Gayatri Mantra : Meaning and Universality

Chanting the Gayatri Mantra purifies the chanter. Listening to the Gayatri Mantra purifies the listener. ~The Vedas

What is Gayatri Mantra? Why is Gayatri-Mantra,the Mother of All Vedas ?

India is a land, where religious legacies and formalities are more important than mortal life. Diversity is the strength of this nation.The foundation of Hinduism lies in the rich cultural gayatri-mantraheritage that is bejeweled by gifts from ancient India. Indians believe in respecting and imbibing every facet of religion’s positivity. For Hindus, the Gayatri-Mantra, is a highly revered mantra from the Vedas, which was never authored, but is believed to have been revealed to Brahmarshi Vishvamitra by God. Gayatri Mantra is a complete prayer for the protection, nourishment and finally, liberation of humanity. Indians are made to chant this Gayatri-Mantra from a very young age. But do you know why ? Why has every Indian memorized the Gayatri-Mantra? Why ?

Who is Mother Gayatri?

Gayatri is the Mother of all scriptures (Vedas). She is present, wherever Her name is chanted. She is very powerful and bestows pure thoughts on anyone who worships Her. She is the embodiment of all Goddesses. Our very breath is Gayatri, our faith in existence is Gayatri. Gayatri has five faces, they are the five principles of life. She has nine descriptions, they are

  • Om
  • Bhur
  • Bhuvah
  • Swah
  • Tat
  • Savitur
  • Vareñyaṃ
  • Bhargo
  • Devasya

Mother Gayatri nourishes and protects every being and channelizes our senses in the right direction. Gayatri is the mother of all Vedas (Gayatri Chandhasam matha) Gayatri, however, has three names:

  • Gayatri
  • Savitri
  • Saraswathi

These three forms of Gayatri are present in everyone.

  • Gayatri represents the sense organs that we have. She is the master of all senses.
  • Savitri is the master of Prana (Life Force). Many Indians are familiar with the story of Savitri, who brought back to life her dead husband, Sathyavan. Savitri signifies truth.
  • Saraswathi is the presiding deity of speech (vaak).

The three represent purity in thought, word, and deed (thrikarana shuddhi). Although Gayatri has three names, all three are present in each of us as senses (Gayatri), the power of speech (Saraswathi), and the life force (Savitri).

The Gayatri-Mantra

AUM BHOOR BHUWAH SWAHA,
TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASAYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YO NAHA PRACHODAYAT

ॐ भूर्भुव: स्व: तत्सवितुर्वरेन्यं । भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि, धीयो यो न: प्रचोदयात् ।।

Gayatri-Mantra (the mother of all vedas), is the foremost mantra in hinduism and hindu beliefs. Its literal meaning is 

“May the God Almighty illuminate our intellect to lead us along the righteous path”.

If you intend to chant the Gayatri mantra, it is quite important that you chant it with the correct pronunciation and with the deepest integrity of your hearts. This of course, means that you need to know the correct pronunciation of the words behind the mantra.  The Sanskrit words of the Gayatri-mantra carry tremendous power when chanted correctly.

Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha 

(Om Bhoor Bhoova Swa-Ha)

Om Tat Savitur Varenyam 

(Om Tat Sa-Vidoor Va-rain-yam)

Bhargo Devasya Deemahi 

(Bhaargo They-Vas-Ya Dee-Mahi)

Deeyo Yo Naha, Prachodayaat 

(Thee-Yo Yo-Na-Ha, Pra-Cho-Da-Yaat)

The prayer form of the Gayatri takes various forms.

  • The Gayatri Mantra is known as the Savitri Mantra,if it is invoked as a salutation to the Sun.
  • The form that can be used to pray to Lord Shiva is called Rudra Gayatri.
  • One may sing Ganesha Gayatri for Lord Ganesha
  • One may sing Hanuman Gayatri for Lord Hanuman
  • One may sing Saraswati Gayatri for Goddess Saraswati.
  • One may sing Tulsi Gayatri Mantra as well.

Literal Word – Meanings

Om

The Primeval Sound

Bhur

The Physical Body/Physical Realm

Bhuvah

The Life Force/The Mental Realm

Suvah

The Soul/Spiritual Realm

Tat

That (God)

Savitur

The Sun, Creator (Source of all Life)

Vareñyam

Adore

Bhargo

Effulgence (Divine Light)

Devasya

Supreme Lord

These First Nine Words describe the Glory of God

Dhīmahi

Meditate

Dhiyo

The Intellect

Yo

May this Light

Nah

Our

Prachodayāt

Illumine/Inspire

“dhiyo yo na prachodayat” is a Prayer to God

Detailed Description of the Gayatri-Mantra

Stanzas with meaning
Meanings of the words

ॐ भूर्भुव: स्व:

Om, Bhur, Bhuvah, Svah

[The Ultimate reality, in which physical, astral and causal worlds exist]

Om: The sacred word, word of creation, first word, word of god (Equivalent to Holy Ghost in trinity) usually used at the beginning of a hymn or mantra. 

Bhur: The physical plane of existence (which is of the nature of 5 elements)

Bhuvah: The astral plane of existence (which is of the nature of subtle elements)

Svah: The causal plane or celestial plane (plane where the existence is as subtle as ideas or notions, from which creation happens).  

तत्सवितुर्वरेन्यं

Tát savitúr váreṇyaṃ

[That is the supreme reality from which creation happens, and it is the foremost]

Tat: That, God, (Equivalent to son, in the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost)

Savitúr : Source of all, creation, supreme reality, Divine illumination (of goddess Savitri or Shakti)

Váreṇyaṃ: the foremost, fit to be worshiped, deserving oblations 

भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि

Bhárgo devásya dhīmahi

[O divine effulgence we meditate upon you]

Bhárgo: Great spiritual effulgence, Radiant one, one who illumines all

Devásya: Godly, divine reality, of divinity, Virtuous and joyous

Dhīmahi: We meditate on you. Dhee=intellect. Thus Dhimahi means we focus our intellect on you

धीयो यो न: प्रचोदयात्

Dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

[propel our knowledge of the supreme reality]

Dhíyo: Intellect, intelligence, reasoning and discriminating faculty which is a tool for attaining higher wisdom

Yo: Who, the one who is being prayed, You (the supreme one) 

Nah: Our (intellect) 

Pracodáyāt: Stimulate, Propel towards the higher reality

When put together, the complete translation of the gayatri-mantra is:

“We meditate on the most adorable, desirable and enchanting luster and brilliance of our Supreme Being, our Source Energy, our Collective Consciousness….who is our creator, inspirer and source of eternal Joy.  May this warm and loving Light inspire and guide our mind and open our hearts.”

Goddess Saraswati

Gayatri, Savitri and Saraswati are latent in the entire universe. Bhur, Bhuvah and Swah in the Gayatri mantra refer to the body (materialization), the life-force (vibration) and the soul (radiation). Bhur means the earth, which is nothing but the combination of materials. This denotes the human body, which is also a combination of many materials. Bhuvah refers to the life-force, which makes the body vibrate. Swah refers to Prajnāna-shakti, which sustains the life-force. This Prajnāna-shakti is also known as constant integrated awareness which can also be termed as radiation. All three, namely, materialization, vibration and radiation are present in a man born in this universe. This is similar to the three bodies that we have.

  • The one we think we are (physical body)
  • The one others think we are (mental body)
  • The one we really are (Atma)
Various Meanings of the Words Bhuh, Bhuvah and Svah used in the Gayatri-Mantra

Bhuh

Bhuvah

Svah

Earth

Atmosphere Beyond Atmosphere

Past

Present

Future

Morning

Noon

Evening

Tamas

Rajas

Sattwa

Gross Subtle

Causal


Gayatri is described as having five faces.

  1. The first is “Om“.
  2. The second is “Bhur-bhuvah-svah“.
  3. The third is. “Tat-savitur Vareñyaṃ“.
  4. The fourth is “Bhargo Devasya Dhīmahi“.
  5. The fifth is “Dhiyo Yonah Prachodayāt“.

Gayatri represents the five prāñas (life forces) in these five faces. When one’s intelligence and intuition are developed by the recitation of this mantra, the activating deity is Gayatri. When the life-forces are protected, the guardian deity is called Savitri. When one’s speech is protected, the deity is called Saraswati. Because of the protective roles of Savithri, Saraswati and Gayatri, in relation to life, speech and intellect, Gayatri is described as ” Sarva-devatā-swarūpini ” — the embodiment of all goddesses.


Gayatri-Mantra in Yajurveda

Bhur Bhuvah Swah, Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi, Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat

भूर्भुव: स्व: तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं । भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि, धीयो यो न: प्रचोदयात्

Yajurved Adhyay 36, Mantra 3 – The actual Gayatri Mantra is given in Yajurveda and it does not have “Om” () at the beginning. There is no mention of “Om” in the mantra anywhere. By putting “Om” in front of the mantra, it actually becomes useless. As mentioned in Gita Ji Adhyay 8 Shlok 13, “Om” mantra is the sole mantra for jaap of God ‘Brahm’ and Vedas are describing the glory of Param Akshar Brahm, the Supreme/Complete God. So, this Mantra of Yajurved is praising the Supreme God, Param Akshar Brahm. 


