Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reciting Ślokas

Great Scholars from ages past have given us eulogies aimed at the various forms of Paramâtmâ to help us cross this Ocean of Worldly existence (Samsâra). They were all mostly composed in a particular meter (Chandas) - some being as easy and common as Anushţubh and some being complex like Śikhariņî, Vŗtti, and others. To read a Śloka in almost every other Chandas, one should read the works of Âdi Śankarâbhagavatpâdâcârya. There’s a charming work of his called Devî Catuśshashţyupacâra Stotram where he uses many different Chandas that are really melodious to just read through – you wouldn’t have to really know the meaning to enjoy it; mere reading would bring an unexplainable joy in you, of course, the pronunciation being difficult at certain ślokas due to many Samdhis (Conjuncts).
Talking about pronunciations, the main intent for writing this post is to let people know of the importance of pronouncing words properly/correctly in ślokas. I have seen in temples and among groups who chant Lalitâ Sahasranâma Stotra (especially) getting used to the rhythm of Anushtubh Chandas and splitting every other name in Lalitâ Sahasranâma Stotra in a pattern of 8 – 8. This works out well in Vishņu Sahasranâma Stotra but not in Lalitâ Sahasranâma Stotra because certain names are three syllabled like Śrîmâtâ, five-syllabled like Śrîmahârâgñî, eight-syllabled like Śrîmatsimhâsaneśvarî, and some sixteen-syllabled like Haranetrâgnisamdagdhakâmasańjîvanaushadhiĥ. One should remember that these names aren’t given to Gods/Goddesses like we are given names. We are named something to identify ourselves, but the Supreme Identity doesn't require such identifications. So, the names in Ashţottaraśata-,  Triśatî-, or Sahasra-nâma are Gauņas, that is they glorify the qualities of deities through these names. When you split a sixteen-syllabled name in Lalitâ Sahasranâma Stotra (for example) they give a different meaning to Goddess.
I wish I didn’t have to even say this, but to let people know of the seriousness of pronouncing a name wrong, I am forced to give this example. Let’s take the example of the sixteen-syllabled name Haranetrâgnisamdagdhakâmasańjîvanaushadhiĥ. I have heard people saying Haranetrâgnisamdagdhâ–Kâmasańjîvanaushadhiĥ – thus splitting a single name into two which gives out the meaning of the first word as one who’s burned in the fire that emanated from Hara’s eye, instead of the actual meaning, which is the one who became the medicine that revived Kâma who's burned by the fire that emanated from Hara's eye. There are many more sixteen syllabled and seven syllabled names that are being split, which imply unspeakable meanings. I remember once saying this to a group of women with whom I was asked to chant the Stotra and the eldest Sâdhakî among the group looked at me as if saying, “Who are you to teach me what is right or wrong? I have been chanting this Stotra for years.”
I don't intend to hurt anyone but erring is human and as a Sâdhaka we all should have the attitude to correct wherever we go wrong in our deeds which would lead us to the Supreme Abode. After all, humility is the primary requirement of a Sâdhaka and not Ego.
This is the reason why learned people insist that one learn Lalitâ Sahasranâma Stotra from a Guru and not just read off a book. In fact Purâņas and Śâstras speak of many qualities of Guru. People like me cannot become Guru just because they think they can chant few Stotras. A Guru is one who removes the darkness of ignorance. He or she first meditates upon the mantra or stotra countless number of times, understands it and then bestows it to his or her disciple, making sure that he or she doesn’t pronounce it wrongly.
I have stated Lalitâ Sahasranâma Stotra as an example as we are familiar with it but there are other Stotras which people read off a book, splitting the names/words as they please. If in doubt, we should ask a learned person about the right way to recite it and then practice it ourselves, because the learned know if a conjunct word can be split or not so as not to imply a wrong meaning to the Stotra.
Sarvam Śrî Vâņî-Hiraņyagarbhârpaņamastu