Nama mantras are the most popular and widely used class of mantras. As the name suggests, they are centered on the names of devatas.
According to Puranas like Bhagavata, Nama mantra is the most effective and easiest way of obtaining the grace of a devata in Kali Yuga. While it needs tapas yoga and yajna in the other three yugas, in kali yuga one can get salvation merely by rememberance of God’s name. Name of God is said to be undifferentiated from God Himself, and chanting His name is therefore very effective in pleasing God.
For this reason many of the seers like Sankara and Ramanuja have emphasized uninterrupred rememberance of God and chanting the names of God. For instance Sankara’s disciples in Carpata Panjarika, an addendum to Dwadasa Manjarika (the famous Bhaja Govindam) say “naama smaranaad anyam upayam nahi pasyaamo bhava tarane” (to cross the ocean of happening, we do not see of any better way than the uninterrupted rememberance of God’s name).
Nama mantra is an approach to salvation, and not just a class of mantras. It is about transcendence through continuous rememberance and devotion for God. This follows the yogic idea of uninterrupted God-thought like the flow of even the thinnest fall of oil (taila dhara vat) does not break because of viscosity, unlike the fall of drops of water which lose such continuity.
Popularity of Nama mantras
Nama mantras are popular for various reasons, like
- Ease of chanting – nama mantras are usually simple in composition and do not contain complex beejas, which makes it easy to pronounce and chant those.
- Flexibility of practice – there are no strict rules that apply to the chanting of nama mantras. While it is good to do their japa following a proper method, timings etc, they are basically meant for continuous rememberance or nirantara smarana/japa.
- Nama mantras are etymological in nature, making it easier to think about and meditate over the meaning of mantra and thereby the nature and qualities of Devata. This is unlike beeja mantras which need experiential knowledge, which is possible only at a sufficiently advanced stage of sadhana.
Features and forms of Nama mantras
The most important part of the nama mantra is the name of devata. This is in contrast to beeja mantras where beejas assume importance.
While many mantras contain the names of devatas, what differentiates a nama mantra from others is the fact that nama mantras do not contain any special dhvani beejas. They are etymological in nature, in the sense that they are composed only of meaningful words having etymological derivations, unlike beeja mantras.
Nama mantras are usually compositions over the primary names of devatas. Nama alone can also be chanted /remembered, without any additions. There are many kinds of compositions of nama mantras. The one that we most frequently come across is the “namaskara” form in which the mantra means that the devotee is bowing to the devata. Sri and Namah are added to the name in this form. “ya” is suffixed to the name for a male deity and “yai” for a female deity, to make the mantra a complete sentence. For example the mantras like Sri Durga yai namah, Siva ya namah, Govinda ya namo namah. “Yai” is called varada beeja – the granter of boons. In general any Sakti nama is appended with this in namavali (the garland of names).
Another form of nama mantras is the “jaya” form where the victory of devata is meant. The famous Rama jaya (Sri Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama) and Nrsimha jaya (Sriman Nrisimha Jaya Naarasimha Jaya Jaya Nrisimha Jaya Naarasimha) come under this category.
There are many kinds of compositions, like Sarana (which means seeking the abode of Devata), Raksha (seeking the protection of Devata).
The Paradox of Name
In reality, there is no name for God. Any name of God, like Rama, Krishna, Siva, Narayana, Durga, Bhavani, Amba or Kali, is essentially descriptive of some quality. Strictly speaking all namas are only adjectives or even verbs, and not proper nouns.
Devatas have many names, yet all those are their descriptive names. They do not have real names. All their names are thus indirect and they are pleased when they are referred to with those indirect names (paroksha priya ivahi devaaH). The only direct thing about Devata (pratyaksha), is the Devata Himself. The lack of a real or proper name of Devata is indicative of the aspectless nature or the impossibility of knowing Devata through attributes like names. Thus the kind of qualities represented by a specific form of devata, is given a name corresponding to those qualities. That is the reason it is said that Devatas like to be called with alternate names. By meditating on and realizing the meanings of different names, the aspects of Devata and eventually the Devata is realized.
