Gayatri Mantra

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The "Gayatri mantra" has been personified into a goddess

The Gāyatrī Mantra is a highly revered mantra of the Vedic tradition. Just like all the Vedic Mantras, the Gayatri Mantra is considered not to have an author and like all other mantras is believed to have been revealed to a Brahmarshi, in this case Brahmarshi Vishvamitra. This is a Vedic Sanskrit verse from a hymn of the Rigveda (3.62.10). Gayatri is the name of the meter in which the verse is composed.[1] The most interesting aspect of the mantra is that the mantra is considered to be not different from the divine entity that forms the content of the mantra. Thus the name of the divine entity contained in the mantra is also Gayatri. In other words, the Gayatri mantra is not just a means of worship but is an object of worship in itself. The word 'Gayatri' is used both in reference to the Gayatri Mantra as an object of worship and in reference to the divine entity described in the mantra. It is in this sense of the Gayatri Mantra being an object of worship that the Mantra is personified into a goddess.

As the verse can be interpreted to invoke the deva Savitr, it is often called Sāvitrī mantra.[2] Depending on how Savitri is interpreted, this mantra can be seen as connected to Sun Worship, Yoga, Tantra and Mother Goddess.

Its recitation is traditionally preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great (mystical) utterance"). It is made up of three (mystical) utterances: Bhooh, Bhuvah and Svah. The three utterances are taken as the names of three worlds:- Bhooh: the terrestrial, Svah: celestial and Bhuvah: the world connecting terrestrial to celestial. These are the names of the first three of the seven vyāhṛti or higher worlds of Hindu cosmology. From a meditational point of view, Bhooh, Bhuvah, Svah are mystically interpreted as the three degrees/levels of depths of meditation: Conscious, Semi-conscious and the Unconscious.

The Gayatri Mantra is repeated and cited very widely in vedic literature,[3] and praised in several well-known classical Hindu texts such as Manusmṛti,[4] Harivamsa,[5] and the Bhagavad Gita.[6][7] The mantra is an important part of the upanayanam ceremony for young males in Hinduism, and has long been recited by Dvija 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.[8][9]

The Mantra[edit]

Text[edit]

Recitation of the Gayatri Mantra is preceded by oṃ() and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ (भूर् भुवः स्वः), known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great (mystical) 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.[10] Following the mahāvyāhṛti is then the mantra proper, the verse RV 3.62.10:

In Devanagari[edit]

ॐ भूर्भुवः॒ स्वः ।
तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑(तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं) ।
भ॒र्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि ।
धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ॥

In IAST[edit]

Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ prachodáyāt
Recitation of Gayatri Mantra (19 seconds)

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Whereas in principle the gāyatrī metre specifies three pādas of eight syllables each, the text of the verse as preserved in the Rigveda Samhita is one syllable short, the first pāda counting seven instead of eight. Metrical restoration would emend the attested tri-syllabic vareṇyaṃ with a tetra-syllabic vareṇiyaṃ.[11]

Meaning[edit]

Meaning of key words[edit]

tat[edit]

The word tat = that is part of the compound 'tatsavitur'. As a result, in its split form, 'tat' is taken in its genitive form 'tasya' since the genitive case of the whole compound applies to each of its constituent words.

savituḥ[edit]

The word savituḥ (becoming savitur in sandhi) is the genitive case of savitr̥.
savitr̥ etymologically means 'that which gives birth' (ṣuñ = prāṇiprasavē)
Connotatively it is taken as 'the power inside the Sun' or the Sun itself.
It is interpreted as the life-generating ability of the Sun or the source inside organisms that generates/inspires/drives various physical, intellectual and spiritual activities of the organism.

vareN(I)yam[edit]

Vareṇiyaṁ (vareṇyaṁ) is derived from the verb root 'vr̥' =to choose, to select; it means the most choosable, the best.

bhargaḥ[edit]

Bhargaḥ is derived from the root bhrāj = to be luminous. Thus bhargaḥ means the self-luminous one. The word is in its nominative case, but is taken to be in accusative case.

devasya[edit]

Devasya is the genitive case form of the word deva which is derived from div = luminous/ radiant but connotatively means the divine. This genitive case is taken to be in agreement with the genitive case of the compound tatsavituḥ and individually with the genitive case of the word savituḥ. Tatsavitur devasya is taken as a single phrase meaning "of that divine entity called Savitṛ".

dhīmahi[edit]

