By Swami Harshananda
It is known as ‘Gāyatrī’ since it protects one who chants it correctly as per the rules of Vedic intonation. This is the etymological definition of the word.
It is also called ‘Sāvitrimantra’ since it is a prayer addressed to Savitṛ or God the creator. The Sun is also called Savitṛ or Savitā, because it is due to him or due to his power of God in him that the whole world is able to be alive.
Origin of Mantra
This mantra was revealed for the first time to the sage Viśvāmitra in a new meter called ‘Gāyatrī’. Hence the mantra itself became famous as ‘Gāyatrīmantra’. It is also called ‘Sāvitrī-mantra’ since it concerns the deity Savitṛ.
The Mantra and Its Meaning
The first part of the mantra comprises of the three vyāhṛtis:
Om bhur-bhuvas-suvah (Orin, bhuh, bhuvah, suvah)
When the Gāyatrī is used for prāṇāyāma, the number of vyāhṛtis increases from 3 to 7. Literally ‘vyāhṛti’ means ‘uttering’. Brahmā the creator, is said to have uttered these at the beginning of creation, hence it is given the appellation ‘vyāhṛtis’.
The second part is the Sāvitrīmantra:
tat savitur-varenyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyo yo nah pracodayāt II
Sometimes, a third part called ‘Gāyatrī-śiras’ is also added. Its use also is in the process of prāṇāyāma. It is:
Om āpo jyoti raso’mrtam brahma bhurbhuvassuvarom II
However, in the mantra used for japa, only the three vyāhṛtis and the Sāvitrīmantra are utilized.
A general summary of the mantra is:
We meditate upon the divine effulgence of Savitā signified by the Praṇava or Oṅkāra May he impel our intellects in the right direction.
Mode of Chanting Mantra
Whatever we want to achieve in our life, the first and foremost requirement is that our intellect, our understanding, must be in an excellent form. Repetition of the Gāyatrīmantra with faith and reverence will help not only in cleansing the mind but also in achieving greater concentration. The mode and method of its repetition must be learnt from a competent teacher.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore