Gayatri Mantra

What is the Gayatri Mantra?

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most well-known and chanted mantras in the Vedic tradition. It is most often invoked at sunrise or sunset, in honor of the Sun and light. What does the Gayatri Mantra mean? Why do we chant it in yoga and meditation classes?

My very first long mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the first “long” mantras I learned – that is, a mantra with more than a couple of syllables! – along with the invocation to Patanjali at the opening of Iyengar yoga classes.

I was captivated by the mantra’s rhythm and accessibility. There are no long tongue-twisting Sanskrit words in her 4 short verses . And also, the literal meaning – a prayer to the divine and to the light – seemed within my reach.

Today, decades later (yes, a drop in the ocean on the scale of this mantra!), the Gayatri Mantra remains one of my favorites. Maybe for the same reasons. And maybe also because the more I sit with her, the more I fall in love.

So, let’s dive into the Gayatri, and maybe by the end you’ll be chanting this mantra as much as I did while writing!

Meet the Gayatri Mantra

Let’s start with… the mantra herself! Beyond the meaning, just the vibrations of Sanskrit syllables are the best introduction.

Gayatri Mantra
om bhur bhuvah svaha
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat
The Gayatri Mantra

Here is help for the pronounciation:

om bhoor bhoova svaha

tat saveetoor vareyniyam

bhargo deyvasiya dhimahee

deeyo yo na prachodayat

There are many ways to invoke this mantra: by chanting, by repeating at different rhythms, in song. And you’ll hear different versions whether you are at the temple in different parts of India, Bali or the West, in yoga classes, at kirtans, in music…

Here are two recordings (by moi), the second is more chanted than the first. Enjoy!

Gayatri Mantra Invocation
Gayatri Mantra Chant

The Gayatri Mantra, the mother of all mantras

The Gayatri Mantra appears for the first time in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest texts dating back to the Vedic period in India (from -1500 to -500). The mantra is so important that she is considered a goddess: the goddess Gayatri or Gayatri Devi!

The Gayatri contains 24 bija syllables – the seed syllables. Just as plant seeds contain all the genetic information and energy to start their lives, these seed syllables are the essence of all creation.

The 24 syllables do not include the first line “Om Bhur Bhuva Svaha”. This verse is an opening, introduced by Om (= the primordial sound, the Universe), and an invocation to the 3 vyahrtis, or planes of existence:

Bhur = Earth (physical life), existence, past

Bhuva = Space, consciousness, the present

Svaha = Heaven, Beatitude, the Future

Then comes the mantra herself.

The meaning of the Gayatri Mantra

There are many translations of this mantra.

All of them sing the glory of the Sun, the Creation, the One. And all of them also invite her light to cover us with blessings.

Here is the first translation I learned in Sivananda yoga class:

Om, Let us meditate on Isvara (or Savitri) and His Glory who has created the Universe, who is fit to be worshipped, who is the remover of all sins and ignorance. May he enlighten our intellect.

Swami Sivananda

I learned this version during my initial 200H yoga teacher training:

Om, Earth, Mid-heaven, Heaven,

Let us meditate on that most

Excellent light of divine Sun,

That it may illuminate our minds.

YogaWorks

And here is my own version (mixed myself so definitely non-literal!) that speaks to me personally:

Om, Earth, Ether, Heaven,

Let us meditate on the light of the Sun, the divine Force that gives life,

May her radiance bless us.

A mantra in honor of the sun

The Gayatri Mantra is also called Savitri Mantra, in honor of Savitri, the Sun god, found in the word “Savitur”.

The Sun, creative force, giver or mother of all life.

To be more precise, Savitri is the Sun at dawn, hence the power of this mantra invoked at sunrise. The rest of the day, the Sun is Surya! Surya as in the Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutations.

How to use the Gayatri Mantra in yoga practice?

Traditionally, this mantra is invoked at dawn.

Some will suggest you get up at 4 a.m. to sing the glory of the Sun! Others suggest invoking the mantra at daybreak. It is a very powerful practice! I invite you to try, even just for a day.

Of course such timings may not work for everyone. So here are a few great options to make the Gayatri Mantra part of your daily practice: when you wake up, when you see the sun for the first time, at noon, or at sunset.

Or simply when you sit in the sun!

You can chant it out loud or repeat it internally. How many times should you repeat the Gayatri Mantra? Once, a couple of time, a dozen or even 108 times with a mala! The only invitation is to chant with all your heart.

The Gayatri Mantra connects us to the light, to the energy at the source of life. She reminds us that day always comes back after night. And She invites us to honor the light within and around us.

That is it for this introduction to the magic of the Gayatri Mantra!

May it invite you to which dive into your practice with curiosity and devotion!

Om Om Om!

Translations of the words of the Gayatri Mantra:

Here are simple translations of the words. Again, my notions of Sanskrit are limited to my yoga practice, mantras and related text readings. If you are a Sanskrit specialist, and if you think a translation deserves more details, let me know!

Om = primordial sound.

Bhur = Earth (physical life), existence, past

Bhuva = Space, consciousness, the present

Svaha = Heaven, Bliss, the Future

Tat = this, the Supreme Divine Being

Savitur = the Sun God or Protector

Varenyam = most loved

Bhargo = bright, luminous

Devasya = deity

Dimahi = meditate

Dhiyoh = the spirit

Yo nah = realization of unity

Prachodhayat = to be enlightened.

The Gayatri Mantra
The Gayatri Mantra