‘Gayatrī mantra’, translation and commentary

‘Gayatrī mantra’

Suggested translation:

“Earth, sky and heaven.

Excellent above all is the Sun.

Let us contemplate the divine radiance,

which brings us to wisdom.”

Notes:

Rigveda 3.62.10 reads

तत सवितुर्वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि |

धियो यो नः परचोदयात ||

tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ

bhárgo devásya dhīmahi

dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

The ‘Gayatrī mantra’ reads:

ॐ भूर्भुव: स्व:

तत्सवितुर्वरेन्यं ।

भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि,

धीयो यो न: प्रचोदयात् ।।

Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ

tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ

bhárgo devásya dhīmahi

dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

Whereas in principle the gāyatrī metre specifies three lines (pāda) of eight syllables each, the text of the verse as preserved in the Rigveda is one syllable short, the first pāda counting seven instead of eight. Metrical restoration would emend the attested tri-syllabic vareṇyaṃ with a tetra-syllabic vareṇiyaṃ

Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ is not in the original Rg Veda. It is not of eight syllables and constitutes an extra line, and so can be considered as an addition to the main mantra.

The context of Rg Veda 3.62.10 is significant. It calls on the various gods to give boons to mankind. The prayer to Savitr is for wisdom but also for prosperity (v. 11). In vv.10, 11, and 12 the god is addressed in three different ways.[1]

  1. May he who sees all living things, see, them together at a glance,-

May he, may Pusan be our help.

  1. May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the God:

So may he stimulate our prayers.

  1. With understanding, earnestly, of Savitar the God we crave

Our portion of prosperity.

  1. Men, singers worship Savitar the God with hymn and holy rites,

Urged by the impulse of their thoughts.

The text and its grammar:

Oṃ                  Aum

bhūr                bhū, mfn; becoming, being, arising, world or universe

therefore: earth       

bhuvaḥ            masc; atmosphere,

therefore: sky

svaḥ                heaven

tat                   neuter sing.

therefore: that          

savitur            genitive masc. sing. of savitṛ; stimulator, vivifier, name of a sun-deity  therefore: the Sun

vareṇ(i)yaṃ    adjective, mfn. to be wished for, excellent, best among (gen.)

therefore: excellent above all

bhargo            noun masc. sing; radiance, splendour, effulgence, illumination,

                        therefore: radiance

devasya           genitive of deva (god), ‘of the god’

therefore: divine      

dhīmahi           optative,  ātmanepada of first person plural of dhī

therefore: let us contemplate

dhiyo               genitive of dhī f. thought, (esp.) religious thought , reflection , meditation, devotion, prayer, understanding, intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, mind , disposition, intention,   

therefore: wisdom

yo                    masc. sing. 3rd person pronoun,

therefore: who

naḥ                  of us, our

pracodayāt     causative from pracud, to set in motion, drive on, urge, (Caus.

pracodayati) inspire,

therefore: bring

Imparting the Gayatri mantra to young Hindu men is an important part of the traditional upanayana ceremony, which marks the beginning of study of the Vedas. It is an appropriate prayer for wisdom.

In the later 19th century, Hindu reform movements extended the chanting of the Gayatri mantra beyond caste and gender limitations. In 1898, Swami Vivekananda began initiating non-Brahmins with upanayana and the Gayatri mantra.

[1] Translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1896.

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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