TIMELESS SPLENDOUR OF SANDHYA VANDANAM
THE AVANI AVITTAM FESTIVAL FALLS ON 13TH AUGUST 2011. Avani Avittam or Upakarma in South India is celebrated as Raksha Bandhan (the bond of protection in Hindi) or Rakhi (in Devanagari) in different parts of India. It is a Hindu festival and also a Sikh festival, which celebrates the noble and abiding relationship between brothers and sisters. The festival is marked by the tying of a Rakhi, or holy thread by the sister on the wrist of her brother. The brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her. The Rakhi may also be tied on other special occasions to show solidarity and kinship (not necessarily only among brothers and sisters), as was done during the days of India's independence movement.
Devi Bhagavatam proclaims: “Sadhana of Gayatri mantra is the essence of Vedas. Even God like Brahma meditates on and performs Gayatri japa at the time of twilight. A Brahmin who performs only Gayatri japa regularly attains salvation. Daily worship of Gayatri has been described in all the Vedas. A Brahmin devoid of Gayatri is doomed in all respects. A Brahmin who gives up Gayatri goes to hell although he may worship Vishnu or Shiva”.
Adi Sankara Baghavadpadha has declared: “It is beyond human competence to describe the glory of Gayatri. Nothing is so important in the world as to have wisdom. This wisdom by which self –realisation is attained through divine insight is inspired by Gayatri. Gayatri is the initial mantra. It is an incarnation to destroy sins and promote virtues”.
Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa has stated: “I tell people that it is not necessary to get engaged in prolonged sadhnas. Perform simple Gayatri Sadhana and see the result. Great siddhis are attained by Gayatri sadhana. This mantra is small, no doubt, but it is extremely powerful”.
Swami Vivekananda thundered thus “Gayatri is a mantra of righteous wisdom and therefore, it has been called a be-jeweled crown of all the mantras”.
Mahamana Madanmohan Malviya said “Gayatri is the most precious gem which has been given to us by Rishis. It purifies the intellect and the soul is enlightened with the light of God. Countless souls have been liberated from worldly bond by this enlightenment. Gayatri has the power to inculcate feeling of dedication to God and removes scarcity of worldly requirements. Gayatri sadhana is extremely necessary for Brahmins. A person who does not perform Gayatri japa is guilty of neglecting his duties”.
Thus our saints and sages and saintly public men FROM TIMES IMMEMORIAL have described the time-defying glory and grandeur of the eternal message of GAYATRI MANTRA
I have just finished reading a newly published exhilarating book titled “Ruk, Yajus, Samaveda Sandhya Vandanam” written by Sri Narasimha Ragavachariar (1927-2007), a profound scholar and more importantly a man of God. In 1999 he was appointed as ‘Srikaryam’ of Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashram. He continued in that capacity until he passed away on 5 October, 2007.
Starting his career as a Hindi Pundit in Mannargudi, he led a life of self-effacing PUBLIC SERVICE—a life of love, self-abnegation and selfless service fully informed and fortified by his unmatched knowledge and transcendental wisdom.
With his mastery over several languages like English, Tamil, Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu, he could compose verses in all those languages with splendid ease. He has authored several books and monographs on ‘Vaishnava Dharma’. He served as Principal of Srirangam Patasalai for four years from 1983 to 1987. Prior to his appointment as ‘Srikaryam’ of Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashram in 1999, Sri Narasimha Ragavachariar had served as Adviser to the TVS Group in Madurai.
We can see from Sri. Narasimha Ragavachariar’s book that a follower of Sanathana Dharma is required to offer his prayer thrice a day with ‘Gayatri Mantra (Hymn)’. This is the most enchanting hymn among the prayers current in different religions all over the world. The central spiritual core of this prayer is an appeal to SURYA-NARAYANA to refresh one’s intellect and make it ever alert and luminous.
