The first time I heard my husband read from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, I wept because I could feel those words move from his mouth and into my heart. It was like hearing God’s voice, I felt it that profoundly. In that experience, before I’d even met him personally, I somehow knew that I would marry him. This is how it is with sound current and mantra chanting – when the pronunciation is accurate and delivered with full presence, God speaks. We can’t help but feel it.
Proper pronunciation can seem a bit overwhelming to many of us since most Kundalini Yoga mantras are from languages that Westerners are frequently not familiar with. Overall, we just have to do the best we can and learn along the way. However, there are a couple basic points to consider that will get us going in the right direction. And from there, we just have to keep developing our relationship with the sounds.
The mantras used in Kundalini Yoga are primarily from Indian scriptural languages (mostly Gurmukhi) which have several sounds that are different from those most of us are familiar with in the West. One of the most commonly experienced is the “r” sound, as in “Har” or “Guru.” There is no soft “r” sound in these Indian languages used for mantra chanting. For example, the word “Har” is often mistakenly pronounced like the first part of the word “hard.” But the “r” sound in these languages is actually a rolled “r” (similar to the “r” sound in Spanish.)
Other common mispronunciations are the “a” sounds, as in “Sat Naam.” There is a single “a” sound that is more like a “u”, making “sat” rhyme with “but.” The “aa” sound is a long “a” and creates a vowel sound that rhymes with “mom.”
Also worth noting is that there are variations on how these languages are transliterated into English letters. For this reason, it is helpful to actually hear the sounds from an experienced source whenever possible.
For those who wish to explore pronunciation deeply, it is recommended that there be study with a teacher who has really grasped the language (primarily Gurmukhi) and who can personally help with refinements. However, chanting along with CDs is a good way to begin to get familiar with how to pronounce the sounds. Simply following along with a musical mantra CD or one that is a spoken recitation, the ears get trained to the unique sounds and the mouth learns to create those sounds. We start with the parts that we know and, over time, our familiarity builds.
Correct pronunciation is a process of experience and will improve over time. It is a worthwhile effort because it does affect how the brain responds to the sounds. When we make these sounds accurately, the movements of the tongue strike meridian points, which create an effect within. Even for those just listening, it is felt more profoundly and experienced more deeply.
One great resource for getting to know a variety of mantras is the Kundalini Mantra Instruction CD by Gurudass Kaur. It provides auditory examples of how to pronounce 67 different mantras used in Kundalini Yoga. From June 17-21 enjoy a 20% off discount on Kundalini Mantra Instruction CD or Mp3 by Gurudass Kaur when use the promo code “mantra20” during checkout.