Living Mantra

Living Mantra Cover

Living Mantra- Mantra, Deity and Visionary Experience. Contemporary Anthropology of Religion Series, Palgrave Macmillan (2019).

Buy worldwide here.

India-buyers, here.

“Mani Rao moves beyond aesthetic and linguistic interpretations to elaborate mantra as an activating force and transformative embodied experience. Mantras, deities, practitioners, communities of practice, even authoritative texts, emerge as dynamic, evolving assemblages of meaning, knowing and feeling. We are invited to think of mantra as a form of potency dynamized by the agency of its practitioners. An insightful, gripping and accessible scholarly work.”

— Lata Mani, Historian, Cultural Critic, Filmmaker“
Mani Rao shows an extraordinary ability to enter into the lived experiences of her informants. In this ‘anthropology of mantra,’ Rao studies modern situations of visionary and auditory religious experience, with many descriptions of the relationship between image and sound, deity and mantra. This book should be of great interest to scholars of Indian religion and to practitioners of both Hindu devotion and yogic meditation.”
— June McDaniel, Professor Emerita of History of Religions, College of Charleston, USA

About the book:

Living Mantra is an anthropology of mantra-experience among Hindu-tantric practitioners. In ancient Indian doctrine and legends, mantras perceived by rishis (seers) invoke deities and have transformative powers. Adopting a methodology that combines scholarship and practice, Mani Rao discovers a continuing tradition of visionaries (rishis/seers) and revelations in south Indias Andhra-Telangana. Both deeply researched and replete with fascinating narratives, the book reformulates the poetics of mantra-practice as it probes practical questions. Can one know if a vision is real or imagined? Is vision visual? Are deity-visions mediated by culture? If mantras areeffective, what is the role of devotion? Are mantras language? Living Mantra interrogates not only theoretical questions, but also those a practitioner would ask: how does one choose a deity, for example, or what might bind one to a guru? Rao breaks fresh ground in redirecting attention to the moments that precede systematization and canon-formation, showing how authoritative sources are formed.

  • (Essay) “The Experience of Srividya at Devipuram” in Religions (2019) 10(1), 14. Read  here.
  • Interview by Dr. Raj Balkaran for New Books Network, listen here.
  • Conversation with Chitra Mahesh at Hindu Lit for Life 2019, see here.
  • Article in Open Magazine on how practitioners can tell if a vision is real, read here.
  • Excerpt featured in The Hindu’s Speaking Tree, 16 Sep 2019, see here.


Available worldwide from the publisher Palgrave and other booksellers.

NEW: India edition – a special price for India buyers only, here.

To find a library copy, see WorldCat here.

Poet, translator and scholar based in India, writing in English.