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A typical Yagneopavit
A typical Yagneopavit ceremony

IN the past, in Bharat Varsha (India), the 'yagneopavit' (thread ceremony) was performed by the people belonging to the three castes - Brahmins, i.e. teachers, professors, ministers and the learned people; Kshatriyas, i.e. people of martial class and rulers; and Vaishyas, i.e. people dealing with agriculture and commerce -  for their children.

 It involved performance of a great yagna, in which all the Degas were invited by suitable incantations to bless the children during the course of their initiation to the most sacred mantra - Gayatri mantra - by the Kula Guru (family priest). The Gayatri is symbolized by the three folds of the sacred thread of a fixed length, sanctified by proper incantation, which is worn by the boy on his initiation.

 The sacred thread hits three strands knotted together symbolizing the combination of three entities, viz. Cit., the individual soul; Acit, the material body and Iswara, the Supreme Lord, who is the indwelling witness. The three strands also denote the three functions of thinking, speaking and acting only for spiritual purposes. The common knot for the three strands is called the Bramhagranthi (Bramha Ghand in Kashmiri), which protects the body from disease and evil vibrations. Normally, a Bramhachari wears one set of three strands the grahasti, two such sets, a Vanaparasthi, three such sets, and a Sanyasi, four such sets. If a Bramhachari takes to Sanyas directly, he wears a set of four strands, showing the fourth order of his life.

 In Kashmiri Pandit biradari, six such strands (double of the three-fold sacred thread), with a common knot, is worn at the time of marriage, meaning, thereby, that the additional three folds of the sacred thread are on behalf of one's own life-partner. In certain other places, nine such folds are worn, based on one's station in life or hierarchy in the caste. The Gayatri Mantra is mentioned with full adoration in all the Vedas, specially the Atharva Veda.

 Our discrimination of the humbug intellect falls under two categories - gross and subtle. Gross intellect pertains to the affairs of the terrestrial world but the subtle intellect enables us to distinguish the Transcendental Reality from the terrestrial world. For this purpose, when the boy has attained some understanding, it is endeavored to have his yagneopavit ceremony, in the initiation of the boy, to the sacred Gayatri Mantra and the wearing of the sacred thread.

 By this initiation, the boy is considered to have attained the status of a Dwijah, which means twice-born - the first birth being when he emerged from the mother's womb and, the second, when he received the knowledge of the Supreme Reality through this sacred initiation by the Kula Guru.

 Importance of Gayatri Mantra

 According to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, 'sound vibrations which can elevate one from mental concoction is called 'Gayatri.' Gayatri is the sound incarnation of the Brahman, as is clear from the following verse of Srimad Bhagavad Geeta:

 Brhat-Saama talha samn am
 Gayatri Chandasam aham.
 Masanam marga-sirso 'ham
 Ritunam Kusumakarah. {10.35}

 Here Lord Krislma says: "Of the hymns in the Sama Veda, I am the Braht-Sama, of the poetry I am the Guyatri, of the months, I am Marga-Sirsa {November-December}, and of the seasons, I am the flower-bearing spring." Gayatri Mantra is considered to be the sound incarnation of the Lord i.e. the Brahman.

 Gaya implies to 'reveal' and 'tri' implies "the essence of the three Vedas". Thus, Gayatri is considered to be 'the mother of the Vedas'. Some call it as the Brahma Gayatri. It is called the Surya-Gayatri because it refers to Savitur - the Sun God, who is responsible for controlling the three planetary systems viz.: Bhur, Bhavah and Svah. Sun, being the visible manifestation of the Divine Power, has assumed the role of the Creator, the Maintainer and the Destroyer of this Universe. That is why the sun is also known as the Surya Narayan because Lord Narayan too has his abode on the sun planet.

