One mantra that occupies a very special place in Hindu life is called the Gayatri. It is central to the religious ceremonies, celebrations, and spiritual attainment. It is part of the Vedas and described for meditation in the Upanishads (Brihadaraynkya Upanishad V. 14. 1-8 and Chhandogya Upanishad III. 12. 1-9). In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: “Among the mantras, know me in the Gayatri” (Bhagavad Gita X. 35).
The Gāyatrī Mantra is a highly revered mantra, based on a Vedic Sanskrit verse from a hymn of the Rig Veda (3.62.10), attributed to the sage Visvamitra. The mantra is named for its Vedic Gayatri Metre. As the verse can be interpreted to invoke God Savitr (The Sun, the Creator) it is often called Savitri. Its recitation is traditionally preceded by OM and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great utterance").
The Gayatri Mantra is repeated and cited widely in Vedic literature and praised in several well-known classical Hindu texts such as Manusmriti, Harivamsa and the Bhagavad Gita. The mantra is an important part of the Yajnopavith ceremony for young males and has long been recited by Brahmin males as part of their daily rituals. Modern Hindu reform movements spread the practice of the mantra to include women and all castes and its use is now very widespread.
Recitation of the Gayatri Mantra is preceded by OM and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great utterance"). This prefixing of the mantra proper is described in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (2.11.1-8), which states that scriptural recitation was always to begin with the chanting of the syllable oṃ, followed by the three Vyahrtis and the Gayatri verse. Following the mahāvyāhṛti is then the mantra proper, the verse RV 3.62.10 which is as follows.
Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt
A literal translation of the Gayatri verse proper can be given as:
"May we attain that excellent glory of Savitr the god: So may he stimulate our prayers?"
—The Hymns of the Rigveda (1896), Ralph T. H. Griffith.
The literal translation of the Mahāvyāhṛti formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ prefixed to the verse is "earth, air, heaven". These are the names of the first three of the seven vyāhṛti or higher worlds of Hindu cosmology.
Swami Vivekananda translates the Mantra as "We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds.”
Dr.S. Radhakrishnan translates it as "We meditate on the effulgent glory of the divine Light; may he inspire our understanding. We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence.”
In summary, the life transforming essence of the Gayatri Mantra unfolds the ultimate unity of God and existence.
In traditional Brahmin practice the Gayatri Mantra is addressed to God as the divine life-giver, symbolized by Savitr (the sun), and is most often recited at sunrise, noon, and sunset. It is believed by practitioners that reciting the mantra bestows wisdom and enlightenment, through the vehicle of the Sun, Savitr, who represents the source and inspiration of the universe. Recitation at sunrise every morning, at noon and in the evening at the sunset is part of the daily ritual (sandhya vandana). While often associated with outward ritual offerings, it can be recited more inwardly and without rites, a practice generally known as japa. Gaayantham thraayathe ithi Gaayathree - "Because it protects the one who recites it, it is called Gayatri.”
Imparting the Sāvitrī mantra to young Hindu males is an important part of the traditional yajnopavith ceremony, which marks the beginning of study of the Vedas which is the essence of the ceremony. This is called “Gayatri Diksha", i.e. initiation into the Gayatri Mantra. In some regions in India this ceremony is performed for the girls also. Hence the recitation of the Gayatri Mantra is not limited to males alone. The imparting of this Mantra is considered as secret not because of its confidentiality but due to its esoteric meaning. Anything is secret so long we do not understand it and once it is understood it remains no more a secret.
In the later 19th century, Hindu reform movements extended the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra beyond caste and gender limitations. In 1898, Swami Vivekananda began initiating non-Brahmins with the sacred thread ceremony and the Gayatri Mantra. He based this on the interpretations of the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita that Brahmin status is earned and not hereditary. The Arya Samaj notably spread the teaching that recitation of the mantra was not limited to males, but that women could rightfully be taught both the Vedas and the Gayatri Mantra. In his writings, S. Radhakrishnan encouraged the teaching of Gayatri mantra to men and women of all castes.
“The Gayatri Mantra is essentially a prayer for self-transformation and the inspiration to inculcate higher personal attributes. It is a prayer for grace of illumined intellect, creative knowledge, higher ideals, universal virtues, balanced mind, truthful living, awakened consciousness, and discerning wisdom for a meaningful journey of life.
It is a prayer for the infusion of determination, effort, and aspiration to experience inner brilliance and cultivate the attitude of giving, like the sun, for the good of others. It is a prayer to stimulate understanding of unity of existence -- connected world, connected humanity, and one truth.
It is a prayer for motivation of an honest and compassionate life of freedom forged with universal values to be remembered, prized, and practiced in daily life. The Gayatri, in spirit, is a recipe for success to reach our material, moral, and spiritual wholeness without stress.
Meditation on the mantra with full understanding of its essence is a highly transformative personal experience for beneficial changes in life. Energy is not dissipated in mundane affairs but channeled for innovative solutions, an honest work ethic, humility, intelligence, and a reasoned commitment to live a life of contentment. It is the yoga for personal peace and a Life free of prejudices, anger, dismay and differences.” The Gayatri Mantra © Mohan K. Sood, Ph.D.
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