What Sanskrit verse has been chanted daily for nearly 4,000 years and entered into pop culture by the Battlestar Galactica series and Cher? If you answered the Gayatri mantra, familiar to yogis and fans of kirtan singer Deva Premal, you’d be right. This mantra is said to contain all the knowledge of the universe, so obviously its fullest meaning and proper invocation takes time, devotion, and practice to understand and master. If you are a fan of mantra chanting, then it is worth exploring this verse in more detail to learn its meaning, benefits, and history.
What is the Gayatri Mantra?
The Gayatri Mantra is a Sanskrit mantra that has been chanted for thousands of years. It was written down during the Vedic period (1500-500 BCE) and is considered to be one of the oldest known and most powerful mantras. It is said to contain all the knowledge of the universe.
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The mantra is an expression of gratitude and praise to the powers of transformation, inner growth, and self realization provided by the radiant light of the divine. Meditating on this spiritual light purifies the heart chakra and opens it up to receive higher vibrations of love, wisdom, and bliss.
The Gayatri mantra
The Gayatri has 24 syllables, and is listed below with phonetic pronunciation in brackets:
Om bhuh, bhuvah, swaha (Aumm Bhoor Bhoo-va Su-va-ha)
Tat savitur varenyam (Tat Sa-vee-toor Var-ayn-yam)
Bhargo devasya dhimahi (Bar-go Day-vas-ya Dhee-ma-hee)
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat (Dhee-yo Yo Nah Pra-cho-da-yaat)
The meaning of the Gayatri Mantra
A general translation of the mantra is:
O Divine mother, may your pure divine light illuminate all realms (physical, mental and spiritual) of our being. Please expel any darkness from our hearts and bestow upon us the true knowledge.
Translations vary, but Vyaas Houston’s is among the most accessible : “Earth, atmosphere, heavens. We meditate on the sacred light of the effulgent source. Let that inspire our thoughts.” Stuck on the word “effulgent”? Merriam-Webster’s defines it as “radiant splendor,” but in a yogic sense, it refers to the all-pervading light of the celestial realms.
A word-for-word translation is:
- Om: The primeval sound
- Bhur: The human body, earth, physical realm, existence
- Bhuvah: The vital energies, heaven, consciousness
- Suvah: The soul, inner space, spiritual realm, bliss
- Tat: That
- Savitur: The Sun, solar powers
- Varenyam: To choose, the best, adore
- Bhargo: Effulgence, self-luminous, divine light
- Devasya: The divine, radiant
- Dhimahi Dhiyo: the intellect
- Yo: Which
- Nah: Our, of us
- Prachodayat: Illuminate, inspire
A mantra of power, knowledge and light
Across cultures and throughout time, the sun symbolized spiritual light. The word “savitur” refers to Savitri, the Vedic sun deity . The mantra, considered the essence of all mantras, is personified as the resplendent Gayatri, the power behind the sun and the mother of the universe. As we chant her mantra, we tune into the frequencies of universal light and bring it down to the earth plane (bhuh) and ourselves.
The mantra is personified by the goddess Gayatri Devi, who is the bestower of knowledge and is referred to as “the mother of the Vedas.” She is often depicted as having 5 heads and 10 arms, and she rides upon a swan. The five faces symbolize the five pranas and the five elements of the universe. Gayatri Devi represents the combined strength of the three Goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kali. Her divine powers are protection, wisdom, and strength.
History of the Gayatri mantra
How the universal mantra came to be chanted here on earth is a rich story of anger, envy, lust, and forgiveness. It begins in ancient times, when King Vishwamitra and his army visited Sage Vashista , who was able to feed their numbers thanks to a wish-fulfilling cow. Vishwamitra wanted to take the cow with him, and Vashista’s refusal angered the king so much that he vowed to undertake austerities and meditate until his spiritual powers surpassed the sage’s. Each time Vishwamitra believed he was nearing success, however, he failed another test of ego.
When Vishwatmitra at last recognized his shortcomings and begged Vashista’s forgiveness, he experienced spontaneous Samadhi and the gods gifted him with the words of the Gayatri. (The poses Vashistasana and Vishwamitrasana honor these sages.) Vishwamitra is among the authors of the Rig Veda , the oldest known source of the Gayatri. His tale teaches that enlightenment is possible for anyone who practices with dedication, and the Gayatri is recommended as a practice suited to people from all walks of life.
Benefits of chanting the Gayatri
It’s said that by regularly chanting the Gayatri mantra , you accumulate spiritual light, and that you will not only raise your own vibratory level but also the levels of those around you your family and friends, your circle of acquaintances, the entire global community.
The sound of the Gayatri mantra brings us back to our own true nature, which is pure consciousness itself. It reminds us that we are already perfect beings, and that we have been given everything we need to manifest our highest potential. When we practice the Gayatri, we remember that we are divinely connected to the universe, and that we are blessed by its abundance.
A regular meditation practice using this mantra can bring peace, joy, grace, and happiness prosperity. It is also said to strengthen concentration, heal the physical body, and protect against negativity, fear, anger, jealousy, hatred, greed, and envy. The ancient texts claim that chanting the Gayatri 10 times per day removes the bad karma in this lifetime, and chanting 108 times daily will dissolve the karma from previous lives.
How to chant the Gayatri mantra
Although it can be chanted at any time of the day, it is advisable to chant the mantra both early in the morning and at night before sleeping. Keep your mind focused on each word as you chant the mantra. Notice where you feel the vibration of the sacred sound in your head and chest. You may need to keep your eyes open to read the mantra at first, but eventually work on memorizing it so you can practice with your eyes closed.
It will be most powerful to chant the mantra silently. When reciting the Gayatri Mantra, visualize the sun’s light as it enters your heart, radiating outward to bless the world.
Here are the nine steps to chanting the Gayatri mantra:
- Sit comfortably in a quiet place where there is little distraction.
- Close your eyes and take a few slow deep breaths.
- Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
- Say the mantra out loud while focusing on your breathing.
- Repeat it the second time with a whisper while continuing to focus on your breathing.
- Repeat it the third time silently in your head.
- Continue to repeat the mantra as long as you’d like.
- When you have finished reciting the mantra take a few deep breaths to feel the effects of the mantra on your body, mind and heart.
- Continue to repeat the mantra daily until you feel its positive currents of energy flowing into your heart.