— 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.
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.