Rishi Chhandas and Devata
1 .1. Gayatri Mantra that is recited daily by millions of devout is indeed very ancient; and is regarded the most sacred of all mantras. The tradition accords Gayatri an unrivalled importance.
1.2. Gayatri is a mantra dedicated to Savitr; and is not a prayer in the ordinary sense of the term. A mantra – a specific structure of sound patterns coded in syllables and vowels – may be articulate or inarticulate; it may or may not convey a meaning. But, its relevance is in its inherent shakthi. Its subtle sounds or the abstract language attempts to visualize the un-differentiated divine principle. The accent, intonation and articulation too play a role in the efficacy of a mantra.
And, Mantra is neither a magical formula, nor is it a logical sentence; it connects in a very special way to the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The term Mantra is explained as mananat trayate mantrah; the contemplation of which liberates. It is the harmonious and powerful union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane. The fruitfulness of a mantra depends upon the authority of the teacher who imparts it and the spiritual preparedness of the student who is initiated (Diksha) into it. It has to be grasped in humility, earnestness and faith.
A prayer, prarthana, is a submission (Atma-nivedana) ; and it has a meaning and a philosophical significance. Prarthana has an intellectual appeal. Mantra is beyond intellect. Gayatri, it is said, is both mantra and prarthana, a profound invocation. It has the intrinsic shakthi of mantra; as also the intense devotion and reverence of prarthana. It signifies a determined aspiration for enlightenment.
1.3. Gayatri is essentially symbolic (sanketa vidya), inspiring righteous wisdom. It points to the absolute reality (Brahman) conditioned by names and forms as settled in solar orb, the visible form of divinity. The mantra formulates the nature of oneself and also the nature of Brahman, the supreme Consciousness (para-brahma nirupanam).
4.1. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (5.14.5) mentions that the mantra in Gayatri chhandas dedicated to Savitr – Devata was initially known as Savitri mantra. It says: ‘the people were calling that mantra in Gayatri chhandas as Savitri’ (Gayatrim-eva Savitri-manu-bhruyaath), because it was addressed, in particular, to Savitr (Savitr iyam). Another authority, Manu (2.77 and 2.81), also names the mantra as Savitri; and avers ‘there is no mantra that is superior to Savitri’ (sāvitryās tu paraṃ na-asti maunāt satyaṃ viśiṣyate: Manu – 2.83c). Other texts (for e.g. Maitri Upanishad: 6.2) too declare that ‘Savitri mantra with Pranava and Vyahrti is the best means (na savitrah paro mantrah) to attain Brahman’.
4.2. It is said; in course of time, the Savitri mantra came to be celebrated as Gayatri mantra because of its structure in classic Gayatri chhandas. The Savitri-mantra, it is believed, articulates, as few other mantras do, the special merits of the Gayatri-chhandas.
5.1. The name ‘Gayatri’ – as the title of the mantra – acquired several meanings. It is explained that the term Gayatri is derived from the root ‘traing’ (paalana) which means ‘to protect’. Expanding on that explanation, Chandogya Upanishad says: ‘This mantra called Gayatri in Gayatri-chhandas protects one who chants it. That is why it is called Gayatri’ (Gayatri trayate cha – Ch.Up.) Satapatha Brahmana (126.96.36.199) in a similar manner explained Gayatri as that which protects (tattre) sense-faculties (including mind) and the life-principles (prana) which are called ‘gaya’: (prana vai gayaasthan trayati- tasmat Gayatri).
sā haiṣā gayāṃstatre prāṇā vai gayāstatprāṇāṃstatretadyadgayāṃstatre tasmād-gāyatrī
nāma sa yāmevāmūmanvāhaiṣaiva sā sa yasmā anvāha tasya prāṇāṃstrāyate
5.2. It is said; Gayatri is itself the prana; and, in prana reside all the Devata-s, the energies and activating faculties. And thus; all knowledge, action and the consequences thereof become united in Gayatri. Being prana, Gayatri is the very self of all existence (jagatah atma).
5.3. Yaska-charya explains the term Gayatri by changing the order (sequence) of its syllables (Varna –vyatyaya). He says that Gaya-tri, in fact, could as well be read and understood as tri-gaya, as having three modes of articulation body (rupeshu), speech (vachasi) and mind (manasi) – trigamanava viparita ; trigamana trishu rupeshu, manasi, vachasi vipushi cheti gamanam gatim dadati sa .
That is to say; Gayatri inspires or finds expression in our mental process, speech behaviour and physical activities.
5.4. But largely, the term Gayatri has acquired the meaning ‘as that which protects the one who recites it mindfully (gayantam trayate yasmad gayatri smarata budhaih)’. There is a firm faith that Gayatri protects the devout from various evils and sins.
Therefore, Gayatri mantra became a vital part of the daily prayers known as Sandhya. Not merely that; the Gayatri mantra became so important that its recitation by itself came to be known as Sandhya. That is because, it is explained, Gayatri mantra merits ‘perfect meditation’ (samyak dhyanavat sandhya).
[There is another rik in the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (RV_5,082.01) that strongly resembles Gayatri mantra. Its Rishi is Syavasva-Atreya (also called Syavasva Archanasa, meaning the son of Archanas); its Devata is also Savitr; and it is in Anushtup chhandas. Anukramani, the Vedic glossary, describes it as ‘the other Savitri’ (ity uktatvat savitram)
‘tat savitur vrnīmahe vayam devasya bhojanam | śrestham sarvadhātamam turam bhaghasya dhīmahi ||
We crave of Savitar the God this treasure much to be enjoyed. The best, all-yielding, conquering gift of Bhaga we would gladly win
(Translation by Ralph T H Griffith)]
6.1. Rishi in the Rig-Vedic context is illumined wise seer, an author of a Rik, a mantra expressing the Truth revealed to him. It is not a product of his reasoning or intellect, but of an intuitive perception. And according to Yaska, those who envisioned the mantras (mantra-drastarah) are Rishis (ṛṣir.darśanāt.stomān.dadarśa – Nirukta 2.11). Rishi is therefore a wise seer, a drastara, one who visualizes a mantra. He is also the one who hears. The seers were the “hearers of the Truth” (kavayaha sathya srutah). Sri Aurobindo described Shruthi as “divine recordings of cosmic sounds of truth” heard by the Rishis. The Vedas are thus Shruthis, revealed scriptures. That is the reason; the Vedas are Apaurusheya, not authored by any agency.
