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Ashtanga Yoga Opening and Closing Chants – My Interpretation

I have been beginning and finishing my Mysore-style Ashtanga practice with the Sanskrit opening and closing chants for quite some while. Although I knew the direct translation, I have only recently come up with my own interpretation of what they mean to me. This is in part thanks to my lovely YTT mentor, Emma, who actually set it as my homework to find an interpretation that rang true and was relevant for me. I took it a step further, and figured I may as well come up with my own interpretation, rather than just rely on good ol’ Google.  So, with no further ado, here are the Ashtanga Yoga opening and closing chants, in Sanskrit (including phonetic spelling), along with the direct translation and my interpretation of them. Enjoy! ;)

 

Ashtanga Opening Chant

Sanskrit and direct translation

opening-sanskrit

 Image from KPJAYI

Om
Vande gurunam charanavinde
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
Sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe
who awakens insight into the happiness of pure being,
Nishreyase jangalikayamane
like the jungle healer, who brings great well-being,
Samsara halahala mohashantyai
dispelling the poison of conditioned existence.

Abahu purusakaram
The upper body having human form,
Shankachakrasi dharinam
Holding a conch, discus and sword,
Sahasra sirasam svetam
Having a thousand branched heads of white [light].
Pranamami Patanjalim
I bow to Patanjali
Om

Notes:

After doing some reading, lines 3-4 (nishreyase jangalikayamane/samsara halahala mohashantyai) are based on a Hindu myth where the god Lord Shiva, who lived in the jungle, drank the poison of Halahala to save the world.

In the second half of this chant, Patanjali is depicted as the Hindu god Vishnu, holding a conch, discus and a sword.  The conch (sanka) represents the divine sound which can awaken us from the state of ignorance – which Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (an ancient collection of yogic knowledge) is certainly capable of! The discus (chakra) was used by Vishnu to fight negative spirits, which in this context can mean negative emotions that prevent us from being enlightened.  Finally, the sword (asi) can cut through illusion, and is therefore used here as a symbol for discriminative wisdom.

The penultimate line (sahasra sirasam svetam) can also be translated as a thousand-headed snake.  In Hinduism, snakes can represent the mind – thus, this line describes Patanjali’s mastery over the possessive mind.  Therefore, by reading and living by the Sutras, one can reach the state of Yoga (union with your own self/the universe/god).

My interpretation

I bow/am thankful to the Gurus who show me the happiness achievable through practicing yoga and shunning conditioned existence and egotism.
I bow/am thankful to Patanjali, who has mastery over the possessive mind, for reminding us of the divinity of sound [conch], the infinity of time [discus] and how to discriminate reality from illusion [sword].

Ashtanga Closing Chant

Sanskrit and direct translation

closing-sanskrit

 Image from KPJAYI

Om
Svasti praja bhyaha pari pala yantam
May the rulers of the earth keep to the path of virtue
Nya yena margena mahi mahishaha
for protecting the welfare of all generations
Go brahmanebhyaha shubamastu nityam
May the religions, and all peoples be forever blessed
Loka samastah sukhino bhavantu
May the whole of all the worlds be happy
Om shanti shanti shanti
Om, peace peace peace

My interpretation

I dedicate my practice to the world, and pray that the global rulers will make virtuous decisions to protect the welfare of the population and future generations.  Let every being in all the worlds be happy.  I pray for peace.

 

 

What are your interpretations of the Ashtanga opening and closing chants?

Tali xxx