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What is the difference between an Invocation and a Mantra?


Dear Manorama,

Recently, a student asked me the difference between an Invocation to Lord Patanjali and a mantra like the Gayatri Mantra. Can you explain this to me?


Manorama: What a lovely question. Ok let’s start with understanding a few pieces first:

  1. What is an invocation verse?

An invocation verse is a kind of Sanskrit prayer. Invocation verses are composed in specific praising metrical structures. These metrics, along with the vibrational quality of the Sanskrit letters, and your sincerity, merge together when you chant an invocation. An invocation verse is a way for the aspirant to praise a God, the Gods or a luminary. The invocation is a channel for the aspirant to show her respect and love to the one that the verse is focused on.

  1. What is a mantra?

I have spoken about this often in my other blogs, so read up on this over in the blog area. But to say a few things, a mantra is a configuration of sound, breath, intention and soul. These elements join, and in the coming together they both quiet the mind and energize it at the same time. The result is a calm steady energization within and without for the aspirant.

Generally, a mantra is shorter in length than a verse. For example, a mantra will be something like:

OM Namah Śivāya or OM Namo Devyai

 Respect to Lord Shiva or Reverence to the cosmic Mother.

Though it is not often known, even in India itself, the Gayatri Mantra is actually called Sāvitri Mantra. Over time, this very holy verse became known by its metrical structure, which is the gayatri. But it’s true name, as I said above, is Sāvitri Mantra. Sāvitri is the deity that is the focus of the verse is. So, when you chant the Sāvitri Mantra, you are praising or honoring Sāvitri.

Although the term mantra refers to smaller units of sacred utterances, nowadays the term gets used to refer to any sacred Sanskrit utterance. And it can refer to any invocation or shorter sacred phrase. Mantra in modern times has taken on an overarching meaning that of sacred utterance overall whether short or long.

  1. Honoring the Gods, Honoring the Light:

All Sanskrit verses, invocation and mantras seek to respect and honor spiritual light. When you chant them, you draw that light into your life. Different verses will respect different deities or luminous gurus. For example, some verses invoke Lakshmi, Shri Natha, Krishna, Patanjali, Shiva, Durga, Saraswati, Kalidasa, Panini to name only a few. When you chant and respect any of them through a mantra or a verse whatever that deity represents is said to come towards you.

  1. Practice with Sincerity:

Finally, I am not sure if the focus for the student should be on the differences. There are of course subtle differing aspects when you go more into the Sanskrit grammar and metrics and specific meaning, but ultimately, all mantras aim at honoring the light and receiving the blessing of the gods and luminaries. The important part for the student is to practice the process of sincerely offering from her heart through the mantra, through meditation and through devotion.

I hope this short explanation serves to bring more understanding and wisdom to you and your student around your question.

Be blessed


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