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Chants & Prayers

The Roots of Chanting and Mantra, A beginner's guide to the history of chanting.

By Richard Rosen

The recitation of mantra is known as japa, which literally means "muttering, whispering." According to schools such as Hatha Yoga and Mantra Yoga, the universe is created through the medium of sound, and all sound, whether subtle or audible, issues from a transcendent, "soundless" source called the "supreme sound" or "supreme voice" (shabda-brahman or para-vac). While all sounds possess some degree of shabda-brahman's creative force, the sounds of mantras are far more forceful than other sounds.

As a practice, japa is thousands of years old. In the beginning, mantras were drawn only from the thousands of verses in the Rig-Veda, Hinduism's oldest and holiest scripture. After some time, mantras were taken from non-Vedic sources as well, such as the numerous texts associated with the schools of Hindu Tantra, or those revealed to seers (rishis) in meditation. Mantra Yoga as a formal school is a relatively recent development, though "recent" in yoga years means between twelve and fifteen centuries. Instructional manuals commonly list sixteen "limbs" (anga) of practice. Many of them--such as asana, conscious breathing, and meditation--are shared with other yoga schools.

The building blocks of all mantras are the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Mantras can consist of a single letter, a syllable or string of syllables, a word, or a whole sentence. Etymologically, the word "mantra" is derived from the verb "man,' which means "to think," and the suffix "tra," which denotes instrumentality. A mantra then is literally an "instrument of thought" that concentrates, intensifies, and spiritualizes our consciousness.

Tradition estimates that there are 70 million mantras. This number shouldn't be taken too literally; it simply signifies that there are lots of mantras. Yogis assert that, to be most effective, a mantra should be received orally from a self-realized teacher (guru), not merely learned from a book, so that it's infused with the teacher's spiritual energy. And to preserve its reservoir of power, a mantra should be kept in strictest secrecy, and not revealed to anyone else.

Mantra traditionally has two purposes, which can be called worldly and spiritual. We usually think of mantra solely as an instrument of self-transformation. But in ancient times mantra was also used for mundane and not necessarily positive ends, such as communicating with and appeasing ghosts and ancestors, exorcism or warding off evil forces, remedies for illnesses, control of other people's thoughts or actions, and the acquisition of powers (siddha) or magical skills. As for its spiritual purpose, mantra is said to quiet the habitual fluctuations of our consciousness and then steer consciousness toward its source in the Self.

We're accustomed to the idea that mantras are recited aloud. But mantras can also be "not-spoken" or "not-muttered" (ajapa). One old text, the Yoga-Yajnavalkya (2.16), maintains that a whispered mantra is a thousand times more beneficial than a spoken one, a mental mantra is a thousand times more beneficial than a whispered one, and finally meditating on a mantra is a thousand times more beneficial than its silent recitation. Some teachers mention a third subcategory of ajapa-mantra, which is writing (likhita) out the mantra.

Yogis also categorize mantras as either "meaningful" or "meaningless." Mantras in the "meaningful" category have an obvious surface meaning along with the esoteric one. Examples of meaningful mantras are the "great sayings" (maha-vakya) drawn from the texts known as the Upanishads, such as "I am the Absolute" (aham brahma asmi) and "You are That" (tat tvam asi). Meaningful mantras have two functions: to instill within the reciter a particular spiritual doctrine, and to serve as a vehicle for meditation.

It's rather misleading to call the second category of mantras "meaningless." Meaningless mantras are only apparently so to noninitiates, who don't possess the key to their understanding. Those in the know, who have undergone proper initiation, understand the mantra perfectly well. Besides, the purpose of these mantras isn't to impart a particular doctrine but to affect a certain state of consciousness in the reciter.

Nowadays it's not always possible to find a guru to provide you with a mantra and teach you the proper way to recite it. But if you're interested in learning about mantra, first check your local yoga school for a mantra class or workshop, or at least an asana class in which japa is a regular feature. The best way to learn mantra is still directly from a teacher, even though he or she may not be totally enlightened. Another acceptable way to learn about mantra is from audio productions; I've listed three (and there are many more) in the Resources section below. To get started, you can also listen to audio clips on

There are a few important things to remember when practicing japa. Always pay careful attention to the speed and rhythm of your chanting, and the correct pronunciation, aim, and esoteric meaning of the mantra. It's claimed hat a mantra that's mispronounced and used inappropriately is "asleep" or totally ineffective. It's also recommended that you practice japa at the same time every day and place every day, facing either north or east. The most propitious time is called the "hour of Brahma" (brahma-muhurta), which is set at different times by different teachers, commonly either at sunrise or an hour before. Of course, this might not always be possible, so any time and place will do, as long as you practice regularly.


