Mantra is a Sanskirt word combining the root word man-, meaning to think, with the suffix -tra, referring to tools or instruments, giving mantra the literal translation of “instrument of thought.” Mantras were originally conceived in the Vedas, with most following a two-line pattern, called shlokas, or even single line or single word form. Mantra in its simplest and most basic form is found in the word Om, which in Hinduism is referred to as the “pravana mantra,” or source of all mantras.
Mantra music includes non-material vibrations; they are the direct names of the Divine. In a material world of duality, words differ from the object they are describing. In the transcendental sense, the name and the object are not different, so when calling the name of the Divine, we experience direct contact with that personality and benefit from the association through mantra music.
These sacred scripts come in several different forms, and mantra music brings melody to mantras as people sing these spiritual words and phrases together, allowing the reverberations and reverence of the group to create a restorative and refreshing effect. Several varying forms of mantras offer different music for different settings. Guru mantras are the first initiation when a master gives this mantra to the disciple. Bija mantra represents the essence of a mantra, Om. Healing mantras are specifically shared to instill restorative and balancing qualities. The bhajan, spiritual songs, and kirtan, where God’s name is repeated in song, add the melodic quality to mantras.
Originating in the Vedic tradition of India, mantras are essential to the Hindu religion, but have also become an important part of Buddhist, Sikh, and Jain practices. Mantra music provides a tool for spiritual development and personal change, as they are thought to be capable of creating transformation. Mantras have gained mainstream mention in the work of artists such as George Harrison, Nina Hagen, Boy George, and many others through the Hare Krishna mantra, also sometimes known as the Maha Mantra, or Great Mantra. This sixteen-syllable mantra holds importance in the bhakti movement, but has also received reference in pop culture from shows such as Seinfeld and Mad Men, to movies such as The Muppet Movie, exemplifying the widespread impact and spread of mantra music.