The sages of ancient lore are those, who experimented with the instruments of their bodies in the laboratory of this Universe and recorded the results of their enlightenment. A compendium of these results is known as THE VEDA, in the land of Bharat. The Veda is just not a compendium, but a way of life in itself. The sages glorified their experiences and findings in a encapsulating manner. They also discovered six keys to lock and unlock the essence of this compendium (you can refer: 5) Vedic mysticism and Indian Trinity). One of those keys is the “Science of Sanskrit Prosody or CHANDAS”.
Chandas is what we call a “poetic meter”, in its loose sense. But how can just a meter be a key? So, there must be something interesting and deeper than what meets the eye. To answer what a chandas is, we need to first understand why there are “meters” in poetry. A poem is an expression of inner-self, in a rhythmic manner. The rhythm is what is characterized by the meter one uses. A meter sets a gauge and limitation to the uncontrolled flow of thought and brings it to a perceivable domains of fellow beings. Then next question can be: why are there so many meters? Did humans “invent” these meter or did they discover? If you notice, earlier I mentioned that the sages “discovered” six keys (so they did not “invent”). A poem or any piece of art will have an absolute value, when it synchronizes with a story that runs in the life of audience. By virtue of their birth and existence, all the audience (or beings) have the story of the Universe running in a miniature forms, inside them. For example, Universes take birth, exist and dissolve into the background of this creation, and so does the beings of this Earth; Sun rises (from the dark) every day and sets every day, and so does humans from sleep. An art piece that can depict the very subtle aspects of this nature and relate them to the SELF of the audience, will be ever living due to the freshness and universality of its contents.
When one closely and keenly observe these aspects, one can find a rhythmic symphony being played all along and that there are cycles inside cycles making the ONE grand symphony a combination of many symphonies. These many rhythms are “discovered” by our sages and are utilized in expressing their wisdom. These rhythmic meters, are named CHANDAS. Examples of Chandas are: Praṇavaṃ, Gāyatri, Anuṣṭup, Bṛhatī, etc. Because these rhythms exist every where, the whole set of these Chandas forms a complete set that can describe the whole universe – from an atom to a cosmos. This fact is used by the sages, in the sense that, when ever an aspect of this creation is expressed through their “Utterance”, it took the clothing of the “METER” that is associated with that aspect. So, knowing the metric of a mantra of Rig Veda, say for instance, will help us identify what is the object of the description of that mantra. This will help us eliminate multiple meanings associated with same set of lines and words (for, this is allowed in SANSKRIT) and helps us fixate on the object of description.
GĀYATRI is that meter which has ’24’ syllables in total. 24 can be represented in following ways:
- 3 x 8 = 24
- 4 x 6 = 24
- 6 x 4 = 24
- 8 x 3 = 24
Here, the form [ a x b = c] has the following notation: ‘a’ represents number of syllables per line or what is called as “PĀDA (meaning foot/line)” and ‘b’ represents number of lines. Thus, GĀYATRI can be thought of having 3 syllables in 8 lines or 8 syllables in 3 lines or 6 syllables in 4 lines, etc. But the constant entity here is 24.
The moment ’24’ is seen, what does it remind you – in relation to your daily life? It should straight away direct your thoughts to 24 hrs of the DAY. Have you ever thought why a DAY has 24 hrs and not 25 hrs or something else? Why did the ancients (including Indians — the Ghatis, vighatis, Liptas, etc. are also there, but for different purposes) divide the day into 24 parts? We always have ‘cycles in cycles’. This is inevitable. For example, the cosmos respires, we respire, our cells too respire (input and output through cell membranes). Take the SĀVANA YEAR (Vēdic year cycle which has 360 days, for practical purposes of rituals, initiations, etc.) for instance. It has 12 new moons and 12 full moons, totaling to 24 lunar nodes. These nodes form pointers on the clock of YEAR-cycle. A day, is a miniature form of this YEAR (a basic brick of year). So, a DAY is also divided into 24 equal divisions called “HŌRĀ”, from which “HOUR” was originated. But, a lunar nodal phase is nothing but a play of SUN. No SUN, no phases of the moon. Also, a DAY is governed (in the sense of TIME) by SUN rather than the MOON right? So, SUN becomes the main object of importance when describing a DAY or an YEAR cycle, and MOON becomes just an instrument.
So, GĀYATRI is associated to SUN and thus has 24 syllables. Whenever Gāyatri meter is used, it is by default understood that, the object of the description is either SUN, or its LIGHT, or its motion around Earth (in Earths frame). Now another question should come in the minds of TRUTH seekers. Is this SUN the solar-orb or something else? Because the VEDA deals with microcosm as well as macrocosm, this “SUN” is SOLAR principle: as in, that from which the true LIGHT originates and from which, the creation – in relation to Macrocosm and the SELF of an individual – “I AM” of each being, in relation to microcosm. To suggest that the same SOLAR principle (PARAMĀTMA) is embodying as the being (JĪVĀTMA), same meter will be used throughout the Veda in the both situations.
Famous mantra composed in this meter, that has been the epitome of Vedic wisdom, is the mantra as discovered by sage “VIŚVĀMITRA”. It is called as “SĀVITRI MANTRA”. But due to the meter used, it is called “GĀYTRI MANTRA” as well. This mantra’s object, as suggested above is SUN (SAVITUR).
Let us see what this mantra is: I broke the mantra into its syllable form, so that you can see it has 8 syllables in each line and the total number of lines are 3. (Thus, it is a division of DAY into three equal parts of eight equal divisions each.)
