Saturday, February 15, 2014

Vedic Chanting - The perfect Oral tradition

Manju Jois at Rethymno/Crete on 2011

Manju Jois in his workshops  and teacher trainings,  introduces Pranayama and Vedic chanting. 
On August 2005, Manju gave an interview on a yoga magazine called “ yoga fit “ and here is one part that I find very interesting concerning the pranayama and chanting.
DK: What is the importance in your view of the asanas relative to the chanting and pranayama?
You have to do all parts, also called jñana (knowledge) yoga. 
To get that knowledge, you have to practice all the steps, just like a ritual you do everyday. Your asana practice maintains physical health, then you have to do pranayama, and the chanting. When you do all these things, that completes the Ashtanga yoga, the eight steps. That’s really important; that’s how they used to teach, and that’s how my father taught us. We had to go through the whole thing everyday, and study the Upanishads, and the Sandhya-vandanam; a very important thing to do. If you just do asana, it’s not good. It would be a great help, but you’re not getting the complete Ashtanga yoga message you are supposed to get. That’s why, in my workshops, I start teaching these things. I want to bring the old traditions back, not just Asanas.

This post meant to focus on Vedic Chanting practice . I collected info and tried to put in short the vast heritage that lies in the recitation of the Vedas.
Hope you enjoy.


The Vedas are a vast collection of hymns that were 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.
Sanskrit, the classical Indian language, was the language of the Vedas and Vedic chanting is a perfect oral tradition. Over the years the vast information contained in the Vedas was preserved and transmitted from one generation of teachers and students to the next in an oral way. It is through this challenging relationship between teacher and student that until today, the Vedas are chanted exactly as they were several thousand years ago. 
In the process of learning the tradition of Vedic chanting, a student expected to listen to his/her teacher and then to chant exactly as the teacher did. This process called “adhyayanam.“ 

The complete benefit of Veda mantras could be achieved only when the following conditions are met:

  •  Correct pronunciation of letters/words
  •  Correct duration for utterance of letters/words
  •  Correct intonation of letters

When the above conditions are mastered the Vedic chanting has multiple benefits such as:

- Productions of certain vibrations, and hence can enhance physical and mental health
- The method of “adhyayanam” involves listening closely to the teacher and reproducing the chant exactly. Hence, this requires attention. The practice of Vedic chanting is very useful in improving concentration and memory.
- Listening and practicing chanting can also calm the mind. In fact, chanting is considered to be one of the important forms of meditation.
- Vedic chants can be applied in different ways with different effects. Hence, Vedic chanting can be effectively used in healing and yoga therapy.
Rishis prescribed six ways of recitation that consider incorrect and there are : 

  •  one who chants in a sing-song fashion
  • one who chants fast 
  • one who nods his head up and down without actually raising or
    lowering the pitch
  • one who reads from a book
  • one who chants without knowing the meaning
  • one who chants in a feeble voice 

The rules of correct pronunciation and articulation of sounds are given in the Vedanga, known as Seeksha.
Seeksha deals with varNa (letters), svara: (pitch); [there are essentially three svaras, namely, anudatta (gravely accented or low pitched), udatta (high pitched or acutely accented), svarita (circumflexly accented)] maatraa (duration – a prosodial unit of time); balam (strength or force of articulation); saama (uniformity); and santaana: (continuity) during recitation.

In traditional times, Vedic chanting was practiced only by certain specific sections of people. During modern times, more people who were traditionally authorized to learn and propagate Vedic chanting began taking up other professions, there came a phase when it seemed dangerously that the ancient Indian tradition of Vedic chanting would be lost. It was T Krishnamacharya who opened 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 and authority to do so.

First time in a Vedic chanting class .

I know that when someone for first time join a vedic chanting class, is totally strange experience. Is almost look like a continuation of asana practice with the tongue. Maybe some reactions of non understanding the meaning or the purpose of that practice . The way to go through this is just to listen to these chants. Don’t try to like or dislike them in terms of their musical quality or whatever, just listen to them. These sounds should become like your breath. After some time, without even listening you will be reverberating with the chant and that is the first step to experience within you the effect of the chant. To become the mantra is the key of understanding but of course likewise every other practice need patience and determination to make the lotus flower bloom.  

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