Gayatri Mantra: The celestial chant

All the mantras in the Vedas have depth of meaning, food for thought, and indication of the right direction towards attaining the ultimate goal of life 'moksha' or salvation, but among all these mantras Gayatri mantra has special significance. Just as 'praan vaayu' – life breath is an indispensable element in the body, so is Gayatri mantra the vital essence of the Vedas. The Vedas, the Puranas, the Scripture, the Epics, all have eulogized this sacred mantra. Through the ages saints, sages, seers, masters, learned scholars have all sung the glory of this mantra and by their personal experiences have explicitly expressed the potency of the mantra in transforming their inner being. This potency manifests itself through the vibrations caused while chanting the mantra.  Proper intonation of the mantra purifies the senses, soothes the nerves, energises the mind and activates the soul, enabling it to establish rapport with God in a subtle manner.

In Aitareya Brahmin it is stated
gyan, pranan trayate sa Gayatri
that which protects life breath is Gayatri.
Yagyavalka Rishi states,
Gayatri prochyate tasmad gayantram trayate yatah'
It is called Gayatri because it protects prana – life breath. In Agnipurana it is stated. 'Savitryastu param nasti' – There is nothing greater than Gayatri
Padma Purana has stated
'Gayatri Vedajanani, Gayatri lokapavani'
Gayatri is the mother of Vedas and it purifies the Universe.
Garuda Purana states
'Gayatri paramadevi, bhukti mukthi pradayani'
Gayatri is divine. It bestows worldly happiness and salvation.
Jagatguru Sri Shankaracharya said
'Geeyate tatvamana ya gayatreeti'
through which the ultimate reality can be known is Gayatri.

Lokmanya Tilak stated 'The inspiration to leave the wrong path and tread on the sublime path of truth is present in Gayatri mantra'. Swami Dayanand Saraswati wrote in 'Upadesh Manjari' – 'In Sandhyopasana one must deliberate upon the meaning of Gayatri mahamantra. By concentrating through this mantra on the superb glory of the Creator of this Universe, the impurity of he intellect is removed and capability of acting according to Dharma – righteousness, is generated. You cannot find such a depth of meaning in the prayer songs of any other sect'. Swami Vivekanand said – Gayatri is the mantra of righteous intellect. Righteous intellect enables one to find the right path and act rightly. 'Gayate iti trayate'Gayatri protects those who chant this mantra. Gayatri mantra which acts as a protective armour of the soul is known by various names.

  1. It is called Gayatri mantra because it is composed in Gayatri chanda or metre. In Gayatri chanda there are 24 letters.
  2. It is called Savitri mantra because devata or deity of the mantra is Savita.
  3. It is called guru mantra because at the time of taking into his fold and imparting education to his shishya or pupil, the guru or teacher first explains the meaning and importance of this mantra and makes him chant it.
  4. It is called mantraraj because it is supermost among all the mantras.
The importance and potency of Gayatri mantra manifests itself from the fact that it is quoted in all the four Vedas.

In Rigveda it is cited in 3/62/10

In Yajurveda it is quoted in three places – 3/35, 22/9, and 30/2. In 36/3 Bhur, Bhuvah, Swah is appended to the main mantra.

In Samaveda, the chanting is according to intonation in Rigveda.

In Atharvaveda, it is dscribed as Vedamata. 'Stuta maya varada vdamata, prachodayantam pavaani dwijanam'.

The devata or deity of Gayatri mantra is Savita and the Rishi is Vishwamitra. Gayatri is formed by the conjugation of Gaya + tra. Gaya is the power of senses and also life breath, tra is protector. Gayatri protects the intellect by empowering it to control the mind which tends to forcefully drag the senses towards material objects.

Gayatri Mantra

Aum, Bhur, Bhuvah, Swah,

Tat Savitur Varenyam,

Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi,

Dheeyoyonah Prachodayat.

Aum The primal and supreme name of God.
Bhur The giver of life.
Bhuvah The remover of pain and sorrows.
Swah The bestower of happiness.
Tat That.


Of the Creator of the Universe.
Varenyam Worth assimilating.
Bhargo devasya Luminescence, which by its radiance destroys all sins.
Dheemahi We meditate upon and assimilate.
Dheeyoyonah prachodayat May He inspire and enlighten our intellects.

