Gayatri Mantra

Gayatri Mantra

The Gāyatrī Mantra, also known as the Sāvitrī mantra, is a highly revered mantra from the Rig Veda (Mandala 3.62.10), dedicated to Savitr, the Sun deity. Gāyatrī is the name of the Vedic meter in which the verse is composed.[1] Its recitation is traditionally preceded by oṃ and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ, known as the mahāvyāhṛti, or "great (mystical) utterance".

The Gayatri mantra is cited widely in Vedic and post-Vedic texts, such as the mantra listings of the Śrauta liturgy, and classical Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita,[2][3] Harivamsa,[4] and Manusmṛti.[5] It is the subject of esoteric treatment and explanation in some major Upanishads, and is also referred to in the Buddhist Pali Canon.[6]

The mantra is an important part of the upanayana ceremony for young males in Hinduism, and has long been recited by dvija men 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.[7][8]


The main mantra appears in the hymn RV 3.62.10. During its recitation, the hymn is preceded by oṃ () and the formula bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ (भूर् भुवः स्वः). This prefixing of the mantra proper is described in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (2.11.1-8), which states that it should be chanted with the syllable oṃ, followed by the three Vyahrtis and the Gayatri verse.[9]

The Gayatri mantra is,[9] in Devanagari:

ॐ भू: भुवः स्वः ।
भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि ।
धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ॥


om bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ prachodayāt
– Rigveda 3.62.10[10]


See also: Surya

The Gāyatrī Mantra is dedicated to Savitr, a Vedic Sun deity.[11][12]


The Gayatri Mantra has been translated in many ways. Quite literal translations include:

More interpretative translations include:

  • (1947): "We meditate on the effulgent glory of the divine Light; may he inspire our understanding."[20]
  • (1953): "We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence."[21]

Textual appearances

Vedic and Vedantic literature

The Gayatri mantra is cited widely in Vedic and post-Vedic texts, such as the mantra listings of the Śrauta liturgy,[note 2][note 3] and cited several times in the Brahmanas and the Srauta-sutras.[note 4][note 5] It is also cited in a number of grhyasutras, mostly in connection with the upanayana ceremony[24] in which it has a significant role.

The Gayatri mantra is the subject of esoteric treatment and explanation in some major Upanishads, including Mukhya Upanishads such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,[note 6] the Shvetashvatara Upanishad[note 7] and the Maitrayaniya Upanishad;[note 8] as well as other well-known works such as the Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana.[note 9] The text also appears in minor Upanishads, such as the Surya Upanishad.

The Gayatri mantra is the apparent inspiration for derivative "gāyatrī" stanzas dedicated to other deities. Those derivations are patterned on the formula vidmahe - dhīmahi - pracodayāt",[25] and have been interpolated[26] into some recensions of the Shatarudriya litany.[note 10] Gāyatrīs of this form are also found in the Mahanarayana Upanishad.[note 11]

The Gayatri mantra is also repeated and cited widely in classical Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita,[2][3] Harivamsa,[4] and Manusmṛti. [5]

Buddhist corpus

In Samyutta Nikaya 111, Majjhima Nikaya 92 and Vinaya i 246 of the Pali Canon, the Buddha refers to the Agnihotra as the foremost sacrifice and the Gayatri mantra as the foremost meter:

aggihuttamukhā yaññā sāvittī chandaso mukham.

Sacrifices have the agnihotra as foremost; of meter the foremost is the Sāvitrī.[6]


Whereas in principle the gāyatrī mantra specifies three pādas of eight syllables each, the text of the verse as preserved in the Samhita is one short, seven instead of eight. Metrical restoration would emend the attested tri-syllabic vareṇyaṃ with a tetra-syllabic vareṇiyaṃ.[27]


Upayana ceremony

Imparting the Gayatri mantra to young Sanatan men is an important part of the traditional upanayana ceremony, which marks the beginning of study of the Vedas. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan described this as the essence of the ceremony,[20] which is sometimes called "Gayatri diksha", i.e. initiation into the Gayatri mantra.[28] However, traditionally, the stanza RV.3.62.10 is imparted only to Brahmin boys. Other Gayatri verses are used in the upanayana ceremony for non-Brahmins: RV.1.35.2, in the tristubh meter, for a kshatriya and either RV.1.35.9 or RV.4.40.5 in the jagati meter for a Vaishya.[29]


