Why is an idol or picture used for worship of God, who is formless? Are there more than one Gayatri?

It is an oft-repeated question. It should be understood that basic purpose of worship is meditation and contemplation; and name and form are essential for meditation. Everywhere people coordinate feelings and symbols in order to refine their sentiments. Every nation has its own national flag. Its citizens pay reverence to the national flag and get infuriated when it is insulted. Even communists, who consider themselves atheists offer salutation to the red flag and when they go to Russia they pay a visit to Leningrad to have a glimpse of the place where Lenin’s embalmed body has been kept. Muslims who do not believe in idol worship offer their prayers facing Kaba. They kiss the symbolic stone ‘Sang Asavad’ of Syah Moosa in Mecca. Arya Samajists express divine faith in the letter ‘Om’ and in performing Agnihotra. The obvious reason is that it is convenient to concentrate the mind with the help of symbols. The work of teaching the alphabet to children becomes easy when it is done through pictorial symbols as Ka- Kabutar, Kha-Khargosh, Ga- Gamla, Gha- Ghadi, and so on in Hindi. The same principle applies to installation of idols of gods and goddesses. The Gayatri mahamantra does not have any other form or variant. Its authentic classical form comprises a syntax of just twenty-four letters encompassing three verses of eight letters each, three Vyahritis and one Onkar (o-o-o-m). It is this ancient Mantra which is used during the traditional Sandhyavandan and for Gurudeekcha during Yagyopaveet ceremony. It is also known as the Guru Mantra. It appears that the other variants of Gayatri had been fabricated during the dark Middle Ages by founders of various sects to propagate their own pre-eminence.

Why is Gayatri visualized as a young woman with its peculiar ornaments?

One should not be under the illusion that Gayatri is a living being with one mouth and two arms or five mouths and ten arms. Woman has intrinsic superiority over man and so Gayatri is given mother’s form. Having Kamandal and a book in Gayatri Mata’s hands are symbolic of knowledge and science. There is no living being in the world having five mouths and ten arms. This is just a symbolic representation. Five mouths signify Panch-kosh as the five, sheaths of human existence and ten arms represent ten characteristic features of religion. The symbolism of Mother Gayatri sitting on a swan is that the Sadhak should keep discriminative wisdom like a royal swan or Paramhans. It is said about the mythological Rajhans (royal swan) that it has the power to discriminate the good from the bad, to separate milk from water, to pick up only pearls and leave pebbles. It never eats worms and insects. This is an example of the soul status of a Param-hansa. Ordinarily swans live on insects, neither consume milk nor dive to the depths of the ocean to find pearls. The representation of God and powers of Divinity as female deities is a unique feature of Indian spirituality. There are compelling reasons for this insight. Nature has exclusively equipped the female of the species with powers of reproduction and sustenance of the infant. The expression of selfless love of a mother can only be the true representation of love of God for human beings. Hence, Gayatri has been conceived as Mother. Since, Divinity never grows old and is eternally young and beautiful, Mother Gayatri is shown as young attractive maiden. Besides, meditating on a beautiful woman as symbolic of Divinity also helps one develop a platonic – pious attitude towards women in general. The lotus as Her seat means the presence of Divinity in an environment which is fragrant, pleasant and blossomingly cheerful.

In what way the twenty-four emanations of Divine Mother (Matrikas) represent Gayatri?

As various organs perform specific functions in the human body, the primary divine energies inherent in the Primordial Supreme Power (Adyashakti) of God have been conceived as twenty-four motherly emanations or nine Devis (female deities) – since, amongst the living beings in the world, only the female of the species is capable of creation.

Why is the Primordial Divine Energy (Gayatri) represented in so many forms (idols)?

God is omnipresent. The primordial Divine Energy symbolized as Gayatri take up numerous forms and functions in innumerable ways. The analogy of an actor will illustrate the point. An actor in a play has to wear different costumes on various occasions to portray different roles. For each role, he is made to don specific garments with appropriate ornamentation and adopts suitable histrionics. The person chooses the deity according to one’s need. During Trikal Sandhya for instance, the trinity Brahmi – Vaishnavi – Shambhavi is invoked. Aspirants for strength and success in worldly pursuits worship Durga; for prosperity, Lakhyami; for scholarship and cultural excellence, Saraswati; and so on.

Why is Gayatri represented as a deity with five faces?

Descriptions of deities and characters in mythology showing many heads and arms are common and may appear odd and paganish to a person not familiar with the subtleties of Indian spiritual tradition. Brahma and Vishnu have been described as having four faces, Shiva with five, Kartikeya with six, Durga with eight and Ganesha with ten heads. It is said that the demon king Ravana had ten heads and twenty arms; and sahastrabahu, another demon had a thousand hands. Here, the numbers do not refer to the physiology, but to characteristics of the divine or evil attributes of the deities or demons as the case may be.

Indian spirituality frequently mentions five-fold classifications – such as the five basic elements of the cosmos (Tatvas); the five sheaths (Koshas) covering the human soul; the five organs each of perception and action in the human body (Gyanendriyas and Karmendriyas), the five life-forces (Prans); the five types of energies operating in human bodies (Agnis); the five types of Yoga ….etc. The Gayatri Mantra, too is divisible in five parts namely (1) Om (2) Bhurbhuwaha Swaha (3) Tatsaviturvareniyam (4) Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi (5) Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat. Each of these corresponds to the five primary emanation of the supreme spirit: Ganesh, Bhawani, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh respectively. The entire super-science of spirituality too is encapsuled in the four Vedas and one Yagya.