O God ! Giver of life, Remover of all pain and sorrows, Bestower of happiness, the Creator of the Universe, Thou art most luminous, adorable and destroyer of sins. We meditate upon thee. May thou inspire, enlighten and guide our intellect in the right direction.

In Gayatri Mantra God is addressed as Savita. In Shatpath Brahaman 1/1/2/7 the word Savita is described as 'Savita vai devanam prasavita' – that supreme power which created the divine forces (Sun, Moon, Earth, Wind, Fire etc.) is called Savita. In Taitreeya Brahaman – 3/101/2 Savita has been described as 'Savita Prasavita, deepto, deepyan, deepyamanah' – Savita is the Supreme Creator who has created all. He is Himself luminous and radiates everyone by His radiance. AUM is the primal and complete name of the Supreme Power. The three letters in Aum describe the three Supreme qualities of God – Creation, Preservation, and Dissolution. He is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the Universe. Chanting of Aum denotes the three processes of Creation. While chanting ' A', for the sound to emanate from within, the mouth opens, symbolizing the beginning of Creation. While chanting ' U', the sound emanated from within continues to prolong with the mouth open, symbolising the continuity and preservation of the Creation and when 'M' is chanted, the mouth shuts symbolising the dissolution of the Creation. The word AUM is symbolic, descriptive, all comprehensive and manifest expression of the Supreme Power, God. This is the reason why we chant AUM at the beginning of every mantra, thinking of Him alone, concentrating on His divine qualities only, and praying to Him and only Him. He is poorna or perfect, omnipotent and Anandswarup or Blissful. His benediction radiates and spreads over all living beings, all animate and inanimate objects, just as the light of the Sun, through its luminous rays spreads in all directions and on every object.

AUM is Bhur, Bhuvah, Swah. He is Bhur, the giver of life. His energy is generated in the earth which enables a small seed to force its way out of the soil and sprout into a plant and grow into a large tree. He is in His mysterious way breathes life into the foetus in the mother's womb enabling it to develop and grow in that dark closet surrounded by water yet pulsating with a heart beat indicating the existence of life. He is the life giving force Bhur.

AUMis Bhuvah, the eliminator of pain and sorrow. Life is an intricate complexity. There are more thorns than flowers strewn on the path of life. Prick of a thorn causes pain. Pain is caused by several factors – abject poverty which deprives a person of even one square meal per day, want, which leaves a person hungering for basic necessities of life, physical disability and deformity which prevents one from leading a normal life and be dependant on others, sickness, which brings in its trail physical and mental suffering, natural calamities which cause colossal destruction, and Death, which in a fraction of a second snatches away someone who is most precious to a person. All these factors cause untold pain, misery and suffering.  In these moments of utter despair we turn to God to rescue us from the clutches of pain and give us solace. Implicit faith in Him relieves us from suffering for He is Bhuvah – the remover of pain and sorrow. AUM is Swah – bestower of happiness. Happiness comes like a ray of the morning Sun which in a moment dispels darkness and spreads light everywhere. Light kindles hope, propels a person to move forward fearlessly, goads him to realise the true meaning of life, urges him to enjoy the bounties bestowed upon him by the untiring Donor and to acquire happiness by being at peace with himself and with his fellow beings. The Source of all happiness is Swah from whom happiness springs, flows and spreads. Gayatri mantra is divided in three parts '(1) tat savitur varenyam, (2) bhargo devasya dheemahi, (3) dheeyoyonah prachodayat'.

Tat – that Supreme Power which is beyond description. All Adjectives, superlatives and epithets fail to describe Him in entirety. In one of his couplets Saint Kabir wrote that if the water of all the oceans is turned into ink and the wood of all the forests of the world is used to make pens, the whole earth is turned into paper and with all these materials if he tried to write about His greatness, even then he will fail to describe Him completely. The more one tries to describe Him, the greater he realizes that vocabularies fall short of words and speech becomes silent. Perhaps this was the reason why the sages laid down their arms saying 'neti neti na iti na iti' – this is not the end, this is not the end. There is much more which is beyond our comprehension, which has not been visualized, which is yet to be known, for there is no means available to measure the height of His greatness and the magnitude of His magnificence.

