By Swami Harshananda
Gāyatrī-mantra literally means ‘the mantra which protects the one who chants it’.
Gāyatrīmantra is the Vedic mantra which is highly prevalent and alive in prevalent times. This mantra is believed to be revealed by the well-known sage Viśvāmitra. It is the most important part of the Sandhyā ritual performed by every brāhmaṇa twice or thrice a day.
Actually, the mantra is called ‘Sāvitrī-mantra’, since it is a prayer addressed to the Supreme God Savitṛ or Savitā. It is the first mantra revealed in the famous gāyatri meter. Hence the mantra became famous as the ‘Gāyatrī mantra’.
Sections of Gāyatrī Mantra
The word ‘Gāyatrī’ is sometimes defined as the mantra which protects the one who sings or chants (gai or gāy = to sing) it. The Praṇava or Om is always added as in the case of most of the Vedic mantras in the beginning and is not counted. The Mantra has three parts:
- The vyāhṛtis
- The Gāyatrīmantra proper
- The gāyatrīśiras
‘Vyāhṛti’ means ‘uttering’. Brahmā the creator, is said to have uttered them at the beginning of creation. Hence the appellation ‘vyāhṛtis’. They mean and represent the three worlds. The vyāhṛtis are:
- Bhuh - Earth
- Bhuvah - Intervening space
- Suvah - Heaven
Sometimes, the number of these vyāhṛtis is increased from 3 to 7. It indicates the seven worlds spread from the earth to the Satyaloka or Brahmaloka. However, these vyāhṛtis are used more for counting purposes in prāṇāyāma than for japa.
The Gāyatrīmantra proper
The second part, the Sāvitri-mantra proper, is:
Tatsavitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah pracodayāt.
Translation of this mantra is as follows:
‘We meditate upon that effulgence of God, the creator. May he guide our intellects!’
The third part, the gāyatriśiras, runs thus:
Om āpo jyoti raso’mrtam brahma bhurbhuvas suvarom.
‘Om. He is water, light, flavor, ambrosia and also the three worlds’.
It refers to the water, light and other things as the manifestations of the Brahman indicated by the Praṇava. This gāyatriśiras is used only in the process of prānāyāma and not in the japa of the Gāyatrīmantra.
Usage of Gāyatrīmantra
The Gāyatrīmantra can also be used for puraścaraṇa, a particular ceremonial mode of repeating the mantra, in order to secure certain special fruits or results. The following are the usual steps involved in it:
- Daily rituals like Sandhyāvandana
- Worship of the goddess Gāyatrī
- Japa of the Gāyatrī-mantra
- Feeding of the brāhmaṇas
However, it should be done under the guidance of experts.
Reference in Samhitās
This mantra occurs in various samhitās and vedas like:
- Ṛgveda Samhitā
- Taittiriya Samhitā
- Taittiriya Aranyaka
- Vājasaneyi Samhitā
- Sāmaveda Samhitā
- Savitā means the Creator.
- Gāyatri meter is a poetical mode, comprising three lines of eight letters each.
- Homa means fire ritual.
- Tarpaṇa means offering of water ceremonially.
- Ṛgveda Samhitā 3.62.10
- Taittiriya Samhitā 184.108.40.206; 220.127.116.11
- Taittiriya Aranyaka 1.11.2
- Vājasaneyi Samhitā 3.35; 22.9; 30.2 and 36.3
- Sāmaveda Samhitā 1462
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore