By Swami Harshananda
Types of meters
The gāyatrī is celebrated Vedic chandas or meter. The other well-known meters are:
Naming of Gāyatrī Meter
The main reason for the celebration of gāyatrī meter is the revelation to the sage Viśvāmitra of the famous Sāvitrī-mantra in the gāyatrī meter. It is the first mantra in that meter. It is an extremely important meter hence it became famous as the Gāyatrī-mantra. Consequently, the word ‘Gāyatrī’ is used not only to indicate the meter, but also the mantra. In course of time it was also used to denote the presiding deity or the goddess of that mantra.
Significance of Gāyatrī Mantra
There is an interesting story in the Vedic literature to prove the greatness of this meter.
The gist of the story is that the meter Gāyatrī, at the request of the devas or gods, took the form of a bird (Suparṇa), flew to the world of Soma and brought it (the soma juice or amṛta, the ambrosia) to the world of gods. This story is very similar to the story of Garuḍa bringing amṛta from svargaloka to get his mother Vinatā freed from slavery.
Symbolically, this story indicates that the Gāyatrīmantra which is a prayer addressed to the Supreme God in and through the orb of the sun, is capable of giving us amṛtatva or immortality or liberation.
Gāyatrī, Two different Appellations
The word ‘gāyatrī’ seems to have undergone gradual transmutation from meaning to two meters. They are:
- A Vedic meter, the mantra addressed to Savitṛ or the creator.
- The Vedamātā or the goddess who is the mother of the Vedas.
Gāyatrī, the Goddess
Goddess Gāyatrī has three aspects:
- Gāyatrī, the feminine counter part of Brahmā and associated with the morning sun
- Sāvitrī, the feminine counterpart of Viṣṇu and associated with the mid-day sun
- Sarasvati, the feminine counter-part of Rudra, associated with the evening sun
Iconographically, they are shown as follows:
- Gāyatrī represents the Ṛgveda and Brahmā. She is a kumārī (young girl) red in complexion. She has two arms carrying an akṣasutra (rosary) and a kamaṇḍalu (water pot). She is riding a swan.
- Sāvitrī represents the Yajurveda and Viṣṇu. She is a dark complexioned yuvati (young woman). She has four arms carrying śaṅkha (conch), cakra (discus), gadā (mace) and padma (lotus). She is riding on the Garuḍa (Viṣṇu’s eagle-mount).
- Sarasvati represents the Sāmaveda and Rudra. She is a fair-complexioned vṛddhā (old woman) with four arms in which she is holding triśula (trident), ḍamaru (small kettle-drum), pāśa (noose) and pātra (bowl). She has the Vṛṣabha or the bull as her mount.
Representation as per Dhyānaśloka
The dhyānaśloka normally chanted at the time of the Sandhyā ritual, describes Gāyatrī the goddess, in a different way.
- She has five faces and ten arms. The five faces have the colors of:
- Muktā (pearl)
- Vidruma (coral)
- Hema (gold)
- Nīla (blue)
- Dhavala (white)
- She is seated on a lotus-seat. This occurs in the Devībhāgavata. Each face has three eyes, ten arms carrying:
- Aravindayugala - two lotuses
- Cakra - discus
- Śañkha - conch
- Guṇa - trident
- Kapāla - skull-cup
- Añkuśa - goad
- Kaśa - rope or whip
- Abhaya mudrā
- Varada mudrā
- Ṛgveda 4.26.4 to 7; Taittiriya Samhitā 126.96.36.199 to 3; Aitareya Brāhmana 13.25 to 28
- Devībhāgavata 12.3
- Handpose assuring protection.
- Handpose offering boons.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore