From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Japa [1] literally means ‘uttering or repetition of the mantra’[2].

It is also defined as that which destroys sins and puts an end to rebirth and derived from the root-verb jap which means ‘to utter’.

Japa has been an integral part of the religious practices from the Vedic days. Ceremonial repetition of Vedic passages has been a part and parcel of not only the Vedic sacrifices but also the post-Vedic rituals. The Bhagavadgitā[3] considers japa as one of the special manifestations of the Lord.

Ways to Practice Japa

The japa of any mantra can be practiced in three different ways. They are:

  1. ‘Vācika’ or ‘Vaikharī’ - when it is uttered loudly
  2. ‘Upāmśu’ - when it is uttered inaudibly like whispering
  3. ‘Mānasika’ - when it is uttered mentally

Classification of Japa

There are several classifications of japa and includes:

  • Nityajapa - done regularly or everyday like the Gāyatrījapa
  • Naimittikajapa - done on special occasions like the periods of eclipses or festivals like Śivarātri
  • Kāmyajapa - done for the fulfillment of desires like regaining health or earning wealth
  • Prāyaścittajapa - done as an expiation for sins
  • Ajapājapa - associated with the process of breathing
  • Hamsajapa - It is the japa of mantra ‘so’ham haiñsah’
  • Vilomajapa - It is japa in which the mantra is repeated in the reverse order. For example, repeating ‘namas’ śivāya’ as ‘ya vā śśi ma na’. This is generally done in countering black-magical rites
  • Likhitajapa - done by writing the mantra

Regulations of Japa

A code of conduct is advocated before starting japa. These disciplines are as follows:

  • Japa should be done observing silence and with devotion
  • It should be practiced in a clean and quiet place
  • Person doing japa should sit erect on a comfortable seat
  • Japa should be done at a medium speed
  • Before beginning the japa of a mantra, the disciple is advised to remember the following:
    • Ṛṣi : the original sage to whom the mantra was revealed
    • Chanda-s : the meter
    • Devatā : the deity
  • It must be followed by:
    • Nyāsa-s : ceremonial purification of the hands and the limbs
    • Dhyānaśloka : a verse that describes the form of the deity
  • After the completion of japa, japasamarpaṇa[4] must be offered
  • A japamālā[5] can be used for counting and can even be done on the fingers


  1. Ja means janmanāśaka, destroyer of future birth; pa means pāpanāśaka, destroyer of sins.
  2. Sacred passages or esoteric syllables or the names of deities of the pantheon
  3. Bhagavadgitā 10.25
  4. Japasamarpaṇa means offering the fruits of the japa to the deity itself.
  5. Japamālā means rosary.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore