The Gāyatrī Mantra is a highly revered mantra, based on a Vedic Sanskrit verse from a hymn of the Rigveda (3.62.10), attributed to the rishi Viśvāmitra. The mantra is named for its vedic gāyatrī metre. As the verse invokes the deva Savitr, it is also called Sāvitrī. Its recitation is traditionally preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great utterance").
The Gayatri Mantra is repeated and cited very widely in vedic literature, and praised in several well-known classical Hindu texts such as Manusmṛti, Harivamsa, and the Bhagavad Gita. The mantra is an important part of the upanayanam ceremony for young males in Hinduism, and has long been recited by Brahmin males 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.
Recitation of the Gyatri Mantra is preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great 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:
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 vareṇyaṃ with a tetra-syllabic vareṇiyaṃ.
A literal translation of the Gayatri verse proper can be given as:
"May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the god:
So may he stimulate our prayers."
- —The Hymns of the Rigveda (1896), Ralph T.H. Griffith
- dhīmahi "may we attain" (1st person plural middle optative of dhā- 'set, bring, fix' etc.)
- tat vareṇiyam bharghas '"that excellent glory" (accusatives of tad (pronoun), varenya- 'desirable, excellent' and bhargas- 'radiance, lustre, splendour, glory')
- savitur devasya "of savitar the god" (genitives of savitar-, 'stimulator, rouser; name of a sun-deity' and deva- 'god, deity')
- yaḥ prachodayat "who may stimulate" (nominative singular of relative pronoun yad-, causative 3rd person of pra-cud- 'set in motion, drive on, urge, impel')
- dhiyaḥ naḥ "our prayers" (accusative plural of dhi- 'thought, meditation, devotion, prayer' and naḥ enclitic personal pronoun)
The literal translation of the Mahāvyāhṛti formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ prefixed to the verse is "earth, air, heaven". These are the names of the first three of the seven vyāhṛti or higher worlds of Hindu cosmology.
Notable paraphrases or free translations include:
- a paraphrase by Sir William Jones:
"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."
- A free translation by Swami Vivekananda:
"We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds."
- Two interpretations by S. Radhakrishnan:
- The Arya Samaj interpretation:
"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."
- The Brahmo Samaj interpretation:
"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."
In traditional Brahmin practice the Gayatri Mantra is addressed to God as the divine life-giver, symbolized by Savitr (the sun), and is most often recited at sunrise and sunset. It is believed by practitioners that reciting the mantra bestows wisdom and enlightenment, through the vehicle of the Sun (Savitr), who represents the source and inspiration of the universe. Recitation at sunrise every morning is part of the daily ritual. While often associated with outward ritual offerings, it can be recited more inwardly and without rites, a practice generally known as japa.
Imparting the Sāvitrī mantra to young Hindu males is an important part of the traditional upanayanam ceremony, which marks the beginning of study of the Vedas. S. Radhakrishnan has 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 the Sāvitrī imparted only to Brahmin boys. Other Sāvitrī verses are used in the upanayanam ceremony for non-Brahmins: RV.1.35.2, in the Trishtubh meter, for a Kshatriya; and, either RV.1.35.9 or RV.4.40.5, in the Jagati meter, for a Vaishya.
In 1827 Ram Mohun 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 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 the sacred thread ceremony 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.
- Staal, Frits (June 1986). "The sound of religion". Numen 33 (Fasc. 1): 33-64. http://www.jstor.org/pss/3270126.
- "Designated as sāvitrī, or gāyatrī, throughout Vedic and Sanskrit literature". M. Bloomfield, A Vedic Concordance, Harvard Oriental Series Vol. 10, Cambridge Mass. 1906, p.392b.
- The Bloomfield concordance lists over 30 cross-references to other vedic texts. Blooomfield(1906), p.392b.
- Manusmṛti states that "there is nothing greater than the Savitri (Gayatri) Mantra." (Manu II, 83). Dutt, Manmatha Nath (1906-1909). The Dharma Shastra Or the Hindu Law Codes Volume 3. Calcutta: Elysium Press. pp. 51. http://books.google.com/books?id=cjtbJPYZRuUC&pg=PA51.