[ Patanjali , while commenting upon Panini’s Ashtadhyayi makes a distinction between the expression tena proktam (4,3.101) which suggests that it was revealed by him; and the expression pūrvaiḥ kṛtam (4,4.133) which means that it was composed or authored by him. The general idea is that a mantra is not composed by a Rishi ; but it is revealed to him by intuitive perception.].
The term Rishi is defined as “rishati jnānena samsāra-pāram” , meaning one who goes beyond the mundane world by means of knowledge. Further, some scholars think the root ‘drish’ (sight) might have given rise to root ‘rish’ meaning ‘to see’. That is to say; the Rishi is one who envisioned the entities beyond the range of human senses, conceived the self evident knowledge (svatah pramana) and realized the Truth by direct intuition. Vamadeva, a Rishi in one of his hymns (RV 4.3.16) describes himself as the illumined one, expressing the Truth revealed to him (ninya vachasmi). The Sanskrit lexicon Amarakosha (2.7. 43) also says that one who speaks the Truth is Rishi (Rishyah satya-vachasah). A Rishi in the Rig Veda is a sage who realized the truth
Further, it is also said; a Kavi is the most exalted Rishi. And, one cannot be a Kavi unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam). It is his intuition (prathibha) and expanded consciousness that inspire him to express spontaneously. Such inspired poetry raised to sublime heights is mantra.
Such a Kavi is a drastara, a visionary (darsanat), the one who sees the unseen (kavihi-krantha-darshano-bhavathi). Katyayana and Yaska describe a Rishi in similar terms: Rishis are visionaries says Katyayana (Drastara rishayah smartarah);). According to the Brhad-devata attributed to Saunaka, a Rishi is one who has direct experience of the Reality (Rishibis tattva darshabihi – Brd- introduction-10) .
6.2. The Rishi not only gives utterance to a mantra but also is at the very essence, core, of the mantra (Badarayana Sutra: 244:36). The Rishi or the Kavi, through his all-pervasive consciousness becomes one with his creation. Yaska-charya, therefore, speaks of close empathy, unison between the creator and his creation; and says that each tends to become a part of the other. In the later Samhitas, the Rishi-s came to be revered as icons of the sacred past; and their deeds were narrated as if they were the deeds of gods or of Asura the ancient ones.
6.3 However all sages are not Rishis; just as not all Rishis are Kavis. Yasca charya makes a significant classification even among the Rishis. He draws a clear distinction between a Sakshath-krutha-Rishi, the seer who has the direct intuitional perception; and the Shrutha-rishi, the one heard it from the seers and remembered what he heard.
The Srutha-rishi is like the mirror or the moon that basks in the glory of the sun. The moon and the mirror both take in the glory of the sun and put forth the shine to the world in their own way. Similarly, the Srutha_rishi obtained the knowledge by listening to the Sakshath- Krutha-Rishi, and more importantly by remembering what he heard. The bifurcation of the Vedas/Upanishads on one hand (as Shruthi, as heard) ; and the Vedangas, Shastras, Puranas, Ithihasa etc. on the other (as smriti, as remembered) , stems from the above concept. Smriti, in general, is secondary in authority to Shruti.
[Baudhayana Dharma sutra ( 188.8.131.52-1) gives a list of different types of Rishis to whom the tarpanas (oblations) are to be offered (tarpayāmi): Sruta Rishi (One who hears from his teachers); Kanda Rishi (one who masters a section, Kanda , of a text); Tapa Rishi (one who is engaged in severe austerities); Satya Rishi (one who is intensely committed to what is Truth); Deva Rishi (a Rishi of divine nature); Saptarishi (one among the seven great sages); Maha Rishi (exalted and revered Rishi); Parama Rishi (Supreme Rishi); Brahma Rishi (one who has realized Brahman); Raja Rishi (a sagely king) ; and, Jana Rishi (a sage among the society).
In addition it also mentions ṛṣikāṃs (female Rishis); ṛṣi.patnīs (wives of the Rishis); ṛṣi.putrāṃs (sons of the Rishis) ; and, ṛṣi.pautrāṃs (grandsons of the Rishis).]
7.1. The sixty-second Sukta (RV_3,062), commencing with the rik : imā u vām bhṛmayo manyamānā yuvāvate na tujyā abhūvan, is the last in the third mandala of Rig-Veda. This Sukta has eighteen mantra-s; and, the entire Sukta is ascribed to Rishi Visvamitra. The first three mantras of this Sukta are in Trishtup-chhandas; while the rest are in Gayatri chhandas. Of the eighteen mantras, those numbering ten to twelve are dedicated to Savitr; while the other mantras have Indra- Varuna, Brhaspathi, Pushan, Soma and Maitra-varuna as the Devata-s.
7.2. It is the tenth mantra of this Sukta (RV_3,062.10) – tat savitur vareṇyam bhargo devasya dhīmahi |dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt || – that has come to be celebrated as Gayatri mantra. As said earlier; it is in Gayatri chhandas; its Devata is Savitr; and its Rishi is Visvamitra.
8.1. Visvamitra is a celebrated name in the Indian traditions. There have been sages in the Vedic literature, in Puranas and in Epics who carry the name of Visvamitra. It is surmised; all those sages may not refer to one and the same person. They could be the descendents of an ancient Rishi renowned as Visvamitra.
8.2. Visvamitra mentioned in Rig-Veda is a great Rishi. As many as forty-six Suktas and a number of other mantras in Rig-Veda Samhita are ascribed to Rishi Visvamitra. He is the contemporary of another great sage Vashista to whom about one hundred – and – four Suktas are ascribed.
