Why the last ‘Shanti’ of the mantra ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ ends at a higher note

I remember I was attending a Sanskrit mantra retreat in a beautiful ashram in Rishikesh, India, when someone asked this question: “Why the third ‘Shanti’ of the mantra ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ ends on a higher note than the others?”

Well, I didn’t know the answer!

Hear this audio and at the end of the mantra, you will notice the question:

Being from India and hearing this mantra recited time and again, I was already exposed and accustomed to the way this mantra is recited or chanted; however, I never stopped to think why there is a difference in chanting of the same words within the same mantra.

I didn’t make a conscious effort either to find out the reason till I stumbled upon a ‘sonic realization’. Well, I call is so because the reason came to me when I was reciting this mantra by reading it in a book.

Well, if you are aware of the Sanskrit mantras from Vedas chanted according to some tradition or method, you must notice that there is a lot of intonation given to every vowel and every line. Generally speaking, a vowel can be recited in four different notes.

  • The general note is of course which is your normal pitch.
  • The underlined note is one lower than your pitch. (अनुदात्त, grave)
  • If a letter has one vertical bar over it, it is recited one note higher than the pitch. (उदात्त, acute)
  • If a letter has two vertical bars, it is recited one note higher for an elongated time.  (स्वरित, circumflex)

In the above picture of the Shanti mantra, you will notice that the first Shanti words end with the grave sign of the letter, while the third time it ends with the acute sign.

This is the reason why you hear a higher note for the third Shanti in this mantra.

I am sure there could be a better explanation or deeper meanings behind this, but at the surface, this is what looks the reason behind this practice, which became popular among the masses. Now, if you come across this mantra or hear it being recited in the similar fashion, you will know the reason–there are Anudātta and Udātta characteristics of the vowels in play.

Please share any feedback or observation through the comment section. I would love to have more discussion about this.

5 thoughts on “Why the last ‘Shanti’ of the mantra ‘Shanti Shanti Shanti’ ends at a higher note”

  1. the last shanti has what looks like a colon after it, which is called visarga, and represents an h. it indicates an echo sound of the last vowel, making it sound like “shantihi”.

    1. That semi-colon or Visarga as it is known in Sanskrit is with every Shanti. What I am talking about is the line at the head of the letter ‘त’ if you are able to see it. It gives the vowel ‘अ’ to end at a higher note instead of the previous undertone ‘त’, which is represented by the underline.

      I hope this clarifies what I am talking about in this article. Thanks for your time!

  2. I’m sorry, I’m at a loss for understanding the form presented there. He’s clearly reciting “shanti, shanti, shantihi”, which is different from the script (which has visargas at the end of each shanti). I don’t know about those underscores, and the vertical line at the end of the last shanti. It looks like an indicator of emphasis in the recitation, but I don’t know. The line at the “head” of the final t looks like they may want the note higher. He’s reciting the first two “t”s very strongly and sharply, and going higher on the last one (visarga and i, not a). He also does something similar earlier in the recitation. It would be interesting to see the whole thing written out.

  3. Please delete/don’t post my prior comments. I’m clearly confused and had never seen the Vedic accents before. I’m also confused seeing all the visargas (which are normally dropped before a sibilant?), although he’s not actually voicing them in the recitation–they still exist.

    1. No worries about your earlier observations also–well, the whole point of this discussion is to bring it to the surface and get to the reason behind the difference in the pronunciation. 🙂

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