Gayatri and Veda
Gayatri is a metre of the Rig-Veda (see Veda) consisting of 24 syllables. This metre has been used in a number of Rig Vedic mantras. The syllables are arranged differently for different mantras, the most common being a triplet of eight syllables each. The Gayatri or the Savitri mantra composed in this triplet form is the most famous and sacred of all mantras. It is a prayer in honour of the Sun, also called Savitur.
The Gayatri with the Mahavyahritis is uttered as- Om, bhur, bhuvah, svah tat Savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat This mantra is believed to have been composed by Sage Vishvamitra. According to others, however, it is so ancient that the four Vedas were born of it.
Initially, this mantra was a simple invocation to the Sun to bless all on earth. Gradually it came to be regarded as a mystic formula of universal power. This was probably due to its simplicity and its power to evolve the idealistic notion of a world that originated from an all-pervading Intelligence.
According to the Skanda Purana, nothing in the Vedas is superior to the Gayatri. No invocation is equal to it just as no city is equal to Kashi (see Tirtha). The Gayatri is the mother of the Vedas, it contains the essence of all the Vedas and of the Brahmanas, for the Gayatri is believed to embody Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and the Vedas.
According to the Aitareya Brahmana (see Brahmana), those who desire to go to heaven should recite this mantra a thousand times. The Gayatri Mantra must be recited by all 'twice-born' (see Upanayanam) Hindus, Gayatri Mantra especially the Brahmins, who are expected to recite it every morning and evening. This mantra was however not allowed be reciting or even hearing by a Shudra or a woman. In the early Vedic age however, the status of women was considerably higher than in the later Vedic age. Rishinis or women rishis like Gargi and Lopamudra are said to have undergone the Upanayanam and the former indeed, engaged in debate none less than the law giver, Yajnavalkya. Later, when this mantra became exclusive to 'twice-born' males, care was taken not to recite it loudly.
The Gayatri Mantra is also recited at various rituals pertaining to divine worship and the ritual of the manes (see Shradha). It is said that the recitation of the Gayatri five times a day is as effective as performing the panchamahayagya.
This mantra is taught for the first time during the Upanayanam ceremony when the guru whispers it into the ears of the newly Recitation of the Pupil (brahmopadesham). Thereafter the pupil is expected to recite it every morning and evening throughout his life
It should ideally be recited 16 times a day. To keep track, the right hand is used. When the mantra is recited the first time, the thumb is placed on the third joint of the ring finger and is held there till the mantra is complete. With each completion, the thumb moves one more joints, down the ring finger, up the little finger, over the tips, down the index finger, up the middle finger and the sixteenth recitation is completed on the third joint of the middle finger. When reciting the Gayatri Mantra, the sacred thread (see Upanayanam) is held across the thumb of the right hand.