Photo credit: LadyDragonflyCC - >;< / Foter / CC BY
Today is Rakshabandhan so I will speak something about that. It is often believed that on this day, the sister ties the sacred thread or band on the brother’s wrist and asks him to protect her at all times. This is what is commonly heard and told, isn’t it? But this is not the essence and spirit of Rakshabandhan at all! The true secret of Rakshabandhan is that when a sister ties the thread on her brother’s wrist, it is a gesture of saying that “I will protect you at all times”. So it is the sisters who pray and wish for the protection and well-being of their brothers. This is what Rakshabandhan truly means.
Similarly, the Shravani Upakarma (a ceremony during the holy month of Shravan of changing one’s sacred thread called Janeu that one wears originally at the time of Upanayanam ceremony) is the act of regularly changing the sacred thread that one wears, by removing the old one and wearing a new one, by observing all the prescribed rituals. At the time of changing the thread, one chants the Gayatri Mantra. Gayatri is not a goddess having five faces and seated on a lotus. This was made a traditional belief much later by people. The Gayatri Mantra is a Samuhik Mantra (i.e a Mantra as a prayer for the benefit of everyone and not oneself alone). In the last part of the Mantra it is said – “Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat”. So it means to pray to the Divine by saying – ‘May everyone’s intellect be illumined with the light of the Divine’. It is not praying for one person’s intellect alone to be illumined. No, it is to pray for the collective intellect, the intellect of every person to be freed from negativity and be illumined with the light of Divine. The Mantra spells this out in plural and not in singular form. That is why it is said – “Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi” . It means – “May your Divine Light destroy all the sins of my limited mind into ashes; and May all our intellects be illumined with Your Divine Light”. This is the prayer that is made through the Gayatri Mantra. It is regarded as the most supreme prayer offered to God, and it truly is. It encompasses all the worlds of the subtle creation also. Within our own body there are so many worlds. There are seven Lokas (referring to the Seven heavenly realms of Creation: Bhuu, Bhuvas, Svar, Mahas, Janas, Tapas and Satya Loka) and there are seven energy Chakras within our own body, each Chakra being associated with a particular Loka. There are also seven levels of our existence. There are seven levels of (maturity or ripening) of knowledge. So through the Gayatri Mantra, we pray that we progress and rise through the seven levels of existence to the Light of the Divine, and that we experience fulfilment and contentment in each of these seven levels of our existence. It is a prayer to be able to accept and become one with the Eternal.
See, for example, air is always present. When you take a deep breath in, you accept the air so totally. In the same way, the Chaitanya Shakti (the powerful Consciousness) is present around you everywhere and at all times. Through the Gayatri Mantra, you accept and become one with this wonderful Consciousness around you with a deep sense of honour and total awareness. What happens as a result of this? All your sins are burnt to ashes, and you are cleansed. The word ‘Bhargo’ in the mantra means to cleanse all sins. So through the Gayatri Mantra, we pray that “May I uphold and contain the Light of the Divine in my intellect, and May it illumine all our minds and intellects and inspire us towards noble thoughts and actions’. This is the essence of the Gayatri Mantra, and this is the Gayatri Upasana also. Do not sit with the picture of Gayatri as a goddess in mind. When you sit, remember and become aware of your Self as the Divine light of the Consciousness that glows forever within you. The Sun is usually regarded as a deity but it is not really so. In the mantra we say ‘Tat Savitur-varenyam’. The word Savitur here refers to the Savitra Devta (a solar deity mentioned in the Rig-Veda and one of the twelve Adityas) considered to responsible for the light of the Sun. But here it means: One who illumines everything, who purifies everyone and washes away all sins, the Paramatma (Supreme Soul or Consciousness), and that is what is meant by Savitra. So when we say ‘Savitur-’ we are offering this prayer to God Himself, the Para-Brahman who is here referred to as Savitra. This is the deeper meaning here.