Sandhyavandana is a short religious practice that Hindus perform thrice daily. It combines specific mantras (mental affirmations accompanied by verbal chants) with breathing practice (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana).
Although the original complete form is not as widely practiced today as in ancient times, it is still practiced in Southern India and a few religious centers in other parts of India. An abbreviated form is practiced more widely.
Regular practitioners perform this thrice a day – just before sunrise, at noon and just before sunset. Vedic saints believed that it is those times of the time that the mind & body is fully alert, and we could leverage those periods to strengthen the mind. It takes about 10-15 minutes each time.
There are 4 main components of Sandhyavandana:
- Gayathri Japa – this is the core of the ritual. It comprises of 5-10 min of meditating on a manthra (hymn) that Hindus consider very sacred. The manthra has a deep calming effect and sharpens the concentration for the following couple of hours.
- Pranayama – this is the breath control part of the exercise. Pranayama is said to have great health benefits and can greatly reduce stress. Each Sandhyavandana ritual has 13 pranayamas – 39 in total per day.
- Achamaneyam & Tharpanam – this is the cleaning part of the ritual where we wash our hands and feet and take the water “ritually cleansed”. Given a hot, humid tropical climate, our ancestors believed in periodic cleaning of the body. The constant hand washing involved in these rituals was probably related to ancient hygiene.
- Upasthana Manthra – This is the part of the ritual where we “placate” the Vedic gods. In the morning, we address to “Mitra” – the god of oath & friendship, in the afternoon we address to “Surya” – Sun god and in the evening we address to “Varuna” – the god of water. The hymns are quite deep and pray for family and social peace. The afternoon upasthana mantras are especially deep and brings the essence of the Vedas (stressing on the happiness).
Apart from these 4, there are various small parts that address various gods such as Vishnu and builds a “spiritual” bond.
The benefits of Sandhyavandana:
- It brings down the stress levels – especially important in a chaotic India. The Pranayama & Gayathri Manthra to be performed in 6 hour intervals can indeed calm tempers.
- Early morning and early evening times are most conducive for learning and children do their meditation before their studies to improve their concentration.
- It stresses a lot on hygiene. The rituals have to be performed after bathing and has a lot of cleaning exercises. In a crowded, dirty nation, you cannot stress enough the importance of hygiene.
- The hymns address various gods of nature and brings a certain appreciation for nature’s beauty. Arden practitioners face the early morning sun standing in a river and enjoy the divine joy of nature’s bounty.
- It brings a discipline in us. Having to do it 3 times day on specific periods builds a sort of rhythm.
- It builds a bond between the elders and young guys in the home. In traditional households, the grandfathers, fathers, sons, uncles, cousins and brothers all perform the ritual at the same time and given the meanings of many manthras praying for family peace, it brings a sort of calmness to home.
- It connects us to our ancient culture. It teaches about our great men of the past and how our ancestors performed the rituals.
It is a beautiful art and celebration of nature that we are slowly losing. The cleanliness, preservation of nature and de-stressing exercises have all gone with the wind.
~ Balaji Viswanathan