AUM BHOOR BHUWAH SWAHA,
TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASAYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YO NAHA PRACHODAYAT.
Gayatri Mantra (the mother of the vedas), the foremost mantra in Hinduism and hindu beliefs, inspires wisdom. Its meaning is that "May the Almighty God illuminate our intellect to lead us along the righteous path".
Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life,
Remover of pain and sorrow,
The Bestower of happiness,
Oh! Creator of the Universe,
May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.
The Gayatri Mantra is first recorded in the Rig Veda (iii, 62, 10) which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago, and by some reports, the mantra may have been chanted for many generations before that.
The word Gayatri is a combination of Sanskrit words, although there is some disagreement in various texts about the exact derivation.
One suggestion is that the word Gâyatrî is made from these two words:
- Gayatri what is sung, giving of praise
Another viewpoint suggests that the roots are:
- gaya vital energies
- trâyate preserves, protects, gives deliverance, grants liberation
The word Mantra means instrument of thought, sacred text, or a prayer of praise.
So, the two words Gayatri Mantra might be translated as: a prayer of praise that awakens the vital energies and gives liberation.And indeed, this is such a prayer.
The Use of Mantra:
Sri Aurobindo, in Hymns to the Mystic Fire, wrote:
"We have to invoke the gods by the inner sacrifice, and by the word call them unto us - that is the specific power of the Mantra, - to offer to them the gifts of the sacrifice and by that giving secure their gifts, so that by this process we may build the way of our ascent to the goal... We give what we are and what we have in order that the riches of the Divine Truth and Light may descend into our life."
In his book Sadhana, Sri Swami Shivananda wrote:
"Of all the mantras, the supreme and the most potent power of powers is the great, glorious Gâyatrî Mantra.
It is the support of every seeker after Truth who believes in its efficacy, power and glory, be he of any caste, creed, clime or sect. It is only one's faith and purity of heart that really count. Indeed, Gâyatrî is an impregnable spiritual armor, a veritable fortress, that guards and protects its votary, that transforms him into the divine, and blesses him with the brilliant light of the highest spiritual illumination.
... It is universally applicable, for it is nothing but an earnest prayer for Light, addressed to the Supreme Almighty Spirit.
... This single mantra, repeated sincerely and with clear conscience, brings the supreme good."
Chanting of the Gayatri Mantra is often prefaced with either a short invocation or a long invocation and is often followed with a closing.
The following are examples of two common invocations. In either of the invocations, we begin the recitation of the Gâyatrî Mantra with an invocation using the sacred symbol Om to acknowledge and pay homage to the One who is beyond name and form.
- Short Invocation:
This invocation is acknowledging and joyously celebrating that Om is bhur, Om is bhuvas, Om is suvaha... Om is everything.
The terms bhur, bhuvas, suvaha (maha vyahritis) are invocations to honor the planes of our existence and to call to our aid the presiding deities of the three planes in which we live our ordinary life: the physical, astral and mental planes.
The three lokas (bhur, bhuvas, suvaha) are the bija (seed) mantrams of the devatas called Agni, Vayu and aditya who are being invoked to assist in our transformation. (See Chandogya Upanishad (IV, xvii, 1-3) and (II, xxiii, 3)).
Then Prajapati reflected on the three lokas and from this reflection was born OM. As veins pervade all leaves, so Om pervades all sound. Verily all this is Om! Verily all this is Om!
The short preamble is simply these four words:
The Sanskrit character that is transliterated as bh is a very earthy sound that virtually explodes from the diaphragm. Listen carefully to the Sai Baba recording. To learn to make this sound, try saying "who" while sharply pulling in the abdominal muscles and forcing the diaphragm upward.... then add the "b" sound and do the same with bhûr (pronounced "bhoor").
- Long Invocation:
As with the shorter version, this invocation is a recognition that there are many worlds, all empowered by the nameless, formless, birthless, deathless which is symbolized by om.... om is everything.
These seven lines of the long invocation are the seven lokas, or planes, of existence, and are used not only to recognize and honor the planes of existence, but also to call the presiding deities of those planes to aid in our transformation and realization:
This magnificent chant by Sreedevi Bringi is done in the ancient, traditional Vedic manner which has been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.
The seven lokas, may be briefly described as:
bhuhu - earth, the physical world
bhuvaha - astral/desire/breath, the world of becoming
suvaha - mental, the world of thinking
mahaha - causal, silent mind, the world of emotion
janaha - world of creative generation
tapaha - world of intuition
satyaM - world of Absolute Truth
This recital of the lokas begins with the gross, physical world filled with separation and differences and then each, in sequence, becomes more refined, more transcendent, more unified, more all-encompassing.
The recitation of the lokas, done with intent and clarity, prepares one for the chanting of the Gâyatrî Mantra by harmonizing and attuning one with all the worlds.
Body of the Gayatri Mantra:
The body of the Gayatri Mantra is written as:
The transliterated text is:
om tat savitur vareNyaM
bhargo devasya dhîmahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayât
Swami Shivananda's translation of the Gayatri Mantra is:
We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
Who has created the Universe;
Who is worthy of Worship;
Who is the embodiment of Knowledge and Light;
Who is the remover of all Sin and Ignorance;
May He enlighten our Intellect.
