Upanayana (उपनयनम्)

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Upanayana (Samskrit : उपनयनम्) is one of the most significant of the Educational Samskaras as well as the sixteen Samskaras. It marks the entry of the initiate into the most important journey of life, the first of the four Ashramas, namely the Brahmacharyashrama. The connection of the Saṁskāras with Varna and Āśramas in the sense of duty has been established by many authors and historians.

This samskara is called Brahmopadesha because the child is given the upadesha of Gayatri mantra which prepares him for the study of vedas, or in more modern terms the child enters the schooling phase of life (Brahmacharyashrama). It is also called Yajnopavita samskara as the initiate is invested with the sacred thread that marks a Dvija.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

The Upanayana, unlike other Saṁskāras was the popular one which is widely referred in the sources of ancient Indian history. It aims at the transformation of an individual from an animalistic state into a responsible human being. Children at birth are a bundle of needs and wants, where the mind, intellect, personality and individuality are not developed in them. A child is unaware of its responsibility towards the family, community, society, and the nation. As the child reaches fifth year of age, it develops a self-awareness and identity in the society. At this juncture if proper guidance is given to mold the child's intellect by impressing it with values of life, it learns to relate itself in a healthy way to family, community and society at large. It is a point which also heralds the arrival of youth so an occasion to mark the event by solemn ceremonies. Education starts with the impartment of such values in a child and his educational career is filled with observation of certain sets of rites and rituals grouped under the name of Upanayana Samskara.[1]

The object of these ceremonies is to prepare the young men for entering on the active duties of citizenship. The importance of the community is realized and the people are anxious to preserve the life of their community unimpaired. To meet this end the budding flowers of the race are disciplined to shoulder the burden of the elders.[2]

व्युतपत्तिः ॥ Etymology

Upanayana (उपनयनम्) literally means "leading or taking near". It is made up of the prefix उप (Upa) and the word नयनम् (nayanam)। It is implied that the boy is taken near Ācārya for instruction and learning Veda etc. The rite by which the boy is taken to Ācārya is called Upanayanam. Nayanam (नयनम्) also means "vision". Thus in an other meaning Upanayanam means taking one towards the vision (of Vedas) as per Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam.

Mm. P. V. Kane infers this as ‘taking near to the ācārya’ for instruction or learning who further cites Hiranyakesin Gṛhyasūtra, “the teacher then makes the boy utter, 'I have come unto Brahmacarya, lead me near, let me be a student impelled by the deity Savitr' ”.

ब्रह्मचर्यमागामुप मा नयस्व ब्रह्मचारी भवानि देवेन सवित्रा प्रसूतः । (Hira. Grhy. Sutr. 1.2)

Synonyms of Upanayana include Upayana, Maunjibandhana, Batukarana or Vatukarana, and Vratabandha (as per Kathaka and Manava Grhyasutras).[3]

Thus we can note above that the word Upanayana can be derived and explained in two ways:

  1. Taking (the boy) near the Acharya
  2. The rite by which the boy is taken to the Acharya

The first sense appears to have been the original one and when the prominence of the ritual rose the second sense came into being.[1]

Antiquity of Upanayana

It is well known that references to Upanayana and Brahmacharya are found all over the ancient texts. Antiquity of Upanayana Samskara is evidenced by the mention of the word "brahmachari" applied to Brhaspati in sukta 109 of Mandala 10 of the Rigveda. Here a mention has been made about Brahmacharya as a phase of student life but nowhere was the term Upanayana referred. It can therefore be deduced that the ceremony in itself has great antiquity but the nomenclature might have been associated with it in the later period, until then it occurs just as the rite of initiation of student, the Brahmacarin into Brahmacarya under the supervision and guidance of acharya who accepts to take him as his pupil.[4]

Taittirīyasaṃhitā ( brings to notice the importance of discharging three rnas by undergoing the Upanayana samskaras, mentioned in the following mantra:

जायमानो ह वै ब्राह्मणः त्रिभिः ऋणवान् जायते ब्रह्मचर्येण ऋषिभ्यः यज्ञेन देवेभ्यः प्रजया पितृभ्यः एष वा अनृणो यः पुत्री यज्वा ब्रह्मचारिवासी। jāyamāno ha vai brāhmaṇaḥ tribhiḥ ṛṇavān jāyate brahmacaryeṇa ṛṣibhyaḥ yajñena devebhyaḥ prajayā pitṛbhyaḥ eṣavā anṛṇo yaḥ putrī yajvā brahmacārivāsī।

Every Brāhmaṇa, when born is indebted in three debts related to Ṛṣis (sages), Devatas (deities) and Pitaraḥ (forefathers) in terms of Brahmacaryam (celibacy), Yajña (sacrifice) and Prajā (offspring), respectively. He can get rid of the above three debts by living with the teacher as a Brahmacārī, by performing a sacrifice and by being father of a son.

