SAMSKARA OF UPANAYANA
The Samskara of Upanayana or Upayana, is a very ancient one
Adityadarsana, Upayana, Maunjibandana , Batukarana and Vratabandha are its
synonyms. The ancient Apasthamba Sutra describes Upanayana as a samskara, a
purificatory rite, where a student is imparted the Sruti, the sacred Gayatri
Mantra. Through performance of this rite a student is brought to the teacher
for learning the Vedas.
Taitiriya Samhita contains a passage, which makes a reference to the three
debts of a brahmana. His debts are to the Sages, Gods and men. His debt to the
sages ends when he becomes a brahmachari. His debt to Gods ends when he
performs sacrifices. His debt to mankind ends when he begets a son.
During the very ancient times it is probable that the Father himself taught his
son. From the times of the Taitiriya Samhita and the Brahmanas, the student
always went to the house of a Guru and stayed in his house. A brahmanchari had
to beg for his food, look after sacrificial fires of his guru and take care of
his cattle. Various Sutras and Smritis mention about the auspicious season when
Upanayana is to be performed, the proper age for Upanayana, the type of animal
skin, garments, the girdle and the staff for the brahmacharis of different
varnas, yagnopavita, principal rites such as taking the hand of the student by
the teacher, touching his chest marking his acceptance of him as his student,
paridhana, medhaganana and study of Vedas and daily recitation of them.
Proper Age for Upanayana
According to Asvalayana Grihya Sutra a brahmana boy should have his upanayana
at the age of 8, a kshatriya at the age of 11, and a vaisya at the age of 12.
The years are calculated from conception. According to Manu to achieve
spiritual eminence a brahmana boy should have his upanayana at the age of 5,
kshatriya boy desiring military prowess at the age of 6, and a vaisya desiring
to accumulate wealth at the age of 8. Vaikhanasa Smarta Sutra however
prescribes 5th, 8th or 9th year from conception for a brahmana boy desiring
spiritual eminence, long life and health .The Apasthamba Dharma Sutra
prescribes 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th year for one desiring spiritual
eminence, long life, brilliancy, abundant food and physical vigour.
The auspicious season for Upanayana of a brahmana was Vasanta. It was Summer or
Hemanta for a Kshatriya and
Sarad for a Vaisya, The Bharadwaja Grihya Sutra that prescribes all these also
adds that it should be Varsha ritu (rainy season) for carpenters and Sisira
ritu for all.
Later day scriptures have detailed information about months, thithis, days and
times for performance of Upanayana. There are very elaborate astrological
details. These can be referred to in Nirnaya Sindhu and Dharma Sindhu.
A brahmachari had to wear two garments, one upper and the other lower.
Apasthamba Dharma Sutra prescribes garment made of hemp for brahmana, of flax
for kshatriya and deerskin for Vaisya. Some prescribe lower garment should be
of cotton, colored reddish-yellow for brahmana, madder-red for kshatriya and
turmeric for vaisyas. There are many such stipulations from various
authorities. The above is given only as an example.
A brahmachari had to carry a staff. According to Asvalayana Griha Sutra it
should be of palsa wood for a brahmana, udumbara wood for a kshatriya and bilva
for a vaisya but other authorities mention other trees as well. The length of
the staff varied according to the varna of the boy and here as well there are
different opinions. Gautama Dharma Sutra says that the staff should be one not
eaten by worms, should have its bark attached, and should have a curved tip.
Manu adds that it should be strait, pleasing to look at and should not be
burnt. The Samkhayana Grihya Sutra says that the brahmachari should not allow
anyone to pass between himself and his staff. Should his staff or girdle or
yagnopavita get damaged, the brahmachari should undergo a penance and discard
the damaged ones in water while chanting the prescribed mantras and acquire
MEKHALA OR GIRDLE
Gautama, Asvalayana, Baudhayana, Manu, Kathaka and Bhargava prescribe a girdle
made of munja grass to be tied around the waist of a brahmana, of murva grass
(used in ancient days to make bow strings) for a kshatriya and one made of hemp
cords for a vaisya. Other authorities differ.
There are many elaborate descriptions about the Upanayana ceremony by several
authorities and there are differences among them. As regards the wearing of
Yagnopavita, Asvalayana, Apasthamba, and many other sutrakaras do not mention
it at all. Hiranyakesi Grihya Sutra, and Manava Grihya Sutra however say that
the brahmachari already wears the yagnopavita before the homa commences.
Baudayana Grihya Sutra says that the boy is given the yagnopavita and is asked
to wear it while chanting the mantra "yagnopaveetam paramam pavitram..tejasah."
Vaikhanasa Smarta Sutra says that the upper garment, yagnopaveeta, and black
antelope skin are worn while chanting the appropriate mantras.
