Written by Swami Chandrashekarendra
The rites meant for the deities must be performed with devotion and
those meant for the pitrs or fathers must be performed with faith. What
is done with devotion is yajna and what is done with faith is sraddha.
While performing the former, the sikha must be gathered into a knot and
the sacred thread must rest on the left shoulder, and while performing
the latter the sikha must be worn loose and the sacred thread must rest
on the right shoulder.
The sikha and the sacred thread are meant for these two purposes.
Sannyasins do not have either. When they renounce the world they also
renounce the rites for the fathers and cease to worship a number of
deities. They adore the Paramatman directly without any worldly desire
in their hearts. The followers of other religions too wear neither a
nor a sacred thread and they worship the Supreme God directly [that is
without going through the stages in which the various deities are
Let me tell you about the two positions of the sacred thread while
performing the rites for the celestials and the fathers. We must face
east as we conduct various rituals. The north is the direction in which
make the passage to the celestials. This path is called ""uttarayana".
departed fathers reside in the south. The saint-poet Tiruvalluvar calls
them "tenpulattar", those dwelling in the south. "Dakshinayana" is the
way to the world of the fathers. Bhagavan Krsna speaks of the two paths
in the Gita.
When we sit facing the east to perform rites for the pitrs, which
is to the south? The right one. So the sacred thread must rest on it.
To do "pradakshina" means to go facing the south. (In majority of
the raja-gopuram - the main entrance tower - is in the east. When you
enter it and start circumbulating you will be facing the south. )
When we sit facing the east to perform rites for the gods our left
is to the north. So the sacred thread must rest on it. When we are not
engaged in either of these two rites- that is when we are doing our
work or something else- the sacred thread must not rest on either
shoulder and must be worn like a garland. (No one seems to observe this
rule in practice now. Except during the rites for the fathers, most
have their sacred thread resting on their left shoulder. )