Talk:Saṃskāra- Upanayanaṃ

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By Jammalamadaka Suryanarayana

Sometimes transliterated as: Upanayanam,vadugu,poonal,upāyanaṃ, upayanam, Maunjī bandhanaṃ, maunji bandhanam, vaṭukaraṇaṃ, vatukaranam, vratabandhaḥ, vratabandha, sāvitrīvacanaṃ, savitrivachanam.

Jāyamānō ha vai, tribhir ṛṇaiḥ ṛṇvān jāyatē

Upanayanaṃ, as a Saṃskāra, is considered as the most important ritual for a boy in a traditional family. It is the ritual which is meant to change the perception towards the life. It starts a new routine, which is meant to imbibe Anuṣṭhānaṃ[1], obedience towards teacher and learning. This Saṃskāra is also considered i the parity of act of taking dīkṣā which reminds the goal until it is achieved.

Traditionally it is believed that a person takes birth along with the three duties/obligations towards our ancestors, our teachers[2] and our gods. These are fulfilled by giving birth to the next generation, making them well versed in the traditional studies and performing rituals according to Dharmaśāstraṃ. In a broader sense, every individual is supposed to find the goal of his life by fulfilling these duties. In this context, Upanayanaṃ is a ritualistic instrument which is used to fulfill parents duties towards their ancestors and students duties towards teachers. Upanayanaṃ plays a vital role in shaping his mind toward realization.

Origin & Meaning

The term 'Upanayanaṃ' is derived from the root verb 'Niiñ- Prāpaṇē', which generally means 'to send'. Here the prefix 'upa' is added by which it derives the meaning 'going near to'. During this phase the student is going near to the teacher to start learning 'tradition' from him. So going near to the teacher is 'Upanayanaṃ'.

Gurōrvratānāṃ vēdasya yamasya niyamasya ca, Dēvatānāṃ samīpaṃ vā yēnāsau nīyatē asau.[3]

Different References on Upanayanaṃ

This concept is further enhanced by some scholars of dharma śāstraṃ. Concluding all the different concepts one can conclude that 'Upanayanaṃ' takes us near to not only the teacher but also introduces us to the vedic tradition, rituals, gods and so on.

  • In 'Vīramitrōdayaḥ', the author emphasizes on yamaḥ and niyamaḥ.
  • In Yōga sūtraṃ mahaṛṣi Patañjaliḥ states that yamaḥ are a set of qualities which are to be followed for an entire life at any cost. They are:
    • Ahiṃsā - non-violence in thought and action.
    • Satyaṃ - truthful in thought and words.
    • Astēyaḥ - non-stealing others thoughts or things.
    • Brahmacaryaṃ - not indulging in sexual relationships without proper cause.
    • Aparigrahaḥ - not taking anything to fulfil one's pleasure.
  • Generally, niyamaḥ means a rule, which should be obeyed. But in the yōga sūtraṃ, niyamaḥ are set of qualities:
    • Śaucaṃ - observing cleanliness of thought and body.
    • Santōṣaḥ - being happy.
    • Tapaḥ - following certain rituals, being tolerant, following silence etc.
    • Svādhyāyaḥ - studying about the eternal truth.
    • Īsvarapraṇidhānaṃ - offering everything one has to the creator.

If a person imbibes the above-said qualities in his life, he would lead it wonderfully. Eventually, upanayanaṃ would lead a person to these qualities and give a greater purpose to his life.

Choosing an Ācārya/ Teacher

Tamasō vā eṣa tamaḥ praviśati, yamavidvānupanayatē[4]

The main purpose of upanayanaṃ is to make the pupil knowledgeable and wise by following an idealistic routine in a gurukulaṃ. Choosing a good teacher for his traditional training is hence very essential. If the teacher is ignorant, he might not make a scholar out of his student. Almost every gṛhyasūtraṃ has suggested certain qualities of the idealistic teacher.

Characteristics of a Ideal Teacher

Vēdaikaniṣṭaṃ dharmajñaṃ kulīnaṃ śrōtriyaṃ śuciṃ| Svaśākhāyāṃ anālasyaṃ vipraṃ kartāraṃ īpsitaṃ||[5]

As per traditional background, a student is sent to a gurukulaṃ to acquire Vedic knowledge. He is expected to stay with his teacher for about a decade. The pupil, after returning to the real world, uses the knowledge he has acquired not only for a living but also to mould his life. The teacher has a greater responsibility to mould the student's mind and also to act as a father whenever needed. A person with greater maturity, training and decency only can make this possible. So to guide the family, to chose an ideal teacher gṛhyasūtraṃ describes the qualities as follows:

  • The teacher is expected to have a profound belief on the concepts taught in the Vedic tradition.
  • He is expected to have his brought up in a decent family which enables him to know the essence of philosophy leading to healthy habits.
  • He is expected to have profound training in the subjects like veda, shastra etc. which he is going to teach.


