The Significance of the Sacred Thread, Yagnopavitham

— Siddharth Swamy,
Student of Maths & Economics, Trinity College, Dublin

Today, full moon, in Sravan month is the day when many Indians perform the thread changing ceremony.

We bring to you an interaction of an inquiring youngster with D. K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari of Bharath Gyan, on the relevance of this practice of wearing a sacred thread.

What is this thread I have been made to wear? It was put on during my Upanayanam. What is an upanayanam?

Let us go to the etymological meaning of Upanayanam. Upa means ‘near’ or ‘by the side of’ and nayanam means ‘by the eyes’. Therefore upanayanam denotes being by the side or supervision of a teacher.

Upanayanam is typically performed at the age of 7 years, the time when a child is ready to start schooling. At that time, parents conduct this ceremony and then take the child to the Gurukula, school.

This thread ceremony, also called Brahma Upadesham (Brahmopadesham) is to prepare the child to enter school and the schooling phase of life (Brahmacharyam).

I have heard people using the terms Yagnopavitham or Upakarman also for this ceremony.

Yagna, besides worship, sacrifice, also denotes commitment to a focused act. So committed, that one sacrifices everything else to ensure this act is accomplished. Pavitham means to cleanse. Yagnopavitham means to cleanse, purify one’s mind as well as intention behind the Yagna, act of commitment – studying in the case of a student.

Upakarman denotes preparation or that activity that aides the start, execution of any mission, it comes from Upa, beside and karman meaning activity.

Upakarma

A group  Yagnopavitham ceremony at the Art of Living Ashram

 I was told that this thread I wear will protect me. How can this thread protect me and from what?

On your Upanayanam, this thread is given to you as a sign of committing you to schooling, education. It is a way by which parents tell you that you are now entering a phase where you have to stay fully committed to learning, avoiding all distractions.

The thread you wear acts as a constant reminder and helps you to make sure that you stay committed to the cause you have taken up and also to avoid all distractions, which may come in your wake.

Also, during the upananayanam you would have received the first lesson, i.e., the Gayatri Mantra from your first guru, who is your father. This is the Brahma Upadesham, counsel on the cosmos, from the father. This Gayatri Mantra is to be recited atleast twice a day, at dawn and dusk, the time windows in a day considered to be most conducive to learning.

This mantra is powerful and the vibrations it causes in the body and in the surroundings rejuvenate the body and mind with positive energy keeping them in good health and thus protected.

Is this protection only for Brahmin boys?

No, in older times every child, irrespective of varna/jati (loosely translated as caste in present times) at the start of schooling underwent this ceremony and went to gurukula to study basic veda and other subjects in line with their family profession or aptitude. So this particular investiture is meant for all, not just Brahmins.

What about girls then? Do they not need such protection during their studying age?

Scriptures show how girls too underwent such a ceremony. Perhaps in the medieval period when India came under onslaughts, girls being physically vulnerable, were kept away from schools to protect them from the invaders. With that maybe the number of girls going to gurukula reduced, thereby reducing the practice.

So if I do already know what this stands for and have a sense of commitment to my studies, then do I still need to wear it?

This thread is like a school uniform and gives you a sense of identity. When you wear a school uniform, your mind automatically gets conditioned and constrained  from indulging in acts that do not behoove school going children such as perhaps going to a bar,  discotheque or movies with the uniform on, this thread also conditions the mind and keeps one focused in their mission.

It is not only school uniform, any uniform be it that of a soldier, a policeman or a nurse, conditions one to conduct oneself in a manner specific to the category / institution they represent, when in that uniform. This thread is like that.

In that vain of thought, this helps us to be centered to our commitment at hand.

Similarly, when one gets married, there is an additional thread that gets added to the previous set. This is to condition one to stay on the path of societal norms of a married man who has to look after his family as well as support the community.

Why should he continue with the previous set of thread, now that he is already married and out of school?

The other set is to remind him that in life one is always a student and has to seek knowledge that can help one journey through the various phases of life with ease and relish.

Why do we change this thread every year?

It is to renew our commitment every year, the way people make resolutions every New Year. Since this thread is made from cotton yarn, it needs to be changed atleast once a year from a point of hygiene.

Varalakshmi Vrata

kalashSymbol

Kalasam, an auspicious symbol

An image of a Kalasam with a coconut and mango leaves on its mouth is always used as a sign of auspiciousness. It signifies prosperity and the joys it brings with it. The water held in it is a sign of overflowing bounty.