A succinct and delightful translation by S. Krishnamurthy is:
We meditate upon the radiant Divine Light
of that adorable Sun of Spiritual Consciousness;
May it awaken our intuitional consciousness.
Here's a simple word-by-word translation:
Om - Om (Brahman, the One, the Godhead, Supreme Deity)
tat - that (referring to Savitri, Paramatma, God)
savitur - (mw1190) - Savitri, the Spiritual Sun (that from which all is born), the One Light, the all-pervading Consciousness
O nourishing Sun, solitary traveler, controller, source of life for all creatures, spread your light and subdue your dazzling splendor so that I may see your blessed Self. Even that very Self am I!
vareNyaM - most excellent, adorable, fit to be worshipped, venerable, worthy of being sought
bhargo - (mw748) - radiance, effulgence, splendor (the light that bestows understanding)
devasya - divine, of the deity
dhimahi - we meditate upon... or may we meditate upon, reflect upon, be devoted to
dhiyo - prayer, noble thoughts, intuition, understanding of Reality (buddhis)
yo - he who, the one who
nah - our, of us
prachodayât - may he energize, direct, inspire, guide, unfold... or he who energizes, directs, inspires, guides, unfolds
(Please see the notes below regarding spelling and pronunciation of Sanskrit words, as well as the grammatical ambiguity of dhîmahi and prachodayat.))
bhur bhuvas suvar om
This simple closing phrase is magnificent, and is a powerful meditation all by itself, a joyous and humbling panoramic sweep from the initial earthy, lower chakra "bh" sound gradually becoming ever finer, transcending all the worlds, and culminating in the nameless, formless essence.
Om apo jyotih rasomritam brahma
bhûr bhuvas suvar om
This beautiful closing pays tribute to the myriad forms of the One. A simple translation is:
Om, the Water, the Light, the very Essence in which we exist, the Absolute, the physical world, the astral realm, the mental realm, all are Om.
As you may have noticed, the preamble begins with Om, the first line of the Gâyatrî Mantra begins with Om and the closing ends with Om.
Om is in everything and everything is in Om. Indeed, the mantric repetition of this one syllable, Om, is of immeasurable value. It is often said that Om is the greatest of all mantras.
Swam Gambhrnanda suggests meditating in this manner:
I am Brahman, as signified by Om and as conditioned by maya in which the sattva quality preponderates.
For clarification, here are quotes from various Upanishads describing the nature of Om:
I will give you the Word all the scriptures glorify and which all spiritual disciplines express, to attain which aspirants lead of a life of sense-restrain and selflessness. It is Om. This symbol of Brahman is the highest. Realizing it, one finds complete fulfillment of all one's longings. It is of the greatest support to all seekers. Take the great bow of the sacred scriptures, place on it the arrow of devotion; then draw the bowstring of meditation, and aim at the target, the Lord of Love. Om is the bow, the soul is the arrow, and Brahman is called its target. Now draw the bowstring of meditation and hitting the target, be One with It.
Fire is not seen until one firestick rubs across another, though the fire is still there, hidden. So does Brahman remain hidden until being revealed by the mantra
Daily spiritual practice:
The beautiful rhythmic patterns, soothing ancient sounds and powerful intent make the Gâyatrî Mantra a magnificent part of daily spiritual practice.
The Gayatri Mantra combines the effects of mantric sound with the effects of a deep and profound prayer, resulting in a combination which is exceedingly potent.
As with all spiritual practices, this is a vehicle for intent. The stronger and greater the intent, the stronger and greater the results.
Spiritual progress does not succeed merely by means of intellectual reasoning or theoretical arguments, but rather by direct experience. If you would like a deeper understanding of the Gayatri Mantra, it is well and good that you should begin with an intellectual understanding of the words and the intent, but that is only a preliminary step leading to your own direct experience of That Which is beyond words.
Humble Submission and Selfless Unity:
Many of the greatest prayers, such as the Gâyatrî Mantra from the ancient rishis of India, the Fatiha which was received by the prophet Muhammad, and the Lord's Prayer which was given to us by Jesus, all share some magnificent similarities, illustrating the highest and noblest principles of prayer.
In each of these great prayers, the opening lines are a humble recognition that there is a Greater Power, and that all that we receive comes from the will of that Greater Power. Such prayer is an act of humble submission to That Which is beyond our understanding.
And the final lines of each of these great prayers, in humble submission to a Greater Power, acknowledge the gifts of understanding and awakening which are continually bestowed upon all of mankind, even though so few are even aware of the gifts. This humble recognition of the gifts that are constantly showered upon us is an essential element of the highest spiritual practices that we have been given, leading us toward the understand that we can and should rise above our differences and divisions, emerging from our delusion of separation and becoming aware of the Light of Unity which already shines upon all of creation.
Create your own unique rendering:
Armed with the definitions of the Sanskrit words and your own unique insight into what the mantra means for you (which may change over time), it may be very useful to write your own personal rendering of the meaning of the mantra.
For example, here is my current rendering:
We meditate upon the Divine Radiance,
that One Light which deserves our worship,
the One whose noble thought energizes and directs our awakening.