8.3. Visvamitra of Rig-Veda is named in the Sarva-Anukramani (a sort of Index providing basic information about each hymn of Rig-Veda) as ‘Gathino-Visvamitrah’– the descendent of Gathi (the King of Kanyakubja?). Visvamitra – earlier known as Visvaratha – it is said, was the son of King Kaushika-Ushiratha (meaning, Ushiratha the son or the descendent of Kushika) who was valorous as the thousand-eyed Indra himself (sahasraksha-dyuti).
8.4. The Visvamitra and his sons mentioned in several other passages of the Rig-Veda are also described as Kausika-s, the descendents of Kushika. This Kushika is a mythical figure. And the term Kushika is also an epithet for Indra. The decedents of Kushika – Kaushika – were a family of traditional purohita-s, the family priests of Kings; and, were the followers of sage Angirasa, especially devoted to worship of Indra.
8.5. Yaska-charya recognizes Visvamitra as the purohita of King Sudasa (viśvāmitra.ṛṣiḥ.sudāsaḥ.paijavanasya.purohito.babhūba– Nirukta: 2.24). It is said; Visvamitra also helped Bharatas in crossing the rivers Vipasa (Beas) and Satadru (Sutlej) that were in full flow .The Bharatas, apparently engaged in a raid, found it difficult to cross the rivers in high flood. But, Visvamitra, by prayers, induced the waters to subside (RV: 3.121) – viśvāmitrebhir idhyate ajasraḥ.
8.6. Among the many sons of Visvamitra, Madhuchandas Vaiśvāmitra is well known. The first mantra of Rig-Veda (Agni mele purohitam…) is ascribed to Madhuchandas. He is the Rishi of the first hundred-and-two mantras of Rig-Veda; and, hence he earned the title ‘Satarchina’.
8.7. But the most debated of Visvamitra’s decedents is surely Sunahsepa. A story narrated in Aitareya Brahmana (7.13-18) brings together Visvamitra and the lad Sunahsepa Ajigarti (son of the poor and greedy Ajigarta Sauyavasi). It is said; Visvamitra adopted Sunahsepa Ajigarti as his son; or rather, the boy gave up his family and selected Visvamitra as his father. The later text Vasishta Dharma- sutra (17.33-35) cites this as an example of a case where a boy gives himself in adoption.
svayam upāgatas caturthas //śunaḥśepas vai yūpe niyuktas devatās tuṣṭāva(stu-) / tasya iha devatās pāśam vimumucus(vi-muc-) tam ṛtvijasūcus(vac-) mama eva ayam putras astu(as-) iti tān ha na saṃpede(sam-pad-) / te saṃpādayāmāsus(sam-pad-) eṣas eva yam kāmayet(kam-) tasya putras astu(as-) iti / tasya ha viśvāmitras hotā āsīt(as-) tasya putra-tvam iyāya(i-) – Va.17.34-35
Another text, Bahudayana Dharma-Sutra (mātā.pitṛ.vihīno yaḥ svayam ātmānaṃ (dadyāt sa svayaṃ.dattaḥ – 184.108.40.206) classifies such an adopted-son as one among twelve types of sons; but, places him below the biological (aurasa) sons’
(aurasaṃ putrikā.putraṃ kṣetrajaṃ datta.kṛtrimau / gūḍhajaṃ ca apaviddhaṃ ca riktha.bhājaḥ (pracakṣate / kānīnaṃ ca sahoḍhaṃ ca krītaṃ paunarbhavaṃ tathā / svayaṃ.dattaṃ niṣādaṃ ca gotra.bhājaḥ pracakṣate – 220.127.116.11-32).
Hence, the boy Sunahsepa came to be known as kritrima –vaisvamitro – devaratah, the god-given non-natural son of Visvamitra.
Sunahsepa grew into a great Rishi. The hymns 24-30 in the first mandala and the third hymn of the ninth mandala of Rig-Veda are ascribed to him. The later Rishis, the Kapileya-s and the Babhrava-s are mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana (7.17) as descendants of Sunahsepa Devarata Vaisvamitra.
9.1. It is said; one cannot truly comprehend a Vedic mantra without out a good understanding of its chhandas, the metrical form. Chhandas is the very basis of the structure and of the import of Vedic hymns (chandah paadau tu vedasya– Paniniya Shiksha – 41). The term Chanda (Sanskrit: छन्द) indicates that which is ‘pleasing, alluring, lovely, delightful or charming’. And, Chhandas is the joy in structuring the syllables and words of the mantra (chhandayati ahlada-dayani chhandas – Amara Kosha 3.20). It also sets the rhythm for chanting of the mantra. Chhandas enlivens and articulates the meaning of the mantra. And, one has to unravel, untie the covering of chhandas (chandaamsi chhadanaath – Nirukta – 8.3.11) in order to fathom the true intent of the mantra. (11,5: candraś.candateḥ.kānti.karmaṇah / candanam.ity.apy.asya.bhavati )
10.1. Gayatri, in fact, is the name of one of the metrical forms (chhandas) adopted in Rig-Veda. The Gayatri chhandas is referred to in Rig-Veda (1.12.11) as ‘Gayatra’ or ‘Gayatram’. It is said; that out of 10,552 mantras in Rig-Veda Samhita as many as 2,456 are in Gayatri chhandas. But, the largest numbers of mantras (4,251) in Rig-Veda are in Trishtup chhandas. And, the rest (1,346) are in Jagati chhandas.
10.2. Gayatri chhandas is associated with Agni, the first and the foremost of the Vedic deities without whom no ritual is possible. Trishtup chhandas is associated with Indra; and, Jagati chhandas with Visvedeva-s.
10.3. Among the fourteen* types of important chhandas used in the Vedic texts, Gayatri is the shortest (with twenty-four matras). It is regarded the first (head: atah shirah) and the basic metrical form. And, it is the best. Taittiriya – Aranyaka (10.34) regards Gayatri as the mother of all the chhandas (gayatrim chhandasaam mata); born of Brahman (Brahma –yoini); and as one that signifies Brahman in three letters (tri-akshare Brahma-vaadini). Almost all the Samhitas (excepting Krishna-yajurveda) begin in Gayatri chhandas.
