Gayatri Symbol and Meaning

Gayatri Mantra by Raja Ravi Varma. US public domain via wikimedia

Gayatri is a symbol of the source of life. It is said that the sound vibrations of the Gayatri give birth to the cosmos. Chanting the Gayatri mantra opens one to the supreme Self as it pervades all realms or all states of consciousness. We can meditate on the Gayatri mantra to experience the felt-realization of the source of life. Mediation of this mantra will purify the soul. Here is the mantra:

Bhuh Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat

In the image above, we see Gayatri with five heads, seated on a lotus. It is said that her four heads represent the Vedas and the fifth head represents the supreme Self. Gayatri is also one of the most important Vedic Mantras. Gayatri offers herself as a wonderful healing hymn for all beings on the path to enlightenment. Singh says,

“There is nothing more purifying for one’s soul, either on this earth or in the heavens, than the Gayatri Mantra japa or repetition.” [1]

Krishna in the Gita asserts:

“Amongst the mantras I am Gayatri. The Gayatri is Brahma, Gayatri is Vishnu, Gayatri is Shiva, the Gayatri is Vedas.”

Goddess Chinnamastā Symbol and Meaning

“Chinnamasta, sixth painting in the series Das Mahavidya Rajasthan, Jaipur, lathe 19th century” US Public Domain

In the above image, we see Chinnamastā. She copulates with Shiva as she severs her head with her fingernail. Three streams of blood flow from her head. The streams flow to feed the goddesses on her left and right, as well as her own head.

For many, the image of Chinnamastā would certainly be a dark, foreboding, negative image. Yet, taking in its own context, this image reveals the very nature of the ecstatic non-dual. There are many ways in which the image reveals such truth, most readily in the symbolic severing of the head. The severing of the head may represent moksha (liberation), as an image of non-dual ecstasy associated with the release of our individual identity.

The image is also cosmogonic: the flow of blood expresses the splendor of being surging forth as Shakti; these great currents emerge from the meditative abode of Shiva (as base or ground), flowing into form (the goddess on the left and right) and into the ecstatic non-dual (the severed head).

On still another level, the image is psychic, expressing the possibility and potential of kundalini awakening. The three flows of blood represent nadis (channels) through which Shakti rises [fn 1].

At still another level, it expresses the duality in the goddess. A story from the Prdnatosim tantra tells a story in which Parvati goes to bathe in Mandakini River with her attendants, Jaya and Vijaya…

 After some time, her two attendants asked her, “Give us some food. We are hungry.” She replied, “I shall give you food but please wait.” After awhile, again they asked her. She replied, “Please wait, I am thinking about some matters.” Waiting awhile, they implored her, “You are the mother of the universe. A child asks everything from her mother. The mother gives her children not only food but also coverings for the body. So that is why we are praying to you for food. You are known for your mercy; please give us food…. But again her two attendants, Dakini and Varninl, begged her, “We are overpowered with hunger, O Mother of the Universe. Give us food so we may be satisfied, O Merciful One, Bestower of Boons and Fulfiller of Desires.” Hearing this true statement, the merciful goddess smiled and severed her head with her fingernails. As soon as she severed her head, her head fell on the palm of her left hand. Three bloodstreams emerged from her throat; the left and right fell respectively into the mouths of her flanking attendants and the center fell into her mouth. After performing this, all were satisfied and later returned home. Parvati became known as Chinnamasta” (Prdnatosim-tantra, sited in David Kinsley).

This story illustrates the dual nature of the mother Goddess, as both nurturing and fierce.


  1. An Introduction to Tantric Philosophy: The Paramarthasara of Abhinavagupta with the Commentary of Yogaraja by Lyne Bansat-Boudon
  2. Tantric visions of the divine feminine: the ten mahāvidyās by David Kinsley, p.189


  1. Varaha Upanishad: “The nāḍis penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head. In them is prāṇa, the breath of life and in that life abides Ātman, which is the abode of Shakti, creatrix of the animate and inanimate worlds.”