Saturday, February 23, 2008


Upanayanam - Sacred Thread ceremony of a brahmin boy

Yesterday i got an invitation for upanayanam for neighbour boy.So I thought to write about upanayanam. a little about the symbolism behind the thread ceremony. when I began to study. Indian rituals and their meanings,I understood the deep beauty and significance of the thread ceremony known in sanskrit as upanayanam and poonal in tamil. Among all sanskara rituals There are two distinct Dharmas prescribed– theVaideeka Dharma and the Bhagavata Dharma The most sacred sound in Vaideeka Dharma is ‘Om’.‘Rama’ is the equivalent in Bhagavata Dharma. While Vaideeka Dharma talks about rituals and rites,Bhagavata Dharma talks about love for God. The former is for a few to follow, while the latter is meant for everyone. Gayatri Mantra is a very powerful Mantra in theVaideeka Dharma.

Those who study the Vedas consider that the initiation rituals of Upanayanam as the most important. In the ancient times, it is said to have been available to both men and women of all communities desiring to study the Vedas. Some of the Brahma gnanis like Parasara, Vyasa, Sathyakama and Padmapada are not born in the 'high castes' but organized the Vedas and compiled all the karmas for the upanayanam. As the traditions changed after the eighth century AD, it was restricted to person born in some families of the 'upper' classes only and was denied for women. Upanayanam is usually performed at the age of seven or eight, because, that is the age when a child stops getting the benefits of the karmas of their parents and will have to learn and perform their own karmas. Upa means near and nayanam means going; that is the act of going to a teacher to learn. ), making for the interpretative meaning: bringing (the ultimate truth nearer in sight).

All sanskara rituals, the initiation rituals of Upanayanam are the most important. Upanayanam, also known as the sacred thread The sacred thread consists of three strings, each representing various qualities or gunas. Some contend that the threads represent, Satya (Truth) Rajas (action) and Tamas (inertia) .The brahmachari is supposed to be in a sort of vrata for the following three days, doing all the nityakarmas of the brahmachari but not going out. On the fourth day, a Pranava Sradha Medha Puja and homa is done, when the kuttai is removed and given to the Acharya and the moujibandanam, krishanjinam and palasha danda are also taken from the bramachari. In the olden days, new palashadanada, moujibanda and krishanajina were given to the brahmachari.

The Upanayanm function starts with Punyahavachanam followed by Yagnopaveethadharanam. The Muhurtham is the time of Brahmopadesam.After yajnopaveethadhaarnam is Kumarabhojanam. Kumarabhojanam is common both for Upanayanam and choulam. According to the vedic karmas, the vatu (the boy whose upanayanam is being performed is commonly referred to as vatu) should be served with rice, ghee and milk without salt or spices. During Kumarabhojanam, another kumara (boy)who is not yet a brahmachari is made to sit with the vatu and served food. At some places, another brahmachari is seated along with the vatu and also the food served is rice cooked with turmeric powder and dal, along with fried rice pappads.

After Kumarabhojanam is the vapanam, or shaving of the hair for the vatu. The first locks are cut by the father and then by the barber. Usually, this is a noisy scene during choulam, as this is the first time the boy gets a hair cut. After the vapanam, the boys are given bath, dressed in new clothes and taken to the temple.The rituals of Choula karma is almost over after the boy comes back from the temple and the homa and ashirvadam.Agnimukham is performed and the boy is given all the symbols of a brahmachari. It is an earnest prayer from the father, having brought the child up to his adolescent age, to all powers in this universe, the earth, the water, the sky, the ether, the fire, all the stars, all the deities who are the devatas of all the eight directions (ashtadigpalakas), all the vedic scholars and elders of the community and all the pitrus to take good care of the boy from then onwards. A First the boy made to stand on a stone and the father says, “You should be as strong-willed as this stone”.