Giving a mission/task and making someone devoted towards it, is called as giving dīkṣā. In the tradition, while performing any bigger ritual, a dīkṣā is given to the performers, by tying a sacred thread/kaṇkaṇaṃ around his wrist and giving a separate dress etc. These are to be used until the end of the ritual. This is done to improve the performer's attention towards the ritual and its aims. In the same way, the boy is given certain objects, dress and attire which always help him complete his task and remember his mission.

Importance of Dīkṣā Ritual

This ritual consists of some actions/kriyākalāpaḥ[6] which signify an undertaking for the students. For example, a police officer is given a uniform, a badge, a cap and different object exclusively for him. These are used by him not only to fulfill his duty but also this attire always help him remember his pursuit. While undertaking dīkṣā, the boy is dressed with a śikhā on his head, a yaṇñōpavītaṃ around his neck, a daṇḍaḥ in his hand and a mauñjī around his waist. After upanayanaṃ the boy is called brahmacārī.

Significance of Dīkṣā Attire

  • Yaṇñōpavītaṃ - It is a sacred thread woven by hand chanting sacred vedic verses. The brahmacārī wears this sacred thread around his neck starting from the left side of the neck to the right waist. In the whole, in upanayanaṃ ritual wearing a yaṇñōpavītaṃ signifies that the boy is ready to perform rituals prescribed to him.
  • Mauñjī - The brahmacārī must wear some part of the dried skin of the black antelope[7] around his waist and no upper cloth. As there are certain rules for the electrician for his safety like he must stand on a wooden plank or wear rubber gloves during work, similarly there are set of rules prescribed by learned men of the ancient times which protects the energy related to ātmā.
  • Daṇḍaḥ - Daṇḍaḥ is nothing but a long stick held in the hand. Generally, gurukulaṃ or the place where the teacher lives and teaches, is situated away from the cities. Hence the student is expected to help his teacher running the pāṭhaśālā or school. So always having staff in his hand helps him to travel and work. There is also another inner significant use of staff. According to the tradition, it helps the pupil to retain his learning. It is similar to the lightening conductor or the aerial. It absorbs the faults and retains all the vedic mantras in the student's memory. If he is a brāhmaṇaḥ, he must keep a staff (danda) of palāsaḥ/ Butea monosperma, if he is a kṣatriyaḥ he must have a staff of aśvathaḥ/ Ficus religiosa and if a vaiśyaḥ he is expected to have a staff of auduṃbaraḥ/ Ficus racemosa.

Gāyatrī mantrōpadēśaḥ

Every saṃskāraḥ has the main karma and many upāṇgāni. In upanayanaṃ, gāyatrī mantrōpadēśaḥ is considered to be the main karma. The entire ritual is developed around this karma. Gāyatrī is the chaṇdaḥ/meter in which the mantraḥ is composed. The god who is praised in this mantraḥ is savitā/the sun god, so it is also often called as Savitṛ Upadēśaḥ. According to the etymology, 'Gāyaṇtaṃ trāyatē yasmāt' people who chant the gāyatrī mantraḥ with affection and devotion are protected.

Tribhya eva tu Vedebhyah padam pādamaduduham

It has twenty-four akṣarāṇi[8] and three parts, each part of eight syllables. That is why the mantraḥ is called "Tripadā Gayatrī". Each part is the essence of a Veda. Thus Gāyatrī is the essence of the Rgvedaḥ, Yajurvedaḥ and Sămavedaḥ. The Atharvavedaḥ has its own Gāyatrī. It means that each pada of Gāyatrī is taken from one of the three Vedas. That is why gāyatrī japaḥ is essential to all the rites performed according to the śāstras.

Brahmacāri Qualities

Smaraṇaṃ kīrtanaṃ kēliḥ prēkṣaṇaṃ guhyabhāṣaṇaṃ

Saṇkalpōdhyavasāyaśca kriyanirvṛttirēva ca

Ēnanmaithunaṃ aṣṭāṇgaṃ pravadanti manīṣiṇaḥ[9]

There are eight types of mythunaṃ/ relations and not having those relations is brahmacharyaṃ. After upanayanaṃ a student is expected to follow brahmacharyaṃ, that is why he is called brahmacārī. The relation which is not encouraged is with the opposite sex. These eight types of mythunaṃ/ relations are:

  • Smaraṇaṃ - Remembering without any valid reason.
  • Kīrtanaṃ - Praising without any valid reason.
  • Kēliḥ - Flirting
  • Prēkṣaṇaṃ - Staring
  • Guhyabhāṣaṇaṃ - Talking in secret.
  • Saṇkalpaḥ - Wanting a physical relation.
  • Adhyavasāyaḥ - Planning a physical relation.
  • Kriyanirvṛttiḥ - Executing a physical relation.