One may be confused with my omission of the famous starting line “OM BHUḤ BUVAḤ SUVAḤ“. This line, called as “VYĀHṚTĪ” is not a part of the mantra as such, but is important to utter before uttering the above mantra. VYĀHṚTĪ means, “planes of existence”. We have three planes of existence – Physical (BHŪḤ), Mental (BHUVAḤ) and SELF (SUVAḤ) – i.e. We have a plane of existence in which our BODY exists. But the body is permeated by mental body or MIND and that is why we are called “MAN” or “MĀNAVĀS” (beings of mind). But these both originate and exist only when there is LIFE (the ONE – I AM in all of us). That plane is called Vital. The English terms are not equivalent (I do not bother using them much – I prefer original names in Sanskrit for the depth of ideas they are pregnant with), but close enough to the Sanskrit terms. Even the Universe has a “BHU” plane or LŌKĀ – The physical plane; “BHUAR-LŌKĀ” or the plane of universal MIND (its hard for modern day minds to comprehend this in universal scale, but when you know that you are epitome of universe, even Universe is an epitome of yourself, you will intuitively get the gist); “SUVAR-LŌKĀ” or the plane of LIGHTS – LIFE. So, when we utter the vēdic mantrās, we want utter these vyāhṛtīs so that the utterance will belong to all these three planes and thus will develop each domain simultaneously (In that, a mantra will make a change in our existence when repeatedly uttered – one can refer to Arthur Avalon’s work: “Garland of Letters”).
The meaning of the above Sāvitri mantra is that: “The ONE WHO/THAT is igniting the light of wisdom in our BUDDHI (discriminative WILL), we pray unto HIM/THAT“. The usage of “TAT” in the mantra clearly suggests the “THAT” aspect – meaning, a qualitiless GOD. A quality less GOD is substratum of a GOD that has qualities. When you make a cake, you may design and color it in different styles and bring out different tastes. But what you consume is not the taste nor the color, but the CAKE. CAKE is the qualitiless entity surrounded by all the qualities of the Cake, that we perceive. In this SAVITRI mantra, we are praying to “THAT” who is the cause of the very life and existence.
Now, this mantra has “THAT” which may be ambiguous to scholars. So, the help of METER- GĀYATRI, when taken, will make them realize that this mantra is directed to the SOLAR principle (as suggested earlier) and hence, the “TAT” here, is nothing but the cause of SUN in Universe and the cause of “I AM” in us. But, one should not pray this mantra in the sense of separateness i.e., the person uttering the mantra should not feel that the “TAT” of this mantra is some where else and he is praying “IT” by being different from him. Generally this is what we do in regular prayers – we pray to “SOME ONE” and by default we assume the form of a separate entity from the object of the prayer. This is why, the vēdic practice of “Repetition” started. A repetition slowly dissolves our individual self into the background of the Universal self. At that point, we become verily the object of the mantra – TAT or SOLAR principle.
So, the goal of uttering this mantra is to ignite our intellects with the LIGHT of wisdom of the SOLAR principles that rules our DAY and hence our lives. That is the reason, this mantra has gained so much importance. Our very lives are sun based and if every moment of the day is rectified (from being dualistic to monistic) the very life becomes GOD. That is why this mantra is said to be the essence of VEDA.
- Over the time, it was propagated that this mantra should not be given to certain class of people. That is very contradictory to the vēdic thought. On one hand, when the vēda claims that each being is a replica of the ONE lord, how can it be that one being is not “FIT” to utter a mantra? Also, who decides the “class” of a person? Genes? There is no evidence of genetic classification in Vēda. So, any one interested to find the TRUTH can be initiated. But, an initiate should follow the set rules of the PATH, for without the rules and regulations, it is not possible to “Train” a raw mind. When we want to discover a place, we follow a map. Do we say “Ah, I am intelligent, why should I follow the routes set by others? Let me find on my own!”. And if this is a dense forest (as is VEDIC wisdom), how foolish and waste of time it will be to venture without proper adherence to the guidance shown by those who already tread the path?!
- Another misconception that originated in the medieval times is that, the Gāyatri mantra should not be uttered aloud. This is also very contradictory to vēdic ideology. In vēda itself we see notions that, “the uttered sounds from vocals are to be heard through the ears and meditated upon”. So, how is it reasonable to utter Gāyatri mentally? It should be uttered aloud and heard and meditated by the reciter. Nirukta defines Gayatri as “Gāyaṃtē Trāyatē Iti Gāyatri” – meaning “That which protects the one who sings it, is Gāyatri”. So, one must SING it. But, of course, one must learn the key of “Intonation” from a guru. The way of utterance or intonation is very important in the Vēda. Once this key is obtained by way of initiation, one can peacefully and earnestly practice “SINGING” of gāyatri. This point should straight away discourage the stupid tuning that the modern day has given to this mantra – for commercial purposes. That may cause more harm than good.
- It is also widely though that women are not to be initiated into the path of GĀYATRI. This again is a misconception. Kāvya Kanṭha Gaṇapati Muni – one of the foremost disciples of Ramaṇa Maharshi, and a legendary Sanskrit Scholar (and a Tantrik) has argued that women are equally eligible for Upanayana and Gāyatri initiations and won in many debates all over the country. Even Master E. K., used to encourage everyone to utter Gāyatri as part of daily prayers. When, Vēda itself has more than 40 woman saints who “realized” the vēdic mantrās, how is it reasonable to say that women should not utter a vēdic mantra — and that too Sāvitri Mantra which is related to their SELF? Sometimes, this mantra is associated to female deity – GĀYATRI MĀTA (the expression of lord, being female). When the deity is a female goddess, how wrong it is to suggest that females should not utter – even in its literal sense?!