The oral and the written: mantra and mantraśāstra
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The oral and the written: mantra and mantraśāstra book
In the theoretical approach as well as in the practice of mantras in Hinduism, the premium has always been (and still is) placed on the power of the oral word: Revelation, there, is not Scripture, but śruti, ‘what has been heard’ (even though the first mantras were not heard, but ‘seen’ by the Vedic r
˚ śis), a premium overem-
phasised in Tantra. Writing, however, is also sometimes used, and the literature on the subject, the so-called mantraśāstra, the ‘teaching of the mantras’, is made up of a vast quantity of written texts. It thus appears that one writes on what is oral – which itself is sometimes transposed in writing. This written as well as oral ensemble is, of course, in Sanskrit. The oral literature we shall consider here is a part of the learned, lettered, not of the popular, domain, even though the learned (oral or written) sometimes ‘debases’ into the popular. The question of the relationship of the oral with the written – secondarily of the learned with the popular – insofar as it appears in the case of mantras, is what we shall try to see here.