|A mantra is an embodiment in sound of a particular Devata.
It is not a mere formula. Nor is it a magic spell. It is the Devata Himself or Herself. And so, when a mantra is repeated with concentration of mind and the worshipper makes an effort to identify him with the worshipped, the power of the Devata comes to his help. Human power is thus. Supplemented by the divine power. A prayer is different from the re petition of a mantra. It is a purely human effort. Prayers may be offered in any language and in any form.
But a mantra, being an embodiment of a Devata in sound, has to be repeated in that form alone in which it first revealed itself to the mind of a Rishi. It is not to be learnt from books, but from the living voice of a Guru who gives the Upadesa or initiation. And it has for its aim the gradual trans- formation of the worshipper into the like ness of the worshipped. Therefore the more worshipper advances in his/her japa the less is he himself/ she herself and more does she/he partake of the nature and wield the powers of the Devata.
Source : http://hindubooks.org/essence_of_hinduism/hindu_rituals_and_myths
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