By Swami Harshananda
Bijamantra literally means ‘seed-mantra’.
The use of mantras as an aid to upāsanā or meditation is wide-spread. Though Brahman, the ultimate Truth or the Absolute is only one, its manifestations however, can be innumerable. As mentioned in the Bhagavadgitā, God responds to the prayers of his devotees in and through any form the devotee chooses.
Over the millennia, the ṛṣis of the Vedas, the purāṇas and the tantras (secondary scriptures) have described a large number of deities, both male and female, for upāsanā and spiritual upliftment. It should be remembered that all the deities with their different names and forms are one and the same. They are like the various manifestations of one God, like chocolate dolls are made of chocolate and hence, all of them taste sweet. If this fundamental understanding is appreciated by all, there can be no confusion or conflict in the minds of the votaries.
Every deity has a tantra or a philosophy, rituals, a yantra or a geometrical form and a mantra or a sound-form. The physical form of the deity is described in its dhyānaśloka, (hymn of meditation) which is of great help in actual meditation. The mantras are of various types, the most common form being the one having three or four parts:
- Praṇava or Om
- The bījākṣara or the bījāmantra
- The name of the deity in the caturthi-vibhakti or dative case
- The word namah indicating obeisance
This can be illustrated by considering the well-known mantra of Śiva—Om namah- śivāya, (‘Om, obeisance to Siva!’) Here, of course, the bījākṣara, the seed-letter, is missing.
The bijamantra is generally monosyllabic. Hence it can be called as ‘bijākṣara’ (akṣara = letter) also. It is just like the indication of its very name, i.e. a ‘seed-formula’ containing the essence of the deity in itself. This will gradually get evolved by an assiduous practice of its repetition with faith and devotion. It is the same phenomenon like a tree that evolves out of its seed by proper cultivation. Hence the term ‘bīja’ is apt to it.
Every deity, even the different aspects of the same deity, have different bījamantras which are kept a secret, to be handed down in the oral tradition from the guru to the disciple at the time of dīkṣā or initiation into spiritual life. Some of the more common bīja- mantras are:
- Oaum (for Śiva)
- Durh (for Durgā)
- Krīrh (for Kālī)
- Śrīrh (for Lakṣmī)
- Aiṅi (for Sarasvatī)
- Klīiii (for Kāmadeva or Kṛṣṇa)
- Gam (for Gaṇapati)
Tāntric texts warn practitioner not to practice their repetition unless it is ceremonially received from a qualified guru.
- Bhagavadgitā 4.11; 7.21
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore