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Upanayana Samskara

Among the sixteen prominent samskaras that a dharmika is mandated to undergo, there are three samskaras that are in vogue even today, and relatively well practiced. The namakarana samskara where a child is given an identity, the upanayana samskara where the child is initiated into adhyatmika studies and the vivaha samskara through which an individual enters into a marital bond are the three which are still very much practiced.

Out of these three, the namakarana and the vivaha samskaras have evolved into more of a social practice. The traditional rituals have taken a backseat although they are performed, and the samskara is nowadays more of an ‘event’. The vivaha ceremony, especially, is undergoing rapid changes, with some help from the law of the land as well (!), and is mostly a secular event now. On the other hand, although the number of practitioners is dwindling, the upanayana samskara has mostly survived. In the present essay, let us try to explore the various facets of this most important samskara in a little detail.

As we have seen in an earlier article, the term samskara indicates a ritual that prepares an individual for refinement in some aspect of his or her life. Most samskaras consist of rituals and rites to purify an individual and remove ‘doshas’ and another set of rituals to initiate a practice. In conformity with this principle, the upanayana samskara marks the beginning of the ‘student-hood’ of an individual. Upon successful completion of the upanayana, the child is initiated into a life of spiritual development. He is thereafter under the guidance of an Acharya or Guru and begins his adhyatmik, primarily vedic, studies.

I Etymological meaning of upanayana

The word ‘upanayana’ consists of two parts – ‘upa’ and ‘nayana’. The literal meaning of course is ‘taking (an individual) near’. The most appropriate explanation found for this is गुरोः समीपे नयनं – ‘the taking (of the student) near the teacher’.

गुर्ह्योक्तकर्मणा येन समीपं नीयते गुरोः |
बालो वेदाय तद्योगाद्बालस्योपनयं विदुः || Manu Smriti ||

In some scriptures, the word upanayana is interpreted as the process of taking the child towards knowledge. Irrespective of the variations, there is unanimity that the samskara of upanayana was meant as the initiation of the adhyatmik development of the child, specifically through vedic learning.

II Upanayana as a second birth

The samskara of upanayana is considered as a second birth for the individual undergoing it. As per our shastras, the appearance of the atma (soul) in a particular form, and for a particular purpose – जनि प्रादुर्भावे – is considered as a birth. When a soul appears on earth as a human through the mother, it obtains a physical body that aids it in pursuing a greater purpose in life. The first birth provides a ‘sadhana shareera’ – a vehicle for worldly achievement. The process of upanayana gives cause to the adhyatmik achievement of the soul. It initiates the process of refinement of the individual’s ‘antahkarana’ – the spiritual body. The upanayana therefore leads to the birth of the ‘adhyatmika shareera’ and is therefore a second birth.

Numerous Smritis and Dharmasutras iterate this point about the upanayana being a second birth and therefore the upaneeta, or the one who has undergone upanayana, is called as a ‘dvija’ (twice born) thereafter.

मातुर्यदग्रे जायन्ते द्वितीयं मौञ्जिबन्धनात् |
ब्राह्मणक्षत्रियविशस्तस्स्मादेते द्विजाः स्मृताः || Yajnavalkya. Smriti. 1-39 ||
“The Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaishya first take birth through their mother; After the maunjibandhana (upanayana) they undergo a second birth and come to be known as a dvija”

Following this second birth, the child enters a phase of life where the sole purpose is acquisition of vedic knowledge. This phase, which involves going after ‘brahmavidya’ or the knowledge of the Supreme Being, is known as ‘brahmacharya’. To achieve this, the child is handed over to an Acharya who is well versed in the shastras. He lives with the Guru and his family for many years, all the while following a strict life of discipline and hard work. At the completion of the studies a ceremonial bathing ritual, known as ‘samavartana’ marks the end of the phase.

Thus the upanayana is the start of a long but significant phase of an individual’s life that sets him on the path of adhyatma.

III The age for upanayana

There is abundance of opinion among the various Smritikaras on the appropriate age for performing upanayana. They do not cause any great confusion, however, since all of them provide a window when the same can be done.

The majority dictum on this question is that the upanayana of a Brahmana child must be performed when he is seven years old. The scriptures consider the stay of the child in the mother’s womb as the first year of life and hence the modern calculation of seven years is considered as eight per the scriptures. Similarly, it is considered appropriate for a Kshatriya child to undergo his initiation at eleven years of age and a Vaishya to undergo the same when he is twelve years old.

ब्राह्मणस्योपनयनम् वर्षे गर्भाष्टमे भवेत् |
अथ वोत्पत्तिमारभ्य भवेदष्टंमवत्सरे |
एकादशे क्षत्रियस्य गर्भात्तु द्वादशे विशः || Smruti Muktavali ||

“A Brahmana must undergo upanayana at eight years of age, counted from conception. Or it must be done when he is eight years after birth. For a Kshatriya, the same must be performed when he is eleven years old and at twelve years of age for a Vaishya”

The Smritis also place a restriction on the maximum age up to which the performance of the upanayana is acceptable. This is primarily to ensure a reasonable opportunity for the child to actually learn when the mind and mental faculties are still conducive.

Manu says that there is no violation if the upanayana is performed before sixteen years of age for a Brahmana. If that limit is crossed, the child becomes ‘vratya’ or uncultured. Similarly the limit for a Kshatriya is twenty-two years and for a Vaishya it is twenty-four years.

आ षोडषाद् ब्राह्मणस्य सावित्री नातिवर्तते |
आ द्वाविंशात् क्षत्रबन्धोराचतुर्विम्शतेर्विशः || Manu Smriti ||
Although the primary goal of upanayana is to obtain spiritual knowledge, the scriptures highlight the additional benefits of performing upanayana at certain ages. Performing the samskara keeping these benefits in mind was considered ‘kamyopanayana’.

The Angirasa Smriti gave great details about the specific benefits when the upanayana was performed at specific ages.

  • If it is desired to obtain special ‘brahma-varchas’ for the young kid, the upanayana must be performed at either five or seven years of age.
  • If the desire is to ensure a long life for the child, performance of the upanayana at eight years of age is recommended.
  • If the desired outcome is ‘tejas’ then the upanayana must happen at nine years of age.
  • For obtaining opulence and good food always, the tenth year is recommended for upanayana.
  • Upanayana when performed at eleven years of age brings great strength to one’s sense organs (also great sense-control).
  • The twelfth year is most appropriate if abundant livestock and vehicles are desired.
  • For a Kshatriya child, if the upanayana is performed when he is either eight or twelve years of age, great strength and long life is assured. If success in agriculture and business is desired, Vaishya children must undergo the samskara at either eight or fourteen years of age.

IV The time for upanayana

During the ‘first’ birth of an individual, there is hardly any say that the parents or the individual himself has over the time of birth. The process of becoming a dvija however can be performed at a chosen time. Since the benefits of a good upanayana are immense, shastras place great importance to the ‘muhurtha’ or the time of performance of the ritual.

The Apastambha Dharmasutras mandates that a Brahmana child must undergo upanayana in the Vasanta Rtu, a Kshatriya during Greeshma or Hemanta Rtu and a Vaishya must be initiated in the Sharad Rtu.

The five lunar months of Magha, Phalguna, Chaitra, Vaishaka and Jyeshta are considered best for upanayana since the Sun is in Uttarayana during this period. The ‘anadhyayana’ (no-study) days of Padya, Ashtami, Chaturdashi, Amavasya and Purnima must be avoided for this ceremony. Ekadashi and Dwadashi during the Shukla Paksha is allowed. The best nakshatras for the ceremony are Hasta, Chitra, Swati, Revati, Uttara, Uttarashada, Uttarabhadra, Anuradha, Pushya, Rohini, Mrigashira and Punarvasu.

The mathematics in determining a good muhurtha is quite involved and it is always best to consult a learned astrologer to determine a good day and time for performance of this all-important samskara.

V The ceremonies of the upanayana

There are numerous variations in the exact rituals involved in the upanayana. Depending upon one’s sampradaya, the number of rituals, their order, the mantras used and the time of performance all could vary. For actual performance of an upanayana it is therefore appropriate to take the help of a Purohita from one’s own sampradaya. However, the main elements of the samskara are common across all variations and the same will be the scope of this section.

As highlighted earlier, the purpose of vedic education is the development of the antahkarana of the individual, leading eventually to the spiritual upliftment of the soul and release from worldly bondage – moksha. Since the initiation rite – the upanayana i.e. – has to reflect the actual process of samskarana or refinement, the rituals in the upanayana relate to those practices which aids in the development of the antahkarana.

The key components of the antahkarana are the chitta, buddhi and manas. The chitta of an individual is the storehouse or memory. It is in the chitta that one records all impressions. The buddhi is that entity which employs logic and performs the operation of thinking. The ‘manas’ is what brings control and determination to an individual. The manas provides focus and concentration.

The refinement of chitta leads to an excellent accumulation of knowledge. This requires an extreme inclination towards hardwork. The brahmachari therefore is expected to put in a lot of hardwork to imbibe this quality.

The refinement of buddhi requires reception of instructions and methods. This is where being constantly under the guidance of an Acharya helps. The Guru transmits all his knowledge to his shishya, encourages deep-thinking or manana and questioning. Through this process, repeated over years, the student acquires logical acumen and sharp perception.

The refinement of manas requires discipline and self-control. The manas is a function of what is fed to it. It is the indriyas or sense-organs that feed one’s manas. Therefore, controlling of manas requires one to maintain extreme sense-control. Control over food, speech, indulgence – all of these bring manas under control. The entire concept of Brahmacharya, which is what a child practices after upanayana, revolves around sense-control and discipline.

The rituals in the upanayana revolve around these three elements of the antahkarana – refining the chitta, buddhi and manas. The process of winning over these starts on the day of the upanayana, and continues throughout the Brahmacharya of the student. The next part of this essay describes the various rites carried out in order as below

  1. Preparatory rites – The vratas to be carried out by the male relative of the child who will conduct the upanayana and a small ceremony where the child bids farewell to infancy.
  2. Investiture – The child undergoes a symbolic second birth and is invested with the symbols of the first stage of his life, viz, brahmacharyam – the ajina or belt, yajnopavita, the mekhala or girdle and the danda or staff.
  3. Acceptance by the Guru
  4. The primary rite of the Upanayanam – upadesha of the Gayatri and teaching the boy the two rites – Sandhyavandanam and Agni karyam.
  5. The boy is then instructed in the Dharma of a Brahmachari and begins the process of bhiksha, which will be his primary mode of sustenance during his years as a Brahmachari.

V.1 Preparation for dvijatva

The upanayana for a child is to be performed by the father. If the father is no longer alive, the paternal-grandfather, uncle, elder-brother or any other relative from the father’s side may perform the same. The kartru or the doer needs to obtain the qualification for performance of such a sacred ceremony. Therefore, the shastras insist that the kartru purify himself through the performance of a paada-kricchra vrata. Since this is a very demanding vrata, it is replaced these days with the daana of clothes and as much dakshina as possible to an assembly of scholarly brahmins.

In addition, the daana of these items is performed in order to get rid of the dosha resident in the child due to consumption of non-satvik food (till date), for getting in contact with unclean substances, for any unwanted desires that may have arisen in the mind, and so on.

Till the day of the upanayana, the child is allowed to eat from the plate of others, and it is allowed for the mother to feed him. In order to mark the end of this ‘ill-discipline’, a small ritual called ‘Matru Bhojana’ is held on the morning of the upanayana during which the mother and to-be-initiated student eat from the same leaf. This is (expected to be) the last time the two of them share a plate, since sharing leaves or plates is considered impure and inauspicious in Sanatana Dharma.

V.2 Anvadhana

The next important ceremony is the preparation of the child for entering Brahmacharya. A mandala is drawn in the north-eastern corner of the place, and auspicious items such as rice, coconuts, betel-leaves, betel-nuts, flowers and fruits are placed on it. The vatu (child) is placed in the middle of the mandala.

The Atharvaveda XI.7.3 instructs that the process of birth must be emulated once again for initiating the child into dvijatva.

आचार्य उपनयमानो ब्रह्मचारिणं कर्णुते गर्भमन्तः | Atharvaveda XI.7.3
“The teacher leading the boy near him makes the brahmachari like unto a foetus’ (translation by Sri P V Kane, History of Dharmashastra, Volume II, Part I, page 270).