Such a prayer has no sectarian tinge. Its spirit is universal and all encompassing. It elevates, exalts and ennobles one’s mind, heart and soul. The meditation of ‘Gayatri Hymn’ is the fundamental part of the prayer that a follower of SANATANA DHARMA is required to offer three times a day. This prayer of Sanatana Dharma is called ‘Sandhya Vandanam’ because it is offered morning, mid-day and evening twilight.
‘Sandhi’ means union. Sandhya prayer is observed at three unions, viz, Night and Day is one union, ‘Prathaha (Morning) Sandhya’. The second union is at Forenoon and Afternoon, ‘Madhyanhika (Mid-day) Sandhya’. The third union is Day and Night ‘Sayam (Evening) Sandhya’.
This prayer has to be preceded and followed by certain prescribed details of religious ritual of great spiritual significance. First one has to recall the place and the day of offering the prayer. Reference to place starts from the entire BRAHMANDA. Located in it are the BHARATHAKHANDA, JAMBUDVEEPA and the concerned river on the bank of which one resides. Similarly reference to the time (Time as well) also commences with ‘Kaliyuga’; then comes the name of the year concerned, the season, the month, and the day.
Such reference to the place and day at the commencement of this prayer every day serves two purposes; firstly it makes one conscious of the relevance of the place and time and secondly it helps one to develop a sense of belonging to his place and time in a wider context of the whole nation being viewed as a part and parcel of the larger continuum of endless time.
The salient parts of Sandhya Vandanam are:
At the heart of Sandhya Rituals is the Gayatri Mantra. Like the light of the early morning sun, which sweeps away the darkness of the night as it illumines the landscape, the Gayatri Mantra is ordained to be purifying and enlightening. Our authentic tradition has it that it embodies the collective wisdom of the entire Vedic revelation. For this reason it is described as ‘Veda Mata’, ‘The Mother of Vedas’.
The Gayatri ‘richa’or verse is found in the ‘Rig Veda’ (3.62.10). It takes its name in part because it is written in a meter called ‘Gayatri Meter’—24 syllables divided into three lines of 8 syllables each. But the word ‘Gayatri’ also means “She who protects the singer” (from gai, to sing and trai, to protect). Thus, Gayatri is a name of the Divine Mother, She who protects her children and leads them towards self-realization.
It was first revealed to SAGE VISHWAMITRA. Because of its importance it has been subsequently incorporated in the other as well as other scriptures. But a ‘richa’ by itself is not a ‘Mantra’. A ‘richa’ becomes a ‘Mantra’ only when it begins with ‘OMKARA’.
The original ‘richa’ reads:
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
This ‘MANTRA’ has an additional line which contains the sound ‘OM’, followed by three short seed sounds called ‘VYAHRITIS’: ‘bhur bhuvah, and svah. Thus, the complete ‘GAYATRI MANTRA’ as it is used in daily meditation is as follows:
Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
The meaning of Gayatri Mantra can be summarised as follows: We meditate (Dhimahi) on the Spiritual Effulgence (Bhargas) of that Adorable Supreme Divine Reality (Varenyam Devasya), the Source or Projector (Savitr) of the three phenomenal world planes the gross or physical (Bhuh), the subtle or psychical (Bhuvah), and the potential or causal (Suvah) both macrocosmically (externally) and microcosmically (internally). May that Supreme Divine Being (Tat) stimulate (Prachodayat) our (Nah) intelligence (Dhiyah), so that we may realise the SUPREME TRUTH.
The Chhandogya Upanishad gives us a sense of the three ‘vyahritis’ and the sound ‘OM’. It explains that Prajapati, the Lord of the Universe, contemplated the nature of the three worlds or Lokas: Earth, Sky and Heaven. Prajapati was able to discover the essential guiding force of each: Agni (fire or energy) governed the earth; Vayu (the vital force or Prana) governed the sky; and Aditya (the Sun) governed the vault of heaven.
Once more Prajapati applied his concentration to the three guiding forces and obtained their essences: from the fire he obtained the verse of the ‘Rig Veda’; from the vital energy he obtained the ‘Yajur Veda’; and from the Sun he obtained the ‘Sama Veda’. Prajapati applied his concentration once more, now to the three Vedas themselves. From the ‘Rig Veda’ he obtained the syllable ‘bhuh’; from the ‘Yajur Veda’ the syllable ‘bhuva’; and from the ‘Sama Veda’ the syllable ‘svah’.
