Upanayana is a sacred ceremony in Hinduism by which a boy or girl between the ages of seven and sixteen is initiated into the spiritual world. Upanayana literally means ‘providing an additional eye’ – upa means additional and nayana means eye of spiritual knowledge and wisdom. The term also means leading the disciple to the Guru (upa – means near and nayana means leading.) Symbolic symbol of Upanayana is the wearing of yajnopavitam or sacred thread.
Yajnopavitam or sacred thread is believed to have worn by the creator. There is no reference to it in the Grahyasutras. Bala Gangadhar Tilak has stated that it is remnant of the cloth worn by Prajapati.
Not all Hindus perform Upanayana. Numerous Hindu communities and sects do not perform the sacred thread ceremony. Like all rituals in Hindu religion this one is also not mandatory.
Those who wear the sacred thread are known as twice born. When a child starts his spiritual education by learning the Vedas, the child is getting a new life.
Guru – Selection of the Preceptor of Upanayana
All mantras during the Upanayana ritual should be chanted by a learned preceptor. The most important aspect of an Upanayana ritual is the selection of the preceptor.
The preceptor, who performs the upanayana rites of a pupil, accepts him in his heart, as mother takes the child in her womb (Atharva Veda)The Guru – Shishya relation is of great importance.
There is no pointing in conducting the ritual, if one is not able to identify a good preceptor.
The Guru should be able to show the divine light.
He should be able to explain the importance of the each step of the ritual and the meaning of the mantra.
Upanayana Rituals and Pujas
Important pujas and rituals before Upanayana include puja and ritual worship of Ganesha and Gauri (Goddess Parvati).
All gods are invoked in a pitcher-full of water, which has various specimens of herbs and soils in it.
The pot is covered with leaves from milky trees.
Assorted grains and rice is place on top of the leaves.
Offerings are also made to the Mother Goddess, navgrahas, presiding deities of ten directions, family deity, god of the house and the main deity of the locality.
Offerings are also made to all departed souls in the family.
Swasti Vachana and Punyaha Vachana are recited on the occasion.
How to Perform Upanayana Ritual?
Tonsure of the brahmacharin.
New cloth is wrapped around the body by the preceptor and he chants a mantra. The mantra invokes Brhaspati and Indra. It is chanted for strength, long life and luster.
Next a girdle is put around the waist of the Brahmacharin. It is to ward off all evil and to give strength to fight temptations and the evil.
The sacred thread is circled around the right shoulder and the left side of the waist of the Brahmacharin. Mantra is chanted invoking the Creator.
A sanctified stick is placed in the hand of the Brahmacharin. It is to be carried for long meaningful life.
The acharya or the one who is conducting the ritual chants numerous mantras in the ear of the Brahmacharin. The most important among them is the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra three times in the ear of Brahmacharin.
Next palasa wood soaked in ghee is offered to the sanctified fire three times. Three different mantras dedicated to Agni are chanted on the occasion.
The Brahmacharin then starts daily rituals. First he goes begging for alms. He first approaches the mother, who is the first giver. He then begs alms from relatives and family friends and people of the region.
The rite also initiates a Hindu into the first stage of life – Brahmacharya Ashrama. This stage of life is conditioned by austerity and purity of the internal and external life. Attaining knowledge of That and self realization is the goal of Brahmacharya Ashrama.