Talk:Saṃskāra- Upanayanaṃ

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


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 life. It starts a new routine, which is meant to imbibe Anuṣṭhānaṃ/ an action done for inner purification, Obedience towards teacher and Learning. This Saṃskāra can also be seen as taking dīkṣā/action which reminds the goal until it is achieved. In the tradition, it is understood that a person takes birth along with three duties/ obligations towards our ancestors, our teachers[1], 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 Dharma śāstraṃ respectively. In a broader sense, every individual is supposed to find his own goal of his life by fulfilling these duties. In this context, Upanayanaṃ is a ritualistic instrument which is used to fulfil parents duties towards their ancestors and students duties towards teachers. Upanayanaṃ plays a vital role in shaping his mind toward realization.

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'. Whom does he go near to, He is going to start learning 'tradition' from his teacher. So going near to the teacher is 'Upanayanaṃ'.

Gurōrvratānāṃ vēdasya yamasya niyamasya ca, Dēvatānāṃ samīpaṃ vā yēnāsau nīyatē asau.[2]

This concept is further enhanced by some scholars of dharma śāstraṃ. According to it 'Upanayanaṃ' takes us nearer to not only to a teacher but also introduces us to the vedic tradition, Rituals, gods and so on. Here in Vīramitrōdayaḥ the author emphasises 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. Which 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 into his life, he would lead it wonderfully. Eventually, upanayanaṃ would lead a person to these qualities and gives a greater purpose to his life.

Choosing an Ācārya/ Teacher

Tamasō vā eṣa tamaḥ praviśati, yamavidvānupanayatē[3]

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

  • Characteristics of a teacher
Vēdaikaniṣṭaṃ dharmajñaṃ kulīnaṃ śrōtriyaṃ śuciṃ| Svaśākhāyāṃ anālasyaṃ vipraṃ kartāraṃ īpsitaṃ||[4]

In a 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 acquired not only for a living but to mould his life. The teacher is having 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 gṛhya sūtraṃ explains his qualities. Important qualities are:

  • 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, by which he can naturally know the essence of our philosophy, and might have 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 to it is 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. This ritual consists of some actions/kriyākalāpaḥ[5] which signify a mission 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 to fulfil his duty, and also these always help him remember his mission. Here 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.

  • Yaṇñōpavītaṃ - Is a sacred thread woven by hand chanting sacred vedic verses. The brahmacārī will wear this sacred thread around his neck. Starting from the left side of the neck to the right waist. In the whole upanayanṃ ritual making the boy wear this sacred thread is considered very special. 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 (krsnājina) and must not wear any 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 some rules prescribed by our great men of the past to protect 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 cities. And also a traditional student is expected to help his teacher running the pāṭhaśālā or school. So always having staff in his hand helps him in his travel and work. There is also another inner significant use of staff. According to tradition, it helps the pupil to retain his learning. It is similar to the lightning 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 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 upanayanṃ 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 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 (letters or syllables) 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 Gayatrī. It means that each pada of Gayatrī is taken from one of the (three) Vedas. That is why gāyatrī japaḥ is essential to all rites performed according to the śāstras.

Brahmacāri Qualities

Smaraṇaṃ kīrtanaṃ kēliḥ prēkṣaṇaṃ guhyabhāṣaṇaṃ

Saṇkalpōdhyavasāyaśca kriyanirvṛttirēva ca

Ēnanmaithunaṃ aṣṭāṇgaṃ pravadanti manīṣiṇaḥ

The celibate-student must perform samidādhanas every day, beg for his food and take no salt. Today we perform upakarmas as a one-day ceremony without keeping up the study of the Vedas. We do not go through the utsarjanas at all. For our failure to do it we mutter a mantra in expiation, the mantrà called "Kamokārşit" which says, "I did not sin. Kāma (desire) did it. Anger did it..." There is no need to repeat this mantra if we perform the utsarjana. Brahmacarya implies adherence to a number of rules with regard to food, the performance of rites and the observance of vratass. If a brahmacārin makes any mistake in chanting the Vedas, in the matter of tone or enunciation, he must do penance for the same on upakarma day. On this occasion he eats no more than a few sesame seeds; otherwise he fasts the whole day; and on the following day he offers 1,008 sticks of the palāśa in the sacred fire chanting the Gāyatri. He should do this every year. Nowadays brahmacārins perform this rite only on the day following the first upăkarma after the upanayana. Actually, this is a rite all Brahmins are expected to perform, though we find today householders doing only Gayatri-japas. When you merely mutter the mantra you feel sleepy and you may go wrong in the japa. But such will not be the case if you also perform a homas as you chant the Gāyatri. Sticks offered in the fire must be those of the palaša, if not of the asvattha; darbhas grass may be used if the other two are not available, At mealtime the student can have his fill. The only restriction is that he must not give free rein to his appetite. He must beg for his food for such a practice

Hindu Dharma makes him humble. The sāstras do not require him to fast. The student must be nourished properly during his growing years. But he must, at the same time, learn to develop sāttvics qualities and there must be nothing rude or rough about him. It is by serving his guru that these qualities are inculcated in him. During the twelve years in the gurukulas the student must learn his recension of the Vedas and also the caturdaśa-vidya. On completion of his stay in the gurukula he performs the samăvartanas, returns home and marries.

