Musician Jahnavi Harrison examines the ancient practice of mantra recitation and charts the spread of mantras from their Eastern origins to Western pop-culture.
The origin of the word ‘mantra’ lies in the ancient Sanskrit language. It means literally ‘mana’ or mind/heart and ‘tra’ to transport or transcend. In a religious context, Jahnavi explains, a mantra is a sacred sound formula – an arrangement of words with meaning, that have the power to connect the reciter with a specific spiritual goal. But the meaning need not necessarily be understood in order to have an effect, just as you don’t need to know about all the ingredients in cough syrup to feel it doing something.
Om, believed by Hindus to be a ‘primordial sacred sound’ is perhaps the most well known of the traditional Eastern mantras. Jahnavi introduces us to an extraordinary recording of 10,000 people chanting Om as part of a project organised by the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhatten. We also hear the music of George Harrison which features this ancient chant.
The belief of Hindus and Buddhists, that reciting mantras can transform the body and mind, are now the subject of much scientific study which has shown that regular chanting brings about changes within the brain. In addition to reaping the spiritual and cognitive benefits, Jahnavi explains that she chants daily in order to put on a suit of “sonic armour” that seems to protect her from the noise and intensity of the urban environment.