By Balram Pradhan & Seema Godse Darle
Śabda Kalpadrumam defines mantra as ”mantaboha mananéyacya” meaning repetition of a syllable. Mantras originated in the Vedic tradition of India and are an essential part of the Ancient Indian traditional life.
The Gayatri Mantra finds its first mention in the Rig Veda. It was revealed to the sage Vishwamitra. It is also called “Savitṛ Mantra” since it concerns the deity Savitṛ (Sun). According to the Indian tradition, Gayatri Mantra is initiated by a student before starting his/her formal education. It is said that chanting Gayatri Mantra will bring improvement in the dhī śakti – the power of intellect.
The meaning of Gayatri mantra is “the divine and holy light which pervades all that exists, the significant and adorable sun as I meditate on your supreme and sovereign radiance, may you illuminate and brighten my intellect’.
It was mentioned in Indian tradition that, the Gayatri mantra was the mother of all the Vedas, and chanting the mantra will remove all sins. In fact, reciting the mantra gives equal effect to reciting the four Vedas. It was reported that chanting the Gayatri mantra regularly shall improve learning power, concentration, prosperity, eternal power, peace and improves the quality of life.
Scientific investigation also found that yoga mantra or hymns of scriptures and their chanting had a positive influence on many physiological and psychological functions of the body. For example, during both prayers and mantras, there was an increase in the synchronicity of cardiovascular rhythms when they were recited 6 times a minute.
There was also an increase in bar reflex sensitivity. These findings suggested that the recitation of the rosary and certain yoga mantras, at specific frequencies, induce favorable psychological and physiological effects. The significance of recitation of ”Om” in twelve experienced meditators found subtle changes in the mental state indicated by a reduction in skin resistance. The different types of meditation in Japanese Buddhism showed different brain regional activation. The recitation of Buddha name (Nenbutsu) activated the prefrontal cortex, and the Buddhist sutra activated the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right parietal cortex.
Sixty healthy school students (30 boys and 30 girls) in the age group of 12-14 years (mean age: 13 ± 0.83 years) were recruited for the study from an English medium school in Nasik, Maharashtra.
All the students were trained in Gayatri Mantra and poem chanting for 5 days before the starting of the study and were assessed using digit-letter substitution task (DLST) before and immediately after Gayatri Mantra and poem chanting. The students were divided randomly into two groups and each group participated in both the Gayatri Mantra and poem chanting. Four recordings were made on consecutive days for each participant. This was a crossover study design.
DLST consisted of a worksheet, which has 8 rows and 12 columns and randomly arranged digits in rows and columns. The students were asked to substitute as many target digits as possible in the specified time of 90 seconds. The letter substitution may be undertaken in a horizontal, vertical, or randomized manner by selecting a particular digit. The total number of substitutions and wrong substitutions are scored. The net score was obtained by deducting wrong substitutions from the total substitutions attempted.
In order to avoid any possible learning effect, the participants were divided into two sessions randomly. They were asked to sit comfortably on the floor cross-legged with eyes closed. Fifty percent of participants were asked to chant Gayatri Mantra loudly for 10 min and the remaining participants did PL chanting on day 6. The order of the sessions was reversed on day 7.
The students were asked to chant Gayatri Mantra for about 10 min. During chanting, the eyes were closed. The subjects followed the traditional procedure of chanting it loudly for its best effect to invoke the innate power of effulgence and intellect.
Om bhūrbḥuvah svaḥ tatsaviturvareṇyam bhargodevasya dhīmahi Dhiyoh yonaḥ pracodayāt ǀǀ
Poem line chanting
In the control session, the same subjects were seated in a relaxed posture with open eyes. The duration of both sessions was equal.
ikkde tikkde cohi kade anandi ananda gade.
There was a significant improvement in net score in both Gayatri Mantra and poem sessions. But further analysis showed that Gayatri Mantra significantly performed better than poem sessions in females.
The previous two groups’ randomized wait-listed control study showed improvements in DLST when Gayatri Mantra recited using two different methods, that is, Ekaswar and Dwiswara which was aligned with our present study.
The attention processes involve a network of brain regions such as the prefrontal and temporal cortices, in addition to the anterior cingulate gyrus. During a selective attention task, decreased activation was found in several areas of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate in addition to parietal areas.
A feeling of resonating effect during audible ”OM” chanting found significant deactivation was seen bilaterally during ”OM” chanting in comparison to the resting brain state in bilateral orbitofrontal, anterior cingulate, parahippocampal gyri, thalami, and hippocampi. The right amygdala too demonstrated significant deactivation. No significant activation was observed during ”OM” chanting.
Chanting increases the blood supply to the areas of the brain which are concerned with memory. Chanting of “Om” showed a significant decrease in the skin resistance level of the experimental group. It also showed a reduction in the heart rate and the rate of breathing. There are several studies where interventions like asana, pranayama, meditation, etc, studies on Vedic chanting and memory are comparatively less.
In contrast, neither activation nor deactivation occurred in these brain regions during the comparative task – Namely the ”ssss” pronunciation condition. The prayer of the Namo Amida Butsu (Nembutsu) activates the medial frontal gyrus, which is mainly related to mental concentration and visuospatial attention, similar to the areas activated by meditation.
The task of reciting the sutra (Buddhist scriptures) activates the left lateral middle frontal gyrus, the right angular gyrus, and the right supramarginal gyrus, which are related to visuospatial attention also involved in the area activated by meditation.
All these studies indicate that the recitation of Gayatri Mantra plays a role in improving the attention potential.