The oldest known Indian scriptures are the vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry termed as the Vedas. Considered to be a divine revelation to the Rishis of ancient India, Vedic Chanting is bound by strict adherence to six rules – Varṇa (pronunciation), Svara (chanting notes), Mātrā (duration) Balam (force), Sāma (continuity) and Santāna (punctuation). Adhyayanam or the process of study that involves repeating exactly as the teacher recites has preserved these rules for thousands of years. It is precisely for this reason Vedic chanting has been inscribed by the UNESCO as a masterpiece oral tradition and heritage from India.
The Gāyatrī, Mahā Mahāmṛtyuṃjaya, Ārogya mantra, Nārāyana Upaniṣat, Taittirīya-Upaniṣhat, Durgāsūktam, Puruṣasūktam, Srīsūktam are all examples of Vedic chanting that can be used for spiritual transformation. There are also many therapeutic benefits to Vedic chanting.
Yoga Sutras chanting
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the authoritative text on Yoga philosophy, Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind with Samādhi or a complete divine absorption as the ultimate goal.
Learning this text through chant and allowing the words to become familiar provides the most meditative way to begin the study of this magnificent text. The yogic philosophy is a psychological map of consciousness in which Patanjali provides tools and practices to reach Samadhi. There are a hundred and ninety six aphorisms organized in four chapters Samādhi Pāda, Sādhana Pāda, Vibhūti Pāda & Kaivalya Pāda.
Chanting this text falls under the tradition of ‘Smriti Chanting’ and is not governed by the same strict rule of ‘svara’ as Vedic chanting.
Śrī Vidyā Śāktā traditions
Śāktā traditions involve the workship of Devi or Mother Goddess as the Supreme. The south Indian Sri Vidya traditions, worship Lalitā as the Supreme through the chanting of her sacred mantra – the one thousand names of Lalitā, or the Lalitha Sahasranāma.
According to Sanskrit scholar L.M Joshi, the Lalitā mantra has a special aura in its form as it incorporates the major significant tenets embodied in the vast bulk of Tantric literature. The one thousand names in the text contain within themselves the fundamentals of the Śāktā philosophy and so, is the best guide for those desirous to know the fundamentals of Tantaśāstra.
Irrespective of traditions, all Sanskrit chanting will follow certain inherent grammar rules such as Sandhi (conjuctions). There is always focus on correct pronunciation through practice of the Sanskrit alphabet in most classes.