If the Gayatri has not been chanted for three generations in the family of a Brahmin, they cease to be Brahmins. The quarter where such Brahmins live cannot be called an “agrahara”. It is perhaps not yet three generations since Brahmins gave up the Gayatri. So they still may be called Brahmins.
In the same way if the Brahmin family has not performed sacrifices for three generations its members will be called “Durbrahmanas”, degenerate Brahmins. Even though degenerate the label “Brahmin” sticks to them. There are prayascittas (expiatory rites) by means of which the corrupted Brahmins will be remade true Brahmins. But there is no such hope for a Brahmin in whose family Gayatri has not been chanted for three generations. A member of such a family ceases altogether to be a Brahmin and cannot be made one again. He is just a “Brahmana- bandhu”, a kin or a friend of Brahmins. The same rule applies to Ksatriyas and Vaisyas with regard to the Gayatri mantra; they become “ksatriya-bandhus” and “Vaisya-bandhus” respectively.
The spark I mentioned earlier must be built into a fire. The spark by itself does not serve any purpose. But it has in it the potential to grow into a bright flame or a radiant fire. At least on Sundays, all those who wear the sacred thread must do Gayatri japa a thousand times. They must not eat unclean food, goto unclean places and must atone for lapses in ritual observances and in maintaining ritual purity. Henceforth they must take every care to see that their body is kept chaste and fit for it to absorb mantric power.
Even in times of misfortune the Gayatri must be muttered at least ten times at dawn, midday and dusk. These are hours of tranquility. At dawn all creatures including human beings rise and the mind is serene now. At dusk all must be restful after a day’s hard work: that is also a time of calm. At noon the sun is at its height and people are at home and relaxed and their mind is calm. During these hours we must meditate on Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvati.
In the morning the dominant presence is that of Visnu, at noon that of Brahma and at sundown of Siva. So we must meditate on Gayatri in the morning as Visnu personified, at noon as Brahma personified and at dusk as Siva personified.
Gayatri contains in itself the spirit and energy of all Vedic mantras. Indeed it imparts power to other mantras. Without Gayatri-japa, the chanting of all other mantras would be futile.
We find hypnotism useful in many ways and we talk of “hypnotic power”. Gayatri is the hypnotic means of liberating ourselves from worldly existence as well as of controlling desire and realising the goal of birth. We must keep blowing on the spark that is the Gayatri and must take up the Gayatri-japa as vrata. 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.
Gayatri-japa and “arghya” (offering libation) are the most important rites of sandhyavandana. The other parts of this rites are “angas” (limbs). The least a sick or weak person must do us to offer arghya and mutter the Gayatri ten times. “Oh only these two are important aren’t they? So that’s all we do, offer arghya and mutter the Gayatri ten times a day. ” If this be our attitude in due course we are likely to give up even these that are vital to sandhyavandyana.
A learned man remarked in jest about the people who perform arghya and mutter Gayatri only ten times thus applying to themselves the rule meant for the weak and the unfortunate: “They will always remain weak and be victims of some calamity or other”. Sandhyavandana must be performed properly during right hours. During the Mahabharata war, when water was not readily available, the warriors give arghya at the right time with dust as substitute.
Arghya must be offered before sunrise at noon and at sunset. Once there was a man called Idaikattu Siddhar who grazed cattle.
He said: “Kanamal konamal kandu kodu aadukan pogudu par ”
“Kanamal/r” means before you see the sun rise and “konamal/r” means when the sun is overhead and “kandu” is when you see the sun before sunset. These are the three times when you ought to offer arghya. “adu” means “niradu”, bathe in the Ganga. “kan” here means “visit Setu” or have ” have darsana of Setu”. “Pohutu par”- by bathing in the Ganga and by visiting Setu your sins will be washed away. Here is mentioned the custom of going to Kasi, collecting Ganga water there and going to (Setu) Ramesvaram to perform the abhiseka of Ramanathasvamin there.
Only by the intense repetition of Gayatri shall we be able to master all the Vedic mantras. This japa of Gayatri and arghya must be performed everyday without fail. At least once in our lifetime we must bathe in Ganga and go on pilgrimage to Setu.
If a man has a high fever, people looking after him must pour into his mouth the water with which sandhyavandana has been performed. Today it seems all of us are suffering all the time from high fever! When you run a high temperature you have to take medicine; similarly Gayatri is essential to the self and its japa must not be given up at any time. It is more essential to your inner being than medicine is to your body. Sandyavandana must be performed without fail everyday. Gayatri-japa can be practised by all of us without much effort and without spending any money. All that you require is water. Sandyavandana is indeed an easy means to ensure your well being. So long as there is life in you, you must perform it.
Gayatri must be worshiped as a mother. The Lord appers in many forms to bestow his grace and compassion on his devotees Mother loves us more than anybody else. We know no fear before her and talk to her freely. Of all the forms in which Bhagavan manifests himself that form in which he is revealed as mother is most liked by us. The Vedas proclaim Gayatri to be such a mother.
This mantra is to be repeated only by men. Women benefit from the men performing the japa. Similarly when the three varnas practise gayatri-japa all other jatis enjoy the benefit flowing from it. We may cease to perform a rite if the fruits yielded by them are enjoyed exclusively by us.
But we cannot do so if others also share in them. Those entitled to Gayatri mantra are to regard themselves as trustees who have to mutter it on behalf of others like women and the fourth varna who are not entitled to it. If they fail in their duty of trustees, it means they are committing an irremediable offence.
The mantras are numerous. Before we start chanting any of them, we say why we are doing so, mention the “fruit” that will yield. The benefit we derive from the Gayatri mantra is the cleansing of the mind (cittasuddhi). Even other mantras have this ultimate purpose, but cittasuuddhi is the direct result of Gayatri-japa.
