Gayatri Mantra: So often we hear these words, so often their quiet mystical serenity and calmness transverse through our ears – and yet, how honestly can we say that we know what these words mean?
“Om bhur bhuvah svah , Tat savitur varenyam , bhargo devasya dhimahi ,dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.”
It is indeed a shame that a majority of us completely ignore the meaning of such a divine chant, one that holds an imperative position in our culture, our spirituality, our society – blindly we all utter these words, hardly paying heed to what meaning these words could carry. Since only a very small fraction of our society possess the knowledge of the beautiful language Sanskrit that this ubiquitous chant has been worded in, perhaps a translation into the omnipresent language English we are all acquainted to today may help.
The Gayatri Mantra translated.
“The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.”
(as translated by Douglas Brooks, professor of religion at the University of Rochester.)
Perhaps we can now somewhat comprehend the beautifully poetic nature of this chant, maybe even get a vague idea of what the underlying meaning could be. But well, the meaning yet remains vague, and would escape a layman’s mind like the desert sand closed in a fist.
History of Gayatri Mantra
The Gayatri Mantra first appeared in the ancient Hindu doctrine the Rig Veda. Here we may acknowledge the antiquity of this chant – the Rig Veda is said to have been written and compiled between 1800 and 1500 BCE, implying that the doctrines and the chant itself have aged over at least three and a half millennia. It is often chanted as a potent accompaniment to the Surya Namaskara – The Sun Salute. The Upanishads in their sacred pages speak of the Gayatri Mantra as an important ritual, while the Bhagavad Gita describes it as the “poem of the divine”.
“Of hymns, I am the Brhat-sama sung to the Lord Indra,
And of poetry I am the Gayatri verse, sung daily by Brahmanas.
Of months I am November and December,
And of seasons I am flower-bearing spring.”
– Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10:35
The italicized text clearly depicts the homage paid to the Gayatri Mantra in the holy Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, where God Himself is described as the Gayatri verse of all poetry, showing clearly the importance of the Gayatri Mantra, being addressed as the ultimate mantra. Quite the reputation for the string of syllables we mindlessly utter every day, isn’t it?
The Meaning (Gayatri Mantra)
The mantra is a hymn, sung in praise to the god of the sun, Savitur. We may note that here the sun may signify the tangible sun we all know about, but it may also point towards the Divine power contained within every being that walks upon the Earth, the illumination which drives our morality and conscience. Among the sages and various interpreters of the sacred texts, the mantra is said to serve three different purposes.
The first one is to give something back to the sun, as a token of gratitude towards the life it gives and sustains on the Earth. The sun provides us with light and heat, makes it possible for all species to inhabit this planet, and receives nothing from us in return. The hymn is chanted to stay in the good graces of Savitur and keep receiving his invaluable gift of life so we may continue to exist and flourish.
The second purpose for the chanting of this Mantra is to search for wisdom and enlightenment, the long sought after state of Nirvana. The mantra may be interpreted as a plea, a request to the god of the sun to allow us to bask in his light, to meditate in his form and let us know who he is. The sun offers its light, its illumination impartially to all the inhabitants of this planet, be it a sage or a thief, an animal or a tree, sans any judgment or want from the outcome of the gift given. In Hinduism the sun god is considered to be the supreme keeper of all knowledge, the source of all wisdom prevalent among us today. Under his grace one may hope to seek the ultimate truth, the path to Nirvana and cease the endless cycle of birth, suffering in life, death and rebirth.
Finally, the hymn can also be viewed as a token of gratitude – both for the sun, the life-giver to all the species existing on our planet, and the Divine, that inner light that guides us throughout our lives and influences our decisions and actions for our well-being. Never has the sun thought to himself, what does all this flora and fauna give to me in return for all that I’ve given them? Why do I sustain them? It just keeps giving us the gift of life, eternally, impartially, without any expectations of some offering in return from us. Similarly, has the light within us ever asked us for any fuel to keep burning brightly through the shadowed paths of our lives, eliminating the darkness lurking within them and showing us the true path to salvation? The hymn thus serves as an offering, a tribute to the light within and above us, for all that they have done for us, unconditionally, impartially.
Conclusion of Gayatri Mantra
The mantra doesn’t specifically mean anything – it’s a chant, a hymn sung to the gods in their praise, with variations in contemplation as many as there are minds. That’s part of the graceful beauty of this poetical hymn: its meaning is partly to be decided upon the person who chants it. Is it a string of senseless words? Is it a praise or a prayer to the sun? Is it a poetic line representing God’s power? It can be either of these, all of these, perhaps even none of these. It is what we make it to be, what we see it as – if you see the beauty in it, beautiful it is.
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