Dhīmahi comes from the transitive verb root 'dhī' = to think about (something/somebody), to meditate upon (something/somebody). Thus dhīmahi means "we meditate upon (something/somebody)".

dhiyaḥ[edit]

Dhiyaḥ comes from the nominal root 'dhī' = intellect, a faculty of the spirit inside the body, life activity, etc. Dhiyaḥ is the plural of dhī. The word is in its nominative case, but is taken to be in accusative case.

yaḥ[edit]

Yaḥ (yo in sandhi) is a form of the word ya "which." This word is the main cue to take the mantra as a single sentence and is syntactically taken as connected to tat. the first word of the mantra.

naḥ[edit]

Naḥ is equivalent to asmākam "our, of us."

pracodayāt[edit]

Pracodayāt comes from the causative stem cod of the transitive verbal root cud = "to move in a specific direction." Cod = "to move (something/somebody) in a specific direction." Pra- is the prefix "forth, forward." Pracud- > pracod = "to move (something/somebody) forward." -ãt is a third person singular parasmaipada (active) precative ending. Pracodayāt = "may it move (something/somebody) forward."

Traditional Interpretation[edit]

The traditional interpretation of the Mantra is by Sayana. It is :

Line1: tát(tasya) = of that; savitúr(savituh) = of Savita (the all-inspiring, all-creating one); váreṇ(i)yaṃ = the most meditation-worthy, the most knowable and hence the most relishable;

Line2: bhárgo(bhargah) = self-luminous radiance, devásya = of the divine; dhīmahi = We meditate upon;

Line3:dhíyo(dhiyah) = activities, properties and intellect; yó(yah) = which; naḥ = our; pracodáyāt = inspires;

He sets the word order of the Mantra into the following form:
yó(yah), naḥ, dhíyo(dhiyah), pracodáyāt, tát(tasya), devásya, savitúr(savituh), váreṇ(i)yaṃ, bhárgo(bhargah), dhīmahi.
This forms a 'which....that' type (relative clause based) complex sentence in Sanskrit.

yó(yah) = which; naḥ = our; dhíyo(dhiyah) = activities, properties and intellect; pracodáyāt = inspires; tát=tasya = of that; devásya = of the divine; savitúr(savituh) = of Savita (the all-inspiring, all-creating one); váreṇ(i)yaṃ = the most meditation-worthy, the most knowable and hence the most relishable; bhárgo(bhargah) = self-luminous radiance; dhīmahi = We meditate upon;

This can be put into English as " We meditate upon that most meditation-worthy, the most knowable and hence the most relishable self-luminous radiance (in the form of Parabrahman) of the divine entity called Savita (the all-inspiring, all-creating one), which inspires our activities, properties and intellect".

Modern Translations[edit]

A translation of the Gayatri verse by Ralph T. H. Griffith[12] is as follows:

"May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the god:

So may he stimulate our prayers."

The Hymns of the Rigveda (1896).

[Using "Monier - Williams", analysis of the constituent words supporting the above translation can be provided as follows:[13]

  • dhīmahi "may we attain" (1st person plural middle optative of dhā- 'Unify' etc.)
  • tat vareṇiyam bharghas '"that excellent glory" (accusatives of tad (pronoun), vareniya- 'excellent' and bhargas- 'radiance, splendour, glory')
  • savitur devasya "of the lord savitar " (genitives of savitr-, 'stimulator; name of a sun-deity' and deva- 'god, deity')
  • yaḥ pracodayat "who has the ability to encourage" (nominative singular of relative pronoun yad-, causative 3rd person of pra-cud- 'set in motion, encourage, urge, impel')
  • dhiyaḥ naḥ "our prayers" (accusative plural of dhi- 'mind, thought, meditation' and naḥ enclitic personal pronoun)]

It may be noted that Griffith does not take the Mantra as a complex sentence with a relative clause as is done by Sayana. Griffith takes the Mantra as made up of two different sentences.

Paraphrases[edit]

The following is a list of English paraphrases or free translations.

