The Goddess of the Vedic Hymns and Melodies, Personification of Gayatri Mantra
|Abode||Satyaloka or Kailash|
|Festivals||Gayatri Jayanti, Saraswati puja|
Gayatri (Sanskrit: गायत्री, IAST:gāyatrī) is the personified form of popular Gayatri Mantra, a hymn from Vedic texts. She is also known as Savitri and Vedamata (mother of vedas). Gayatri is often associated with Savitr, a solar deity in the vedas. According to many texts like Skanda Purana, Gayatri is another name of Saraswati or her form and is the consort of Lord Brahma. However, Saivite texts identify Mahagayatri as the consort of Shiva, in his highest form of Sadasiva with five heads and ten hands
Gayatri was the name initially applied to a metre of the Rig Veda consisting of 24 syllables. In particular, it refers to the Gayatri Mantra and the Goddess Gāyatrī as that mantra personified. The Gayatri mantra composed in this triplet form is the most famous. Most of the scholars identify Gayatri as the feminine form of Gayatra, another name of the Vedic Solar god which is also one of the synonyms of Savitri and Savitr. However, the transition period in which the mantra began to assume personification as a deity is still unknown.According to the puranas Gayatri Maa was a Gurjar girl who helped Brahma in a Yajna performed in Pushkar. There are different sources available to construct her development through ages.
Description of Gayatri
In Mahanarayana Upanishad[note 1]. of Krishna Yajurveda, Gayatri is described as white-colored (Sanskrit: श्वेतवर्णा, śvetavarṇā), having the gotra of sage viswamitra (Sanskrit: सान्ख्यायनस गोत्रा, sānkhyāyanasa gotrā) , composed of 24 letters (Sanskrit: चतुर्विंशत्यक्षरा, caturviṃśatyakṣarā), three-footed (Sanskrit: त्रिपदा, tripadā), six-bellied (Sanskrit: षट्कुक्षिः, ṣaṭkukṣiḥ), five-headed (Sanskrit: पञ्चशीर्षः, pañcaśīrṣaḥ) and the one used in Upanayana of dvijas (Sanskrit: उपनयने विनियोगः, upanayane viniyogaḥ).
As mentioned in Taittiriya Sandhya Bhashyam, the three feet of Gayatri is supposed to represent the first 3 vedas (Ṛk, Yajus, Sāma). The six bellies are supposed to represent 4 cardinal directions, along with the two more directions, Ūrdhva (Zenith) and Adhara (Nadir). The five heads represent 5 among the Vedangas, namely, vyākaraṇa, śikṣā, kalpa, nirukta and jyotiṣa.
By citing from Gayatri Tantra, the text Mantramahārṇava gives the significance of Gayatri's 24 letters and its representation that are given below.
24 Letters of Gayatri mantra
Gayatri mantra has 24 letters. That is why it called as gāyatrī caturviṃśatyakṣarā (Sanskrit: गायत्री चतुर्विंशत्यक्षरा). They are 1.tat, 2.sa, 3.vi, 4.tur, 5.va, 6.re, 7.ṇi, 8.yaṃ, 9.bhar, 10,go, 11.de, 12.va, 13.sya, 14.dhī, 15.ma, 16.hi, 17.dhi, 18.yo, 19.yo, 20.naḥ, 21.pra, 22.co 23.da and 24.yāt.
When counting the letters, the word vareṇyam is treated as vareṇiyam. But, while chanting, it ought to be chanted as vareṇyam only.
The 24 Letters of Gayatri mantra represents 24 Vedic Rishis. They are: 1.vāmadeva, 2.atri, 3.vaśiṣṭha, 4.śukra, 5.kaṇva, 6.parāśara, 7.viśvāmitra, 8.kapila, 9.śaunaka, 10.yājñavalkya, 11.bharadwāja, 12.jamadagni, 13.gautama, 14.mudgala, 15.vyāsa, 16.lomasa, 17.agastya, 18.kauśika, 19.vatsa, 20.pulastya, 21.manḍūka, 22.dūrvāsa, 23.nārada, and 24.kaśyapa.
The 24 Letters of Gayatri mantra represents 24 Vedic Meters (i.e. Chandas). They are: 1.gāyatri, 2.uṣnik, 3.anuṣṭup, 4.bṛhati, 5.paṃkti, 6.triṣtup, 7.jagati, 8.atijagati, 9.śakvari, 10.atiśakvari, 11.dhṛti, 12.atidhṛti, 13.virāṭ, 14.prastārapaṃkti, 15.kṛti, 16.prakṛti, 17.akṛti, 18.vikṛti, 19.saṃskṛti, 20.akṣarapaṃkti, 21.bhūḥ, 22.bhuvaḥ, 23.swaḥ, 24.jyotiṣmati.