[* The fourteen types of chhandas employed in Vedic texts are listed as : Gayatri; Ushnik; Anushtup; Brhati; Pankthi; Trishtup ; Jagati ; Ati- Jagati ; Shaktari ; Ati – Shaktari ; Ashti ; Ati- Ashti ; Dhruthi ; and , Ati – Dhruthi . Gayatri chhandas has twenty-four syllables; and, the six main chhandas that follow thereafter has each four syllables more than it’s preceding one (e.g. Jagati the seventh chhandas has 4×12 = 48 syllables). Incidentally, the seven horses yoked to Sun-god’s chariot are named: Gayatri, Brhati, Ushnik, Jagati, Trishtup, Anushtup and Pankthi (SB: 5.21.16.)]
10.4. As said earlier, Gayatri chhandas is associated with Agni, the first and the foremost of the Vedic deities. Because of that, Gayatri chhandas is invested with great sanctity; and, all the mantras in this chhandas are of special significance. Satapatha Brahmana (18.104.22.168) declares the mantra in Gayatri chhandas is Agni himself (Gayatri va Agnihi; and Agnir vai Gayatri). And, that Agni, indeed, is the face (mouth) of Gayatri (tasya Agni-reva mukham). That is the reason, it is explained, the opening mantras of all the Yajna-s are in Gayatri chhandas. It is also said; the line of Gayatri chhandas having eight letters* in association with Pranava (Aum) as the ninth letter (navakshara vai), by itself forms the first half of the Yajna (purvardha vai yajnasya Gayatri-SB : 22.214.171.124) – navākṣarā vai gāyatryaṣṭau tāni yānyanvāha praṇavo navamaḥ pūrvārdho vai yajñasya gāyatrī
[* Some say; this refers to the eight letters of the subtle and mystical fourth-line (Turiya paada) of Gayatri: paro (2), rajas (2), ya (1), pra– tapa –iti (3).]
10.5. The root of the term Gayatri is ‘gai’ (sabde) which denotes the sense of sound or speech or singing. That is the reason, it is said, the rik-s in Gayatri chhandas lend themselves to singing rather easily (gana-anukula-rik). Yaska-charya (Nirukta: 7.12.5) expands on that and says that rik-s in Gayatri-chhandas are ideal for singing the praises of deities (gāyatrī.gāyateḥ.stuti.karmaṇas). The rik-s in Sama-Veda are therefore mostly in Gayatra-chhandas.
11.1. As regards the Gayatri mantra, in accordance with the characteristics of the Gayatri chhandas (metrical form) in which it is composed, it is required to be made of twenty-four letters, akshara or matra (Gayatri chaturvimsatyakshara); arranged in three lines (tripaada); each paada having eight letters (ashta-aksharatmaka-paada). And, the mantra is made of nine words.
11.2. But, the first line of the mantra (tat-sa- vi –tur -vr-re-nyam) has only seven matra-s. The requirement of the chhandas is satisfied in either of two ways:
One; the Pranava, that is, Om (ॐ) is added at the commencement of the first paada to make it eight-lettered (adi –omkara- sahita astakshara). Pranava, thus, indeed becomes an integral part of Gayatri-mantra. Then the first paada would read: ॐ तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑ण्यम्।
And, the alternate way is to split last matra ‘nyam’ into two: ‘ni’ and’ yam’, in order to render the line in eight matra-s.
For similar reasons, the last matra of the third line ‘yat’ is taken to be one matra.
12.1. Gayatri is at once the name of the mantra, the name of the chhandas; and is also the name of the Goddess Gayatri Mata. Gayatri is trinity; and is hailed as Tri-rupa Gayatri. Gayatri is most usually explained or interpreted in terms of triads. Gayatri is also hailed tri-akshare Brahma-vaadini, the one who signifies Brahman in three letters.
Gayatri as mantra
13.1. To start with, Taittiriya-Aranyaka (10.35) describes, Gayatri as a mantra structured in three lines (tri-paada). And, a paada (foot), etymologically, is that which moves, activates and enlivens (padyase).
13.2. Each of the three paada-s is identified with a Veda: Rg, Yajus and Sama. Following that, Gayatri is celebrated as the mother of all Vedas – Veda Mata (AV: 19.71.1).
13.3. Further; each paada of the mantra is also identified with each of the three matra-s (syllable) of the Pranava Aum; and with each of the three Vedas. And again, each paada of the mantra is identified with each aspect of Gayatri – Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi.
:- The first paada of the Gayatri mantra is identified with the first matra of Pranava ’ Aa’ (a-kaara) , which in turn is identified with Rig-Veda. The word ‘Savitr’ in the first paada of the mantra (tat Savitr varenyam) is of essence here; and, it signifies creation and inspiration (stute).The first paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Savitri who represents dawn.
: – The second paada of the mantra is identified with the second matra of Pranava ‘U’ (u-kaara), which in turn corresponds to Sama-Veda. The verb ‘dhimahi’ in the second paada of the mantra (bhargo devasya dhimahi) is of importance here; and, it signifies precise articulation (gaana-kriya).The second paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Gayatri as Vac, clear speech (gai-sabde).
: – The third paada of the mantra is identified with the third matra of Pranava ‘M’ (ma-kaara), which in turn is identified with Yajur-veda. The key word here is ‘dhiyah’ in the third paada of the mantra (dhi yo nah prachodayat) signifying ritual-actions (karma). The third paada of the Gayatri mantra is associated with Sarasvathi (uninterrupted rituals).
There also other interpretations.