 In Kashmir, and some other parts of the country, Brahma Gayatri is also known as Gayatri Devi, the dynamic counterpart of the Lord. The devotee, while reciting the mantra, is supposed to be invoking the 'Devi' to come down from the sun-planet to settle down in the devotee's heart. In other words, Gayatri is the embodiment of the Lord's potency i.e. Shakti.

 In Agni Puran, it is called Gayatri, because it sings (gayatri) or reveals the Vedic scriptures. It is called Savitri - the daughter of the sun, because it illuminates or enlightens one's intelligence. It is also called Saraswati, as it represents the essence of the Sun God.

 The Gayatri Mantra may be stated as under:

 "Om Bhur Bhuvah Suvaha
  Tat Savitur Varenyam
  Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
  Dhiyo yo nah Prachodayat"

 To understand the Gayatri Mantra, it may be worthwhile to know the meaning and interpretation of each word:

 "Om" or "Aum" - This one letter word (symbol) is called 'pranava'. It is the 'seed-word' which represents Brahman, the Supreme Reality, i.e. God. Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta also refers to the solitary letter "Aum" as the embodiment of the Brahman, i.e. the Supreme Lord (Geeta 8.13).

 According to "Gayatri Higher Meditation": "In every breath, man utters and repeats it unintentionally and inevitably. Every vibration in the body, could in the universe, emerges from Om. A child cries 'Om! Om!' The ocean roars 'Om! Om!' The bees buzz 'Om! Om!' The musician hums 'Om! Om!'. Om! is the expression of the seer of truth. Om! is the wisdom of God. Om! is the Nada, i.e. the Sound of God. Ultimately, Om is the eternal, indestructible word."

 The sound of Om is called Shabdh Brahman, which is both articulate and inarticulate, i.e. it deals with the knowledge of both the head and the heart. It produces harmony, peace and bliss to one and all.

 Secondly, Aum covers the full range of sounds: A - estimating from the base of the throat; U - produced by the impulse rolling forward in the mouth; M - the sound produced by closing the lips. Thus, the letter AUM represents the entire phenomenon of sound in all its ramifications.

 Thirdly, the symbol Aum stands for the pure consciousness which pervades the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. Lastly, it is the real name of the Almighty. Aum occupies a prominent place in all languages and the words, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent are the names of the Great God. Christians say Amen after every invocation to God and Muslims Amin. Both these words have Aum as its origin.

 Bhur Bhavah Suvaha - They are the Vyahrtis, which have come into existence from the dawn of the creation. They represent the entire planetary system, which constitutes 'Bhur' representing the earth or the physical plane; 'Buvah' representing the atmosphere or the astral plane; 'Suvah' representing the heaven or the mental plane. Apart from these three visible Vyahrtis, the other four invisible Vyahrtis are: Maharloka, the next higher plane; Janahloka, the still higher plane; Tapahloka, the mansion of the blessed - a much higher plane; and, ultimately, the 'Satyaloka' - the abode of the truth, the highest plane.

 These 'Saptha-Vyahrtis' also represent the seven devotees, viz: Agni, Vayu, Aditya, Brahaspati, Varuna, Indra and Vishva Deva. We may also consider them as representing the seven most ancient sages, viz: Kashyapa, Atri, Bhardwaj, Vishwamitr, Gautam, Jamadagni and Vasisth, who are supposed to be ever living.

 "Tat" - means "That", but implies Supreme Reality, viz. Tat Tvam Ast.

 "Savitur" - refers to Sun God who gives us light and heat. The Sun also represents Brahman. Since Sun is the giver of energy, Savitur also implies Goddess Shakti, the Dynamic Principle of Nature (God), that is responsible for Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

 Our earth is a part of the solar system, comprising in addition to Sun, other heavenly bodies, like, moon, stars, planets, asteroids, comets, etc. There are other planetary systems as well as different galaxies, but we belong to the solar system on account of our earth's location in the Universe. In the solar system, the sun plays a very important part. Since the sun is the main source of heat and light to the earth, the existence of human beings and other species on earth, depends, in a large measure, on the Sun - the provider of heat and light energy. In Sanskrit the sun is given 12 names. One of them is Savita or Savitur.

