A prayer is one of the methods of being in communication with God. It, more often than not, takes the shape of addressing the God with the purpose of petitioning, praising, worshipping, confessing or even verbally abusing the chosen deity while in the process being in communication with the God. Or a prayer can also take the form of a person merely pouring out his/her emotions as an act of sharing. One of the main ends of a prayer across all religions and cultures is seeking solace.
In a Hindu’s life, the prayer forms an important component. Every action, event and the ensuing circumstances, success or failure, is filled with prayers. Therefore, in Hindu tradition, prayer takes different and numerous forms compared to other cultures, though the object and motive remain the same.
Arguably, Hinduism is the one religion with maximum number of prayers, worship, rituals and ceremonies. Waking up, going to sleep, bathing, eating meals, studies, travel, name giving, birth, death, marriage, taking medicine and commencing a new venture – to name some, prayers form the important part in all these and the whole life.
In Hinduism, the prayer is called Prārthana. Prārthana is not merely requesting or praising or confessing. It is simply an act of communicating to God. Such an act may not contain any praise or request or for that matter prayer for any particular thing.
Hindu prayers can be broadly classified into mental or Mānasika, verbal or Vācika and physical or kāyika. Staying in the very thought of the Divine and completely forgetting oneself is a mental or Mānasika Prārthana, though, at lower level, a thought about Divine, an appeal or desire about God can also be construed as Mānasika Prārthana. Chanting of mantras, repeating the verses about God, or verbal appeals and requests constitute the Vācika Prārthana. Offering of oblation to fire, making mystical gestures, circumambulation of a temple, prostrating in front of god, lighting and waving the lamps, offering food to god, going on a pilgrimage, etc. constitute physical or Kāyika Prārthana.
In the verbal Prārthana, several mystical syllables are used since these syllables have the power of conveying the Grace of God quicker and also cleansing the aspirant both physically and mentally.
An unique feature of Hindu prayers is that the prayers are not only made to God or Deity and the images representing them, but also to many things that are considered Holy and Sacred as they are manifestations of the Ultimate. So, a Hindu prays to variety of Sages, Saints and Preceptors, the mountains, the rivers and even the trees.
There are set of prayers that a Hindu repeats every day spiritualising and energizing every day existence. There are prayers that are repeated on certain occasions. And there are prayers that are meant for special occasions.
Following are a few daily prayers and some useful prayers to various gods and for specific occasions. [Please Note: There could be minor variations in the mantras provided in this series, due to regional differences, etc.]
Some Daily Prayers
Prayer to be chanted on waking up
Karāgre vasate lakșmeeh,
Karamadhye tu govindah,
“On the tip of fingers is Goddess Lakshmi, on the base of the fingers is Goddess Saraswati, in the middle of the fingers is Lord Govinda.”
Remembering this, on waking up one should look at their palms first before doing anything else.
Prayer to be chanted on setting foot on the ground
Parvata stana maṇḍite
Namo viśvambhare mātah
Pāda sparśaṁ kṣamasva me.
“Salutations to You, Oh Mother Earth! Who is decked by ocean as the garment and mountains as the breasts! Kindly pardon me as I touch you by my feet”
Saying this, one should get up from the bed and set foot on the ground.
Rules of Bathing
There are a number of prayers associated with the daily bathing of the individual. These prayers vary according the place, time, class, etc. Chanting of hymns called Agamarṣana Sūktam and Puruṣa Sūktam are most popular. Those who are interested in learning these mantras can do so from the traditional scholars locally.
There are number of rules concerning bathing. Again, these rules vary from region to region, etc. However, the most important one is that one should not take bath naked.
Prayer to be chanted before studies
Siddhir bhavatume sadā.
“Oh Goddess Saraswati, my humble prostrations unto Thee, who are the fulfiller of all my wishes. I start my studies with a request that Thou wilt bestow Thy blessings on me”.
Saying this prayer, the student should start studies daily.