14.1. The Shandilya Upanishad (1. 17) identifies the first matra of Pranava with Gayatri; the second matra with Savitri; and the third with Sarasvathi.
prāṇāpānasamāyogaḥ prāṇāyāmo bhavati ।
recakapūrakakumbhakabhedena sa trividhaḥ ।
te varṇātmakāḥ । tasmātpraṇava eva prāṇāyāmaḥ
haṃsavāhinī daṇḍahastā bālā gāyatrī bhavati । ukāramūrtiḥ
śvetāṅgī tārkṣyavāhinī yuvatī cakrahastā sāvitrī bhavati ।
makāramūrtiḥ kṛṣṇāṅgī vṛṣabhavāhinī vṛddhā
triśūladhāriṇī sarasvatī bhavati ।
14.2. Gayatri is revered as the very foundation (adhistana) of all beings and objects. Gayatri represents earth (prithvi), as all existence is established on earth. The prithvi, in turn, stands for human body on which are settled all the vital-currents (sarve-pranah) and sense- functions (indriya kriya). In these traditional texts, when human body is referred to as the foundation (aadhara), it is the heart (hrudaya), the very core of the being, that is actually meant. For, all the vital currents (hrudi praane) and sense-functions are established (prathistitha) in the heart. Gayatri, therefore, represents the heart-lotus (hrudaya pundarika), the life-centre of all existence. (Ch.Up.3.12.3)
14.3. The Chandogya Upanishad (3.12.1) says that Gayatri signifies all beings: past, present and future. It is vac, representing the vital currents (prana); it is vac (speech) in the sense of mantra (gaayati) the recitation of which protects one who recites (traayate) ; it is vac representing all the elements – (Vac va Gayatri; vac va idam sarva-bhutam , Gaayati cha, traayate cha); and, it is as vac Gayatri is all pervasive (Gayatri vac vai gayatriti) .
gāyatrī vā idaṃ sarvaṃ bhūtaṃ yad idam kiñca | vāg vai gāyatrī |vāg vā idaṃ sarvaṃ bhūtaṃ gāyati ca trāyate ca || ChUp_3,12.1 ||
14.4. Yaska-charya mentions that mantras have three layers of meaning (traye artha).The essential power of the mantras are to transport us to the world of ideas beyond the ordinary and to experience the sublime ideals that its Rishi envisioned. Accordingly, Gayatri mantra too is interpreted, with special reference to its Devata Savitr, in terms of: Adhi-Yajna; Adhi-Daivata; and, Adhyatma. (We shall come to this a little later).
15.1. Ultimately, apart from the conditioned aspects of knowledge, vital current etc there is an un-conditioned, absolute aspect to the mantra; and, hence is called a-pada. Gayatri is not mere aggregate of letters; Brahman is its essence. And, this is Savitr in its true nature, un-conditioned and beyond relative existence. Savitr has to be realized in the space within (antar-akasha), in the depths of one’s heart-lotus (daharam pundarikam).
Gayatri as Devata
16.1. Gayatri – the mantra and the chhandas – are personified as the Goddess. The Mother as nirguna is the form-less vachya-shakthi; and as saguna, she is the presiding deity of the Gayatri mantra. The mantra itself is Devatha. The worshipper awakens and enlivens the potent Goddess residing in his heart-cave, by her/his devotion and earnestness.
[According to some, it was the Tantra ideology that turned a mantra dedicated to the solar deity Savitar into a meditation on the Mother Goddess. It also brought in mystic syllables known as Vyahritis which are similar to the Bija-aksharas of Tantric meditation. It’s Dhyana-slokas portrayed Gayatri as a goddess with symbolic iconographic features. The repetition (japa) of Gayatri mantra is preceded by purification rituals of Tantric nature, such as achamana, pranayama etc.
In turn, the Vedic tradition too accepted and revered the personified form of Savitri mantra; as Mother Goddess (asya maata Savitri: Manu.2.170).And, Chandogya Upanishad (3.12) glorified Gayatri as being that which exists right here, that which sings (gayati) and saves (trayati) all things in their Reality. ]
16.2. In the composite Dhyana-sloka submitted to Gayatri, the mantra and the goddess unite. The hymn addressed to Gayatri (Gayatryah), she is celebrated both as the mantra and as also the goddess.
:- As mantra, Gayatri (Gayatryah) is described as being in the form of Gayatri chhandas (Gayatri Chhandah), having Visvamitra as Rishi (Vishwamitra Rishih) and Savitr as Devata (Savitaa Devataa). Gayatri is composed of three lines (Tripadaa), having twenty-four syllables (Chaturvimsaty-aksharaa) . Her mantra is of six kinds (Shatkukshih) embodying the principles of: Vak (speech) ; bhuta (beings) ; prithvi (earth); sarira (body) ; hrudaya (heart) and prana (vital currents).
: – As Goddess , the fair and bright (swetavarnaa) Gayatri descends from the Gotra of Rishi Samkhyayana (saamkhyaayana sa gotra). She is endowed with five heads (Panchaseersh) . She represents the five vital currents (Praana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samaana ). Agni glows in her face (Agnirmukham) , Brahma is in her head (Brahma Shiro), Vishnu resides in her heart (Vishnur hridayam), Rudra is her tuft (Radrah Sikhaah ) and the earth is her generator (Prithivi Yonih). She presides over Upanayana (upanayaney viniyogah ).
[ Gayatryah Gayatree Chhandah Vishwamitra Rishih, Savitaa Devataa, Agnirmukham, Brahma Shiro,Vishnur hridayam, Radrah Sikhaah, Prithivi Yonih, Praanaa paana vyaanodaana samaanaa sa praanaa swetavarnaa saamkhyaayana sa gotra Gayatree Chaturvimsatyaksharaa Tripadaa Shatkukshih, Panchaseershopanayaney viniyoga ]
17.1. Gayatri as Devata, the Goddess , is hailed as Tri-rupa –Gayatri, also because she combines in herself the three goddesses : Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvathi. Gayatri is the protector of life principles; Savitri of Satya (Truth and integrity of all Life); and, Sarasvathi of the wisdom and virtues of life.
17.2. Gayatri is associated with three ‘savana-s’ (morning, midday and evening). She is said to manifest in three forms as : Gayatri in the morning (pratah-savana); Savitri in the midday (madyanh savana); and , as Sarasvathi in the evening (saayam savana) – [Aitareya Brahmana-13.25].
But, it is also said; Gayatri herself represents all three savana-s (Gayatri vai sarvani savanani).
17.3. She is Trinity herself. As Gayatri in the morning she is Bramha svarupini; as Savitri in the mid-day she is Rudra svarupini; and as Sarasvathi in the evening she is Vishnu svarupini.
