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Mantras can enhance your practice in myriad ways. The repetitive chant or sound can focus your mind, elevate your consciousness through specific vibrations or frequencies, and calm your nervous system. Below, we break down the usage and history of the Gayatri mantra, an ancient chant for gratitude.
The Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit:
Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.
The Gayatri Mantra Translated:
The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.
*Translation by Douglas Brooks
History and Meaning of the Gayatri Mantra
The Gayatri mantra, one of the oldest and best known mantras, is said to ensure happiness for anyone who chants it faithfully, holds it in their heart, and follows their calling.
According to Douglas Brooks, PhD, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester and a teacher in the Rajanaka yoga tradition, the Gayatri is the most sacred phrase uttered in the Vedas.
“It doesn’t get more ancient, more sacred, than this,” says Brooks. “It’s an ecstatic poetic moment.”
The mantra, written in gayatri meter—a verse with 24 syllables that is said to contain all the knowledge and revelations of the Vedas—is a hymn to Savitar, the sun god. According to Brooks, the sun in the mantra represents both the physical sun and the Divine in all things.
“The Vedic mind doesn’t separate the physical presence of the sun from its spiritual or symbolic meaning,” he says.
Just as the sun illuminates the land, this mantra is said to fill the faithful chanter with all the potential energy in the cosmos. It calls upon the infinite light of consciousness to guide our actions and beliefs. Traditionally observed during sandhya—the junctures right before sunrise and sunset—the chant is said to help you attain enlightenment. The hours before sunrise and noon are also thought to be ideal times to practice.
See also Should Yoga Teachers Use Sanskrit?
Why and How To Use the Gayatri Mantra
Chanting the mantra serves three purposes, Brooks explains.
- Give back to the sun. “My teacher used to say the sun gives but never receives,” he says. “The mantra is a gift back to the sun, an offering of gratitude to refuel the sun’s gracious offering.”
- Seek wisdom and enlightenment. The mantra is a request to the sun: May we meditate upon your form and be illumined by who you are? (Consider that the sun offers its gift of illumination and energy to all beings, without judgment and without attachment to the outcome of the gift.)
- An expression of gratitude. The mantra gives thanks to both the life-giving sun and the Divine. Brooks encourages taking a heart-centered approach to the mantra.
See also What Is Mantra?
“The sensibility it evokes is more important than the literal meaning,” says Brooks. “It’s an offering, a way to open to grace, to inspire oneself to connect to the ancient vision of India. Its effect is to inspire modern yogis to participate in the most ancient aspiration of illumination that connects modern yoga to the Vedic tradition.”
Chant the Gayatri silently or softly to yourself when you want clarity or to bring balance to the doshas. Some say this mantra will help you avoid harm and bring you to a blissful state of being.
WANT MORE? Explore our Beginner’s Guide to Common Yoga Chants
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