In order to avoid the above-said relations and lead a smooth student life, he is expected to follow rules regard to food, performing rites etc. Following these rules make him humble. The spirit behind these rules is not hurting the boy, but to nourish him in a correct fashion. In this training, he learns to develop sāttvic/ subtle qualities by serving his teacher. A student is expected to complete his traditional training within twelve years. During these twelve years, the student must learn Vedas and Caturdaśa-vidyā[10]. On completion of his training in the gurukulaṃ he performs the samăvartanas, returns home and gets married.

What is the correct age to perform upanayanaṃ

Upanayanaṃ is performed mainly to mend a students mind and manners, which would suit the traditional learning system. According to vīramitrōdayaḥ, the objectives are:

  • Making the student suitable for the teacher.
  • Mending his mind according to the vedic learning system.
  • Make him follow yamaḥ[11]and


  • Make him suitable for karmānuṣṭānaṃ

Mending a child's mind is easier than a grown up's mind. So almost all the gṛhya sūtraṃ suggest a minimum age of 5 and a maximum of 16. They also make a different suggestion for students from different backgrounds, if the student is from kṣatriya varṇaṃ, the maximum limit is extended till 22 years and if he belongs to vaiśya varṇaṃ the age limit is 24 years.

The most important thing is that before Kāmaḥ/pleasure takes hold of a boy he must be inspired by tradition. That is why the age of upanayana is fixed at eight for brahmaṇaḥ and so on. When one is possessed by Kāmaḥ/ pleasure one would be dragged away from one's ideal, that of acquiring the knowledge and power to understand life. That is why the upanayana ceremony is performed early. After 16, he cannot do the same. That is the reason why the upanayana samskāra must be performed early.

Why upanayanaṃ not required for others

Generally, we get a doubt that if upanayanaṃ is so essential in a traditional lifestyle, then why it is not prescribed to a woman. Why is the dharma śāstraṃ partial to boys. This should be answered only with an overall view.

According to the tradition :

Pūrvakalpē tu nārīṇāṃ mauṇjī bandhanamiṣyatē

Adhyāpanaṇca vēdānāṃ sāvitrī vacanaṃ tathā pitā pitṛvyō bhrātā vā nainamadhyāpayēt paraḥ svagṛhē caiva kanyāyāḥ bhaikṣacaryaṃ vidhīyatē

varjayēdajinaṃ cīraṃ jaṭādhāraṇamēva ca

In the most ancient times the girls were also having this ritual done but with some exceptions and necessary inclusions. They used to study Veda only with their father, father's brother or own brother.

So initially this saṃskāraḥ was also for girls, But after some time marriage/ vivāhaḥ was considered as upanayanaṃ for girls, where her husband[13] is considered her teacher. This is not because of the partiality, but because of some practical reasons. Those who complain that women have no right to perform sacrifices on their own must remember that even men have no right to the same without a wife. If they knew this truth they would not make the allegation that the tradition looked down upon women. A man can perform sacrifices only with his wife. It is for this purpose also after the completion of his student bachelorhood, he gets married.


  1. It is an action done for inner purification.
  2. Ṛṣi, Generally compiler of traditional works.
  3. Vīramitrōdayaḥ
  4. vīramitrōdayaṃ
  5. bhāratīya saṃskāramulu p:158
  6. The set of different actions which occur in rituals
  7. It is also called as krsnājina.
  8. It means letters or syllables.
  9. brahmavaivarta purāṇaṃ - gaṇapati khaṇḍaḥ - 4 adhyāyaḥ
  10. A study of 14 different disciplines related to tradition.
  11. Ahiṃsā= not hurting anybody without a valid reason, Satyaṃ= not uttering false word without a valid reason, Astēyaṃ= not stealing anything without a valid reason, Brahmacharyaṃ= celibacy, Aparigrahaḥ= not taking anything to fulfill pleasure
  12. Śaucaḥ means keeping one's body and mind clean, Saṃtōṣaḥ means being happy, Svādhyāyaḥ means always have a regular study of the traditional scriptures, Īśvarapraṇidhānaṃ means always contemplating about the creator
  13. Husband of a girl was mostly selected elder in age and experience.