We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
The Gāyatrī Mantra is from the Rig Veda (iii, 62, 10), which has existed in written form for at least 2500 to 3500 years. (Some accounts date the original text to be over 6000 years old, but rather than being overly concerned about a precise date, let us focus our attention on the meaning of this glorious mantra and how it can enrichen and illuminate our life here and now.)
The word Gāyatrī (mw352) is a combination of Sanskrit words, although there is some disagreement in various texts about the exact derivation.
One suggestion is that the word
Gāyatrī is made from these two words:
Another viewpoint suggests that
the roots are:
The word Mantra (mw785) means instrument of thought, sacred text, or a prayer of praise.
So, the two words "Gāyatrī 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 Sādhanā, Srī Swāmi Shivānanda wrote:
"Of all the mantras, the supreme and the most potent power of powers is the great, glorious Gāyatrī 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, Gāyatrī 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 Gāyatrī 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 Gāyatrī 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 bhūr, Om is bhuvas, Om is suvaha... Om is everything.
The terms bhūr, bhuvas, suvaha (mahā vyāhritis) 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 (bhūr, bhuvas, suvaha) are the bīja (seed) mantrams of the devatās called Agni, Vāyu and āditya who are being invoked to assist in our transformation. (See Chandogya Upanishad (IV, xvii, 1-3) and (II, xxiii, 3)).
Then Prajāpati 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!
Chandogya Upanishad (II, xxiii, 3)
The short preamble is simply these four words:
click here to hear Sai Baba chant the Gayatri with short invocation.
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 bhūr (pronounced "bhoor").
(Please see the notes below regarding spelling
and pronunciation of Sanskrit words)
- 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:
click here to hear Sreedevi Bringi chant the Gayatri with long invocation.
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:
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 Gāyatrī Mantra by harmonizing and attuning one with all the worlds.
Body of the Gāyatrī Mantra:
The body of the Gāyatrī Mantra is written as:
The transliterated text is:
We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
A succinct and delightful translation by S. Krishnamurthy is:
We meditate upon the radiant Divine Light
(Please see the notes below regarding spelling and pronunciation of Sanskrit words, as well as the grammatical ambiguity of dhīmahi and prachodayāt.))
bhūr 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 āpo jyotih rasomritam brahma
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 Gāyatrī 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.
Swām Gambhrnanda suggests meditating in this manner:
I am Brahman, as signified by Om and as conditioned by māyā 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.
Katha Unpanishad (I, ii, 15-17)
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.
Mundaka Upanishad (II, ii, 3-4)
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 mantram Om. Let your body be the lower firestick and the mantram Om be the upper. Rub them against each other in meditation and realize Brahman.
Shvetashvatara Upanishad (1, 13-14)
Daily spiritual practice:
The beautiful rhythmic patterns, soothing ancient sounds and powerful intent make the Gāyatrī Mantra a magnificent part of daily spiritual practice.
The Gāyatrī 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 Gāyatrī 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.
Many of the greatest prayers, such as the Gāyatrī Mantra from the ancient rishis of India, the Fātiha 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.
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,
Audio recordings of the Gāyatrī Mantra:
Other Gāyatrī Mantras:
There are many versions of the Gāyatrī Mantra in which deities other than Savitur are invoked.
For example, there is a Vishnu Gāyatrī, a Shiva Gyatrī, a Durgā Gāyatrī, an Agni Gāyatrī, and so on. In general, these mantras are very similar to, and perhaps derived from, the form of the original Gāyatrī of the Rig Veda.
1) The transliterations of the Gāyatrī Mantra given on this page include the Sanskrit rules of grammar known as sandhi.
2)The notation (mw352) denotes, for example, that the Sanskrit word gāyatrī may found on page 352 of the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary.
3) There is a interesting and powerful grammatical ambiguity in the terms dhīmahi and prachodayāt, wherein the phrase may either be expressed as a prayerful desire or as a statement of fact.
The term dhīmahi can indicate a desire in the form of "may we meditate upon" or it can also indicate a statement of fact such as "we meditate upon".
Similarly, the term prachodayāt indicate a desire in the form of "may he awaken our intuition" or it may also indicate a statement of fact such as "he awakens our intuition".
This ambiguity allows for a variety of interpretations according to one's current beliefs and spiritual understanding. For some, the prayerful beseeching using "may.." is very important. For others, the recognition of these conditions as already having occurred is a cause for rejoicing and joyful praise.
4) Please note that transliterations are not phonetic... there are specific rules for pronouncing each transliterated character.
There are many more characters in the Sanskrit alphabet than there are in our English alphabet, therefore some English letters are used in more than one way, such as n and N representing two different sounds, or a and ā representing two different sounds.
Here are approximate phonetic guidelines for some common vowels used in this transliteration:
5) You may be wondering why the first loka is written as bhūH, but is written as bhūr in the short preamble, and is written as bhūhū in the long preamble.
Simply, this is how the rules of Sanskrit grammar (sandhi) operate on the character called visarga which is the final character of each of the first six lokas.
Written all alone, the first six lokas are written as: bhūH, bhuvaH, suvaH, mahaH, janaH and tapaH, where the letter H denotes the Sanskrit character called visarga.
When the character visarga ends a word, the sound of the visarga depends upon both preceding sound as well as the following sound. This can make the language very confusing and sometimes ambiguous, but it also brings a sense of life into the language... just as our lives change depending upon who we are around, so the visarga changes the sound of the word depending upon what sounds are around it... a delightful sort of alphabet karma.
Written all alone, with no following word, the first loka is properly written as bhūH.
However, when the visarga is followed by "bh" then the visarga creates a sound like an "r". Hence, bhūH followed by bhuvaH is pronounced as bhūr.
And when the visarga is followed by the syllable Om, then the visarga is pronounced like an "h" followed by the vowel that was immediately before the visarga. So, bhūH followed by Om is pronounced as bhūhū.
updated on 7-Jul-2010, 1-Jan-2017