Sanskrit: A Journey from Mantra to Freedom

The mantric power of Sanskrit has the capacity to not only help create love and harmony but also uplift and enlighten our being

Sanskrit: A Journey from Mantra to Freedom


Any language can be released from its inertia and elevated into a Mantric language. It all depends upon the users of the language: how and for what purpose the language is being used. But in the case of Sanskrit, it has been designed from its very inception as a Mantric language. The language is so flawlessly structured that anyone who comes in contact with it, feels a greater force behind its words. The musical and rhythmic beauty of this language, its power of expression, the purity and vibration of its sounds, the eternal relationship between its words and senses, all these have made Sanskrit a wonderful language which, like a Mantra, has the power to uplift and illumine and enlighten.

The ideal of a spiritual or Mantric language is to reproduce as faithfully as possible, within the limitations of human consciousness, the vibratory rhythm or sound values of an experience in a pregnant utterance. Every experience produces a vibration or sound in our consciousness which contains the holistic essence of that experience. A Mantirc language is to reproduce these vibrations or sounds as perfectly as possible. It is in this sense that Sanskrit has the power of Mantra and is a Mantirc language.

Sanskrit has maximum number of words for the Divine and more precise terms for defining consciousness and meditative experiences. It has  great power to elevate human consciousness to sublime levels. The thought contents expressed through this language are capable of taking to greater heights, as well as widening and heightening, the consciousness of the one who uses it consciously. Thus, it is a language that is ideally suited to describe and govern the nature of phenomena from the spiritual level to the physical. In a higher sense it is not just a language but a conscious Force, a revelation; a living mode of power, by itself formative and creative. The Rishis of ancient time were minutely discerning in their observations, and were highly conscious in the matter of using the language. They did not use the language just for the purpose of communication, they used it as a tool for discovering the true nature of themselves and all that they saw in and around them. They used the language to communicate truth. Herein lies the sacredness of a language. The language that helps to discover the nature of everything, that helps to discover the sacredness of life, is a sacred language.  It is in this sense that Sanskrit is a sacred language. This language was consciously used by its users for the purpose of discovering the sacredness of life and it has tremendous potentiality to help in that discovery of the sacredness of life, the truths of existence. It is a Force functioning in many levels of consciousness, ever purifying, ever formative and creative. It not only tells us or makes us feel that we are potentially Divine but also helps us in manifesting that and leading us from the level of man-Human to the man-Divine. In this way Sanskrit has immense power to make the Divine Life possible upon the earth. This is the sole purpose of a Mantra: to bring in the transformation. It is in this sense that Sanskrit is a Mantric language. This is the language that attunes us with the cosmic creative vibration which is capable of bringing the real change. This is the language which tells us in numerous ways that everything is Divine.

In a deeper sense, Mantra is the original form of language. This is the language from which all other languages derive. In a Mantric language, the sound and the sense correspond. There is an eternal relationship between sound and sense. A deeper analysis of Sanskrit shows that in this language, each and every word is conscious of its own history; each word itself can explain why it stands for a particular idea or object; here to name means to know the nature of the thing and to touch its essence. So every articulate sound here has an object, a purpose, a meaning, and there is a non-detachable relationship between sound and sense.  This is the very nature of a Mantra and it is in this sense that Sanskrit is a Mantric language.

Sanskrit in its original form was the first and the earliest vibration, pure and transparent. It was, rather, close and true transcription of the experience of the Supreme. It was the most direct sound-formation of the manifesting God-head. In its purity and flexibility, in its wealth and depth of signification and in its adaptability and application, this was close to the goddess of Speech herself.  It was greatly fluid and richly subtle. It was pliable and flexible; its words were vehicles of life power, creative and correctly expressive. It carried with it the purity and warmth of the original experience; there was perfect and complete intimacy between the language and the content of the language. Thus, Sanskrit was ‘based on the true and perfect relation of sound (Vak) and sense (Artha)’. “Everyone of its vowels and consonants”, observes Sri Aurobindo,

