Upakarma (उपाकर्म)

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Upakarma (Samskrit: उपाकर्म) refers to the commencement of education (at the beginning of the educational year) by the teachers and students in olden days. In the present times it is associated with the day when dvijas (one who has undergone Upanayana) change yajnopavita annually and refresh their commitment for the study of vedas.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

One of the important educational samskaras, Upakarma is practiced by many brahmanas on the Shravana purnima day and other prescribed days as per the Veda shaka they belong to. Since this ritual happens in the month of Shravana, it came to be called Shravani. It a relatively modern term for this ritual. In early times on this day Upakarma and worship of Nagadevatas happened on the full moon day of Shravana masa; later the name referred to Upakarma rituals when worshipping nagadevatas went out of vogue.[1] As we observe various educational samskaras we are instantly drawn to the holistic nature of the ancient education system having a sequential format viz., teaching the alphabet, marking the time of intellectual transformation by formal entry into Vedic studies, defining the duties and qualities of a brahmachari, the rationale behind the annual commencement and cessation of academic session, disciplining oneself with veda vratas, anadhyayana or holiday structure, subjects of studies, instructions on completion of vedic studies and preparation to formally enter the worldly affairs. Another striking feature is the entwining of nature, family, and society with the educational system. A child gets trained in the theory as well as the practical sections of education allowing the scope and time for creative development. Promoting qualities such as time management, humility, inclination to become self sufficient, participation in community service, constant review and committing to memory, self discipline, habit formation, observation and attention to detail are some hidden ramifications in-built in such a system of education.

Sanatana Dharma has many activities associated with every stage of life intricately woven with nature and divinity. One such is the system of education and timing with nature. With the onset of rains, since the life style was primarily agrarian, people were engaged in activities of farming. Maintaining cows both for havya and kavya (offerings to devatas and forefathers) was considered a sacred requirement. Every season had its significant events and worship associated with it. The months of Shravana and Bhadrapada (usually around August and September) fall into the rainy season during which time students return to their annual study session. In the Gurukula system where the students remain in their teacher's households also refreshed their course material during this time.[1]

Educational schedule was based on the seasons; it was also the time when vedic study was not extensive as per Dr. Altekar. A college term of five or six months was found to be sufficient for mastering it. As the Vedic literature expanded with the addition of Vedangas and Dharmashastras, the duration of study had to be extended to a whole year.[1]

शैक्षणिक सत्त्र ॥ Academic Session

In connection with the length of the period of studentship, one has to consider the length of what may be called the academic session, i.e. the number of days of actual teaching of the Vedic curriculum in the year. The school-term opens solemnly with the performance of a special ceremony called the Upakarman on the full moon in the month of Shravana (July-August). The term then continues until the full moon of the month of Pausha or the Rohini day when it is solemnly closed by the performance of the Utsarjana (छान्दसाम् उत्सर्जनम्) after which the student has to leave off reading the Veda. Thus the term comprises five months in the year, viz. latter half of Shravana, Bhadrapada, Ashvina, Karttika, Margashirsha, and the first half of Paushya as per Apastamba Grhyasutras.[2]

छान्दसाम् उपाकर्म ॥ Chhandasam Upakarma

In pre-historic times the annual session of education began soon after the commencement of the rainy season when the sowing operations were over and crops had began to sprout. By the full moon of month of Shravana (August) the sowing activity would be over and the ritual of Chhandasam Upakarma (छान्दसाम् उपाकर्म), i.e., gathering the vedic knowledge, was performed on that day. Upakarma or Upakarana means upakramana used in the sense of "opening, starting or beginning", as mentioned by the commentator Mitakshara on Yajnavalkya Smrti.

अध्यायानां उपाकर्म श्रावण्यां श्रवणेन वा । हस्तेनौषधिभावे वा पञ्चम्यां श्रावणस्य तु । । १.१४२ । । (Yajn. Smrt. 1.142)

Meaning: when the medicinal plants appear on earth, when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation of Shravana (nakshatra) in the month of Shravana (i.e. purnima day), or on the 5th day of Shravana month (panchami tithi), or when the moon is in Hasta nakshatra (upakarma has to be performed).[3]

The full moon days of Ashadha, Sravana and Bhadrapada are mentioned by different authorities as appropriate days for Upakarma. The older Grhyasutras declare the vidhis for this activity and later day texts such as Dharmasindhu have put them together.[1]

In several sutras Upakarma is mentioned as Adhyayopakarana (as in Ashvalayana Grhyasutra 3.5.1) or Adhyayopakarma (as in Paraskara Grhyasutra 2.10 or in Vashistha Dharmasutra 13.1). Adhyaya means 'study of veda' or the Veda itself. Upakarma thus signifies the rite which signals the commencement of yearly session of Vedic study. Ashvalayana Grhyasutra and Gautama call this rite of Upakarma as varshika (वार्षिक) either because it took place in the varsha kala (the rainy season) or because it took place once a year, or annually (varsha means a year).[3]

