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Gayatri Mantra - the meaning of this powerful mantra and the inspiring story behind its creation

Om Bhur Bhuvah Swah

Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi

Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayaat

We meditate on the glory of the Creator

Who has created the universe

Who is worthy of Worship

Who is the embodiment of knowledge and light

Who is the remover of all sin and ignorance

May he enlighten our intellect.

The Gayatri mantra is cited widely in Hindu texts and an important part of Hindu ceremonies. The Gāyatrī mantra is dedicated to Savitṛ, a Sun deity. The chanting of Gayatri mantra sharpens the intellect and brightens the memory. A new mirror reflects clearly, but over time, dust gathers and it needs cleaning. Similarly, our mind becomes tainted with time, the company that we keep, the knowledge we receive and our latent tendencies. When we chant the Gayatri mantra, it is like deep cleansing, so that the mirror (the mind) reflects in a better way.

Gayatri mantra was first recorded in the Rig Veda and was written in Sanskrit around 2500 to 3500 years back. This is the story of a warrior who became a yogi. It is the story of what happens when human power confronts divine power.

Vishwamitra was a great and powerful king. He ruled with justice, and love. He had a great army and he himself was a great warrior. He conquered many places, remained undefeated and ruled much of the earth.

In an hermitage in the forest lived a rishi named Vasishta. Vasishta was a Brahmarishi - someone who has achieved great spiritual growth. In those days, that the material needs were looked after by the king, whereas the spiritual wellbeing was the responsibility of the rishi. He functioned as a Guru of the king and as a spiritual protector of his kingdom.

Vishwamitra went to see rishi Vasishta. Vasishta asked Vishwamitra, “O’ King, I hope you are alright, your people are in peace and harmony.” Vishwamitra replied, “Oh, Gurudeva, by your grace everything is going on well.” Vasishta said, “Oh king you have come back from a long tour of the kingdom for a year. You look so tired. Can I give you and your army a banquet tonight, you can have it and then leave tomorrow morning?” Looks like you haven’t had good food in a long time. The King was bemused, “What can a rishi give as food in the middle of the jungle, leave alone a banquet. He looked around and except a few huts could not see a granary or a kitchen. He accepted the offer saying, “how can I refuse you, Gurudeva?”

Vasishta looked at one of the cows, which looked quite different from the other cows. He held the wooden staff on the forehead of the cow and said, “as you can see we have a lot of guests; can you please give them a good dinner?” Coming as God’s words the cow shakes a little bit, and out comes from its belly tables and chairs and the best possible food in a forest. The king and his soldiers had a sumptuous dinner. All this, while instead of eating the food, Viswamitra was staring at the cow.

Finally, after the dinner, Vishwamitra asked Vasishta, “If this cow which gave us food is there in our palace, it can satiate the hungers of all in the kingdom. Please give it to me, and I will give you a thousand cows, a thousand horses and whatever else you want". The sage did not like the approach, but said politely that the Creator Brahma Himself has given the cow exclusively for serving him and all the other sages there. "It’s not there for exchange". More offers from Vihswamitra were made and Vasishta declined and said emphatically, “You shall not have the cow. It is not your cow. It is not your Dharma.”

Vishwamitra is not used to disobedience; he becomes very angry. "If you do not give the cow, I am going to take the cow. Mind your tone sage, you should know to whom you are speaking to; the land that you stand on is mine. Everything on this land belongs to me and so is the cow".

He then grouped his soldiers and said, “capture the cow.” The group of soldiers went towards the wish fulfilling cow to capture it and take it away. Vasishta looked at the cow and said, “please holy cow, show what you are capable of responding to the threat.”

The cow made a few movements and mooed, and out came a battalion of armed soldiers from the belly of the cow. But what can a human army do in front of a divine host. Very soon the entire army of Vishwamitra was decimated. Vishwamitra said, “All my life I believed in human power. I equipped myself to become a great warrior and captured so many kingdoms on this earth. Here, a forest monk with a wooden staff and a cow defeated us squarely". Humiliated and filled red with anger, he looks at Vasishta and said, “This is not over.”

Vishwamitra goes to the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, and begins meditating on the great God Shiva. "The God of destruction, the patron saint for all weapons, how should I meditate, how should I perform austerities?" He wanted to take revenge against Vasishta.

After a long period of meditation, Lord Shiva appears in front of Vishwamitra. “Vishwamitra, I am very happy with you! Tell me what boon do you want.” Vishwamitra replied, “I need all weapons - physical, astral, celestial. Will you not give mastery over all weapons? I would like to have the mastery over the power of the wind, fire and water. I would like to have the poison of all the snakes within me, the ferocity of all the wild animals". "Be it!", said Shiva and vanished.

Vishwamitra feels the powers in his body and flies to Vasishta’s hermitage, all the powers repressed for a few hundred years of meditation and anger nurtured and seeking vengeance from Vasishta.