 "Varenyum" - or the Supreme Lord, whose divine effulgence is the very source of all illumination in creation.

 "Bhargo" - Effulgence or radiance or splendour. It implies the divine essence, the supreme light of the Brahman. Also, 'bha' implies brilliance; 'ra' is the name of "rati-consort of the God of Love (Kamdeva); Ad 'ga' implies full knowledge. So Bhargo is the Supreme Energy of the Lord.

 "Devasya" - Divine or Godly, derived from "Devas". Anything godly is a matter of joy to human beings;

 "Dheemahi" - "(We) meditate upon".

 "Dhiyo" - Intellect or Buddhi;

 "Yo" - who;

 "Nah" - Our;

 "Prachodayat" - unfolds, i.e. utilizes for good actions.

 So the Mantra metals: "I meditate upon That Supreme Being (or His Dynamic counterpart, Shakti), "Aum", Creator of the Three Worlds; who is effulgent as the Divine Sun; who is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the Universe, with prayers that He may unfold my intellect (Buddhi) for all good actions."

 Gayatri Mantra is both a mantra and a prayer. It is considered as the essence of the Vedas. Generally, a mantra may not have a clear meaning but the Gayatri Mantra has also a full meaning and is complete in every respect. Therefore, it is a mantra as well as a prayer. It is the most potent mantra and its efficacy is proven. While this mantra is an invocation to the Divine God, or Divine Sun or His Energy, it is also an appeal by the seeker to the Divine God, within the body, to emerge out of the "cloud of desires" and to shine forth its resplendent light. This mantra is recited at dawn, noon and dusk in the direction of the sun. Vishwamitra is associated with this Gayatri Mantra in accordance with the details given in the Puranic Texts.

 During the morning or evening bath, the sacred thread is properly washed and while washing the 'yagneopavit', one should recite the Gayatri Mantra. Those who are interested in performing the Gayatri Japa can do so, with the help of a "Mala", having 108 beads, for counting purposes. One may ask, why 108 beads and why not 100 or 50 as used by the Christians or Muslims? The figure 108 has a divine (mystic) significance, which is given as under:

 In the first place, the radius of the sun is 108 times the radius of the earth and for all of us, both the earth and the sun are of primary importance and they greatly count in our day to clay lives; secondly, there are 12 prominent constellations (Rashis) and 9 heavenly Bodies (Navagrahas) that are nearby. The have a direct effect on human welfare, and 12 x 9 = 108; and thirdly, 1 plus zero plus 8 equal 9, which is the highest in the numerical scale. That is why our enlightened Swamis are referred to as Swami 108 or 1008.

There are also 108 techniques of meditation or 108 paths of reaching God. So, one should not be in a hurry to judge that other paths of reaching God are wrong. At the end of 108 counting beads of a mala, there is a large bead, symbolic of the Ultimate Divine. That is why, the seeker doing Japa does not cross the large bead again but reverses the counting systematically, till one reaches the large head again, and so on, the process is repeated, making sure that one day, the seeker will certainly approach God, as a result of Gayatri Japa, or any other method of god realization.

 It bestows bliss and destroys sins. Reciting it 10 times removes the sins committed from birth; 100 times, it destroys sins of previous life; 1000 times, it destroys sins of the past three lives (Yajnivalka Samhita).

 In Kali Yoga, the people are not interested in what is contained in our scriptures but lay stress purely on scientific reasoning. I have, therefore, thought it necessary to fully explain in my own humble way the interpretation of the Gayatri Mantra and the need of a Japa Mala, with 108 chanting beads, beginning and ending with the large bead, for the benefit of the people of the younger generation, who wish to go through this small 'write-up' and profit.

Source: Significance of the Yagneopavit Ceremony by Dr. Prem Nath Sathu, Koshur Samachar  










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