Time of Performance

The timing of the Upakarma is different for different veda shakas, for example yajurvedins conduct it on Shravana Purnima (full moon day of Shravana month) whereas Rigvedins perform it in Bhadrapada month. This is based on the version of commentators such as Mitakshara who prescribed that one should follow one's sutra grantha or the grhyasutra specified for their lineage of a particular veda shaka.[3]

हुतानुकृतिरुपाकर्म ।१। श्रावण्यां पौर्णमास्यां क्रियेतापि वा आषाढ्याम्।२। hutānukr̥tirupākarma ।1। śrāvaṇyāṁ paurṇamāsyāṁ kriyetāpi vā āṣāḍhyām।2। (Bau. Grhy. 3.1.1-2)[4]

Baudhayana grhyasutra prescribes that Upakarma may be done on the full moon day of Shravana or Ashadha (Shravana or Ashadha purnima).

अथात उपाकरणोत्सर्जने व्याख्यास्यामः १ श्रवणापक्ष ओषधीषु जातासु हस्तेन पौर्णमास्यां वाध्यायोपाकर्म २ athāta upākaraṇotsarjane vyākhyāsyāmaḥ 1 śravaṇāpakṣa oṣadhīṣu jātāsu hastena paurṇamāsyāṁ vādhyāyopākarma 2 (Hira. Grhy. 8.2)[5]

Hiranyakeshi says that, during the fortnight (at the end of which) the full moon of Shravana occurs, when the herbs have sprouted forth, the ceremony for the opening of the annual vedic studies should be performed in Hasta nakshatra or on the full moon day (shravana purnima).

प्रौष्ठपदीं हस्तेनाध्यायानुपाकुर्युः १४ श्रावणीमित्येके १५ prauṣṭhapadīṁ hastenādhyāyānupākuryuḥ 14 śrāvaṇīmityeke 15 (Khad. Grhy. 3.2.14-15)[6]

Khadira (and Gobhila grhyasutra 3.3.1) grhyasutras ordain that, this rite should be performed on the full moon day (purnima) of Bhadrapada or when Hasta nakshatra is present in that month, some say it should be performed on Shravana purnima. Since Khadira and Gobhila sutras pertain to Samaveda, they, the Samavedins should perform Upakarma on Bhadrapada purnima as prescribed by their grhyasutras.[3]

अथोपाकर्मोत्सर्जनपटलः अथात उपाकरणोत्सर्जने व्याख्यास्यामः १ श्रवणापक्ष ओषधीषु जातासु हस्तेन पौर्णमास्यां वाऽध्यायोपाकर्म २ athopākarmotsarjanapaṭalaḥ athāta upākaraṇotsarjane vyākhyāsyāmaḥ 1 śravaṇāpakṣa oṣadhīṣu jātāsu hastena paurṇamāsyāṁ vā'dhyāyopākarma 2 (Apas. Grhy. Sutr.)

Apastamba sutras prescribe that Shravana purnima is the day on which Upakarma has to be performed.

One version as to why the onset of the season (sprouting of the herbs) is specifically mentioned may be that if there is no rain and no herbs appear in Shravana, or when that day is inauspicious owing to an eclipse or the like, Upakarma may not be performed on that day, and can be performed on the full moon day of Bhadrapada by whose grhyasutra allows the option of two months, or on the fifth day of bright half of Shravana.[3]

In summary Upakarma may be performed by people of different vedashakas as follows.[3]

  • Rigvedins - Shravana nakshatra (which may be on the 14th or 15th days of bright half of Shravana month)
  • Shukla Yajurvedins - Shravana purnima when the moon is in Shravana nakshatra, but if the moon is not so, they have to prefer the tithi of purnima.
  • Krishna Yajurvedins - Ashadha purnima and Shravana Purnima (as per Baudhayana) Shravana purnima (for Taittriya shaka)
  • Samavedins - Bhadrapada purnima or Hasta nakshatra

Why the month of Shravana was chosen and importance to the tithi or naksatra given as the time to start Vedic studies remains obscure. As the purnima of the month (Amanta) of Shravana is called Shravani (श्रावणी) owing to the conjunction of Shravana (श्रवणनक्षत्रम्) on that tithi, some communities have associated Shravana nakshatra to Upakarma. But that the Shravana nakshatra by itself had no direct connection with Upakarma is clear from the fact that several sutras do not mention it at all. In later times, Upakarma came to be called as Shravani. It is the beginning of the college session to the students of vedas and vedangas.[3]

The presiding deity of Hasta nakshatra is Savitr. Owing to the supreme importance of Gayatri mantra (of which Savitr is the deity) and Vedic study begins with the chanting and japa of Gayatri mantra, the nakshatra Hastha would be closely connected with Upakarma. However, Hiranyakesi, Ashvalayana, Paraskara grhyasutras and several others mention both Shravana and Hasta nakshatras.[3]

Later day writers added few more factors in deciding the day for Upakarma. Conjunction of moon with Uttarashadha or Dhanishta nakshatras, zodiac signs, adhika masa etc are additional point involved in performing Upakarma. When Upakarma is to be done for the first time after a boy's upanayana, the planets Brhaspati and Shukra must not be in the position of asta (invisibility owing to their being too near the sun).


