Sunrise in England. Hard to catch it, sometimes, but always worth the effort.

This week I have been thinking about the Gayatri mantra and how it is chanted at sunrise, noon and sunset. Although the Hare Krishna maha-mantra can be chanted without following any ‘hard and fast rules,’ the Gayatri does have rules attached to it, and they must be followed in order to achieve the full effect. When I was living in the tropics, in East Africa, it was very easy to chant the Gayatri mantra at the same times every day. That’s because the sun always came up at six in the morning and went down at six in the evening. And when I was living for a few months on the equator, noon was easy to calculate because it was when the sun was directly overhead.

In England the sun rises and sets at different times each day, and its a little bit harder to chant at the right times. In this month of November, sunrise does not happen until around 7.30, and sunset comes upon all of us quite unexpectedly, right in the middle of the afternoon!

But a brahmana is meant to chant the Vedic Gayatri according to the movements of the sun, and so becomes a bit of a sun-watcher. However, brahmanas have almost a one hour period in which to chant their mantra, so there’s a bit of laxity allowed in their precision timekeeping. The old Vedic lengths of time are the muhurta, which lasts for 48 minutes; and the danda, which lasts for half of that, 24 minutes. A brahmana wanting to chant the Gayatri in the morning can do so any time from one danda before sunrise (24 minutes before sunrise) all the way through until one danda after sunrise (24 minutes after sunrise). Let us say that it is late November somewhere in England and the sun rises at precisely 7.36 am. The brahmana can chant his/her Gayatri at any time from 7.12 am until 8.00 am. The same rule applies for the evening Gayatri at sunset.

Punctilious brahmanas will also tell you that the most preferential time for chanting the Gayatri is slightly before sunrise, before the first glimpse of the sun disc can be seen; and slightly after sunset, when the sun has disappeared but before the stars can be seen.

For those who chant the Hare Krishna maha mantra, any time is a good time. However, it has been proven by thousands of years of experience that chanting any mantra is particularly efficacious during the early morning Brahma-muhurta period. That’s not because the mantra becomes any more powerful – its because the chanter can listen to the mantra with more concentration! The Brahma-muhurta is a golden period every morning before sunrise and it is highly recommended to take advantage of this little celestial secret of Mother Nature and to use this time to our great advantage. When is it, and how long does it last?

You’ll notice from the word muhurta that the golden period lasts for 48 minutes. It begins two muhurtas  – or 96 minutes – before sunrise. So let us say, again, that sunrise is at 7.36 am. Counting back 96 minutes (or one hour and 36 minutes) from 7.36 am brings us to 6.00 am. That means that the Brahma-muhurta begins at 6.00 am and will last until 6.48 am. This will be the best natural time for meditation or any kind of contemplative or transcendent activity.

In the summertime it will naturally be difficult for English people to take advantage of this golden period as it falls very early in the morning. Take the month of June, for instance. On the 6th of June, 2013, sunrise in England was at 4.46 am. Counting back 96 minutes from sunrise brings us to 3.10 am. That gives us a Brahma-muhurta from 3.10 am until 3.58 am. Taking into account getting up out of bed, brushing your teeth, having a shower and getting dressed, that would mean your alarm clock going off at 2.30 am. Which, if you want to get any beauty sleep at all, means that you would need to go to bed by 8.00 pm the evening before. Not easy with three children.

What it does mean is that as far as early morning meditation is concerned, the darker winter months in England – beginning right now – are the best. They’re an even better opportunity than living in India would give you. So I warmly recommend my readers to take full advantage and grab at least a few minutes of that golden period in darkest winter.

If you want to know the rising and setting times of the sun and moon throughout the year, this site may be helpful.

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