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Shri Hanuman Chalisa Mantra (Japa)

Shri Guru Charan Saroj Raj  
Nij mane mukure sudhar  
Varnao Raghuvar Vimal Jasu  
Jo dayaku phal char  
Budhi Hin Tanu Janike  
Sumirau Pavan Kumar  
Bal budhi Vidya dehu mohe  
Harahu Kalesa Vikar  
Jai Hanuman gyan gun sagar  
Jai Kapis tihun lok ujagar  
Ram doot atulit bal dhama  
Anjani-putra Pavan sut nama  
Mahavir Vikram Bajrangi  
Kumati nivar sumati Ke sangi  
Kanchan varan viraj subesa  
Kanan Kundal Kunchit Kesa  
Hath Vajra Aur Dhuvaje Viraje  
Kandhe moonj janehu sajai  
Sankar suvan kesri Nandan  
Tej pratap maha jag vandan  
Vidyavan guni ati chatur  
Ram kaj karibe ko aatur  
Prabu charitra sunibe ko rasiya  
Ram Lakhan Sita man Basiya  
Sukshma roop dhari Siyahi dikhava  
Vikat roop dhari lanka jarava  
Bhima roop dhari asur sanghare  
Ramachandra ke kaj sanvare  
Laye Sanjivan Lakhan Jiyaye  
Shri Raghuvir Harashi ur laye  
Raghupati Kinhi bahut badai  
Tum mam priye Bharat-hi sam bhai  
Sahas badan tumharo yash gaave  
Us kahi Shripati kanth lagaave  
Sankadik Brahmadi Muneesa  
Narad Sarad sahit Aheesa  
Yam Kuber Digpal Jahan te  
Kavi kovid kahi sake kahan te  
Tum upkar Sugreevahin keenha  
Ram milaye rajpad deenha  
Tumharo mantra Vibheeshan mana  
Lankeshwar Bhaye Sub jag jana  
Yug sahastra jojan par Bhanu  
Leelyo tahi madhur phal janu  
Prabhu mudrika meli mukh mahee  
Jaladhi langhi gaye achraj nahee  
Durgaam kaj jagat ke jete  
Sugam anugraha tumhre tete  
Ram dware tum rakhvare,  
Hoat na agya binu paisare  
Sub sukh lahai tumhari sarna  
Tum rakshak kahu ko dar na  
Aapan tej samharo aapai  
Teenhon lok hank te kanpai  
Bhoot pisach Nikat nahin aavai  
Mahavir jab naam sunavai  
Nase rog harai sab peera  
Japat nirantar Hanumant beera  
Sankat se Hanuman chudavai  
Man Karam Vachan dyan jo lavai  
Sub par Ram tapasvee raja  
Tin ke kaj sakal Tum saja  
Aur manorath jo koi lavai  
Sohi amit jeevan phal pavai  
Charon Yug partap tumhara  
Hai persidh jagat ujiyara  
Sadhu Sant ke tum Rakhware  
Asur nikandan Ram dulhare  
Ashta sidhi nav nidhi ke dhata  
Us var deen Janki mata  
Ram rasayan tumhare pasa  
Sada raho Raghupati ke dasa  
Tumhare bhajan Ram ko pavai  
Janam janam ke dukh bisravai  
Anth kaal Raghuvir pur jayee  
Jahan janam Hari-Bakht Kahayee  
Aur Devta Chit na dharehi  
Hanumanth se hi sarve sukh karehi  
Sankat kate mite sab peera  
Jo sumirai Hanumat Balbeera  
Jai Jai Jai Hanuman Gosahin  
Kripa Karahu Gurudev ki nyahin  
Jo sat bar path kare kohi  
Chutehi bandhi maha sukh hohi  
Jo yah padhe Hanuman Chalisa  
Hoye siddhi sakhi Gaureesa  
Tulsidas sada hari chera  
Keejai Das Hrdaye mein dera  
Pavantnai sankat haran,  
Mangal murti roop.  
Ram Lakhan Sita sahit,  
Hrdaye basahu sur bhoop.  


