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The Gāyatrī Mantra is a highly revered mantra from the Vedas. Like all Vedic mantras, the Gayatri mantra is considered not to have an author, and like all other Vedic mantras, is believed to have been revealed to Brahmarshi Vishvamitra. It is a verse from a sukta of the Rigveda (Mandala 3.62.10). Gāyatrī is the name of the Vedic meter in which the verse is composed. As the verse can be interpreted to invoke Savitr, it is also called the Sāvitrī mantra. Its recitation is traditionally preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti, or "great (mystical) utterance".
The Gayatri mantra is repeated and cited very widely in Vedic literature and praised in several well-known classical Hindu texts such as the Manusmṛti ("there is nothing greater than the Savitri (Gayatri) Mantra.", Manu II, 83), the Harivamsa, and the Bhagavad Gita. The mantra is an important part of the upanayana ceremony for young males in Hinduism, and has long been recited by dvija men 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.
- 1 The Mantra
- 2 Meaning
- 3 Role in Vedic and Vedantic literature
- 4 Usage
- 5 Modern reception outside of the Brahmin caste
- 6 References
Recitation of the Gayatri mantra is preceded by oṃ (ॐ) 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. Following the mahāvyāhṛti is then the mantra proper, the verse RV 3.62.10:
- ओम भूर्भुवः॒ स्वः ।
- भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि ।
- धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ॥
- om bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
- tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
- bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
- dhíyo yó naḥ prachodáyāt
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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 translation of the Gayatri verse by Ralph T. H. Griffith is as follows:
We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our
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
|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."||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."||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."||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||"We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds."||Like Griffith, takes the mantra as made up of two different sentences unlike Sayana or Sir William Jones|
|S. Radhakrishnan||1947, 1953||Like Griffith, takes the mantra as made up of two different sentences unlike Sayana or Sir William Jones|
Role in Vedic and Vedantic literature
The Gayatri 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, 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. 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 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.
Imparting the Gayatri mantra to young Hindu men is an important part of the traditional upanayana ceremony, which marks the beginning of study of the Vedas. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan 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 imparted only to Brahmin boys. Other Gayatri verses are used in the upanayana ceremony for non-Brahmins: RV.1.35.2, in the tristubh 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 Mohan 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 the 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 upanayana 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. Various Gayatri yajñas organised by All World Gayatri Pariwar at small and large scales in late twentieth century also helped spread Gayatri mantra to the mass.
A version of the Gayatri mantra is featured in the opening theme song of the TV series Battlestar Galactica (2004). 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.
- Staal, Frits (June 1986). "The sound of religion". Numen 33 (Fasc. 1): 33–64. doi:10.1163/156852786X00084. JSTOR 3270126.
- Bloomfield 1906, p. 392b.
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- B. van Nooten and G. Holland, Rig Veda. A metrically restored text. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series (1994).
- 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: 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168, 22.214.171.124; 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
- 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
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- Radhakrishnan 2007, p. 137
- Pandya, Dr. Pranav (2001). Reviving the Vedic Culture of Yagya. Vedmata Gayatri Trust. pp. 25–28.
- Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Dream Kit
- Bloomfield, Maurice (1906). A Vedic Concordance: Being an Alphabetic Index to Every Line of Every Stanza of the Published Vedic Literature and to the Liturgical Formulas Thereof; that Is, an Index to the Vedic Mantras, Together with an Account of Their Variations in the Different Vedic Books. Harvard university.
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- Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya, , "Super Science of Gayatri" Yugantar Chetna Press, Shantikunj, Haridwar, 2000