Mantra & Chanting Mistakes

July 23, 2013

“Mananaat traayate iti mantra”. That which protects (traayate) by constant repetition is a Mantra.

Mantras are revelations in the most ancient language – sanskrit. They were heard by the Masters or Rishis meditating in the Himalayan peaks.

Article by Shubhraji for YOGA AKTUELL MAGAZINE, GERMANY. October-November 2011

Lesen Sie den ganzen Artikel in deutscher Sprache (Read the full article in German). defines a mantra as “a word or formula, as from the veda, chanted or sung as an incantation or prayer”. One must understand the difference between a mantra, a devotional chant or kirtan and japa. A mantra can be vedic- impersonal and abstract like Soham, or puranic (post vedic period), involving a personal deity, like Om Namo Narayana. There are also bija or seed mantras like Om Hrim Dum Durga Devyai Namaha. All mantras have a bija, which is the heart of the mantra- it may or may not be revealed in the chant. Kirtan is singing praises of God and japa is repetition of a mantra (with or without telling beads). All mantra, kirtan or japa invoke different aspects of the One Infinite Reality.

With the worldwide explosion of yoga, (asana), and the subculture of mantra, kirtan and japa – many key issues have been ignored with regard to this practice. Even though our intention is sincere – every science has its own laws and the abuse of these laws can create adverse effects for us.

Benefits of Mantra and Chanting

Mantras are powerful sound vibrations which are capable of transforming energy at all levels of creation. They affect mental and subtle planes of consciousness and reach the subconscious level where our karmic patterns are stored. The practice of mantra increases concentration, memory, purifies our heart and helps erase the effects of past karma. Proper recitation of mantras and chants helps invoke the latent power within us and can bless us in every facet of our life.

The most important thing you need to know, whether it is a mantra you are repeating or a chant you are singing – proper pronunciation is the key. Yes we all have different accents – that is not a problem – however mispronunciation changes the meaning and nullifies the very effect you wish to produce!

Taittiriya Upanishad clearly points out 6 elements of pronunciation with regard to vedic mantras.

Varna or alphabet (or in general syllable)
Swara or intonation of each syllable
Maatra or duration of uttering each syllable
Balam or stress on each syllable
Saama or the balance of chanting (the tune of entire mantra)
Santana or the continuity in pronouncing

Mistakes and their Effects

Even if we are not experts and have not learnt from a teacher, when we chant mantras or do kirtan, we should pay attention to the above mentioned aspects. Mistakes in chanting can cause a wide spectrum of problems – from merely nullifying its effect, to creating negative karma or physical and emotional imbalances, some of which can be very detrimental for us. That is why at the end of rituals and chanting we chant a mantra asking for forgiveness in case of any mistakes!

I am outlining the five most common mistakes people make:

Improper pronunciation
Improper stress on syllables
Incorrect metre
Not following rules specific to a particular mantra
Chanting certain mantras in random tunes

Om Namah Shivaya is a mantra found in the Yajur Veda hymn – Sri Rudram, however Govinda Jai Jai Gopala Jai Jai, is just a chant and not a mantra. Both can be chanted to many different tunes – but they must be pronounced correctly.

‘Hare Ram Hare Ram Ram Ram Hare Hare.’ can be sung in different tunes, as it is a puranic mantra. However, stretching a syllable and chanting Haare Ram, implies that Lord Ram is a loser! It is the responsibility of kirtan singers to get it right on their CD albums and live performances!

The metre or chanda is very important when chanting mantras. For example Om Trayambakam Yajamahe..the mantra for curing diseases, can be chanted the vedic way or just spoken as prose or whispered – but if we break the metre, it loses its impact and will not produce any benefit at all.

The Gayatri Mantra, honoring the sun, is from Rig Veda. One must never chant it after sunset. Also, singing it in just any tune as devotional singers are doing nowadays is an absolute no- no. The Gayatri of Surya or the Sun,‘Om Bhaskaraya Vidmahe,Divakaraya dhimahi, Tanno Suryah Pracodayat’ should only be chanted at sunrise.

A chant invokes the energy of the deity connected with it. For example, if we are chanting a mantra for Lord Ganesh (the remover of obstacles and the deity for new beginnings), and disrespect Him while chanting, it can have a rebound effect on our life by bringing obstacles in our endeavors.

People also have to be especially careful when chanting seed syllables because they contain immense power and even a little distortion can have very negative consequences.

When proper chanting is done our chakras or energy centers come into balance. Incorrect chanting can affect a chakra and result in imbalances and all sorts of physical ailments.

Practices of meditation, yoga, and chanting invoke the parasympathetic nervous system – creating respite from chronic stress and activity. If practiced incorrectly, it may activate its counterpart, the sympathetic nervous system and fail to invoke the peace and space that was originally intended.

Primarily, the energy of the person and their attitude of reverence towards the chant is very important and if that is not one of purity, it can have serious consequences and bring unnecessary suffering to them.

Some people feel that if one has devotion in their heart they can chant any which way and it cannot bring any harm. It is a fact that the Divine accepts a true prayer and our intention is an important factor. Panini, the great sanskrit grammarian has clearly outlined the adverse effects of incorrect pronunciation in his texts. : “If some of the consonants in a mantra are deleted then they destroy its life, if the vowels (svar) are faulty then disease sets in. The consecrated rice (akshata) [consecrated with a mantra which has discordant vowels and omission of letters] descends upon the head of the host like a thunderbolt (vajra).”

A word about Personal Mantras

Traditionally a seeker is initiated into a personal mantra by a Guru or spiritual preceptor. The power infused by the Guru helps the seeker on his/her path towards enlightenment. However it is permissible to choose one’s mantra even without a Guru. There are a few rules about this.

one must not reveal their personal mantra to anyone else except their partner or parents if they choose to.
once a personal mantra is chosen it should not be changed. Supplementary mantras can be used as and when a person feels the need for strengthening a particular aspect in their life. If you connect with Om Namah Shivaya, you should stick to it – but you may add a Lakshmi mantra or any other mantra to your daily practice or for a specific period.

The age old tradition of mantra chanting, japa and kirtan is a valuable tool on the spiritual path. It can be used by anyone looking for inner peace and joy, irrespective of their belief system. It is a powerful way of connecting with the Divine, and can help one reach a deep state of bliss.

We cannot afford to ignore the key principles of this practice. Paying attention to them will be beneficial for us. From time immemorial chanting has lead seekers to spiritual experiences of great depth, joy and countless blessings. May those blessings be yours as you invoke the mantras wisely!

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— Arielle Ford. Author of Wabi Sabi Love and The Soulmate Secret
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