While I certainly appreciate the efforts on the parts of the individuals
involved to try and understand the role of Gayatri mantra in Vaishnava
culture, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions here that I personally
feel need to be clarified.
The foremost is that the Gayatri mantra has some Vaishnava significance
to it. While some authors, such as Sri Satyamurthy Ayyangar and others,
have made a concerted effort to try and establish some Vaishnava
understanding to the performance of Gayatri, it required some "poetic
license" to put it in light of the Azhwars' teachings. In actuality,
the performance of Sandhya Vandanam and the subsequent recitation of
Gayatri mantra is - according to the Vedas - a birth-based obligation
afforded to only male members of the upper three castes as a
requirement for learning the Vedas. Since the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas
have, for the most part, forsaken Vedic responsibilities, the only
people who have continued the practice are the handful of Brahmin males
who continue to recognize the importance of living a Vedic life.
The mantra has a two-fold purpose: 1) in serving as a way to bring power
to the Sun in its sojourn across the sky and 2) providing this same
spiritual strength as a side benefit to the devotee who performs the
Sandhya Vandanam and recites the Gayatri mantra in a proper way.
Additional slokas and mantras have been recited by the respective
followers of Vaishnavam, Saivam and Smartha Brahminism to pay homage to
their respective concept of the Supreme Spirit as residing in the orb of
the sun and in all living beings.
As far as Samasrayanam goes, this sacrament has nothing at all to do
with caste, gender, or any other qualification. It serves as a
metaphor, a symbolic gesture, of a devotees's recognition that he/she in
body, mind, and spirit belongs wholeheartedly for the purpose serving as
an instrument to God. Since such knowledge really only comes through
learning under an Acharya, it is the Acharya who is called upon to
perform this sacrament to the aspirant such that he/she will awaken to
I am not sure how or why the Gayatri mantra found its way into ISKCON,
since most of its members are not Brahmin by birth, and therefore have
no burden of responsibility to uphold in reciting it. I personally feel
that the very recitation of the Holy Name is far more efficacious and
important to a Vaishnava than the caste-based ritualism that Brahminism
- and its associated egotism - continue to hold over our society, and
have always appreciated the followers of ISKCON for serving as models of
this for the other Vaishnava schools of thought.
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