The Veda-s are a vast collection of hymns that are believed to have been heard by ancient Indian sages when they were in a deep meditative state. Collectively, they are the most authoritative source of Indian wisdom as they contain information on every conceivable subject.
In fact, the term, "veda" implies "that which can be learnt." This is a broad definition encompassing not just intellectual knowledge but also an understanding of profound concepts that cannot be seen or inferred. Not only do the Veda-s tell us what to do, they also tell us how and why we need to do those actions. Thus, the Veda-s have, for thousands of years, been the primary source of reference for many people living in the Indian sub-continent.
Even the six-schools of Indian philosophy known collectively as "satdarsana" and comprising nyaya, vaisesika, sankhya, yoga, mimamsa and oedanta based their teachings on the Veda-s. This is why these schools are often referred to as the "oaidika darsana," meaning schools of philosophy based on the Veda-s." Thus, the status of the Veda-s as the most sacred of the Indian teachings was firmly established and remains undisputed until today.
These teachings were considered extremely precious and hence, every precaution was taken to protect and preserve them in their entirety. How the ancient Indians achieved this was through a very special method of transmission - the oral tradition.
The Vedic chants were transmitted by means of oral recitation and recollection from one generation of teachers and students to the next. It was the vitality of this link between teacher and student that is responsible for the continuity of this tradition that is as relevant today as it was several thousand years ago. The trust invested in the teacher- student lineage helped preserve the sanctity of this tradition and carried it undiluted into the future. This tradition of passing these great teachings of the Veda-s orally through the art of chanting is called "adhyayanam".
Students would be initiated into chanting at a young age (usually between the ages of 8 and 12), using a special mantra (chant) known as giiyatri mantra. After initiation, the students would be expected to reside with their teachers and study under them until they were ready for graduation (around 24-25 years of age).
The emphasis 'was on perfection and discipline. The teacher would not progress further until and unless the students were able to chant perfectly from memory. This called for tremendous focus and complete attention to the rules of Vedic chanting. It is because of this rigidity as far as the rules of Vedic chanting are concerned that the Veda-s are heard and chanted today exactly as they were a thousand years ago.
Benefits of Chanting
Recitation of the Veda-s has several benefits .when practiced in the right manner. The Veda-s are the source of most of the mantra-s that are in practice. These mantra-s are powerful sounds, which when pronounced in the right manner produce certain vibrations that have the potential to alter our physiological state, thereby improving physical and mental health. This is why mantra-s have been used for many years in India as a means of personal and spiritual transformation.
Another benefit of Vedic chanting, especially through the process of adhyayanam, lies in its ability to bring the mind to a state of complete attention. Since the process of chanting involves listening to the teacher and reproducing exactly what the teacher chants, the student must pay total attention. Hence, distractions of the mind are reduced and concentration enhanced. Recitation of mantra-s has been considered an important tool in yoga practice because the primary goal of yoga is to bring the mind to a state of attention. Different mantra-s can also be used to bring about specific effects.
For instance, certain mantra-s used in a certain way can have energising effects while others can have a relaxing effect. As a result, Vedic canting finds important applications in healing and yoga therapy as well.
Who can do chanting
Until recently, many believed that Vedic chanting must be practiced only by certain sections of people, especially men. However, we have references in ancient texts that establish that any one is eligible to practice Vedic chanting, if they are interested in it. For instance, in the Valmiki Ramayana, India's first epic poem, there is a reference to Queen Kausalya (mother of Prince Rama) reciting purusra suktam, a chant from the Veda-s. This reference (Ayodhya Kanda4.33) disproves a recent belief that women were barred from chanting, presenting a completely different picture.
On the strength of this and other references from authoritative Indian texts, Yogacarya T Krishnamacharya took a bold initiative in opening the doors of Vedic chanting to everyone irrespective of race, gender, occupation or religious/political affiliations. It was his firm belief that anyone who wished to learn and teach Vedic chanting with a view to preserving this ancient tradition had the right to do so. Krishnamacharya's initiative set in motion the timely efforts to preserve and carry forth the timeless teachings of the Veda-s.
"Mantramala'' literally means a "garland of chants." This book contains a selection of chants from various sections of the Veda-s as taught by T Krishnamacharya.
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