The Sanskrit word mantra signifies an incantation which guarantees protection to those who think of it chant it and meditate on it.
Among such mantras the Gayatri mantra is considered to be a storehouse of divine power and excels all other mantras in efficacy and potency. It is the Vedic mantra par excellence and is found unchanged in the Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas.
Gayatri is only the name of the metre of the mantra. About one fourth of the hymns of Rig Veda are set in this metre. Another name of the Gayatri, is Savitri mantra, as the deity it apparently propitiates is Savita, the sun.
Considered to be the quintessence of all Vedic knowledge, the Gayatri is accepted by all sections of the Hindus through the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent.
It is said that with the strength of the powerful Gaayathri mantra Sage Vasishtha successfully resisted the royal might of the Viswamitra, when the latter exerted his utmost to wrest the Kamadenu (wishfulfilling divine cow) from him.
According to Atri Maharishi one who recites the Gayatri mantra 1100 times every day is untouched by sin. According to Yajnavalkya the recitation of Gayathri mantra reduces all sins to ashes. Manu the great lawgiver instructs us thus - "Go to a secluded place. Be of a balanced mind. Sit near a body of water and do your daily ritual along with recitation of Gayatri mantra". The Indian sages were of the firm conviction that the significance and vibrations of the mantra would fortify man.
Closer to our times Maharishi Debendranath Tagore father of world poet Rabindranath Tagore was a great votary of the Gayathri mantra and benefited greatly by chanting it. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya was able to establish the Benares Hindu University through his practice of Gayatri recitation. Mahatma Gandhi has stated in his autobiography that a votary of Gayatri cannot fall victim to any illness.
According to ancient Hindu tradition the investiture of the sacred thread empowered a person to chant the Gayatri mantra. Brahmin boys were invested with the sacred thread at the age of eight. Kshatriya boys at 11 years and Vaishya boys at 12 years.
The enlightened view is that any person whatever his caste creed or colour can chant the Gayatri mantra provided he does it in the right spirit and understands its significance.
Om Bhur Bhuvaha Suvaha That Savitur Varenyam Dhiyo yonaha Prahodayaat.
Om Aanjaneyaaya Vidmahe Vaayuputraaya Dheemahi Tanno Hanumat Prachodayaat.
Om Bhaskaraaya Vidmahe Mahatdyutikaraaya Dheemahi Aaditya Prachodayaat.
Om Mahaadevyai cha Vidmahe Vishnupatnyaicha Dheemahi Thanno Lakshmi Prachodayaat.
Om Pishacha Dvajaayai Vidmahe Shoolahastaayai Dheemahi Thanno Kaali Prachodayaat.
The recitation of each of these Gayatri Mantras gives different benefits and brings different rewards. To attain these rewards, One must recite the particularly mantra every day 54 times or 108 times with devotion and a one pointed mind.
Aditya: Cure from eye ailments.
Kali: Cure from diseases.
Lakshmi: Prosperity and success.
Hanuman: Victory over obstacles, success, aspiration of truth