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Durable Link to this BlogThursday, July 25, 2002

The Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri mantra is a three line verse from a hymn in RigVeda.

RigVeda is the most ancient of the Hindu texts (Vedas) and was composed more than three thousand years before the Common era. All the Vedic hymns were composed by great seers or sages and were taught by word of mouth. This practice has comedown till present day, with hardly any changes. There are thousands of mantras for all occasions of life.

The Gayatri mantra is attributed to sage Vishwamitra. He was born in a family of warriors (the Kshatriya class of the society) in northern India. It is said that by severe penance and meditation he availed the revelation of the Gayatri mantra, bestowed upon him by the Sun-God. Hence, the Gayatri is invocation to Sun-God.  It is chanted in all important Hindu religious rites and ceremonies. Gayatri is first taught to youngsters during the sacred thread ceremony or the Upanayana ritual. 

The mantra runs like this:

Om Tatsavitur Varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo na prachodayat

"Let us think on the lovely splendor
Of the God Savitr (the Sun)
That He may inspire our intelligence"

The early Aryans were a very tolerant race. They believed that everybody by birth was a Shudra (or the condemned), and became a Brahmin (or reformed) only with disciplined learning and training; and Upanayana was the first step to Brahminhood. The fact that the composer of this most sacred hymn was born as a non-Brahmin, says a lot about the casteless society of the period. A true Brahmin was only the one who succeeded in knowing the Absolute or Brahma.

In fact, some progressive schools of Hinduism (like Arya Samaj) consider learning of the Gayatri matra is the criteria of becoming an Arya, and have converted a large number of people who were born into so called "low castes", into Brahmins.

Links:
• Pictures of an Ordaining Ceremony (Munji)
• Hinduism Potpourri

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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