“has a particular inalienable force which exists by the nature of things and not by development or human choice; these are the fundamental sounds which lie at the basis of the Tantric bijamantras and constitute the efficacy of the mantra itself. Every vowel and every consonant in the original language had certain primary meaning which arose out of” some “essential Shakti or force, and were the basis of other derivative meanings.” 1

A Mantric language develops in an organic manner from its seed-sounds or the basic sounds which are its prime Mantras. The seed-sounds produce primitive root-sounds; from the primitive roots are produced secondary root-sounds and root-words; from the secondary roots the tertiary roots are formed. The process goes on in this manner and language flowers from one state to another. As such, Mantric language can be understood in terms of its prime root-meaning. It is always etymologically decipherable. In other words, it is theoretically possible to explain the meaning of the words in Sanskrit according to the combined sense of the relative letters, syllables and roots. Therefore, the meaning of any word in this language is not derived by chance or from any convention but from its own depth, the system of root-sounds, sound-ideas. It is because of this transparency of the system of root-sounds and clear semantics that Sanskrit has the efficacy of Mantra and has the ability to discover its own history. A proper investigation of Sanskrit words shows that in Sanskrit a word is not a conventional symbol for an idea, but itself the parent and the creator of ideas. This lucid system of formation of words from the root-sounds follows a natural process and is one of the important factors that makes Sanskrit an ever creative language, a Mantra. These root-sounds do not possess rigid meanings; they are like prime numbers from which complex equations can be evolved, but into which they are always resolvable.

Thus, we find that Sanskrit which evolved and was perfected in the Vedas and Upanishads, is a living and conscious Force, an entity that has directly come from the highest source, and is capable of conveying infinitely more than what the surface sense of language seems to indicate. It is not any man-made invention or mere tool for communication, but a revelation. It is much more than a mere meaning or a sound or a sound devoid of deeper sense other than that attributed by convention. It is a language that has been constructed in harmonious relation with the very truths of existence. This is the real purpose of all Mantras. And it is in this sense that Sanskrit is a Mantric language. 

A Mantra, as I have mentioned earlier, is an expression of a deepest spiritual reality or truth. This expression is possible, as Sri Aurobindo says, “…when three highest intensities of poetic speech meet and become indissolubly one…” These three highest intensities, according to Sri Aurobindo are:

a. A highest intensity of rhythmic movement.

b. A highest intensity of verbal form and thought-substance, of style.

c. A highest intensity of the soul’s vision.

A little familiarity with the vast Sanskrit literature, especially with the Vedas and Upanishads, reveals that it is in this language that  there is a unison or fusion of these three elements. This language has achieved a certain pinnacle level of perfection in which this unison has become possible. This unity of the rhythm and movement, style and substance, and the vision is the characteristic power of a Mantra or highest level of poetic expression. Sanskrit, by the power of its perfection, has achieved this level and is a perfect Mantric language. The very construction of the language is in harmony with the universal truths of existence.

What is a Mantra?

What is a Mantra? How does it comes about or gets formulated? Who creates a Mantra? Where can we find the Mantras? Can only some specific sounds be used as a Mantra or any sound or word can be used to create a Mantra? How does it work and under what conditions? Who can use a Mantra? We need to know the answers to all these questions before going deep into understanding the power of a Mantra.

A Mantra, as Sri Aurobindo’s puts it,

“is a word of power and light that comes from the Overmind inspiration or from a very high plane of intuition.” 2

A Mantra is thus an inspired and intuitive and rhythmic utterance, a revealed seeing. It comes out of the

“realisation of some innnermost truth of God and self, man and Nature, cosmos and life, thing and thought and experience and deed.” 3

In another significant passage Sri Aurobindo says that the Mantra

“is a direct and most heightened rhythmic Word which embodies an intuitive and revelatory inspiration and ensouls the mind with the sight and the presence of the very self, the inmost reality of things and with its truth and with the divine soul-forms of it, the godheads which are born from the living Truth. Or, let us say, it is a supreme rhythmic language which seizes, holds upon all that is finite and brings into each the light and voice of its own infinite.” 4

