sanskrit and the use of mantras in musical compositions.
A few thousand years ago, people were communicating in Sanskrit in India. Later, it remained the language of scholars, poets, priests. Many of the common people could not afford to learn Sanskrit any more because it would require them to learn it at school due to its difficulty… and many had no access to this kind of higher education.
Nevertheless, the spiritual language and the language of Mantras has remained in Sanskrit until the present days. Although Buddha and Mahavira started speaking in Pali, a dialect, because in that way they thought they would be able to reach the attention of more people - as it was a more common language between the masses. To the disappointment of the orthodox learnt ones, this broke partially the exclusivity of Sanskrit used for all Religious-related language communications. In any way, Sanskrit is still massively present in our culture and mainly related to Spirituality and scientific wisdom, as well as Mantras and Rituals in the present days. It is an honour that such an ancient language has been preserved in that way till the current times, and it is still being learnt by many in India.
WHEN SANSKRIT IS TAUGHT, IT HAS TO BE LEARNT BY ROTE. THE SOUND IS IMPORTANT, NOT THE MEANING.
When one composes mantras in Sanskrit, it is very important to be educated in Sanskrit, or at least to learn Sanskrit some years, and understand the meaning, sound and rules of pronunciation, making a point to sing the words exactly as they are. It is not only the pronunciation but also the length and character of the sound that matters. For example, one cannot stretch or fit words to make the text fit in out musical composition, as one would do when singing in Spanish or English - that is not possible in Sanskrit. If a vocal or word is short, for example, it must be kept short, because otherwise it looses its true meaning. That’s why I always say that before one humbly offers a melody to a mantra, one should be careful to maintain the language correctly - and not customize it to the musician's needs or convenience. Many singers maybe due to lack of knowledge, don't know all the rules...
That is not really a problem in India, but it is a problem for most musicians in the West singing mantras commercially, not knowing in depth the Sanskrit and its complex sound rules... and transforming this ancient language into some rare creation of their own, just to fit their music and then sell it as Indian music to heal, to meditate, etc. This is not good because what many are doing is completely unrelated to the true nature of Indian music! I personally went around sharing this phenomenon to learnt musicians from India, and they were stunned… and almost embarrassed to hear what was being published and sold in the name of Indian sacred music in the West.
As I say always to my students, “a mantra does not need music” - but for a devotional musician it's a total honour if a mantra is found to which he can give the music that he had composed, since the mantra will beautify the music (and not the other way round.) This has to be understood and respected. So if we use a mantra for our music, the original ancient language must be treated with all respect, maintaining the roots impeccable and unchanged. Never change the mantra to fit the composition! For us in India, this is seen as a sin and it is felt as disrespectful to the wise ancestors who from a higher consciousness left this invaluable millenary heritage, which must be respected and protected. Because, what happens if a recipe of a medicine is passed from hand to hand… and reaches hands which start changing the original formula? Well, a point will reach in which the medicine will loose its effects. This is exactly what is happening with mantra music. And the biggest pity is that the main driver is commercial.
“In yoga we say the whole existence is a complex amalgamation of sound. Everything is sound or nadabrahma. When we put the right key in a hole, and turn it, it opens a whole new world, Similarly receiving a mantra properly, and integrating it within yourself is the key to opening a whole new world. Hearing a mantra on an audio tape, or reading it from a book or hearing it from someone who doesn’t know the ABCD of it is futile. If the mantra is not delivered properly it can cause a lot of harm.” Sadhguru
This heritage from India is really a wonder. Can you imagine: for each planet there’s a mantra, for the different Pranayam techniques there are corresponding mantras, for Ayurveda, for Yoga, for Education, Music, Agriculture, Sex, Anatomy, Astrology... so many scriptures addressing all the aspects of the world and the universe. In India, spirituality was in a way linked to science, but emerging from a higher consciousness and conveyed by wise ones in the form of beautiful verses. That’s why sciences like Ayurveda were written in Sanskrit… and not in the way of the classic paragraphs that one would find in the medical textbooks, but in poetry form! ...even following a certain length, lines, rhymes, etc. It is just unbelievable how wise ones came up with these rhyming verses to convey and explain all the aspects of life, science and religion so vastly and gracefully in those perfectly rhyming verses so rich in wisdom.
The ocean is really vast. I could be busy all my life composing music and then linking to it material from India containing all sources of wisdom: Sanskrit texts and, on the other hand, poems from Kabir, Meera, Nanak, Bulesha... so many wise ones, as well as poets, have left an unbelievable amount of insatiable material… there’s such an ocean of content available that it’s a total blessing for me to have been born and educated in this land and have access to the bottomless richness of Indian culture since my childhood, when I was studying Sanskrit and music as a child… unaware that I would end up being a musician and singing mostly in Sanskrit. For this reason, one of my personal missions is to protect this heritage and make sure that ‘the recipe’ is transmitted in the right way, keeping the original content and nature as conceived by the sages in the old times.
I can only be thankful for the gift of these sacred verses, for their presence and their marvellous contribution to the world, to the senses, to my music, to my Indian soul.