Gayatri japa is used as a method of prāyaścitta, instrument of Tantric practice. It is believed by practitioners that reciting the mantra bestows wisdom and enlightenment, through the vehicle of the Sun (Savitr), who represents the source and inspiration of the universe.[20]

Brahmo Samaj

In 1827 Ram Mohan Roy published a dissertation on the Gayatri mantra[30] that analysed it in the context of various Upanishads. Roy prescribed a Brahmin to always pronounce om at the beginning and end of the Gayatri mantra.[31] From 1830, the Gayatri mantra was used for private devotion of Brahmos. In 1843, the First Covenant of Brahmo Samaj required Gayatri mantra for Divine Worship. From 1848-1850 with the rejection of Vedas, the Adi Dharm Brahmins use the Gayatri mantra in their private devotions.[32]

Hindu revivalism

In the later 19th century, Hindu reform movements spread the chanting of the Gayatri mantra. In 1898 for example, Swami Vivekananda claimed that, according to the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, a person became Brahmin through learning from his Guru, and not because of birth. He administered the sacred thread ceremony and the Gayatri mantra to non-Brahmins in Ramakrishna Mission.[33] This Hindu mantra has been popularized to the masses, outside of Brahminic culture through pendants, audio recordings and mock scrolls.[34] Various Gayatri yajñas organised by All World Gayatri Pariwar at small and large scales in late twentieth century also helped spread Gayatri mantra to the mass.[35]

Popular culture

A version of the Gayatri mantra is featured in the opening theme song of the TV series Battlestar Galactica (2004).[36] A variation on the William Quan Judge translation is also used as the introduction to Kate Bush's song "Lily" on her 1993 album, The Red Shoes.


  1. The word Savitr in the original Sanskrit may be interpreted in two ways, first as the sun, secondly as the "originator or creator". Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Maharshi Debendranath Tagore used that word in the second sense. Interpreted in their way the whole formula may be thus rendered.
  2. Sama Veda: 2.812; Vajasenayi Samhita (M): 3.35, 22.9, 30.2, 36.3; Taittiriya Samhita:,,; Maitrayani Samhita: 4.10.3; Taittiriya Aranyaka: 1.11.2
  3. Where it is used without any special distinction, typically as one among several stanzas dedicated to Savitar at appropriate points in the various rituals.
  4. Aitareya Brahmana: 4.32.2, 5.5.6, 5.13.8, 5.19.8; Kausitaki Brahmana: 23.3, 26.10; Asvalayana Srautasutra: 7.6.6, 8.1.18; Shankhayana Srautasutra: 2.10.2, 2.12.7, 5.5.2, 10.6.17, 10.9.16; Apastambha Srautasutra: 6.18.1
  5. In this corpus, there is only one instance of the stanza being prefixed with the three mahavyahrtis.[22] This is in a late supplementary chapter of the Shukla Yajurveda samhita, listing the mantras used in the preliminaries to the pravargya ceremony. However, none of the parallel texts of the pravargya rite in other samhitas have the stanza at all. A form of the mantra with all seven vyahrtis prefixed is found in the last book of the Taittiriya Aranyaka, better known as the Mahanarayana Upanishad.[23] It is as follows:
    ओम् भूः ओम् भुवः ओम् सुवः ओम् महः ओम् जनः ओम् तपः ओम् स॒त्यम्।       ओम् तत्स॑वि॒तुर्वरे॑ण्य॒म् भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि।
          धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त्।
          ओमापो॒ ज्योती॒ रसो॒ऽमृतं॒ ब्रह्म॒ भूर्भुव॒स्सुव॒रोम्।
  6. 6.3.6 in the well-known Kanva recension, numbered 6.3.11-13 in the Madhyamdina recension.
  7. 4.18
  8. 6.7, 6.34, albeit in a section known to be of late origin.
  9. 4.28.1
  10. Maitrayani Samhita: 2.9.1; Kathaka Samhita: 17.11
  11. Taittiriya Aranyaka: 10.1.5-7