The 24 Letters of Gayatri mantra represents 24 Vedic Devatas. They are: 1.agni, 2.prajāpati, 3.soma, 4.īśāna, 5.savitā, 6. āditya, 7.bṛhaspati, 8. maitrāvaruṇa 9.bhaga, 10.āryamaan, 11.gaṇeśa, 12.tvaṣṭā, 13.pūṣā, 14. indrāgni, 15.vāyu, 16.vāmadeva, 17.maitrāvaruṇi 18. viśvedevā, 19. mātṛkā, 20.viṣṇu, 21.vasu, 22. rudra, 23.kubera and 24.aśvins
The Padmapurana (in Sṛṣṭi Kānḍa) mentions 24 Adhi-Devatas (presiding deities) for each of the 24 letters of Gayatri mantra. They are 1.agni, 2.vāyu, 3.sūrya, 4.ākāśa, 5.yama, 6.varuṇa, 7.bṛhaspati, 8.parjanya, 9.indra, 10.gandharva, 11.pūṣā, 12. mitra, 13.tvaṣṭā, 14.vasu, 15.marut, 16.soma, 17.āṅgiras, 18.viśvedevā, 19.aśvins, 20.prajāpati, 21.akṣara (tattva), 22.rudra, 23.brahma and 24.viṣṇu.
The Yoga yājñavalkya mentions 24 Devatas for each of the 24 letters of Gayatri mantra. They are 1.agni, 2.vāyu, 3.sūrya, 4.īśāna, 5.āditya, 6.āṅgiras, 7.pitri, 8.bharga, 9.āryamān, 10.gandharva, 11.pūṣā, 12. maitrāvaruṇa, 13.tvaṣṭā, 14.vasu, 15.vāmadeva, 16.maitrāvaruṇi , 17.jñeya, 18.viśvedevā, 19.viṣṇu, 20.prajāpati, 21.sarvadevā, 22.kubera, 23.aśvins and 24.brahma.
24 Śaktis of Gayatri
The 24 Letters of Gayatri mantra represents 24 Śaktis. They are: 1.vāmadevī, 2.priyā, 3.satyā, 4.viśwabhadrā,[note 2] 5.vilāsinī,[note 3] 6.prabhāvatī, 7.jayā, 8.śantā, 9.kāntā, 10.durgā, 11.saraswatī, 12.vidrumā, 13.viśālesā,[note 4] 14.vyāpinī, 15.vimalā, 16.tamopahārini, 17.sūkṣmā, 18.viśwayoni 19.jayā,[note 5] 20.vaśā, 21.padmālayā, 22.parāśobhā,[note 6] 23.bhadrā, and 24. tripadā.
The 24 Letters of Gayatri mantra represents 24 Tattvas. They are
- Five Bhūtas, namely, pṛthivi (Earth), apas (Water), agni (Fire), vāyu (Air) and ākāśa (Sky).
- Five Tanmātras, namely, gandha (smell), rasa (taste), rūpa (form), sparśa (touch) and śabda (sound).
- Five Karmendriyas (i.e. motor organs), namely, upasthā (sexual organ), pāyu (anus), pāda (leg), pāni (hand) and vāk (mouth).
- Five Jñānendriyas (i.e. sense organs), namely, ghrāna (nose), jihvā (tongue), caksus (eye), tvak (skin) and śrotra (ear).
- Four Vāyus (air), namely, Prāṇa, Apāna, Vyāna and Samāna
However, in classical definition of 24 tattvas, the last four are the antahkaranas (i.e. sense organs), namely, manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), citta (state of mind) and ahaṅkāra (ego).
The Mudras of Gayatri
The Gayatri mantra represents some mahāmudras (great hand gestures). They are 1. sumukha,[note 7] 2. sampuṭa, 3. vitata, 4. visṛta, 5. dvimukha, 6. trimukha, 7. catuḥ, 8. pañcamukha, 9. ṣaṇmukha, 10. adhomukha, 11. vyāpakāñjali, 12. śakaṭa, 13. yamapāśa, 14. grathita, 15. sanmukhonmukha, 16. vilamba,[note 8] 17. muṣtika, 18. matsya, 19. kūrmah 20. varāhaka, 21. simhākrānta, 22. mahākrānta, 24. mudgara, 24. pallava, 25. triśūla, 26. yoni, 27. surabhi, 28. akṣamāla, 29. linga, 30. ambuja.[clarification needed]
Since, the first 24 are used before Gayatri Japa, they are traditionally referred as Pūrva Mudras.