- The Harivamsa calls it the "mother of the Vedas". Griffith, Ralph T. H.; T. B. Griffith, Paul Tice (2003). The Vedas: With Illustrative Extracts. The Book Tree. pp. 15–16. ISBN 9781585092239. http://books.google.com/books?id=BtpcpsZEiYMC&pg=PA15.
- In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, "Of all poetry, I am the Gayatri" (BG.10.35). Rahman, M. M. (2006). Encyclopaedia of Histography. Anmol Publications. pp. 300. ISBN 9788126123056. http://books.google.com/books?id=CPXCBIDYs6kC&pg=PA300.
- An alternative translation by S.Radhakrishnan interprets BG.10.35 as "Likewise of hymns (I am) Brhtsaman, of metres (I am) gayatri". S.Radhakrishnan, The Bhagvadgita, 7th Indian edn 1982, published by Blackie & Son, p.266.
- Rinehart, Robin (2004). Contemporary Hinduism. ABC-CLIO. p. 127. ISBN 9781576079058. http://books.google.com/books?id=hMPYnfS_R90C&pg=PA127.
- Lipner, Julius (1994). Hindus: their religious beliefs and practices. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 9780415051811. http://books.google.com/books?id=HDMLYkIOoWYC&pg=PA53.
- Carpenter, David Bailey; Whicher, Ian (2003). Yoga: the Indian tradition. London: Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 0-7007-1288-7. http://books.google.com/books?id=HlPta3a38P0C&pg=PA31&.
- B. van Nooten and G. Holland, Rig Veda. A metrically restored text. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series (1994).
- Giffith, Ralph T. H. (1890). The Hymns of the Rigveda. E.J. Lazarus. pp. 87. http://books.google.com/books?id=gZURAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA87.
- bhū: "the place of being, space, world or universe; the earth (as constituting one of the 3 worlds); earth (as a substance), ground, soil, land, lauded property; floor, pavement; a place, spot, piece of ground." bhuvas: "the air, atmosphere." svar: "the sun, sunshine, light, lustre; bright space or sky, heaven (as distinguished from div, which is regarded as the vault above it; often 'heaven' as a paradise and as the abode of the gods and the Blest.)" (Monier-Williams)
- Jones, William (1807). The works of Sir William Jones. 13. J. Stockdale and J. Walker. pp. 367. http://books.google.com/books?id=w9QMAAAAYAAJ&.
- Vivekananda, Swami (1915). The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Advaita Ashram. pp. 211. http://books.google.com/books?id=030TAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA211.
- Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (2007). Religion and Society. READ Books. p. 135. ISBN 9781406748956. http://books.google.com/books?id=SFNE0x5HFLMC&pg=PA135.
- S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads, New Delhi, Indus, 1996, p.299
- "Gayatri Mantra – The celestial chant". Arya Samaj Bangalore. http://www.aryasamajbangalore.com/GayatriMantra.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
- 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
- Panikkar, Raimundo (2001). The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjarī. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.. pp. 38. ISBN 9788120812802. http://books.google.com/books?id=M01LSxaneasC&pg=PA38.
- Panikkar, p. 42.
- Panikkar, p. 40.
- Wayman, Alex (1965). "Climactic Times in Indian Mythology and Religion". History of Religions (The University of Chicago Press) 4 (2): 315. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1061961. Retrieved 2009-07-19.
- 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.. http://books.google.com/books?id=_1OWRLJfSoMC&pg=PA109.
- Roy, Ram Mohan (1901). Prescript for offering supreme worship by means of the Gayutree, the most sacred of the Veds. Kuntaline press. http://www.archive.org/stream/theenglishworks01rammuoft/theenglishworks01rammuoft_djvu.txt. "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
- Mitra, S. S. (2001). Bengal's Renaissance. Academic Publishers. pp. 71. ISBN 9788187504184. http://books.google.com/books?id=WPFeBY9YEAQC&pg=PA71.
- Pruthi, Raj (2004). Arya Samaj and Indian civilization. Discovery Publishing House. pp. 36. ISBN 9788171417803. http://books.google.com/books?id=8zrxlH1Tl24C&pg=PA36.
- Bakhle, Janaki (2005). Two men and music: nationalism in the making of an Indian classical tradition. Oxford University Press. pp. 293. ISBN 9780195166101. http://books.google.com/books?id=daPoKY6a-p0C&pg=PA293.
- Radhakrishnan 2007, p. 137