After yesterday’s cliff hanger of a translation, it’s time to look at the Gāyatrī Mantra in greater detail. Let’s go word-by-word, starting with the second line (which, as I explained in my last post, is actually more like the first line). Then we’ll try going phrase-by-phrase before piecing the whole thing together.
तत् (n., tat) = that
→ Singular neuter pronoun in the nominative or accusative case
सवितुर् (m., savitur) = of/from the divine solar power
→ This word is the singular ablative or genitive form of सवितृ, savitṛ. I recently learned that savitṛ is an entity separate from the sun itself — though obviously related to it, since savitṛ seems to give sūrya (the sun) its energy.
वरेण्यम् (adj., vareṇyam) = to be desired, i.e., the best
→ This word seems to be a gerundive form of the verb वृ (vṛ), “to choose” — hence meaning something like “the choicest.” Most likely singular neuter nominative or accusative, though it could also be singular masculine accusative. (See how fun Sanskrit is??!)
भर्गो (bhargo / original form — भर्गः, m., bhargaḥ) = brilliance, radiance
→ Comes from the verb भृज् / भ्रज् /भ्रज्ज् (bhṛj/bhraj/bhrajj) and all of its other random forms, which pretty much all mean “to burn.” In any case, masculine singular nominative.
देवस्य (m., devasya) = of god, of the gods, of the divine
→ Genitive form of देव (deva), a word with which most of us are familiar.
धीमहि (verb, dhīmahi) = let us give / we ought to give
→ I found a good deal of controversy about this word in my rudimentary research on the Gāyatrī Mantra, and it SEEMS to be an older form of the verb धा (dhā, to put/place/give) in the first person plural optative. But I’m still fairly in the dark about it, so feel free to enlighten me at any point!
धियो (dhiyo / original form – धीः, f., dhīḥ) = thought
→ Before sandhi [the process of binding words together in Sanskrit and changing their beginnings/endings appropriately, depending on what comes before/after the word in question], this word is धियः (dhiyaḥ), which definitely comes from धीः (dhīḥ) but could be any number of things. I’m taking it as the plural accusative, but it could also be the plural nominative, singular ablative, or singular genitive.
यो (yo / original form — यः, m., yaḥ) = That which / he who
→ Relative masculine pronoun in the singular nominative.
नः (naḥ) = our
→ First person plural pronoun. Here I’m taking it in the genitive case (as “our”), but it could also be accusative or dative.
प्रचोदयात् (verb, pracodayāt) = let it inspire / it ought to inspire
→ This verb seems to be the third person singular causative optative form of the prefix प्र (pra) added to the verb चुद् (cud). Taken alone, cud means things like “to impel” or “to animate” or “to hasten.” With the prefix pra, the verb means something more like “to set in motion.” You can see that this verb is causative because of the य (ya) that follows the चोद (coda). [It could also be a tenth class verb, and thus merit the य (ya), but I am fairly sure it's not, so it must be causative here.] The अात् (āt) ending tells us that the verb is third person singular optative.
Beginning to put it all together, we note that there is a relative clause (यो, or yo, and everything that agrees with it) and a correlative clause (तत्, or tat, and everything that agrees with it). Now I’m just going to warn you that my use of relatives and correlatives in my translation is REALLY sloppy — so please don’t hold me to grammatical perfection here, since we are talking about very old Sanskrit after all — but I will try my best to be as precise as I can.
In an example of said sloppiness, I’m going to go ahead and put the correlative clause before the relative clause and begin with the तत् (tat) phrase. तत् (tat / that) seems to agree with वरेण्यम् (vareṇyam / excellence) since they are both singular neuter accusative [again, they could be nominative, but I'm taking them as accusative here]. सवितुर् (savitur), then, modifies vareṇyam — giving us something like “that excellence of the solar energy.” Remember, savitur could be genitive or ablative, but I’m taking it as genitive. So that’s the first line — but it’s only part of an independent clause (we still need a subject and a verb and possibly some other stuff!) so let’s keep going.
Next I’m going to take धीमहि (dhīmahi, may we give) as the subject and verb of that clause. You could then say that the word धियो (dhiyo, originally dhiyaḥ, or “thoughts”), as a plural accusative, is acting as a sort of direct object. Whose thoughts? नः (naḥ) — our — thoughts. “May we give our thoughts.” To what? “To that excellence of the solar energy.” [But that sounds ugly and somewhat misleading, so I'm going with "to that perfection of the mystery behind the sun." Blech, translations are always so difficult.] Grammar freaks will note that the object of a “giving” verb should probably be dative, and they are right. But what about if we take धीमहि (dhīmahi) as something more like “let us direct”? Then the thing that we are directing something towards could really be in the accusative — just like the object of a “going to” verb is always in the accusative. Far-fetched, maybe, but it could work.
तत् सवितुर् वरेण्यम् (tat savitur vareṇyam) — that excellence of the solar energy — is then identified with the subject of the relative clause. This clause is marked by यो (यः) / yo (yaḥ), the masculine singular nominative pronoun, and everything that agrees with it. Here, the only thing that agrees with it in case, number, and gender is the word भर्गो (भर्गः) / bhargo (bhargaḥ), or “brilliance.” The word देवस्य (devasya, “of the divine”) modifies it, making the whole phrase something like “that brilliance of the divine.” Finally, “that brilliance of the divine” serves as the subject of the last verb, प्रचोदयात् (pracodayāt) — may it inspire.
Remembering that the two clauses must be linked together, we have something like the translation that I posted yesterday: May we give our thoughts to that perfection of the mystery behind the sun, that such brilliance of the divine might inspire.
Lingering question of the day: Is it just me, or does the first line of the Gāyatrī Mantra have only SEVEN syllables, and thus not live up to the eight-syllable gāyatrī meter after which the prayer is named? Either I am an idiot and not counting syllables correctly, or this is some strange Vedic Sanskrit blip. Help!