 How does a Kalasam hold beyond its brim and over flow to denote this overflowing bounty?

 Let us look at a pitcher, Kalasam.

 If you fill water in a pitcher, Kalasam, we can only fill it to the brim. Beyond its brim water will flow out of the pitcher and the Kalasam will always be only brimfull at the most.

 Can we make a kalasam hold water beyond its brim?

 When you put a coconut on top of a Kalasam filled with water, the water inside the coconut, gives rise to a setting, where there is water over and above the brim in the Kalasam. Below the coconut, you have the mango leaves dipped in the water. The water dripping from these mango leaves continuously through its capillary action, indicate an overflow, an overflowing prosperity for all.

 The Kalasam filled with water, with mango leaves and a coconut on its mouth, thus symbolizes prosperity and the overflowing bountiful Nature.

 The coconut also represents the human body and ego. Only when the ego is broken, the pureness in us, which is innate to us, comes out to the open. This goodness is a resplendent, pure, sweet succor to life and is symbolized by the white and sweet kernel inside the coconut. Breaking the coconut is akin to symbolically breaking the “ahankaram”, ego, the total surrender and merging with the Divine.

 Such a full Kalash, Kalasam forms a prominent part of the Varalakshmi Vratam festival.

 Varalakshmi Vratam is a festival that brings out the connect between a kalsam and overflowing prosperity, connect between prosperity and water, connect between water and women and the connect between women and abundance to make a full circle.

 It is celebrated by the women of India in the month of Shravana on second Friday. It falls in August – September every year, the peak of the monsoon season, when the lands are green and filled with water from the copious rains.

Kalasam

Venerating a Kalasam of Varalakshmi Vratam

The key aspect of the rituals in this festival is that, the women take a Kalasam, pitcher of water, wrap it with strings, place mango leaves on its mouth, a coconut in the centre amidst those leaves and pray to the divine forces with all humility, for safeguarding their family, their village, their community and the land as a whole.

 This ritualistic festival has multiple layers of meanings. The women are known to always pray for their family, their loved ones, their community, their village and their land. They hardly pray for themselves. This shows the beauty of the innate selfless nature of the women of this land.

 When the women pray to the Kalasam filled with water and wrap it with strings, among the other ritual meanings, one sublime expression is the bond of the women with water. The women by tying this string express their binding with water. It is a bonding borne out by the fact that most of the rivers of this land are named after women, save for a few such as Brahmaputra.

 Water being the root, route for prosperity, the binding between women and water also denotes the binding of women with prosperity of the family, household, land and society. It shows women in the light of Lakshmi, the Divinity for wealth, prosperity and happiness.

This Varalakshmi Vratam festival denotes the nature of motherhood, the selflessness of motherhood, the bonding of mother, the women with the waters, the abundance of the feeling of love and care in women, the abundance of their love and care for Nature and the abundance in Mother Nature itself.

Swatantrata – True Independence

Swatantrata

We have all heard this word, being mentioned frequently in connection with the freedom struggle of India against the British.

The word Swatantrata  connotes independence.

Flag

The word Swatantra has two components to it, “swa” and “tantra.”

 “Swa” denotes self and “tantra” stands for sciences, techniques, practices of the land, the way we live. In consonance with our surroundings and nature in a sustainable manner.

 It is obvious that Swatantrata is not just political independence. It stands for a higher level of freedom, a higher dimension of independence. It is the independence to practice one’s own indigenous lifestyle, that which is sustainable and in consonance with Nature – the nature of the land, the nature of the people, the nature of Nature – Dharma.  It is to free oneself from all extraneous influences and act under one’s own will.

It thus stands for the notion of Independence, freedom.

Against British

So when our forefathers fought for Swarajya, it was not only a call for self-rule or just a political freedom of India but the overall call was for Swatantrata.

Are we really Swatantra today?

Swaraj is my Birthright

Rajya is to rule. Swa rajya is self rule. This slogan of Swarajya was made popular by one of India’s early freedom fighter, Lokamanya Balganagadhar Tilak, when he raised the  clarion call,

Swarajya is my birth right and I shall have it.”

Rajya is to rule. 

Swarajya is self-rule.

This slogan of Swarajya was made popular by one of India’s early freedom fighter, Lokamanya Balganagadhar Tilak, when he raised the clarion call, “Swarajya is my birth right and I shall have it.”

1956-Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Lokmanya Tilak

This uprising in the common man’s mind due to the yearning for Swarajya, Swatantrata from the British was not a one off event. It was the turning point in the history of struggle for independence.

