Gâyatrî Mantra: the Mantra of Spiritual Light

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Om bhur bhuvah svah

tat savitur varenyam

bhargo devasya dhimahi

dhiyo yonah prachodayat
— Gayatri Mantra, Chandogya-Upanishad, Rig Veda (iii, 62, 10)
The eternal earth, air, heaven

That glory, the resplendence of the sun

May we contemplate the brilliance of that light

That it may inspire our minds with the self-effulgent brilliance

Within all realms: air, earth, heaven, and beyond

Illuminate our subtle intellect

For the enlightenment of beings everywhere.

Considered to be one of the most profound mantras in the world, the Gayatri Mantra, or loosely translated, the Mantra of Spiritual Light, is one of humanity's oldest prayers originating in the Rig Veda and dating back to at least 1500 BCE.  It has been and continues to be chanted by generations of people who aspire to awaken the divine wisdom in and for all beings.  In the words of Sri Aurobindo,

"Of all the mantras, the supreme and the most potent power of powers is the great, glorious Gâyatrî Mantra. 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, which 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" (Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire). 

A common and potent accompaniment to the traditional Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation practice, the Gayatri Mantra is preceded by “the great utterance,” aum bhūr bhuva sva, invoking the primeval sound of All that is One (om), earth (bhūr), air (bhuva), and heaven (sva).  Earth, air, and heaven, or in some translations, earth, sky, and space, are symbolic representations of being, consciousness, bliss (sat, chit, ananda) or the gross, subtle and causal realms of ultimate reality.  Within the microcosm of a human being, from one’s soles to one’s navel is earth (bhur), from navel to throat is air or atmosphere (bhuva), and from throat to crown of head is svaha (heaven or space). 

Interpretations of the Gayatri Mantra are many. Here's a sampling:

"May the Supreme Light that illuminates the three worlds also illuminate our intellect to the path of luminous virtue."

Unknown

“We meditate upon the radiant glory of the One shining divinity from which the luminous is born, who sparks our intellect with the light of illumination.”

Unknown, interpretation of Gayatri Mantra

“We recognize the glory of the Light that illuminates the three planes of experience: the physical, astral and celestial.  Let us meditate on the sacred Light of the effulgent source that shines within us.  Let that inspire our thoughts and awaken the Self as the Light that pervades the entire Universe."

Unknown, interpretation of Gayatri Mantra

“That revered ray of light, let us meditate on that divine effulgence.  May that light direct our intellect.”

Ramesh Krishnakumar, interpretation of the Gayatri Mantra

   “O splendid and playful sun, we offer this prayer to thee; enlighten this craving mind; be our protector; may the radiance of the divine ruler guide our destiny; wise men salute your magnificence with oblations and words of praise."

Unknown, interpretation of Gayatri Mantra

   “Unveil, O Thou who givest sustenance to the Universe, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, that face of the True Sun now hidden by a vase of golden light, that we may see the truth and do our whole duty on our journey to thy sacred seat.”

William Quan Judge, interpretation of the Gāyatrī Mantra

For those of you who may wish to recite the mantra as part of your practice, here is a verbatim translation and various translations of the Gayatri Mantra:

  • tat – That
  • savitur - of savitar the god: Savitr-, stimulator, rouser; inspirer, name of a sun-deity, bright, luminous like the sun
  • vareniyam - most desirable or excellent
  • bhargo - light, illumination, radiance, lustre, splendour, glory
  • devasya - divine
  • dhīmahi - may we attain, let us meditate
  • dhiyo (dhiyah) - intellect, intuition, thought, power of insight, understanding of reality;
  • Yonah - yo which; nah – our, of us
  • prachodayat - who may stimulate: set in motion, drive on, urge, impel, energize

References:

http://www.sanskrit.org/www/Hindu%20Primer/gayatri.html