It is fundamentally gratifying to finally complete an issue on mantras, since the chanting of mantras is one of the core practices of the Vaishnava tradition. Nearly every issue of JVS, of course, has included an article or two about mantra in at least some capacity, and, indeed, we have had entire volumes on “The Power of the Holy Name” (Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1994) and “Kirtan and Bhajan” (Vol. 17, No. 2, Spring 2009). But here we focus specifically on mantras, elucidating the meaning of mantra in general and exploring some of the specific, primary mantras of the Vaishnava tradition.
There are a number of good books on sacred sound, looking at mantra as part of a larger continuum of sonic spirituality. These books are seminal in the field, and I would be remiss not to mention them: Swami Prajnananda, Historical Development of Indian Music (Calcutta: Firma KLM Mukhopadhyaya, 1960); Harvy P. Alper, ed., Mantra (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1989); Harold Coward and David Goa, Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Anima Publications, 1991); Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Mysticism of Sound and Music (Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala Publications, 1991, reprint); Guy Beck, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound (University of South Carolina Press,
1993); and my personal favorite, Joachim-Ernst Berendt, The World is Sound (Nada Brahma): Music and the Landscape of Consciousness (Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 1983). The volume you now hold in your hands, I would venture to say, can be rendered more meaningful if studied after perusing the above books and others like them.