Compiled by London Swaminathan


Date: 22 October 2016


Time uploaded in London: 10-16 AM


Post No.3277


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Following is an excerpt from ‘THE HINDU AT HOME’ by the Rev.J.E.Padfield, year 1908, London


“In the eighth year from the conception of a Brahman in the eleventh from that of a Kshatriya, and in the twelfth from that of a Vaisya, let the father invest the child with the mark of his class.” (Manu, ii. 36.)


ONE of the many peculiarities that strike a stranger in India is that many Hindus have a cord or twisted thread over the left shoulder, hanging down under the right arm. It is worn as a sash would be.


This article of dress or adornment forms, however, a very important factor in the Hindu cult. The yajnopavitam, as it is called, or the sacred thread of the Hindu, is the outward and visible mark that the wearer is a Dvija, or twice-born. It is a very much prized and a very sacred badge and commands respect and even adoration. If we enquire who are privileged to assume this distinction, we find the matter very clearly defined by the ancient Hindu law-giver. In the quotation at the head of this chapter, it is clear that the Brahmans Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas must be thus invested. In another place it is distinctly stated that none but the three twice born classes are entitled to the distinction (Manu 10-4). But the goldsmiths, the weavers, certain classes of fishermen and others wear it.


In the Orissa state, certain Raja of Sudra caste made himself important by assuming the authority to invest people of his own caste with the thread. Some of investiture and adopted to have submitted to the number of the unlawful wearers of this coveted mark of distinction.


Cotton for Brahmins, Woollen for Businessmen!

Originally there appears to have been some difference in the kind of thread worn according to the class in the kind of thread worn, according the class of the wearer. Thus

“The sacrificial thread of a Brahmin must be made of cotton so as to be put on over his head in three strings, that of Kshatriya of hemp thread, only that of a Vaisya of woollen thread.” (Manu, ii. 44.)

But in the present day no such difference is seen. The cord is universally made of cotton. A peculiar kind of fine cotton is ought to be employed, but ordinarily the common cotton is used. The threads are supposed to be prepared by Brahmins.

The threads can generally be obtained in any ordinary bazaar, but the very orthodox in order to maintain their purity, will frequently procure their supply from the house of the Brahmins.


Importance of Number 3

The ‘Yajnopavitam’ consists of several skeins of cotton thread. Each thread consists of three strands, each skein has three threads, and a married man’s cord must consist of not less than three skeins. The number three enters very largely into the structure of the cord itself, and the ceremony of investiture. This is said to represent the three gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva the three sacrificial fires (Ahavaneeyan, Garhapatyam, Dakshinagni) three divisions of time morning, noon and night and the three worlds Bhur, Bhuva, Suvah.


Brahma’s Knot

Each skein is tied with a peculiar knot called Brahma’s knot. It is made by making three turns with the threads and by so tying the knot that the ends do not appear on the outside. In making each knot the following incantation is repeated by the maker


Omkaram uccaran brahma sutram badvatha dharayet

Karmasuddhitvamapnoti sarva devat makatvatah

“Pronouncing the word om, the Brahma sutram must be tied, and afterwards worn. (The wearer will receive purity in all his rites It being the personification of all the gods.”


A youth, if a bachelor, when first invested with the cord, receives only a single skein, and he cannot wear more than a single skein until he is married. The Brahmin youth must be invested with his cord when he is seven or eight years of age. He cannot be married until thus invested, but he may, and in fact often does, marry a day or two after the ceremony. Amongst some of the Banias and Vaisyas it is customary to defer the upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony) until immediately before marriage.


The ceremony of investiture is as follows. On the appointed day a fire is lighted, round which the relattives and friends of the novice are seated. This fire is a very important feature of the upanayanam. The whole ceremony is called the ‘agni karyam’ or fire worship. It is kept alight during the whole four days during which the ceremony lasts, and it is the proper thing to feed it, as far as possible, with the twigs of certain kinds of trees, principally those of the Indian fig (Ficus) tribe. At the repeating of the various mantrams which form part of the ritual, ghee is poured on to the fire as an offering. The father of the youth to be invested takes a thread of nine strands and put it upon his son. This is not the true yajnopavitam, nor has it the Brahma knot, neither are mantrams said over it.


After some time, during which various rites are performed, and the ears of the boy are bored for earrings and then adorned with thin rings of gold, the true cord is produced-a single skein of three threads. To this is attached a bit of the skin of male deer, or, if a long strip of Deer is worn as a sash together with the cord. Deer skin is considered to be very pure, and also to be capable of imparting purity. For this reason, untanned deer skin is much employed for covering the boxes and other receptacles, in which the household gods and things pertaining thereto are kept. It is also much used as a mat to sit upon when performing the daily rites. Mention is made in the Smritis (the teaching of the sages) of the purity acquired by wearing deer skin, and there are several injunctions on the matter in the Laws of Manu. For example:-


Importance Deer Skin

Let the students in theology wear for their mantles hides of black antelopes (Krishna mrga), of common deer or goats, with lowers vests of woven hemp, linen, and wool in the descending order of their classes (Manu 2-41)
The piece of deer skin is worn with the thread for several months, when it is taken off, with some short ceremony, at a temple. When the father puts on the true cord, he repeats the yajmopavita mantram, the novice saying it after him. This mantram is as follows:-


Yajnopaviitam paramam pavitram prajaapater yat sahajam purastaat

Aayushyamagryam pratimuncha subram  Yajnopaviitam balamastu tejah


This most hallowed yajmopavitam,

In former times with Brahma born,

Author of longevity; wear it, it is pure,

May this yajnopavitam become my strength and glory.


As the new and true cord is put on, the imitation one which was first used is taken off. This completes the investiture, and the father at once proceeds to teach the novice the Gayatri prayer. This is done with great care and secrecy. A cloth is thrown over the heads of both father and son, and, the sacred words are whispered into the ears, in as low a whisper as possible, so that the holy words may not fall upon ears of any uninitiated person. The upanayanam is now complete. and the lad is now a true Dvija, duly entitled to read the Vedas, and to perform any of the religious rites of his caste.


Immediately following this investiture the youth proceeds to ask alms of those present, beginning with his mother and then his father and the other relatives or friends. This act is supposed to intimate a readiness on the part of the supplicant to provide for himself and his religious preceptor (Guru/Acharya).


All this takes place on the first day, but for three more days the festival is kept up during which the novice instructed in the morning, midday and evening prayers and in other ceremonial observances.


Four Day Festival

There is always much feasting and rejoicing upon these occasions. Musicians are hired to enliven the company and friends and relatives are entertained according the ability of the host.


A new cord must be put on every year on the occasion of a certain festival. This festival is called the Upakarma held in the month of Sravana (July/August). Should the cord be broken during the year, a new one must at once be put on. If a man has a cord of many skeins a broken thread or two does not matter; but a bachelor must have his one skein perfect. A married person must have at least three perfect skeins, every thread of which must be perfect. Should the cord become broken, or any defilement contracted, no food can be taken until the old is replaced by a new one.

xxx Subham xxx

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