Music for the Apocalypse #26: Battlestar Galactica Theme (2004)

by Apocalypse Womble

I actually thought of this one first, before the 1978 version (track #22), but I had to give the original its dues. This theme is fantastic, though. I pretty much got the BSG soundtrack because I wanted this song. I secretly hoped that there would be a longer version of faux-ancient-alternate-cultures awesomeness. Of course, TV companies aren’t in the habit of creating music they’re not going to use, so I was disappointed, but it’s still fantastic.

A mere 43 seconds long, this has to be the shortest track we’ve chosen for passing the time in the lonely desert wastes, but check out the awesome sanskrit translations on this vid. They prompted me to go research the shit out of this thing, and holy cow is it ever interesting (more below).

The lyrics are taken from the Gayatri Mantra:

oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreniyaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

Which is an awesome thing I did not know before researching for this post. It’s based on a verse from a  hymn of the Rig Veda, (iii /62/10), one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism. ‘Gayatri’ apparently refers to the meter, rather than anything connected with the content of the mantra. ‘oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ’ is not a part of the specific mantra itself, but rather a traditional opening to prayer, known as ‘The Great Utterance’ and meaning something like ‘a “call to creation,” that the light of the sun (the light of God) shines on the earth (bhur), in the sky (bhuvah), and in space (svah), and therefore the implication is, “let that light also shine on me.”’ according to the Devasthanam website. They also give the following word for word breakdown of the mantra itself:

tat–that (God)
savitur–of the sun
varenyam–the best
bhargo (bhargas)–light, illumination
dhimahi–let us meditate (a verb)
dhiyo (dhiyah)–thought(s)
yo (yah)–which
nah–of us, our
pracodayat–May it push, inspire (a verb)

And suggest an interpretation as: ‘Let us meditate on the light of the sun which represents God, and may our thoughts be inspired by that divine light.’ (Obviously the maker of the video above has adopted some poetic license, but the spirit seems intact.)

This makes for a really interesting opening to the 2004 Battlestar Galactica, with its rich and complex discussions of faith, monotheism, polytheism, and atheism – to begin with a mantra that invites us to meditate on one of the representations of God, suggesting both multiplicity and singularity. All the more significant when one adds the fact that the personification of the Gayatri Mantra is a five-headed goddess, who embodies the supreme brahman – God as raw energy, as force’. The Final Five as avatars of the One God, anyone?

I was also interested to read that this mantra is traditionally whispered into the ear of a young boy as part of a right or passage. Am I pressing it too far to see Six whispering in Baltar’s ear as an analogy to this?

Well, maybe, maybe not. What is true is that understanding the meaning behind this small part of the rich tapestry of Battlestar Galactica has opened to me a whole wealth of new threads I hadn’t been aware of – and I already thought it was one of the most incredible television shows ever to be produced.

But to tie this back to the apocalypse at the close, meaning was evoked for me in this song long before I had a translation or even knew that the words were from a genuine language. The music, with the qualities of the voice, had already set the tone as one of an ancient culture, and of meditation on immense loss, followed by those powerful and frantic beats that speak palpably of a struggle for survival. Simply breath-taking.

And still only 43 seconds long.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

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