Upanayana is a ceremony where the boy begins his "Brahmacharya
Ashram" period. This is the second birth for the boy. `Upa` means near and `nayana` means taking therefore the word means taking the child for education to a teacher. In earlier days, `gurukulas` used to be the residential schools. The child used to stay with `guru` after the "Upanayana" and learn and learn different arts and crafts besides Vedic lore. In the Vedic age, girls also had initiation of education but it got faded due to several cultural setbacks.
The "Upanayana" should be performed at an age when the child can chant Sanskrit mantras and can remember as well as understand their meaning. In case of Kshatriya
, this "Upanayana" is performed at the eleventh year from the date of birth or from the date of conception. The same is applied in case of Brahmana and Vaishya
child. But in case of Brahmanas, it is performed at the age of eight years and in case of Vaishya at 12 years. This sacred thread of "Upanayana" must be given before the 16th, 22nd and 24th year of his age. If it is not done in the given time, then he will be considered as fallen from the duties.
The child needs to keep three or one fast prior to three days of the "Upanayana" ceremony. During these three days the child of Brahmana can take milk once or many times, son of Kshatriya can take barley gruel, which is crushed and boiled in water by mixing sugar. The child of Vaishya can complete his fast by taking once or many times by taking `Shrikhanda`. This is prepared by taking curd four part, milk one part and sugar in proportionate quantity and saffron. It is prepared by sorting this curd through a clean cloth piece. They should take only the above-prescribed food whenever they feel hungry and cannot drink or eat anything else.
In earlier days, the "Upanayana" ceremony used to be observed for three days. Then on the fourth day, a rite called Medhajanana
used to be performed. After learning the Gayatri mantra during "Upanayana", the child is supposed to do Sandhya Vandan thrice a day.
There are various rites, which are connected with "Upanayana". Some of them are-
* Last feeding by the mother (Matribhojan)
* Choula (tonsure and bath)
* Wearing loin-cloth and Mounji girdle (Kaupina)
* Putting on yajnopavita (scared thread)
* Carrying danda (staff)
* Initiation by Guru through recitation of Gayatri mantra
* Seeking of alms by the boy (Bhiksa)
* Adopting sandhyavandan prayer for life
The attire of the child during "Upanayana" has an important significance. "Yajnopavita" is one of such special one, which should be ninety six times the breadth of the four fingers of a man that is equal to his height. Each finger represents the four states of consciousness of the soul, such as `waking` (jagrat), `dreaming` (svapna), `deep sleep` (sushupti) and `transcendental consciousness` (turiya).
The sacred thread of "Upanayana" has three folds, which represent three Gunas (satva, raja and tama). A knot named `Brahmagranthi`, which symbolizes Lord Brahma
, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva
, ties the three strands together.
As the Gurukul
system is lost, the "Upanayana" ceremony also lost its original values. The "Upanayana" system once spread among the `Sudras` also only without pronouncing the Gayatri and other mantras. But now, it has remained mainly as a caste mark for the so-called higher castes. The ritual is now performed mainly before marriage just to wear that sacred thread.