THUS THE THREE VYAHRITIS ARE THE ESSENCE OF THE THREE VEDAS. FINALLY, PRAJAPATI FOCUSED ON THE THREE ‘VYAHRITIS’ TOGETHER AND AGAIN THROUGH INTENSE CONCENTRATION HE OBTAINED A SINGLE, PURE SOUND, THE SYLLABLE ‘OM’. THUS GAYATRI IS A PRAYER AS WELL AS A ‘MANTRA’. AS A ‘MANTRA’, IT IS A SET OF SOUNDS USED BY PRACTITIONERS TO REALIZE A HIGHER STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS—A STATE SYMBOLIZED BY THE SUN. AS A PRAYER, IT PETITIONS GOD FOR GUIDANCE. “DIRECT MY MIND”, IT ASKS.
Since solar consciousness is present in the sounds of the Gayatri Mantra, it can gradually be realized by all of us by reciting and internalizing the ‘mantric’ sounds. This practice of internalizing a mantra is similar to the experience of listening to music. If we allow the tone, melody and rhythm of musical sounds to do so, they will transform us. It is just so with a mantra like ‘Gayatri’.
The meaning of Gayatri Mantra can be summarised as follows: We meditate (Dhimahi) on the Spiritual Effulgence (Bhargas) of that Adorable Supreme Divine Reality (Varenyam Devasya), the Source or Projector (Savitr) of the three phenomenal world planes the gross or physical (Bhuh), the subtle or psychical (Bhuvah), and the potential or causal (Suvah) both macrocosmically (externally) and microcosmically (internally). May that Supreme Divine Being (Tat) stimulate (Prachodayat) our (Nah) intelligence (Dhiyah), so that we may realise the Supreme Truth.
The traditional saying in Sanskrit is Gayantam traayate yasmaat Gayatri'tyadhiyate. This means Whoever sings 'Gayatri' is protected. Sings is not used here in the sense of singing a song. It means intoning or chanting the 'Gayatri Mantra' with concentration and devotion. While speaking about 'Gayatri Mantra', the Vedas use these words: Gaayatrim Chandasaam Maata. 'Chandas' means the Vedas. So, 'Gayatri' is the Mother of all Vedic Mantras and the Vedas themselves proclaim this truth with authority. It has 24 aksharas (letters or syllables) and three feet, each foot of eight syllables. This is why the 'Gayatri Mantra' is also called 'Tripada Gayatri'. Each foot is the essence of a Veda. Thus, 'Gayatri' is the essence of the Rgveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda. The Atharvaveda has its own 'Gayatri'. 'Gayatri-Japa' is essential to all rites performed according to the Sastras.
N Rajagopalan, a great musicologist and Sanskrit scholar rightly observes: "'Gayatri Maata' is the source of all Vedas and Mantras and is appropriately hailed as Mother. SHE is worshipped by chanting in mornings and at noon as 'Savitri Devata', and in evenings as 'Saraswati Devata'." It is said that the Mantra originated from the effulgent face of the Lord Narayana when He thought of creating the world. This gives the cue to the most primordial origin of the 'Gayatri Mantra', its prime timing and its high relevance. This is made clear by Lord Krishna in Bhagwad Gita (Chapter X verse 36), wherein He candidly asserts that In metres I am 'Gayatri'. 'Gayatri' is thus the pith and essence of the first three Vedas.
'Gayatri Mantra', when chanted with faith, devotion, dedication and sincerity, confers energy, health, valour, intellectual eminence and glamour to the individual. Sins are wiped off bringing in light into a life of darkness. It is well known that Sage Viswamitra secured unexcelled valour and eminence only by worshipping 'Gayatri Devata'. Sage Valmiki used one of the letters of the 'Gayatri Mantra' at the commencement of each of the successive thousand slokhas. Dr S Radhakrishnan extolled the significance of 'Gayatri Mantra' when he said: "Meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant Sun. May He inspire our intelligence!"