17.4. Mahanirvana Tantra regards the Matrka–Trinity of Brahmi, Vaishnavi and Maheshwari as three aspects of Goddess Gayatri. She is Brahmi in the morning; Vaishnavi in the midday; and, Maheshwari in the evening.
17.5. Goddess Gayatri is revered as the sum or the aggregate (samasti svarupini) of all that is divine (Sarvadevata Svarupini; Sarvamantra Svarupini) – Gayatri vai idam sarvam.
18.1. The Gayatri mantra is addressed to Savitr; and, he is the Devata of the mantra. The Rig-Vedic god Savitr is understood and interpreted in varieties of ways. These explanations and interpretations are spread over a wide spectrum; ranging over the ritualistic, philosophical and esoteric understanding of the term Savitr.
: – Savitr is an ancient Vedic deity. He is an independent god in his own right. But, Savitr is sometimes taken as Surya; also, at times, not as Surya. At one level, Savitr is conceived as the power to dispel darkness. Savitr, here, is the aspect of Sun before daylight; and, after daybreak he is Surya*.Savitr, in this sense, is the one who inspires or gives rise to Sun. Savitr is also the motive power, the symbol of light that invokes radiance in hearts of beings. He is the awakening that impels men and creature to action. His mantra says: “We contemplate on the adorable brilliance of god Savitr, may he inspire our intellect”.
[*The scholars tend to view Savitr more as a splendid concept than as a natural phenomenon.]
: – At other places in the Samhitas, Savitr is variously identified with Agni, Soma, Prajapathi, Visvedeva and Surya; or with their aspects. At another level, Savitr is identified with one’s mind, consciousness and with one’s own self (antaryamin). Savitr, here, is the inner-light that illumines, enlivens, prompts and inspires (su-preraka) all our thoughts, speech and deeds.
: – Savitr the luminous one (divyati prakashata iti) is also the Purusha who resides in the heart –lotus of the devotees (hrudayaravinde); and is perceived in meditation (dyatatvat).
: – And again, Savitr residing in the solar orb is the symbol of Brahman (asaavaadityo Brahma).
It is said; for a beginner, Savitr might appear a functional deity; but to the seer, Savitr is a representation of Paramatman free from attributes. Following that, the first syllable of the mantra ‘tat’ could be taken either as a neuter pronoun meaning ‘that’, or understood in silence as ‘that One’ the Supreme principal Brahman.
: – Ultimately, it is said, Savitr is verily the Absolute Parabrahman.
Let’s look at some of these aspects.
Savitr as Vedic god
19.1. Savitr is an ancient (Asura) Vedic god of the upper regions (dyu-sthana). He is celebrated in eleven entire Suktas and in many separate stanzas as well. Everything about him is beautiful and brilliant. He is pictured, pre-eminently, as a golden deity adorned with golden-eyes; golden – arms and golden-hands; and having a golden-tongue. His chariot and its shaft, made of gold (ratham hiranya pra-ugam vahantah –RV: 1.35.4-5), are drawn by two or more brown, white-footed horses adorned with pearls (krsnavant). The yellow-haired (haridra kesi) Savitr rises up from the east, following the emergence of Ushas the goddess of dawn; and illumines the sky. He moves across the sky seated in his bright golden chariot (shubrabhyam yajato haribhyam), filling all directions with his boundless golden lustre (hiranyim amitam) seeing all creatures, dispelling darkness and sorrows. He rises aloft his strong golden arms extending to ends of earth (hiranya divo antha anustam: RV: 7.45.2) and blesses all beings (sakala shreyamsi dhatrunam). The other gods follow him.
19.2. His countenance of golden splendour is pleasing; and his speech is clear and sweet. On his ancient path, he protects his worshippers; and conveys the departed ancestors (pitris) to where the righteous dwell. Savitr governs the cosmic order Rta. And, all the elements and gods are subject to his law.
19.3. He protects the universe (vishvam bhuvanam dharayistathi: RV: 4.54.4).Prayers are submitted to this glowing, venerable god to inspire, to stimulate and to illumine ones heart and mind (RV: 3.62.10).
Savitr according to Yaska-charya
20.1. Yaska-charya, the great grammarian and etymologist of very ancient India, classifies Savitr both among the Devatha-s of the mid-region (madhyama – sthana) as also among the Devatha-s of the upper-realms (dyus -sthana). Savitr as the Devata of the mid-region, settled beyond interference (aturte), establishes (sthiram akarat) the earth (prihvim) firmly, easily and happily. He is associated with the clouds, the rains, the earth and the mind; and, he holds afloat the sky (akashbhane) without visible support (aalambanam tad-rahite).
20.2. The earth fully established by Savitr (RV: 10.149.1) symbolizes matter. And, the heaven which he holds afloat, without any support, is the consciousness. And, between the two is the mid-region where Savitr has settled Soma (aturte baddham Savita). Soma, here, symbolizes the alert mind which is guided by Savitr along the right path (Savitr is therefore called ‘Sunita’, ‘sushtu neta’). Savitr, in association with Soma is variously described as ‘Asura’ the giver of life (prana-daata), Vi-suparna (possessed of splendid forms).
20.3. Savitr in the upper-realms (dyus-sthana), symbolized by solar orb, is the Devata par excellence. He illumines the earth as well as the atmosphere and the highest realms (nrchaksha yeva devo madhya aastha aa prapivaan rodhasi anthariksham – RV: 10.130.2). He is the very soul of all that moves and all that stays in the world. He is the sight of the human beings who can see (nrchaksha), abiding in the midst of the heart-space (hrudayakasha).