2. Let us worship the supreme light of the Sun, the God of all things, who can so well guide our understanding, like an eye suspended in the vault of heaven

author year paraphrase note
Sir William Jones 1807 "Let us adore the supremacy of that divine sun, the god-head who illuminates all, who recreates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright in our progress toward his holy seat."[14] Savita is taken as the Sun, Like Sayana the whole mantra is taken as one single sentence with a relative clause.
William Quan Judge 1893 "Unveil, O Thou who givest sustenance to the Universe, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, that face of the True Sun now hidden by a vase of golden light, that we may see the truth and do our whole duty on our journey to thy sacred seat."[15] Sir William Jones is followed
Sivanath Sastri (Brahmo Samaj) 1911 "We meditate on the worshipable power and glory of Him who has created the earth, the nether world and the heavens (i.e. the universe), and who directs our understanding."[16] Bhur Bhuvuh Svah is taken as part of the Mantra, Like Sayana the whole mantra is taken as one single sentence with a relative clause.
Swami Vivekananda 1915 "We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds."[17] Like Griffith, takes the mantra as made up of two different sentences unlike Sayana or Sir William Jones
S. Radhakrishnan 1947, 1953
  1. " We meditate on the effulgent glory of the divine Light; may he inspire our understanding."[18]
  2. "We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence."[19]
Like Griffith, takes the mantra as made up of two different sentences unlike Sayana or Sir William Jones

Role in Vedic and Vedantic literature[edit]

The Savitri mantra is cited widely in Vedic texts.

  • The Rigvedic stanza 3.62.10 is found a number of times in the mantra listings of the Śrauta liturgy,[20] where it is used without any special distinction, typically as one among several stanzas dedicated to Savitar at appropriate points in the various rituals. Accordingly, the stanza is cited several times in the Brahmanas and the Srauta-sutras.[21]
  • In this corpus, there is only one instance of the stanza being prefixed with the three mahavyahrtis.[22] This is in a late supplementary chapter of the Shukla Yajurveda samhita, listing the mantras used in the preliminaries to the pravargya ceremony. However, none of the parallel texts of the pravargya rite in other samhitas have the stanza at all. A form of the mantra with all seven vyahrtis prefixed is found in the last book of the Taittiriya Aranyaka, better known as the Mahanarayana Upanishad.[23] It is as follows:
    ओम् भूः ओम् भुवः ओम् सुवः ओम् महः ओम् जनः ओम् तपः ओम् स॒त्यम् ।

      ओम् तत्स॑वि॒तुर्वरे॑ण्य॒म् भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि ।
      धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ।
      ओमापो॒ ज्योती॒ रसो॒ऽमृतं॒ ब्रह्म॒ भूर्भुव॒स्सुव॒रोम् ।

  • The stanza is also cited in a number of grhyasutras, mostly in connection with the upanayana ceremony[24] in which it has a significant role.
  • The stanza is the apparent inspiration for derivative "gāyatrī" stanzas dedicated to other deities, patterned on the formula ... vidmahe... dhīmahi... pracodayāt",[29] instances of which have been interpolated[30] into some recensions of the Shatarudriya litany.[31] Gāyatrīs of this form are also found in the Mahanarayana Upanishad.[32]

Usage[edit]

Main usage[edit]

Main usage of the Gayatri Mantra is for Gayatri Japa which is, among others, the core part of Sandhyavandanam-ritual stipulated by the Hindu Scriptures as an inescapable duty of a Dvija. Sandhyavandanam literally means salutation to Sandhya. Sandhya literally means transition moments of the day namely the two twilights : dawn and dusk and the solar noon. Thus Sandhyavandanam means salutation to twilight or solar noon. All the components of Sandhyavandanam ritual are centered around Sun God worship. Gayatri japa fits in the whole structure and is considered to be the core part of the ritual mainly because of the Sun God oriented meaning of the Gayatri Mantra.

Imparting the Sāvitrī mantra to young Hindu males is an important part of the traditional upanayanam ceremony, which marks the beginning of study of the Vedas. S. Radhakrishnan has described this as the essence of the ceremony,[18] which is sometimes called "Gayatri diksha", i.e. initiation into the Gayatri Mantra.[33] However, traditionally, the stanza RV.3.62.10 is the Sāvitrī imparted only to Brahmin boys. Other Sāvitrī verses are used in the upanayanam ceremony for non-Brahmins: RV.1.35.2, in the Trishtubh meter, for a Kshatriya; and, either RV.1.35.9 or RV.4.40.5, in the Jagati meter, for a Vaishya.[34]

Other usages[edit]

In addition to the Sandhyavandanam-use, Gayatri japa is used as a method of prāyaścitta, instrument of Tantric practice, etc.

