Guest post by RAJNI K. DIXIT
The Gayatri mantra, as it is called these days, has been assigned a very important position in Hinduism. One is supposed to pray to the Sun god with this verse every morning and evening. It is supposed to be a prayer to the Divine Light to guide our mind in the right direction, and to show us the correct way to live life. At the thread ceremony, which was a rite performed as the initiation of a Brahmin child’s education (samskarajanma or dwijatva i.e. second birth), the Gayatri mantra is spoken in the child’s ear because it is a prayer to guide the mind. It becomes his daily prayer to god for the right guidance and upliftment of mind for his whole life henceforth.
However, this verse was composed in a particular political context, understanding which expands our understanding of what is called Hinduism today.
This verse is composed by the great poet-priest Vishvamitra Gathina, and is selected from a poem of eighteen verses, the 62nd poem of the third mandal of the Rigveda. The major portion of this third mandal or group is composed by Vishvamitra. ‘Gayatri’ is actually the name of the metre that the verse is composed in. The verse is about god Savita, i.e. the sun, and the correct name by which this verse was originally known is the ‘Savitri’ mantra.
Gayatri is not the composition of an ascetic sage. It is written by a poet-priest who was a born politician, a Rajarshi as the later Sanskrit calls him. This was a time when all good poets worked as professional priests. Composition of literature had no existence separate from religion in those times.