Upanayanam Explained..

We are preparing for our Son’s Upanayanam (Sacred thread wearing ceremony). Though Upanayanam has become a ‘Lougiga’ festival these days with lot of style and no substance, it is indeed a ‘knowledege’ ceremony, which was used to initiate the process of learning, knowledge and evolution of intelligence.

The Upanayanam ceremony highlighted the importance of knowledge and intelligence and the importance of the learning process in the Vedic period.  It was done by all sections of society from Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas in the olden days. Since it was a ceremony to initiate learning of knowledge everyone required it irrespective of their caste. Everyone wore the thread to indicate their status in their household.

Though the procedure in itself may not seem applicable and more a ‘custom’, the principles on which it has been grounded are still applicable.

  • Learning and Education are still the hallmarks of this society.
  • Appropriate Age of initiation of useful learning is still correct, though we start from 2.5 years these days.
  • The principles that students need to adhere to are still valid and in fact need to be re-inforced these days. 
  • The purpose for which one learns as enunciated in this ceremony is largely forgotten, as we have become highly self-centric.
  • In fact this ceremony has to be re-invented for everyone atleast for this purpose. ‘The purpose of learning is to fearlessly radiate what they have and benefit others’ stresses this ceremony. This point needs to be stressed a lot in modern education.
  • Education/Learning needs to move away from a self-centric process to society-centric process as stressed in this ceremony.

I tried to capture the meaning of the procedures involved in Upanayanam ceremony as carried out in the Brahmin community to spread the purpose of it being done in the inivitation card. I am putting it here for wider knowledge.  The ceremony largely is similar across several communities as I observed.

Upanayanam –  About to Lead by Learning the sacrifices

  • Upanayanam is a ceremony in which a person is declared as about to ‘lead’.
  • To Lead one must learn or train to do ‘sacrifices’ involving Niyamas (procedures) and Karmas (duties) of personal, family and society.
  • A sacred thread is presented to the person to indicate that he has started learning the sacrifices. This is yajJopavita.
  • On this occasion the person is given the primary set of instructions (Brahmopadeza) in this learning.
  • The person is declared as ‘dvija’ or ‘Born-again’.

Step 1: Invocation of tranquility – Udaka Shanti

Udaka Shanti is carried out before any auspicious event at a house. It is expected to invoke peace and happiness in a place by removing the germs that cause diseases from a place. Vedas describe Rakshasas and Ganas as miniscule ‘beings’ that can benefit as well as curse living beings. I map them to bacterias and viruses.

  • Udaka Shanti mantras, a collection of Vedic Suktams are recited in front of a Kalasa filled with water
  •  Rakshogana Suktams that drive away impurities of Rakshasas and Ganas by invoking the ionizing forces of devas (Varuna, Indra, Pavamana) are recited. I had mapped Varuna to electrons, Indra to Baryonic ions in my blogs on Rudram.
  • Suktams about matter evolution (Nasadeeya Sukta, Nakshatra Sukta, Go Sukta) are recited.
  • Rashtrabhrtam, Suktams about societal evolution (Vag devi/Knowledge,  evolution of nations are recited .
  • Ashirvad and Prokshana mantras are recited. Water from the Kalasa is then sprinkled on people and place

 Step 2: Invocation of ancestral blessings

The vedic philosophies clearly espouse that evolution of living beings is from matter which is itself from Amba and Purusha which themselves evolved from Atma. Refer to several of my blogs on this subject. Brahman, which means evolution is the essence of this Universe. This, as I interpret in my blogs on Nasadiya Suktam, is based on the desire of the Atma to realize itself through the process of evolution of intelligence. Hence Atman is also called Brahman (one that is evolving).

Hence every living being is part of that Brahman or ‘have a reflection of that Atma in them’ , the Atma that is situated deep inside the Origins of Universe. As life travels from physics to chemistry to biology, death travels back from biology to chemistry to physics and finally becomes part of that Atman or Brahman.

In any auspicious ceremony the blessings of the ancestors upto the Atman/Brahman is invoked before we proceed on the ceremony.

The sacred thread is prepared. Blessings of Piturs is invoked for the boy and the ceremony.

Asrumukha piturs are immediate 3 generations of  ancestors. They have become Vasus, Rudras and Adityas and paid homage yearly.

NaandiMukha Piturs are ancestors beyond last 3 generations. They have become part of the Brahman.

Their blessings are sought before the training is initiated .


Step 3: Preparations for Learning
The start of Upanayanam is marked by several preparations for learning. Learning is a process of seeking knowledge. Hence the student should strive to learn. An Acarya is only a guide to learning. So the student has to use the Acarya as a medium for his learning by seeking out.
This means student should start sacrificing several of his/her interests/fun/playtime and make efforts to learn. Student should learn to be simple in food, dress and learn to control his urges. Student should learn to submit as well as to seek.
Several procedures/rituals are carried out to stress on the above.

Step 4:  Vow to learn and acq1_yajnopavitam by TheBigThinkg Bloguire Knowledge

Samkalpam : Boy takes a vow that he would become capable of performing his duties and responsibilities
Yajnopavita Dharanam :Boy wears the sacred thread declaring that this is the purest of all that gives knowledge and power, happening from the time of creation and he would now get accustomed to it.


Step 5: Become Fearless to Radiate
The first step in learning is to learn Gayatri Mantra which exhorts a person to radiate fearlessly by invoking the Savitr in them. The whole purpose of learning is to become fearless enough to radiate what we have.  People who have learnt the reality will become fearless and radiate what they have, whether it is wealth or knowledge.


Step 6:  Know the student attributes; Practise
Once the student learns the Gayatri Mantra, the student is taught all the attributes that he needs to follow. It is stressed that he has taken a ‘second birth’. The significance of second birth is that in this period the student learns to sacrifice, learns the sacrifices, controls his/her urges, concentrates on learning by seeking out and devotes his entire time to build up his body and mind.
This learning is essential if the student has to become a full-blown Grhastha and take leadership of a house and society. The student starts practising the preaching.



Upa – Next-in-Line or close to or about to, Upanayana – Next in line to lead

Upanayanam – Ceremony to declare a person is about to lead
yajJa – act of sacrifice, in later days sacrificial rites and Karmas, but actually means sacrifice,  Upa – about to
vIta – train
yajJopavIta – Train on the sacrifices
Brahma – Original or the Primary
Deza – a ‘specific’ part of a region, a ‘specific’ part of instructions, a set of specifications, Upadeza – Close to the instructions or specific set of instructions
Brahma Upa deza – The original or the first set of instructions
Udaka – Flowing out, Spring, Water in the sense of spring
Shanti – tranquility
Udaka Shanti – flowing out tranquility
Suktam – Verses
Vag Devi – Goddess of Speech
Rakshoghana – driving away invisible demons
Rashtrabhrt – Social order
Piturs – ancestors
Asrumukha – blood faced
Ashrumukha Piturs –  Close blooded ancestors
NaandhiMukha – Cheerful faced, blessing
NaandhiMukha piturs – Blessing ancestor
srAddham – Faith based (Homage)
Samkalpam – Vow
yajnopavItam –  training on the sacrifices
Paramam pavitram – Purest of all
prajApater yat Sahajam  purastAt –  accustomed to that which is from creation
balamastu teja – provider of knowledge and power

Upanayanam – All about learning and leading

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