Nama Mantra and Mantra Marga
Besides the flexible usage, nama mantras are arranged in samputikaranas for kamya or fulfillment of desires. For instance the Vala Puja of Hanuman (literally the worship of Hanuman’s tail using Nama mantra) is said to grant any wish. Hayagriva nama is done for knowledge. Narasimha nama is used in different compositions, for protection, victory, release from loans, respite from illhealth and so on.
Their practice involves lesser austerity than beeja mantras, but they have their set procedure following which best results are achieved. There will be a specified count for the mantras and their dhyana slokas, a specified nivedana and code of conduct during the days of japa.
Texts and Upadesa
Nama mantras can be done without any upadesa. However they will be much more effective when done with proper guidance and initiation.
Most of the nama mantras are found in Puranic and Tantric texts. For instance Narasimha Jaya is found in Amnaya Pancaka. Mrutyunjaya Narasimha sloka which is also used as a mantra, the famous Narayana Astakshari (Aum Namo Narayanaya) are found in Rudra Yamala.
There are also guru-sishya paramparas that believe in nama mantras alone.
Some of the famous Nama Mantras
By the mention of nama mantra, the one nama that comes to mind is of Rama. Rama is one of the most effective nama mantras. The simplicity and profundity of Rama tatva can be seen in the name Rama. Rama is taraka parabrahman, and His name is taraka nama. Ananda and moksha can be got by chanting the word Rama.
The significance of nama is explained through different stories, such as this: during setu bandhana the stones having Rama nama etched on them were floating on the sea because of the greatness of the name. When Sri Rama Himself put a stone in the ocean, it did not float! Thus the name has more mystic power than the incarnation Rama! There are similar stories that explain how the mystic Vidya of Rama Taraka Para Brahman goes beyond the personal aspect and concept of Rama the historic hero. (However it should be understood that we may not find such stories in the original Ramayana. We find these stories amply told in various guru-sishya paramparas, not to exaggerate but to explain the significance of mantra and how the impersonal aspect goes beyond personal).
In the verse from Mahabharata that is often quoted to extol the greatness of Rama nama, chanting the nama is said to be equal to chanting the Vishnu Sahasra nama (sahasra nama tattulyam raama naama varaanane).
Bharjanam bhava beejaanaam, aarjanam sukha sampadaam
Tarjanam yama dutaanaam, raama raameti garjanam
The cause of happening/becoming are destroyed (meaning one will get over the cycle of births), happiness and possessions are achieved, and death is destroyed – with the roar of the word Rama.
Some of the nama mantras for Rama are
Sri Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama
Aum Sri Raamaaya Namah
Aum Sri Sita Raamacandrabhyam Namah
Krishna is another powerful nama. It is said that while Rama is suddha (pure/absolute) tatva, Krishna is maya (mystic) tatva. He is mystique and beyond comprehension. And such mysticism is seen in the name of Krishna too.
From the above difference it follows that Rama is by nature the existential object and Krishna the desired object. Like the moon for stars, He is the desired goal of all the jivas. Thus kama/desire is essentially associated with Krishna. This is the reason why His story is full of events involving Kama – the famous rasaleela, radha-krishna romance, and leelas with Gopis and so on.
Some of the nama mantras of Krishna are
Sri Krishna Saranam Mama
Aum Sri Krishnaaya Namah
Sri Krishnaaya Govindaaya Gopi Jana Vallabhaaya Namah
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vaasudevaaya
In general nama mantras are compositions over the name of a Devata. There are however some mantras that praise more than one Devata. For instance the famous Kali Santarana mantra (hare Rama hare Rama Rama Rama hare hare, hare Krishna hare Krishna Krishna Krishna hare hare) involves Rama and Krishna. The Kali Santarana Upanishad of Krishna Yajurveda is devoted to expounding this mantra.
