhi bhautica tâpa, dâhyatmika tâpa.

  1.  The first one is the tâpa or afflictions born due to natural calamities etc. like foods, earthquakes, cyclones, tornado’s etc. on which the human being has very less control.

2. The second one is afflictions like strikes, wars, battles, insect bites, epidemics and so on.

3. The third type of afflictions is due to the individual alone, from one’s own body and mind. In fact all types of afflictions can fully be covered under these three categories.

In order to ward off these three types of afflictions these mantras are used with a prayer to the Universal Intelligence.

Tantric mantras ( Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism )

Tantra is from the root tanu vistare: to expand. All the tantric practices are having this goal of expansion of individual consciousness to the total consciousness or Unity consciousness.

Tantra is a rebel child of Vedic tradition. The reason for this was that Vedic tradition in course of time became more and more rigid in its practices and also was not allowing many practices to women and certain categories of the communities.

In reality Vedas are very liberal in their outlook. But certain people in power started misinterpreting and they abused their privilege. This lead to the raise of tantras. Tantras have tantra, mantra and yantra as its accessories.

Tantra is the ritualistic portion, mantras may contain one or more than one syllable, while yantra is a diagrammatic representation of the deity of worship drawn on a copper, brass, golden or on a pancha loha plate (five metals). Tantric mantras and practices are esoteric in nature.

They are very popular, for they are believed to give quick results. An example of a tantric mantra is Om Im Hrim Shrim Shree Matre Namaha. Another one is Ka Ye E La Hrim Ha Sa Ka La Hrim Sa Ka La Hrim Shrim.

This is the famous Shodashakshari Mantra (16 lettered mantra). If the last Shrim is dropped then it is called Panchadashakshari Mantra (15 lettered mantra). There are innumerable mantras in tantra, given for different purposes.

Mantras are handed down in tradition from person to person and not taken from books. They need to be practiced at least for some time by that individual. The bija’s are considered as living only if taken from a living person and are considered ineffective if taken from books.

Some people and traditions claim that mantras obtained in dreams through yogis, siddhas and earlier saints are also effective. Tantric mantras are always followed or preceded by rituals, worship and prayers. Tantra again has two methods.

One is called vama marga or ‘left hand method’ and the other is called dakshina marga or the ‘right hand method’. Mantras in them are different and so are the practices. The left hand method mainly employs sex as a means to expand the individual consciousness, whereas the right hand method employs various meditation techniques to achieve this end.

Pauranic mantras ( Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism )

Puranas are secondary texts of Hindus. They are based on Vedas but are full of stories and are poetical. The authenticity of the puranas also is in question. Each Purana claims certain things, which are negated by the other purana.

But in their ultimate content they do not differ from the advaita, though they talk in terms of dualistic language. Puranas when not properly interpreted, lead a person to confusion. Sometimes their descriptions are so exaggerated that one loses all the faith in these books.

When puranas are properly interpreted, they lead to a vast bank of knowledge through stories and parables. Very difficult metaphysical truths are described in easy language. Puranas are 18 in number.

There are many mantras given in these 18 puranas. Mantras derived from puranas are called Pauranic Mantras. Vishnu Purana, Padma Purana and Bhagavat Purana give lot of mantras of Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna.

Shiva Purana, Markandeya Purana etc. give a lot of mantras of Lord Shiva and so on. Mantras are chanted for a particular result and for various purposes. When a person chants a mantra for a particular result then they are called sakâma.

Kâma means desire. Sa prefix gives the meaning “with”, that means mantra chanting done with desires. The scripture accepts such worship.

In the Bhagavat Gita Lord Krishna says that the devotees are of four types: arta, artahrti, jignayasu and jñani.

1. Arta is one who is afflicted with troubles,

2. Artharti is one who wants to achieve some ends in life,

3. Jignayasu is one who is actively pursuing for the ultimate knowledge,

4. Jñani is one who has gained the ultimate knowledge.

The scripture accepts that all these four types of people ultimately will reach the final beatitude of life, namely Moksha or Liberation or Enlightenment. Given this background the scripture feels that there is nothing wrong in taking to some means to achieve the ends through prayers.

When a person fails to achieve a thing through known means then he takes to the means called prayer by surrendering to the unseen Universal Intelligence. Mantra chanting is a prayer and hence can be used for that purpose.

Mantra chanting for general well-being Mantras are also selected and chanted for general well-being of the individual, family, community, country or even the entire creation. Either for a desired end or for general well-being the important thing is the Intention, called samkalpa in Sanskrit.

It is spelt out in the beginning clearly and then the chanting is taken up. Many times japa can be carried out for the sake of others also.

Mantras for moksha ( Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism )

Mantra chanting is also taken up by those aspirants who want nothing other than moksha or enlightenment. They take up the mantra chanting for removing various obstacles in their pursuit and thus try to obtain mental purity and focus.

A balanced, pure and focused mind alone can think of moksha or enlightenment. This type of mantra chanting is called a Nishkâma Upasana. Nishkâma means without desire.

Though the – desire for enlightenment is also a desire, it is never considered a desire in the scripture because it is a desire which removes all other desires and will bestow the individual a status from where he is no more bound by a desire but may still pursue desires with the freedom and fulfillment.