Following this dictum, in certain sampradayas, especially those in the Parashurama Kshetra of South Western India, the vatu is covered in a cotton cloth and he is tied with strands of the Kusha grass.

After the child is invested with the ajina, mekhala and the yajnopaveeta (described next), the covering is removed and he is made to offer salutations to his mother, father, Acharya and the guests present. This completes the child’s second ‘birth’ and he is now ready for his spiritual development.

V.3 Ajina Dharana

The student life of a child involves the assimilation of numerous works of shastras. The Vedas, Smritis, Puranas, Itihasa granthas, Sutra granthas, Vedangas and various other scriptures are to be mastered. Mastering all of these is only possible if the student displays excellent concentration. In order to aid the child focus on studies, he is made to wear the skin of a spotted deer or a white deer. This requirement is initiated in the form of a ceremony where the child is invested with an appropriate animal skin.

The power of deer-skin in increasing dhyana has been well stated by Lord Krishna himself in the Srimadbhagavadgita. In the sixth chapter, elaborating ways of performing dhyana, He states
शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरमासनमात्मनः।
नात्युच्छ्रितं नातिनीचं चैलाजिनकुशोत्तरम् ॥ Bhagavadgita 6-11 ॥
“In a sacred and purified place, after establishing a seat neither too high nor too low, of kusha grass, deerskin or natural cloth…….”

Since the focus of a Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaishya is different (spiritual knowledge, victory and success respectively) the animal skin provided in the upanayana is different.
The Yama Smriti lays out the rules for ajina-dharana quite well
कृष्णाजिनं ब्राह्मणस्य रौरवं क्षत्रियस्य तु |
बस्ताजिनं तु वैश्यस्य सर्वेषां रौरवाजिनं || Yama Smriti – quoted in Smriti Muktavali ||

“The skin of a spotted deer is best for a Brahmana; the Kshatriya must wear the skin of a white deer; while the skin of a goat is suggested for a Vaishya; (In the absence of others) all can wear the goat’s skin”

These days, due to legal implications, a small piece of deer skin is attached to the Yajnopavita as a symbolic ritual.

V.4 Danda Dharana

During the vedic times, the child would move into the house of the Acharya after upanayana for undergoing his education. He would be on his own, without the support of his parents and relatives. In addition, the presence of numerous other students meant that the ability of the Guru and his family to provide constant attention to each and every student was limited. All of this necessitated the holding of a staff or ‘Danda’. The child, therefore, was provided with a Danda during the upanayana.

Manu Smriti indicates the wood which was to be used to prepare the Danda for a student.
ब्राह्मणो बैल्वपालाशौ क्षत्रियो वटखादिरौ |
पैलवौदुम्बरौ वैश्यो दण्डनार्हन्ति धर्मतः || Manu. Smriti ||

“A Brahmana must hold a Danda of either the Bilva or Palasha tree; a Kshatriya is to hold the Danda made from either the Vata or Khadira tree; Vaishyas can hold a Danda made of Paila or Udumbara tree; this is the arrangement as per the Dharma (of each)”

The staff served many purposes to a student. P V Kane quotes ‘Apararka’ and highlights their uses
तत्र दण्डस्य कार्यमवलंबनं गवादिनिवारणं तमोवगाहनमप्सु प्रवेशनमित्यादि….
“The staff was required for support, for controlling the cattle of the teacher which the student was to fend, for protection when going out at night and for guidance when entering a river or the like” – History of Dharmashastra, Volume II, Chapter VII, Page 280

V.5 Mekhala Dharana

Shastras mandate extreme purity to be maintained when practicing the Vedas. The grace of the abhimani devatas can be had only when physical purity was at the highest level. Shastras also indicate the special nature of certain types of grass which accord purity to those who wear it.
On the day of the upanayana, therefore, the child is provided with a mekhala (girdle) that accords ‘pavitrata’ or purity. The type of grass again depended upon the varna of the student. But all of them were expected to wear it all of the time.

Most Smritikaras agreed that the Brahmana student must wear a girdle made of the munja grass, a Kshatriya that of the murva grass and the Vaishya that of Shana.
मौञ्जी त्रिवुत् समा श्लक्ष्णा कार्या विप्रस्य मेखला |
क्षत्रियस्य तु मौर्वीज्या वैश्यस्य शणतान्तवी || Manu.Smriti ||

Typically, the girdle was made of three strings and contained one, three or five knots.