India is a land of underlying cultural unity amidst apparent diversity. The following table brings out the fact that different nomenclatures are used in different parts of India to refer to the Upanayanam (Initiation) ceremony and the 'Yagnopavitam' (the sacred thread):
When I contacted, Prof Hetukar Jha, a great Scholar of Sanskrit and former Head of the Department of Sociology of Patna University, an author of renown told me 'In north India most of the Brahmins are Yajur Vedis and only a miniscule are followers of Rig Veda and Sama Veda and a majority of the latter belong to Sandilya Gotra. Practically all followers of Yajur Veda are of the Madyamika Shakha who observe rituals of Vachaspayee Samhita. None of these Brahmins observe the annual ritual of changing the sacred thread. However, in Northern India, the practice of changing the sacred thread by those performing the rites, at the commencement of all important religious rituals or funeral rites when it is worn on the reverse, are observed chanting the same Mantras as in the South.'
‘Gayatri’ is the hypnotic means of liberating ourselves from worldly existence as well as of controlling our desire and realising the goal of our birth. We must keep blowing on the spark that is the ‘Gayatri’ and must take up ‘Gayatri-Japa’ as a vrta. As Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam rightly concluded: “The spark will not be extinguished if we do not take to unsastric ways of life and if we do not make our body unchaste”.
Kanchi Paramacharya spoke about the ritual and spiritual significance of Sandhya Vandanam in Tamil on 23-11-1932 and 24-11-1932. I am quoting his exact words spoken in Tamil on those 2 days, 79 years ago:
SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF KANCHI PARAMACHARYA IN ENGLISH
For those readers who do not know Tamil language, I would like to give the gist and essence of Kanchi Paramacharya’s Message in Tamil on Gayatri Mantra and Sandhya Vandanam presented above:
“In Dhanur Veda, there is a reference to 2 types of weapons, namely Astram and Sastram. When we chant a powerful Mantra and then send out an Astram, then that very Astram goes and destroys the object or article towards which that Astram has been directed. Our daily life calls for the deployment and use of Astra Prayoga. In order to drive out and destroy the Asuras invading our minds, hearts and souls, we have to effectively follow the procedure of Astra Prayogam. What is Astram in this context? In order to defeat and decimate the Asuras of greed, anger, hatred, fear, lust and prejudice, we have to use the Astram of water. This pouring of water is known as giving of Argyam in Sandhya Vandanam. Argyam helps us to put an end to our deluded existence based on sin and falsehood. In order to usher in the reign and rule of the resplendent SUN OF GYANA (Solar Energy of Knowledge and Wisdom), we have to do Astra Prayoga. This has to be done by controlling the breath by tightly holding our nostrils. We have to follow this procedure three times every day. This is what is known as Giving of Argyam in Sandhya Vandanam. In order to get the full benediction of the Almighty, we have to do Sankalpam, Marjanam, Prasanam, Argya Pradanam, Japam, Stotram and Abhivadanam……..
The great Maharishis, Saints and Sages of Ancient India obtained remarkable spiritual powers by strictly performing Sandhya Anushatanam, thrice a day. In Sandhya Vandanam, Argyam and Gayatri Mantra are the vital components. If you want to get the blessing of Veda Mantra Siddhi, we have to do both Argya and Gayatri Japa with unfailing devotion and regularity three times every day…..
‘Gayatri Mantra’, when chanted with faith, devotion, dedication and sincerity, confers energy, health, valour, intellectual eminence and glamour to the individual. Sins are wiped off bringing in light into a life of darkness. It is well known that Sage Viswamitra secured unexcelled valour and eminence only by worshipping ‘Gayatri Devata’.
To conclude in the words of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) “Thus the text of our every day meditation is the ‘GAYATRI’, a verse which is considered to be the epitome of all the Vedas. By its help we try to realize the essential unity of the world with the conscious soul of man, we learn to perceive the unity held together by one ETERNAL SPIRIT, whose power creates the earth, the sky, and the stars, and at the same time irradiates our minds with the light of a consciousness that moves and exists in unbroken continuity with the outer world”.
