Many say that girls/women are not supposed to chant the Gayatri mantra. Is there any specific reason for this? Since it is one of the most powerful mantras, would it be good if women also chant the Gayatri mantra?
That the women cannot chant the Gayatri might have been a deviation from the ancient practices, that occurred in the middle times. In ancient India, women like Gargi and Maitreyi were well-versed in the scriptures. Women can chant the Gayatri mantra.
Hinduism has always had leaders and saints who arrive on the scene to do course corrections, like Ramanuja who declared the Vishnu mantra from a temple tower so that everyone can chant it and attain liberation.
It is perfectly acceptable, and what's more, it is desirable for women to chant Gayatri Mantra. How come? It is because, the dharma for this Kali Yuga, is not against it. Sanatan dharma is described as the dharma of religion, and Yuga dharma as the dharma of social interaction: law, ethics, etiquette and so on.
We know that in our books, a clear distinction is made between two sets of truths. The one set is that which abides for ever, being built upon the nature of man, the nature of the soul, the soul's relation to God, the nature of God, perfection and so on; there are also the principles of cosmology, of the infinitude of creation, or more correctly speaking, projection, the wonderful law of cyclical procession, and so on; these are eternal principles founded upon the universal laws of nature.
How we pray to God, whether it is ethical or moral etc is governed by Yuga Dharma. The Core concepts of the soul's relation to God, Bhakti, Cycle of birth and death etc are the ones that don't change.
Religious ordination of women is not encouraged in this day and age in any religion. But that doesn't make it invalid. In the puranic times, women committed Sati. There was a symbolism attached to it. Now if we look at it through the prism of a 21st century mind, it will seem barbaric.
Therefore, one must change with the times. Women need to take the initiative for this themselves and not look for man made approval. No need to guilt trip ourselves. Chant without fear and immerse yourself in Bhakti. God is the ultimate authority.
The great Saint Madhvacharya in his Mahabharatha Tatparya Nirnaya, describes the scholarly nature of Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas as
Great women should study the Vedas like Krishnaa (Draupadi)
Madhava Samhite on Parashara Smriti says
> > yopanayanam krutwa pashcad vivaham karoti sa brahmavadini | tathaiva ya prathamata upanayanam krutwa sadya eva vivaham vidhaya tato vedamadhite sa sadyovadhuh
She who studies vedas after upanayana and then gets married is brahmavadini, she who gets married immediately after upanayana and then studies vedas is sadyovadhu
This goes on to show that women were eligible to both the sacred threading ceremony as well as the vedic studies in ancient times. This also means that women are also eligible to Gayatri Upadesha and to learn the Gayatri Mantra. Because any person who has undergone the Yajnopavitam ceremony is eligible for Gayatri Upadesha.
So, denying the women rights to study vedic knowledge, to Yajnopavitam Samskara and Gayatri Upadesha is un-vedic. In the vedas there is not a single reference which denies the women these rights.
For those who still refuse to accept the concept of Yuga Dharma clearly mentioned in Puranas or the smriti texts, never mind. Let's turn our attention to the Vedas. Further References:
This Veda is our only authority, and everyone has the right to it. यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यः। ब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥
— Thus says the Shukla Yajur Veda (XXVI. 2)
Girls should train themselves to become complete scholars and youthful through Brahmcharya and then enter married life.
God says that O! man and women i am granting you these Mantras for you both So, that you can think and progress together.
The “Brahma” in a yajna is the best trained purohit who can correct the others involved in the yajna. BRAHMAA VAA RITVIJAABHMISHAKTAMAHA – Shatapatha brahmana 188.8.131.52.
And.. A woman can be a brahma as mentioned in Rigveda (8.33.-19). “…sthree hi brahmaa vibhoovidhaha” .
A woman who is devoted to God is more highly regarded than a man who has no such devotion, as found in the Rig-Veda: “Yea, many a woman is more firm and better than the man who turns away from Gods, and offers not.” (Rig-Veda, 5.61.6)
> Stephen Knapp calls this verse, a kind of equality that is rarely found in any other religious scripture. It is also an indication that in matter of dharma, in the days of Vedic culture, women stood as a decisive force in spirituality and the foundation of moral development. In the Rig Veda, the idea of the family as the hub of religious worship is found. In this context, women were at the heart of the family structure, as wives and mothers who brought worship into the center of the household activities.
