A Hindu male child when reaches a certain age is expected to enter Brahmachari, a stage of receiving education, and Upanayanam is carried out. The Sacred Thread Ceremony or Upanayana is performed to formally introduce the child to a teacher so he could get an education. Of sixteen rituals, which are the series of sacraments, sacrifices, and rituals that serve as rites of passage and mark the various stages of human life according to Hinduism, Upanayanam stands 10th in the order. These Samskaras help humans to achieve spiritual nourishment, peace of mind, and ultimately the moksha.
Introduced in various kinds of names like Janeu, Poonal Ceremony, Yajnopavita, and Bratabandha in different cultures, Upanayanam is a Hindu samskara, rite passage ritual, during which the concept of Brahman is taught to a young boy. The word Upanayanam means adjacent to or taking near to or the vision induced by proper initiation to the Gayatri Mantra. The term is connected with the Vedic gurukul tradition where the Guru would keep his students close by to train them in Vedic rites and impart religious teachings.
The Upanayanam is usually carried out by the acharya, the family guru, during adolescence. It is the most important ritual because it makes one eligible to chant the Vedic rites, perform homas, yajnas, marriages, and the last rites of the deceased. From the age of seven children’s brain starts full functioning and to show the family and relatives, that child has developed well in intelligence and is ready to gain a further expansion of the spiritual process, Upanayanam is conducted magnificently for the male child.
The Age for the Ceremony
The ceremony can be carried out at the age of seven and onwards. The actions can normally be divided into three pieces; excellent, very good, and good ( Uthamam, Madhyamam, and Adhamam). The ritual when done at the age of 7 is considered excellent, at the age of 9 is considered very good and at the age of 11 is considered good. After the age of 11, any age can be direct to this ceremony and after the age of 16, not even an auspicious day is required.
Upanayanam in India
Nandi – Nandi refers to the beginning in Sanskrit thus it refers to the commencement of the rituals. Blessing from family and ancestors is taken and brahmins are fed that day.
Matru Bhojana – The Vatu (boy whose Upanayanam is to be done) is fed by his mother, along with four other children who have already done the Sacred Thread Ceremony. Purohit will then bless the child by chanting mantras.
Yagnopaveetha Dhaaranam – With the guidance of Acharya, father of the Vatu places the Janeu thread across the left shoulder of the boy. Munja grass is then tied around the boy’s waist to keep off the evil.
Brahmopadesham – This part is where the child receives Supreme Mantra “Gayatri Mantra” from his father who then becomes his guru.
Suryadarsham – The child is taken out and asked to look at the sun through a small hole made from joining his two hands.
Bhikshakaranam – In this stage, child asks for alms of rice from his mother, and other women attending the ceremony by saying Bhavathi Bhikshamdehi. This is done in order to instill in him the comprehension to control his senses and ego and receive Vedic knowledge.
Ashirwadam – This is the last stage or end of the ceremony where the child seeks blessing from elders and purohit. The child then introduces himself by his name and gotra.
Sandhya Vandanam – This is a combination of rituals and meditation based on yoga.
Upanayanam in Nepal
Upanayanam in Nepal is known as Bratabandha. The principles with which Bratabandha is conducted in Nepal are the same as in other parts of world mainly India and it is solely based on Hindu Vedic morals. However, the ritual is slightly different from what is observed in India.
Purbanga is the day before the Bratabandha ceremony when Gods are worshipped and basically it is like taking permission for conducting the ritual. The child’s whole Bratabandha is to be done his head is shaved entirely leaving a small patch of the head in the crown and a yellow-orange headband is wrapped around his head with a porcupine spine, to ward off the evil.
Day of Bratabandha
On the ceremony day, priests are called, usually, two are required. The ceremony starts with chanting different mantras, the boy receives the Gayatri mantra as teaching by a priest or Guru. This process of transfer of the gayatri mantra takes place secretly, no one else can hear the mantra during teaching. The priest now becomes the guru of the child. Then the child asks for food and offerings from the mother and other women attending the ceremony just like Bhikshakaranam, this is to mark the life of a monk. In the end, Janai or janeau; the Sacred Thread is looped over the boy’s shoulder, signifying that he’s a man now.
The rituals vary in different communities in Nepal also, in Hindu communities, rituals during Bratabandha represent the banishment of boy (symbolization of Lord Ram’s exile) whereas, in Buddhist communities, the rituals represent the abandonment of worldly pleasure by Gautam Buddha (Symbolization of Buddha’s retreat from worldly pleasures).
Significance of Upanayanam Ceremony
Upanayanam ceremony is also considered as the second birth of a man as it leads him towards the spiritual path, and with this, the boy accepts Guru as his father and Vedas as his mother. During his first birth, the baby is born from the virya dissipated by his father below the navel of his mother into the womb but during this second birth, the vital forces of purity of acharya are passed to the disciple by elevating him into the Brahminical platform which marks his second birth. This is a reason Upanayanam is carried out to teach the child spiritual lessons and lead him towards a spiritually whole life.