So we understand that Mantra is created by the one who comes into direct contact with a deeper truth of life or spirit. Therefore the one to whom a Mantra is revealed is known as a Rishi. A Rishi is not the composer of a Mantra but a seer (drashta) of an eternal truth and an impersonal knowledge. He has the inner sight to see the Mantra. Therefore the Rishi sings yadrigeva dadrishe tadrgucyate, ‘I speak the way I have seen’ (Rigveda, 5.44.6). He is also known as the hearer of the Truth (satyashruta). He possesses a supernatural faculty of hearing. To his inner audience, the divine word comes vibrating out of the Infinite. To him the Mantra comes as a spontaneous and inspired expression of an inner experience of the light, power and rhythm of a truth. So according to Sri Aurobindo, Mantra

“is a word of power born out of the secret depths of our being where it has been brooded upon by a deeper consciousness than the mental, framed in the heart and not constructed by the intellect, held in the mind, again concentrated on by the waking mental consciousness and thrown out silently or vocally – the silent word is perhaps held to be more potent than the spoken – precisely for the work of creation.” 5

What is the Power of a Mantra

Every Mantra contains in its vibrations a certain power. The very etymology of the word Mantra reveals that it serves as an instrument to elevate the Mind, an instrument which helps the mind to contemplate and plunge into the oceanic depth of silence. The word Mantra is derived from the root sound ‘man’ which means to think, to contemplate or meditate on, to perceive, to understand or comprehend. The sound tra at the end of the word Mantra is a suffix added in the sense of instrumentality. So, Mantra, as per its etymology, is an instrument of or a means for contemplation, meditation, comprehension, perception and of thought. Mantra, in fact, unites the mind with the pure sound. And this union of the mind with the pure sound is considered by the Vedic and Tantric tradition as the highest kind of Yoga. It is in this state that mind becomes free from all its activities and gets absorbed in the silence (the unmanifest speech) which is the source of all sounds. This sense of a Mantra is also inherent in the word Mantra itself. For this the root-sense of the two components (man and tra) of the word Mantra has to be taken into consideration. The sound man refers to all the activities of the mind and ultimately the Mind itself. The second syllable is drawn from the root-sound trai meaning to ‘protect’ or to ‘free from’. Therefore, the word Mantra can also mean that which makes one free from the vagaries of the mind.

The journey from Mantra to freedom is an incredible experience. By the use of the Mantra, the mind expands, deepens, widens and eventually plunges into the essence of the truths of cosmic existence. On its journey, the mind comes to understand much about the essence of the vibration of things. This results in the realization of the truths of existence.

Writing on the power of Mantra Sri Aurobindo says:

“The mantra can not only create new subjective states in ourselves, alter our psychical being, reveal knowledge and faculties we did not before possess, can not only produce similar results in other minds than that of the user, but can produce vibrations in the mental and vital atmosphere which result in effects, in actions and even in the production of material forms on the physical plane.”

We have numerous examples from the ancient scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and others to tell us about how Mantras could produce material forms on the physical plane. Take for example the type of weapons used by the hero warriors of those times. Those weapons were of two types: yantrikastras or mantrikastras. Swords, spears etc. are described as yantrikastras. But the mantrikastras were created at the time of need only by the invoking those through Mantras. Mantrikastras were different shaktisor forces and they get materialized only when they are called for by the person possessing them. Those shaktis can take any shape or form as desired by the invoker. The one who was in possession of these greater shaktis was considered to the greatest hero. When we utter a word in our day to day lives, it creates an image before us. For example if someone says tree, it creates the image of a tree in the mind of the listeners. It shows that even the common language has the capacity to raise before our eyes the image of a thing. The mantras, on the other hand are much more powerful than the common speech. A mantra, for instance,  can not only raise the image of a tree but actually manifest the tree itself.    There are many deeper aspects of the power of Mantra but my purpose here is not to deal with that but to create this awareness that there is a language which has attained such level of perfection that it works like a Mantra whenever used consciously or with awareness. This awareness leads to freedom. Coming in contact with Sanskrit in any form is meditation. A simple recitation of Sanskrit text tunes the body, mind and senses to a finer frequency. Like music it brings the mind into a beautiful flow. As I have mentioned earlier, it combines its perfection of sound with inspired truth to create a living experience of spiritual awakening, a sense of being eternal. This is the true significance of a divine language. One comes in contact with it and there is a shift or rise in the consciousness. It is in this sense that Sanskrit is like a Mantra and has the power to illumine, enlighten and widen the consciousness.