That tat or indescribable Supreme Power is Savita the Creator of the Universe. His supremacy manifests itself in His Creation which is flawless and perfect. Time cannot bind Him for He is the Time. From time immemorial to eternity the process of creation and annihilation is continuous. The most powerful and technically most developed telescopes have revealed that there are several heavenly bodies which are in different stages of formation. This process of Creation is unending. The earth on which we live is just a small part of the vast Universe. Moving on its own axis it rotates around the Sun completing one round every 24 hours.  All celestial bodies are in motion and yet there is order in their rotation. There is rotation but never collision. The Creator has bound them by His Supreme power which keeps them at particular distances. We are awestruck on beholding His superb Creation. We marvel at the sight of celestial bodies and more at the invisible power who with His invisible hand has created this Universe. That Creator of the Universe is Savita. That God who is the Creator of the Universe is varenyam – worth accepting, imbibing, and assimilating. He is varenyam because He is great. All the powers put together cannot surpass Him in greatness. His greatness lies in His divinity which is sublime, in His power which is unchallenging, in His Supermacy which is infinite and in His grandeur which is splendid. His greatness manifests itself in varied forms, shades and benedictions. He is varenyam because He is adorable. Being our divine father He provides for us, He cares for us, He protects us, He inspires us to move forward steadily on the right path, through the voice of our Conscience. He dissuades us from doing wrong, He rewards us for our virtues and punishes us for our sins. He is varenyam because He is our ultimate goal. He is our ultimate goal, our final destination. We forgot Him but He does not disown us. We disbelieve in His existence, but he does not reprimand us for our disbelief. We cry and call Him for help, He comes as our Saviour. We remember Him in sorrow and pain, He gives us solace. We pray to Him with devotion, He answers our prayers. He and He alone is 'varenyam'. In Gayatri mantra the 'varenyam' alluded to is the 'devasya bharga' of Savita. Devasya bharga is the divine Luminescence. Among all the divine powers of God, His Luminescence is most outstanding. This bharga or luminescence which totally destroys all the sins is 'varenyam' – worth imbibing. Describing the capability and capacity of the human brain, a great scholar wrote that if it is sharpened and channelised in the right direction, it can absorb and assimilate the contents of all the books in the libraries of the world. Intellect, which is the ingenious power of the brain to learn, understand and assimilate all that is learnt cannot describe or even visualise the divine luminescence of the Creator of the Universe. The luminescence of the Sun is conceivable upto a certain degree. Being the subject of the senses it can be seen partially with the naked eye. Looking directly at the Sun without the aid of sunglasses can damage the retina of the eye and can even cause blindness. Human eye cannot behold the luminescence of the Sun, how can it perceive the luminescence or bharga of Savita who is the Sun of all the Suns in the Universe? His luminescence is reflected in the Suns and in all the luminous bodies.  Its power, its radiance is beyond comprehension and out of reach of the naked eye. This bharga of Savita totally annihilates the sins. It is not by the wielding of a magical wand that such a miracle happens.  It is by dheemahi – concentrating on the divine luminescence of God, by assimilating and imbibing it, that the seeds of sinful thoughts that perpetrate in our minds, which spur us to commit sins are completely destroyed. Savita is the divine lighthouse. The light emanating from any lighthouse enables many a sailor who has drifted and gone off the course in the tempestuous water of the ocean with dark clouds thundering and spreading a black sheet across the sky, to keep away from dangerous cliffs and steer the ship in the right direction. Similarly, concentrating on the divine 'bharga', the dark shadows of sin are expelled from our mind and the vacuum that is created therein by the explusion of sins is filled with brightness. Savita is the benefactor, we are the beneficiaries. He is the Giver, we are the receivers. He is the Supreme power house. Our minds are like switches on the switch board. His light is eternally present. To receive that light all that we have to do is to switch on. His light will automatically and spontaneously flow unto us and fill our inner being with its radiance. The potency of this light is capable of destroying all sinful thoughts which continuously defile our mind and misguide our intellect. This power of destroying sins is acquired by constantly and consistently mediating upon the divine 'bharga' and in practice striving to make it an integral part of our existence. In the third part of Gayatri mantra we pray to the Supreme Power to enlighten our intellects 'dheeyoyo nah prachodayat'. The word 'hal' is very significant. It means 'our' 'Nah' transcends all geographical boundaries. 'Nah' includes 'me' also. This 'me' or 'I' makes one realise that he or she is a part of the larger congregation of humanity. While chanting the Gayatri mantra he does not pray that my intellect alone be enlightened. He prays that the intellect of all human beings be enlightened. Intellect is the discerning faculty of the mind which enables a person to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and sin. It has to be sharpened to discerning power is always there in us but its strength is reduced if it is not applied effectively, just as any weapon which lies unused for a period of time, accumulates rust, loses its sharpness and becomes blunt. In Vedas the human body is compared to a chariot whose owner is the 'Atman' or immortal soul who travels in the chariot, the intellect is the charioteer who drives the chariot, the mind is the reins, the five senses or 'indreeyan' are the horses. If the charioteer is efficient he has a firm hold on the reins which enables him to control the horses. Being in a commanding position he is able to make the horses run in the direction he wants them to run. He knows the path, he knows how to avoid pitfalls and by his acumen he enables his master to complete his journey smoothly and safely. On the other hand, the charioteer who loosens the grip on the reins, loses control on the horses who race uncontrollably ending up in disaster.

