Yes, this is possible, as the term chandas primarily refers to metre. The Pali texts are a little ambiguous on this point, and seem to conflate “meter” with “metrical literature, i.e. Vedas”.
However the normal name for the meter as such is gāyatri, whereas the term in the verse itself is sāvitti. Sāvitti is almost certainly a reference to the line from the Gayatri mantra: tat savitur varenyam.
As the Gāyatri mantra AKA Sāvitrī mantra is the most famous example of the meter, it’s possible that it is being taken as emblematic of the meter as a whole. Nevertheless, given that the specific word is quoted, I think it’s best to retain the connection with the Gāyatri mantra.
I have consulted my usual go-to sources for this verse (Norman’s Sutta Nipata, Horner’s Vinaya, Bodhi’s Majjhima, Analayo’s essays) and I am a little surprised that none of them have any substantive discussion of this point. It is however discussed in some detail in the useful essay by Brett Shults, On the Buddha’s Use of Some Brahmanical Motifs in Pali Texts, available for free download from the Oxford Center for Buddhist Studies.
Incidentally, in checking this I referred to Analayo’s study on this sutta, where I learned that the sole Chinese parallel for this sutta does not contain this verse. In fact, apart from the two sutta occurrences already noted, and the additional parallel in the Vinaya, the only recognized parallel for these verses occurs in the Mahāvastu, (Mvu 108#3-4) where we find:
agnihotramukhā yajñā sāvitrī chandasāṃ mukhaṃ |
rājā mukhaṃ manuṣyāṇāṃ nadīnāṃ sāgaro mukhaṃ ||
nakṣatrāṇāṃ candro mukhaṃ + + + + + + + + + |
ādityo tapasāṃ ūrdhvaṃ tiryag adhas tapasvatāṃ |
sadevakasya lokasya saṃbuddho vadatāṃ varo ||
In the Mahavastu, these occur not in the context of a discourse to Sela and Keniya, but as part of the long narrative of the conversion of the fire ascetics shortly after the Buddha’s awakening.
Notice that the most substantive change is the last line, where praise of the Buddha is substituted for the praise of the Sangha. But here the Mahavastu version lacks the characteristic term mukha, otherwise found in every phrase. Given this, and given the generally late and erratic character of the Mahavastu, I have no hesitation in concluding that the Pali version is the original. Nonetheless, this shows that these verses do exist outside the Pali tradition and that they were well known.
Reading Shults’ very interesting essay on this, I find that he refers to a parallel to this verse in the Mahabharata, where we find:
agnihotramukhā vedā gāyatrī chandasā mukham
From Shults’ remarks, it seems the textual situation for the Mahābharata is complex. One thing he does say is that the passage includes a reference to the “above, below, across” motif, which he has previously identified as a point of commonality in Buddhist and Brahmanical texts. He doesn’t note, however, that this very phrase is also found added to the Mahāvastu (ūrdhvaṃ tiryag adhas). Is it possible that the Mahābharata is drawing from the Mahāvastu specifically?
@vimala, it seems that this parallel is missing from our data. Would you be so kind as to add it? Thanks.