On the meadow where he felt humiliated in the past he invokes Agni, the Lord of fire, and lifts his palms and shows it over the hermitage. In an instant the fire caught up on all the huts burning them and the animals into ashes.

"What have you done, evil king!", exclaimed Vasishta. With a staff in hand he said, “I gave you food to you and your army. Is this how you would repay me? It’s a big sin that you have committed". His eyes were filled with divine peace, even when such a huge great show of anger had turned his hermitage into a graveyard.

Vishwamitra thundered and said, “I have the power of Shiva within me; I have everything destructive in my control. You can’t kill me or do anything with me for I am loaded with all the power, arms and ammunition.” Saying "it’s now time for you to face my wrath", he lifts his arms and the power of fire comes out of him, and arcs up in the air. Vasishta holds his staff and the fire went into the centre of his staff and disappears.

Vishwamitra gets more angry now invokes the power of water. A tsunami of water gathers strength and goes towards Vasishta. Vasishta shows the wooden staff that absorbs all the water. All the waters of the seas, oceans and rivers got absorbed into the staff. Vishwamitra continues with air, rains mountains, boulders uproots trees, and everything is absorbed by the staff.

He now takes out the “Brahmas weapon – Brahmastra.” With a chant he begins to suck out power from the entire cosmos and releases a strange astral power from his forehead. Such is the power of the beam, Vasishta also could feel it since his skin started becoming darker. Vasishta holds the staff in his front. The power of the entire creation is absorbed into the staff of the Creator, and is dissipated to all the sides and so balance is restored.

Vishwamitra now realizes that against divine power all human powers are absorbed. He looks at the huge sin that he has committed and looks at his hands. What have I done Gurudeva? He is mortified with his sin.

Vishwamitra realizes that when he is in constant communion with God he will find a way to atone his sin. He says the same thing as he told Vasishta before he leaves, “ It's not over; I will be back.” But this time it was said in a totally different tone, "I will be back, please forgive me."

He goes to the land of the Gods in the Himalayas and begins to meditate and do his austerities. He focus on God to enable him find a way to atone for his sins. After a few hundred years Brahma the Creator appears and said, “ Vishwamitra, my son, I am very pleased with your great will and single minded contemplation of Me." And with folded hands Vishwamitra was having God contact and felt thrilled. Brahma told that from now on he will be a “Rajarishi”, which means he is a king among rishis and a rishi among kings.

Vishwamitra wanted to be a Brahmarishi, but now got a Rajarishi title only. "Why? Where did I go wrong?" Swadhyaya, self study. He found that when he in deep meditation, there was a bird which was making a sound, and in a fit of rage Vishwamitra’s rage was invoked because his concentration got affected, and he cursed the bird. And he knew that’s where he went wrong. God may have touched my heart but anger is still deep within me.

"Why do I have anger?" He meditates on it and finds out that he still have desires, the desire to become a Brahmarishi. "Why do I have desire? I have desire because I have attachments." He is getting close to the essence of the problem. "Why do I have attachments? I have given up my family, my kingdom… I wore the dress of a simple monk. Then why do I have attachments?" In another moment of epiphany what a realization it was. I have attachments, simply because, “I DWELL ON THINGS.”

"When I dwell on the beauty of a tree, I am attached to the tree, when I dwell on the beauty of the woman, I am attached to the woman. Then, what is the solution? I cannot think about the creation, I can think only about the Creator. That is the “TRANSFORMATION.” How shall I seek You, my Lord?"

The answer came, “Seek Me through Service.” “Serve Me by Loving Me.” Viswamitra enters meditation once again, he doesn’t want to be a Brahmrishi now. He doesn’t want any attainments now.

He meditates again feverishly, “ help me get rid of the pain of humanity, my Lord”. He continues to meditate for hundreds of years, and suddenly he hears a small sound in the right ear. He realizes that when he focuses on that sound the pain of humanity, in his heart gets down a little bit. He focuses more, and the indistinct sound gets a little bit more clear. The syllables began to get separate from the sound, and they arrange themselves in 24 syllabes, in front of his spiritual eye. He looks at those, and begins to chant and when he says the Mantra, the pain in his heart melts away.

Now he knows that the will of God has been done through God’s grace, that I have found a Mantra that in the darkest depths of human suffering just listening to it, “I shall call it the Gayatri Mantra”, he says. He chants and he hears the chants happening outside of him as well. People are chanting with him. He raises his wooden staff and he sees Sage Vasishta. Smiling and with deep rooted love, compassion and peace, Vasishta said, “Brahmarishi Viswamitra, the friend of the universe, it was God’s play and he used you to discover the Gayatri Mantra for the common man - to relieve him from suffering and unveil the maya to a little extent. You have given such a great gift to mankind".

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