Even in these days it is not difficult to perform sandhyavandana both at dawn and dusk. Office goers and other workers may not be at home during midday. They may perform the madhyahnika (the midday vandana) 2 hours 24 minutes after sunrise that is called “sangava kala”.
We must never miss the daily sandhyavadana unless we find it absolutely impossible to perform. When we fall ill, in our helplessness we ask others for water or kanji in the same way, we must ask our relative or friend to perform sandhyavandana on our behalf.
Let us all pray to God that he will have mercy upon us so that the fire of mantras is never extinguished in us and that it will keep burning brighter and brighter.
Other Aspects of Sandhyavandana
“Astra” and “Sastra” are terms used in Dhanurveda (military science) to denote two types of weapons. Knife, arrow, spear, club and so on-real weapons-come under the term “sastra”.”Astra” is what is energised by a mantra into a weapon. If you discharge just a darbha or a blade of grass chanting or muttering the appropriate mantra it will be turned into a weapon. Sastras are also discharged similarly with mantras. If you hurl something at a object or person muttering the mantra proper to it, the object or person will be destroyed when hit.
The twice-born (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) have the duty of discharging “Astras” every day to destroy asuras or the evil forces besieging mankind. Does not “Astra” mean that which is discharged, thrown or hurled? What is the “Astra” which is to be thrown or discharged [by the twice – born]? We throw water so as to drive away or destroy the demons or evil forces that have taken hold of the minds of people. This water, the astra, is the same as the libation offered during sandhiyavandana. We must keep this purpose in mind when we offer arghya : “May sinfulness and falsehood be annihilated. May the sun of knowledge shine brightly. May those obstacles that keep the sun of knowledge dim in us to be demolished. “Whatever you do or do not do, you must perform this arghya thrice a day. Do it somehow ” holding your breath”
When a person does a job earnestly and whole-heartedly, we say that he does it “holding his breath”. As a matter of fact sandhyavandana is to be performed holding one’s breath. If we do this all the evil forces will be destroyed. Nowadays all we do is to hold our nose with our fingers. The sastras do not say, “Nasikam ayamya”, but say, “Pranam ayamya. ” It means, instead of merely holding the nose, control the vital breath, the prana itself or the life force.
All work must be done with one-pointedness. There must be such one-pointedness of the mind to turn water into a weapon(astra). The breath is controlled for this purpose.
You will ask: “How is it that if you control your breath the mind will be still? “
We see that when the mind is still the breath also stops. When our wonder is aroused, when we are grief-stricken or when we are overjoyed, the mind becomes one-pointed. We exclaim “Ha” and the breath stops for a moment. But soon we breathe fast. We do not stop breathing with any effort on our part-the stopping is involuntary. The mind stops when it is enwrapped or absorbed in something. Then we heave a sigh-take a long breath-making up for the momentary stoppage of breathing. We learn from this that, when breathing momentarily stops, the mind becomes one-pointed. This is the reason why the breath is controlled when arghya, libation, is offered.
If we practice pranayama we will train ourselves to have mental concentration. This is important to yoga. Practicing pranayama for long is difficult and it must be done under the guidance of a guru. In sandhyavandana we do it only ten times. For some rites it is performed three times as a preliminary step. If we had practiced pranayama regularly from the time of our upanayana we should have become yogisvaras by now.
What we do we must do properly. When we practice pranayama as a part of sandhyavandana we must stop our breath for 30 seconds or so, not more. When the vital breath stops, the mind will become still. If the arghya is offered in this state the evil forces will be truly be driven away. The water that we pour or throw when our mind is still will turn a weapon to destroy all evil.
After employing the arghya weapon against the evil forces, we must perform Gayathri-japa. Pranayama we must do according to our ability, holding the breath for a while, then realising it: this process may be repeated without controlling the breath for too long a time.
All the steps in sandhyavandana- samkalpa, marjana, arghya-pradana, japa, stotra, abhivandana-have for their purpose the blessings of Isvara: this is stated in the samkalpa that we make at first. From beginning to end sandhyavandana is dedicated to Paramesvara and pranayama is an important part of it.
According to the sastras even the sick must do pranayama three times a day. This means that breath-control is not such as to cause trouble or discomfort. Indeed it could mean a cure for the illness and a prescription for long life.
Rsayo dirgha-sandhyatvad dirghamayuravapnuyuh Prajnam yasasca kirtim ca brahmavarcasameva ca – Manusmrti, 4. 94
In abhivadana we mention the name of the sage from whom we are descended. It is our duty to observe Vedic rituals at least for the fact that we belong to the gotra of that sage. After him there have been so many rsis in the line. We use the terms “trayarseyam”, “pancarseyam”, “ekarseyam”, meaning that, in the gotras concerned, there were three sages, fives sages, one sage. . . They must have lived long and secured knowledge, fame, Brahmic lustre and spiritual eminence by performing sandhyavandana. This is what the Manusmrti stanza means.
By our neglect we should not sever the thread, the tradition, handed down to us uninterruptedly. We must perform sandhyavandana as an offering to Paramesvara and must do so understanding its meaning and with faith and devotion. There must be one-pointedness in it and no mantra must be left out.
We sin with our mind, speech and body. I told you that these sins must be washed away by performing rites with the same mind, speech and body.
In sandhyavandana we mutter the mantras with our mouth and, even as we repeat the Gayatri, we meditate on it with our mind and in such rites as marjana (sprinkling of water) we acquire bodily purity.
Sandhyavandana is karmayoga, bhaktiyoga and jnanayoga combined [it unites the three paths of karma, devotion and knowledge].
Gayatri and Sandhyavandana — Kanchi Mahaswami