"Can you show any authority from this Veda of ours that everyone has not the right to it? The Purânas, no doubt, say that a certain caste has the right to such and such a recension of the Vedas, or a certain caste has no right to study them, or that this portion of the Vedas is for the Satya Yuga and that portion is for the Kali Yuga. But, mark you, the Veda does not say so; it is only your Puranas that do so. But can the servant dictate to the master? The Smritis, Puranas, Tantras — all these are acceptable only so far as they agree with the Vedas; and wherever they are contradictory, they are to be rejected as unreliable. But nowadays we have put the Puranas on even a higher pedestal than the Vedas! The study of the Vedas has almost disappeared from Bengal. How I wish that day will soon come when in every home the Veda will be worshipped together with Shâlagrâma, the household Deity, when the young, the old, and the women will inaugurate the worship of the Veda!"
Apart from this, please see the multiple references and read the text contained in the link https://ramanan50.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/women-can-learn-the-vedas-affirm-vedas/
Therefore, whichever way we look at it, whether we are basing our beliefs on the sayings of great saints and philosophers, smriti texts or in fact the Vedas, it is perfectly allowed for women to recite Gayatri Mantra. Happy Chanting!
What about Women?
I said that the twice-born must perform sandhyavandana with the wellbeing of women and other jatis in mind. I also explained why all samskaras are not prescribed for the fourth varna. Now we must consider the question of women, why they do not have such rituals and samskāras.
Even though we perform the punyāha-vacana and nāmakaraņa of newborn girls and celebrate their first birthday, we do not conduct their caula and upanayana nor the other samskāras or vows laid down for brahmacārins. Of course, they have the marriage samskāra. But in other rites like sacrifices the main part is that of the husband, though she (the wife) has to be by his side. In aupāsana alone does a woman have a part in making oblations in the sacred fire.
Why is it so?
The rites performed before a child is born are intended for the birth of a male child (niseka, pumsavana, simanta). Does it mean, as present-day reformers and women's libbers say, that Hindu women were downgraded and kept in darkness?
What reason did I mention for the fourth varna not having to perform many of the samskaras? That these were not necessary considering their vocations and the fact that they can work for the welfare of the world without the physical and mental benefits to be derived from the samskāras. If they also spend their time in Vedic learning and in sacrifices, what will happen to their duties? So most of the samskaras are not necessary for them. They reach the desired goal without these rites by carrying out their duties. "Svakarmana tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati mānavah", so says the Gita [18.46]. I have spoken to you about this earlier.
Just as society is divided according to occupations and the samskaras are correspondingly different, so too there are differences between men and women in domestic life. Running a household means different types of work, keeping the house clean, bringing up the children, etc. By nature women can these chores better than men. If they also take an active part in rituals, what happen to such work? Each by serving her husband and by looking after her household becomes inwardly pure.
In truth there is no disparity between men and women, nor are women discriminated against as present-day reformers allege. Work is divided for the proper maintenance not only of the home but the nation on the whole; and care has been taken not to have any duplication. There is no intention of lowering the status of any section in this division of labour.
The body, in the case of certain people, is meant to preserve the mantras and there are samskāras which have the purpose of making it worthy of the same. Why should the same rituals be prescribed for those who do not have such tasks to carry out? Glassware to be sent by railway parcel is specially taken care of since it is fragile. Even greater care is taken in dispatching kerosene or petrol. If the same precautions are not taken in transporting other goods, does it mean that they are poorly thought of? Astronauts are kept in isolation before being sent up in space and after their return. Mantras have their own radiation that is even more powerful than what is found in space. If you appreciate this fact, you will understand why Brahmins are separated from the rest and special samskāras prescribed for them.
The body of a Brahmin (male) is involved in the nurturing of mantras. So from the time of conception itself it is to be made pure through samskāras like pumsavana, simanta, and so on. There are samskāras with the same objective also after the boy child is born.
The vocations have to be properly divided for the welfare of mankind. If everybody paid attention to this fact, instead of talking of rights, it would be realised that the sāstras have not discriminated against women or any of the jātis.