To conclude, I have no better choice but to quote Dr. Vyas Houston, Director, American Sanskrit Institute, USA, who has very beautifully described Sanskrit as a language that is designed for bringing true happiness and freedom.

“The discovery, development and refinement of Sanskrit must have taken place over millennia. Although Sanskrit along with its great power to elevate human consciousness to sublime heights, is often attributed to a divine source, we can also hypothesize that its properties were discoveries that took place as a result of human beings actively and intensively engaging in the discovery of their own divine nature. The most significant question that must have arisen to the ancients was how to continue optimizing the human instrument, the body and mind, as a vehicle for the expansion of awareness and happiness. Knowing that the operation of the instrument depends entirely on the language with which it is programmed, they worked on the refinement of language software. They scrutinized and experimented with the vocal instrument and the structure of the mouth and then selected only those sounds which had the greatest clarity, purity and power of resonance. They then organized these sounds in such a way that they could mutually enhance and brighten one another, and build upon each other’s resonance. They explored the factor of breath in creating sound, and discovered that by minimizing the breath with certain sounds and maximizing it with others, the language would induce in the instrument a state of relaxed alertness that could keep it operating efficiently and tirelessly for long periods of time, while expanding and building prana-energy. And as they did this, they became happier.

“Furthermore, by coordinating the factors of purity of sound, enhanced resonance and breath, there also developed an awareness of the entire body as a resonating chamber through which sound could be transmitted. With increased vibratory power, the concept of the body as solid matter gradually became replaced by one of the body as the center of an energy field. In the process of transmitting sound energy, they observed subtle changes in the field and found they could expand it by following the sound waves. They had discovered that language has the capacity to convert the body and mind into pure energy. They began to feel joy.

“It was further discovered that certain combinations of sounds would enhance the expansion of the field more than others, and this was experimented with, until sound combinations which could bring about this effect universally were revealed. Their joy expanded. These particular combinations became useful words for describing as well as feeling the state of consciousness they induced. In this way the breadth and depth of all that exists was explored. They looked and listened and experienced changes in the energy field, to see how the language could be further refined, what new distinctions could be made. Eventually, they fathomed creation and found their own identity at the very source of it all. Their bliss was boundless. When they spoke with one another in this language they established love and harmony.” 7

We come to the amazing conclusion that Sanskrit has immense potentiality not only to establish unity, love and harmony but also to make us realize the sacredness of life. The very structure of the language is perfect and each and every sound is sacred. The most fascinating thing that one experiences in Sanskrit is that here all three, the sound, the word and the meaning, become one. They arise out of the deeper truths of life and the Reality and not only reveal but lead us in turn to realise these truths. The language then becomes universal. It has its own inherent strength and existence and it is no more just a convention or a convenience. It becomes a fit vehicle not only for communication but for transformation as well. It is not just a language. It is a self-existent truth and power, a Mantra.
References / Footnotes

1. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL., Vol. 11, p. 449)

2. The Future Poetry, SABCL, Vol. 9, P. 369

3. ibid

4. ibid

5. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL., Vol.12, pp.169-70)

6. ibid

7. Sanskrit, A Sacred Model of Language, Devavani, p.42, published by American Sanskrit Institute, New York

About Author: Sampadananda Mishra

Sampadananda Mishra is a Sanskrit scholar from Odisha who is the director of Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture in Pondicherry. He received his MPhil degree in Sanskrit working under V. Kutumba Sastry and his Ph.D. degree from Utkal University in Sanskrit as well as the evolution of human speech. Through the Vande Mataram Library Trust, an open-source and volunteer-driven project, he plans to generate verified, authentic English translations of almost all important scriptures available in Sanskrit. He regularly conducts wokshops, training programmes, and talks for students and teachers of Sanskrit, Mantra, Yoga and Bhagavad Gita while also running a 24-hour Sanskrit-language radio station called Divyavani Sanskrit Radio. He was awarded the Maharshi Badrayan Vyas Award for Sanskrit by the President of India in 2012.

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