The Gāyatrī Mantra is a highly revered mantra, based on a Vedic Sanskrit verse from a hymn of the Rigveda (3.62.10), attributed to the rishi (sage) Viśvāmitra. The mantra is named for its vedic gāyatrī metre. As the verse can be interpreted to invoke the deva Savitr, it is often called Sāvitrī. Its recitation is traditionally preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti ("great utterance").
The Gayatri Mantra is repeated and cited very widely in vedic literature, and praised in several well-known classical Hindu texts such as Manusmṛti, Harivamsa, and the Bhagavad Gita. The mantra is an important part of the upanayanam ceremony for young males in Hinduism, and has long been recited by Brahmin males as part of their daily rituals. Modern Hindu reform movements spread the practice of the mantra to include women and all castes and its use is now very widespread.
So... there it is. A wonderful, soothing, simple mantra and with universal applicability.
Now it is good to recite this mantra at least some time during the day, and preferably in the morning and evening. And the proper setting is the practice of Sandhya Vandanam, a series of 16 different disciplines or kriyas which takes about 1/2 hour and which acts like a truly magical internal cleanser of all impurities and obstacles.
The practice needs to be read and learned, but if you have the funds then buy the book above. There is also a Ramakrishna mission book on the Gayatri that lays out the same practice.
Sandhya VandanamSandhya Vandanam connects us to the deep currents in existence. We offer our prayers early in the morning (and in the midday and evening if we can) to remove obstacles, prayers to the water, the wind, prayers for healing and illumination, and its such a beautiful and really simple discipline. Ideally, it is practised at dawn and dusk... tied in fact to the course of the sun over the day. And this is important. We can be so rootless in modern society, cut off from the feel of the soil on our feet, the play of water through our hands, the rays of the sun - I know this well, being pushed into working in a modern office where we cant even open the windows to let fresh air in. But lets assume you have not so much time, pressing responsibilities etc. Still, if you can, try it out. What we are really talking about is a way to reconnect, to plug into a tradition thousands of years old and absolutely alive and vibrant.
The practice takes you only about 30 minutes and helps you through some simple but effective purificatory rituals and internal cleansing before reciting the Gayatri mantra, which vary broadly depending on which faith tradition from which you can (ie Vaishnava, Shaivite, Shakta). These are:
- Apa Prasana
- Arghya Pradana
- Bhu Siddhi
- Bhuta Siddhi
- Asana Vidhi
- Gayatri Hyrdaya Parayana
- Gayatri Nyasa
- Gayatri Dhyana
- Gayatri Pratashapana
Many of these steps are very simple and quick, and most will be very familiar to all who perform regular pujas, because they form the essential building blocks of any puja.
All you need is two containers of water and a spoon, a place to sit, preferably access to the sun and preferably access to a stream/river, and a japa mala (recitation beads). At the bare minimum, two glasses water and a teaspoon will do the trick, plus your hand on which to count japa. So unlike most elaborate Hindu rituals, you don't need to go overboard on this one.
The joy is that you go through your own purification - for example cleansing yourself of sins committed in the previous night, and specifically Aghamarsana (meaning discipline through which we become sinless) which directly addresses papapurusha, the body of sin or impurity within you. In sanskrit you recite a prayer which ends (English translation):
I've found in my own life that Sandhya Vandanam truly settles my mind when it is particularly wild... it is like giving a wild dog a bone. The mind chews contentedly on the mantras, and suddenly you can find yourself connected to your royal road of spiritual practice, to all those memories and experiences you have built up of reverence, effort, connection. Connection really is the key word. No matter what you've done the night, the day, the month, the year, the life before, Sandhya vandanam offers you an inner housecleaning, no questions asked, no judgements made.
Some say its practice is directly related to the opening of the 3rd eye. I say its practice is directly connected to wisdom, maturity, sobreity, devotion, like returning to a safe and embracing place. The mantras weave around you, protecting and inspiring. And the jewel in the crown of the Sandhya Vandanam practice is the Gayatri mantra.
If you are serious about sadhana, looking for a great step up, give this a try. It really will change your life. My own practice takes place in the most unlikeliest of places, my office early in the morning. It has become such a sacred help, such a boon, so natural and easy. You owe it to yourself... get a spiritual car wash!
Selected prayers from the Sandhya VandanamHere are some great prayers to use anyway, if you are so inclined. We start with the very first prayers of the morning:
The Chart of the Gayatri
Tattva: Prithvi (earth)
Tanmatra: Gandha (smell)
Tattva: Jala (water)
Tanmatra: Rasa (taste)
Tattva: Agni (fire)
Tanmatra: Rupa (form)
Tattva: Vayu (earth)
Tanmatra: Sparsha (touch)
Tanmatra: Shabda (smell)
Vehicle: White elephant
Tattva: Mahat (intelligence)
Loka: 7 Sages
Loka: Sphere of truth