Upanayana: The Sacred-Thread Ceremony

We are born instinct-driven beings who share with animals the same cravings for food, sleep, and procreation and have the same emotions, such as fear and joy. However, merely fulfilling these basic desires does not elevate us beyond an animalistic existence, even if we engage in meaningful work.

Yet, we are more than just physical beings; we are spiritual entities confined within physical bodies. The true essence of life lies in uncovering this inner reality. This journey of self-discovery sets us apart from animals and defines our purpose.

By recognizing our spiritual nature and striving to understand it, we transcend mere existence and embark on a path of enlightenment and fulfillment. This pursuit of inner truth distinguishes us as humans and leads us toward a higher plane of existence.

Our ancestors developed Samskaras as part of our culture to aid in this journey of self-discovery.

But what exactly is a Samskara?

According to Shri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Mahaswamiji of Kanchi Peetha, a renowned spiritual leader, a Samskara is a series of rituals designed to lead a person to the realization of the Atman, or the true self. These rituals are meant to purify an individual externally and internally through Karma or actions.

The Samskara acts as a transformative process that removes impurities from an individual, eliminating negative elements and instilling positive qualities. It is a means of refining one’s character and aligning oneself with higher spiritual ideals, ultimately leading to self-realization and enlightenment.

Our journey of Samskaras commences even before birth as the mother prepares to welcome a spiritual being into the world. This underscores the elevated purpose of procreation – to nurture and guide the child’s spiritual growth.

An essential milestone in this spiritual journey occurs during Upanayana, a significant stage where the child assumes responsibility for spiritual development. Upanayana marks a transition, symbolizing the individual’s awakening to higher consciousness and the commencement of formal education in spiritual and worldly knowledge.

The Upanayana

Upanayana, literally meaning “to bring near,” signifies a profound transformation akin to a ‘second birth.’ While we are born to our biological parents, during this ceremony, we are symbolically reborn as spiritual beings. Our Guru assumes the role of our ‘father,’ guiding us on our spiritual path, while the potent and illuminating mantra, Savitri, becomes our ‘mother.’

While our birth parents impart knowledge about the practicalities of life, our spiritual teacher and the divine mantra lead us toward internal growth, illuminating the path to the divine light within us. This shift in perspective marks a significant change, and those who undergo this ceremony are referred to as dvijas, or twice-born, signifying their spiritual rebirth.

Upanayana is traditionally performed during Uttarayana, which is considered the most auspicious time for this sacred ritual. The ceremony itself comprises various components, each holding significance.

Getting Ready for Upanayana Samskara
Getting Ready for Upanayana Samskara

It commences with worship of Lord Ganapathy, which seeks blessings for peace and a harmonious atmosphere during the event. Following this, a Udaga Shanti ritual is conducted, which serves as a purifying rite.

Before the ceremony, the child, immersed in societal indulgences, may have unknowingly engaged in actions deemed inappropriate for a refined individual. Therefore, special purificatory mantras are recited, invoking the divine presence of Varuna, the deity associated with purity and righteousness. The child is then bathed with water infused with these mantras, symbolizing the cleansing of past transgressions.

Following the purificatory rituals, the ceremony progresses to Naandi, a significant part of Upanayana where special prayers are offered to our immediate ancestors. In this solemn moment, we invite our ancestors to bless the occasion, acknowledging their presence and the foundation they’ve provided us.

Our ancestors, metaphorically waiting at our doorstep, symbolize the lineage from which we arise. By calling upon our ancestors from three generations, we honor their legacy. Recognizing that we stand on the shoulders of our forebears, we express profound gratitude for their sacrifices and guidance, seeking their blessings for the journey ahead.

This act of expressing gratitude to our ancestors is a fundamental aspect of our culture. It teaches us the importance of acknowledging and appreciating those who came before us and instills a sense of reverence for our roots and heritage.

Hair Removal and Significance of the Shikha

As part of the transition into his new role as a brahmachari, a student dedicated to the study of the Vedas, the boy undergoes a significant ritual: his head is shaved, leaving only a small tuft of hair known as the Shikha. This distinctive appearance marks him as a scholar and symbolizes his commitment to knowledge and spiritual pursuits.

Removing the Hair and Keeping the Shikha
Removing the Hair and Keeping the Shikha

The significance of the Shikha is highlighted in the 92nd mantra of the Shukla Yajur Veda XIX, (kesa na sirshanyasase sriyai shikha), which emphasizes that the hair atop the head bestows excellent qualities. It is believed to stimulate the intellect, sharpen the mind, and eliminate tamasic tendencies, fostering a state of mental clarity and alertness.

Removing the rest of the hair minimizes distractions associated with physical appearance. The focus shifts from external attractiveness to the development of intelligence and wisdom. Additionally, it reduces the time spent on grooming and prevents vanity or narcissism from taking root. Maintaining a shaved head also contributes to the student’s overall health, particularly in the Gurukula environment, where hygiene and cleanliness are essential aspects of daily life.


As part of the Upanayana ceremony, the boy is adorned with a sacred thread, a Yajnopaveetam, consisting of three strands. For Brahmanas, the thread is made of spun cotton thread, silk or hemp for Kshatriyas, and wool for Vaishyas. Each strand represents a distinct symbolism.