Chandragupta

Another prominent example of such an uprising in the history waswhen Raja Chandragupta with the help of master tactician Chanakya, successfully threw off the yoke of repression of the Nanda tyranny in order that people could practice “their practices” freely.

 chanakya

Chanakya – an artist impression

Knowledge of tantra

For a group of people to be called a civilization or society, it is essential that they have their own set of indigenous practices. For a society or civilization to follow their own practices, they need to have the knowledge of what their practices are.

How did these practices come about?

How have these practices evolved and got refined through the ages?

Are these practices in consonance with Nature?

And how can these practices help them lead a sustainable, prosperous and happy life?

It is only when one is aware of these habits, practices, culture and ethos, does one begin to understand one’s society, civilization and culture.

It is only then, will one also know if one is practicing the tantra, scientific practices of one’s civilization.

 Science is not just theory alone or laboratory experiments.

Science is nothing but the principles of the functioning of Nature, which includes man and his society. In short, science stretches right from the subtle rules that govern the creation of the cosmos to the conduct of every entity in the cosmos, whether living or non-living.

When a society or entity does not practice its own tantra, set of indigenous practices or a sustainable way of living, either out of repression or out of choice, the urge for swatantrata will eventually arise in that society, in the minds of the common man of that society.

 Such a call for swatantrata could also result in the desired power to the society or group, to practice its own set of ways.

 But when such a call for swatantrata is not further followed up with tantra of the cosmos, which can sustain the society, it will not be long before it leads to a call for another swatantratra once again.

 On this Independence Day let us understand the real meaning of swatantrata- Society’s practice of its own indigenous way of living, in line with its history, geography, geology, topology, climatology, ecology, biology, cosmology and all other sciences, which go towards shaping the society and its culture.

Swarajya vs Swatantra

What we fought for and obtained from the British is swarajya, self-rule.

We have a long way to go to achieve our Swatantrata- the courage and will to practice our own, indigenous, proven and sustainable techniques.

 To practice SwatantrataSwarajya is a fundamental need. For, without self-governance it will not be possible to freely practice the practices of the land. As a corollary to the statement,  if we have  Swarajya,  it does not naturally mean that we are practicing Swatantrata too.

 Swarajya aids, helps in practicing  Swatantrata. But to practise  Swatantrata, Swarajya + Gnana is imperative.

 Let us with this knowledge, Gnana and Vignana, march towards true Swatantrata,  true Independence.

Anantha, the Infinite

Anantha, the symbol of the coiled serpent in the ancient Indian thought perhaps goes to form the basis for the symbol for infinity and the root for the word “infinite” too.

Adisesha

Anantha Sesha

Adisesha-infinity Anantha and Infinity

Anantha means infinite.

Anantha denotes the infinite number of cycles of Creation. Dissolution and Recreation once again of the Universe. The endlessness of these cycles have been brought forth through the form of a snake called Anantha Sesha, Adi Sesha.

 Adi means beginning and Anantha means no end, endless, infinite.

Why these names for this coiled snake? Is there any scientific purport to this naming?

To unravel this enigma we should go to the understanding of the root of the word Adi Sesha.

“Adi” means prior or beginning and “Sesha” means remnants.

Adi Sesha denotes the remains that were at the beginning. In an endless cycle of Creation, Dissolution and Recreation, Adi Sesha denotes the remnants of the previous creation.

Adi Sesha as a coiled serpent represents the endlessness in the cycles of creation and dissolution of the Universe through its ability to uncoil, lengthen and coil back again or withdraw.

 Narayana, is a primordial divinity, whose name means “that One who is moving in equilibrium in the waters”. Waters here denote the Cosmic waters, the form and nature of the cosmos prior to manifesting as the Universe we know.

 Narayana is depicted in literature, sculpture and all other art forms, as floating in the cosmic waters, reclined on a bed of the coiled snake called Adi Sesha, Anantha Sesha.

 Adi Sesha and Narayana in Indian thought thus are symbolic of the state of the cosmos between any 2 successive cycles of creation.

 Dr.Roger Penrose, the eminent theoretical physicist, also seems to be echoing exactly the same views in scientific terms in his statement,

Roger Penrose Dr Roger Penrose

 “The Big Bang in a certain sense is not the beginning.

The Big Final Stage may also be the initial stage when there is only radiation left

and the universe loses track of its scale.”

 The above extract is taken from our book, “Creation – Srishti Vignana”, a part of the Bharath Gyan Series.

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The Creation book is available at: www.artoflivingshop.com