Brahmacārī and his conduct are beautifully lauded in Atharvaveda (11.7, 26). According to Taittirīyabrāhmaṇam (3.10.11) Bharadvāja took Brahmacaryam for three generations.

उपनयन-संस्कारः॥ Upanayana Samskara

Many scholars as well as common people who follow the principles of Santana Dharma observe Upanayana samskara to be of hoary antiquity.

अधिकारः ॥ Adhikara

Every male child belonging to the Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaishya varnas started his education career with Upanayana samskara. The ritual was originally performed when a student commenced his Vedic education under the supervision of a teacher, with whom he usually lived. It was not an obligatory ritual initially and many exceptions were noted; if a student was unfit by character or calibre to receive the Vedic education, he was not admitted to its privilege. Evidence in Dharmasutras pointed to some families in society where it was not performed for a generation or two. If, on the other hand, during the course of his education, he had to go to a different teacher, the ritual had to be repeated. In course of time, it was felt necessary by the community to preserve the Vedic literature thus making Upanayana and Vedic studies obligatory for all.[4][5]

Among all the sixteen samskaras Upanayana samskara is of utmost significance. Manu says,

न ह्यस्मिन्युज्यते कर्म किञ् चिदा मौञ्जिबन्धनात् । । २.१७१ । । (Manu. Smrt. 2.171)

Without Upanayana a boy does not have a right to perform any Shrauta or Smartha karmas. After wearing the yajnopaveeta he gets the adhikara to perform Devata-karya, Pitr-karya, Shrauta-karmas, Smarta-karmas, samskaras such as Vivaha, Sandhyavandana, Tarpanas, Shraddhas etc. A child attains the status of a dvija only after the Upanayana samskara.

For a long time the father himself acted as the teacher to give the Savitri mantra to the Upaneeta.

उपयुक्तकालः ॥ Time of Performance

Age for Upanayanam

Upanayanam is typically performed around the age of 7 years, the time when a child is ready to start his education. At that time, the father of the child conducts this ceremony and sends him to the Gurukula, to study under the guidance of a Guru.

Three different ages are prescribed for Dvijas, viz. Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas and Vaiśyas, in Gṛhyasūtras and Dharmaśāstras. Double the age is permitted for those, who, for some reason or the other could not perform at the right age –

गर्भाष्टमेषु ब्राह्मणमुपनयीत। गर्भैकादशेषु राजन्यं गर्भद्वादशेषु वैश्यम्। आपस्तम्बगृह्यसूत्रम् १॰. २, ३॥ garbhāṣṭameṣu brāhmaṇamupanayīta। garbhaikādaśeṣu rājanyaṃ garbhadvādaśeṣu vaiśyam। Āpastambagṛhyasūtram 10. 2, 3॥

Upanayanam for a Brāhmaṇa should be performed in sixth or seventh or eighth years from conception. Similarly it is ninth or tenth or eleventh years from conception for a Kṣatriya; and tenth or eleventh or twelfth years from conception for a Vaiśya. Gautama adds the following:

आषोडशात् ब्राह्मणस्य अपतिता सावित्री। द्वाविंशते राजन्यस्य द्व्यधिकाया वैश्यस्य। गौतमधर्मसूत्रम् १.१३, १४॥ āṣoḍaśāt brāhmaṇasya apatitā sāvitrī। dvāviṃśate rājanyasya dvyadhikāyā vaiśyasya। Gautamadharmasūtram 1.13, 14॥

The upper limit for performing Upanayana for a Brāhmaṇa is sixteen years. For Kṣhatriya it is twenty years and for a Vaishya it is twenty two years. Khadiragrhya sutras[6] supports the above

अष्टमे वर्षे ब्राह्मणमुपनयेत् १ तस्या षोडशादनतीतः कालः २ एकादशे क्षत्रियम् ३ तस्या द्वाविंशात् ४ द्वादशे वैश्यम् ५ तस्या चतुर्विंशात् ६

Manusmṛti prescribes the age for Upanayanam depending on the purpose.

Seasons for Upanayanam

Different seasons are prescribed for different Varṇas for Upanayana –

वसन्तो ग्रीष्मः शरदिति ऋतवो वर्णानुपूर्व्येण। आपस्तम्बगृह्यसूत्रम्, १॰.४॥ vasanto grīṣmaḥ śaraditi ṛtavo varṇānupūrvyeṇa। Āpastambagṛhyasūtram, 10.4॥

It is Vasanta (Spring) for a Brāhmaṇa, Grīṣma (Summer) for a Kṣatriya and Śarat (Autumn) for a Vaiśya for performing Upanayanam.

