Gayatri Mantra in depth

What is a Mantra?

A mantra is a potent spiritual sound formula. A mystical sound which not only enchants the mind and helps to make it single-pointed and concentrated, but also being pregnant with ideas, helps purify the mind as well as reveal to us great mysteries about ourselves and the universe when we contemplate on its deeper meanings.

Japa means to repeat the same thought, idea or mantra continuously.

Gayatri Mantra

Of the many mantras that are available to us in our Scriptures, the most popular and highly emphasized is the Gayatri Mantra. There are many stories that indicate the greatness and importance of the Gayatri.

This Gayatri Mantra was revealed to Sage Vishwamitra who was the Rishi or the seer of this mantra, who gave out this most precious jewel of the Vedas. Truly as His name implies, He is the mitra, or friend, of the vishwa or entire universe. Later on in history the Gayatri was personified as the all-loving and benevolent Mother Goddess known as Gayatri Devi or Savitri Devi.

For starters, it would suffice to say that if, hypothetically, all our Vedas, all our scriptures, were lost or taken away from us and only this mantra remained, still, we would be able to revive or regenerate the entire spiritual culture of Bharat, for the Gayatri Mantra comprises the very essence of the Vedas. “The Geeta is the milk of the Upanishads”, in the same way, the Gayatri Mantra is the milk of the Vedas…its very quintessence.

Etymological Meaning of the word ‘Gayatri’

The Scriptures declare: GAAYANTAM TRAAYATE YASMAAT GAAYATRI-ITI PRAKIRTITAA.  Translation: “That which protects the one who chants it is Gayatri.”   The Gayatri is not an ordinary mantra.   The mere sound of it can save man from great peril or sorrow.    In fact, it is said, NA Gaayatryaah Paro Mantrah, meaning, “There is no mantra greater than the Gayatri.”

Meaning – Literal

¬Om – Shortest syllable indicating Truth

¬Bhuh- Earth

¬Bhuvah – Interspace

¬Suvah – Heavens

¬Tat Savitur – That Sun

¬Varenyam – Most adorable

¬Bhargahdevasya – Effulgence

¬Dhimahi – I meditate

¬Dhiyoyo nah – Our intellect, may he(Sun)

¬Prachodayaat – illumine.

Literal Meaning:  I meditate on That Sun who is the illuminer of the three worlds – the earth, the heavens and the interspace, who is most adorable, effulgence of the divine powers.  May That Sun illumine our Intellect.

Physically the sun energizes the entire universe.  Sun brings freshness, burns away bacteria and sunlight is symbolic of dynamic activity, enthusiasm etc.  Statistics have shown that in countries where there is no sunlight for long periods of time, cases of depression, suicide, low-self-esteem etc. are very high.  Invoking the sun is to invoke – brilliance, light and energy into our life.  Just the chanting of the mantra without knowing the meaning,  invokes divine vibrations and has a healing effect on the body.  Knowing the meaning is much more beneficial to the entire personality.

Meaning – Symbolic

¬Om – Shortest syllable indicating Truth

¬Bhuh-  Body

¬Bhuvah – Mind

¬Suvah – Intellect

¬Tat Savitur – That Sun (Ideal of Tireless Service)

¬Varenyam – Most adorable (Warmth of Love)

¬Bhargahdevasya – Effulgence (Light of Knowledge)

¬Dhimahi – I meditate

¬Dhiyoyo nah – Our intellect, may He(Sun)

¬Prachodayaat – illumine.

Symbolic meaning:  I meditate on That Sun who is the illuminer of the three worlds(Body Mind & Intellect), who is an ideal of tireless service, warmth of love and light of knowledge.  May That Sun illumine our Intellect and inspire us to grow Holistically in life.

As we think, so we become

The simple principle of mind is – “as we think, so we become”.  We become what we constantly dwell upon.  The rishis called this technique as Upasana.  Upasana literally means “sitting, asana… near, upa…. the ideal or object of worship”.   In other words, to fix your mind on the object of your concentration in such a way that the nature of the ideal becomes integrated into your personality

Symbolic Meaning of  Sun: Holistic Growth

The Rishis found none other than the blazing sun as the perfect representative or embodiment of all the noble ideals along with the Supreme Knowledge; ….of God, the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer;  and of the Absolute Reality.      For a child or youngster, in fact for the whole of mankind, there is no greater ideal that amply represents the brilliance of knowledge and intelligence, as well as the warmth of love and caring, other than the sun.    The principle of dynamic work, the spirit of dedicated service without any expectations, and the virtue of unlimited sacrifice — these are best exemplified in nature by the quiet sun which unceasingly burns of itself to give heat and light to all of Creation, yet demands nothing in return.     Thus the Sun represents the blossoming of the personality and holistic growth at body, mind and intellectual levels.

