It’s an individual thing when it comes to memorizing long chants. Just from my experience of memorizing the Rudram, Chamakam, Vishnu and Lalita Sahasranamam, the Gita, and many other chants, it’s about discipline and practice. The chant must consume you. It should be the foremost thing on your mind. That’s the first requirement. This usually happens on its own, where the chant calls to us, and not the other way around. Whenever I’ve tried to learn something without being called to it, it has been even more challenging and usually slips right out of the memory bank.
Here are some tips:
- Find a good recording, with the correct pronunciation. It’s even more critical for Vedic chants because of the rules of chanting. Otherwise it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. Can’t over-emphasize this.
- Split up a long chant into smaller parts. Say you’re learning the Rudram. Use a recorder app on your phone (I have one that’s called Voice Notes that is fantastic for this purpose) that can change the speed of the recorded bit. Record what you think is your capacity to memorize – say half an anuvaka of the Rudram or even less. Record the whole chant in these smaller bits.
- Print out the bits separately so you’ll have many separate pieces of paper with the sections you’re working on.
- Keep the one you’re memorizing close – in your pocket. 🙂
- Listen to the chant while reading the lyrics. Slow down the speed to get the correct pronunciation, the inflections and so on.
- Repeat on your own. Listen again. Repeat. Again and again. And again.
- The method that works for me is to learn verse one, and then when I memorize verse two, to go back and chant verses one and two so that I get the continuity. So if you get to verse 25, go back and chant 1-25. That’s the way to ensure you go smoothly from verse to verse.
- Listen to the chant (or at least the bit) while falling asleep at night. Listen to again first thing in the morning. It gets embedded in your subconscious mind (which is why the correct pronunciation and method of chanting are crucial – very hard to undo this once learned the wrong way).
- Practice! Chant while showering, driving, cooking, exercising… 🙂
- Record yourself chanting and take notes – did you miss an anusvara? Did you pronounce a hrsva svara as a dhirga, and so on… correct them and record again.
- Once you’ve learned the whole chant, it’s time to fine tune – get back to the beginning and correct all the minor issues (point above).
- Now is the time to focus on the meaning of the words as you chant it. Without the bhavana, the chant is not really all that useful. So, make the effort to study it, and meditate on the meaning. See what happens when you say, “Om Namo Bhagavate Rudraya!” Your whole being will begin to vibrate…
You’ll know you “have” it when it flows like oil being poured steadily into a container – the entire mind is concentrated on the flow of the chant and the world ceases to exist. This is where the magic begins. You’ll often find you are out of the body, the chant being the vehicle for an incredible expansion of perception.
Have fun with it! <3 Happy Chanting!