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Yagneopavit: Additional Comments

Dr. Ravi KawThe upanayana ceremony was conducted for both sexes in ancient India. Naturally there are similar ceremonies in other countries and cultures. The word for Christians is CONFIRMATION. This is one of the 'sacraments'. The sacrament is a deformed version of SAMASKARA. The jews tie a thread of several strands, others tie on their waist, etc. I saw a video of an upanayana ceremony conducted in Andhra by Swamini Sharadapriyananda for her students. She is trying to revive the ceremony for girls. Indeed all her female disciples get the holy thread. Gayetri mantra is found in Soorya Upanishad. Swamini Sharada loves teaching tht text. It is indeed very powerful. It is intersting to note that She has deidcated her life to serving the villagers of a remote area in Andhra where, in addition to her vedanta mission, she teaches villagers how to farm and how to interact with the beaurocrats of the state Govt. She used to be a lawyer in Hyderabad. In any case I believe we will be seeing more and more cultured hindus allow their female children to be initiated as well. It is a matter of balancing 'what is right' with 'family/society pressures'.

Hari Om !
Ravi Kaw

Prof. B. L. FotedarYagnopavit is symbolic of the initiation of a householder into performing his threefold duties to the household, to his devas, and to his pitras - hence the three strands with brahmagandh or divine knot and three ways of wearing it (over the right shoulder, over the left shoulder, and round the neck only) as a necessary ritual tool when performing these three duties. On his marriage a householder gets three more strands on behalf of his wife. Its use and significance is limited to ritualistic practices only that is why a sanyasi does not wear it and under very special circumstances the un-initiated is temporarily invested with it to perform certain rites only. Since males are usually called upon to perform rites or ritualistic practices as active participants, they alone are invested with the sacred thread. This does not, however, mean that women are barred from active participation in religious or ritualistic practices, they are only exempted for so many important reasons. Wearing or otherwise of yagnopavit has nothing to do with the incantation of Gayatri Mantra or for that matter with any other spiritual practice. Had it been so we wouldn't have such spiritual luminaries as Gargi, Maitri, Savitri, Lala-ded, Ropa-bhawani, or a later-day sadhvi like Mathra-devi.

Wearing the sacred thread did not make a householder in any way superior or better than his womenfolk; however, as a caste mark it gave him distinction among other men. That women without wearing the Yonya/ janayu have an active and important part in ritualistic practices, is understood from the fact that a Maikhla ceremony among KPs cannot be thought of without devichi-tabich, diviti-gool, vaari-dan, maasa-abhid etc. etc.

The practice of initiating into wearing a girdle by both boys and girls is not exclusive to Parsis only. We have perhaps forgotten that 'aet-pun' was worn by both the sexes among KPs. A black cord of several strands is even now worn as a girdle by small children in many communities, including some adivasis, at an initiation ceremony.

Prof. B. L. Fotedar

Triloki Nath DharMy dear **************  has suggested that I write a brief note on Yajnopavit, and the reason why we call it Mekhal in Kashmiri. In my younger days I posed this question to my family priest late Vasanand Zadoo, a saint scholar in his own right. Before I explain what his reply was let me first say that there are sixteen (Sanskaras) rituals to be performed from the pre-natal to the post death period. Their method, mantras and other details have been prescribed by Rishi Katyayana for the entire Hindu Community. In Kashmir, however, we follow these with some modifications as prescribed by Rishi Logaksha for us. The rituals begin with ‘Punaswan’ (please recall the ritual of Sondar after  the birth of a child, when ladies utter the phrase, Shokh ta ponasun.) These culminate with Shraddha ceremony, and include kahanethar, yajnopavit, Vivah etc. 

Yajnopavit is a ritual when three strings of the holy thread are put on the left shoulder and under the right arm of a child, usually at the age of 8 or so after due yajna or sacrificial fire ritual. This is the time when the child is initiated to the formal education in a Gurukula. The ceremony is called ‘Upanayana’ also, which means to bring near the teacher for initiation. We call it ‘Mekhala’, which is that rope which is tied round the waist of the child at the time of the ceremony and later takes the form of a thread worn round the waste called the ‘Aatpan’ (now almost in disuse). Mekhala means a circular shape or boundary reminding us of the limits within which to function and which are not to be transgressed. It also means contributing intellectually to the ether, which is the storehouse of thought. ‘Me’ means intellect; ‘Kha’ means the sky or ether and ‘La’ means putting  into; in other words contributing one’s intellect to the ether, which is supposed to store the entire thought of the mankind. The idea is that after the yajnopavit ceremony, the child will be in a position to start contributing his thoughts, perceptions and ideas to the world’s treasure of philosophy. This is the reason that the last part of the ‘Gayatri Maha Mantra’ is a prayer in which we beg of the Lord to enlighten our intellect. We say’ ‘Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat’.

Trilokinath Dhar



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