New Delhi: Can ancient mantras induce rains? Do Vedic chants impact the surrounding environment? A team of scientists will attempt to find out the answers when they descend on the ancient village of Panjal in Kerala to study the 3,100-year-old Vedic ritual called Athirathram in April.
A team of Vedic scholars from Panjal village, home to the Namboothiri Brahmins, say "Vedic rites are known to impact environment and human beings positively".
Panjal is located in Thrissur bordering Palakkad district of Kerala close to the Nila River. The ritual to invoke the god of fire, to be held from April 4 to 14, will be conducted by 18 priests led by the head priest called 'yajaman' and his wife in the precincts of a Lakshmi Narayana shrine.
The village had played host to Athirathram 35 years ago and it was supported by the Helsinki, Harvard and Berkeley universities. But this is the first time the ritual will be held with people's support to promote world peace by the Varthathe Trust, a religious forum that promotes Vedic knowledge and spiritual systems.
A team of scientists led by V.P.M. Nampoori, former director of the International School of Photonics, Cochin University (CUSAT), will conduct research into the impact of Vedic chants and the fire ritual on the atmosphere.
The 12-day ritual will present the opportunity to explore the "scientific implications on nature, mankind and all other living creatures", the scientist said in a statement.
Nampoori said the "chanting of mantras and the worshipping of Agni with medicinal herbs energise and protect the environment".
"The application of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy is evident in every aspect of this performance."
The scientist said he would conduct "elaborate experiments in the areas of atmospheric changes in temperature, humidity and pressure level during the ritual".
"Studies will be conducted on the implications on micro-organisms in the soil and variation in the yield from plants and animals," he said.
The research will also include the "physiological and psychological effects on human beings, especially on those who meditate or are under medication."
Sivakaran Namboodiri, a trustee of the Varthathe Trust and a Vedic scholar and healer, said: "The three previous editions of Athirathram had brought rain to Panjal 35 years ago, to Kundoor where it was held in 1990 and to Kizhakkencherry in 2006".
"We want to find out whether it brings rain and increases the yield of the soil and milch cattle, which will be exposed to chanting," Sivakaran said.
The 2006 ritual was supported by the Smithsonian School and the Rock Foundation, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and several scholars from Japan and Europe.
Sivakaran said the "yajaman Ramanujan Somayaji of the Athirathram 2011 is training a team of young Vedic priests to chant the mantras in the right pitch for the maximum positive impact on those present at the ritual and on the environment".
The ritual of Athirathram was first recorded in the 10th century BC. It survives in a few Brahmin and spiritual pockets.
Indologist Frits Staal from US, who authored a book, "Agni", in two volumes after the first ritual in April 1975, said the "ritual was a triumph of the human spirit over the limitations of matter and the physical body."
The ritual, which revolves around a sacrificial fire, offering of medicinal herbs and constant chanting, involves practitioners and scholars of Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda.
The healing power of the Vedic chant is said to lie in its positive vibrations.
Scholars of the Divya Jyoti Ved Mandir, a wing of the capital-based Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan which promotes Vedic knowledge, say chanting in the right tone can produce sound waves and sonic vibrations of high potential that charge the atmosphere with positive energy.
"Also, the sound waves, by enveloping the atmosphere, impact the surroundings positively. Hence, this is an effective tool for preservation of environment," a Vedic scholar associated with the Divya Jyoti Ved Mandir.
Vedic chants are also said to impact expecting mothers positively.
According to scholar Tatwamasi Dixit, "Listening to Vedic mantras has a profound impact on the expecting mother's emotions...It helps a mother establish communication between the mother and the child."