Since the global pandemic began over a year ago, religious leaders have sought ways to support the larger community while providing for the needs of members of their congregations. For the next several weeks, we will publish pandemic stories from alumni of the Collegeville Institute’s programs, both in the United States and abroad.
The following post was written by Pooja Bastodkar, executive committee president at the Hindu Society of Minnesota and participant in the Multi-Religious Fellows Program at the Collegeville Institute.
The sounds of the ancient Hindu Rudra Mantra resonated off the walls of hundreds of homes on one chilly spring morning in 2020. They say “the universe listens” and, on this day, the universe was enthralled with the mantra’s vibrations. Led by the learned priests at the Hindu Society of Minnesota, devotees eagerly yearned for a healthy society.
The word ‘man-tra’, can be broken down into ‘man’ meaning ‘mind’, and ‘tra’ meaning ‘vehicle,’ an object to help you achieve your task. A mantra therefore, is a tool to help us achieve the ultimate goal: de-attaching ourselves from the material world and connecting with our true spiritual self.
The Hindu Society of Minnesota’s 43,000 square-foot temple was established in 2006 in Maple Grove, Minnesota. It houses 21 mini-temples, each dedicated to a manifestation of the single absolute divinity. Most folk who climb the stairs and step into the main temple hall are left awe-struck with the delicate and detailed ancient carvings and the strong positive energies that pervade the high-ceilinged hall. It is here that our priests recite mantras dating back millennia. These mantras are rich with deep-rooted meaning, poetic intrigue, and traditions that every Hindu is raised with.
These mantras are rich with deep-rooted meaning, poetic intrigue, and traditions.
Amidst the scare and confusion of the pandemic in early 2020, the Hindu Temple of Minnesota closed its doors to the public with a heavy heart. Yet, the Hindu temple’s priests continued to perform all prayers even in the physical absence of its devotees. Devotees were able to watch all prayers online in real time on a dedicated live-stream site many times a week. The concept of live-streaming events was creative and novel at the time, and thousands of devotees eagerly tuned in at specific times to watch our priests perform prayer rituals and recite age-old mantras.
One year ago today, on the morning of Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Twin Cities Hindu community turned to a very powerful mantra known as the Maha-mrityun-jaya Mantra, also known as the Rudra Mantra. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this mantra is found in the Rig Veda (Mandala VII, Hymn 59), an ancient compilation of Sanskrit mantras revealed to the enlightened sages. The Maha-mrityun-jaya Mantra, simply translates to ‘maha’ meaning ‘great’, ‘mrityun‘ meaning ‘death’, and ‘jaya’ meaning ‘victory’. And so, victory over death.
They say “the universe listens” and, on this day, the universe was enthralled with the mantra’s vibrations.
Vedic chant in the Hindu tradition is considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition. Mantras follow intricate numerical patterns. When passing them from guru to student, a strong focus is given to precision in both text and intonation. It is for these reasons that the Vedas are chanted exactly the same as they were chanted thousands of years ago, as there is little room for error. Here is the Rudra mantra, in its original form:
oṃ tryámbakaṃ yajāmahe sughandhíṃ puṣṭivardhánam
urvārukam iva bandhánān mṛtyor mukṣīya māmṛtāt
It is translated:
We pray to Lord Shiva to help increase our strength. Shiva, who exudes spiritual growth and essence of detachment. Just as a fruit grows on the vine but eventually detaches itself from the bondage of the stem without effort, may we detach from the bondage of our worldly attachments and get liberated from the fear of death.
In times of stress, grief, illness, or fear of impending death, the Rudra mantra can be used to invoke the healing force of the divine energy within us. When negative forces affect an individual or an entire community, this mantra reminds us to refocus on a higher purpose. The mantra allows us to remain steadfast to our goal, despite distractions with mental or physical ailments.
The eternal truth within Hinduism is the concept of ‘tattvamasi’, translated simply into “You Are That.” God exists in every individual—regardless of varying worldly traits such as economic status, race, age, gender, political views, etc. Every human is created equal to each other, as this divine spark exists in each one of us. Chanting accelerates this powerful connection with the most inner self, and so the divine itself. Vedic traditions view the great sages in such high regard. Only after intense meditation and chanting, the sages experienced supreme truth and eternal knowledge.
The Rudra mantra is most powerful when recited together. Using our social media outlets and word of mouth, we alerted the Twin Cities Hindu community to join via live-stream, in unison with their families and in the comfort of their homes, at 11:15am sharp.
On that morning, devotees recited the mantra 108 times. Why 108, you might ask? Hinduism’s foundation was very much intertwined with early science. For example, the earliest mathematicians of Vedic culture regarded 108 as a number that described the ‘entirety of existence’. In an age long before the invention of the telescope, Vedic astronomers were aware that the sun was 108 sun-diameters away from our Earth, and that the moon was 108 moon-diameters away from the Earth. Moreover, the Sanskrit alphabet consists of 54 letters. Each letter has both a masculine and feminine energy, and 54 multiplied by these 2 energies equals 108.
The Rudra mantra is most powerful when recited together.
The sounds from hundreds of homes on that one chilly morning reflected a community coming together, praying for a healthy global community despite our closed temple doors. Each of us, with that divine spark, prayed as equals. Each of us mattered. And each of us contributed with serious conviction and unwavering faith to the vibrations that the universe heard.