The Sanskrit Language: Mantra & the Exploration of Vibrational Qualities in Language
Original piece by Avani | 2013
I found the work with the Sanskrit Alphabet fascinating; to learn about its nature based origins. This, along with researching the intention behind a spiritual name, has me considering how powerful a language is when the vibrational quality is the most important aspect. I also recently took a workshop focused on Sanskrit Study where we further dissected the Sanskrit Alphabet and spoke in depth about the five positions of the mouth/tongue in using the language. I find myself scouring youtube for mantra videos and sutra song. As a person who once was unbearably self conscious about her voice (I couldn’t carry a tune in a five gallon bucket); I have found a new passion in the sacred sounds and songs of the Sanskrit language. I have a newfound understanding that it is not about the beauty in the voice, but the resonation and vibration itself. The vibrational quality is something that anyone can (and does) achieve, songstress or not. That is encouraging and inspiring for me in my growing practice of Sanskrit vocabulary and Mantra work.
I am currently working most deeply with a book by Nicolai Bachman called The Language of Yoga which comes with over two and a half hours of audio as well as with a website called Sanskrit Basics. The website also comes with audio samples and full courses for download. I have downloaded for full immersion the courses Sanskrit 1 “The Ring of Sounds” (3.3 hours) and Sanskrit 3 “Chanting” (1.3 hours); these courses are led by E-RYT 500 Pierre Couvillion of Evolution Yoga.
In particular I am zooming in on the following specifics of Sanskrit:
~The Sanskrit Alphabet (The Ring of Sounds)
~The Mangala Mantra (The Auspicious Mantra)
~The Gayatri Mantra (The Sivitri Mantra)
~The Siva Mantra (from Niralamba Upanisad)
Sanskrit, in the Sanskrit language known as “sáṃskṛta,” may be translated as “put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated”. It is a language that is said to have been divinely revealed to sages and is “perfectly designed for the human vocal apparatus” with the sound of each word expressing the subtle energy of it’s definition [Bachman, 1]. The earliest known Sanskrit writings are found in The Vedas although it is believed that the language was passed down orally for much time before it was finally transcribed. Here are the specifics about the current areas of study:
The Sanskrit Alphabet: My first exposure to “The Ring of Sounds” was during the Art of Flow teacher training. I found it so intriguing that the language is based on these vowels and consonants which are formed based on a vibrational quality and connected to the different areas of the natural kingdom. I’ve long been interested in language as I studied Spanish all through school and eventually taught Spanish as a second language. While doing this I was also specializing a Master’s Degree study in teaching modern language. In particular, in the Spanish language the meaning of a word or sentence can change entirely when the accent, or emphasis, is placed on the wrong syllable. Sanskrit deepens this with a more specific and yet more subtle piece; the position of the tongue. This language depends not just on the accuracy of pronunciation, but the positioning of the tongue in order to express the correct vibrational quality. I find the 1st and 2nd mouth positions to be the most challenging. I learned in a recent workshop that positions 3, 4 and 5 are the areas where most English and Spanish speakers contain their language use so it is natural that the 1st and 2nd positions pose more of a challenge for me. The 1st and 2nd positions would be considered the guttural and palatal consonants (which we worked with at PYC). I am having fun chanting the alphabet and in particular enjoy the sibilants and the chanting of the vowels.
The Mangala Mantra: The Mangala Mantra (or The Auspicious Mantra) was of deep interest to me as I found that for years I have been using only a small piece of it (and believed that piece to be a complete mantra within itself). That small piece has always been my favorite mantra and really the only lengthy one I will normally ever take out during a public yoga class.
As I began to unfold the entire length of the mantra I fell in love with it even more. Here is the visual representation as well as the appropriate accented Sanskrit words.
The best English translation that I have connected to is: May the well-being of all people be protected, may the powerful and mighty leaders be lawful and just. May good success be with all cows (divinity) and scholars, May all (samastah) the worlds (lokha) become (bhavantu) happy (sukhino). [AstangaYoga.info]
With this included, I would like to follow-up in saying that one of my favorite explorations within the Sanskrit language is the importance that lies in the sound, the naad, the vibrational quality. This makes it very challenging to correctly pin down a literal translation; an enigma that I quite enjoy! I am however, in this introductory study, including a loose English translation of each mantra in order to build mental connections for myself to aid in memorization, vocabulary attainment and general understanding.
The Gayatri Mantra: This mantra is on the study list as one of the most revered mantras of the Vedic tradition. It is so named after the meter that the mantra runs in, Gayatri meter, but sometimes also referred to as the Sivitri Mantra as it is interpreted to invoke the deva Sivitr. Heard on many a yoga playlist but never fully dissected, my favorite vocal interpretation remains that of Deva Premal. Like most mantras there is no author, but rather it is believed that the vibration of this song was passed down or revealed to a Brahmarshi.
See here the visual representation as well as the appropriate accented Sanskrit words. “It is said that this sacred prayer spirals through the entire universe from the heart of the chanter, appealing for peace and divine wisdom for all.” [Chandra-Sekar, The Magic of Gayatri ] What a beautiful sentiment and intention!
The English translation I most closely connect with is: We meditate on that most desirable and enchanting luster and brilliance of our Supreme Being, our Source Energy, our Collective Consciousness….who is our creator, inspirer and source of eternal Joy. May this warm and loving Light inspire and guide our mind and open our hearts. [Chandra-Sekar The Magic of Gayatri]
For me personally, this is one of the most beautiful and charming mantras of them all.
The Siva Mantra: This mantra is also known as the Shiva Mantra, the Siddha Yoga Mantra, or most commonly as the Anusara Yoga Invocation. This is no modern mantra though and has been found in the Niralamba Upanishad (therefore also being known sometimes as the Niralamba Invocation) dating as far back as 1000 or 800 – 500 BCE. It is short and sweet, but far from simple.
Here are the words as well as the appropriate accented Sanskrit. The best English translation that I have connected to is: Salutations to Siva, the teacher, whose form is truth, consciousness, and bliss, who is without deceit, tranquil, independent and illuminating. [from The Language of Yoga]
Bachman, Nicolai. The Language of Yoga
Couvillion, Pierre (E-RYT 500) Sanskrit Course 1: The Ring of Sounds
Couvillion, Pierre (E-RYT 500) Sanskrit Course 3: Chanting, My Musical Voice