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.[18]

Modern reception outside of the Brahmin caste[edit]

Brahmoism[edit]

In 1827 Ram Mohun Roy published a dissertation on the Gayatri Mantra[35] that analysed it in the context of various Upanishads. Roy prescribed a Brahmin to always pronounce Om at the beginning and end of the Gayatri Mantra.[36] From 1830, the Gayatri Mantra was used for private devotion of Brahmos. In 1843, the First Covenant of Brahmo Samaj required Gayatri Mantra for Divine Worship. From 1848-1850 with the rejection of Vedas, the Adi Dharm Brahmins use Gayatri Mantra in their private devotions.[37]

Hindu revivalism[edit]

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.[38] 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.[39][40] In his writings, S. Radhakrishnan encouraged the teaching of Gayatri mantra to men and women of all castes.[41] Various Gayatri Yagyas organised by All World Gayatri Pariwar at small and large scales in late twentieth century also helped spread Gayatri Mantra to the mass.[42] In some of these yagyas, women and persons from different castes also performed role of Yagyacharya (priests).[43]

Comparison to Fatiha[edit]

Comparative religion analysis reveals close similarities in the context and content of Gayatri Mantra to the primary Islamic prayer Sūrat al-Fātiḥah recited during most Muslim rituals.

Popular culture[edit]