V.6 Yajnopavita Dharana

The wearing of the yajna-upa-veeta or the ‘upper cloth for the yajnas’ is perhaps the most important ritual of an upanayana. The yajnopavita grants long life, purity, strength and radiance to the child – all of which is critical for spiritual success.
यज्ञोपवीतं परमं पवित्रं प्रजापतेर्यत् सहजं पुरस्तात् | आयुष्यमग्र्यं प्रतिमुञ्च शुभ्रं यज्ञोपवीतं बलमस्तु तेजः ||

The upavita is worn over the left shoulder and below the right arm at most times. When performing a pitru-kaarya it is worn in the prachinavita or apasavya mode when it is over the right shoulder and below the left arm.

On the day of the upanayana, the father or the kartru of the ceremony puts the upavita on to the child accompanied by the chanting of the ‘yajnopavitam paramam pavitram….” mantra.
The Manu Smriti, Paitinasi Smriti and other works accept that the threads of cotton, hemp and sheep wool are to be used for making the yajnopavita for a Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaishya respectively.

कार्पासमुपवीतं ब्राह्मणस्य क्षौमं राजन्यस्य आविकं वैष्यस्येति …. || Paitinasi Smriti ||
The upavita contains nine strands of the above threads, and during the investiture of the same, the various devatas are invited to take residence in the threads. These devatas, known as the ‘Tantu Devatas’ are Omkara, Agni, Naga, Soma, Pitrus, Prajapati, Vayu, Surya and the Vishwedevatas. The presence of these devatas is what accords great sanctity to the yajnopavita and is the most important possession of a Brahmachari.

The number of such yajnopavitas also indicates the ashrama and status of an individual. A Brahmachari always wears one yajnopavita while a snataka, who has completed his studies, wears two. A gruhastha, or householder, can wear up to ten upavitas. Those of the sanyasis who kept an upavita also wore only one.

The shastras prescribe elaborate rituals for replacing torn or damaged yajnopavitas. Contact of blood, phlegm, alcohol, meat, urine and excreta necessitates a replacement of the yajnopavita.

V.7 Avaksharanam

Once the vatu is provided with the ajina, danda, mekhala and the yajnopavita, he is brought out of the mandala and the Acharya “accepts” him through the avaksharana ceremony. Accompanied by the chanting of various mantras, the Guru holds the hand of the student and draws him into studies. He then chants the “yuva suvaasa….” mantra and touches the heart of the child thus completing the admission into his fold.

V.8 Agnikarya and Gayatri Upadesha

The primary duty of a person who has undergone the upanayana is the performance of ‘sandhyavandanam’ three times a day. The sandhyavandanam consists in the worship of the Supreme Being, primarily through the surya (savitru) devata.

A Brahmana is imparted the upadesha of the savitru gayatri mantra by the father or kartru. Thereafter, the child is expected to practice this mantra every single day of his life during every sandhyavandanam. The gayatri mantra is a prayer to the Supreme Paramatma, resident in Savitru, for destruction of sins, increasing spiritual radiance, and for grant of intellect (dhee).

In the olden days, a Kshatriya vatu would be given the upadesha of the Akrishnena rajasa mantra in place of the Savitru Gayatri and a Vaishya child would be granted the upadesha of the yunjate manah mantra. However, the extant practice is to initiate all children into the practice of the Savitru Gayatri only.

V.9 Increase of the mental faculties

In order to aid the student with increased ability of grasping, storing and understanding the vedic literature, the chanting of the Vamana Sukta, the Shraddha Sukta and the Medha Sukta is performed at this stage. These increase the intelligence, dedication and mental-vigour of the vatu respectively. In most sampradayas a ritual involving the performance of a homa with the mantras of the Medha Sukta is undertaken. This is known as ‘Medhajanana’. The daily chanting of the Medha Sukta is also prescribed for the students as the blessings of Sarasvati increases intellect in the child.

V.10 Bhiksha Sweekara

Another of the important rituals during the upanayana is that of the vatu receiving ‘bhiksha’ or alms. After the performance of the agni karya and the upadesha of the Gayatri mantra, the young student approaches his mother, father and other close relatives and seeks items of food necessary for his sustenance.

