Sri Balakrishnananda Saraswathi, a Swamiji in his early sixties, has been a worshipper of Gayatri since his early childhood. Shri Gayatri Tapobhoomi in Tadas, near Hubli in Karnataka, founded by Swamiji, has emerged to be a holy visiting place and every week thousands of people, irrespective of caste or creed, come there to offer puja to Goddess Gayatri Devi and seek his blessings. Swamiji set out with the avowed objective of organizing 24 Koti Gayatri Mahayajnas at different centers in India. 22 of them have been completed.
These Mahayajnas have served the noble purpose of spreading awareness about Gayatri and inducing the participants to take up Gayatri japa. Swamiji attaches great importance to prayer and meditation and has been regularly visiting the Himalayas for his higher spiritual pursuits.
Swamiji, please tell us the real significance of Gayatri.
Gayatri is essentially a mahamantra. It is a prayer and an object of meditation. Gayatri is a mantra shakthi, not just a deity. All devis have their avataar, but not Gayatri. Gayatri is Atman, Atman is Gayatri. Surya cannot be described, but he is the mahan shakthi who infuses life into every living being. The power behind Surya is Gayatri. Surya is avinashi, eternal. That is why the word varenyam in the Gayatri Mantra is loaded with meaning. Gayatri is jnana, knowledge. She is jnana svarupini, embodiment of knowledge. It is jnana that leads one to moksha, liberation.Gayatri is not an ordinary prayer, a prayer meant for seeking material and worldly gains. It is a mantra for the wish fulfilment of a different kind. Men and women reach higher levels of awareness by meditating on the Gayatri Mantra. The japa of this mantra leads the chanter in proper and virtuous direction. Contemplation and meditation on the Gayatri Mantra helps us in understanding the mysteries of the universe around us.
Swamiji, what is the significance of worshipping Gayatri as a Goddess?
Gayatri, as I mentioned earlier, is a mahamantra, a mahan shakthi. She is not a deity like Durga, Kali or Chamundi. These Devis took their avataars (manifestations), to kill Rakshasas or demons. There is no killing of any demons by Gayatri Devi. However, She destroys the rakshasas or dushta shakthis within us.
She is a power or shakthi who fights our internal sinful tendencies. Gayatri is Atman. Since Atman cannot be seen, and people are more comfortable with praying to a svarupa, our Rishis gave Gayatri a bodily form. That is how the mantra assumed the form of Mother Goddess, Gayatri Devi. That is why we have pictures and temples of Gayatri where regular prayers are offered. Gayatri is described as Veda Matha. Those who want to do mantra japa and chant the Gayatri Mantra are free to do so. Those who wish to worship Her as a Goddess may also meditate on Her embodiment.
Swamiji, you have been conducting Koti Mahayajnas in different centers. What is the significance of conducting such homas and yajnas?
Homa and yajna have great significance since the Vedic times. The offerings made during these sacrificial rituals carry cleansing properties. They purify the surrounding environment. Disease bearing germs and harmful substances are destroyed. In the ancient days, homa and havan were also used to cause rainfall. Moreover, homa and yajna mean mass participation and are done through collective efforts. They bring about ekata or brotherhood, harmony, mutual respect and service-orientation among people.
Prayer is very essential for every human being. Apart from personal and individual prayers, collective prayers seeking universal good are also a must.
Collective prayers are there in all religions. Christians have their congregations and masses. Muslims have their group prayers. These collective prayers supplement individual prayers.
How can Gayatri Japa and Gayatri Upasana transform our lives?
Human life is a precious gift for all of us. According to our scriptures, as a human being, there is a commitment to seek mukthi or liberation. Every individual should strive towards that. It is jnana or higher knowledge that leads us towards liberation and Gayatri Upasana is the pathway to brahma jnana, the Supreme Truth.
Gayatri Mantra is a prayer that bestows men and women with higher intellect. It purifies our thoughts and infuses adhyatma shakthi. It guides us on the right path. It develops deva guna or virtuous and sattwik qualities in us. One who meditates on Gayatri Mantra sincerely and regularly acquires a divine character. He or she gains good health, good mind or good thoughts and good intellect.
Swamiji, in the present day busy life, people may not find much time for doing japa or meditation. What is your advice to them?
The concept of prayer and meditation can also change with the changing times. It may not be possible for everyone to observe austerities and spend much time on prayers. One should meditate according to one’s convenience. Ideally speaking, Gayatri japa should be done at the Brahmi muhurtha that is early in the morning, before Sunrise and in the evening, before Sunset. The shakthis emanating from Surya impact us very favorably during those early hours in the morning.
Those who cannot do the japa at those early hours should practice the prayer or meditation at a fixed time every morning, preferably before Sunrise.
Gayatri japa should be done for about 15-30 minutes at a fixed time every day and gradually increased depending on the convenience and conviction of the person concerned. Whatever practice one follows, shraddha or sincerity is very important in doing Gayatri japa. Gayatri Mantra can be chanted by anyone at any place and any time. All that is required is sincerity and faith.
Excerpts from the book Gayatri - The Profound Prayer by R K Madhukar