Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 3.62.10: Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri mantra is one of the most famous, chanted by millions of people every day and heralded for many reasons. But what makes it so significant? Two explanations are its Vedic origins and the meaning of the mantra itself — 

That greatest Savitri is the light of the shining one we meditate on which illuminates our intellect.

The mantra, which is ‘tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat’, first appears in Rig Veda (3.62.10). When it is chanted, it is preceded by Om and the mahavyahriti: bhur bhuvah svah. They symbolise the three regions earth, atmosphere and heaven while Om is their source, beyond them. Similarly, the Chandogya Upanishad says about Gayatri as the personification of the mantra,

Gayatri is all this, whatever exists. Speech is the Gayatri: speech sings (gai) and protects (trai) all this that exists. [1]

It conveys that Gayatri embodies Brahman and encompasses the three regions and Om by “all this”. As is taught throughout Advaita, the Self is beyond the intellect [2]. What it is beyond, it illuminates. Savitri, meaning “vivifier” or “inspirer”, refers to this illumination and so the mantra’s objective is to realise the Self. To this end, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad explains the meaning of tat savitur varenyam — “That greatest Savitri”,

When there is no darkness, there is neither day nor night, Neither being nor non-being, just Shiva, absolute.
That is the imperishable: that is the greatest Savitri. [3]

This describes Advaita, where there are no distinctions and no one to distinguish themselves as different from Brahman. The Maitri Upanishad (6.7) clarifies that Savitri is the Sun, Aditya, who is invoked by one who desires the Self. Savitri is the realisation itself, which illuminates the intellect and banishes all confusion with their light or knowledge.

It does not mean that Savitri is some external deity, but simply a representation of the knowledge of Brahman. One who invokes them then sees that Savitri is Brahman [4]. They are the awareness of the Self which is always there, beyond the mind and intellect. When we cease to identify with their activity and as a jiva with separate existence, all that remains is this awareness and we see that it is all this, whatever will be and ever has been. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Gayatri symbolises and is worshipped as this awareness.

This context shows us that the Gayatri mantra has the designated purpose of renouncing the false identifications we take to be real and resting in the awareness of the Self which is free from them. Gayatri represents that which liberates (tri) through singing (gaya). Similarly, one of the meanings of ‘mantra’ is what protects or frees (tra) the mind (man). It is through singing because a mantra is sung or chanted. In this way, Gayatri is the power of a mantra to liberate from the illusion of duality.

It means that worshipping Gayatri not only has the same effect as chanting a mantra, but that the chanting itself is their worship. When we realise that Gayatri is Brahman, we have been ‘inspired’ by Savitri and both cease to appear as separate from us. Ultimately, both Gayatri and Savitri are Brahman and they are worshipped for the sole purpose of realising that they are “all this” and no different from ourselves. Their symbolism reflects the eternal truth that Brahman is described in various ways and all names and forms are worshipped with this knowledge.


[1] 3.12.1.
[2] For example, Katha Upanishad 3.10; Bhagavad Gita 3.42.
[3] 4.18.
[4] As Maitri Upanishad 6.3 says, “Brahman is light and this light is the sun.”

2 thoughts on “Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 3.62.10: Gayatri Mantra

  1. Dear Lewis,

    I heard or read somewhere once that you should only chant this in groups of three, though I don’t remember the reason for that. What I did find though was that mentally chanting it three times lasted exactly a minute! So I used it regularly for that purpose years ago when I was doing repetitive exercises (? – don’t remember what) that had to last a minute each.

    Anyway, just to supplement your article, here is a post to the Advaitin Group from 2001 from a member posting as ‘Siddharta’:

    This Gayatri Mantra is from the most ancient scripture of Vedism, The Holy Book called Rig-veda (The Veda of Hymns), it is listed under 3-62-10.
    It is called Gayatri Mantra, because the Mantra is formed in the meter (an order of prose) called Gayatri Chandas. This meter is considered to be the most sacred meter. In Gita, Shri Krishna counts it among His forms, in the 10th chapter-35th verse (though Gita has not been uttered in this meter, as it is considered to be very pure and very sacred, thus only for the Vedas). This meter is considered to be the purest and most sacred among all, because God revealed most of His knowledge in this meter. This meter has 24 syllables. Gayatri means = “that which saves, when one sings it”. Mantra means = “that which saves, when one meditates on it”.

    Before we start to chant, meditate or discuss anything about this Mantra, we should say the following sentence, only then we can obtain the true benefits from it:
    “OM. My prostrations to the Holy Seer (Brahma Rishi) Bhagavan Vishvamitra, who was chosen by The Supreme Godhead to reveal this Mantra. OM”

    Word-by-word translation of the Mantra:
    OM = The natural name of The Supreme Godhead, the name has not been coined by somebody like other words of a language, but this name has been revealed to the Seers, the Rishis, in the state of meditation. All other names have been coined by a person and grammar.
    Bhuh = This world.
    Bhuvah = The world between this world and the abode of Light.
    Svah = The Abode of Light.
    Tat = that.
    Savituh = relating to Savita, the sun-god.
    Varenyam = most eligible (hence the best)
    Bhargah = splendor, light
    Devasya = relating to the most radiant one
    Dhimahi = may we bear it / we meditate on it
    Dhiyah = intellect and consciousness
    yo = who
    nah = our
    prachodayat = impels

    Meaning 1:
    OM I adore all the three worlds.
    May we bear that most eligible Light of Savita, the most radiant one, who impels our intellects and consciousness.

    Meaning 2:
    OM I adore all the three worlds.
    We meditate on that most eligible Light of Savita, the most radiant one, who impels our intellects and consciousness.

    Explanation:
    Meditation on Light brings Light in ones life. Knowledge is most subtle form of light and indeed, the light of lights.
    The Sun-God impels our intellect in the sense that the entire world sleeps in His absence and works when He is present. The Sun is present in the core of the earth in the form of fire, in the same way He is present in the core of the body in the form of Vaishvanara, and in this way he directly impels our consciousness, the day that internal lamp blows out, no intellect or consciousness is left any more. Indeed, it is light/fire which is the inexhaustible source of energy in this universe. Fire is in the core of an atom, of every body, of every planet, of every solar system, of every galaxy and thus, most probably of the Universe. The entire world is rotating around fire. This is why we do Pradakshina round the fire, after doing Yajna. light/fire are different properties of the same one object, which is the direct manifestation of The most radiant Supreme God.

    Some information about God Savita, who has been evoked in the Gayatri Mantra:
    Savita means “He who gives birth (to the day) or He who impels God-consciousness”.
    According to MahaRishi Yaska, Savita is the name of that Sun, which is not visible, while the sky has been illuminated by the first rays of the Sun, but on earth still darkness prevails, in the morning. This sort of sun gives birth to the day and impels consciousness in the sense, that according to the Vedic way of life, this is the time when everybody should wake up, hence, it awakens everybody. Even though today human doesn’t wake up at this time, but all natural creatures and birds wake up, while the Sun-god is in the form of Savita. Thus, it is a symbol of awakening from the deep worldly sleep and the black night of ignorance. And, if a person meditates on the rays of this sun, one may illuminate his dark inner space, create consciousness and give birth to a spiritual day in His life. A Spiritual day means, like in a day everything is clear and visible, in the same way in a spiritual day all spiritual objects, like the Supreme Abode of God, His existence in every physical object, become explicit.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  2. Thanks so much, Dennis, for the supplementation and sharing the Advaitin group post!

    It was great to read.

    Interesting about it taking a minute to chant three times.

    Kind regards,

    Lewis

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