This particular ceremony initiates the self-sustained mode of living of a brahmachari. It is the unanimous opinion of all Smritikaras that a brahmachari must find his own means for food. And this is done through the seeking of Bhiksha. There are two primary reasons for this injunction.

  1. The Brahmachari’s focus must always be on acquiring knowledge. Neither must he worry about who will feed him nor should he focus on what he will consume.
  2. The Acharya typically took care of many tens of students at any time. Unless society provided a means of supporting these teachers, they could not sustain maintenance of so many students. The system of Bhiksha acted as a way of scholarship sponsored by the community for those pursuing education.

The first of the points made above with regard to the focus of the child remaining on learning is reinforced by Sage Atri.
ब्रह्मचारी यतिश्चैव विद्यार्थी गुरुपोशकः |
अध्वगः क्षीणवृत्तिश्च षडेते भिक्षुकाः स्मृताः || Atri. Smriti – 162 ||

“A Brahmachari, a Yati, student, one who takes care of his own Guru, a wanderer and a man of bare means – these six are known as the Bhikshus”

The clubbing of the sanyasi with the Brahmachari makes it doubly clear that society was supposed to take care of those who pursued knowledge and spiritual development. Hence the concept of Bhiksha.

Ushana Smriti has given a very exalted position to the concept of Bhiksha.
भैक्षेण वर्त्तयेन्नित्यं कामनाशीर्भवेद्व्रती |
भैक्षेण व्रतिनो वृत्तिरूपवाससमा स्मृता || Ushana.Smriti 2-59 ||

“A Brahmachari should support himself daily by food obtained through bhiksha and always keep his passions under control; It is said that (a Brahmachari) supporting oneself through bhiksha is equivalent to fasting”

The student was expected to solicit alms from the houses of those who were staunch practitioners of the Vedic rites. Manu Smriti insists that great effort must be put to obtain bhiksha from the house of those who do the adhyayana of the Vedas every day and those who perform the pancha-maha-yajnas.

In order to reduce the burden on the Acharya and his family, the students were prohibited from seeking bhiksha from the Guru, unless there was difficulty in obtaining the same elsewhere.
गुरोः कुले न भिक्षेत न ज्ञातिकुलबन्धुषु |
अलाभे त्वन्यगेहानां पूर्वं पूर्वं परित्यजेत् || Manu.Smriti 2 – 184 ||

“(A Brahmachari) must avoid seeking bhiksha from the family of his Guru or from his close relatives. (Only) if he doesn’t find a suitable house, should he seek from the above, in the reverse order”

(In case of a difficulty, relatives may be approached first. And then the close blood relations. Finally the Guru may be approached).

V.11 Dharmopadesha

As elaborated earlier, great emphasis is placed on the student maintaining discipline and undertaking hard work during the Brahmacharya. In order to initiate these practices, the Acharya, on the day of the upanayana, instructs the child on the key rules and regulations (Brahmachari-dharma) that must be followed by him.

Samvarta Smriti lays down the most important rules for a Brahmachari.
ततः संध्यामुपासीत यथोक्तविधिना व्रती |
अग्निकार्यं च कुर्वीत मेधां च तदनन्तरम् |
ततोSधीयीत वेदं तु वीक्षमाणो गुरोर्मुखम् || Samvarta Smriti – 6,8 ||

“A Brahmachari should perform the sandhyavandana as prescribed in the scriptures; He should then perform the Agnikarya and the Medhajanana homa; after that he should study the Vedas by listening to his Guru”

A great number of other restrictions were suggested for the students including giving up food such as garlic and betel-leaves, sleeping on the floor or just a mat, avoiding perfumes and flowers for decoration, not using footwear or umbrellas and so on. A full description of the various rules and regulations will be out of scope currently. The details of these can be studied in this article by the same author.

VI Gayatri Mahima

If hypothetically there were to be just one thing that a Brahmachari can continue to perform (due to some exigent circumstances) from the above detailed rituals, it would be the practice of sandhyavandanam involving chanting of the Gayatri mantra. The recitation of this Savitru mantra has been exalted in every single scripture of ours!