Upakarma is to be done by brahmacharins, by grhasthas, and also by Vanaprasthas. The teacher does it in the company of his pupils whether they be brahmacharins or not and performs the homa in his own grhya fire as per Paraskara grhyasutras.

विधिः ॥ Vidhi

Although the procedures of Upakarma differed with different vaidika shakas they have a few common principles. Apastamba Grhyasutras (Patala 4, Khanda 11 अथोपाकर्मोत्सर्जनपटलः) elaborate the procedure to be followed on the day of Upakarma and Utsarga[7]

The activities common to all followers of different shakas include - on the opening day, offering of tarpanas (oblations) to deities of yajnas and four vedas, propitiating the presiding deities of intellect, memory and creativity (ex., Sarasvati devi, Hayagriva) and pay reverence to the rshis (ex., Panini) who have enriched the literature. The procedure of upakarma briefly involves offering of ghee to the deities, Savitr, Brahma, Shraddha, Medha, Prajna, Dharana, Chandases, Sadasaspati, Anumati and the Rishis. Many Rigveda mantras are recited in this occasion. The pupils who are to be taught Veda join the teacher in offering prayers and oblations to the deities and partake the barley (sattu) mixed with curds. Apart from these dvijas change their yajnopavita. On the following day they perform Gayatri mantra japa.

  • Rigveda shaka followers used to recite the opening and concluding mantras of each of the ten mandalas of their vedas.
  • Yajurveda followers offer tarpanas/oblations to all the vedas, itihasa and puranas. Apart from this the celebrated rshis such as Dvaipayana, Vaisampayana, Tittiri (mantra drashtas), Atreya (author of pada-patha), Kaudinya (vrittikara), Baudhayana (pravachanakara), Apasthamba (Sutrakara) and others such as Vajasaneya, Hiranyakeshi, Yajnavalkya, Bharadvaja and Agnivesya (Baudh. Gr. Sut. 3.1) are revered.
  • The followers of the Samaveda invoked the memory of their rshis like Jaimini, Talavakara, Ranayani etc.

The rituals performed on the day of Utsarjana are also similar and respectful homage to the rshis and gurus are paid on the day before the students dispersed home. The grhyasutras prescribe an anadhyayana (holiday) after the performance of Upakrama, though the duration varies. [1] Sadly these procedures are now lost and Shravani came to represent the day to change the yajnopavita which is actually a minor activity in the whole event. The study of veda shakas is gradually decreasing and people are forgetting the rshiparamparas that gave us this vast knowledge base.

Upakarma Significance

Upakarma is associated with the annual replacement of the yajnopavita, in the present day. However, clear evidence points to the fact that Upakarma was to be performed only by the teacher (अध्याप्यः) along with his students (अध्येष्यमाणः) when they had reassembled at the beginning of the study session as given in Asvalayana and Baudhayana Grhyasutras (Prashna 3, Adhyaya 9 also describes the Utsarga vidhi to be performed by the Antevasi or student).

अध्येष्यमाणोऽध्याप्यैरन्वारब्ध एताभ्यो देवताभ्यो हुत्वा... (Asv. Grh. Sutr. 3.5.10)[8] adhyeṣyamāṇo'dhyāpyairanvārabdha etābhyo devatābhyo hutvā... (Asv. Grh. Sutr. 3.5.10)

समारब्धेष्वन्तेवासिषु ।३। samārabdheṣvantevāsiṣu ।3। (Baud. Grhy. Sutr. 3.1.3)[4]

Vatsayana Grhyasutras mention special formulas to be performed by teachers ambitious to have a large number of scholars. Thus it was clear that in ancient times Shravani was originally restricted to teachers and students.

Later on it was extended to grhasthas who were required to spend time on revising what they learnt in their gurukula days. They therefore proposed that the monsoon time should be devoted to the task of revising their studies. Jai. Grh. Sutr. Upakarma section. The central ideas of rituals on the Upakarma day was to

  • remind the students/grhasthas of the rshi rnam and express their gratitude for the knowledge given to them
  • motivate students to perform with vigour by remembering and following the glorious examples of rshis
  • remind the grhasthas of their duty to study their own vaidika shakas


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Altekar, A. S. (1944) Education in Ancient India. Benares : Nand Kishore and Bros.,
  2. Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 191-193)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Kane, P. V. (1941) History of Dharmashastras, Volume 2, Part 2. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (Pages 807- )
  4. 4.0 4.1 Baudhayana Grhyasutra (Prashna 3 Adhyaya 1)
  5. Hiranyakeshi Grhyasutra (Patala 8)
  6. Khadira Grhyasutras (See Patala 3 Khanda 2)
  7. Apastamba Grhyasutras (Patala 4 Khanda 11)
  8. Asvalayana Grhya Sutras