The Shanti Mantras or “Peace Mantras” are Hindu prayers for Peace (Shanti) from the Vedas. Generally they are recited at the beginning and end of religious rituals and discourses.
Shanti Mantras are found in Upanishads, where they are invoked in the beginning of some topics of Upanishads. They are supposed to calm the mind of the reciter and environment around him/her. Reciting them is also believed to be removing any obstacles for the task being started.
This Shanti Mantra is taken from the Krishna Yajurveda Taittiriya Upanishad (2.2.2) . It is usually recited in schools as prayer before the start of the classes in schools:
ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Saha Nau-Avatu |
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
1: Om, May God Protect us Both (the Teacher and the Student),
2: May God Nourish us Both,
3: May we Work Together with Energy and Vigor,
4: May our Study be Enlightening and not give rise to Hostility,
5: Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRAYER
This prayer is chanted both by the guru preceptor and the sisya disciple before starting the study of the scriptures. There are other prayers as well. The chanting of the invocations invocatory prayer helps to claim the mind and tune in the subtle intellect for comprehending the philosophy ingrained in the scriptures.
The human intellect is of two distinct types viz., gross and subtle. When your intellect engages its discriminating faculty in the realm of the terrestrial world it is said to be ‘gross.’ Gross intellect thinks thoughts pertaining to the world. It discriminates between the pairs of opposites all within the boundary of this world. It could range from the simplest discrimination of a dog between its master and a stranger to the finest discrimination of a scientist in nuclear technology. But all of them are still classified as ‘gross’ because its field of operation is the terrestrial world. When however your intellect crosses the boundary of the terrestrial world and conceives the possibility of a transcendental Reality, it is called the ‘subtle’ intellect. No other creature except a human being can posit the transcendental Reality. The subtle intellect is the discriminating faculty which contemplates upon and distinguishes the transcendental Reality from the terrestrial world, discerns the difference between Spirit and matter, between Atman (Self) and the world you experience through your material equipments.
The common man engages his gross intellect in the affairs of the world practically day long. He hardly uses his subtle intellect. It is therefore important to invoke and tune in his subtle intellect for understanding the deeper import of the scriptures. This is achieved by chanting the invocatory prayer. The prayer starts with Om which represents the supreme Reality, the goal of all spiritual pursuits.
The protection sought by the teacher and the taught is only a temporary safeguard against any disturbances that may prevent their study. The prayer is not to be understood as beggary, an outcome of lethargy. Neither the teacher nor the student means to avoid action and begs the Lord to take care of everything. Both of them will be engaged in deep study and reflection. Hence, their request to the Lord is to protect them during the period of study from any disturbances. This line conveys their spirit of surrender to the supreme being and their earnestness for study.
In the next two lines they pray for enjoyment and exertion. Spiritual study can bring about results only when the preceptor and the disciple put in their best efforts. They exert their maximum to teach and to learn the knowledge respectively. the teaching and the learning are thoroughly enjoyed by both. Spiritual study ought not to be a drudgery. With the right attitude the study becomes a pleasure.
The next line speaks of the goal of spiritual study. The aim of the spiritual study is the unfolding of the supreme Self. The supreme Self within is at present clouded by vasanas/desires. The study, reflection and the meditation of the knowledge contained in the scriptures help the seeker to exhaust his vasanas/desires and bring out the brilliance of the Self within. This idea is indicate by praying for brilliance.
In the last line the teacher and the taught pray that there be no hatred between them. This appeal is necessary because spiritual knowledge is difficult to administer, difficult to comprehend and that leads to a lot of controversy, arguments and bitterness. The prayer is meant to caution both to avoid such a contingency by being humble and refrain from egoistic and dogmatic assertions.
The three sources of disturbances are:
1. Adhidaivikam (cosmic disturbances)
2. Adhibhoutikam (environmental disturbances)
3. Adhyatmikam (inner disturbances)
The first type of disturbance is from the phenomenal powers like lightning, thunder, rain, earthquake, etc. Hence, the first shantih is chanted loudly.
The second type is the environmental disturbance like noise around, animals prowling, insects crawling etc. The second chant is softer than the first to indicate that it is directed to the environmental disturbances.
The third type is disturbance springing from one’s own body or mind like sickness, worry etc. The last chant is therefore in whispers directed to the inner disturbances.
The invocatory prayer when sincerely and repeatedly chanted prepares a proper mental climate for spiritual study and reflection.
~ A Parthasarathy, The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals