Revealing the secret behind Gayatri mantra


Which is the oldest religion in the world? Nobody knows. Ask the foremost historian or the greatest saint but they will not have an answer. We know so little about the earliest humans who inhabited our planet. But we can take an educated guess about the first god. Keep aside for a moment the view that god created the universe and just consider how humans visualise god. Most probably, the first god that humans recognised and worshipped was the sun.

There are many reasons for this. The sun is the most magnificent object in nature. The sun gives us light and energy. Without the sun, there would be no life on earth. Our existence depends on the sun. Also, the sun was considered the master of time. The sun creates days and nights, thus making us grow old. So the ancient people treated the sun as a god. Most of the ancient cultures that we still know about have a reference to the sun god.

From the limited information available about our past, we know that Hinduism is the oldest religion (or “way of life”, as some people prefer to call it) and in this tradition, the Rigveda Samhita is the oldest work. The Rigveda Samhita is divided into ten sections (known as maṇḍalas) and each section has several poems (called sūktas). Each poem is further made up of verses (known as ṛks). Perhaps the most famous verse from the Rigveda is the savitā gāyatrī mantra.

The Gayatri mantra is a 6,000-year-old verse recited by millions of Hindus every day all over the world. This mantra – Rigveda Samhita 3.62.10 – was composed by sage Vishwamitra. He composed most of the poems in the third section of the Rigveda.

This verse is called the Gayatri mantra possibly because it is composed in the poetic meter called Gayatri. A verse written in this poetic meter should have three lines and each line must have eight syllables. It is interesting to note that the etymology of the word Gayatri is gāyantaṃ trāyate iti gāyatrī, “Gayatri is that which protects the person who recites it.”

Therefore, although there are thousands of verses composed in the Gayatri metre, when we say Gayatri mantra, it specifically denotes this verse:

tat saviturvareṇyam |

bhargo devasya dhīmahi |

dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt ||

In Sanskrit, every word has several meanings. So it’s important for us to understand the context in which a certain word is used. Let us take a look at what each word in this mantra means:

tat = that

savituḥ = the sun; literalley “one who permits”, “one who stimulates”, “one who vivifies”

vareṇyam = best, excellent, worthy of the highest respect

bhargaḥ = light, lustre, radiance

devasya = of god, of the lord, of the deity

dhīmahi = (we) meditate, contemplate

dhiyaḥ = intellect, wisdom, mind, consciousness

yaḥ = the one who, he who

naḥ = to us, for us

pracodayāt = (one who) inspires, motivates, stimulates, empowers

(An astute observer will find that the first line has only seven syllables instead of eight: tat-sa-vi-tu-rva-re-ṇyam; therefore while recitation, we add the syllable om in the beginning or we say tat-sa-vi-tu-rva-re-ṇi-yam).

Let us try to arrange this in the form of a sentence. One who (yaḥ) stimulates (pracodayāt) our (naḥ) mind (dhiyaḥ) – we meditate (dhīmahi) on that (tat) excellent (vareṇyaṃ) radiance (bhargaḥ) of the lord (devasya), the sun (savituḥ).

A simple English translation would give us:

We meditate on

the wonderful radiance of the sun god,

who stimulates our mind.

The same Gayatri mantra also appears in the Yajurveda but with an additional line in the beginning:

oṃ bhūrbhuvassuvaḥ |

om = the single-syllable word that represents brahman, the Supreme Being

bhūḥ = earth

bhuvaḥ = atmosphere

suvaḥ = sky, heaven

With this line, we bring our awareness to the three spheres of existence, thus connecting with something bigger than our tiny selves.

In the Hindu tradition, we believe that there is only one Supreme Being (brahman) but there are several gods. These gods may be realized in any form.

The forces of nature – wind, lightning, thunder, fire – are deified. The animate and inanimate beings – animals, plants, rivers, mountains – are deified. The celestial objects – sun, moon, planets, stars – are deified. We may also see god in a sculpture, a painting, or even in a song.

Among all these various possibilities, the sun is the most magnificent. Of course, an astrophysicist might tell us that the sun in our solar system is a veritable pygmy in front of some of the other stars in the universe. Even so, the sun remains the most brilliant object we can see with our naked eyes. Not only do we see it but we also feel its presence. It removes darkness and brings light. It removes the cold and brings warmth. The radiance of the Supreme represents Knowledge (which removes the darkness of ignorance) and Vitality (which removes the coldness of lethargy).

