The efficacy of a vedic mantra depends on the correctness of its chant; faulty pronunciation of even a single alphabet changes the entire meaning. Taittiriya Samhita narrates the story of Tvashta in this regard. Tvashta performed a sacrifice to destroy Indra. He used the mantra, ‘indrashatru’ to manifest his thought. However, he placed a lofty note on the word ‘indra’ instead of ‘shatru’ because of which the meaning of the word changed from ‘Slayer of Indra’ to ‘the one who will be slain by indra’ and thus the son, Vrutra, so born to him was defeated by Indra, just because of a pronunciation defect…
To quote from Panini Shiksha,
(A mantra devoid of the correct vowels (svar) and consonants (varna) is faulty and does not convey its intended meaning. It is like a verbal thunderbolt that harms the one who is chanting, as had happened in the case of erroneous pronunciation of the word, Indrashatru.)
Sound is the first experience of physical Creation; it releases vibrations into the environment that further translates as texture, colour, flavour and fragrances – the five qualities through which we perceive the physical Creation made up of the five elements. Every sound is a specific frequency and generates a specific effect/disturbance in the world around us. The sound of a lullaby soothes while the sound of a lion’s roar creates fear, a shrill sound causes glasses to break while the snake charmer’s music tames a snake.
The vedic seers had mastered this incredible science of sound in the form of mantras, they were well aware of the high degree of specificity and precision that is required to harness the power of sound. Shiksha, one of the six Vendangas, deals with the science of proper pronunciation of words and laws of euphony. Volumes have been written on Shiksha by Panini, Yadnyavalkya and Vasishtha. Shatpath Brahman states that every alphabet of a word possesses some kind of strength and explains the secret of every alphabet. According to Mandukya Upanishad even mere utterance of an alphabet from a mantra is potent. Aitareya Aranyak categorises the alphabet into mute consonants, sibilants and vowels based on the sounds generated by them and further attributes specific qualities to them. According to this text, mute consonants represent the earth, fire and eye, sibilants the sky, air and ear and vowels the ether, sun and mind. To quote from Nirukta, “नियतानुपूर्व्या नियतवाचोयुक्तय:” meaning a word, the order of alphabets in it and its method of pronunciation are definite. Chanda, another Vedanga, details the scheme of chanting a mantra.
Even modern philosopher Socrates reverberated what the vedic seer has known for ages, when he suggested in Cratylus that ‘names fit their referents in the virtue of the sounds they are made of’. If we are fools enough to not believe the vedic seer, let us at least listen to Socrates and appreciate that every sound is potent and be careful of the sounds (especially mantras) that we play or are played around us.