This is followed by tasting of curds thrice while chanting the mantra
"dhadikravno akarisham..etc". The teacher then asks the boy his name and the
boy gives his abhivadaniya name, which is either derived from a nakshatra of
birth or derived, from a deity or from gotra. As time passed more mantras and
details got added to the samskara of Upanayana.
The ancient texts refer to wearing of yagnopavita in three forms. One is
Upavita where the yagnopavita is worn over the left shoulder and under the
right arm. This is for the Gods. The second, Prachinavita is where the
yagnopavita is worn above the right shoulder and under the left arm. This is
used for pitrs. When the yagonopavita is worn around the neck and over the
chest and is held with both thumbs in the region of the heart and above the
naval, it is Nivita. Nivita form is to be used during rishi tarpana, sexual
intercourse, samskaras of ones children except when homa was performed,
answering the calls of nature, carrying a corpse, etc.
During ancient times Upavita, Prachinavita and Nivita were methods of wearing
ones upper garment. The Smriti Chandrika quotes a passage attributed to Rishi
"one may carry out all purposes for which yagnopavita is required by means of a
garment and in its absence by a string of three threads"!
The yagnopavita is to have three threads of nine strands, according to
Boudhayana Dharma Sutra. Devala, quoted by Smriti Chandrika identifies nine
devatas of the nine dantus (strings). They are Omkara, Agni, Naga, Soma, Pitrs,
Prajapati, Vayu, Surya, and All Gods. According to Medhatithi, in ishtis,
animal sacrifices and soma sacrifices the yagnopavita was to be one thread
consisting of three dantus. It should be one of three threads consisting of
nine dantus in the case of Ahina, Ekaha and Sattra sacrifices as these
sacrifices require three sacrificial fires. The yagnopavita should reach as far
as the naval, should njot go below the naval and and should not be above the
UPANAYANA OF GIRLS
Harita Dharma Sutra as quoted in Smriti Chandrika and other digests says that
there are two types of women. Those that are brahmavadinis(students of sacred
scriptures) and those who are sadyovadus (those who strait away enter
matrimony). The brahmavadinis had to go through the upanayana, keep fire, study
Vedas and beg for their food in their own houses (under their parental roof).
In the case of sadyovadus their upanayana must be performed prior to the
According to Harita, brahmavadini women had their upanayana performed on the
8th year after conception. They then commenced their study of Vedas and
finished their studies at the age of puberty. Yama mentions tying of munja
grass (upanayana) for women who were taught the Vedas and who had to recite the
Savitri (the sacred Gayatri mantra). By the time we come down to Manu the
practice of performing upanayana of girls seems to have gone completely out of
BRAHMOPADESA OR GAYATRI UPADESA
The sacred Rig Vedic Gayatri verse occurs in other Vedas also. It is addressed
to savitr(Sun). It can also be interpreted as a prayer to the Para Brahman, the
source of entire existence. Roughly translated the verse reads something like
"we contemplate that esteemed refulgence of the Divine Savitr (sun) who may
inspire our intellect (or action)"
Some grihya sutras prescribe this same verse for all students, whether
brahmanas, kshatriyas, or vaisyas. Others prescribe that while for brahmanas
the savitri is the gayatri for kshatriyas and vaisyas a savitri (verse
addressed to savitr) in the Trstubh (having 11 syllables in each quarter) or
Jagati (having 12 syllables in each quarter) should be the proper one. Opinions
There are several opinions as to how the first instruction of gayatri is to be
given. Sudarsana in his commentary on Apasthamba Grihya Sutra, for example
gives two versions. The differences are due to the place given to the vyaahutis
(bhuh, bhuvah, suvah)
Om Bhuh: thatsaviturvarenyam|
Om Bhuvah: bhargodevasya dheemahih|
Om bhuvah: dheeyoyona prachothayath|
Om Suvah: thathsaviturvarenyam bhargo
Devasya dheemahih dheeyoyona prachothayath|
The above is one method. It may be noted that the third vyahuti is pronounced
both as swah and suvah. The second method is:
Om thathsavitur varenyam Bhuh|
Om bhargo devasya dheemahi Bhuvah|
Om dheeyo yo na prachothayath Suvah|
Om thatsavitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi Bhuh|
Om dheeyo yo na prachothayath Bhuvah|
Om thathsavitur varenyam bhargo
Devasya dheemahi dheeyo yo na
From the day of Upanayana a brahmachari had several rules to observe. They were
mainly Agni parichaya (worship of fire), Bhiksha (begging for food),
Sandhyopasana, Study of Vedas, their methods and duration, Avoidance of certain
foods and drinks, Avoidance of dancing, singing, merry making, Guru sushrusha
(including honouring him, his family and other elders) and Observance of
special vratas of a brahmachari.