Sanskrit is an ancient Indo-Aryan language that is the classical language of India and Hinduism. Correct pronunciation of Sanskrit is highly valued as the sounds of the language are meant to evoke a unique vibration in the Universe. Chanting Sanskrit mantras is based on the principle that the powerful sound vibrations of the mantra transform the spiritual vibration of the person who is chanting.
What are Mantras?
According to The Chopra Center, a mantra is an instrument of the mind — a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation. They are thought to affect prana (life-force energy) in the body, and are used for their ability to transform or achieve a purpose.
A mantra may consist of a single letter, a word, or a complete sentence and is traditionally repeated 108 times. If you have ever seen a mala necklace, each contains 108 beads to guide your mantra repetition during meditation. There are many reasons given for the significance of the number 108 including:
- 9 planets moving through 12 constellations produces 108 (9 times 12) different planetary positions or influences
- 108 energy lines (nadis) connecting to the heart chakra, with one leading to the crown chakra believed to be the path to self-realization
- 54 letters in a version of the Sanskrit alphabet, each with a masculine and feminine form (54 times 2)
- 108 Upanishads
8 Essential Sanskrit Mantras and Their Meanings
Whether you want to jump into 108 repetitions right away, or experiment with a few mantras to find one you connect with first, here are eight essential sanskrit mantras and their meanings for you to explore.
1. Om or Aum
Meaning: Om represents the sound of the Universe. It is the first, original vibration.
This is perhaps one of the most used and recognized mantras. As you connect to the sound of the universe by repeating om, you can still the mind. This can be practiced before or after a yoga or meditation practice. It is also useful at any point when you feel the need for calm and connection.
Meaning: I bow to Shiva.
One of the most common mantras in the Hindu and yogic traditions, this salutation to Shiva, the lord of destruction, is said to be both purifying and healing. This mantra allows us to see destruction as transformation. By chanting om namah shivaya, we also build self-confidence by reminding ourselves of the divine within. In this way, we also bow to our inner self and find our truest, highest expression of who we are. Also referred to as the “five-syllable mantra,” it is said to evoke the five elements of existence: earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Meaning: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
This mantra provides a path of dedication to a life of non-harming and serving the greater good. We are reminded to live with compassion and in harmony with the environment and beings around us, and work towards alleviating suffering. While we chant for our own personal transformation, our own enlightenment helps us contribute to a global transformation that will bring greater equality.
4. Sarvesham Svastir Bhavatu / Sarvesham Shantir Bhavatu / Sarvesham Purnam Bhavatu / Sarvesham Mangalam Bhavatu / Om Shanti, Shanti Shanti
Meaning: May there be well-being for all / May there be peace for all / May there be wholeness for all / May there be happiness for all / Om peace, peace peace.
This Buddhist and Hindu chant for peace makes a positive and calming addition to your meditation practice. Chanting the shorter version of om shanti shanti shanti is also a popular practice. The three repetitions of shanti has several interpretations including:
- removing physical, divine, and internal obstacles
- recognizing three forms of peace: peace of the mind, peace in speech, and peace in the physical body
- representing individual, collective, and universal peace
5. So Ham
Meaning: I am that.
It is suggested to use “so” on the inhale, and “ham” on the exhale. This mantra is said to unify the masculine yang energy (ham) and the feminine yin energy (so), while also expanding consciousness. So ham can help you feel grounded and connected to your true self.
6. Sat Nam
Meaning: True identity or Truth is my identity.
Used in the kundalini yoga practice, this mantra can help you find your intuition and is a way to call on the divine truth within. As part of the sat kriya meditation it is said to raise the kundalini energy if practiced daily for at least three minutes.
Meaning: Salutations to the remover of obstacles!
Ganesh is known as the remover of obstacles and is associated with wisdom and success. This mantra is useful when facing challenging situations or pursuing new ventures. According to kundalini yoga, Ganesh is connected to the first, or root chakra. When we awaken the energy of the root chakra, we can move through the other chakras with more ease.
8. Sita Ram
Meaning: Rama as truth, the soul and virtue, and Sita as primal energy (kundalini shakti). Rama is considered the perfect man and Sita exemplifies the perfect woman.
Rama is associated with the solar plexus chakra and fire element which purifies the body. Sita is associated with the root chakra and Earth element which provides grounding and calms the mind. Both sides of the brain are balanced through the practice of reciting the sita ram mantra, leading to a sense of calm and self-awareness.
Sanskrit mantras can provide ancient and beautiful wisdom in our modern and hectic lives. Over time, they become more than just words; they can provide us with a connection to our inner guidance and our place in the world around us. To explore using Sanskrit mantras in meditation, try practicing with Dylan Werner’s Sound Into Silence series hosted on Alo Moves.