Specific Nakṣatras (stars) and Tithis (dates) etc. are also prescribed by some Smṛtis. Upanayanam, according to Smṛtis and Jyotiṣam (Astrology / Astronomy) has to be performed during Uttarāyaṇa (six months from mid-January) and forenoon.

संस्कारविधिः ॥ Rites in Upanayana Samskara

The Upanayana Saṁskāra was a series of rites and rituals as we learn from Gṛhyasūtras which demanded a lot of preparations and preliminary work. Once the appropriate time for the Upanayana samskara is fixed, the collection of the required materials is done. An Upaneeta was required to follow prescriptions that altered his hitherto unregulated life to a life of organized decorum and restraint.[5] The first step in Upanayana is to impose upon the pupil certain external marks of differentiation concerning his dress, equipment, and appearance by which he is identified out and recognized.

Preliminary rites

Before the main ceremony of Upanayana took place, some of the preliminary practices were concluded. Ganesha was propitiated with several other gods and deities such as Lakshmi, Dhriti, Medha and Saraswati which of course seems a later development referred nowhere in Gṛhyasūtra, the only reference we get is of setting up platform smeared with cow dung for the ceremony in Paraskara Grhyasutra. Propitiation was perhaps to seek the blessings and purification of the initiate. As prayaschitta (expiatory actions) or Kricchaacharana for the doshas such as doing irregular activities during childhood (Kamaacharana), for eating what should not be eaten (Kamabhakshana), for saying what should not be said (Kamavaada), and other known or unknown papa, dana of cows has been prescribed to be performed by the parents of the student.[1][4] Further we have Matrukapuja and Nandi shraddha which are a must for every samskara.

General rites and Attire

Bhojana - The Joint Meal: On the particular tithi, the rituals open with a meal (preceding even the bath), during which the boy shares food with his mother in the same dish. An early meal before bath is unusual in dharmik rituals and its occurrence at the Upanayana was intended to indicate that the earlier period of unregulated childhood had come to an end and that serious and disciplined life was now to follow.[5] Many social factors may have given rise to such an event such as the onset of a disciplined life, leaving the mother to study at the Gurukula, a parting feast to all childhood friends, an expression of affection for the child by the mother as he was soon not to take food with her as a rule.[2]

Digvapana or Shuddhikarma - Bath and Dress: The feast is followed by a shave and ceremonial bath. If the Chudakarana had been performed, he was simply shaved in the ordinary way keeping a shikha. The hair on the top notch were not shaved off which formed the Sikha of a Brahmacari, it was integral to the performance of Upanayana. Also the hair on the boy's head is cut in all the four directions by the Acharya reciting appropriate mantras to the deities in the four directions. Mundana or total tonsure of head is prohibited at this time. But sometimes to economize the expenses, though not sanctioned by the scriptures, the haircutting ceremony was postponed till until before the Upanayana. Thus many times the Chaula was done before the Upanayana samksara in recent centuries. When the shaving was finished, the boy was bathed ceremoniously with anointment. The boy is offered a Kaupina to cover his private parts after the bath. This was to remind him that the Upanayana commenced a new chapter in his life from which his own dignity, social decorum, self-respect and self-restraint could never be separated.[5] The mekhala was originally meant to support the Kaupina, but later on it was given a religious symbolism. The special attire of a student during Upanayana (उपनयने विशेष-परिधानम्) required him to dress in a specific way starting from Upanayana, bear a shikha, a danda (staff) and yajnopavita at all times.

Major rites

The grhyasutras give varying accounts of the different rites involved in the Upanayana samskara. A few major rites are as follows based as given in various grhyasutras. The order in which the rites take place vary with the sutra-granthas.[2][5][7][8]

