Chanting poetry

I have grown up chanting several Hindu prayers, many of which I can recite by-heart.

I admire their musical quality, and their intonation. The sound of their recitation triggers a connection to my roots. I admire their perfect construction, suited for rhythm and memorization. These prayers are poetry put to practice and handed down across several centuries.

But that we chant these poems, and do not read them, boggles my mind.

For most of my life, I have worn a thread around my chest and recited these hymns, just because people around me told me that it was the right thing to do. I did not question their intent often enough, and when I did, I received dead-ends. I did not understand a word of what they meant. I merely memorized them and reproduced their sounds, like a parrot would. That millions of smart people still do this routinely boggles my mind. Poetry is meant to be read, and not recited. It is funny how many poetry and shloka “recitation” competitions I have participated in. Not one of them emphasized on engagement with the underlying poetry.

Habits can be powerful. They set the mind and body on auto-pilot, to perform certain tasks without wasting cognitive effort. Nevertheless, a habit or ritual is only a means. It is important to investigate what they lead to. They could set up a practice of going for a run every morning, and just as easily, for smoking a cigarette everyday after lunch.

Therefore, the ends that our habits achieve, ought to be regularly tested. Since we are are not likely to catch the biases that propagate our habits, an outside perspective would help. Such as that friend who is not afraid to call your bullshit or to ones who are retain their childlike ability to ask the most basic questions.

Because a habit of chanting poetry does disservice to both the poems as well as the chanter.

2 thoughts on “Chanting poetry

  1. Well, not really. Because those are “nama smaran” or chanting God’s name. Nama smaran is the easiest way for moksha and it should happen like background music, through out day & night, even when we are engaged with living our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that thought. But as per my understanding, even with the three paths to moksha – gnana, karma and bhakti, there is an emphasis on engagement either with higher knowledge, one’s duty or in one’s devotion.


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