I am sure that Deva Premal and Mitten have been instrumental in bringing Sacred Indian Chants to the West. Her gorgeous rendition of the Gayathri Mantra has been heard all over the world, and those of us who listen to YouTubes, would be well acquainted with her haunting voice. Deva Premal brings both well-known and less well-known chants (Mantras) from the Hindu Faith to audiences everywhere. She does not chant them in their original form, but turns each one into a Sacred Hymn that grabs our attention and holds us in a sacred place for a few minutes. But what’s the meaning behind the chants? Here’s a little about the Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu religion, who represent the very essence of the Mantras we hear in the West today.
Hindu Gods and Goddesses
There is a remarkable religious tolerance embedded within the pantheon of countless Hindu gods and Goddesses, allowing everyone to experience the divine in the way that most suits them. For those that are strangers to India and Hinduism, this may appear strange, as most other religions are less obviously tolerant towards other points of view. The deeper meaning of the Hindu Gods is not well known in the West. The Gods and Goddesses are not actually the essence of Hindu prayers. Hindus pray to the aspects (visible features of the Divine) by giving those aspects name and form. The Hindu religion recognizes the absolute, the Divine, as formless – the highest God.
This demi-god rules fire, riding on a Ram. Latin ignis (the root of English ignite). The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day; but also he is immortal. Agni is represented as red and two-faced (sometimes covered with butter), suggesting both his destructive and beneficent qualities, and with black eyes and hair, three legs and seven arms. He rides a ram, or a chariot, pulled by goats or, more rarely, parrots. Seven rays of light emanate from his body. One of his names is “Sapta jihva”, ‘seven tongues’. He is worshipped under a threefold form: fire on earth and lightning and the sun.
Here are a few different translations of verses 17 and 18 of the Isha Upanishad
May my life merge in the Immortal
When my body is reduced to ashes.
O mind, meditate on the eternal Brahman.
Remember the deeds of the past.
Remember, O mind, remember.
O god of fire, lead us by the good path
To eternal joy. You know all our deeds.
Deliver us from evil, we who bow
And pray again and again.
Ushas “Dawn”, is a Vedic deity. She is the chief goddess ( sometimes imagined as several goddesses ) Dawn exalted in the Rig Veda. She is portrayed as a beautifully adorned, sexually attractive young woman riding in a chariot.
HYMN TO USHA -DAWN
O Usha! You are of a luminous movement, vast with the Truth, move according to the path of the Truth, in solar light manifest, true in her being with the gods as the impeller of happy truths.
Surya (Sun) is the chief solar deity. His chariot is pulled by seven horses, representing seven planets.
Because of this septenary nature, the Sun is spoken of by the ancients as one who is driven by seven horses equal to the metres of the Vedas; or he is identified with the seven Gana (Classes of Being) in his orb. He is distinct from them, having Seven Rays, as indeed he has The Seven Beings in the Sun are the Seven Holy Ones. He is self-born from the inherent power in the Matrix of Mother-Substance. It is they who send the seven principal Forces, call Rays, which, at the beginning of Pralaya, will centre into seven new Suns for the Next Manvantara. The energy from which they spring into conscious existence is every Sun in what some people call Vishnu, which is the Breath of the Absoluteness,
Savitr is the aspect of the sun before sunrise. He is golden all over. He establishes people in their respective places. He gives life and energy and guides people in the right path. The famous Savitr. Gayatri Mantra is dedicated to this Savitr. The nourishing and life-supporting aspect of the sun is personified and praised as Pusan. He is exceedingly beautiful. He destroys the evil ones with the discus he wears. He looks upon all with an equal eye. He is extremely generous and ever ready to protect.
There is a famous prayer in Sanskrit that first appears in the Rig Veda (iii /62/10) called the Gayatri Mantra that almost every Hindu knows. In roman letters it is as follows:
Om bhur bhuvah svah – (Not swaha but soo-va-har)
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat
A basic translation can be given as…
Oh God, the Protector, the basis of all life, Who is self-existent, Who is free from all pains and Whose contact frees the soul from all troubles, Who pervades the Universe and sustains all, the Creator and Energizer of the whole Universe, the Giver of happiness, Who is worthy of acceptance, the most excellent, Who is Pure and the Purifier of all, let us embrace that very God, so that He may direct our mental faculties in the right direction.
Hinduism in India traces its source to the Vedas, ancient hymns composed and recited in Punjab as early as 1500 B.C. Three main collections of the Vedas–the Rig, Sama, and Yajur–consist of chants that were originally recited by priests while offering plant and animal sacrifices in sacred fires. A fourth collection, the Atharva Veda, contains a number of formulas for requirements as varied as medical cures and love magic. The majority of modern Hindus revere these hymns as sacred sounds passed down to humanity from the greatest antiquity and as the source of Hindu tradition.
I am saving Ganesha until next post together with Snippets on the Seven Rays