Mind is a constant and consistent flow of thoughts. It does not remain inactive even for a single moment. The first Shivasankalpa mantra of Yajurveda – 34/1 explicitly states 'Yajjagrato doormudaitti davivam, tadusuptasya tathaivaitti…..' – just as in the awakened state the mind roves to distant places, similarly it wanders in sleep also. It does not rest even for a second. This mind which generates thoughts, if it is not controlled by the intellect, is capable of causing extensive damage to any individual. It inclines more towards vice. Vice is cumulative resultant of evil thoughts.  Evil thoughts trigger evil actions and these evil actions degenerate an individual. Degeneration is the path of descent. Decent is easy, ascent is an arduous endeavour. Usually a person refers to take the easy path not realising that it will be disastrous. Disaster can be averted if his perception is clear. Clear thinking comes if a person does not submit himself to the mind but allows the intellect to control the mind. He does not allow the mind to dictate terms to him, instead he lets the intellect take the decisions. The intellect becomes the master and the mind an obedient servant. The subservient servant cannot take decisions; he only follows his master's instructions. He is like a puppet in his master's hands. The master has firm grip of the strings attached to the puppet and controlling its movements can make it dance to his tune. Similarly, the intellect which controls the mind does not permit the mind to go astray, instead it steers in the direction it considers right. The intellect can be in a commanding position only when its is enlightened. Enlightenment emanates from the realization of one's true self. The true self is not the physical body which is composed of 'panch bhootas' – five elements – agni (fire), vaayu (air), jal (water), prithvi (earth) and akassh (space). The physical body decays and perishes and the five elements return to their original source. The true self is the 'Atman' or Soul which is unborn and undying. It is immortal. In the second chapter of Bhagwat Gita, Lord Krishna explaining the immortality of the Soul to Arjun stated 'nainam chhindanti shastrani, nainam dhati pavaka, na chainam kledayantiapa, na shoshyati maruta' – weapons cannot pierce it, fire cannot burn it, water cannot make it wet, wind cannot dry it. 'Na hanyate hanyamane shareere' – it is not destroyed even when the body is destroyed. This soul is so minute that it cannot be seen but its existence cannot be denied for its existence in the body keeps it alive and its departure from the body turns the same body into a corpse. The Atman or the soul alone can perceive God. The realization of our true self is a step towards realisation of God, and enlightnment of the intellect leads us to self realisation. Enlightenment of the intellect paves the path for the liberation of the Soul from the circle of life and death. It accomplishes this by erasing from the 'chitta' kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed) moha (attachment), and ahankar (pride).  By casting them off, the hurdles on the way to self realisation are removed, the blurred vision is restored and we begin to see and realise our true self. This realisation of our true self is the right approach to realisation of God. This realisation is made possible only by an enlightened intellect. In practical life the enlightened intellect guides a person and enables him to come out unscathed from the most difficult situations. Spirituality can elevate the Soul to such heights that it can come in direct communion with God. In Gayatri mantra we pray to Savita, the Creator of the Universe to enlighten this intellect of ours so that we may see things in their true perspective, discard that which is sham, false, impure, wrong and sinful and acquire that which is substantive, true, pure, right, and virtuous.