Understanding Mantras

Edited by Harvey P. Alper

Subjects: Hindu Studies
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9781438426020, 530 pages, June 2008
Hardcover : 9780887065989, 530 pages, January 1989

Table of contents

Introduction Harvey P. Alper

1 Mántra kavisastá : Speech as Performative in the Rgveda Ellison Banks Findly

2 Vedic Mantras Frits Staal

3 The Mantra in Vedic and Tantric Ritual Wade T. Wheelock

4 Mantra in Ayurveda: A Study of the Use of Magico-Religious Speech in Ancient Indian Medicine Kenneth G. Zysk

5 Are Mantras Speech Acts? The Mimamsa Point of View John Taber

6 The Meaning and Power of Mantras in Bhartrhari's Vakyapadiya Harold Coward

7 Mantras in the Sivapurana Ludo Rocher

8 The Use of Mantra in Yogic Meditation: The Testimony of the Pasupata Gerhard Oberhammer

9 The Pañcaratra Attitude to Mantra Sanjukta Gupta

10 The Cosmos as Siva's Language-Game: "Mantra" According to Ksemaraja's Sivasutravimarsini Harvey P. Alper

Conclusion: Mantras—What Are They? André Padoux

Notes on the Contributors

Abbreviations Used in this Volume

A Working Bibliography for the Study of Mantras Harvey P. Alper

Bibliographical List


Understanding Mantras explores the origin, nature, function, and significance of mantras within the bounds of the Hindu tradition. It analyzes the use of mantras in the Vedic age, in the great theistic movements of Saivism and Vaisnavism, and in Tantra. A brief introduction by Alper outlines the majpor controversies in Western scholarship concerning the nature of mantras and gives an insightful and suggestive paradigm for resolving the issues. The essays provide enlightenment into the Indian mantric tradition, and into Western attempts to understand that tradition. They also discuss the issues surrounding the debate over whether mantras should count as instances of language.

Of immeasurable worth is the comprehensive bibliographical and methodological essay and list contributed by Professor Alper. This essay covers more than 1600 items and situates mantra contextually in Indian history, society, and culture. It approaches a bibliography of all of Hinduism and will serve as an invaluable tool for future research.

Harvey P. Alper was Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University from 1974 to 1987. As a Sanskritist, his primary interest was the religious traditions of South Asia. He served as editor of the SUNY series on Saiva Traditions of Kashmir. Professor Alper died suddenly on April 4, 1987 after completing the editorial work on the present volume.


"I know of nothing in its field that approaches this collection in scope and quality. Superior both in objectivity and in command of Sanskrit, its contributors represent the new grade of excellence in Asian studies produced in half a century of academic maturation in America. In this continent, no better selection could have been made. — Norvin J. Hein, Yale University

"The bibliography by Alper is a tremendous piece of work —almost publishable in and of itself. " — Brian K. Smith, Barnard College

"Its greatest asset is the contribution it makes to the scholarly study of Indian religions, and more broadly to the study of ritual and to the philosophy of language. " — Glenn Yocum, Whittier College