Neuroscience and the ‘Sanskrit Effect’

Neuroscience and the ‘Sanskrit Effect’
Science Proves the Power of Chanting

Many of us have heard the Gyuto Monks of Tibet. With their extraordinary chanting and the low throaty drone of ancient sacred texts, they have kept audiences in the West spellbound with their long, careful and accurate recitations of potent Tibetan Buddhist texts. Sitting in their presence, you feel clarity and a potent spiritual transference of energy and healing. The Buddhist tradition stems from India and the sacred language of Sanskrit. While Tibetan Buddhists have a rich chanting tradition, in India, this age-old tradition goes back even further.

Sanskrit scholars in India learn to chant ancient texts from a tender age. They chant simple mantras, Sanskrit poetry, and prose, along with memorising and chanting the most ancient Sanskrit texts, including the Shukla Yajurveda, which takes six hours to chant. While those listening to these chantings receive the gift of the sacred texts they are sharing with us, the chanting of long texts does, in fact, have an amazing effect on the brain.

Neuroscience shows how rigorous memorising can help the brain. The term the ‘Sanskrit Effect’ was coined by neuroscientist James Hartzell, who studied 21 professionally qualified Sanskrit pandits. He discovered that memorising Vedic mantras increases the size of brain regions associated with cognitive function, including short and long-term memory. This finding corroborates the beliefs of the Indian tradition which holds that memorising and reciting mantras enhances memory and thinking.

An Unexpected Discovery…

Dr. Hartzell, a Sanskrit devotee and postdoctoral researcher at Spain’s Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language, spent many years studying and translating Sanskrit and became fascinated by its impact on the brain.

I noticed that the more Sanskrit I studied and translated, the better my verbal memory seemed to become. Fellow students and teachers often remarked on my ability to exactly repeat lecturers’ own sentences when asking them questions in class. Other translators of Sanskrit told me of similar cognitive shifts.

India’s Vedic Sanskrit pandits train for years to orally memorise and exactly recite 3,000-year old oral texts ranging from 40,000 to over 100,000 words. We wanted to find out how such intense verbal memory training affects the physical structure of their brains.

Dr. Hartzell’s research is the first study to examine the brains of Sanskrit scholars. Using structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at India’s National Brain Research Centre, they scanned the brains of 21 Sanskrit pandits and 21 control subjects.

What we discovered from the structural MRI scanning was remarkable. Numerous regions in the brains of the pandits were dramatically larger than those of controls, with over 10 percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, and substantial increases in cortical thickness. Although the exact cellular underpinnings of grey matter and cortical thickness measures are still under investigation, increases in these metrics consistently correlate with enhanced cognitive function.

He reports that the right hippocampus of the scholars, a region that plays a vital role in short and long-term memory, and is specialised for patterns, such as sound, spatial and visual patterns, had more grey matter than the brains of the control subjects. The right temporal cortex, associated with speech prosody and voice identity, was also substantially thicker.

Chanting improves brain performanceRegions in the pandits’ brains were dramatically larger than those of controls. Image: Natasha Connell.

Past Studies

Dr. Hartzell is not sure whether the effect relates particularly to the Sanskrit language and plans to conduct further research. The power of sound and chanting is becoming widely documented, and even short chants have an energising and healing effect on the body and mind of those who are chanting sacred mantras or verses. Interestingly, fifty years ago, a French scientist noted that Christian monks who chanted the Gregorian Chants have exceptional memories.

In 1967, Alfred Tomatis, a French physician, psychologist, and ear specialist, studied the effect of chanting on Benedictine monks who had been part of a tradition with a strict schedule of daily chanting of up to eight hours a day. When a new Abbott changed this schedule, cutting out the chanting, the monks became tired and lethargic, even though they were getting extra sleep. In fact, the more sleep they got, the more tired they were. Alfred Tomatis believed that the chanting was energising their brains and bodies, so he reintroduced the chanting and the monks were soon full of energy again.

Dr. Hartzell’s recent study raises the question of whether this kind of memorisation of ancient texts could be helpful in reducing the devastating illness of Alzheimer’s and other memory affecting diseases. Apparently, Ayurvedic doctors from India suggest it is the case and future studies will be conducted, along with more research into Sanskrit.

While we all know the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practices, the findings of Dr. Hartzell are truly dramatic. In a world of shrinking attention spans, where we are flooded with information daily, and children display a range of attention deficit disorders, ancient Indian wisdom has much to teach the West. Even introducing small amounts of chanting and recitation could have an amazing effect on all of our brains.

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Ramprasad Iyer
2 years ago

I am 66, grew up reciting various Sanskrit mantras, such as “Vakratund” “Igiri, Nandini” “Yakuntendu dusara hara dawala” even today I am so so enthusiastic about learning that I am registered for my MA in Archaeology at the University of Mumbai. Plus regular practice of Sitar has truly given me a lot of positivity. Thanks, to a very traditional upbringing. “AMMA NI THA THUNAI”

Varalakshmi Kandukoori
2 years ago

Please send this message to schools and colleges .

Ram Chander
2 years ago

I got no doubt about the findings of the study. I am not bothered much about increasing the brain or some portions of it as an effect of chanting Sanskrit Shalokas, but I am very much convinced that a person who can read, understand, recite and memorised the Sanskrit Shalokas certainly becomes a better human being.

