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Vaidik learning is said to be reduced to Prayog and mechanical doing is equal to not doing a Karm at all.

All Vaidik Mantra to be recited only after knowing their full meaning because unless one knows the meaning there will not be any "Bhaav" or spirit and the Karm does not get fully discharged, like for example loving some thing truly and pretending to love it. Ved themselves say learning Ved without knowing the meaning is like a donkey carrying the burden of clothes (donkeys have no use of the load they carry).

Ved have to be learnt after Upanayan at the age of 7 yrs (or 8 yrs including Gharbh Vaasam) in case of Braahman and one should complete the basics by the age of 14 years. New Mantra are taught in Dakshinaayan - means for six months and the meanings for those Mantra studied in Dakshinaayan are taught in Uttaraayan. A Guru or Aachaarya in Paathashaalaa should be conversant in the meanings very well and should be the one who walk the talk.

Vaidik Mantra meanings cannot be understood even if one is a great Sanskrit Pandit. One has to be proficient in Nirukt (an Upaang of Ved) and Nyaaya Shaastra so that the meanings of Mantra of a passage do not contradict with the meaning of the other passages in an Anuvaak.

One may change stone grinding to a modern liquidizer, but this logic cannot be applied for Vaidik learning. After all the measure of time is same, for instance, 500 yrs back, Ritu changed at the same interval - every two months, therefore certain things cannot be changed.

Till such time one doesn't contravene Dharm (derived from Ved and Dharm Shaastra - such as Shruti and Smriti) one can adopt new things prevalent in ones life in this world, but one cannot change Dharm Shaastra derived from Ved by the Rishi who gave us the Ved Mantra to us for the benefit of mankind. For example, one cannot learn Ved through a PC, though it is possible today.

To demonstrate the above point a short story goes like this:---
A king wanted to learn Gaayatree Mantra from his Braahman minister and had been pestering his Minister for long without success. The King got so much annoyed by his Minister's attitude, that he determined to learn from his Braahman cook. The king ordered the cook and the poor cook was frightened and gave the Mantra to the King. The King, on the following day, in his Darabaar with all pride told the minister openly that he had other ways to learn a thing. On hearing these word of the King, the Minister ordered the sippoy to slap the King. The whole Darabaar was stunned and the repeated order of Minister to the sippoy to slap the king went in vain.

Now the King, provoked by Minister's strange act, ordered the sippoy to slap the Minister and the sippoy obeyed. The Minister then said, "Oh! King! My repeated orders to a sippoy did not evoke any response from sippoy but a command from Your Majesty was obeyed. This is because different classes have different authority, likewise you might have learnt Gaayatree Mantra from your Braahman cook but it will not work unless he has authority. In the same way Mantra will work and bring benefit only when chanted with all sincerity, understanding the import of Mantra and above all received from the one who is authorized (like done Adhyayan in a Paathashaalaa from the age of 7 years) walking the talk (conducting himself as per Shaastra)."

Having said the above, there is no harm if one, who is authorized (by Upanayan) like us not in Vadhyar or Brahmanical profession to learn Mantra for our own Prayog but it is doubtful whether the true and full merit will accrue for the Yajamaan. If one goes to this profession with half baked knowledge, how much one's intent may be laudable, but it is like the one doing a surgery without learning medicine or trying to diagnose others ailment with half knowledge in the medicine.

Ved speak of authority and qualification and knowledge to be imparted commensurating with one's qualification or authority to master a particular aspect of Ved.

How to Chant Ved Mantra?
Our tradition believes that the Ved are the breath of God Himself! With that belief, our Rishi exercised enormous care to preserve the Ved in its original form without the infiltration of any errors. Especially in the absence of writing, and through only an oral transmission from father to son or teacher to disciple, for thousands of years, this is an accomplishment of unimaginable proportion! Considering the vast magnitude of Mantra contained in the Ved, such a preservation, with built-in safeguards, is mind boggling!

It is believed that the complete benefit of Ved Mantra could be achieved only when the following conditions are met:
--Correct pronunciation of letters (words)
--Correct duration for utterance of letters (words) and,
--Correct intonation of letters.

Our Rishi have prescribed several fool-proof methods to correctly recite the Ved Mantra. Six ways of recitation were considered incorrect and they are : one who chants in a sing-song fashion , who chants fast , who nods his head up and down without actually raising or lowering the pitch , who reads from a book, who chants without knowing the meaning, and who chants in a feeble voice , are considered incorrect. They believed that altering the pitch even (without any change in words and duration), might lead to diametrically opposite effects, as related in the story of Vritra who, instead of killing Indra, got killed by Indra by just a change in the intonation alone of the Mantra chanted by Vritra's father, Twashtaa.

The rules of correct pronunciation and articulation of sounds are given in the Vedaang, known as Shikshaa. Shikshaa deals with Varn (letters), Swar (pitch); [there are essentially three Swar, namely, Anu-daatt (gravely accented or low pitched), Udaatt (high pitched or acutely accented), Swarit (circumflexly accented)] Maatraa (duration a prosodial unit of time); Bal (strength or force of articulation) ; Saam (uniformity) ; and Santaana: (continuity) during recitation. Our ancestors devised unique methods to protect and maintain the basic Ved Mantra in its original form through various patterns and combinations of recitation. The basic Mantra is called Vaakya or Sanhitaa Paath which is a full sentence. Splitting them word by word is known as Pada Paath, which gives the knowledge of each word to the student.