In some puranas, Gayatri is said to be the other names of Sarasvati, the wife of Brahma. According to Matsya Purana, Brahma's left half emerged as a female, who is celebrated under the names of Sarasvati, Savitri and Gayatri. In Kurma Purana, Gautama rishi was blessed by Goddess Gayatri and able to eliminate the obstacles he faced in his life. Skanda Purana tells that Gayatri is the wife of Brahma making her a form of Saraswati
Few Puranic scriptures say that Gayatri is distinct from Sarawati and is married to Brahma. Gayatri is a Gurjar girl (cow shepherd) who helps Brahma in Yajna in Pushkar. According Brahma's first wife is Savitri and Gayatri is the second. The story continues that Savitri became angry knowing the wedding of Gayatri with Brahma and cursed all the gods and goddesses engaged in the event. However, the Padma Purana narrates the same story with little modification. After Savitri was appeased by Brahma, Vishnu and Lakshmi, She accepted Gayatri as her sister happily.
Gayatri further developed into a fierce goddess who could even slay a demon. According to Varaha Purana and Mahabharata, Goddess Gayatri slew the demon Vetrasura, the son of Vritra and river Vetravati, on a Navami day.
Saivism sees Gayatri as the consort of eternal blissful absolute Parashiva who manifests in the form of sun, Sivasurya. He is omnipotent omnipresent Sadasiva, whose name is Bharga. Sadashiva's consort Manonmani is non other than the mantra form of Gayatri who possess the power of her husband Bharga, within her. The popular form of Gayatri with five heads and ten arms was initially found in Saivite iconographies of Manonmani in North India beginning from 10th century CE. Saivite view on Gayatri seems a later development from the combination of vedic practice of Gayatri reverence and its Saivite inclusion as a manifestation of Shakti. This could be the root for the terrific aspect of Gayatri explained in the later puranas as the killer of demon Vetra identifying her with Adi Parashakti.
Earlier bronze images of Gayatri is appeared in the Himachal Pradesh, where she was revered as the consort of Sadasiva. Some of these forms are terrific in nature. One of the bronze images of Gayatri dated back to 10th c. CE was obtained from Champa region and now preserved in Delhi museum. It appears with five faces and ten hands holding, sword, lotus, trident, disc, skull, Varada in left and goad, noose, a manuscript, the jar of ambrosia and Abhaya in right. She resides in the mount Nandi. Modern depictions illustrates swan as her mount. Old iconography of Shaivite Manonmani Gayatri was misunderstood as the same of Brahmanic Gayatri later and Fine paintings of Gayatri appears from 18th century CE in which she is often portrayed with third eye, crescent moon and five heads with five different colors same like Sadasiva.
The well known form of Gayatri (Parvati) with the Saivite influence will appear having five heads (Mukta, Vidruma, Hema, Neela, Dhavala) with the ten eyes looking in eight directions plus the earth and sky, and ten arms holding various types of weapons attributed to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Another recent depiction is accompanied by a white swan holding a book to portray knowledge in one hand and a cure in the other, as the Goddess of education. She is even depicted four armed mounted on hansa holding weapons symbolizing Tridev. Vedas of Brahma, Discus of Vishnu and trident of Shiva and Varad mudra. She also has an fearsome three-faced depiction; two faces look like that of goddess Kali and one clam one and holding weapons like Mahakali goddess. She is shown mounted on lotus holding lotus, noose, trident, Scimitar and vard mudra in right whereas conch, discus, bow-arrow, goad and abhay mudra in left.
Forms of Maa Gayatri
1. Brahmi or Brahmani: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva: creation, development, transformation. In creation or production diligence is most necessary and important, as by diligence on contributes to the welfare of others and becomes the object of their thankfulness. These are the prime attributes of Mother Brahmi by whose Shakti Brahma becomes capable of producing the cosmos.