The scriptures highlight three requirements for an individual to achieve success in any endeavor. They are:
a) Swaroopa yogyate or inherent ability. This also accounts for the ‘punya’ of an individual manifesting as prarabdha karma in this birth.
b) Mahaprayatna or great hard work.
c) The grace of paramatma!
निजानुभाववर्जिता हरेरनुग्रहोज्झिताः |
महाप्रयत्नवर्जिता जना न जग्मुरुन्नतिम् || Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya – 21-95 ||

The fact that an individual undergoes the upanayana samskara as per the scriptures and is taught the various rules, regulations indicate the presence of the purva-kruta-punya manifesting as prarabdha karma in this birth. The first qualification is thus met.

By studying under an Acharya and learning all the scriptures, and by following the tough rules and regulations for decades, the student puts in the necessary hard work. Thus the second qualification for success is also met.

The third qualification – the grace of paramatma – is only partially in our control. Through our bhakti and shraddha we must please the almighty and expect his prasaada. It is for this primary purpose that the chanting of the powerful Gayatri mantra is mandated.

The Gayatri mantra extolls the Supreme Being as present in the Savitru (Surya). Amongst all entities in nature, the Sun is the most visible manifestation of the Lord. Hence the upasana or worship of the Supreme force of this Universe is performed through oblations to the Sun and through the chanting of the Gayatri mantra.

Shastras recall numerous benefits of chanting from the daily recitation of the Gayatri mantra. Some of them are as below:

  • The destruction of sins accumulated every day of our lives
  • The accumulation of punya through the praise of bhagavanta
  • Control over ones sense-organs
  • Obtaining dharmik progeny
  • Performing prayaschitta or atonement for great sins such as brahma-hatya, go-hatya and so on
  • Obtaining great intellect (dhee) and retention ability
  • Obtaining divine radiance (tejas)
  • Purification of food substances
  • Obtaining purity during snana

(Source: Gayatri Darshana, Tattvasamshodhana Samsat, Udupi)

From the point of view of a Brahmachari, the primary purpose of the Gayatri mantra is to seek the grant of “dhee” or intellect. For a student, nothing is more important than this.
…..धियो योः नः प्रचोदयात्

Thus, the recitation of the Gayatri mantra is the single most important practice emanating out of the performance of the upanayana.

VII Conclusion

The upanayana is the most important samskara for a dharmika. It initiates a child into his education with special focus on spiritual growth. The samskara marks the handing over of a child to the caring arms of a teacher, who nurtures him for several years till he becomes a ‘snataka’ or graduate.

The life of an upaneeta involves a life of studies, discipline and great hard work. The wearing of the yajnopavita, the performance of the sandhyavandanam and the chanting of the Gayatri mantra are the most important rituals arising out of the upanayana.

The samskara also involves numerous other ceremonies. A proper understanding of these rituals increases faith in them, and also helps in adapting them to our current environment and context. The following may be understood as the primary lessons from the upanayana for today’s times.

  • The importance of spiritual education, especially the study of the Vedas and other shastras under a qualified Acharya.
  • The role of discipline in a student’s life. The necessity of controlling what one eats and the activities one engages in. The need to keep away from substance abuse.
  • Extreme importance of indriya-nigraha or sense-control if one were to achieve mastery over one’s antahkarana – the refinement of chitta, buddhi and manas.
  • The role of vratas in a student’s life.
  • The great merit in hard work. All accomplishments are necessarily a function of hard work. This is especially true in the case of a student.
    Let us hope the upanayana samskara continues to inspire spiritual and dharmik progress amongst the followers of the Sanatana Dharma!

(May paramatma grant the punya of performing an upanayana through this effort)

sri krishnarpanamastu


1. The Atharvaveda Samhita
2. Manu, Yajnavalkya, Atri, Ushana, Samvarta, Yama, Paitinasi and Gautama Smritis
3. Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya of Srimadanandatirtha Bhagavatpada
4. Smriti Muktavali by Sri Krishnacharya
5. Smriti Chandrika
6. History of Dharmashastras, Volume II by Sri P V Kane
7. Yajnamahodadi by Sri Harivayu Prakashana, Bengaluru
8. Gayatri Darshana by Sri Tattvasamshodhana Samsat, Udupi

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