The five faces of Gayatri refer to these Divine attributes, which the Sadhak has to deal with in course of Sadhana.

What is the relationship between Gayatri Mantra and other powers of God?

According to Savitri Upnishad, from the eternal omnipotence of God represented by Om, seven streams of divine power, known as Vyahritis, emanate. Three amongst these (Bhur , Bhuwaha and Swaha) form the prefix of Gayatri Mantra. The Vyahritis are also known as the ‘Sheersha’ (fountainhead) of Gayatri. When Gayatri- the Primordial Power of the Divine, with Its totality of energy systems, interacts with the five basic elements of material universe (Panch Bhautik Prakriti – Savitri), complex, mysterious reactions are set into motion. Spirituality identifies these five basic elements (of which the entire material universe in its of solid, liquid and gaseous states and physical bodies of animate systems are composed) as Prithvi, Jal, Vayu, Tej and Akash. In course of interaction of the cosmic energies with these basic elements subtle sound waves similar to those produced by twenty-four letters of Gayatri Mantra are created.

Is it permissible to chant other Mantras or worship other deities along with Gayatri?

Central theme of any form of worship is meditation. The exclusive objective of Jap and meditation in Upasana is to establish an intimate emotional bond between the devotee and God. Spirituality in India permits a free choice amongst a multitude of symbols (as deities) for meditating on attributes of the Creator. Once a particular deity is chosen as one’s Ishtadeo (Exclusive representative deity for worship), it is considered mandatory to follow the rituals and Mantras of Upasana pertaining to the Ishtadeo only and pursue Upasana – Sadhana – Aradhna strictly according to the procedure laid down by the Guru. During Sadhana, the Ishtadeo is treated like a living person, as one’s most intimate relative, as father – mother – brother – helper – master – friend, all rolled into one (Twameva Mata-cha, Pita Twameva….). Only after cultivating such an intimate relationship with God, can one expect His / Her grace.

Because of ignorance, many devotees decorate their place of worship with assorted forms, (photographs etc.) of deities, chant many Mantras and say prayers to please them. Disregarding the Oneness of God (Brahma), they try to establish some relationship with many deities in expectation of multifarious benefits from each of them. In the field of spirituality such a practice becomes counterproductive. The deities represent streams of that ‘One fountainhead’ of God. Interaction with some particular attributes of God (deity) may be necessary for a particular purpose, but for an all-round spiritual progress one should choose Gayatri as Ishtadeo. (Ref. Upasana Ke Do Charan Jap or Dhyan).

Why is Gayatri represented as a female deity?

Several people say that when masculine words have been used in Gayatri how can it be said Gayatri Mata? It should be understood that the Absolute Divinity it represents, is all pervasive and formless. It is beyond gender. In scriptures both masculine and feminine words are used for fire, air etc. The famous Sanskrit couplet which is a prayer to God says, ‘Oh God, you are mother, you are father (Twameva Mata-cha Pita Twameva).’ Literally, Savita may be called masculine, but its power, Savitri is feminine. These allegorical descriptions in the scriptures should be taken as such, and not used to score declamatory points.

What is the basis of words in Gayatri Mantra adding upto 24 letters?

The confusion about Gayatri Mantra having a total of 23 letters only, arises mainly because of the word Nayam in Varenyam. In the composition of the Richas (couplets) of Vedas, meanings are subordinate to the syntax of words, which is according to specified musical notations. The chhandas (components of Vedas classified according to number of letters) in the Vedas are composed keeping in view the symphony to be created by the succession of words for a desired objective. Musicians change the pitch and duration of the tones to conform to a Raga. The mystery of difference between the “written” and pronounced Nyam in the Mantra lies in its sonic effect. In this way considering Nyam as a composite of Ni and Yam according to their musical notation, the first, second and third segments of the Mantra add up to 8 words each. Adya Shankaracharya endorses this view. The Pingal Shastra and Mantrartha Chandrodaya also support the grammatical conformity of Gayatri Mantra on the same principle. In this way, the letters in the Mantra are to be counted as follows: TAT SA VI TU VAR RE NI YAM BHA RGO DE VASYA DHI 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ MA HI DHI YO YO NAH PRA CHO DA YAT 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1+ 1 = 24

How many “Onkars” are included in the Gayatri Mantra?

Gayatri Mantra is complete in itself. It is not at all necessary to supplement it by assigning three or five ‘Oms’ by way of beej Mantra or samput. This is done only in the Tantrik system. The common man should not bother about some odd references in scriptures which justify prefixing, inter-fixing or suffixing more than one Onkars (Om) with the Gayatri Mantra The practice of using more than one Onkar was probably adopted by different sects as a mark of distinction (as followers of various sects use uniform, Tilak chhap marking on forehead etc. to identify themselves).

The standard Guru-Mantra, Gayatri comprises of three Vyahritis and three phrases of eight letters each pre-fixed by Om. Om is in fact, a symbol of reverence preceding all Ved Mantras, as Mr., Mrs., Miss, etc. are prefixed to the names of persons. However, there is no restriction in using more than one Onkars though the standard practice of pre-fixing one Onkar (Om) is recommended for maintaining uniformity.