Disinterested intellectual curiosity is the bedrock of a real civilization. Social history constitutes one of its best forms. At bottom, the fascination of history is imaginative. Our imagination longs to see in life and blood our ancestors as they really were going about their daily business and daily pleasure. Carlyle (1795-1881) declared with aplomb that the smallest real fact about the past of man which any antiquarian or historical researcher could unearth was more poetical than P B Shelley (1792-1822) or more romantic than Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). I am often enthralled by the mystery of Time, by the mutability of all things, by the succession of the Ages and generations. As Carlyle puts it: "The mysterious River of Existence rushes on, a new Billow thereof has arrived, and lashes wildly as ever round the old embankments, but the former Billow with its loud, and eddyings, WHERE IS IT? WHERE? "
As a lover of antiquarian books, journals and newspapers, I recently came across a book printed in England in 1851 titled 'THE SUNDHYA OR THE DAILY PRAYERS OF THE BRAHMINS', ILLUSTRATED IN A SERIES OF ORIGINAL DRAWINGS FROM NATURE, DEMONSTRATING THEIR ATTITUDES AND DIFFERENT SIGNS AND FIGURES PERFORMED BY THEM DURING THE CEREMONIES OF THEIR MORNING DEVOTIONS AND LIKEWISE THEIR POOJAS TOGETHER WITH A DESCRIPTIVE TEXT ANNEXED TO EACH PLATE AND THE PRAYERS FROM THE SANSKRIT TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH'. In this great and inspiring book, there are 24 Plates of Colour Drawings done by a lady artist called Mrs S C Belnos. These drawings (lithographs) were done during the period from 1845 to 1850.The frontispiece on cover page of this very rare book above relates to a religious scene on a boat berthed on Triveni at Allahabad. Our nation celebrated the 150th anniversary of what that incomparable patriot and freedom fighter Vir Savarkar (1883-1966) described as the First War of Indian Independence of 1857 in 2007. It is interesting to note that this book on 'Sundhya Vandana' was printed in 1851, 6 years before the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. When this book was printed in England, Lord Dalhousie (1812-1860) was the Governor General of India. I am presenting below 13 colour drawings-Lithographs from this book.
FIRST PRAYER TO GURU
INVOCATION OF LORD GANESHA
CHANTING OF GAYATRI MANTRA IN THE GANGA RIVER
SIGNS OF GAYATRI
Printmaking as an art form emerged in India in the last decade of the 19th century. However, printing, in which lie the origins of contemporary printmaking, came to India in 1556, about a hundred years after Gutenberg's Bible. Calcutta, the capital of British India, was the hub of printing and publishing in colonial times. The printed picture, in the form of the book illustration, developed in early 19th century British India. European printmakers in 18th century India remained entirely disconnected from mainstream, indigenous printing activity since they had little or nothing in common with Indian culture and tradition. Their prints depicted exotic Indian landscapes that tended to appeal mainly to the colonial European sensibility. After 1820, the English East India Company invited several British painters and artists to visit India and do colour drawings of different aspects of British India---its religion, its literature, its culture and above all its people in all parts of India. It is thrilling, fascinating and highly instructive to see the cultural panorama of the Indian sub-continent unfolding under the scrutiny of intelligent foreign observers and painters in British India in the 19th century, bequething to us all the wealth of information on every aspect of Indian life, the memorable East-West encounter and above all the extraordinary nature of the adventures and confrontations of this historic association.
I derive my Himalayan inspiration to write about the glory of 'Gayatri Mantra' from the following everlasting words of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950): 'I write not for the orthodox, nor for those who have discovered a new orthodoxy, Samaj or Panth, nor for the unbeliever. I write for those who acknowledge reason but do not identify reason with Western Materialism; who are sceptics but not unbelievers; who, admitting the claims of modern thought, still believe in India, her mission, her gospel, her immortal life and her eternal rebirth.'