Gayatri Mantra – Four Interpretations from Fourteenth Century – Part I

तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि। धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्।
tatsaviturvareṇyaṃ bhargo devasya dhīmahi। dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt।

ṛgveda 3.62.10

Introduction

This is the most popular and oft used mantra in domestic rituals and also spiritual practices in Hindu tradition. ṛgveda is considered to be the oldest source of this Mantra. As shown in the reference above this mantra forms part of the 62nd sūkta of the 3rd maṇḍalaof ṛgveda . The Mantradraṣḥṭā for this sūkta is Viśvāmitra. This sūkta has 18 mantras and this mantra is the tenth. The 18 mantras of this sūkta are divided into 6 tṛcas. As you rightly guessed tṛca is a term used to indicate set o f three “ṛks”. The 6 tṛchas of the sūkta are addressed to the deities indrāvaruṇā, bṝhaspati, pūṣan, savitā, soma and mitrāvaruṇā respectively. The first three mantras of the sūkta are in triṣṭup chandas (meter) and the rest fifteen mantras are in Gāyatrī meter.

A short list of important rituals, in which this mantra is used include – upanayana (initiation into Vedic way of life), anupravacanīya-homa (ritual for the formal commencement of Vedic study), brahma-yajñya (a ritual for daily recitation of at at least a small portion of the Vedas), upākarma (the bi-yearly ritual of taking up and suspending the study of the Vedas), sandhayā-vandana (this does not need explanation, I hope :-)). (This is apart from innumerable vedic rituals like daśarātra etc)

The Four interpretations

Sāyaṇācārya (a 14th Century commentator of the Vedas who lived in Karnataka) while commenting upon this mantra gives four different interpretations to this mantra.

Warning

Without a certain degree of patient reading and recollection the four interpretations may go over the head…

First Interpretation ( Click for the original commentary and transliterations )

(yaḥ) That (lord Savitā) (who) / inspires (pracodayāt) / our (naḥ) / actions or the intellects (dhiyaḥ) that are centered on aspects such as dharma etc/. Let us meditate upon (dhīmahi) / the meditation worthy & worth knowing (vareṇyaṃ) / self-luminous, (knowledge) lustre, which scorches ignorance (avidyā) and its effects (bhargaḥ) / of (that) supreme being the almighty (savitā) who is at once the indwelling inspirer of all beings and also the creator of the world (tat savituḥ devasya).

Reflections

The unique aspects of this interpretation
1. The object of meditation – is not the sūrya mandala (savituḥ bhargaḥ) / the orb of brightness of savitā (sun) but the Parabrahman or the ultimate reality and its knowledge.
Interpretation of Savitā as almighty and creator may not be far-fetched. The word savitā is derived as सूते (लोकादीनिति) (sūte lokādīniti) the one who creates the worlds.
2. Dhīḥ is interpreted by the commentator not only as intellect but also action (karma).

This is a Vedāntic interpretation of Gāyatrī mantra. The object of meditation is the self-luminous and indwelling Paramātman and such being very subtle may suit uttama-adhikārī (practitioners with higher level of focus/maturity).
This interpretation seems to be close to the heart of Sāyaṇācārya as this is presented as the first among the four interpretations

by

Dr. M Jayaraman, Asst. Director, Literary Research, KYM