As you start the new year, there's probably nothing more valuable that you could introduce into your life than chanting. It's been practiced for centuries in so many different faiths but is especially powerful in the Hindu tradition, where the Shastras and gurus have extolled the virtues of chanting God's as an anchor in the turbulence of life.
Through the repeated recitation of single lines such as Om Namo Shivaya or Om Namo Narayana to five line slokas to potent mantras like Gayatri Mantra or the Hanuman Chalisa, Hindus have declared their own personal relationship with the deities. Chanting comes in many forms - you can even say the names of God silently in your mind without uttering a sound and that is called a chanting meditation.
"When you chant you don't necessarily say it out loud - you are concentrating on the Lord and that is also considered chanting, " says Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of the Hindu Temple Society of New York. "Even if you do it within yourself - you're saying 'Om Namo Shivaya' over and over in your mind. You are concentrating on Lord Shiva and your whole body gets tuned to Lord Shiva."
While kirtan - singing bhajans in the company of other like-minded people - is always joyous, the name of God can be incorporated into one's daily routine in many ways. Anyone can do chanting and you don't have to learn Sanskrit to chant God's name. Says Mysorekar, "I encourage everyone to start with a simple sentence, then enjoy the bliss of the lord and go higher as one learns."
She describes the benefits of listening to chanting. Recently in the Ganesh Temple over 50 people participated in Rudra Chanting (praising Lord shiva) and there was pin-drop silence as hundreds of devotees absorbed the energy. She says, "Your mind gets drawn into it and you get lost in it. Chanting produces tremendous vibrations within the temple and energize the space. That is why temples are different than ordinary buildings of brick and mortar."
Listening to a chant can be as powerful as chanting yourself. Whether it is the sages chanting on the banks of the Ganges or a New Yorker commuting to work in the subway and listening to a CD of chants on her earphones, there's a way to keep the spiritual in your life, no matter what life you're living. As Mysorekar points out, listening to a CD has a double advantage - you are not only absorbing the energy as you drive or work but you are also learning the mantra as your mind repeats it.
Which brings us to Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon, a Grammy nominated singer, successful business executive and philanthropist, who feels spirituality has helped her connect the dots in her life. She has embraced the ancient practice of chanting in a very modern, stressful world, and shown that a balanced, blissful life is possible.
Tandon, whose acclaimed album of chants Soul Call was nominated for the Grammy and who has many fans around the world, has chanted since childhood and has now gone on to creating CDs of chants so that these powerful words can be shared with people all over the world.
"My family belonged to the Sama Veda lineage where ancient Vedic mantras are sung with a tune and meter in a most breathtakingly beautiful way," she recalls. "Chanting was all around me. We grew up in a very simple home in a very old city where Vedic traditions are performed to this day. So I have grown up hearing the priests and everyone else chanting long mantras. Also many of the major prayers like the Vishnu Sahasranamam were played in our home everyday so osmosis naturally happened."
Tandon uses ancient Sanskrit chants and syllables as well as traditional melodies, enriching the listening experience with complex ragas or scales from Indian classical music and world contemporary music. She says, "Chanting of mantras allows you to experience subtle energies of the universe. The best way to understand the power of chanting is to actually sing or continuously repeat simple chants after a deep meditation when one's mind is quiet. The transformation that takes place is sometimes profound. I experience it often - and thousands of people have shared similar feelings with me. So for me it is not a belief. It is an experience."
Asked if listening to chants can have the same effect as chanting yourself, Dr. Uma Mysorekar says, "It will have the same effect - you're enjoying the rejoicing and the Lord within yourself. The key is to concentrate otherwise your mind goes all over the place. Chanting is believed to produce certain neurological changes within your own brain cells, and people get some deep joy that they can't describe."