Translation of Text

After cleansing the mirror of my mind with the pollen
dust of holy Guru's Lotus feet. I Profess the pure,
untainted glory of Shri Raghuvar which bestows the four-
fold fruits of life.(Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha).
Fully aware of the deficiency of my intelligence, I
concentrate my attention on Pavan Kumar and humbly
ask for strength, intelligence and true knowledge to
relieve me of all blemishes, causing pain.
Victory to thee, O'Hanuman! Ocean of Wisdom-All
hail to you O'Kapisa! (fountain-head of power,wisdom
and Shiva-Shakti) You illuminate all the three worlds
(Entire cosmos) with your glory.
You are the divine messenger of Shri Ram. The
repository of immeasurable strength, though known
only as Son of Pavan (Wind), born of Anjani.
With Limbs as sturdy as Vajra (The mace of God Indra)
you are valiant and brave. On you attends good Sense
and Wisdom. You dispel the darkness of evil thoughts.
Your physique is beautiful golden coloured and your dress
is pretty. You wear ear rings and have long curly hair.
You carry in your hand a lightening bolt along with a victory
(kesari) flag and wear the sacred thread on your shoulder.
As a descendant of Lord Sankar, you are a comfort and pride
of Shri Kesari. With the lustre of your Vast Sway, you are
propitiated all over the universe.
You are the repository of learning, virtuous and fully accom-
plished, always keen to carry out the behest's of Shri Ram.
You are an ardent listener, always so keen to listen to the
narration of Shri Ram's Life Stories. Your heart is filled with
what Shri Ram stood for. You therefore always dwell in the
hearts of Shri Ram, Lakshman and Sita.
You appeared before Sita in a Diminutive form and spoke to
her in humility. You assumed an awesome form and struck
terror by setting Lanka on fire.
With over-whelming might you destroyed the Asuras
(demons) and performed all tasks assigned to you by Shri Ram
with great skill.
You brought Sanjivan (A herb that revives life) and restored
Lakshman back to life, Shri Raghuvir (Shri Ram) cheerfully
embraced you with his heart full of joy.
Shri Raghupati (Shri Ram) lustily extolled your excellence and
said: "You are as dear to me as my own brother Bharat."
Thousands of living beings are chanting hymns of your glories;
saying thus, Shri Ram warmly hugged him (Shri Hanuman).
When prophets like Sanka, even the Sage like Lord Brahma,
the great hermit Narad himself, Goddess Saraswati and Ahisha
(one of immeasurable dimensions).
Even Yamraj (God of Death) Kuber (God of Wealth) and the
Digpals (deputies guarding the four corners of the Universe)
have been vying with one another in offering homage to your
glories. How then, can a mere poet give adequate expression
of your super excellence.
You rendered a great service to Sugriv. You united him with
Shri Ram and he installed him on the Royal Throne. By heeding
your advice, Vibhishan became Lord of Lanka. This is known
all over the Universe.
On your own you dashed upon the Sun, which is at a fabulous
distance of thousands of miles, thinking it to be a sweet
luscious fruit.
Carrying the Lord's Signet Ring in your mouth, there is
hardly any wonder that you easily leapt across the ocean.
The burden of all difficult tasks of the world become light
with your kind grace.
You are the sentry at the door of Shri Ram's Divine Abode.
No one can enter it without your permission,
All comforts of the world lie at your feet. The devotees enjoy all
divine pleasures and feel fearless under your benign Protection.
You alone are befitted to carry your own splendid valour. All the
three worlds (entire universe) tremor at your thunderous call.
All the ghosts, demons and evil forces keep away, with the
sheer mention of your great name, O'Mahaveer!!
All diseases, pain and suffering disappear on reciting regularly
Shri Hanuman's holy name.
Those who remember Shri Hanuman in thought, words and deeds
with Sincerity and Faith, are rescued from all crises in life.
All who hail, worship and have faith in Shri Ram as the Supreme
Lord and the king of penance. You make all their difficult tasks
very easy.
Whosoever comes to you for fulfillment of any desire with faith
and sincerity, Will he alone secure the imperishable fruit of
human life.
All through the four ages your magnificent glory is acclaimed far
and wide. Your fame is Radiantly acclaimed all over the Cosmos.
You are Saviour and the guardian angel of Saints and Sages and
destroy all Demons. You are the angelic darling of Shri Ram.
You can grant to any one, any yogic power of Eight Siddhis
(power to become light and heavy at will) and Nine Nidhis
(Riches,comfort,power,prestige,fame,sweet relationship etc.)
This boon has been conferred upon you by Mother Janki.
You possess the power of devotion to Shri Ram. In all rebirths
you will always remain Shri Raghupati's most dedicated disciple.
Through hymns sung in devotion to you, one can find Shri Ram
and become free from sufferings of several births.
If at the time of death one enters the Divine Abode of Shri Ram,
thereafter in all future births he is born as the Lord's devotee.
One need not entertain any other deity for Propitiation, as
devotion of Shri Hanuman alone can give all happiness.
One is freed from all the sufferings and ill fated contingencies of
rebirths in the world. One who adores and remembers Shri Hanuman.
Hail, Hail, Hail, Shri Hanuman, Lord of senses. Let your victory
over the evil be firm and final. Bless me in the capacity as my
supreme guru (teacher).
One who recites Chalisa one hundred times, becomes free from the
bondage of life and death and enjoys the highest bliss at last.
All those who recite Hanuman Chalisa (The forty Chaupais)
regularly are sure to be benedicted. Such is the evidence of no less a
witness as Bhagwan Sankar.
Tulsidas as a bonded slave of the Divine Master, stays perpetually at
his feet, he prays "Oh Lord! You enshrine within my heart & soul."
Oh! conqueror of the Wind, Destroyer of all miseries, you are a
symbol of Auspiciousness.
Along with Shri Ram, Lakshman and Sita, reside in my heart.
Oh! King of Gods.

