Upanayana Sanskar

Sanskars are Rituals that are known as rites of passage in the Vedic way of life. These Sanskars are 16 (sixteen) in total, and are celebrated from birth to death of a person. The Upanayana Sanskar is one of the traditional Sanskars that marks the acceptance of a student by a Guru or a teacher, and an individual’s entrance to school for education, in Hinduism, since the ancient times of the Vedic era. This kind of tradition has been prevalent in the ancient Sanskrit Hindu texts of India. The elaborate rituals which are a part of this ceremony centering around the Upanayana, and it has a great social significance among the society in general.

The Ceremony

The Upanayana Sanskar is a traditional Sanskar wherein a boy child receives his sacred thread, which is known as the Yagyopavita or Janeu, which he thereafter needs to always wear across his chest throughout his entire life.

On the day of the Upanayana, the boy with his parents, seeks permission from the assembly that has gathered to celebrate the occasion, in order to initiate the ceremony. The boy should also perform expiations for his known an unknown sins.

The ceremony was originally restricted in many medieval texts, and was only prevalent in the upper three of the four Varnas or castes in the society, which were the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and the Vaishyas. Vedic period texts such as the Baudhyana Grihyasutra encouraged all the members of the society to undergo the Upanaya ritual, even the Shudra caste people (manual workers). Even Women were encouraged to undergo Upanayana in ancient India, before they started the Vedic studies or before their wedding was solemnized.

The next rite after the expiation is the Digvapana or Suddhikarma, wherein the boy is to be well groomed before he is sent to the Acharya. It is also known as the Suddhi Karna This ceremony is otherwise performed after the Bhojana or joint meal, which is prepared and organized by the boy’s family. This ceremony also shows the boy that he should not act like an irresponsible child anymore, and should lead a systematic life from now onwards.

The boy then has to undergo tonsuring of his hair, along with the chanting of mantras, which call out to the deities for the child’s fame, wealth, and long life with good health. After this, the boy’s hair is disposed off under the Audumbara tree. A ceremonial bath takes place thereafter, wherein the mother and the boy’s kith and kin pour water over his body to purify him mentally, and physically.

By the end of the bath, the Acharya or Guru is ready with the Agni. Special mantras are chanted while the boy sits on the north side of the fire, which faces the East. The mantras chanted are believed to have the power to praise the Lord Agni, and asks him to give the boy long life and also accept all his obligations.

A series of rituals follow thereafter, and then the student is fully equipped with the necessities of a student life, with a series of symbolic acts to follow, before the Acharya properly takes the student in his charge. The purification process follows thereafter, after which a small question and answer session takes place between the Acharya and the student. After this, the student is ready for important Upadesa, where the by repeats whatever mantra the Acharya chants, to receive sufficient intelligence and get intellectual capacity., apart from long life and health, and this step is of utmost significance.

The Upanayana Sanskar is one of the most elaborate ceremonies, and is the start of the formal education of writing, numbers, reading Vedangas, arts, and other skills, along with donning the sacred thread. It is also important to the teacher, as the student would thereafter begin to stay in the Gurukul(school). This ceremony is regarded as the second birth for the child as it initiates the young mind and spirit towards the vast ocean of knowledge and intellectual ability. In this modern era, it is not just a child that goes through this ceremony, as it is open to anyone of any age.

Significance of the Yagyopavita or Sacred thread

The Yagyopavita or Sacred thread is a thin cord, which is made out of cotton. This thread symbolizes different type of meanings in different regions all over India. For example, among Tamil Hindus, each strand is for each one of the trinity of Goddesses (Parvati, Lakshmi, and Saraswati).

The ancient Sanskrit texts offer a diverse view while describing the sacred thread. The term Upavita was originally meant to be any upper garment, as per Apastamba Dharmasutra, and if a wearer does not want to wear a top, a thread would suffice. It also identified a person who was studying at school, or graduated. The proper method of wearing the upper garment or thread, as per the ancient threads, is from over the left shoulder and under the right arm.