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Significance or Meaning of Swaha and Ithi in Sanskrit Mantras

You might have noticed that all mantras begin with the sound of "OM". What you might have ignored or failed to notice is that mantras in Sanskrit end with "ithi" or "Swaha". Some of you end mantras with just a "Namah".

Not to scare you, but if you fail to use "ithi" at end of each mantra or at the very end of any Stotra (hymn), the mantra & related offering (sacrifice or prasadam) doesn't reach the god being prayed.

The word "ithi" marks the end of the mantra and urges gods to accept whatever you are offering.

The word "swaha" is used more in homams (rituals where you put offerings/prasadam directly into the fire). Since people put offerings into the fire while saying "swaha", many of us associate it with "destruction". When anyone says "sab kuch swaha ho gaya (everything became swaha)", it does and should not be concluded that they lost things. It is a wrong notion that associates "swaha" to ashes (राख).

"Swaha", rather than depicting destruction, is a word to tell gods that you have completed that particular mantra. It reminds me of a walkie-talkie. Don't we use the word "over" after each communication when talking on a walkie-talkie? Same way, "swaha" depicts the end of the mantra.

I saw some people saying Swaha is the name of the god of fire. It doesn't make sense since the god of fire is supposed to be the mouth for the different gods and demi-gods who you are trying to please via prayer or homam. I don't know why and where this idea came from, but it is not true. Swaha marks the end of the mantra.

The purpose of using "ithi" is also the same. When you say "ithi (इति)", you send a signal to listeners, including gods, that you've finished saying the mantra.

Some of you leave mantras with "namah (namaste)". I know it sounds stupid but if you dont say "ithi" towards end of mantra, it stays incomplete. If you find it odd to say "ithi" at end of each verse, say it at the end of mantra/Stotra.

It's not really needed because gods are intelligent, but Shashtra's (religious books) urge you to use it at least once - towards the end of whatever mantra you are reciting. You may or may not use it - for varied reasons. Of course, gods know you very well so they wouldn't really mind if you don't say "ithi" or "swaha".

And regarding the beginning of any mantra, we use "OM". Everyone knows what it means and why people use it. If you want an explanation, I'll discuss "OM" in a separate post. For now, the takeaway is that mantras should be followed by the word "ithi" or "swaha" for the reason explained above. Your questions or counter arguments are welcome.

Arun Kumar


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