03 Apr Mantras for peace of mind (part two)
The Swasti Varcanam
Im flying by the seat of my pants a little when it comes to this sharing of resources. But Friday seems to be turning into a “mantra day” so let’s run with that for a while.
Today’s Mantra is much more consise than last week’s. Phew! It is one of a group of chants known as the Shanti Mantras (prayers for peace). It’s name is the Swasti Varcanam.
I was taught it in Mysore and over the years I’ve noticed that my teachers have recited it as an affirmation in testing times. Sharath prescribes it for wishing someone a speedy recovery from illness or accident. So it’s definitely worth investigating in our current situation.
Many of the Shanti Mantras are attached to one or more of the Upanishads. This one is wedded to The Mandukya Upanishad.
The Mandukya Upanishad is one of the shortest but most profound of these spiritual discourses. It’s subject matter is the nature of Brahman and it’s most famous verse: “Ayam Atma Brahma” literally means “the true self lies within”.
In Vedic times Brahman was the name given to a supreme force behind all creation (Patanjali would later call it Ishvara – the Godhead in his Yoga Sutras). In the Mandukya Upanishad Brahma is revealed as the source of everything. Not just the physical universe we see around us but also our shifting states of consciousness. Four states of awareness are listed. Being awake, dreaming, dreamless sleep and finally something beyond description: the supreme consciousness or union with Brahma. Because this state already dwells within us we can guide our other states towards it through the sacred symbol AUM. Each part of the symbol (the a, the u, the m and the whole thing) represents one of the four states. Recitation brings them all together. In his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, Swami Krisnanada says:
“When we chant Aum we also try to create within ourselves a sympathetic vibration, which has a sympathy with the cosmic vibration…We produce a harmonious vibration in our bodily and psychological system. Instead of tearing ourselves away from the world outside, we flow into the current of the world.”
I will attach a link to the text of the Mandukya Upanishad but for now let’s return to our Swasti Varcanam.
A phonetic rendition of the Sanskrit:
Bhadram Karnnebhih Shrnyama Devah |
Bhadram Pashyema-Akshabhir-Yajatrah |
Vyashema Deva-Hitam Yada-yuhu
It is actually the first half of the mantra that is recited as an affirmation. The translation of the first half is as follows:
May we hear only what is auspicious
May we see only what is auspicious
May we live a contented life with a strong and healthy body
May we serve the Lord of Love who has given us all our lives
There is a longer version of the mantra which goes on to list a number of Vedic deities and asks for their blessing.
Swasti Na Indro Vrdhashravah
Swasti Na Pusha Vishva-Vedah
Swasti Nastarkshyo Arishtanemih
Swasti No Brhaspatir-dadhatu
Aum Shanti Shanti Shantih
Translated : May Indra bless us
May Pushan bless us
May Nastarkshya bless us
May Brhaspatir protect us
Peace, Peace Peace.
The Devas listed here are very ancient. Indra and Pushan are associated with the skies. Indra brings thunder, lightning, rain and therefore rivers. Pushan is a sun God but also guides travellers to safety and good pastures. Nastarkshya is one of the horses that pulls Surya’s chariot, sometimes taking the form of Garuda (an Eagle God). Brhaspatir is an interesting figure because he is a human: teacher of all the Devas and the root of Dharma (the sacred path). In later Pantheons, including the Greek and Roman ones, he manifests as Jupiter.
So you can see why the second part is often skipped! It’s meaning is a little opaque and it’s not uncommon to trim a mantra down to its core.
If you’d like to have a go here is an audio file I have made in a call and response format. Please note: I am no Sanskrit (or Vedic) scholar! It’s just easier to learn chants when they are broken down into sections. You can choose from the short or long versions. There’s one for unison chanting if you prefer.
Here is a link to the full Sanskrit text with phonetic version and translation. Note translations will vary from author to author.
Here is the Mandukya Upanishad and a commentary by Swami Krisnanada
If you want to read more about the Upanishads this book is a lovely starting point. Eknarth Eswaran is a beautiful writer and his translations are very easy to follow.
Side note : the Swasti Varcanam is also associated with the Prashnad Upanishad which is a longer but very beguiling discourse on Prana. As a result it is sometimes included in the litany of chants before practicing pranayama.
Here is a very beaten up looking PDF of that text (it’s kind of beautiful in its own way and you’ll see our mantra at the beginning
And here’s an easier version to read !