  1. उपायनम् ॥ Upayaana - the ceremonial appeal of the student (to accept him) to the preceptor and the acceptance thereon. Here a sort of conversation takes place between the teacher and the pupil. The teacher asks the student - ‘ko namasi' (what is your name) and there is a formal request by the pupil to accept him as a student.
  2. अञ्जलिपूरणम्॥ Anjalipurana - holding/filling of waters in the anjali (hand-cup) of brahmachari or/and the preceptor. This was symbolic of the purification required before he could learn the Savitri mantra.
  3. अश्मारोहणम् ॥ Ashmarohana - the pupil is asked to stand on a stone and enjoined to be steadfast in the pursuit of his studies. Firm determination and singleness of purpose are emphasized by this rite on the student's mind. According to Bharadvaja grhyasutra however, the stone was symbolic of strength. (This rite is given in Manava Grhyasutra 1.22.12 and Bharadvaja Grhyasutra 1.8) Sometimes another rite namely Dadhi-prasana (the sipping of curds) is prescribed after Ashmarohana.
  4. हस्तग्रहणम् ॥ Hastagrahana - the preceptor holding the hand of the brahmachari. Before the holding of the hand, (Hiranyakesin. I. 1-7 and Khadira. II. 4) he touches the pupil’s right shoulder with the right hand and the left shoulder with the left hand. The word Upanayana occurs in this particular rite with usage of the dhatu "Upa-ni" to mean "to lead near to" or "to take unto oneself" and the dhatu "grh" to mean "to hold" in various Grhyasutras. For example - देवस्य त्वा सवितुः प्रसवेऽश्विनोर्बाहुभ्यां पूष्णो हस्ताभ्याम् उपनयाम्यसाविति १२ (Shankhayana Gr. S. 2.2.12) पुष्णो हस्ताभ्यां हस्तं गृह्णाम्यसाविति तस्य पाणिना पाणिं साङ्गुष्ठं गृह्णीयात् ४ (Ashvalayana. Gr. S. 1.20.4)[8]
  5. परिदानम् ॥ Paridana - the handing over of the pupil to the care of the deities such as Indra, Agni, Varuna, Prajapati, Surya, Yama and most importantly to Savitr. It includes offering the brahmacharin or making him committed to different beings (Bhutebhyah) Prajapati and Savitr, Ap (waters) and oshadhi (plants) and to all beings by the preceptor.
  6. स्वीकरण ॥ Svikarana - formal acceptance as the pupil by the Acharya. It involves uttering mantras and the Acharya placing his right hand on the heart of the student and prayed that there should be a perpetual and perfect spiritual bond that connects them henceforth (Hiranyakesin Grhyasutra 1.5.11). Emphasis was on the complete harmony, sympathy and wholehearted communion between the Acharya and the pupil.[5] Thus the teacher took the boy in his charge for education and protection. But thinking himself not ommipresent and all-powerful, he commended the student to the protection of gods and all creatures, that were requested to guard him every where.[2]
  7. प्रधानहोम ॥ Pradhanahoma - offering of wood in the homa
  8. Acharya makes the brahmachari wear a new garment (vasas)
  9. Acharya puts on the mekhala and ajina etc
  10. यज्ञोपवीतधारणम्॥ Yajnopavitadharana - Yajnopavita is the sacred cord invested to the pupil. It has a lot of significance in the rites in recent times. Raising the boy's right arm, putting the head into he suspends the cord over his right shoulder in such a way that it hangs down on his right side. Thus he becomes Yajñopavītin (one who has got the Yajñopavīta). This is one of the rites in the whole Upanayana samskara but in recent years has gained importance and the samskara itself is named as Yajnopavita samskara.
  11. आदितेयोपस्थानम् ॥ Adityopasthana - Worship of Surya. The sun represents the cosmic law which governs the whole universe. The student is asked to learn from the sun the observance of unswerving duty and discipline. Ashvalayana observes, the sun is a witness to all actions; he reigns over all vows, action and virtues; there he is to be properly worshipped.[2]
  12. दण्डप्रदानम् ॥ Dandapradana - giving the staff to the brahmachari. While accepting it the student prayed that he may reach the goal of his arduous educational journey. It also exhorted the student to be on his guard, charged with the duty of the protecting the Vedas.
  13. सावित्र्योपदेशः ॥ Savitri upadesha - imparting the savitri mantra to the brahmachari. Teaching the pupil the prayer to Surya (Savitri mantra) also known as Gayatri Mantra on account of its metre. This mantra has to be chanted henceforth in the morning and evening. For a successful and brilliant career, efficient intellect is most essential for the student. While health, wealth, good memory are all desirable, an energetic and stimulating intellect which distinguishes man from other beings in nature, is the most important characteristic long known and sought for by our ancient seers. Surya devata was regarded as the one and universal source of such stimulation for both the animate and inanimate world. In the Varaha, however, three different mantras have been prescribed for the three varnas.
  14. समिदाधानम् ॥ Samidadhana - making the brahmacharin offer samits in the sacred fire. The chief deity here is Agni. The sacred fire was the symbol of Life and Light, for which the student strove. It was the centre of all religious activities in the practices of sanatana dharma. Agni has to be protected for three full days, performing samidadhana, every morning and evening. The mantras uttered during this process is full of educational significance. The student wipes the ground around the fire and puts the fuel into the fire. The mantras are prayers to Agni asking him for Shraddha, Medha, Prajna etc required for getting good education. Even later this activity continues till he gets married.[1]
  15. शंसनम् ॥ Shamsana - giving ritualistic instructions and rules of Brahmacharya to the student; examples - 'ब्रह्मचार्यसि - be a brahmacharin', 'आपोशान - drink water', 'offer samit' (to the fire), 'दिवा मा सुषुप्थाः - do not sleep by day', remain 'आचार्याधीनो भव -obedient to the teacher', 'study Veda' (Ashvalayana 1.22.2).
  16. भैक्षाचर्यवृत्तिः ॥ Bhaikshacharya vrtti - Introducing the brahmachari to seek bhiksha (begging) of food. The student was expected to maintain himself by begging cooked food everyday throughout his education; so the practice commenced on the day of Upanayana. The first Bhiksha was to be given by the mother and then his sister followed by other relatives. The brahmachari should not eat masha (a particular dal), mudga, salt, meat or spicy foods and eat only in a kamsya plate. ब्रह्मचारी चेन्माषमुद्गक्षारलवणादिवर्जमन्नं कांस्यव्यतिरिक्ते पात्रे भुञ्जीत । (Samskara Ratanamala)[9] This begging makes a student humble and reminds the debt that he has towards the society.

