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Upanayana or Yugnopavit

Yugnopavitam paramum pavitram

prajapateyrth sahjam purastat

ayusham agrim pratimoincha shuibrem

yugnopavitam balam astu tejah

By Pushkarnath Nehru

1. What is Upanayana?

Upanayana is one of the most important SAMASKARAS  (symbolic events) in the life of the child.

In the ancient times a child was initiated into the pursuit of secular knowledge (like astronomy, mathematics, metaphysics, logic, medicine and other vedic literature) as well as into the realm of spiritual development by putting him on the task of learning and practicing such disciplines by way of his parents handing him over to a Guru for the purpose of learning and practicing them under his guidance. But eventually this institution became out of vogue due to the socio-economic changes. The Upanayan ceremony is now restricted to and revolves around the investiture of the sacred thread or the ‘yugnapavit’ and the teaching of Gayatri Mantra to the child.


Cultural Nostalgia
Maekhal (Yugnopavit) around 1940s.

By virtue of the performance of the Upanayana ceremony, which connotes the taking of the charge of the student by the teacher, the student is supposed to have second birth (Dvija) in the world of knowledge through education. This is done after staging symbolically all the previous events (Samaskaras) right from his or her birth. In the Vedic birth of the student, symbolised by wearing the “girdle” and the sacred thread, Savitri becomes the mother and Guru the father.

2. What is Yugnopavit (sacred thread) ceremony?

This initiation of a student by the teacher, entailed various functions, such as selection of Guru, auspicious time, preparation, wearing of garments, the girdle, the sacred thread (“Yugnopavit”), presenting of deer skin, the staff, Savitri Mantra, sacred fire (agnihotra) and alms etc. Later on when the conception of Upanayana underwent a change in the course of time, the mere initiation of the child by the teacher became a sacred lore. The original idea of initiation for education got overshadowed by the mystic significance of Upanayana which lead to the idea of second birth (dvija) through the Gayatri Mantra. The initiation, which marked the taking over of the charge of the student by the Guru, revolved around the establishment of connection between the student and Savitri (through the Gayatri Mantra) performed by the Guru and his teaching of this mantra.

The Upanayana in the present form is the investiture of the sacred thread (“Yugnopavit”) on the child which involves the initiation and symbolically staging all the said Samaskaras. The most important part of this ceremony is the wearing of the sacred thread and the accompaniment of the recitation and teaching of the Gayatri (Savitri) Mantra which is one prayer that is the crux of the whole vedic wisdom.

The wearer of this thread is supposed to be constantly reminded of his commitment to the secular and spiritual goals which he has set upon himself on this solemn occasion. That this life may not pass away just in unconscious striving but become a means of the expansion of our ‘being’; That it may provide a view of one’s self and the world without being in conflict with the action that comes by ; That life, even at its worst, may still provide us a source of sharing the joyousness of our existence; This is the greatest art of life, which comes, not through wanton experimentation, but through prayer and humility alone and through that the divine grace.

Abiding by the secular obligations towards his Guru, his family and the society are some of the definitive prescriptions that cannot be separated from his spiritual goals. Firstly the sacred thread has three folds which represents the trinity of existence symbolizing the three worlds; Earth, Space and the Heaven or Brahma (the unfolding of the world and this life), Vishnu (the sustenance) and Mahesh (the re-absorption). The central knot of the sacred thread and tying together of the three strands, represents Parambrahma (the supreme expansion of consciousness) into which all the three ‘tattvas’ (aspects of Godhead) such as Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh merge. This knot is known as ‘Brahmagranthi’. The three cords remind the wearer that he has to pay the three debts he owes to the ancient seers (rishis), the ancestors (pitras) and the Devatas and that his consciousness has to expand into all the three worlds. The threads are doubled at the time of marriage signifying the additional sacramental obligations towards his consort.

3. Gayatri Mantra (also called Savitri)

The focal point of the whole Upanayana ceremony is the recitation of the Gayatri Mantra and teaching its essence to the initiated. The mantra is considered to be the most sacred and according to Manu ‘there is nothing more exalted than the Gayatri’.