2. Vedamata: In this form Gayatri is the mother of the Vedas, as the revelations proceeding from 'Om Bhurbhuvasvah' become the Rigveda; from 'tatsaviturvarenyam' the principles of the esoteric knowledge were rendered in the yajurveda; from 'bhargodevasya dhimahi' came the knowledge of the functioning of the universe contained in the samaveda; and from dhiyo yonah prachodaya the secrets of cosmic and divine power were embodied as the athar-vaveda. For this reason Gayatri is referred to in the scriptures as vedamata, or the mother of the Vedas.
3. Devamata: Gayatri is the celestial mother too, i.e., the bestower of divinity, or of the divine beings. The bestower of divinity, or of the divine beings. The divine beings are divine because they are generous and charitable. The worship of Gayatri as devemata takes us up to the level of divinity by instilling in us the qualities of charity, equanimity, and of right conduct.
4. Mandakini aka Ganga : Seers consider the sacred Ganga as the visible representation of the subtle and invisible Gayatri. Ganga can cleanse the earthly sins, and Gayatri cuts the bondage of karma. For this reason Ganga and Gayatri as taken to be equally auspicious. Ganga as the earthly representative of Gayatri is called Mandakini (the calmly flowing one) who removes our genuinely repented for sins.
5. Ajapa: In the sadhana of Gayatri a state of grace is reached where the devotee attains a self-maintained contact with god. This state of divine union is called Ajapa (above prayer) state. As it is the power of Gayatri which leads one's soul to this state, she has also been named as Ajapa.
6. & 7. Riddhi and Siddhi: Of the twenty-four deities of Gayatri the lord Ganesa is one. Ganesa is the deity of intellect giving it the capacity of discrimination. Ganesa has two female consort divinities, viz., Riddhi and Siddhi. Riddhi is the giver and the substance of the spiritual attainments; and siddhi is the giver of material and physical endowments. And both of them are the powers of Gayatri, one operating internally and the other externally.
8. Rtambhara: God's greatest gift to man is full cosmic consciousness or perception which when received removes all the bonds of maya. This full cosmic consciousness is Rtambhara Prajna; and Gayatri in her cosmic form is Rtambhara and this realization is self-realisation or Mukti.
9. Savitri: The primordial shakti has two flows, one immanent and transcendental. I.e., spiritual; and the other manifest, i.e. phenomenal and physical. The spiritual flow is called Gayatri, while the physical is named as Savitri. Savitri is seen as five-faced because the perceptible universe is constituted of five fundamental energy-substances or states. Of all the innumerable forms of Gayatri, Savitri is nearest to us and also the most powerful; and the inter-relationship of Savitri and Gayatri is so close that they can be said to be one and the same.
10. Saraswati: Awareness has two polar attributes - the perceiving consciousness and the discriminatory intellect. Gayatri is the motivating force of the perceiving consciousness while the discriminatory intellect functions by the grace of Saraswati. Man is nothing more than a brute without right discrimination. Therefore the grace of Saraswati is necessary for us to sustain our intelligent humanity.
11. Payasvini: Gayatri as the provider of the elixir of immortality in the form of self-realisation is named Payasvini. Cow because she provides us generously with life-giving milk is taken to be the representative of Gayatri from the animal kingdom, and therefore she is held sacred. She is therefore called Payasvini (provider of milk). Cow is also an example to us of benevolence, charity and self-sacrifice, which are the self-same qualities of personal conduct required to realize the grace of Gayatri.
12. Pranagni: Gayatri is also Pranagni, or the vital fire permeating our bodied self. When Gayatri is realized in this form our weaknesses and deficiencies are consumed by Pranagni and our divine attributes become manifest.
13. Treyta or Tripura: Gayatri reigns over the three spheres of existence and in which capacity she is known as Tripura. A balanced combination of faith, knowledge and action are necessary for any beneficent human activity, and they are also necessary for realizing the triple attributes of sat-chit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss) of the all-containing Brahman. By the grace of Gayatri this state of realization is reached.
Festivals - Gayatri Jayanti
This holiday recognizes the day when Maa Adishakti took form of Gayatri to kill Vetrasur. It has 2 dates both are believed in different areas of India one is on Shravan Purnima and other on Shukla Paksha Ekadashi during Jyeshtha lunar month and it is usually observed on the next day of Ganga Dussehra.
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- some texts refer it as viśwā.
- some texts refer it as bhadravilāsinī.
- some texts refer it as two; viśālā and īsā.
- some texts refer it as jayāvahā.
- some texts refer it as padmaśobhā.
- some texts refer it as sanmukha
- some texts refer it as pralamba
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