In my childhood days, my father used to make me sit with him every evening and recite mantras. He would open a small book and chant mantras aloud. I, along with my mother and sisters, would sit in a circle, with eyes closed and hands resting in my lap. Being younger, I would peek now and then as I had no idea of what was going on. The mantras were in Sanskrit and the Hindi translations were too difficult for me to understand at that time. My mind was no less whimsical; it would focus on every other thing that was unconnected to the chanting ceremony. In fact, I used to wait for my father to reach the last page of the book, knowing that soon after that my mother would serve dinner.

As I grew up, I starting concentrating more; the tendency to open my eyes in between soon disappeared and my mind stopped vacillating so much. By the time I was 14 or 15, I knew that I was undergoing some transformation, a soulful one. Now every time I focused on what I was chanting, there would be something pronounced, something larger than life ready to overwhelm me. The chanting started by the recital of Gayatri Mantra, a revered Vedic hymn that praises the Almighty and requests him to embrace us with his divinity. This was followed by other mantras most of which talked about the relation between immortals and transcendental power.

But my mind was still playing its strange games. Now and then, it would meddle with my contemplation. And soon, I would find myself fighting with mundane thoughts: What would happen if I reached school late the next day, or what if my best friend stops talking to me, or—more comical—what if a cockroach comes from nowhere and scares me to death! At times, I would make an excuse to myself to skip mantras altogether. By the time I completed the hymns, I did not feel anything that could be called otherworldly.

But the fact was that the seed had already been sown inside my heart and it had to grow to a full-fledged tree one day. As time elapsed and I became an adult, my thought process became more clarified; I would sit back for hours and try to understand what relation existed between the omnipotent and the rest of the universe. Not that I had become some yogi, but had started conceiving human existence as a humble part of the cosmos.

Yes, it was quite difficult to accept the facts; it was melancholic at times and fearful, too. But intriguing enough to explore more. The mantras that I had been reciting since childhood had, unknowingly, induced an awakening in me. They, in fact, helped me realize that the power above, no matter how unsurpassable it is or how impossible to catch sight of, can be comprehended. It is discernable and we can always get vibes from it.

The time of ifs, ands, or buts had gone. Now every time I uttered those Sanskrit words, the meanings of which were now clear to me, I felt coupled with the all-powerful. The mantras talked about the five elements and other metaphysical aspects, and their relation to the Almighty. They elicited the metamorphosis of the soul from one form to the other, thanked the supreme power for bestowing life upon us, and urged it to direct our lives on path of righteousness.

As a mountaineer who is rendered speechless after scaling the towering Himalayan peaks, I felt dumbfounded at humankind’s subordinate existence every time I completed the hymns.

I’m not sure exactly how to describe it but, over the years, the mantras have helped me reconcile the fact that life is ephemeral and lacks permanence. A few months back I got to know about a mantra published in a newspaper. It said that only nonliving things change forms and those that are living remain constant. A human or an animal would continue to remain so until he or she dies. After death the body starts transforming to ashes, and under the influence of five elements, what was once the body starts acquiring different forms. What a great thought it was!

It was at that time when I was trying to cope with my mother’s untimely death. The mantra had a therapeutic effect on my mind. It helped me heal and soothed my soul: No matter in what form or energy, she is still in this universe. I have moved on since then.

I’ve learned simply reciting mantras is not enough: You need to ponder what is being said and, in the very first place, you must know the meaning of what you are uttering.n

Anuradha Malhotra is a freelance writer who has an M.A. in English literature. She enjoys writing about her personal experiences and interests in various cultures.

Her avid interest in knowing cultures across borders provides a large base of topics to write on.