Rama and Krishna being the most powerful names of Vishnu, this mantra that combines both the names is said to be extremely effective. Specifically, the malefic effect of Kali Yuga is said to be controlled by the chanting of this mantra, which is the reason it is named as Kali Santarana. There are traditions like Gaudiya Vaishnava and organizations like ISKCON that depend primarily on its chanting.
While the word Narayana is general reference to God, it is used mostly to refer to Vishnu and His forms. While most of the names of the Lord are descriptive of Him, the name Narayana is descriptive of what He is to those who worship Him. Naaraayana is a compound of “nara” (man or in general the jiva) and “ayana” (path), and means the culmination of man’s path of evolution. He is the goal of evolution, the ultimate abode. This is indicated through various sayings like “Vishnu parama pada is the ultimate destination” and that realized souls “see” His abode as if we see objects in day light (tad vishnoh paramam padagm sada pasyanti surayaH, diveeva cakshuraatatam).
Narayana Astakshari or the famous eight lettered nama mantra is not only chanted as a nama mantra but also practiced as a mantra Vidya. Seers like Narada are said to chant this name of the Lord, always.
Nama mantras of Narayana
Aum Namo Naaraayanaaya
Among the names of Sakti, “Durga” is said to be the greatest and most effective. In fact there are two forms as they say – Bhavani is the loveable form and Durga is said to be the ferocious form “Samareshu Durga”.
As such, there are no proper nouns in Sanskrit, and every name is either a verb or an adjective. Going down to the etymology, there are two roots in the word – “DuH” and “Ga”, which mean impossible/extremely difficult and go/reach respectively. Thus “Durga” means impossible to reach/conquer/surpass. However depending on the context the “ga” takes different levels and kinds of meanings. “Samareshu Durga” follows from the meaning that She is impossible to conquer. The word durga settled as the word for fort, for the same reason. Naga and Aga are the words for mountains for the same reason. Durgama, Durga are also epithets of Vishnu.
But that is not the only meaning. “Durga” also means impossible to reach. As She is beyond all upadhis like body, senses, mind and intellect. She is Cidrupi. There is no way to reach Her except Her grace.
Coming to Tantra, there is a different meaning. There are two kinds of women – gamya and agamya. Gamya is a woman who can be copulated with - for instance consort, or a call girl, and in case of Kaulacara one fit for maithuna. Agamya is a woman who cannot be copulated with – sister, mother etc. “Durga” in one sense means Aga or Agamya.
“Dum” is called Durga beeja. Instead of visarga as in the name Durga, the beeja ends with anusvara. It is said that there is nothing like impossible if one attains siddhi of this beeja or Durga Vidya. Also as said “Durga Durgati Harini”, there will be no bad state that can come to such a person.
There is a very significant point about some names/forms of Vishnu and Devi. With the same beejas as the name of Devi/Vishnu has, there will be another name of an Asura. For example Madhava and Asura Madhu, Hayagreeva and Asura Hayagreeva, Durgama and Durgamasura, like that. This is not unique just to names but forms too. Similarly, the dual form of snake – there are two forms, one the Asura-Patala and another divine. Takshaka on one side and Vasuki, Adi Sesha on the other. While Kumaraswamy and Vishnu have vehicles that are basically enemies of snakes, they themselves are in turn closely associated with snakes – Subrahmanya Himself is the great Serpent and Vishnu is Sesha Sayi. This explains the dual nature of manifestation.
This is why doing the beeja meaning impossible, one actually achieves impossible and becomes invincible. In fact Durga Sukta if one does will not have any lows or disturbances in life.
Durga is the foremost of the names of the Mother, along with Amba/Mata. It is chanted as a nama mantra, either with “Sri”, “yai” and “Namah” (making the mantra – sri durgayai namah) or just as a nama. Nirantara or continuous japa of this nama is said to ensure bhava tarana.
Some of the nama mantras of Durga are
Aum Sri Durgayai Namah
Aum Durgayai Namah
Nava Durgayai Namah
Aum Namah Candikayai Namah