The main function of Yagnopavitha Dhaaranam [putting on the Holy thread] is then performed. From this time onwards, the student starts wearing the sacred thread. It consists of three threads with a knot called Brahmagranthi symbolizing Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The three threads reminds him of the triple debts that men have, i. Pithru runam -- towards forefathers, ii. Rishi runam -- towards the acharyas, sages and saints, and iii. Deva runam -- towards the Deities and natural forces. Then the father ties a long cloth (known as kuttai) around the brahmachari’s waist and prays, “May the Gods give you long life, strength, health and wealth” (In the olden days, the brahmachari was supposed to wear this cloth for 3 days). A cord made of three strings of Durva (Moujibandhanam) is also tied around the brahmachari’s waist, symbolizing the three sections of Vedas which will protect him from all evils A piece of deer skin (krishnajinam) is also tied around bramachari’s waist, which will make him bright in intellect as the blazing sun. He will be endowed with health, wealth and prosperity. He will become strong spiritually and intellectually.

He also wears a dear skin symbolizing spiritual and intellectual pre-eminence and tied a girdle of 'munja' grass symbolizing the three sections of Vedas. Then the student is taught the Gãyathri Manthra by his father or teacher. This is followed by 'the student' symbolically asking for alms of rice from his mother and other women. From then on the student is considered "Dwija" or twice born and is qualified to learn the Vedas. He is expected to recite the Gayatri Mantra and perform Sandhya rituals three times every day*. Gayathri Mantra Follows

Om ! Bhoor Bhuva Suvah: Thath Savithur Vare'nyam |

Bhargo' Dhevasya Dheemahi Dhiyo Yo nah: Pracho'dhayath ||

Then the brahmachari is taught the most sacred Gayatri mantra by the father. He is taught all the rules of Brahmacharya vratha. He is also given Palasha Danda (a small twig of the peepul tree) as a symbol of brahmachari. According to Aapasthambha Maharshi, a brahmachari should not Sleep during the day,Use cosmetics or perfumes,Have close contact with girls,Engage in gossip,Indulge in entertainment,Indulge in boasting.He should be disciplined, quiet, self confident, tireless, soft spoken and without ego or jealousy. Chanting of Gayatri Mantra regularly gives him the strength to follow the above rules.The brahmachari is supposed to live on the food he receives as alms by going from house to house. As a symbolic representation of this now forgotten system, the brahmachari asks for alms from his mother and all the other ladies of the congregation.

Followed by Ashirvadam and aarathi, the upanayana karma comes to a happy end. The Upanayanam is the most sacred ritual in the life of a boy as all through the ceremony This karma has a very powerful influence on the boy and the family, if the purpose and meaning of each ritual is properly understood and followedIt is one ritual no one should avoid or postpone as it gives the boy great strength of mind. Practicing the Gayatri mantra everyday makes him strong willed, confident, intelligent and pure in his thoughts and deeds.


Dare to dream said...

hiii...very nice is very useful for parents as well as for children who dont know anything abt upanayam...each n every brahmin boy should read this...good post..

Ravi said...


Today 31-10-2008, I had my upanayam, it was a short function at home itself. And I had it at the age of 24 years, and its not the age to do upanayam. But it was done due to some family problems and since my father is no more it had to be done. But this article is really enlightening.

Anonymous said...


Girls also have upanyanam according to Yajur Veda...girls wear the threads around the did not write about this. Today Kashmir Pandit are doing this was stopped because of Muslim influence. Also Saraswat Brahmins in Maharashtra continue this tradition.

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kalaidoscope said...

How much of a significance does this ceremony have in this day and time? I came on the web to search as I now keep getting asked as to when I plan to do the poonool ceremony for my boys? Once upon a time that was the school people enrolled themselves in and one who knew the vedas was a brahmin. Along the line after several generations when arrogance set in,this may have got diluted. Today kids are enrolled in schools to acquire that knowledge, then what is the significance? Today people coming out of Hrvard and Oxford are the Brahmins of society.Then again if one does not uphold the dharma what is the meaning nd significanace? Would love to hear your views.

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