The History of Hanuman Chalisa

This hymn (स्तोत्र, स्तुतिगीत) was written by Goswami Tulsidas (gosvaamee tulaseedaas; गोस्वामी तुलसीदास) in the sixteenth century. He is also called Mahakavi (mahaakavi; महाकवि) which means a great poet. He is one of the greatest poet of Old Hindi or Awadhi (Avadhee; अवधी; a root of Hindi). This hymn is simple and is utmost rhythmical poem. Even if you don't understand Hindi, you may enjoy hearing it.

Tulsidas wrote these forty verses in the praise of Lord Hanuman (_hanumaan; हनुमान). Forty in Hindi is called 'chaalees' (चालीस) and the hymn containing forty verses is called 'chaaleesa' (चालीसा). Since he wrote this hymn (containing 40 verses) others have written other chalisa_s for other gods and godesses! I am not sure but I think Tulsidas must have been the first one who wrote a chalisa! Verses in Hanuman Chalisa are called chaupai (chaupaaEE; चौपाई) which means four line stanzas.

Lord Hanuman was beloved of Lord Rama (maryaadaa puruShottam shree raam chandra; मर्यादा पुरुषोत्तम श्री रामचन्द्र). The greatest book of Tulsidas is the well known Epic called 'Ramcharitamanas' (raamacharitamaanas; रामचरितमानस).

Millions of Hindus recite Hanuman Chalisa on every Tuesday and Saturday. Lot of Hindus believe that chanting this hymn will solve their problems. They believe Lord Hanuman is mahaabalee (most strong and powerful). They lovingly call Him Bajrangbali (bajarangabalee; बजरंगबली). _bajarang means someone whose body (aNga) is like vajra (bajra). Often his statues are painted in saffron (bright red).

Generally he is visualised as a 'vaanar' (वानर; vernacular dialect - baanar, बानर). Most Hindus interpret the word 'baanar' as monkey-man. But some people say that the word _vaanar means a man (nar; नर) who lives in forest (van; वन).






“O nourishing Sun, solitary traveler, controller, source of life for all creatures, spread your light and subdue your dazzling splendor so that I may see your blessed Self. Even that very Self am I!”

