Learning Sanskrit mantras1

When I was five years old, we had three servants. The youngest was famous! His name was Kailash. The second was Phani. Phani itself means snake, but when it becomes Phanindra it means Lord Shiva. The name of the third servant has escaped me now. He used to suffer from asthma. He was kind enough to teach me some Sanskrit mantras. How did he learn those mantras? He did teach me and when I grew up, I found that the words were correct.

[Sri Chinmoy recites a mantra, invoking the Goddess Saraswati.]

This mantra I repeated and repeated thousands of times daily. It is addressed to Mother Saraswati. It helped me tremendously. They say Sanskrit is like Latin, a dead language, but I disagree with those critics. The language as such may be buried in oblivion, but still the words maintain such a strong power. When you recite something in Sanskrit, your whole body is inundated with power or devotion or light.

Alas, alas, if you recite the same mantra in any other language, you do not get that same power. If you take some slokas from the Bhagavad Gita, when you recite them in Sanskrit, there is such power! Even if the translation is perfect, super-perfect, you do not get that feeling when you recite them in another language. Sanskrit has such a great power because it conveys Lord Krishna's direct utterances. When others translate mantras into Bengali or any other languages, the words do not embody that power. Translation is like that.

If you translate something from English into French or vice versa, perhaps there is not the same problem. But between Sanskrit and any other language, there is an unbelievable difference. Sanskrit is the root of all our Indian languages. Even if you translate exactly, word for word, there can never be the same power in the translation; there can never be the same depth; there can never be the same inner esoteric message. What can you do? If you do not know Sanskrit, if you do not know French, if you do not know German, what do you do? You have to be satisfied with the English translation. If you do not know English, you have to be satisfied with some other language; but the original is the original.

I have translated quite a few songs of mine from Bengali into English. I know I am really faithful to my original Bengali, but faithfulness has nothing to do with it. The sweet feeling, the immediate appeal of the Bengali words I cannot capture, although I know English very, very well. It is not lack of vocabulary that is creating the problem.

Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, by Mahendranath Gupta ("M"), has been translated as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. If you read the Bengali original, it will immediately melt your heart. The joy that you get, the immediate joy, from Sri Ramakrishna's Bengali words, you will not get in English — never, never, never! Swami Nikhilananda translated M's book so devotedly and he was extremely well educated; but if you read the whole conversation in the original Bengali dialect, there is an enormous difference, an enormous difference.

  1. WSI 32. 8 January 2003, Novotel Palm Cove Resort, Cairns, Queensland, Australia