  1. Staal, Frits (June 1986). "The sound of religion". Numen. 33 (Fasc. 1): 33–64. doi:10.1163/156852786X00084. JSTOR 3270126.
  2. 1 2 Rahman 2005, p. 300.
  3. 1 2 Radhakrishnan 1994, p. 266.
  4. 1 2 Vedas 2003, p. 15–16.
  5. 1 2 Dutt 2006, p. 51.
  6. 1 2 Shults, Brett (May 2014). "On the Buddha's Use of Some Brahmanical Motifs in Pali Texts". Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. 6: 119.
  7. Rinehart 2004, p. 127.
  8. Lipner 1994, p. 53.
  9. 1 2 Carpenter, David Bailey; Whicher, Ian (2003). Yoga: the Indian tradition. London: Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 0-7007-1288-7.
  10. Guy L. Beck (2006). Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-88920-421-8.
  11. Constance Jones,James D. Ryan (2005), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Infobase Publishing, p.167, entry "Gayatri Mantra"
  12. Roshen Dalal (2010), The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths, Penguin Books India, p.328, entry "Savitr, god"
  13. Monier Monier-Williams (1882). The Place which the Ṛig-veda Occupies in the Sandhyâ, and Other Daily Religious Services of the Hindus. Berlin: A. Asher & Company. p. 164.
  14. Forrest Morgan, ed. (1904). The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art and Rare Manuscripts. 1. et al. New York: The International Bibliophile Society. p. 14.
  15. Giffith, Ralph T. H. (1890). The Hymns of the Rigveda. E.J. Lazarus. p. 87.
  16. Jones, William (1807). The works of Sir William Jones. 13. J. Stockdale and J. Walker. p. 367.
  17. Judge Quan, William (January 1893). "A COMMENTARY ON THE GAYATRI". The Path.
  18. Appendix "C", Sivanath Sastri "History of the Brahmo Samaj" 1911/1912 1st edn. page XVI, publ. Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 211 Cornwallis St. Calcutta
  19. Vivekananda, Swami (1915). The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Advaita Ashram. p. 211.
  20. 1 2 3 Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (1947). Religion and Society. p. 135.
  21. S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads, (1953), p. 299
  22. VSM.36.3
  23. Dravida recension: 27.1; Andhra recension: 35.1; Atharva recension: 15.2
  24. Shankhayana grhyasutra: 2.5.12, 2.7.19; Khadira grhyasutra: 2.4.21; Apastambha grhyasutra: 4.10.9-12; Varaha grhyasutra: 5.26
  25. Ravi Varma(1956), p.460f, Gonda(1963) p.292
  26. Keith, Vol I. p.lxxxi
  27. B. van Nooten and G. Holland, Rig Veda. A metrically restored text. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series (1994).
  28. Wayman, Alex (1965). "Climactic Times in Indian Mythology and Religion". History of Religions. The University of Chicago Press. 4 (2): 295–318. doi:10.1086/462508. JSTOR 1061961.
  29. This is on the authority of the Shankhayana Grhyasutra, 2.5.4-7 and 2.7.10. J. Gonda, "The Indian mantra", Oriens, Vol. 16, (Dec. 31, 1963), p. 285
  30. Title of the text was Prescript for offering supreme worship by means of the Gayutree, the most sacred of the Veds. Roy, Rammohun (1832). Translation of Several Principal Books, Passages and Texts of the Veds, and of Some Controversial Works on Brahmunical Theology: and of some controversial works on Brahmunical theology. Parbury, Allen, & co.
  31. Roy, Ram Mohan (1901). Prescript for offering supreme worship by means of the Gayutree, the most sacred of the Veds. Kuntaline press. So, at the end of the Gayutree, the utterance of the letter Om is commanded by the sacred passage cited by Goonu-Vishnoo 'A Brahman shall in every instance pronounce Om, at the beginning and at the end; for unless the letter Om precede, the desirable consequence will fail; and unless it follow, it will not be long retained.'
  32. Sivanath Sastri "History of the Brahmo Samaj" 1911/1912 1st edn. publ. Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 211 Cornwallis St. Calcutta
  33. Mitra, S. S. (2001). Bengal's Renaissance. Academic Publishers. p. 71. ISBN 978-81-87504-18-4.
  34. Bakhle, Janaki (2005). Two men and music: nationalism in the making of an Indian classical tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 293. ISBN 978-0-19-516610-1.
  35. Pandya, Dr. Pranav (2001). Reviving the Vedic Culture of Yagya. Vedmata Gayatri Trust. pp. 25–28.
  36. Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Dream Kit


Further reading

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