Anyone can chant the maha-mantra: hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare / hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. This mantra has only three words. Hare refers to the energy of the Lord; krishna, the original name of the Lord, refers to His all-powerful and all-attractive form; and rama refers to the first expansion of the Lord, the abode of all pleasure. Look here for a more detailed and philosophical explanation of the maha-mantra.
To start, you simply repeat these names, or, if you like, you can sing these names to any melody that sounds appropriate to your ears. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting the holy name, but it is best to try to pronounce the name clearly and hear the name as you chant it. This will give the quickest result. One can chant as long as one likes. The longer one chants and the more one hears, the more one will feel the spiritual effect of the mantra cleansing the mirror of the consciousness and purifying it of the long conditioning keeping us entangled in the material nature.
There are standard melodies for chanting, and they can be obtained on tape or CD from the Bhakti Yoga Society or the Hare Krishna temple in Rondebosch. But to start, you can chant in any way you like and make the same advancement. Usually when devotees chant together, one person leads by chanting the mantra to one of many melodies, and all the others follow by chanting the same melody. This group chanting is called kirtan.
You can also chant swiftly and softly to yourself. When you chant to yourself, you say the mantra in a flowing way again and again. This type of chanting is called japa. You can easily do it by making a set of beads yourself or by purchasing a set of beads from the Bhakti Yoga Society book stand. When you chant on beads, you chant one full mantra on each bead. You hold the beads in the right hand, between the thumb and middle finger, and pull the beads one after another. One-hundred-eight beads form a string of beads, plus one head bead to show when you have chanted around all 108 beads. One-hundred-eight mantras is called a round. Devotees chant at least 16 rounds, which takes about two hours, every day. They usually chant early in the morning, when the atmosphere is peaceful and conducive to spiritual advancement.
It is easy and inexpensive to purchase a set of ready-made beads. But if you cannot do that, you can also make a set of beads yourself. Purchase 108 small, round wooden beads with a hole in the middle of them to pull a string through. You also need one more bead larger in diameter for the final head bead, to show the finish of each round.
Although the beads can be of any color you like, they should be wooden and not painted, and better all the same color. The best wood is called Tulasi wood since it is sacred and has the best effect on the consciousness of the chanter. If you bought beads from a center or temple and they are Tulasi, then please use those instead of making your own.
String the beads by first making a knot. Then place a wooden bead on the string and pull it close to the knot. Then make another knot and place the next bead on the string, and keep repeating the process of placing a pearl and making a knot till all 108 beads are strung tightly together. Then join the two ends of the string by putting the ends through the head bead and tying one final knot on top. Now you have your new set of beads and are ready to chant japa. Happy chanting!
Bead bags are also available to help you hold the beads in your hand. These are more difficult to make unless you are expert at sewing, and it is better get one from us.