Thus action is categorized as one which is done for the sake of happiness, completeness and fulfillment and the other one is action done out of fulfillment, completeness and happiness. Since moksha means fullness or completeness, the desire for moksha is not categorized as any other desire.

Mechanism of mantra ( Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism )

Now we will discuss how a mantra works on the body and mind. The modern Mind-Body medicine has conclusively proved that mind works on the body directly, either in the adverse way or in a beneficial way.

Our mind generally thinks in two ways. One of the two is linear thinking and another – is associative thinking. IQ is associated with linear thinking and EQ is associated with associative thinking.

Japa breaks both these circuits and allows the mind to be in state of rest and awareness. It gives the mind – wakeful rest.

This is more effective than a long rest in relaxing the entire system. When japa of a mantra is done the next thought is known which is not possible otherwise. This leads to a certainty of the mind leading to rest and focus.

It does not lead to monotony as it is stated generally, because each chant is full and complete in itself in meaning and feeling. When a mantra is chanted either verbally or mentally then it vibrates the brain matter and connects new neural circuits.

This helps in higher understanding of the Truth as revealed by that mantra. But this effect comes after repeating the mantra for a long period of time and bringing in the resonance effect in the brain.

For this the seers developed various methods. How much a mantra is to be chanted and how it is to be chanted etc. were all given in the Mantra Shastra (Scripture of Mantras).

Japa or mantra chanting ( Meaning of Mantras and the types of Mantras in Hinduism )

There are two types of results for every activity. One is called “Drishta Phala” or “Seen Result” and the other is called “Adrishta Phala” or “Unseen Result”.

Many times we see that, though all known factors are taken care of, still the result does not come as it is expected because still some unknown factors played there. All prayers are meant to take care of this unknown factor because known factors are supposed to be addressed by the individual pragmatically.

When the individual is not in a position to take care of a known factor due to incapacity to do so then one can take recourse to a prayer to gain strength and capacity to take care of those known factors. In Bhagavat Gita Lord says “Karmani eva adhikaraha te mâ phaleshu kadachana”.

You have right over action only but not on its results because results are taken care of by the law of karma. Then the Lord says “Mâ karma pahalahetuhu bhut mâ te sangotsva karmani”, let you not be the causes of the results and at the same time do not take to inaction just because the results are governed by the laws of action and reaction.

Given this background japa or ‘mantra chanting’ is mainly taken up to take care of the Adrishta Phala portion or for taking care of the Unseen Factors. Hence here the japa is more centred on chanting with a prayerful attitude.

Where as mantra meditation is directly to attain tranquility and peace of mind which is a Drishta Phala or seen result.

In Sanskrit there are two ways of looking at the meaning of a word. One is Vyutpatti Artha or ‘derived meaning’ from the root. The second one is called Roodhi Artha or ‘commonly known meaning’.

The derived meaning of japa is to think  – The commonly known meaning of japa is to repeat a mantra number of times for a length of time. Japa is a form of prayer. If the repetition is done audibly then it is called vâcika japa and if it is done mentally it is called manasika japa.

There are again variations in vâcika japa like loud chanting of the mantra or uttering the mantra at a very less sound wherein only the subject alone can listen and even less than that is muttering the mantra. One needs to prepare oneself before one sits for chanting a mantra.

Benefits and limitations of Mantras

The benefits of mantra japa or meditation using mantra are innumerable in the form of both seen and unseen results. The main benefit of doing mantra japa – which the modern man can safely expect to get is the overall emotional balancing.

This is a result which can be seen and hence there is no make belief in this. This in turn definitely helps in improving the physical health of an individual. Limitations are always to be understood before taking up any endeavor. Mantra japa is not an exception to it.

If one expects any miracles or some light and sound effects due to mantra japa, then he may be disenchanted or disillusioned. Any exaggerated subjective expectation which is not inherently present in the thing can always lead the person to be dissatisfied and loose charm in that sadhana or practice.

Mantra is not an exception to it. One should remember that mantra is an aid in discovering fullness and joy which are innate to us. Unreasonable expectations about the person from whom the mantra is to be taken etc. always leads to a change of gurus and mantras.

Mantra taken from a person who has done some amount of japa of that mantra sincerely is good enough. Many modern gurus, in the name of Shakti Pat or transferring the power of the mantra are simply exploiting the gullibility of the individuals.

It is true that mantra is always to be taken from a living person and not from books. A live candle alone can light up another –  a soul alone can touch another soul. But this does not mean that a person should keep on looking for some special person to do what he is supposed to do.

No one can transfer the responsibility of understanding the Truth from himself to the guru. Hence excessive importance given in selecting the person and the mantra is not considered prudent.

Better than that – is to stick with the mantra and what it is doing for some time with interest and one should understand that as an aid in the ultimate spiritual progress.

The Role of Rosary in Mantra Japa

Doing japa with a rosary can be helpful in certain cases – while doing mantra sadhana but at most other times – counting with fingers is okay.

Rosaries (malas) can be important for specific mantras only. For various deities – various rosaries are there. For example with any Lakshmi mantra – the Lotus Seed rosary can be said to be beneficial.

This is it for today. I will continue this article next time – Meaning of Mantras and Types of Mantras in Hinduism in the next article.


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