The rite of Upanayana cannot be complete before the three Vratas, for which the ritual has been performed, have been taught to the pupil. They are[8]

  1. the vow of studentship
  2. the learning of the Savitri mantra
  3. the putting on of a Samidh ( log of wood ) into the fire.

With this initiation into the three Vratas the boy has now become a full member of the dvijas, his teacher is his father while the Savitri is his mother. He officially steps into the first ashrama of his life namely, the Brahmacharyashrama. The life of a Brahmacharin begins for him and he has to adhere to the rules that are prescribed for this ashrama. On the fourth day, the Acharya takes the diksha vastras that the boy is wearing while reciting mantras. The boy then takes new clothes and wears them. Thus ends the Upanayana samskara. Samskara Ratnamala gives complete details of the modern procedure of Upanayana.[9]

Upanayana ceremony is compared to a yajnadiksha making it a miniature of the diksha or initiation ceremony in the shrauta tradition. The vapana (shaving of head), wearing a new garment, wearing a cover of ajina, a mekhala made of munja grass, committing the student to the deities, bestowing the danda etc are simply reproduced from the procedures of the yajna. Many of these are said to be a symbolic representation of the state of a foetus.[7]

मेधाजननम् Medhajanana

After three days’ observance of the Savitri Vrata, the ceremony of Upanayana is ended by the performance of the Medhadjanana rite. The preceptor performed the ritual for sharpening the memory, intellect and grasping power, i.e., the total development of the Brahmachari’s mental powers [Bharadvaja Gr. S., i, 10]. Prayer was offered that the student should be favoured with an intelligence as attractive as cows, as vigorous as studs and as brilliant as the solar rays; it should be equally effective in mechanical, material, and spiritual spheres. Then onwards Brahmacharya or studentship formally begins under prescribed conditions governing the life and studies of the pupil dwelling in his teacher’s house.[10][5]

सन्ध्यावन्दनम् Sandhyavandana

This is the basic regular rite to be performed by all Dvijas. Those who ignore are not eligible to perform any (Vedic) rite. It is called Nityakarma (a regular rite). One has to perform this rite three times a day. Sandhyā means twilight. The rite performed during twilight is also called Sandhyā or Sandhyāvandanam (salute of Sandhyā). All the Dvijas (i.e. who have undergone Upanayanam) have to perform Sandhyā. For Śūdras and ladies the sight of rising and setting Sun itself is considered as Sandhyāvandanam.

After Upanayana, Brahmacharis have to perform Sandhyavandana (सन्ध्यावन्दनम्) and samidadhana.

उपनयनप्रयोजनम् ॥ Purpose of Upanayana

Apastamba Dharmasutra clearly states the purpose of Upanayana samskara as follows

उपनयनं विद्यार्थस्य श्रुतितः संस्कारः ९ (Apas. Dhar. Sutr. 1.1.9) विद्यया अर्थः प्रयोजनं यस्य स विद्यार्थः । तस्यायं श्रुतिविहितस्संस्कारः । उपनयनं नाम विद्यार्थस्येति वचनान्मूकादेर्न भवति। तथा च शङ्खलिखितौ नोन्मत्तमूकान्त्संस्कुर्यात्... (Haradatta Mishra Bhashya for Apas. Dhar. Sutr. 1.1.9)[11]

One who wants to benefit from Vidya (education) is a Vidyartha. Shruti ordained samskara to such a Vidyartha is Upanayana. Shankalikhita (sutras) says "It is not performed for dumb and mentally ill" (mainly because study of Vedas require a person to utter the sounds appropriately which is not possible for a dumb person and the mentally sick). The study of Trayi (all the 3 Vedas, not just one Veda) follows from the Gayatri mantra adhyayana as said in Brahmanas (texts). For learning Atharva Veda one has to perform Upanayana separately.[12]

सर्वेभ्यो वै वेदेभ्यस्सावित्र्यनूच्यत इति हि ब्राह्मणम् । (Apas. Dhar. Sutr. 1.1.10)

Manu says in his Manusmrti thus

त्रिभ्य एव तु वेदेभ्यः पादं पादं अदूदुहत् । तदित्यृचोऽस्याः सावित्र्याः परमेष्ठी प्रजापतिः ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.77)[13]

Meaning : Prajapati Brahma milked the three vedas and compiled the 3 padas of the Gayatri Mantra. Hence the adhikara (eligibility) to study of the three vedas comes from upadesa of Gayatri Mantra which is the purpose of Upanayana samskara.

