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Gayathri Manthra: Short Invocation

OM :- Pranava - The word that is God the Almighty
BHUH :- God who is eternal,
Embodiment of vital or spiritual energy 
BHUVAHA :- God who is the creator,
Destroyer of suffering
SVAHA :- God who is Independent,
Embodiment of happiness
OM TAT :- That eternal God
SAVITHUR :- That creative principle of light manifested through Sun
VARENYAM :- That Supreme God propiated by the highest Gods
BHARGO :- That light that bestows wisdom, bliss and everlasting life
DHEVASYA :- The light of that effulgent God
DHEEMAHI :- we mediate
DHIYO :- May our intellect
YO NAHA :- Be directed by that lord
PRACHODAYAT :- Towards Illumination

Gayathri Manthra : Long Invocation points to the seven worlds or lokas.
The seven lokas, may be briefly described as:

bhuhu - earth, the physical world
bhuvaha - astral/desire/breath, the world of becoming
suvaha - mental, the world of thinking
mahaha - causal, silent mind, the world of emotion
janaha - world of creative generation
tapaha - world of intuition
satyaM - world of Absolute Truth

There are various methods of recitation of sloka. If you imagine any sloka with say 5 letters (say 1 2 3 4 5) the continuous recitation in sequence of letters is known as Samhithai. for example here they are reciting in Ghanam style which means.---Reciting of three letters in this order i.e., 1221123321123, 2332234432234

Short Closing:
bhur bhuvas suvar om
This simple closing phrase is magnificent, and is a powerful meditation all by itself, a joyous and humbling panoramic sweep from the initial earthy, lower chakra "bh" sound gradually becoming ever finer, transcending all the worlds, and culminating in the nameless, formless essence.
Long Closing:

Om aapo jyotih rasomritam brahma
bhuur bhuvas suvar om

This beautiful closing pays tribute to the myriad forms of the One. A simple translation is:
Om, the Water, the Light, the very Essence in which we exist, the Absolute, the physical world, the astral realm, the mental realm, all are Om.

Significance of Gayathri Manthra in Meditation

The Gayatri Mantra is first recorded in the Rig Veda (iii, 62, 10) which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago, and by some reports, the mantra may have been chanted for many generations before that.
"Gayatri", refers only to the metre used the mantra. It is not an invocation on any "Gayatri devi", as is the most popular misconception. There are other mantras in the Vedas in the Gayatri metre which invoke other deities. The most popular is the mantra chanted during Sandhyavandhanam, and it invokes the resplendant being in the sun - Surya Narayana. This is revealed in the Sandhya Vandanam by the passage "Theya sada savitra mandala, madhyavarti narayana sarasijasana sannivishta....".
It doesnt invoke the sun either, as is another popular misconception.
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Gayathrimatha. Her three names are Gayatri, Savitri and Saraswati. These three are present in each one of us. Gayatri is the master of senses, Savithri is the master of Prana or Life Force and Saraswati is the presiding deity of Speech. These three represents Purity in Thought , Word and Deed (thrikarana shuddhi). One who practices purity and Harmony of Thought, Word and Deed will have Gayatri , Savitri and Saraswati residing in him.
Gayathri (Meta-physical), Savithri (physical), Saraswathi (psychical). One has to enlight (Prajothayaat), these three to realize the goal of his life. As a base of the tantric practises, we have to get the control of the senses ( Gayathri), and maintain equlibrium in the prana or life force (Savithri), and use the psychical force (Saraswathi), to attain pure meditation. The manthra is just an instruction for doing this, or a prayer to give strength to attain this phase.
In a periodical manner we use to invoke these three phases during three different times of a day. When Meta-physical world enpowers you during morning we pray for Gayathri. Pratardhyayami gayatrim,

prAtar dhyAyAmi gAyatrIm, ravimaNDala-madhyagAm
Rg-vedam uccArayantIm raktavarNAm kumArikAm
akshamAlAkarAm brahmadevatyAm hamsavAhanAm

During Noon, when the full physical part is at it's full potential (just like the noon sun), we pray Savithri

madhyandine tu sAvitrIm ravimaNDalamadhyagAm
yajur-vedam vyAharantIm SvetAm SulakarAm SivAm
yuvatim rudradevatyAm dhyAyAmi vRshavAhanAm

And in the Eve when you psychical phase en-powers you when you recollect the things you done during that day, you have to pray sayam saraswathi to control the psychical force, before you go to sleep. Sayam sarasvati syama.

sAyam sarasvatIm SyAmAm ravimaNDalamdhyagAm
sAma-vedam vyAharantIm cakrAyudhadharAm SubhAm
dhyAyAmi vishNudevatyAm vRddhAm garuDavAhanAm

Three manthras which point you to these three phases are as given below: Some include this as a part of the Sandhya Vandanam ritual even though others seems to take this as an Ahnikam (manual of worship) or Gayathri Dhyanam.

