Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Gayatri Mantra - How It Came About and Who First Uttered It

The origin of the Gayatri mantra is associated with two popular characters in Hindu mythology - King Vishwamitra and the sage, Vasistha.
 The Gayatri mantra is considered the universal mantra. What is the story behind this mantra? How did it come about? What does the mantra mean and how significant is it to a person's life? To answer these questions, there is a need to delve into Hindu mythology and a story that is thousands of years old. The following is an abridged version of the story as it appears in Thomas Ashley-Farrand’s book, Healing Mantras (The Random House Publishing Group, 1999).

The Story of the Gayatri Mantra

The story begins with a king, Vishwamitra, who went into the forest with his entourage and came across the hermitage of the powerful sage, Vasistha. Vasistha had attained the highest position amongst sages and carried the title of ‘Brahma-rishi’.

Upon seeing Vishwamitra and his entourage, Vasistha greeted them and offered food to eat and a place to rest. The king, however, was reluctant as he thought there were too many people in his entourage for the sage to feed. Vasistha was unfazed. He turned to a cow in the yard and whispered some words into its ear. Lo’ and behold, immediately, there was a lot of food for the king and his entourage to eat.

Vishwamitra was fascinated and wanted the cow for himself – his intention was to take the cow back to his kingdom so that his people would never be in need of food again. When he asked Vasistha for the cow, the sage refused to part with the animal. A violent argument ensued between Vishwamitra and Vasistha. In the end, Vishwamitra accepted defeat and went back to his kingdom. However, he continued to be troubled by the fact that Vasistha was the one who had true power. Vishwamitra decided to give up all ties to the material world and meditate in the jungle; he wanted to become enlightened and, thereby, be conferred the title of ‘Brahma-rishi’.

Vishwamitra spent many years in the pursuit of his goal and faced many obstacles. For instance, his meditations were once interrupted when he was seduced by an apsara (heavenly nymph), Menaka. Some years later, after an argument between them, she left him. Vishwamitra returned to his meditations, but was forced to start all over again.
In time, Vishwamitra overcame all his desires and Lord Brahma conferred upon him the title of ‘Maha-rishi’. Lord Brahma added the following: when Vishwamitra received the blessings of Vasistha, he would be conferred the title of ‘Brahma-rishi’.

Left with no choice, Vishwamitra went to seek out Vasistha. As he approached the sage’s hermitage, Vishwamitra could hear Vasistha talking with his wife, Arundhati, and Vishwamitra eavesdropped on their conversation. He learned that Vasistha had been quietly encouraging him throughout his journey to enlightenment.

Ashamed of his anger towards Vasistha, Vishwamitra began to hit his head against a wall. Vasistha rushed out to stop Vasistha and Vishwamitra fell to the ground. As his head touched the feet of Vasistha, Vishwamitra felt a divine current course through his body. He also went into spontaneous samadhi (divine communion). In that state, he heard the mystical sounds of the Gayatri mantra inside his head and recited it. He was then blessed by Vasistha and, finally, conferred the title of ‘Brahma-rishi’.

The Meaning of the Gayatri Mantra and It's Significance

The Gayatri mantra in Sanskrit:

"Om Bhuh, Om Bhuvaha, Om Swaha, Om Maha, Om Janaha, Om Tapaha, Om Satyam, Om Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat"

Thomas Ashley-Farrand’s English translation of the Gayatri mantra:

"O Self-effulgent Light that has given birth to all the lokas [spheres of consciousness], who is worthy of worship and appears through the orbit of the Sun, illumine our intellect."

Ultimately, the Gayatri mantra is an all-encompassing mantra. By reciting the Gayatri mantra, the hope is that all obstacles in a person's path will be removed. His aim will be to achieve wisdom, spiritual growth and development. In addition, reciting the mantra will protect a person from harm wherever her is, make his intellect shine and improve his power of speech.

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