Arghyam literally means ‘offering’. Like Achamanam, mArjanam, and prAsanam, this is also a water based one. Water is taken in the right palm of the sAdhaka and (slightly) thrown skyward after chanting the gAyatri mantra. This offering is thrice per session. Smartha sandhyAvandanam has one extra arghyam for any errors in the offering time- the kAlAtheetha prAyaschitta arghya pradhAnam.
I have known through many readings that the sandhyAvandanam , though done by the brAhmaNa, is in fact for the welfare of the humanity at large. This kriya, Arghyam, is no different. The sAdhaka’s chanting of the gAyatri while holding the water in the palm is a selfless kriya and aimed at the world. The agent to which it is given is Surya (sun).
I will try to give the traditional, philosophical as well as scientific background for Arghyam.
Garuda purANa states that a kind of asuras called mandeha , who originally reside in an island called aruNa are trying to destroy Surya in the day at daybreak and sunset. The arghyam given at these times serves as a weapon to destroy them.Look at the following slokas (1-213-62)
“A Brahmachirin shall bathe only once a day. Having performed the rite of Achamanam, and invoked the sacred pools therein, one shall take a bath in the river. Thirty million is the number of the malignant spirits, called Mandehas, who manifest a desire of devouring the sun at day break. He, who does not attend to his Sandhya rite at the meetings of the day and night, verily kills the sun, inasmuch as the libations of consecrated water (offered unto the sun-god in the course of a SandhyA) tend to consume these monsters (Mandehas) like streams of liquid fire.”
The philosophical significance is in the symbolism. The Mandehas are nothing but the man- dehas or mind body which are clouding the sun of resplendent atman in us. The gayatri purifies us by this offering so that the inner light can be perceived by us. Also, the sAdhaks , after the arghyam, say, ‘asAvAdityo brahma, brahmaiva ahamasmi” (the sun is verily the brahman. Brahman is myself). In the adhyAtmic sense, arghyam is a reminder of the brahman in us and its honouring by the offer of mantra and water.
The scientific meaning is even more interesting. Only recently I chanced upon the work of Mr Masaru Emoto of Japan who did some critical experiments with water.He took a glass of water and spoke ‘thank you’ to it. He then freezed the water. When he magnified the crystallized water, he was amazed to see symmetric patterns.Curious, he then cursed a glass of water with , ” I hate you” and crystallized it. This time the magnified image of crystals were ugly and random.
He then used Tibetan Sutras and the resulting image was of a beautiful pattern.
It was here that I wondered at the wisdom of our Maharishis. All of our Sandhyavandanam is water based. We either partake or offer water while uttering sacred mantrams. Imagine the effect of these mantrams on the water !
During Arghyam, we chant the greatest of all mantrams- the Gayatri. Though Mr Emoto did not experiment with Gayatri mantra, we can guess what will happen. The thought waves generated by the Arghya Danam will penetrate all the three worlds. The same explanation will hold for our Achamanam , prokshanam, kalasa pooja, temple teertham etc. I also would like to add a speculation here. Like water, all the pancha Bhootas must have memory. In our yagyas, Agni is called ‘havya vahana’ since it carries the havis to the devas.Soon, our scientists will declare that air, earth and space has memory !
I have heard that Rishis chant Gayatri ceaselessly. They do so for protecting the mankind and for preserving the Surya (sun) from extinguishing ! In Dhanur Vidya (Archery and missile warfare), only the variants of Gayatri mantra were used for launching the sastras – right upto the most potent Brahmastra !
This is another great aspect of our Sandhya Vandanam. Arghyam is not a meaningless exercise but a profoundly meaningful, spiritual Kriya that is also physically purifying. Arghyam later was adapted into daily upasana in Temples and homes. It is one of the ‘sodasa’ upachara (sixteen honours) to Paramatman.