Wednesday, November 30, 2022

On The Gayatri Mantra

10th Century Sculpture of 

Sadashiva (Parameshwara)

ॐ भूर् भुवः स्वः ।
भर्गो॑ देवस्य धीमहि ।
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥

(Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tat savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt) ~ the Gayatri Mantra

Dedicated to God Savita, the Gayatri Mantra is part of the Vedic tradition of spiritualism and philosophy that is more than 3000 years old. It occurs in the early section of the Rigveda (Mandala 3.62.10). In some Vedic hymns, Savita means the Sun God. However, Yaska, the celebrated grammarian and linguist of the Vedic age, gives a different meaning to Savita. In his text Nirukta, Yaska posits that Savita was the creator of the universe. This implies that Savita is Parameshwara, the ultimate reality. 

Till this day, millions of Hindus recite the Gayatri Mantra at sunrise and sunset. This is the world’s only mantra whose recitation has been widespread for over 3000 years. Why do the Hindus of today take the Gayatri Mantra so seriously? Why do they feel that the chanting of this mantra purifies their body and soul? Bankim Chandra Chatterjee believed that there was a historical reason behind this mantra’s popularity. In his essay, “The Glory of the Gayatri Mantra,” he wrote: 

“When the greatest rishis of India turned Brahmavadi, or believers in one Supreme God, they were keen to point out how their philosophy was rooted in the Vedas. As the prayer to Savita in the Gayatri Mantra could also be interpreted as a prayer to ‘one who has given brith to the universe’, they attached great importance to it… We are not sure to whom exactly the hymn to Savita in the Gayatri Mantra was originally dedicated, but it makes sense to regard it as dedicated to Parameshwara...” 

In the final paragraph of his essay, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee reflects on the importance of Vedic knowledge:

“The Vedas are definitely the roots of Hinduism. But the roots cannot be the tree. The tree acquires branches, leaves, flowers and fruit. But if we do not acquaint ourselves with the roots, if we remain totally blind about the early stirrings of Hinduism, we will not know our tree well.”

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