A version of the Gayatri Mantra is featured in the opening theme song of the TV series Battlestar Galactica (2004).[44] A variation on the William Quan Judge translation is also used as the introduction to Kate Bush's song 'Lily' on her 1993 album 'The Red Shoes'.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Staal, Frits (June 1986). "The sound of religion". Numen 33 (Fasc. 1): 33–64. doi:10.1163/156852786X00084. JSTOR 3270126. 
  2. ^ "Designated as sāvitrī, or gāyatrī, throughout Vedic and Sanskrit literature". M. Bloomfield, A Vedic Concordance, Harvard Oriental Series Vol. 10, Cambridge Mass. 1906, p.392b.
  3. ^ The Bloomfield concordance lists over 30 cross-references to other vedic texts. Bloomfield(1906), p.392b.
  4. ^ Manusmṛti states that "there is nothing greater than the Savitri (Gayatri) Mantra." (Manu II, 83). Dutt, Manmatha Nath (1906–1909). The Dharma Shastra Or the Hindu Law Codes Volume 3. Calcutta: Elysium Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-4254-8964-9. 
  5. ^ The Harivamsa calls it the "mother of the Vedas". Griffith, Ralph T. H.; T. B. Griffith; Paul Tice (2003). The Vedas: With Illustrative Extracts. The Book Tree. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-1-58509-223-9. 
  6. ^ In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, "Of all poetry, I am the Gayatri" (BG.10.35). Rahman, M. M. (2006). Encyclopaedia of Histography. Anmol Publications. p. 300. ISBN 978-81-261-2305-6. 
  7. ^ An alternative translation by S. Radhakrishnan interprets BG.10.35 as "Likewise of hymns (I am) Brhtsaman, of metres (I am) gayatri". S. Radhakrishnan, The Bhagvadgita, 7th Indian edn 1982, published by Blackie & Son, p.266.
  8. ^ Rinehart, Robin (2004). Contemporary Hinduism. ABC-CLIO. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-57607-905-8. 
  9. ^ Lipner, Julius (1994). Hindus: their religious beliefs and practices. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-415-05181-1. 
  10. ^ Carpenter, David Bailey; Whicher, Ian (2003). Yoga: the Indian tradition. London: Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 0-7007-1288-7. 
  11. ^ B. van Nooten and G. Holland, Rig Veda. A metrically restored text. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series (1994).[1]
  12. ^ Giffith, Ralph T. H. (1890). The Hymns of the Rigveda. E.J. Lazarus. p. 87. 
  13. ^ see M. Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, also available online
  14. ^ Jones, William (1807). The works of Sir William Jones 13. J. Stockdale and J. Walker. p. 367. 
  15. ^ Judge Quan, William (January 1893). "A COMMENTARY ON THE GAYATRI". The Path. 
  16. ^ The word Savitr in the original Sanskrit may be interpreted in two ways, first as the sun, secondly as the "originator or creator". Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Maharshi Debendranath Tagore used that word in the second sense. Interpreted in their way the whole formula may be thus rendered. Appendix "C", Sivanath Sastri "History of the Brahmo Samaj" 1911/1912 1st edn. page XVI, publ. Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 211 Cornwallis St. Calcutta
  17. ^ Vivekananda, Swami (1915). The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Advaita Ashram. p. 211. 
  18. ^ a b c Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (1947). Religion and Society. p. 135. 
  19. ^ S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads, (1953), p. 299
  20. ^ Sama Veda: 2.812; Vajasenayi Samhita (M): 3.35, 22.9, 30.2, 36.3; Taittiriya Samhita: 1.5.6.4, 1.5.8.4, 4.1.11.1; Maitrayani Samhita: 4.10.3; Taittiriya Aranyaka: 1.11.2
  21. ^ Aitareya Brahmana: 4.32.2, 5.5.6, 5.13.8, 5.19.8; Kausitaki Brahmana: 23.3, 26.10; Asvalayana Srautasutra: 7.6.6, 8.1.18; Shankhayana Srautasutra: 2.10.2, 2.12.7, 5.5.2, 10.6.17, 10.9.16; Apastambha Srautasutra: 6.18.1
  22. ^ VSM.36.3
  23. ^ Dravida recension: 27.1; Andhra recension: 35.1; Atharva recension: 15.2
  24. ^ Shankhayana grhyasutra: 2.5.12, 2.7.19; Khadira grhyasutra: 2.4.21; Apastambha grhyasutra: 4.10.9-12; Varaha grhyasutra: 5.26
  25. ^ 6.3.6 in the well-known Kanva recension, numbered 6.3.11-13 in the Madhyamdina recension.
  26. ^ 4.18
  27. ^ 6.7, 6.34, albeit in a section known to be of late origin.
  28. ^ 4.28.1
  29. ^ Ravi Varma(1956), p.460f, Gonda(1963) p.292
  30. ^ Keith, Vol I. p.lxxxi
  31. ^ Maitrayani Samhita: 2.9.1; Kathaka Samhita: 17.11
  32. ^ Taittiriya Aranyaka: 10.1.5-7
  33. ^ Wayman, Alex (1965). "Climactic Times in Indian Mythology and Religion". History of Religions (The University of Chicago Press) 4 (2): 295–318. doi:10.1086/462508. JSTOR 1061961. 
  34. ^ This is on the authority of the Shankhayana Grhyasutra, 2.5.4-7 and 2.7.10. J. Gonda, "The Indian mantra", Oriens, Vol. 16, (Dec. 31, 1963), p. 285
  35. ^ Title of the text was Prescript for offering supreme worship by means of the Gayutree, the most sacred of the Veds. Roy, Rammohun (1832). Translation of Several Principal Books, Passages and Texts of the Veds, and of Some Controversial Works on Brahmunical Theology: and of some controversial works on Brahmunical theology.. Parbury, Allen, & co. 
  36. ^ Roy, Ram Mohan (1901). Prescript for offering supreme worship by means of the Gayutree, the most sacred of the Veds. Kuntaline press. So, at the end of the Gayutree, the utterance of the letter Om is commanded by the sacred passage cited by Goonu-Vishnoo 'A Brahman shall in every instance pronounce Om, at the beginning and at the end; for unless the letter Om precede, the desirable consequence will fail; and unless it follow, it will not be long retained.' 
  37. ^ Sivanath Sastri "History of the Brahmo Samaj" 1911/1912 1st edn. publ. Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 211 Cornwallis St. Calcutta
  38. ^ Mitra, S. S. (2001). Bengal's Renaissance. Academic Publishers. p. 71. ISBN 978-81-87504-18-4. 
  39. ^ Pruthi, Raj (2004). Arya Samaj and Indian civilization. Discovery Publishing House. p. 36. ISBN 978-81-7141-780-3. 
  40. ^ Bakhle, Janaki (2005). Two men and music: nationalism in the making of an Indian classical tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 293. ISBN 978-0-19-516610-1. 
  41. ^ Radhakrishnan 2007, p. 137
  42. ^ Pandya, Dr. Pranav (2001). Reviving the Vedic Culture of Yagya. Vedmata Gayatri Trust. pp. 25–28. 
  43. ^ Panchjanya. November 19, 2000. 
  44. ^ Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Dream Kit

References[edit]

  • L.A. Ravi Varma, "Rituals of worship", The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 4, The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta, 1956, pp. 445–463
  • J. Gonda, "The Indian mantra", Oriens, Vol. 16, (Dec. 31, 1963), pp. 244–297
  • A.B. Keith, The Veda of the Black Yajus School entitled Taittiriya Sanhita, Harvard Oriental Series Vols 18-19, Harvard, 1914