Next is Kram Paath, where the first word of the Mantra is added to the second, the second to the third and so on, until the whole Mantra is completed. This method enables the student not only to know individual words but also how to combine words in recitation and the changes in Swar that occur as a result of such combination.

Both Pad and Kram methods of chanting retain the natural order of words of the Sanhitaa Paath and so, are known as Prakrti or natural. For example, if we take sentence consisting of six words a-b-c-d-e-f, in Sanhitaa Paath, it will be chanted as six separate words a, b, c, d, e and f in Pada Paath will be recited as a-b, b-c, c-d, d-e, and e-f in Kram Paath. Actually, a reciter proficient in chanting in the Kram format is honored as a Kramavit

In addition, they devised eight other combinations which do not follow the natural order, and are known as Vikriti or artificial order. The Vikriti are given in the following verse: They are, Jataa, Maalaa, Shikhaa, Rekhaa, Dhwaj, Dand, Rath and Ghana. Among these only Jataa and Ghana are prevalent (or, only !) practices in the Krishn Yajur Ved which is mostly predominant in the South. In Shukla Yajur Ved, which is mostly predominant in Banaaras and in the North, (the Madhyaandin and Kanva schools) all the eight Vikriti were practiced.

However, today, there may not be any scholars at all who might know all these Vikriti, Jataa (braid) Paath In the above example, the six words in the line, when chanted in the Jataa format becomes, a-b-b-a-a-b; b-c-c-b-b-c; c-d-d-c-c-d; d-e-ed-d-e; e-f-f-e-e-f and so on. As can be seen, the forward-reverse-forward arrangement of words resemble the way ladies braid their hair, and so this practice of chanting is termed Jataa!

Two types of Maalaa (garland) exist : (a) Kram Maalaa and (b) Pushp Maalaa. This is similar to Kram Paath in that two-word units with the characteristic overlapping are the foundation. Shikhaa (top knot) is similar to Jataa except that, instead of two words being repeated forwards and backwards, three words are linked. Recitations in Rekhaa (row), Dhwaj (flag), Dand (staff), and Rath (chariot) are more complex and the reader can refer to Wayne Howard [2] for details.

Mention can be made here that there are three types of Rath, namely, Dwi-paad (two wheels), Tri-paad (three wheels) and Chatush-paad (4 wheels). Each wheel corresponds to a quarter verse (paad) of the text. Among these, Dwi-paad, Chatush-paad varieties are the Rath types most widely cultivated today.

Ghana (bell) Paath - This is one of the most popular format of recitations and requires years of learning and practice by the student. A scholar proficient in recitation in this format is honored as a Ghana Paathee. Here the arrangement of words take the shape of a bell. For example, the group of words a-b-c-d-e-f mentioned earlier, when chanted in the Ghana format will be, a-b-b-a-a-b- c-c-b-a-a- bc; b-c-c-b-b-c- d-d-c-b-b- d; and so on. The earlier illustration of six words, when written in Ghan format will appear as follows :
Please note that, what was originally six words in the Sanhitaa, evolve in to about sixty words in the Ghana format - a ten fold increase in this case that gives an idea of how complex the chanting can become with larger sections of the Mantra.! We can now appreciate the rigor a Ghana Paathee has to go through in his education to learn, by heart, the thousands of Mantra, to be able to recite in Ghana format.

Our Rishi devised all these elaborate and complicated system of chanting in order to preserve the purity of the sound, word, pronunciation, intonation, pitch and sound combination of the Ved Mantra which are the foundation for our Sanaatan Dharm itself. Also, repetition of words in many ways, the correct tally of words was also maintained which ensured the purity. They also believed that higher merits (Punya) accompany greater complexities in chanting for example, a Ghan recitation is several orders higher in merit than Jataa recitation, which is higher in merit than Kram recitation and so on.

Wayne Howard [2] noted in the preface of his book, "Vedic Recitation in Varanasi", "The four Vedas (Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva) are not "books" in the usual sense, though within the past hundred years each Ved has appeared in several printed editions. They are comprised rather of tonally accented verses and hypnotic, abstruse melodies whose proper realizations demand oral instead of visual transmission. They are robbed of their essence when transferred to paper, for without the human element the innumerable nuances and fine intonations inseparable and necessary components of all four compilations - are lost completely. The ultimate authority in Vaidi matters is never the printed page but rather the few members who are today keeping the centuries-old traditions alive."

It is unfortunate that there is very little subscription to this education these days and it is an important duty of all of us to ensure that this education is encouraged and adequate support is given to promote and propagate it.

1. "The Vedas", Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay 1988.
2. "Veda Recitation in Varanasi", Wayne Howard, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi. 1986.

by Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian ( President, SVBF) is a scientist at Bell Labs., NJ.
He has been teaching Vaidik recitation and Vedaant for several years.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 5/27/04
Updated on 04/08/12