Yagneopavit: Additional Comments
upanayana ceremony was conducted for both sexes in ancient India.
Naturally there are similar ceremonies in other countries and cultures. The word
for Christians is CONFIRMATION. This is one of the 'sacraments'. The sacrament
is a deformed version of SAMASKARA. The jews tie a thread of several strands,
others tie on their waist, etc. I saw a video of an upanayana ceremony conducted
in Andhra by Swamini Sharadapriyananda for her students. She is trying to revive
the ceremony for girls. Indeed all her female disciples get the holy thread.
Gayetri mantra is found in Soorya Upanishad. Swamini Sharada loves teaching tht
text. It is indeed very powerful. It is intersting to note that She has
deidcated her life to serving the villagers of a remote area in Andhra where, in
addition to her vedanta mission, she teaches villagers how to farm and how to
interact with the beaurocrats of the state Govt. She used to be a lawyer in
Hyderabad. In any case I believe we will be seeing more and more cultured hindus
allow their female children to be initiated as well. It is a matter of balancing
'what is right' with 'family/society pressures'.
Hari Om !
is symbolic of the initiation of a householder into performing his threefold
duties to the household, to his devas, and to his pitras - hence the three
strands with brahmagandh or divine knot and three ways of wearing it (over the
right shoulder, over the left shoulder, and round the neck only) as a necessary
ritual tool when performing these three duties. On his marriage a householder
gets three more strands on behalf of his wife. Its use and significance is
limited to ritualistic practices only that is why a sanyasi does not wear it and
under very special circumstances the un-initiated is temporarily invested with
it to perform certain rites only. Since males are usually called upon to perform
rites or ritualistic practices as active participants, they alone are invested
with the sacred thread. This does not, however, mean that women are barred from
active participation in religious or ritualistic practices, they are only
exempted for so many important reasons. Wearing or otherwise of yagnopavit has
nothing to do with the incantation of Gayatri Mantra or for that matter with any
other spiritual practice. Had it been so we wouldn't have such spiritual
luminaries as Gargi, Maitri, Savitri, Lala-ded, Ropa-bhawani, or a later-day
sadhvi like Mathra-devi.
Wearing the sacred thread did not make a householder in
any way superior or better than his womenfolk; however, as a caste mark it gave
him distinction among other men. That women without wearing the Yonya/ janayu
have an active and important part in ritualistic practices, is understood from
the fact that a Maikhla ceremony among KPs cannot be thought of without
devichi-tabich, diviti-gool, vaari-dan, maasa-abhid etc. etc.
The practice of initiating into wearing a girdle by
both boys and girls is not exclusive to Parsis only. We have perhaps forgotten
that 'aet-pun' was worn by both the sexes among KPs. A black cord of several
strands is even now worn as a girdle by small children in many communities,
including some adivasis, at an initiation ceremony.
Prof. B. L. Fotedar
dear ************** has suggested that I write a brief note on Yajnopavit,
and the reason why we call it Mekhal in Kashmiri. In my younger days I
posed this question to my family priest late Vasanand Zadoo, a saint scholar in
his own right. Before I explain what his reply was let me first say that there
are sixteen (Sanskaras) rituals to be performed from the pre-natal to the post
death period. Their method, mantras and other details have been prescribed by
Rishi Katyayana for the entire Hindu Community. In Kashmir, however, we follow
these with some modifications as prescribed by Rishi Logaksha for us. The
rituals begin with ‘Punaswan’ (please recall the ritual of Sondar
after the birth of a child, when ladies utter the phrase, Shokh ta
ponasun.) These culminate with Shraddha ceremony, and include kahanethar,
yajnopavit, Vivah etc.
Yajnopavit is a ritual when three strings of the holy
thread are put on the left shoulder and under the right arm of a child, usually
at the age of 8 or so after due yajna or sacrificial fire ritual. This is the
time when the child is initiated to the formal education in a Gurukula. The
ceremony is called ‘Upanayana’ also, which means to bring near the teacher
for initiation. We call it ‘Mekhala’, which is that rope which is tied round
the waist of the child at the time of the ceremony and later takes the form of a
thread worn round the waste called the ‘Aatpan’ (now almost in disuse).
Mekhala means a circular shape or boundary reminding us of the limits within
which to function and which are not to be transgressed. It also means
contributing intellectually to the ether, which is the storehouse of thought.
‘Me’ means intellect; ‘Kha’ means the sky or ether and ‘La’ means
putting into; in other words contributing one’s intellect to the ether,
which is supposed to store the entire thought of the mankind. The idea is that
after the yajnopavit ceremony, the child will be in a position to start
contributing his thoughts, perceptions and ideas to the world’s treasure of
philosophy. This is the reason that the last part of the ‘Gayatri Maha
Mantra’ is a prayer in which we beg of the Lord to enlighten our intellect. We
say’ ‘Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat’.