सामाजिकशास्त्र उपलक्षितविषयाः॥ Social Implications

In olden times every child, of the dvija varnas at the start of schooling underwent this ceremony and went to Gurukula to study basic Veda and other subjects in line with their family profession or aptitude. In this new age, while some localized communities continue the samskara with some rigor, the appearance of new cults of devotion has diverted the attention of people from ritualistic exactitude to devotional practices of worship. By far many rituals have thus been dissolved and some remained symbolic. One of the main reasons for the loss of tradition is the linguistic difficulty. The mantras recited are Vedic and the language used is archaic.[1]

In spite of decline in the number of samskaras being followed, Upanayana has still remained as a main samskara widely followed in many traditional north and south Indian families. It is one samskara which transforms a man from having just animalistic needs to one of good character. The many instructions received by the by clearly show that they are aimed at creating impressions and aid in controlling the young mind. The goal of Upanayana is to shape a young boy into a good citizen in world community. Attitudes are not static, acquired through experiences, they reflect a persons likes and dislikes. During childhood imitation and suggestion have a great potential to mould attitude. Suggestions exert a great influence upon the direction and development of attitudes which also frame the social status of the child. Equality is impressed on a tender mind, as children of all varnas and financial status are studying together in a Gurukula. Their attires are similar, their instructions to be obedient are same, they are taught the same subjects until later in life. Having taken this matter into account the Upanayana sacrament helps a boy develop good attitude and manners. When a pupil touches the feet of the Guru, he is constantly reminded of respecting the elders as they are definitely more knowledgeable and experienced in handling life's challenges.[1]

According to psychology theories, performing a certain activity, exhibiting a certain behaviour or response repeatedly makes it a habit. A student is taught Gayatri mantra and asked to repeat it. Similarly he should perform Sandhyavandana and Samidadhana daily in the morning and evening. Such activities done over a long time turn into habits and the pupil continues the same attitudes and habits in his future life also. Worshiping the higher sources of energies such as devatas turns into a habit. In many mantras the boy asks for radiance (varchasv and tejas), intelligence (medhas) and memory, speech etc. This step to improve and develop his personality will ultimately impact his conduct in the society.[1]

Psycho-spiritual Significance

Upanayana ceremony is performed at a time when the person moves from early childhood to later childhood. Psychologists describe the childhood in two stages viz., early childhood, from the age of 3 to 6 years and later childhood, from the age of 7 to 12 years. A child develops mentally and physically in these stages rapidly. As a child grows, both quantitative and qualitative changes are taking place within him. The beginnings of good study habits can and should be learned at this stage. This age is the time when vision and hearing as well as any speech difficulties become evident if present. These senses develop rapidly and are put to use by the child in these later years; the training of the senses starts at this age with the Upanayana ceremony. Psychologists also mention that the thinking and reasoning capacity in a child grows manifold between the ages of eight to eleven.[1]

During this time perceptual powers increase in keenness and accuracy. Environmental influence has a great role in such development of perception. Before Upanayana home and members of the family are the most important factors influencing the child. Chaturvarnya system was the foundation of the society in Bharatavarsha. As Brahmana household was filled with Veda mantras and recitation, it was quite natural that a child born there starts to learn them early on just by hearing, as early as, by the age of five. Some grhyasutras prescribe Upanayana samskara for the Brahmins by the age of five. So their thinking and reasoning capacities develop early on based on their environment. Consider the household of a Kshatriya. A child born there needs a little more time to strengthen himself physically. The kshatriya dharma entails that they be trained more strictly to a harder discipline working on the natural qualities of heroism, leadership, resourcefulness and generosity etc. Hence they can undergo the Upanayana samskara at a much later age than the Brahmin boys as they have to focus more on their physical strength. Coming to the Vaishyas, their strengths lie in understanding the principles of agriculture and business handed down from their forefathers. Thus Upanayana at different age levels for the different varnas have been fixed by the Smritis and this was based on the psychology and developmental stages of a human being in relation to his role in the society. Thus educational system was totally framed around grooming the child in his future occupation as well as transmitting the knowledge to the next generation.[1]