Gayatri Mantra indicates the knowledge of the essential Oneness of the self in each of us and self everywhere.

Yonaha --- Our
Dhiyo (Dhiyaha --- Intellects)
Prachodayat --- (prerayetu inspire)

The one who illumines all activities of the subtle body (mind, intellect ego etc) and remains itself as a mere uninterferring " witness" is the inner self. Thus the word sound Prachodayat indicates the Atman. Through the Tat Savitur sentence the real Brahmin is established. The supreme Brahman alone is the self, invoking whom the prayer "inspire us" (Prachodayat) was raised. The self is indicated in the Gayatri Mantra by the term Sun (savituhu the effulgent light). Here the word "THAT (TAT) " indicates the Self evident, Self within which is nothing but self in all, the supreme self. That thou art--- tat thvam asi

The term Savituhu (Sun) indicate the One Substratum for all the delusory experiences of plurality and their illusory play in the field of creation-sustenance-and - destruction). Worshipful, adorable, (varenyam) means, " That which is courted by all" as It is the nature of Infinite Bliss. Resplendent (bhargaha) here is indicative of the knowledge, which will destroy avidya and its associated rajas and tamas. The Light (devasya) here suggests the ever-present Pure Consciousness illuminating everything. The terms Sun (Savituhu) and light (Devasya) are used in constructive meaning " Sun's Light" the consciousness of the self. The term "Dheemahi" is the Vedic construction for "we meditate" (dhyayem). Now it is clear that the Gayatri-mantra indicates in its deeper meaning the invocation of the supreme self, which is the sum, and substance of Vedas and Upanishads. Therefore the name Veda Mata for Gayatri is justified.

Bhuh indicates the permanent. The all pervading One that exits at all period of time, the self is invoked by this term. The term Bhuwah suggests Pure Consciousness due to the etymology of the term: Bhuwah comes from "imagines" (bhavayati) suggesting the awareness that illumines our thoughts. Swah in its import suggests one own essential reality. The term Mahah directly suggests the "most glorious" or the "most wosshipful" which is the Supreme self. Jana derives from "creates" (janayati) suggests that which is the "One Cause" for all names and forms, within and without. The term Tapah means resplendent-splenderous full of brilliancy. The Self as Consciousness alone the source of all light in the Universe. Satyam is a state that is beyond the pale of sorrows and pain. Thus the seven Vyahruties are described as the seven "Worlds" meaning the field of experiencees

Nah - asmakam Dheeyah - Buddhi Prachodayat- prerayet
Sarvabudhi samgnanthah karana prkashakah sarva sakshi prethyagathma iti uccyathe
Thusya prachodayatu sabdanistasya atmanah
Swarupabhutam param brahma tat savitur ityati padayh nirdisyateh
Atra tat subdena prthyagbhutam swatah siddham param bramhma uccayathe
"Savituriti" srustistitilayam lakshnasya sarvaprpanjasya dwaitabhavasya adistanam lakshyate
"varenyamiti" sarvaraneyam niradhshayaandarupam
"bharga iti" aviyatidosabharjanatmakam gyanaikavishayathwatu
"devasya iti" sarvathyadhothanathmakaakandachitekarasam
savitudevasya ityatra sastayarchi rahoha shirovatu oupacarikaha
bhdhyati sarva dhrisyasya sakshilakshanan
yanme swarupam thath sarvadhristanarupam paramanandam
nirastasamasthanardharupam swaprkashachitatmakam brahma ityevam
dhimahe - dhiyayeth
evam sathi praytyagatmanaha brahmana saha thatahtmarupamekatvam bhavathi
thayaa sarvathmakabrahmabhodakosyam gayatrimantraha sampatyate
atah saptavyahritinam ayamarthah