Prayer to be chanted before meals
Brahmārpaṇam brahma havir
Brahmaiva tena gantavyam
Brahma karma samādhinā.
“Brahman is the oblation; Brahman is the clarified butter etc. constituting the offerings, by Brahman is the oblation poured into the fire of Brahman; Brahman verily shall be reached by him who always sees Brahman in all actions.”
Uttering this prayer, one should start one’s meals.
Prayer to be chanted before going to bed
There are two prayers for this occasion.
Rāmaṁ skandam hanumantaṁ vainateyaṁ vṛkodaram
śayane yah smarennityaṁ duḥswapnastasya naśyati.
“The bad dream of a person disappears if he/she recollects always at the time of going to bed Raama, Skanda, Hanuman, Vainateya (Garuda) and Vrkodara (Bheema).”
Saying so, one should go to sleep.
Kara-caraṇa-kṛtam vāk-kāyajam karmajam vā
Śravaṇa-nayanajam vā mānasam vā (a)parādham
Vihitamavihitam vā sarva metat kṣamasva
Jaya jaya karuṇābdhe Śree Mahādeva Śambho.
“Oh Lord, kindly forgive my wrong actions done knowingly or unknowingly, either through my organs of action or through organs of perception or by my mind. Glory unto Thee oh Lord, who is the ocean of kindness”
This prayer is said before going to sleep.
Some Useful Prayers for certain occasions
Salutation to the Guru
Gurur Brahmā Gurur Viṣṇuḥ
Gurur Devo Maheśwarah;
Guru Sākṣāt Para Brahma
Tasmai Śree Gurave Namahah.
“I salute the Guru, who is verily Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara and who is also verily the Ultimate Brahman”
One should chant this mantra while saluting one’s Guru.
Prayer to be chanted while entering the temple
Gajānanaṁ bhūta gaṇādi sevitam
Kapittha jambūphala sāra bhakṣitam
Umāsutam śoka vināśa kāraṇaṁ
Namāmi vigneśwara pāda paṅkajam.
“I worship the Lotus Feet of Lord Vigneshwara, the cause for the destruction of the miseries, the elephant faced God, who is being worshipped by His bhootaganas, who is fond of eating wood apple and jambuphala and who is the son of Goddess Uma”
One should chant this mantra while entering the temple.
Prayer to be chanted while travelling
Vainyaṁ pṛthum haihayamarjunaṁ ca
Śākuntaleyaṁ bharataṁ nalaṁ ca
Etān nṛpān yaḥ smarati prayāṇe
Tasyārtha siddhiḥ punarāgamaśca
“Accomplishment and safe return will happen to him who remembers during journey the names of these kings – Prthu the son of Vainya, Arjuna (kaarthaveerya) of Haihaya, Bharata son of Shakuntala and Nala”
Prayer to be chanted while consuming medicine
Phaṇirājaṁ ca kaustubham
Acyutaṁ cāmṛtam candraṁ
“While administering the medicine one should remember Dhanvantari, Garuda, Ādi Shesha, Kaustubha, Achyuta, Amrta and Chandra”
Prayer to ward off evil:
Lābhasteṣām jayasteṣām kutasteṣām parābhavaḥ eṣām
Indee varaśyāmahaḥ hrdayastho janārdanaḥ
“Prosperity and victory come to those in whose heart is seated Lord Janardana, who is of dark blue colour like the blue lotus. Where is the scope for defeat?”
Prayer for Universal Peace
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah,
Sarve santu nirāmayāh;
Sarve bhadrāni paśyantu,
Mā kaśchid duhkha bhāga bhavet
“May everybody be happy. May everybody be free from disease. May everybody have good luck. May none fall on evil days.”
S.C. Vasu, Daily Practice of Hindus, 2008, New Delhi: Satguru Publications.
M. Raghu and S. Aruna Sundaram. Daily Prayers, 2002, Chennai: M. Raghu.
Daily Prayers, 1991, Bombay: Chinmaya Mission Trust.