Thus, from childhood till the time of death or till one renounces the world and takes up sanyaas, one is urged to do the upasanaof Surya Devata, who is also known as Savitr.    We are advised to rise in the morning and greet the sun with oblations of water in the cupped palms, called as arghyam… accompanied by the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra, and at dusk, to conclude the day in the same manner; this practice is known as SandhyaVandanin its simplest form.

When we regularly pray like this, invoking the brilliance of the sun, we develop in ourselves those powers of understanding, that clarity of vision, subtlety of intellect, alertness and purity required to gain the Supreme Knowledge.

In each of us there is a light of intelligence, shining equally bright in every one of us.   But then why is it that we find that some of us are more intelligent than the others?   Why do we find that some people are dull and cannot understand even the simplest things, whereas others can pick up the most profound things so fast?     Even in the same house, between two children born of the same parents, one comes first in his class while the other fails miserably.    If we look into this question closely, we find that the intellect is sharp and bright when the mind is calm.   When the mind is agitated, the intellect cannot think properly.   The secret of intelligence is to quieten the agitations of the mind.   It is only when the agitations of the mind are quietened that the intellect becomes bright and can think clearly.    So what is obstructing the intelligence in us is these lower tendencies, the baser vasanas.    For example, haven’t you noticed now and then how your children get very good marks in their studies for a certain period, and then suddenly they fail miserably in some test?  If you try to make a chart based on these observations you will find that at the time of failure there was some distraction in the child’s life.    Perhaps a soccer or cricket game was going on, some conflict or confusion, or depression and dejection, was raging in the child’s mind, or simply, the youngster had suddenly, madly fallen in love!     We may think that this is true only of children or the young ones, but isn’t the same true of us also?

Therefore through the Gayatri Mantra, we invoke the Lord Sun, saying: O Lord Sun, please purify our mind for the higher sadhana… please purify my mind, so that the light of my intellect may shine forth.

Meaning – Spiritual

¬Om – Shortest syllable indicating Truth

¬Bhuh- Waking State

¬Bhuvah – Dream State

¬Suvah – Deep Sleep

¬Tat Savitur – That Consciousness

¬Varenyam – Most adorable(LIFE)

¬Bhargahdevasya – Effulgence of devas(Senses)

¬Dhimahi – I meditate

¬Dhiyoyo nah – Our intellect, may he(Sun)

¬Prachodayaat – illumine.

Spiritual Meaning:I meditate on the Pure Consciousness which illumines the Waking, Dream & Deep sleep, which is the effulgence of the senses.  May it shine more brightly through our intellect (so that we may come to know the SELF – our true nature)

As one grows in spiritual maturity, one realizes that it is not that sun outside that illumines my intellect. There is some other enlivening factor within me because of which the Body Mind and Intellect are able to function.  One wonders – how are the eyes able to see?  How can the ears hear?  Are they doing it on their own?  No!  Eyes can’t see on their own. There is something else that empowers the eyes.  When the mind does not back the eyes, the eyes can’t see.  How does the mind function?  What is the mind?  It is just a co-ordinator between the senses and the intellect.  Intellect is the deciding faculty.  What is the intellect?  It is a flow of thoughts. Who illumines the flow? How am I aware of the thoughts?  What illumines my intellect?  When one enquires thus, one discovers that it is the Pure Consciousness – the LIFE Principle in me because of which the Body Mind and Intellect are ‘alive’ and functioning.  That Consciousness is me.  I am not the BMI.

If I am that Consciousness, why do I not experience it?

What covers the brilliance of consciousness within me are my own vasanas or innate tendencies which also veil my intellect.”   Thus the seeker understands that the sun outside is just the symbol of that ever-shining consciousness within, and that I turn my mind towards it so that in the brilliance of its knowledge, my ignorance and negative tendencies are detroyed… and the light of consciousness floods through my intellect unobscured as the light of intelligence.    Thereafter the Gayatri Mantra becomes for the seeker a prayer to the Consciousness, the Atma, or the Higher Self, in the light of which everything is experienced, and without which not even the brilliant sun or the shining moon can be perceived.    

So in the initial stage the chanting of the mantra is a special vibration that has the power to quieten the mind.  Then it is taught that it is a prayer invoking the blessing of the all-adorable Lord Sun which sustains the entire universe.   For a devotee, it is a prayer to his own chosen personal Lord of the Heart to destroy all the negative tendencies that cause sorrow in one’s life and interfere in one’s devotional practices and duties.    But as the seeker starts growing, this prayer becomes more subjective, invoking the light of intelligence, the atma within, to bring out the brilliance in our intellect.  But for the student of Vedanta, who seeks Truth and liberation, for him it becomes an  indicator, a means of contemplation, a revealer of Truth.   Each and every word represents the very depth of the Upanishads.