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The Gāyatrī Mantra is a highly revered mantra, based on a Vedic Sanskrit verse from a hymn of the Rigveda (3.62.10), attributed to the rishi (sage) Viśvāmitra. The mantra is named for its vedic gāyatrī metre. As the verse can be interpreted to invoke the deva Savitr, it is often called Sāvitrī. Its recitation is traditionally preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great utterance").
The Gayatri Mantra is repeated and cited very widely in vedic literature, and praised in several well-known classical Hindu texts such as Manusmṛti, Harivamsa, and the Bhagavad Gita. The mantra is an important part of the upanayanam ceremony for young males in Hinduism, 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 oṃ(ॐ) and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ (भूर् भुवः स्वः), 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:
Recitation of Gayatri Mantra (19 seconds)
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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.
A literal translation of the Gayatri verse proper can be given as:
"May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the god:
So may he stimulate our prayers."
with this analysis of the constituent words:
- 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)
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.
The following is a list of English paraphrases or free translations.
|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."|
|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."|
|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."|
|Swami Vivekananda||1915||"We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds."|
|S. Radhakrishnan||1947, 1953|
Role in Vedic and Vedantic literature
The Savitri mantra is cited widely in Vedic texts.
- The Rgvedic stanza 3.62.10 is found a number of times in the mantra listings of the Śrauta liturgy, 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.
- In this corpus, there is only one instance of the stanza being prefixed with the three mahavyahrtis. 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.
- The stanza is also cited in a number of grhyasutras, mostly in connection with the upanayana ceremony in which it has a significant role.
- The stanza is the subject of esoteric treatment and explanation in some major Upanishads, including Mukhya Upanishads such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and the Maitrayaniya Upanishad; as well as other well-known works such as the Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana.
- The stanza is the apparent inspiration for derivative "gāyatrī" stanzas dedicated to other deities, patterned on the formula ... vidmahe ... dhīmahi ... pracodayāt", instances of which have been interpolated into some recensions of the Shatarudriya litany. Gāyatrīs of this form are also found in the Mahanarayana Upanishad.
Modern Brahmanical usage
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 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 is part of the daily ritual. While often associated with outward ritual offerings, it can be recited more inwardly and without rites, a practice generally known as japa.
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, which is sometimes called "Gayatri diksha", i.e. initiation into the Gayatri Mantra. 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.
Modern reception outside of the Brahmin caste
In 1827 Ram Mohun Roy published a dissertation on the Gayatri Mantra 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. 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.
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.
- Staal, Frits (June 1986). "The sound of religion". Numen 33 (Fasc. 1): 33–64. doi:10.1163/156852786X00084. JSTOR 3270126.
- "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.
- The Bloomfield concordance lists over 30 cross-references to other vedic texts. Bloomfield(1906), p.392b.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rinehart, Robin (2004). Contemporary Hinduism. ABC-CLIO. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-57607-905-8.
- Lipner, Julius (1994). Hindus: their religious beliefs and practices. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-415-05181-1.
- Carpenter, David Bailey; Whicher, Ian (2003). Yoga: the Indian tradition. London: Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 0-7007-1288-7.
- B. van Nooten and G. Holland, Rig Veda. A metrically restored text. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series (1994).
- Giffith, Ralph T. H. (1890). The Hymns of the Rigveda. E.J. Lazarus. p. 87.
- see M. Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, also available online
- bhū: "the place of being, space, world or universe; the earth (as constituting one of the 3 worlds); earth (as a substance), ground, soil, land, lauded property; floor, pavement; a place, spot, piece of ground." bhuvas: "the air, atmosphere." svar: "the sun, sunshine, light, lustre; bright space or sky, heaven (as distinguished from div, which is regarded as the vault above it; often 'heaven' as a paradise and as the abode of the gods and the Blest.)" (Monier-Williams)
- Jones, William (1807). The works of Sir William Jones 13. J. Stockdale and J. Walker. p. 367.
- Judge Quan, William (January, 1893). "A COMMENTARY ON THE GAYATRI". The Path.
- 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
- Vivekananda, Swami (1915). The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Advaita Ashram. p. 211.
- Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (1947). Religion and Society. p. 135.
- S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads, (1953), p. 299
- Sama Veda: 2.812; Vajasenayi Samhita (M): 3.35, 22.9, 30.2, 36.3; Taittiriya Samhita: 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52; Maitrayani Samhita: 4.10.3; Taittiriya Aranyaka: 1.11.2
- 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
- Dravida recension: 27.1; Andhra recension: 35.1; Atharva recension: 15.2
- Shankhayana grhyasutra: 2.5.12, 2.7.19; Khadira grhyasutra: 2.4.21; Apastambha grhyasutra: 4.10.9-12; Varaha grhyasutra: 5.26
- 6.3.6 in the well-known Kanva recension, numbered 6.3.11-13 in the Madhyamdina recension.
- 6.7, 6.34, albeit in a section known to be of late origin.
- Ravi Varma(1956), p.460f, Gonda(1963) p.292
- Keith, Vol I. p.lxxxi
- Maitrayani Samhita: 2.9.1; Kathaka Samhita: 17.11
- Taittiriya Aranyaka: 10.1.5-7
- Panikkar, Raimundo (2001). The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjarī. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 38. ISBN 978-81-208-1280-2.
- Panikkar, p. 42.
- Panikkar, p. 40.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.'"
- Sivanath Sastri "History of the Brahmo Samaj" 1911/1912 1st edn. publ. Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 211 Cornwallis St. Calcutta
- Mitra, S. S. (2001). Bengal's Renaissance. Academic Publishers. p. 71. ISBN 978-81-87504-18-4.
- Pruthi, Raj (2004). Arya Samaj and Indian civilization. Discovery Publishing House. p. 36. ISBN 978-81-7141-780-3.
- 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.
- Radhakrishnan 2007, p. 137
- Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Dream Kit
- 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