The Significance of the Sacred Thread, Yagnopavitham

An interview by – 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.

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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.

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Why Volunteer for a Better India?

Volunteer For A Better India” – a caption so aptly chosen by Gurudev, His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar!

When we have such a clarion call that we want a better India, it implies that there is something lacking in the present state of India.

It is these factors that we need to identify and work on for a better India. While such factors could be many, some of them stare at us starkly, starting from

  • poverty on one side

  • unending scams on the other and

  • erosion of values in between.

Consequently, there is a great imbalance in society and not everyone has access to a quality life.

To better on these, cannot be a government driven act alone. It is the people’s voluntary efforts that will make the real change.

Eroded values can be restored only when people understand the culture of this land and the ethos that steered the civilization.

The culture of India is driven by Dharma, which is the innate characteristic of every being and its interaction with all others.

As an ethos, India as a land, has never been a centralized country. People have worked together collectively but in decentralized forms. Individuals have shone forth because of their individuality and they have been appreciated for it. At the same time each individual has also worked together cohesively as a samaj, for the collective good of the land.

Volunteering is all about coming together of individuals, working together in cohesion for the collective good of the samaj, society of the land.

On the economic front, why is India so poor?

If we look back at the magnificent temples that dot the landscape of India, at the palaces and grand Havelis in every Nagara of this land, they do not tell us the story of poverty, but on the contrary, they speak of a prosperous past. There is no dearth of records that speak of the wealth of India right through the millennia.

If this land was prosperous in the past, how has it become poor now?

Earlier, the invaders and colonial masters repeatedly plundered India off its wealth.

Since independence, this plunder has not stopped. The wave of plunder has continued. Only the people who plunder have changed. It has continued in the new garb of corruption where we ourselves plunder our brethren and thereby plunder Mother India.

For India to have been prosperous in the past and now to continue generating wealth, year on year, for the plunder to continue to the present day, there must be something in this land which keeps generating wealth in every nook and corner of this land, year after year.

What are these wealth generating factors?

Can we identify them and use them productively for creating prosperity for this land and to create a better India once again?

  • For one, the land itself is fertile, offering multiple harvests of varied produce throughout the year.

  • The climate is warm and salubrious for comfortable living and for productivity.

  • The land is rich in minerals and mines.

  • The land has copious rain and fresh water.

  • The people are intelligent and industrious by nature.

  • Effective water harnessing techniques have multiplied the prosperity of the land many fold.

  • People through the ages have given importance to education.

These factors were harnessed by our ancestors through sustainable practices and sustained values for sustained prosperity. We too have to understand these components and work towards sustaining them. Only then will our volunteering for a better India be purposeful and effective.

Besides fighting against corruption to better values and better India there are various issues needing attention today, such as infrastructure, education, power, water, health, sanitation, defence etc. What can then be a focus area when we start volunteering?

In the effort of volunteering, if there is one thing that we can do such that it will have a positive, cascading effect on all other sectors of development, then it would be well worth the effort to focus on that “one thing”.

That one thing turns out to be something as elementary as “WATER”.

We see right through history that cities and civilizations developed due to access to abundance of water. India has been a prosperous land through the ages, primarily because the people of this land could harness their waters well.

It is harnessing of waters by the people again, in a decentralized manner, in every locality of the cities, in every town and village, that will make India rich in water again and a sustainable, all round prosperous civilization once again. It is such a sustainable harnessing of water which will add momentum to all other spheres where development needs to happen.

The people of this land had understood the workings of man and Nature and the relationship between them.

All these facets have been discussed in our book “You Turn India” from the Bharath Gyan Series.

 You Turn-Front Cover

Let each one of us understand our strengths and volunteer our might for a better India.