Intelligence is required for a person of any varna. The ancients believed that the chief goal of Upanayana samskara centered around the development of intelligence along with the child's sensory equipment. The study of Vedas was considered as a higher level of study. Vedic study included what intelligence tests now measure - efficient problem solving abilities, the power of understanding and processing multiple things, ability to think abstractly and memory power to name a few. The sankalpas made during Upanayana aimed to increase medha (intelligence), shraddha (concentration and focus), Prajna (discrimination, judgement) required for Vedic study. The Vedapatha paddhati, the system of chanting the mantras, in eight types- Jata patha, Mala patha, Shikha patha, Rekha patha, Dhvaja patha, Danda patha, Ratha patha and Ghanapatha are the standard IQs of those days. This type of recitation improves memory as well as sustained attention as evidenced in one such modern research study. During Upanayana the child is taught the Gayatri mantra on which he is asked to focus and meditate. Even though at such a young age the child is unaware of the effects, he is trained to sit and meditate on the mantra under guidance. Thus this samskara is the starting point of disciplining the mind, and developing a habit of doing so.[1]

Recent studies on the effect of Gayatri mantra on today's youth point to an improvement in the cognitive and cardiovascular parameters when the mantra was chanted. Mantra chanting, specifically Gayatri Mantra has become one of the modern tools to achieve "mindfulness or calmness". A preliminary investigation of this approach to use ancient methods in improving quality of life has shown promising results as evidenced by the pilot research study in school children in Kerala. Studies on brain using imaging techniques (such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are underway in many laboratories around the world to prove the positive effects of chanting mantras in people in different areas of life such as students, the elderly, athletes, office goers so on and so forth.

Problems related to behaviour and sexuality manifest at the onset of teenages. Affection, guidance and role models such as of the teachers along with the practices mentioned in the sacraments help in handling sensitive behavioural issues in children. Budding sexuality, hormonal imbalances, sensual attraction towards opposite sex, homosexuality and other such aspects arise in young children in their teens. Anger, rage, peer pressure, and other severe psychological disorders are a cause of school drop outs. It is important at this point in children, that they are guided into a meaningful course of life better able to handle emotional and psychological pressures. Instructions from teachers as those given at the Shamsana ritual, practices of samidadhana, meditation on the Gayatri mantra, and Brahmacharya life in the Gurukula was once effective in handling such emotional and psychological aspects of children. Sadly in the modern education system the one-on-one attention given to the student by the teacher and the respect that students had for the teacher are rarely observed. The special attire that students had, the instructions they had to follow, the rules of Brahmacharyaashrama, the nityakarma, all these aided to control the sense organs and thus develop good character. A student should be away from dice, glamour, lies, women, intoxicatong drinks, pleasures, all of which excite the young mind. He should sleep alone and wake up early in the morning. He should serve the teacher and take him as a model for his future. Idle mind is a devils workshop is a saying in the present times; the essence of which was well known to the ancient seers long ago. Acharyas followed the principles of education and devised many ways to keep a student mentally and physically fit. Along with the routine duties they were given chores and activities to challenge themselves and excel in not just bookish knowledge but in many areas of life itself. Attitudes are never static, they change with experiences. They become a part of the behaviour of an individual. Imitation and suggestions are psychological tools to mend the attitudes. Students imitate their seniors, Acharyas and Gurus, and those were the times when they were the role models not just for their students but also the common man.[1]

Games and physical activity was equally important along with learning the life skills such as pottery, self defense, carpentry, agricultural techniques to name a few. Psychological training was intertwined in the activities leading him gradually to perception of self. As the child grows older he learns to turn his mind on self realization.

Modern science has thrown light on the development of brain and neurological pathways. It is well known that transmission of messages across two neurons is a biochemical reaction. Our brains form neural pathways–connections between neurons – that get stronger the more often we perform a task. And when we perform a task enough times, we no longer have to think about how it's done. This is when it becomes a habit.[14] Repetitive good actions lead to good habits, good ways of thinking and eventually a good citizen which is the important aim of the Gurukula system of education.

Upanayana for Girls

Saṃskāraprakāśa (pp. 402, 403) quotes Yama

पुरा कल्पे कुमारीणां मौञ्जीबन्धनमिष्यते। अध्यापनं च वेदानां सावित्रीवचनं तथा॥ purā kalpe kumārīṇāṃ mauñjībandhanamiṣyate। adhyāpanaṃ ca vedānāṃ sāvitrīvacanaṃ tathā॥

During former ages, tying of girdle of muñja (i.e. Upanayana) was desired in the case of maidens, they were taught Vedas and made to recite Sāvitrī, i.e. Gāyatrīmantra.