The three strands symbolize the three Vedas, the foundational texts of Hinduism. They also represent the three gunas or qualities of nature: sattva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance). Lastly, they signify the three shaktis or powers: iccha shakti (power of will), jnana shakti (power of knowledge), and kriya shakti (power of action).

Getting Sacred Thread (Janeu) in Upanayana Ceremony
Getting Sacred Thread (Janeu) in Upanayana Ceremony

The Yajnopaveetam is a constant reminder of the boy’s purpose: education and self-restraint. Additionally, it represents his initiation into the sacred teachings of the Vedas and his commitment to embodying their principles in his daily life.

Following the Upanayana ceremony, which marks a significant turning point in the child’s life, it’s customary for the child to depart with the Guru for the Gurukula, the traditional residential school for Vedic education. However, before parting ways, certain poignant moments are observed as part of the ceremonies.

Kumara Bhojanam

One such moment popular in South India and many other parts is the Kumara Bhojanam, where the child shares a meal with the mother. Other young boys are sometimes invited to participate, and the mother serves them all. Traditionally, the child sits on the mother’s lap, sharing a leaf and eating together. This ritual symbolizes the deep bond and love between mother and child, to the extent that they can even share a final meal.

While this is a joyful occasion, it is also heart-wrenching for the mother as she realizes that her child will no longer sit on her lap and be fed by her. It marks the beginning of the child’s journey into adulthood, where he must learn to fend for himself and navigate life’s challenges independently.


In a ceremony known as asmarohanam, the boy is instructed to stand firmly on a stone, symbolizing his readiness to face challenges with steadfastness and resilience. This ritual serves as a preparation for the unfamiliar circumstances he will encounter, where he must navigate life’s paths without the protective presence of his mother. It underscores the importance of fortitude and strength of character in overcoming obstacles.

Similarly, a girl undergoes a similar ritual during her Vivaha or wedding ceremony. Just as the boy’s Upanayana marks his initiation into learning and performing Vedic rites, the wedding serves as the girl’s initiation into these responsibilities alongside her husband.

As part of the ceremony, the boy is clothed in a simple undergarment with a cloth worn over it. Depending on the community, this cloth may be saffron or plain white cotton. Additionally, he is adorned with a protective girdle, which varies according to caste: munja (Kusa) for Brahmanas, a bowstring for Kshatriyas, and hemp for Vaishyas. These distinctions grant each group a unique identity and fulfill the purpose for which they are educated.


A crucial ritual called the Upanayana Homam is performed during the Upanayana ceremony. Only someone who has diligently chanted the Savitri-Gayatri mantra thousands of times is qualified to conduct the Brahmopadesam, or initiate the child into Vedic learning.

Know about Gayatri Mantra: Lyrics, meaning and significance of Jayatri Japa

Both the child and the acharya (teacher) perform the rituals discreetly, covered with silk cloth. This ceremony is named Brahmopadesam because the first mantra taught to the child is a Vedic one, marking the official initiation into learning and chanting the Vedas. It’s considered the pivotal event of Upanayana.

Listening to Gayatri Mantra
Listening to Gayatri Mantra (Brahmopadesam)

After reciting the mantra and receiving initiation, the child must diligently perform tri-kala sandhyavandanam, a ritual of worship performed thrice daily. The Savitri-Gayatri mantra, so named because it bestows illumination upon the one who chants it, is often referred to as Gayatri due to its meter. It’s a powerful invocation for spiritual enlightenment.

Dressing, holding tree branch and Kamandalu in Upanayana Ceremony

As part of the ceremony, the child is presented with a staff made from a sacred tree branch, symbolizing the new phase of life and the mode of conduct expected. From this point forward, the child is instructed to uphold specific standards, such as avoiding afternoon naps, laziness, eating without bathing, and shirking responsibilities. Additionally, the child is initiated into performing a homam for the first time, further cementing their commitment to their spiritual journey and responsibilities.

Seeking Alms 

Following the initiation ceremony, the boy is sent with a begging bowl to seek alms. His first stop is his mother, to whom he respectfully says, “Bhavati Bhiksham Dehi” – “Mother, please give alms.” Filled with love and pride, his mother fills his bowl with uncooked rice.

Mother giving uncooked rice as alms in Upanayana Ceremony
Mother giving uncooked rice as alms in Upanayana Ceremony

This symbolic act signifies the beginning of the boy’s journey towards self-reliance and independence. He is tasked with learning to cook and care for himself, preparing him for the challenges he will face in the Gurukula.

Relatives ready to give alms
Relatives ready to give the alms

Even in modern times, children leave their homes to attend Gurukulas, where they are separated from their mothers but are nurtured and cared for by the Guru and his family. This familial environment is reflected in the name Gurukula, meaning “the family of the Guru,” where students are educated and imbued with values and life skills essential for their holistic development.


Upanayana, emphasizing self-discipline and unwavering pursuit of knowledge, whether secular or spiritual, has long been a pillar of strength in Hindu society. As custodians of our cultural heritage, our collective responsibility is to uphold and preserve this tradition.

Our Kid is also happy after Upanayana Samskara
Happy after dvijas, or twice-born (Upanayana) ceremony

By nurturing the spirit of Upanayana in future generations, we ensure that its profound teachings continue to guide and inspire individuals on their journey toward enlightenment and fulfillment.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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