Niranjan Dev
2 years ago

We are here not to bring Religion into scientific studies. All human evolution has few environmental & locational variables. We are not talking religious evolution but behind certain observations
so there is no controversy

3 years ago


Maa Narmadha
4 years ago

Maa Narmadha
At the Sri Ramana Vidya Peedam Ashram in Thiruchuli a week long camp for children between the age group of 10 to 15 years take place. We introduce the children to the Sanskrit chanting of Mantras which creates a resonating vibration of inner peace, joy and abundance of energy. It creates a very nurturing ambience to the children with hyperactiveness and other wise. This study of Mantras reinforces the Power of Divine Sound pervading in the Mantra. Thank you for the information.

Radhakrishna Panicker
4 years ago

The root feeds the fruit and the fruit feeds the root too. Imagine yourself as a fully grown plant that is fruit bearing.
The fruit is human brain. The root is Sabda Brahma or AUM, the premordial sound
of creation, which exists as microwave back ground noise throught out the universe. When your brain generates that subtle energy by mantra chanting, you are connecting yourself to the primordial energy. This completes information loop – I am That. Subtle sound energy produced by the well evolved human brain can make this connectivity. That is the secret of mantra chanting and scriptural readngs.
Reciting ther sounds does not make the connectivity, because its frequency is different. Also, some classical music can make the connectivity whose frequency is close to that of mantras. Sabda Brahma is closely associated to Nada Brahma too.
Read my book- Convergence – Ultra Science and Vefic Spirituality.

Mahinda Wijesinghe
4 years ago

The above chanting is just as ‘pirith’ is chanted in Theravada Buddhism.

4 years ago


4 years ago

This is all false. Vain babbling is not of God. This will lead you to distruction. Jesus is the teeth and the only way to redemption. Call upon Jesus and all of you will be free. The devil wants you to divert you. This is pagan belief. Call Jesus he will give you peace.

4 years ago

At some emotionally turbulent period of my life I was lead to listen to Sanskrit…it was the only thing that could stop my thoughts; I listen without understanding on a mental level yet I hear with some other sense; nothing else can stop my thoughts the way Sanskrit does; give it a try –

4 years ago

So, ‘chanting’ for the young developing brain – as in the alphabet, sounds and arithmetic times tables, can be seen as a building stage in their education? Perhaps this is an area that needs to be looked at further as there are many educators who do not push this memorising activity?

Bitoon Gamating
4 years ago

Sound and meaning are one in Sanskrit. You can’t invent a word like Zouqilahaw and claim it means God the Supreme Being:-D

4 years ago


4 years ago

Very Good Indeed!This Appears Truly UPLIFTING!!
Let me spend some time before I Dare to Contribute Proactively and Sensibly.
But I am Excited at the Possibilities of Healthy Interactions Objectively – Even by ‘Non HINDUs’or Persons belonging to Other Faith’s & Religion !!
Very Best Wishes and Prayers for Betterment of Humanity through Better Understanding of Basic Truth of Life & Living Irrespective of Ethnicity!!!
Jai Sanaathana Dharma and the Almighty God- being Worshipped Differently !!!

Sadanand G Manoli
4 years ago

It is very good & exhaustive study , I want to commend you for that.It is a genuine study and very scientific,that is what modern Investigators want. I would like to see and get more study done on other religious chanting ,like ,Christian and Islam .

Kishan Bachawala
4 years ago


Sanskrit language is the mother of all languages….

4 years ago

Dear all. I belong to school of analytics
As per the literature survey the language in question has poor classification of the people. It’s a dead language. I practically see that this language has racial effect and almost the modern civilization has ignored it. Let us not give much weightage to this subject
Thanks all.

Suresh Kumar
4 years ago


4 years ago

Sanskrit texts have survived well due to chanting and transmission by hearing and repetition. Sanskrit we know is as close to the root of the Indo European family of languages as we can access in modern tines.

It is a treasure not just for India or for speakers of European languages which are related to Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a precious subject, for the whole world can benefit from that. It belongs to all of us.

Dr Dnyaneshwar Thorat
4 years ago

I am proud of such an invention concerning with Sanskrit language

Batchu Indira Sirisha
4 years ago

Yes, I agree that Sanskrit language has that power of healing and energizing the people as well. We can confidently say that because chanting them on daily basis we get that glow and positive vibes into us. Sounds only can create those vibes. These practices also helps the people to memorize the texts with out refering it. Our ancestors are truly knowledged that’s why they didn’t needed any books to read. Indians are blessed by this language and it’s utility should become more once again.

Maddali Laxmi Swetha, MBA(Hr)
4 years ago

Once you gain knowledge in Sanskrit then your know the world which is made by God or Goddess.

Maddali Laxmi Swetha
4 years ago

Sanskrit is the great Language in the world.

Satyabrata Maiti
4 years ago

I have a doubt on the claim. Budha’s language was in Pali which was very close to Sanskrit but it is not Sanskrit at all. In all Buddha’s chanting is in Pali. How come one gets Sanskrit chanting in Buddha’s monastery?

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