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 day it is associated with the day when dvijas (one who has undergone Upanayana) change yajnopaveeta annually and refresh their commitment for the study of vedas.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

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 Sravana 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.

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

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.

हुतानुकृतिरुपाकर्म ।१। श्रावण्यां पौर्णमास्यां क्रियेतापि वा आषाढ्याम्।२। (Bau. Grhy. 3.1.1-2)[1]

hutānukr̥tirupākarma ।1। śrāvaṇyāṁ paurṇamāsyāṁ kriyetāpi vā āṣāḍhyām।2। (Bau. Grhy. 3.1.1-2)

अथात उपाकरणोत्सर्जने व्याख्यास्यामः १ श्रवणापक्ष ओषधीषु जातासु हस्तेन पौर्णमास्यां वाध्यायोपाकर्म २ (Hira. Grhy. 8.2)[2]

athāta upākaraṇotsarjane vyākhyāsyāmaḥ 1 śravaṇāpakṣa oṣadhīṣu jātāsu hastena paurṇamāsyāṁ vādhyāyopākarma 2 (Hira. Grhy. 8.2)

प्रौष्ठपदीं हस्तेनाध्यायानुपाकुर्युः १४ श्रावणीमित्येके १५ (Khad. Grhy. 3.2.14-15)[3]

prauṣṭhapadīṁ hastenādhyāyānupākuryuḥ 14 śrāvaṇīmityeke 15 (Khad. Grhy. 3.2.14-15)

अथोपाकर्मोत्सर्जनपटलः अथात उपाकरणोत्सर्जने व्याख्यास्यामः १

श्रवणापक्ष ओषधीषु जातासु हस्तेन पौर्णमास्यां वाऽध्यायोपाकर्म २ (Apas. Grhy. Sutr.)

athopākarmotsarjanapaṭalaḥ athāta upākaraṇotsarjane vyākhyāsyāmaḥ 1

śravaṇāpakṣa oṣadhīṣu jātāsu hastena paurṇamāsyāṁ vā'dhyāyopākarma 2

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.

छान्दसाम् उत्सर्जनम् ॥ Chhandasam Utsarjana

The vedic literature along with the shastras such as vyakarana, nyaya, were studied all through the year. However, the ritual of cessation of vedic studies, after a period of five or six months from Shravana masa is prescribed in the grhyasutras, as Chhandasam Utsarjana (छान्दसाम् उत्सर्जनम्). Also called as Vedotsarga, Utsarjana was therefore performed on the fullmoon day of Pausha (Pushya masa) or Magha masa (February - March). In the present days Utsarjana is not performed.[4]

Vishnu smrti also clearly mentions that the vedic study should continue for about five months after starting with Upakarma in the months of Shravana and Bhadrapada.

श्रावण्यां प्रौष्ठपद्यां वा छन्दांस्युपाकृत्यार्धपञ्चमान्मासानधीयीत । । ३०.१ । । (Vish. Smrt. 30.1)[5]

śrāvaṇyāṁ prauṣṭhapadyāṁ vā chandāṁsyupākr̥tyārdhapañcamānmāsānadhīyīta । । 30.1 । । (Vish. Smrt. 30.1)

It also clearly specifies that between Utsarjana and Upakarma adhyayana (study) of Vedangas have to be done.

उत्सर्जनोपाकर्मणोर्मध्ये वेदाङ्गाध्ययनं कुर्यात् । । ३०.३ । । (Vish. Smrt. 30.3)[5]

utsarjanopākarmaṇormadhye vedāṅgādhyayanaṁ kuryāt । । 30.3 । । (Vish. Smrt. 30.3)

Upakarma Significance

Upakarma is associated with the annual replacement of the yajnopaveeta, 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)[6]

adhyeṣyamāṇo'dhyāpyairanvārabdha etābhyo devatābhyo hutvā... (Asv. Grh. Sutr. 3.5.10)

समारब्धेष्वन्तेवासिषु ।३। samārabdheṣvantevāsiṣu ।3। (Baud. Grhy. Sutr. 3.1.3)[1]

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

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. Apart from these dvijas change their yajnopaveeta. 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.[4] Sadly these procedures are now lost and Shravani came to represent the day to change the yajnopaveeta 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.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Baudhayana Grhyasutra (Prashna 3 Adhyaya 1)
  2. Hiranyakeshi Grhyasutra (Patala 8)
  3. Khadira Grhyasutras (See Patala 3 Khanda 2)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Altekar, A. S. (1944) Education in Ancient India. Benares : Nand Kishore and Bros.,
  5. 5.0 5.1 Vishnu Smrti (Adhyaya 30)
  6. Asvalayana Grhya Sutras
  7. Apastamba Grhyasutras (Patala 4 Khanda 11)