So the Gayatri mantra is a prayer to the Supreme, in the form of the sun, which stimulates our mind and empowers us. Just like the sun wakes us up every morning, we pray that the Supreme light wakes up our intellect. It is indeed a prayer for internal strength.

In the 1990s cartoon series Captain Planet, there is a beautiful symbolism for this – whenever Captain Planet is on the verge of defeat, he draws energy from the sun. He gets revitalized. He’s ready to face his enemies – those trying to pollute the earth. The Gayatri mantra does something similar, but within.

(In preparing this article, I have drawn heavily from the lectures of HH Sri Rangapriya Swami; my discussions with Shatavadhani Dr R Ganesh; Dr Koti Sreekrishna’s article on the Gayatri mantra; and Vol 17 of the 36-volume Rigveda Samhita translation in Kannada brought out by the Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar during 1948-62.)

-As published in Dailyo


Click here to post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • I see several variations of gayathri manthra recited by several people. I do not know which is right. For example:
    1. The full gayathri Manthra has got in fact a fourth line also….”.Paro Rajase’ savadom”. Meaning ‘He who is transcending the effulgence, in this. See Chaandogya3:12:5, Brhadaranyaka5:14:7 (From kindle life by
    Swami Chinmayananda. ‘Savadom’ also pronounced by others as ‘savodam’

    2. In ‘Gita Makarantham’ by Swami VIdya Prkasanada he gives this manthra as:
    Om bhu, om bhuvah, Om gavah
    Om mahah, Om janah, Om tapah Om sathyam
    Omtatsavitur vareNyam
    Burgodevasya dhimahi
    Dhiyoyo nah prachothayath
    Om AAPI jyothe Rado amruth
    Brahma bhoorbuvasvarom.
    Ref: Gita Maharantham Vol1: page 49.

    Some Swamis insists that gayathri manthra should be uttered properly with proper syllable in proper meter.

    Since you have written on gayathri manthra would appreciate your comments on which is the correct gayathri manthra what is the correct meter to be chanted. Some also recite at the end as gayathri swaba gayathri sun namaha…….

    Thank you

  • @ A.Balasubramanian….

    1) Not very sure on this.
    2) The mantra u R referring to is actually for pranayama… Bhu, bhuva, Suva, satya… All this refer to earth, sky, Suva loka, satya loka( abod
    e of brahma). This mantra will help you to transcend all these planets and make you realise Brahman…

    3) To chant, always chant the prescribed mantra, which is the combination of verse from yajurveda and rig Veda, like the author of the article has written. The gayathri you are referring to will be used during loud chantings or Veda parayana usually during some occasions. There are a lot of similar verses in Aruna upanishad too, which we should recite mornings.

    Also regarding proper syllabi , yes mantras should always be pronounced properly, lower syllabi or letters should be pronounced with a normal tone,higher or maha prana should be emphasised more… U need to take ur pitch high and low for each prescribed syllabi… Hence this mantra should always come from guru who will advise and correct way of reciting the mantra …. Cassettes and tapes are short cuts which may lead to improper or faulty pronunciations…. It’s like I need to call you Balasubramanian since that’s ur name and not Subbu or something which I want… Although in spirits it maybe ok to call u Subbu, its still wrong…similarly with the mantra….

  • All ok except that don’t fix a timeline on Gayathri Mantra/Sanatan Dharma – read Mahaperiyava’s (Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal) explanation on why our Dharma has been there from time immemorial…

  • Thank you so much for this scholarly explaination of the divine Gayatri mantra with the Kannada touch and proper pronounciation.This knowledge woke me up to recite Gayantri mantra everyday again after a lapse of many years and go back to my Hindu roots.

  • Even before Vishvamitra became sage….Sun raised and set, he himself was king with many weakness….100 cows piracy etc…..continued even after becoming sage…shankunthala was product from maneka aunty….like that many…common men worshiped deity long before this mantra was written….there existed other land parts contemporary to bharatha , some where well advanced then bharatha….so no stern proof, christians and Muslims where not there it is for sure….but other than Sanskrit , languages were there…cultural and customs were different…in short planet with many other kingdoms existed much before Hinduism

    • @satya
      Even before vishwamitra…..kingdome existed before hinduism.

      So. you are saying that hindus need not to be proud for these things,and every minute they should feel ashamed to be proud – am i right?You are saying that lot kingdoms ovr the planet before hindusim – can you name a place,race,kindom which has no traces of hindu culture?And You used the word “before hinduism” then you might know when hindusim started to florish.Please provide us the date and time to enlighten us and get rid of our ignorance!