20.4. Yaska-charya (Nirukta: 10.33) cites a mantra from Rig-Veda comparing Savitr with another Vedic god Tvashtr.
The Rishi of this mantra is Prajapathi, described as the son of Visvamitra. The skilful Tvashtr provides form to objects (Tvashta rupani pimsatu: 10.184); and projects the earth and sky alike, just as Savitr does (RV: 10.110.9).
ya ime dyāvāpṛthivī janitrī rūpair apiṃśad bhuvanāni viśvā | tam adya hotar iṣito yajīyān devaṃ tvaṣṭāram iha yakṣi vidvān
21.1. As a solar god Savitr is related to Truth and to the cosmic order Rta. In that context, Yaska-charya, again, explains the term Savitr as the progenitor, the one who gives birth to all things (Savitr sarvasya prasavita: Nirukta– 10.3). Savitr is hailed as the most real (satya), the source of all order and the true-principles (satya-dharma) that govern all existence. And, in that sense, Savitr is one with Varuna who represents Satya the Absolute Truth; and, Rta the cosmic order conditioned by space, time and circumstances. Satya is the Truth of Being: and, Rta is the truth of becoming. Savitr Devata is related to both. It is also said; Savitr is Satya, for it is the essence of all things – living and nonliving; with form and without form. The humans must follow the course of Savitr (satya) and accomplish their tasks (devasya Savithuhu karma kurvanthu manavaha – AV: 6.23.3)
22.1. Yaska-charya calls Savitr as Kavi; as the one who knows all the past, present and future. He is the seer of the beyond, the omniscient. He is the one who draws out sublime thoughts from the womb of mystery; and brings them to light for the benefit of all. Savitr is the most adorable – ‘varenyam’. He inspires all (Savita sarvasya preraka) to move upwards towards the heavens viz. the higher reaches of consciousness.
22.2. According to Yaska-charya, Savitr is the inner-light, the inner controller (antaryamin). He releases (prasuta) actions from their un-manifest states. And, prompts (su-preraka), inspires and guides all to engage in good thoughts and right actions; and to tread on the right path.
Savitr and Agni
23.1. Savitr, the solar deity is at times identified with Surya as also with Agni who is a Devata of Prithvi-sthana, the earth – region (agnir jyotih, jyotis surya svaaha). Savitr also is Apam-napath, the child of waters; the favourite epithet of Agni.
23.2. When Savitr is associated with Agni, he is described as the ascending flames of Agni (urdhvam keturn). Savitr as Agni is the purifier of all things (pavaka) ; as also of the minds and hearts of humans. Along with Agni, Savitr becomes a part of the Yajna. Savitr is invoked at the commencement of the Yajna with prayers for the successful completion of a Yajna (Savitr yajnam pranayeti).
23.3. In the context of Yajna, Savitr is also conceived as the visible representation of the year of twelve months (kapala) – (dwadasa –kapalah savitro bhavati; dwadasa vai masah samvathsarasya). The presence of Savitr is symbolized by a circle drawn in the yajna-vedi; and it is surrounded by an altar made of fifteen bricks (ishtaka) symbolizing fifteen days of the first half of the month (purva-paksha); or of the latter half of the month (apara-paksha) .
23.4. At another level, during the Yajna, Savitr becomes the inner-being (antaryamin) and the inspirer (preraka) that dwells in the heart of the performing priest (adhvaryu).
Savitr and Soma
24.1. Savitr the Devata of Gayatri mantra is closely associated with Soma. In every Sukta addressed to Savitr there are mantras which praise Soma. Prayers are submitted to Soma to provide food that is free from contamination and that is free from danger (anamiva ishaskrath) to humans (dvi-paade) and to the animals (chatush-paade). Soma is requested to prolong our lives (ayur-vardaya) by driving away threats and dangers.
25.1. Soma in the Vedic context has many references: as plant (adh-bhautika), the drink (adhi-yajna), the moon (adhi-daivata) and the mind (adhyatma). Its esoteric meaning is taken as that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat-somah). Soma as the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit (annada). Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food (anna)’. Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “(Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)
25.2. Just as with Savitr, Soma is closely associated with Surya too. Soma is often described as bright (aruna bhabru), fascinating (sona) and luminous (hari); and he shines along with the sun (Soma Suryena rochate -RV : 9.2.6). If Surya is the eye of the gods (asau vaa aditya devaanam chakshasu), Soma is the eye of the manes, pitris (Chandrama vai pitrnam chakshuh). If Surya is the symbol of eyes (chaksho Surya) , Soma is the symbol of mind (Chandrama manaso).
Thus, if one is the sight, the other is the insight.
25.3. Following that, Soma is symbolized as the parent of all mind-process (pita matinaam), the leader of thoughts (neta matinaam) , the protector of wisdom (patir dhiyah) and the master of mind (manasas patih). He is the true (dhira) knower of all things ( manishi, medhira , vipra) here and beyond (visvavid), hidden (kratu-vid) and revealed (kavi kratu). The secrets of all the senses are laid bare by the shining Soma (devo devaanam guhyani nama-avishkrnoti –RV: 9.95.2). He is the lord of all speech (somo raja vaksah). He is the Lord of the Yajna ; and one who assigns to each Deva his share in the Yajna (bhagam devabhyo vidadhatyayan ).
25.4. Soma is called here Samudra meaning not only vast but also ever – active mind, the mind which operates creatively and ceaselessly. He is projected in the image of a powerful, unruly and impetus horse (asvam ivadhukshat dhunim).
25.5. In all these references, Soma represents the evolved, well ordered, efficient and far-reaching mind (daksho devanaam asi –RV: 9.85.2) ; the mind that helps us to reach Savitr. Soma is presented as the very soul of sense-function (atmendriyasya bhavasi dhasir uttamah). He is the true source of inspiration to reach Savitr.
26.1. Incidentally, I may mention that there is in the Rig-Veda a hymn (149 of the tenth mandala) associated with Savitr (Savitr pratipaadaka Hiranya –stupa mantra) . The Rishi of this mantra is Archan, the son of Hiranya-stupa who in turn was the son of the most celebrated Rishi Angirasa. Because of his devotion to Savitr, Archan earned the epithet of Savitarchan.
26.2. Both the father and the son in their hymns addressed to Savitr also praise Soma – pavamana, the purifier. Hiranya-stupa (father of Archan) adores Soma variously as light (jtothi), bliss (svar), strength or ability (daksha), wisdom (kratu) and protection (uti) – (RV: 9.4.1-3). Hiranya-stupa prays to Soma to lead him to Savitr or Surya (tvam Surye na aa bhaje – RV: 9.4.5).
