Upanayanam Handout

Upanayanam of Chi. Hari Keshava
July 1st, 2018
Upanayanam literally means 'to bring near'. The teacher (guru) 'brings' his new pupil 'near' (accepts him as
a student) to instruct him about the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures. The guru will teach him about his
duties to society, to his ancestors, and to God as well as the methods by which to fulfil his responsibilities.
The term Upanayanam may also be interpreted to mean ‘to create an additional eye’ namely the eye of
The ritual (Samskara) that is performed to mark the initiation of the new student to his new way of life is
called Upanayanam or the thread ceremony. Initiation is normally performed as soon as the child is mature
enough for formal instruction (around 8 years of age). The Upanayanam ceremony is said to signify the
boy's second birth (his spiritual birth) and he is now referred to as the dvija (or twice-born).
Immediately after the Upanayanam, the student would leave his parents to reside with the teacher at his
'Gurukulam' (school). The student is also referred to as a 'Brahmachari' (one who is in the quest of the
absolute or 'Brahman') and is expected to lead an austere life. Upanayana marks the beginning of the
"Brahmachari-ashrama" (life as a student. The student is allowed to graduate only after several years of
education to the satisfaction of his Guru. The graduation ceremony is called 'Samaavartana', after which
the graduate will be free to enter his next phase of life as a family man (Grahastha). This will normally be
performed just before his wedding.
Hindu Rituals
Hindu rituals may be classified into three groups. These are the Nitya Karma, the Naimittika Karma, and
the Kamya Karma. Nitya Karmas are to be performed every day (such as prayers at sunrise, noon, and
sunset) by everyone. Naimittika Karmas are rituals that are performed to mark special occasions (such as
'Jatakarma' at childbirth and 'Upanayanam'). Kamya Karmas are rituals that are performed to enable a
person to obtain specific desires (such as prayers for success in specific endeavors). Every ceremony is
presided over by a Specific deity. Indra presides over the Upanayanam ceremony.
During the Upanayanam ceremony, the new pupil will be initiated to the Gayathri Mantra. The mantra is
often translated and interpreted as follows: "In the three worlds - terrestrial, astral, and celestial - may we
meditate on that most adorable, most desirable, and most enchanting luster of that Divine Sun (the
Supreme Lord) who is our creator, inspirer, giver of life, remover of pain and sorrow, and the source of
eternal joy. May we receive His golden light to inspire, nourish, and guide us in our journey."
Pancha SHANTHI (purification): The first step in any religious undertaking is the purification of the
participants, the materials with which the rituals are to be performed, and the site at which the function is
performed. This purification ritual is" called 'PANCHA SHANTHI'. All presiding deities of the Sacred Rivers,
the Mountains, Nature and the Vedic Mantras are invoked in the water contained in a 'Kalasha' (pot). The
sanctified water is sprinkled on the attendees, the materials, and the site.
ANKUR-ARPANAM: Seeds (rice (nellu), sesame (ellu), mustard (kadugu), urid (ulundu), and lentils
(payaru)) that have been allowed to soak overnight in water are mixed with milk and water and sowed in
five soil filled containers (these containers are called 'Pancha Paligai'). Brahma, Indra, Yama, Varuna, and
Soma preside over these Paligais. The seeds will sprout (perhaps by the next day). The sprouted seeds
are then dispersed in a lake. Ankur-arpanam symbolizes fertility and prosperity.
RAKSHA BANDHANAM: A ceremonial thread that has been sanctified by prayer is tied to the wrist of the
pupil. This is intended to protect the pupil from harm.
The Program (Steps/Rituals that will be performed today)
CHOWLAM: The new pupil is given a ceremonial haircut. In days of yore, only a single tuft of hair would
be allowed to remain on his head. This ceremony is performed to symbolically reinvigorate the intellect.
KUMARA BHOJANAM: The new pupil is then fed. He is accompanied in this meal by at least one other
Brahmachari (another student whose Upanayanam. has already been performed). The fellow students will
help him adjust to his new life in the Gurukulam.
AGNI STHAPANAM: All Vedic rituals are performed in the presence of Lord Agni (ceremonial fire). Among
the five elements that make up creation, Agni is the first in the order of the elements that has form and can
be seen. Agni is the purifier and acts as a messenger between the people and the Gods. Agni has a special
place in one's life and stands as a witness to all bonds and sacraments. Lord Agni is invoked to witness the
Upanayanam ceremony.
UPAVITA (YAGNOPAVITHA) DHARANAM: Wearing the Sacred thread is an important symbolic part of
this ceremony. The thread is made of cotton and contains initially three strands. The strands begin and end
in a single knot. The knot and the strands signify that the pupil is indebted to God, to his Guru, and to his
ancestors and agrees to perform his duties to them.
UPANAYANA HOMAM: This is the ceremonial offering of prayers to Agni. The fire is the symbol of life and
light, for which the student strives. In some of these prayers, the phrase "Idham Agni; Idham Na Mama:" is
used. This means, "O Lord, I offer to you that which always has belonged to you.”
NAMA PRASHNA (Asma Roopanam): The teacher asks the student, "Whose pupil are you?" and the
student replies, "Yours". The Acharya states that he is Indra's pupil. He goes on to add, " Agni is thy
teacher"; " I am thy teacher."
BRAHMOPADESHAM: This is perhaps the most important part of the ceremony. The new student is
initiated to the Gayathri Mantra. It is said that when Lord Narayana decided to start creation, the first holy
words that were generated were the Gayathri Mantra. The word "Gayathri Mantra" literally means the
"Mantra that protects the one who recites it.”
DANDADHARANAM: A sanctified staff is presented to the new pupil to protect him as he goes forth to
collect twigs from a pipal tree for the ceremonial fire. The staff is normally cut from a bilva or palasa tree.
SAMIDADHANAM: After collecting the twigs from the pipal tree the student offers them along with his
prayers to Lord Agni.
ADITYOPASANAM: Lord Aditya, The Sun God, is requested to receive this boy as His pupil and bless him
so that he will acquire the knowledge of the Vedas. Aditya was the Guru of Sri. Hanuman.
BHIKSHACHARANAM: The new pupil is then instructed to beg for alms. The ceremony emphasizes
humility and he is reminded that he is a non-earning entity. He is dependent on public charity and he should
remember to discharge his duties.
ASHIRVADAM: The learned priests under whose guidance the ceremony is being performed, as well as
the elders who are present to grace the occasion, the new pupil's parents, relatives, and guests bless the
boy so that he may be successful in his pursuit of knowledge.
MANGALA ARATI: This marks the successful end of the religious ceremony. Turmeric and lime are mixed
together and dispersed in water contained in a tray. It is then displayed before the new pupil to ward off
Reference Source: https://www.kvdbhattar.net/upanayanam/
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