"Let us meditate on the supreme effulgence of Brahman, from whom these three worlds Bhuh(earth), Bhuvah(atmosphere), Suvah (shining heavens) originated and who manifests to our eyes as the shining Sun. May those purifying divine rays enlighten our minds."

History of the Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is a highly revered mantra in Hinduism, second only to the mantra Om. It is created from the prefix formula taken from the Yajurveda, and the verse 3.62.10 of the Rigveda (which is an example of the Gayatri meter). The Gayatri mantra is found in all four of the Vedas. The deva invoked in this mantra is Savitar, and hence the mantra is also called Sâvitrî.

By many Hindus, the Gayatri is seen as a Divine awakening of the mind and soul, and within it a way to reach the most Supreme form of existence, and the way to Union with Brahman. Understanding, and purely loving the essence of the Gayatri Mantra is seen by many to be one, if not the most powerful ways to attain God.

The Goddess Gayatri

Originally the personification of the mantra, the goddess Gayatri is considered the veda mata, the mother of all Vedas and the consort of the God Brahma and also the personification of the all-pervading Parabrahman, the ultimate unchanging reality that lies behind all phenomena. Gayatri Veda Mata is seen by many Hindus to be not just a Goddess, but a portrayal of Brahman himself, in the feminine form. Essentially, the Goddess is seen to combine all the phenomenal attributes of Brahman, including Past, Present and Future [Bhuh BHuvah Swah] as well as the 3 realms of existence. Goddess Gayatri is also worshipped as the Hindu Trimurti combined as one [Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva], and the image of her portrays her carrying all the 'objects' in the hands of each God of the Trimurti, symbolising the Divine creation, preservation and destruction as one omnipotent force. There are references in the early Rig Vedic texts to suggest that Gayatri is the younger sister of Aditya or Surya. She was so bedazzled by the brilliance of her elder brother that she chose to lose her self and become a hymn to celebrate his brilliance. In turn Surya bestowed on Gayatri the status of Veda Mata or the ultimate Hindu prayer. Surya so loves his kid sister, it is said that unless one chants the Gayatri, Surya doesn't respond to any prayers. And if one chants the Gayatri, Surya responds immediately.

The Sooryopanishad states that the fondness between elder brother and younger sister is so personified in Aditya and Gayatri that there is no better example of attachment between brother and sister in Hindu mythology. It also says that for several Yugas, Aditya was without a wife or a sister and had to keep revolving around the world once daily. This made him hot and fretful and wild tempered. Brahma realised the reason for the agitation of Aditya and created Gayatri. This pacified Aditya. Soon thereafter, Aditya also married Samgnya and their combined influence calmed Aditya. It was the creation of Gayatri and marriage of Aditya to Samgnya that initiated the creation of life on Earth. Samgnya's marriage to the Sun God was a love marriage but Samgnya was soon terrified and shrivelled by the heat of Aditya. It was Gayatri who advised Samgnya to leave behind her shadow (Chhaya) to function as Aditya's wife and go back to her parents herself. While some texts hail this as an example of the cordial relations between sisters in law, some other texts take a more sinister view. Gayatri couldn't bear sharing her brother with her sister in law and so tactfully got rid of her. In Hindu mythology, there is only one creation who can withstand the brilliance of Aditya and that is Gayatri. Astrologically, the birth of a sister named Gayatri to a boy named after Surya, will calm and enhance the brilliance of the son. Gayatri is also sometimes referred to as Savitri since she adores Savitruh - the Sun. Many devout Hindus believe that if they have a son and a daughter, if one is named after the Sun, the other should be named after Gayatri. This encourages benovelence from the boy and devotion from the girl. The son (Sun) will forever remain the hero of the daughter. Unless she finds a man with the names Surya or Aditya for her mate, she will remain attached to her brother for life.

Gayatri is typically portrayed as seated on a red lotus, signifying wealth. She appears in either of these forms:

\  Having five heads with the ten eyes looking in the eight directions plus the earth and sky, and ten arms holding all the weapons of Vishnu, symbolizing all her reincarnations.

\  Accompanied by a swan, holding a book in one hand and a cure in the other, as the goddess of Education.