Commentators are of the opinion that this practice belongs to earlier Yugas. Upanayana ritual was obligatory for girls, and this must have ensured the imparting of a certain amount of Vedic and literary education to the girls of all varnas. Girls were initiated into Vedic studies by performing Upanayana similar to boys, but with certain regulations. They were to wear the yajnopaveeta but not the Ajina (deer skin and bark garments) and the matted locks. They were to undergo vedic study imparted by the father or brother and take bhiksha within the household (among relatives). Scholarly ladies well versed in Vedas and Vedangas were called Brahmavadinis.[5]

Female education received a great setback around the beginning of the Christian era primarily owing to the deterioration of the religious status of women. Upanayana began to be gradually prohibited to girls. By about 500 B. C. it had already become a mere formality, not followed by any serious course of Vedic education. Manusmrti declares that girls' Upanayana should be performed without the recitation of Vedic mantras. And marriage ritual itself corresponds to the Upanayana samskara. Smrtikaras further prohibited Upanayana for girls. The discontinuance of Upanayana was disastrous to the religious status of women; they were declared to be of the same status as that of the Shudras and unfit to recite Vedic Mantras. Post foreign invasion after the 12th century, when Bharat came under onslaughts, girls being physically vulnerable, were kept away from schools to protect them from the invaders. With that maybe the number of girls going to Gurukula reduced, thereby reducing the practice of Upanayana even further.[5]

Defaulters 0f Upanayana - Patitasavitrika or Vratyas

Ashvalayana mentions that those Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who do not have their Upanayana performed before 16 years, 22 years, and 24 years of age respectively (or performed after the prescribed age limits) are called as Patitasavitrika.[15]

आ षोडशाद्ब्राह्मणस्यानतीतः कालः ५ आ द्वाविंशात् क्षत्रियस्या चतुर्विंशाद्वैश्यस्यात ऊर्ध्वं पतितसावित्रीका भवन्ति ६ (Ashv. Grhy. Sutr. 1.19.5-6)[16]

The defaulters, those who do not have their Upanayana performed within the age-limits prescribed, are called as पतितसावित्रिका (Patita-savitrika or Savitri-patita) and व्रात्यः (Vratya), "devoid of Savitri Mantra and the vrata or vow of Brahmacharya, and hence degraded, degenerate, and unclean. These persons are, therefore, to be shunned with care" (pariharyah prayatnatah) [Vyasa].

This implies, as stated by Vasishtha, that 'no one should have any dealings with them (na abhivyavahareyuh) such as teaching them or performing yajnas for them", to which another text adds even matrimonial connections (adhyapanam yajanaih cha vivahadi cha varjayet). This implies their complete social boycott and ostracism.[15]

अत ऊर्ध्वं त्रयोऽप्येते यथाकालं असंस्कृताः । सावित्रीपतिता व्रात्या भवन्त्यार्यविगर्हिताः । । २.३९ । । नैतैरपूतैर्विधिवदापद्यपि हि कर्हि चित् । ब्राह्मान्यौनांश्च संबन्धान्नाचरेद्ब्राह्मणः सह । । २.४० । (Manu. Smrt. 2.39-40)[13]

Manu calls them apurta, "unclean," with whom there can be no "brahma-sambandha", relationship by learning or religion.[15]

In the present day social conditions, due to various reasons, families of the Dvija varnas left their traditions and hence we come across Savitri-patitas and Vratyas very commonly. However, the grhyasutras have also given expiatory ceremonies and penances for such deviations. Now-a-days we witness the "home-coming" of such culturally lost and found people adopting various redemption methods to get back into the fold of Sanatana Dharma.

Their Redemption

Patitasavitrikas are reclaimed by performances of certain expiatory ceremonies and penances. Yajnavalkya prescribes the ceremony {Kratu) called Vratyastoma. Apastamba [i, i, i, 28] prescribes an easier penance of observance of all restrictions which are imposed upon a Brahmachari, such as continence and the like, for a period of two months. Vishnu [liv, 26] prescribes three Prajapatya penances, and Manu three Krichchhra penances [xi, 192]. Vasishtha [xi, 76, 77] prescribes that "the Patita-Savitrika must perform Uddalaka Vrata, subsisting for two months on barley-gruel (yavakena vartteta), one month on milk (payasa), half-month on amiksha (the solid part of milk extracted from its liquid, Bengali chhana), eight days on ghrita, six days on alms given without asking, three on only water, and one without any food or drink, by complete fasting. Or he may perform the Asvamedha sacrifice or Vratya-stoma. Smriti Chandrika, (pp. 67-74).[15]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Murthy, Narasimha. H. V. (1997) A Critical Study of Upanayana Samskara. Mangalore: Canara College.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Pandey, Raj Bali. (1949) Hindu Samskaras, A Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Banaras: Vikrama Publications. (Pages 187-240)
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  6. Khadira Grhyasutras
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  11. Apastamba Dharmasutras (Patala 1)
  12. Mahadeva Sastri, A. and Rangacharya, K. (1898) Apastamba Dharmasutra with Haradatta's Ujjvala Commentary. Mysore:Government Branch Press Bibliotheca Sanskrita Series No 15 (Page 23)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Manusmrti (Adhyaya 2)
  14. How are habits formed?
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 174-199)
  16. Ashvalayana Grhyasutras