I recently discovered this ancient and very beautiful mantra, and wanted to share it with anyone who reads this journal. The Gayatri is one of the oldest Sanskrit mantras, and is chanted as a way of asking for divine illumination, so that one may find one's true path in the world.
Here is a phonetic version of the Mantra, which comes from the Rig Veda:
Bhur Bhuvah Svaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat
So, what does it mean? Well, it can be translated a great many ways, based on personal interpretation. Here are the meanings for the words themselves (these are shortened versions; for more details, see the links at the end of this entry):
Aum - the sacred sound; the primordial fundamental sound symbolic of the Universal Absolute.
Bhur - Earth
Bhuvah - Atmosphere
Svaha - Beyond atmosphere; heaven
Tat - "that" because it defies description through speech or language, the "Ultimate Reality."
Savitur - Divine Sun (the ultimate light of wisdom) not to be confused with the ordinary sun.
Varenyam - adore
Bhargo - illumination
Devasya - Divine Grace
Dheemahi - we contemplate
Dhi - intellect
Yo - who
Nah - ours
Prachodayat - requesting / urging / praying
Here are a few different translations:
"O thou existence Absolute, Creator of the three dimensions, we contemplate upon thy divine light. May He stimulate our intellect and bestow upon us true knowledge."
"O Divine mother, our hearts are filled with darkness. Please make this darkness distant from us and promote illumination within us."
"Oh, Creator of the universe! We meditate upon thy supreme splendour. May thy radiant power illuminate our intellects, destroy our sins, and guide us in the right direction."
According to Shanti Mayi, although the Gayatri Mantra was given to us by the Hindu religion, in modern times, it is no longer associated with any one religion, and can be used by anyone:
There was once a time when the Gayatri Mantra was not spoken outwardly, it was repeated only in silence or whispered on the tip of the tongue. This method of chanting is a very subtle and powerful way to repeat the mantra. There was a time when women did not chant the mantra. There was also a time when only the Brahman priests and no others chanted the Gayatri Mantra. Today everyone has the privilege to chant the Gayatri Mantra - and what an honour it is. It seems that the change came when the world events began to turn towards a darker time. Now millions of men, women and children from every walk of life repeat and chant this beautiful and powerful invocation.
Because of its universal appeal and content, this mantra cannot rightfully be associated with a particular religion. The Hindus were the guardians of the Gayatri; it was they who taught it and propagated it throughout the world. You could say that the Gayatri Mantra is their offering to the spirit of humanity and the awakening of all beings. However, the scope of Gayatri's invocation is universal and transgresses all borders of secular religion.
The Gayatri Mantra is not only being chanted here among us and not only by our sangha. People all over the world are also chanting this deeply moving prayer at this very same time. No matter what time of day or night you may chant, there are others chanting the mantra too. Gayatri is an ancient vigil surrounding the planet.
For more information, try these links, which I thought had good information. There are many others I could have listed here, as well, so if you're really curious, Google will lead you to loads more.
The Wikipedia article
Shanti Mayi's website
About.com on the Gayatri Mantra
About.com on the Power of Mantra Chanting
Also, a beautiful recording of this mantra was done by Deva Premal - you can listen to part of it here.