26.3. As regards the son Archan; he describes Soma as ‘the other principle’ (anyad abhavat) which came into being after (paschath) Savitr. In his adoration of Savitr (Somasyevamsum prati- jagaraham), Archan invokes the lustrous (amsu) Soma, the one who bestows the wealth of the earth as also that of the heaven (dvi-barhasam rayim).And , prays to Soma to lead him to Savitr.
26.4. Following the family tradition, Archan’s son Syavasva Archanasa also composed hymns devoted to Savitr. His rik appearing in the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda Samhita (5.82.1) gained fame as ‘the other Savitri’ (ity uktatvat savitram).
[Please see Note to paragraph 5.4 above]
Savitr and Surya
27.1. Savitr just as the other Devatha-s of the upper realm (dyus sthana) is a solar deity; he was one of the Adityas. Their several aspects and functions are described variedly as: Pushan the one who nourishes ; Vishnu the one who pervades ; Keshi the one who provides light (pra-kasam) ; Vaisvanara the one who assumes varied forms ; and, Vrshakapi the one becomes red and ascends the sky like a bull. The Vedic mantras adore the Devatha-s of the upper realm (dyus sthana) by these and other names; for, they all, in essence, are of solar-spirit.
27.2. Savitr, as a solar deity, dispels darkness and makes way for dawn, illumining the entire world. In other words, Savitr is the one that brings forth Surya who causes the day.
27.3. Savitr, here, is conceived as an aspect of Sun before daylight (udayat purvabhavi); and, after daybreak the Sun is called Surya (Surya iti). Thus, Surya is the later form of Savitr. Some say, Savitr is Surya when present below the horizon, but not quite visible. Savitr is also called Bhaga (Savita Bhagaha: RV 5.82.3) in a sense of the ‘early (proto)’ Surya.
27.4. Savitr, thus, comes after night (tamas) and before light (jyothi): (tamasya kirna rashmir bhavathi). It is also said; the night comes at his command sending all beings to rest. Savitr is the bridge between night and light. Night is un-manifest; and light is manifest. Savitr in this sense is both un-manifest (A-vyakta) and manifest (Vyatka).
28.1. Sri Sayana-charya also describes Savitr as the deity who presides during the time between dawn and the emergence of Sun*. Savitr is the emerging rays of light (urdhva bhanum savita devo asred). Savitr, here, is visualized as the power to dispel darkness and enliven all existence (Brhad –devata: 2.61-62).
28.2. Sri Sayana, therefore, regards Savitr as the inspiration, the illumining power of Surya. He expands: “the all-knowing Aditya (Surya), the protector of all beings (gopah) who moves in the mid-region permeating all the three worlds with his rays derives his inspiration (tasya prasave) from Savitr”.
[*Sri Aurobindo interprets night as ignorance. And, once the senses are controlled and the mind is stabilized, Ushas the dawn of consciousness arises. Following her, comes Savitr the awakening, the grace and the inspiration to seek Satya, the Truth, personified by the Surya. “His coming is the advent of God’s hour, awakes the asleep and ennobles the vilest things”.]
28.3. Sri Sayana explains that the expressions Surya and Savitr imply the power to protect, to inspires and flash forth (pra-sauti). He also says Savita is that which enlivens and inspires all beings (Savita sarvasya prerako devah). And, Savitr, like Surya, pervades spreads and holds together different things. Savitr just as Surya represents light, energy, inspiration, intellect and consciousness.
28.4. Svetasvatara Upanishad (2.7) describes Savitr as a Deva, a luminous god, who shines in the sky with dazzling brilliance (divyati prakashata iti). He is adored by all the gods (sthuyate sarva-devathaihi). The Deva illumines the world and makes all life possible. It is Savitr alone (ekah) that has the power to propel, inspire and flash forth.
29.1. Savitr, here, is the radiance that illumines and enlivens all existence. He provides the inspiration and the impetus to life. He resides in the heart –lotus of the devotees (hrudayaravinde); he is to be meditated upon (upasate); and perceived in meditation (dyatatvat).
29.2. Savitr is truly one’s own self, vivifying the body, the sense –functions and the mind, providing wealth for the total welfare. He lightens up all our thoughts, our resolves and our aspirations.
Savitr and Purusha
30.1. It is said; Savitr is Purusha. The Purusha Sukta of Rig-Veda (10.90.2) describes with awe and wonder the majesty of Purusha. It says; all that exists as the world we know (sarva bhutani) is only one-fourth of the Purusha; and three – fourths of him are in the upper realms beyond our perception (tri paadasyam amrutam divi).
30.2. The Gayatri mantra is said to be four-footed (chatuspaada) when Pranava (Om) accompanies it. However, when Pranava is omitted it is only three-footed (Chatuspaada Gayatri pranavena saha; pranavam vina tripaada). It is said; the fourth paada (turiya paada) is hidden or un-manifest. It represents the Purusha abiding in the solar orb (Surya mandala-antargata-purusha), beyond intellect.
30.3. It is said; the turiya paada is the un-conditioned and the most subtle aspect of the mantra. And hence, it is named A-paada. This is Savitr in its true nature – un-conditioned by aught and beyond relative existence. It is most worthy of worship (varenyam) and contemplation (dhyayema).
31.1. Savitr or Purusha is cosmic in nature. He fills and enlivens the entire universe; yet, he also dwells hidden in heart-cave of each being as its essence (guru guha), consciousness and strength. He is the antaryamin, the very life of life. Savitr resides in the heart-lotus (hrudaya-aravinda) of the devotee; and there he becomes visible. Hence Savitr is called ‘darsata’, that which is seen. The essentials of our existence are all settled in Savitr, like the spokes of the wheel in its hub.
31.2. This Savitr or Purusha is verily the Brahman (jagat prerakasys Brahma- rupasya Savituh), the supreme consciousness, beyond the three gunas (paro rajasa) and illuminating the three worlds (tapati), ruling over them (adipathya bhavena).
Let’s talk about the components of the Mantra and its import in the next part.