Gayatri-Mantra as Depicted in Various Scriptures and Ancient Texts

Original Qualities of Gayatri

Goddess Gayatri

Chandogya Upanishad 3.12.1,2,5…

  1. This entire creation of this universe is Gayatri. Gayatri is speech and protects (trayati) the entire creation on this universe. Gayatri indeed is all , that exists. Speech is Gayatri; for speech sings and removes fear from mankind’s mind and soul.
  2. Gayatri is four-footed and sixfold.

Origin of Bhur Bhuvah Svah

Chandogya Upanishad 4.17.1-6 …

  1. Prajapati (the progenitor of the worlds) often brooded on the existence of three worlds. From them he extracted their essences. Fire was extracted from earth, air was extracted from the sky and the sun was extracted from heaven.
  2. He further brooded on these three deities. From them he extracted their essences as well. The Riks (Rig-veda) were extracted from fire, the Yajus-mantras (Yajur-veda) were  extracted from air, and the Saman (Sama-veda) were extracted from the sun.
  3. He brooded on the three Vedas as well. From them he extracted their existences. Bhuh was taken from the Riks, Bhuvah was taken from the Yajus-mantras and Svah were taken from the Samans.

4-6. If by any chance, sacrifice is rendered defective on account of the Riks (or Yajus or Samans), then with the Mantra ‘Bhuh Svaha’ (or ‘Bhuvah Svaha’ or ‘Svah Svaha’), the Brahman priest should offer an oblation in the fire. On verification, through the essence of the Riks (or Yajus or Samans), through the virility of the Riks (or Yajus or Samans), he makes the injury of the sacrifice look good in respect of the Riks (or Yajus or Samans).

Gayatri as the Protector

Brahadaranyaka Upanisad 5.14.4 …

The Gayatri Mantra is based on truth and universality. Truth is often based on strength. Strength is breath, and therefore dependent on the breaths we take. So, Gayatri protects (tra) the wealth (gaya) and the breath of those who chant the gayatri-mantra with earnestness and devotion. When one recites Gayatri-Mantra on behalf of someone, he protects that person’s breath too!

Four ‘foots’ of Gayatri

Brahadaranyaka Upanisad 5.14.5 …

This verse talks about the unbounded wealth constrained by the four ‘foots’ of the Gayatri Mantra. 

  • The first foot (aum bhur bhuvah svaha) is said to be equivalent to the wealth accumulated in the three worlds put together.
  • The second foot (tat savitur varenyam) is said to be equivalent to the wealth confined within the three main vedas of hindu mythology.
  • If one was to receive a gift for eternity, that would equivalent to the third foot of Gayatri Mantra (bhargo devasaya dheemahi).
  • The fourth foot (dheeyo yo nah prachodyaat) is based on the glory of sun, whose power and wealth remains unequaled and unrivaled. Hence, there is no amount of wealth that can be equal to the fourth foot of the Gayatri Mantra

Buddhist Corpus

Samyutta Nikaya 111, Majjhima Nikaya 92 and Vinaya i 246 of the Pali Canon

Buddha refers to Agnihotra as the foremost sacrifice and the Gayatri mantra as the foremost meter:

aggihuttamukhā yaññā sāvittī chandaso mukham


Universality of the Gayatri-Mantra

For every kind of power, proofs are often searched, by direct perception or by the process of inference. In the past many Men have tried to find out by what direct proof they could experience the transcendental power of Gayatri-mantra. They found the ultimate proof in the Sun. Without the Sun there will be no light at all and the entire universe will be plunged in darkness. All activities will come to a standstill. In this world hydrogen is essential for the growth of plants and of living beings. The Sun’s primary components are hydrogen and helium. Without hydrogen and helium, the world cannot survive. Hence, the ancient men concluded that the Sun was a visible proof (of the transcendental power of gayatri mantra). They also found some subtle secrets about the Sun. Hence, they adored the Sun as the principal deity in the Gayatri-mantra.

“Dhiyo yonah Prachodayāt”May the Sun illumine our intellects in the same way he sheds his effulgence.

This prayer addresses the Sun (in the Gayatri mantra). In the same way, they came to regard the Gayatri mantra as the mother of all Vedas.

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