Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
The upanayana of a boy is performed when he is old enough to
understand things and chant the mantras. During this ceremony he is
asked to go begging for alms. "Bhiksacaryam Cara", he is told. "Badham",
he replies ( "I will do so"). So, before his upanayana, the child must
enough Sanskrit to understand what is meant by "Bhicksacaryam Cara".
When he starts learning at the age of five he will have a basic
of Sanskrit by the time he is eight years old, the age fixed for the
The world will stand to gain if eight-year-old children wear the sacred
thread, have sufficient knowledge of Sanskrit and chant the Gayatri
mantra. Today things have so changed that Godlessness is thrust into
Upa=near; nayana=to take or lead (a child). Near whom or what is (the
child) taken? Near the guru. That is what upanayana means. Who is a
guru? One who has mastered the Vedas. There is one guru during the
brahmacaryasrama (student-bachelorhood) and another during the last
asrama of sannyasa. The first guru is learned in the Vedas, Vedangas and
so on while the second is one who has forsaken all including the Vedas.
the first asrama you acquire vidya; in the last asrama you realise jnana.
Upanayana is initiation into the brahmacaryasrama while "samavartana"
is the completion of this stage of life. "Samavartana" means "return".
repeat, from the upanayana to the samavartana is student-bachelorhood
or the brahmacaryasrama. Samavartana thus denotes returning home on
completing one's study of the Vedic discipline in the gurukula.
Upanayana is the "purvanga" of student-bachelorhood. Any "anga" must
have something that gives its distinctive character. This is called "angi".
Thus for the anga called upanayana the angi is brahmacarya. The word
"Brahma" has six different meanings. In the tern "Brahmacarya" it means
the Vedas. An entire asrama or stage in life is set apart for the study
the Vedas: this is brahmacarya. The minimum period for
is twelve years which is the time taken to master the
"Brahma" also means Visnu as well as Siva. The word, in addition, is
used to denote a Brahmin, tapas or austerities and the Paramatman.
When you say Brahma with a long "a" at the end (Brahma) it means the
At mealtime we do "parisecana", that is we sprinkle water over our food,
say, rice. It is the anga for the meal. The rice must be eaten o1nly
has ceremonially been made a prasada of Isvara. This is the purpose of
the parisecana. Is it not foolish to refuse the food after it has been
a prasada of Isvara. Not to learn the Vedas after one has had the
upanayana is akin to refusing to eat the food placed before one after
has done the paricesana. In this sense the majority of people who have
had their upanayana must be called foolish.
There are four "vratas" between the purvanga called the upanayana and
the uttaranga called the samavartana. These are prajapatya, saumya,
agneya, and vaisvadeva [see following para].
There are certain rules to be followed to master a mantra. The Vedas are
replete with mantras that help you to go forward spiritually and find
release from worldly existence. "Brahmacarya" may be described as the
total discipline required to master the Vedas. There are also rules
for the study of each part of these scriptures. Each Veda has four
"kandas", each associated with a great sage. Brahmayajna is performed in
honour of them. For each kanda there is also a separate vrata. During
student-bachelorhood when a kanda is studied its vrata must also be
observed. The kandas are prajapatya, saumya, agneya and vaisvadeva.
After completing the four kandas the pupil will have his samavartana
the permission of his guru.
The four vratas mentioned above are for students of the Krsna-Yajurveda.
For students of the Rgveda there are the Mahanamni, Maha, Upanisad
and Godana vratas. Thus each Veda has its own vratas. I mentioned those
for the Krsna-yajurveda first since it is widely followed [in the
Samavartana is also called "snana" and one who has gone through it is a
"snataka". Everybody must learn his own Veda [the Veda that is his by
birth] and other subjects in addition. When we perform upakarma we
must start learning a new part of the Vedas. Later, at the time of
utsarjana, it must be discontinued and the study of the Vedangas taken
up. The Vedas, to repeat, must be studied during the six months roughly
of Daksinayana, from the south of Sravana to Taisya. The next six months
must be devoted to the Vedangas.
To master the mantras the student must strictly observe the rules
pertaining to the brahmacaraya and to the particular part of the Veda
that is being studied. Nowadays we do not observe anything, we do not
even learn the Vedas or a part thereof. Before the wedding ceremony, we
perform a rite called "vrata": in one hour we go through a number of
samskaras without understanding what we are doing and why we are
doing them. Perhaps, I find myself giving this discourse because so much
at least survives of the Vedic tradition.
The importance of the upanayana ceremony lies in this: it makes a person
fit to receive instruction in the Vedas and spread their divine power
throughout the world. Parents must realise this fact and perform their
son's upanayana at the right time.
"Dvi-ja" ("iru-pirappalan" in Tamil) is the name given to a Brahmin,
Ksatriya or Vaisya. They merit the second birth only when they become
qualified to learn the Vedas. Such a birth is meant, as mentioned
to spread the divine power all over the world, and it is through the
upanayana ceremony that they become qualified for it. Performing this
ceremony at the right time is the responsibility of the parents. At
in matters like this, no regard is paid to the canons. In contrast, in
days, people had faith in the scriptures and acted according to their