Om tat savitur varenyam

bhargo devasya dhimahi

dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

This original ‘Gayatri Mantra’, which is also known as ‘Savitri’, is a Rigvedic hymn (RV III, 62-10) which usually is preceded by the recitation of ‘Om Bhur, Bhuvah Svah’ which upon translation connotes :

Om bhur bhuvah svah

tat savitur varenyam

“That splendid magnificence of Savitre, the Cosmic Sun, permeating the three worlds, the Earth, the Space and the Heavens is assuredly Savitri; the inspirer, life giver, the stimulative force"

Bhargo devasya Dhimahi

“May we meditate on the life giving divinity, Savitri assuredly is God, and therefore I meditate on his splendor”.

dhiyo Yyonha prochudayat

“May He himself illumine our intelligence. May He himself breath it into us”.

The Gayatri Mantra derives its name from the metre in which it is written, the Gayatri being a Vedic poetic metre of 24 syllables of which, as per tradition, is authored by the sage Vishvamitra. The mantra consists of three sections (PADS) having eight syllables each and have to be recited in a particular sequence. Therefore the Gayatri Mantra is not a magic formula nor is it merely a logical sentence. It connects in a very special way the objective and subjective aspects of reality. It is neither a mere sound nor sheer magic. Words have not only sound but also meaning which is not apparent to all those who simply hear the sound. Such living words have a power that transcends the mental plane. To acquire this energy of the word one has to grasp not only its meaning but also its message, or its vibrations, as they are sometimes called in order. Therefore the phonetic quality of the mantra demands that it be recited in a particular way. Faith, understanding and physical utterance as well as physical continuity (since the mantra is supposed to be handed down by a master) are the essential requisites. Every word links up with the source of all words. The ultimate character of the word (Shabada Brahma) is a fundamental concept in spirituality.

4. Abhid (the alms)

The alms giving (Abhid) is now a symbolic act reminiscent of ancient institution of obtaining voluntary contributions made for the sustenance of the Guru’s Ashram in which the initiated students used to study. Presently during the Yugnopavit ceremony the act of alms giving is symbolically staged and is known as Abhid. This has now taken the complexion of “Dakshina” for the presiding Guru.

5. Relevance of Yugnopavit in the present times

The Yugnopavit ceremony used to be one of the most exalted functions in the life of a Brahmin, particularly in respect of the Kashmiri Brahmins. But due to major changes in the social and economic factors its importance in the course of time has significantly dwindled. In recent times it has lost its vitality and sublimity. It has unfortunately now been reduced to a social “Tamasha” without any attempt by us to restore its former sanctity. This sacrament used to be one of the most important instruments for inculcating and imparting discipline, values of life and the principles of right conduct.

Now, in the aftermath of our exodus from Kashmir it is doubly important to try and restore the intrinsic sanctity and usefulness of this samaskara so that we are able to give a worthy gift unto the young. Whereas modern education with its scientific spirit and vocational training is important for our children, but at the same time cultivation of matrices of right conduct, overall personality development with humane values of life so as to develop a vibrant ethos are the very essential credentials that would enable us to face the challenges of the present world. At present our children are facing a cultural cul-de-sac which suggests a drifting and a meaningless existence.

A sense of direction is needed more than ever before. The infusion of the spirit behind the “Yugnopavit” ceremony which also aims to promote compassion, love, benevolence, non-violence, fraternity, self-discipline and finer human relationship etc. in addition to the urge to meditate on the resurgence of the Supreme Consciousness can act as one of the most important instruments for achieving this goal.

The intrinsic message of the Gayatri Mantra engulfs a wide gamut of ideals such as what the Isha Upanishad says:-

Yastu sarvani bhutanyatmanayay vamu pashyeti

sarva bhuteshu ch atmanam tato na vijugupsate

yasiman sarvani bhutanyatmyvabhdi janatah

tatra ko moha kah shokah eikatva manupashytaha

“He who sees all creatures in himself, himself in all creatures, does not show abhorrence to any one; knowing all beings to be ones own-self and seeing the unity of man-kind, how can there be for him delusions, sufferings and sorrows”.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 

 

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