Invoking the Divine: An Exposition on Gayatri Mantras

Leading the Senses toward the Self
An Exposition by Maitreya Larios

For more than three decades, Gurumayi has been teaching Siddha Yogis how to engage with the sacred practices of the Siddha Yoga tradition and culture. One of these practices is the recitation of gāyatrī mantras.

In the Vedic tradition of India, gāyatrī mantras are regarded as powerful means to fully invoke the presence of a particular deity. These mantras are said to condense the complete power of that deity in sound-form and are thus infused with transformative potential. They are not only charged with the deity’s power, but because they are formulated as prayers, they are also full of intention. Through the practice of repeating these mantras, we pray to be inspired, to be empowered, and to be able to recognize the divine qualities of a particular deity in us. On the Siddha Yoga path, these deities are understood to be aspects of the one divine Consciousness that pervades the entire creation.

In traditional Vedic texts, the Sanskrit word gāyatrī has been defined as follows:

गायन्तं त्रायते इति गायत्री ।

gāyantaṁ trāyate iti gāyatrī

That which protects the one who chants it is gāyatrī.

The Sanskrit word trāyate means “protects oneself,” and it also indicates that which “grants liberation.” To chant such a mantra thus protects the practitioner from their own limited understanding of the mind’s nature by directing it to its source, which is pure Consciousness.
 
Gāyatrī mantras share several distinguishing characteristics. AUM, the primordial sound, traditionally precedes each repetition of a gāyatrī mantra. These mantras also use three main words, each appearing in one of its respective metric lines:

vidmahe—“may we know and understand”
dhīmahi—“may we place inside”
pracodayāt—“may that one inspire and encourage us”

The principal gāyatrī mantra is an invocation that first appears in the ancient scripture the Ṛg-veda, and the gāyatrī mantras dedicated to the other deities are said to derive or be inspired from this particular one:

ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः
तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं
भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि ।
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥

oṁ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tat savitur vareṇyaṁ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

Om. O Earth, Sky, and Heaven!
May we place within ourselves the radiance of the divine Savitri, the Sun God,
who shall then awaken our insight.

Ṛg-veda (3.62.10)

Known as the śrī ādi gāyatrī mantra—and sometimes also as the sūrya gāyatrī mantra—this mantra is considered the oldest and most powerful among Vedic mantras. It is revered within this tradition as vedamātā, "the mother of all Vedic mantras" or the “mother of all knowledge.” It is also the mantra of initiation that a young Brahmin boy receives at the onset of his Vedic studies, in the traditional ceremony known as upanayana. After receiving this mantra, the student is said to be “twice-born”; his spiritual initiation into the study of the Vedas is his second birth.
 
Recognizing the importance and potency of this gāyatrī mantra, sages have composed gāyatrī mantras for most gods and goddesses worshipped in India. These mantras often were revealed to these sages in deep states of meditation.
 
Gāyatrī” is also the name of a poetical meter called the “gāyatrī meter.” This is one of the principal meters found in the Vedic canon and contains three lines of eight syllables each. In the ancient Vedic tradition, the meter (chanda) was considered to be very important, and the Vedic mantras are composed in particular meters, which are said to have certain effects on the listener. The etymology of the word chandas derives from the verbal root chad which can mean both “to cover and protect” as well as “to please and to delight in.” Therefore, it is said that the meters both protect the listener as well as produce delight. Of the gāyatrī meter it is said: “An eight-syllabic is a gāyatrī-verse; gāyatrī is strength and brahman-splendor; one obtains strength and brahman-splendor thereby.” 1
 
The gāyatrī mantra and the meter in itself are also personified as a goddess—Gāyatrī Devī—who embodies the creative force of the Divine. Thus, in some Purāṇas she is represented as the śakti (the power) and wife of Lord Brahmā, the deity who is creator of the universe. This particular meter is, therefore, said to infuse each of these mantras with the śakti or the creative effulgence of Consciousness, thus rendering them particularly potent.
 
The śrī ādi gāyatrī mantra is traditionally sung or used for mantra repetition during daily prayers, particularly during saṃdhyāvandana, the twilight rituals performed by Brahmins at each dawn and dusk. In India it is also common for Brahmins to sing gāyatrī mantras as part of a Vedic fire ritual and for individuals to sing them in groups in temples or homes.
 
On the Siddha Yoga path, Gurumayi has introduced the repetition of gāyatrī mantras during celebrations and holidays in which participants engage in the recitation of these mantras. These gāyatrī mantras can also be practiced on our own as silent mantra japaḥ particularly before we enter into meditation. They can also be the point of our focus during meditation while we attentively listen to their recitation.
 
When repeating a gāyatrī mantra, we invoke its deity as a form of God, and we praise the divine qualities and aspects of that deity within us. We pray that we may know and attain this divine presence by meditating upon it, and that we may always be inspired and guided by its śakti.

motif

 1  Tāṇḍya Mahābrāhmaṇa XV. 1.8

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About Maitreya Larios

teacher photo Copyright SYDA Foundation

Maitreya Larios began following the Siddha Yoga path in 1990. He offers seva from home as a scholar with the SYDA Foundation Content Department and the Siddha Yoga Music Department. Maitreya also currently offers seva in the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Vienna, Austria. During summers from 1996 to 1998, Maitreya served on staff at Shree Muktananda Ashram.

Maitreya earned a PhD in classical Indology from Heidelberg University, Germany. He recently accepted an appointment as an assistant professor in the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. His wife and their son will soon rejoin him in Vienna.