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The essence of the Gayatri Mantra

Dr. Minati Mishra

The Gayatri Mantra, tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yonah prachodayat, originates from the verses of a hymn of the Rig Veda, 3.62.10. It is also found in Yajurveda 3:35, 36:3, 22:9 and Samaveda 1462. The mantra is written in Gayatri chhanda, consisting of three padas, or lines, each line having eight syllables. Its recitation is preceded by ‘Om’, the pranaba, and ‘Bhur Bhuvah Svah’, the mahavyahrti (great utterance), as described in Taittariya Aranyaka. In some major Upanishads like the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Swetaswetara Upanishad and Maitrayaniya Upanishad, it has become a subject of esoteric analysis and explanation.

The literal meaning of the mantra is “May we meditate on the honorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence.”

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Upasana through Gayatri is taken as one of the most important meditations, rich in its symbolic meaning, and accepted for daily worship. The etymology of the name ‘Gayatri’ is ‘gayan tatre’ which means ‘that which has saved the senses, mind and vital air’. The Upanishad identifies each of the syllables of a line of the mantra with a principle in a cosmic dimension, till all the lines cover all the dimensions of the world. The first pada of the Gayatri mantra consisting of eight letters represents the three lokas(space) , bhumi (the earth), antariksha (the atmosphere) and dwau (the heaven). The second pada of the mantra represents the three Vedas (wisdom), ruco(all the rks), yajumsi(all the yajus) and samani (all the samans).The third pada represents the three vital forces, prana, apana, and vyana which pervades all the living beings that have prana (the life force).Thus, the knower of Gayatri wins the three regions, the three Vedas (wisdom) , and the entire ranges of the universe where prana(life) prevails. There is also a fourth pada of Gayatri, the sun, which is prominently visible beyond the lokas (paroraja). The sun symbolizes the lordship over three lokas, and is the source of all light and wisdom as well as of all light and energy. The sun, Savita is the pratistha, substratum of Gayatri, for which it is also known as Savitri or ‘belonging to Savita’.Anybody who knows and meditates on the mantra shines with splendor and fame. This is the meaning of Gayatri from the exoteric point of view.

The Upanishad then diverts the view from the external to internal, from the adhidaivika to adhyatmika. The fourth pada of Gayatri rests on truth which is identified with the eye, the eye is identified with strength and strength is identified with Prana. So the fourth pada, the essence of all the worlds, wisdom and life, is linked to truth. The truth is linked with the eye as it is the means of ascertaining truth. The eye is dependent on strength and strength is dependent on prana, the vital force which is not different from the Cosmic Life, Prana. The Gayatri (Pranatmika) is thus identified with Prana or Brahman. Gayatri mantra is the medium through which one can intuitively grasp the Cosmic Light (Prana) which shines through the sun, enlivening all the lokas with knowledge (traividya) and life(prana).