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[6]and


  • Make him suitable for karmānuṣṭānaṃ.

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

  • Why Early Upanayana

Let us leave aside the question of a child being inspired by Sarasvati before he is imbued with Gayatri. The more important thing is that before Kāmas takes hold of a boy he must be inspired by Gāyatri. That is why the age of upanayana is fixed at eight. When one is possessed by Kāma one would be dragged away from one's ideal, that of acquiring the power of mantras. Even the power already acquired would be destroyed. That is why the upanayana ceremony is performed early so that the boy is helped to become perfect by constant repetition of the Gayatri mantra. After 16, he will not be able to do the same. If he somehow ascends one span spiritually, he will the next moment descend by one cubit. That is the reason why the upanayana samskāra must be performed early. We do not take such samskāras seriously nowadays. We do things to no purpose, and at the same time we do not have the courage to give up such rites altogether. So we go through them "somehow" for a false sense of satisfaction. Far better it would be, instead, to have the courage to be an atheist. The atheist at least has some convictions, so it seems to me. If the Gayatri mantra is leamed in childhood itself it would be retained like a nail driven into a tender tree. Gāyatri imparts in great measure mental strength, lustre and health. It will increase the child's power of concentration, sharpen his intelligence, make him physically strong. Later in life, when he feels the urge of Kāma, Gayatri will prevent him from being dragged downward and be a protective shield for his body and intelligence. When one learns to meditate on the Gayatri in childhood itself, it would be a great help, as one grows up, in not wasting one's seed, in acquiring Brāhmic lustre and qualities like studiousness, humility, devotion to God and interest in matters of the Self. Parents nowadays deny their children the opportunity of being afforded such great benefits and for no reason. A student spends the years of his gurukulavāsas in Gāyatri-japas; study of the Vedas and the Vedāngas, begging for his food, serving his guru, observing various religious vows. When he completes his education thus, he will have become a young man ready for his samăvartanas. Later he must go to Kasi and, on his return home, take a wife. He is called a "snātaka" between his samăvartana

Why upanayanaṃ not required for others

Those who complain that women have no right to perform sacrifices on their own must remember that men too have no right to the same without a wife. If they knew this truth they would not make the allegation that Hindu Šāstras look down upon women. A man can perform sacrifices only with his wife. He does them for the well-being of all mankind and for his own inner purity. It is for this purpose that, after the samāvartanas following the completion of his student bachelorhood, he goes through the samskära called marriage. Marriage or vivāha is known as "saha-dharma-cārini-samprayoga". It means (roughly) union with a wife together with whom a man practises dharma. The clear implication is that carnal pleasure is not its chief purpose, but the pursuit of dharma. The śāstras do not ask å man to pursue dharma all by himself but require him to take a helpmate for it. The wife is called "dharma-patni", "saha dharma-cărini", thus underlining her connection with dharma, and not with kāma or sensual pleasure. Here is proof of the high esteem in which the śāstras hold women, The celibate-student and the ascetic alike follow the dharma of their respective āśramas (stages of life) not in association with anyone else. The householder has to conduct the karma as well as the dharma of domestic life with his wife as a companion, such being the rule laid down in the sastras. The dharma of domestic life is their common property. Only a householder with a wife may perform sacrifices, not student-bachelors and ascetics. If the wife were meant only for sensual gratification, would the dharmaśāstras have insisted that a man cannot perform sacrifices after her death? Women's libbers, who note that a woman cannot perforni a sacrifice on her own, must also recognise the fact that the husband loses the right for the same without the wife and this is according to the Vedas themselves. ("Patnivatasya agnihotram bhavati.") A great man lamented thus at the time of his wife's death: "You have taken away all my sacrifices as well as other rituals." Our sāstras have thus given a high place to women in the matter of duties and works.

  1. Ṛṣi, Generally compiler of traditional works.
  2. Vīramitrōdayaḥ
  3. vīramitrōdayaṃ
  4. bhāratīya saṃskāramulu p:158
  5. the set of different actions which occur in rituals
  6. 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 fulfil pleasure
  7. śaucaḥ= keeping one's body and mind clean, saṃtōṣaḥ= being happy, svādhyāyaḥ= always have a regular study of the traditional scriptures, īśvarapraṇidhānaṃ= always contemplating about the creator