Upakarma is a Vedic ritual celebrated every year generally on the full Moon day of the Lunar Month Sravana that falls during August–September months of English calendar which also coincides with the monsoon season. Upakarma is referred to as Avani Avittam in Tamil, Jandhyala Punnama in Telugu, and Janivarada Habba in Kannada. This day also coincides with two other important events viz. Raakhi (Raksha Bandhan) and Hayagreeva Jayanthi (Supreme Lord of knowledge and wisdom).
What is Upakarma?
Upakarma is a Sanskrit word (Upa + Karma). Literally Upa means before and Karma means an action. Upakarma means an action performed before beginning the Vedic studies. Upa also refers to nearness or close touch with Upanishads (Vedas). In simple terms Upakarma refers to changing of sacred (Holy) thread called Yagnopaveetham on this day by the three varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vysyas).
Upakarma in Sanskrit also means the beginning or Aarambha. It is beginning of the study of Vedas and Upanishads. In ancient days study of Vedas and Upanishads was compulsory especially for Brahmins. One will get the eligibility to study Vedas and Upanishads only after getting properly inducted into Gayathri Manthra through a process of Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony). To commemorate this, even today, the day is observed as Upakarma by symbolically changing the sacred thread and performing certain rituals that marks the beginning of study of Vedas.
Why Upakarma on this day?
One may get a doubt as to why it is observed only on this day? why not on other days?
Sravana/Bhadrapada months also falls during the period of Chaturmasam the sacred period to perform sacred austerities. In olden days people used to resort to study of Vedas only for a period of six months in a year starting from this day (Sravana to Pushya). Hence, to begin study of Vedas they used to start with a ritual of changing the Yagnopaveetham (Upakarma) on this day. Of course nowadays the study of Vedas is being done throughout the year as it is not possible to restrict for only six months.
Also in olden days when proper transportation facilities were not available people used to stop travelling during rainy/monsoon season that coincide with Chaturmasam and stay for four months in a particular place. Since this period is not suitable for travelling they used to resort to study of Vedas. This we observe even today in case of Ascetics who stick to a particular place during this period and perform their austerities and also engage themselves in study Vedas and Upanishads.
Another reason is this day of Sravana Pournima also coincides with Hayagreeva Jayanthi. Lord Hayagreeva an avathara of Lord Vishnu and regarded as the Supreme God of knowledge and wisdom is said to have taken his birth (avathara) on this day. He has restored the lost Vedas to the Universe (Brahma) by taking birth on this day as Hayagreeva (Horse head). To pay our obeisance and salutations to the God of Vedas (Lord Hayagreeva) who is also protector of Vedas, this day is marked as Upakarma by commencing the study of Vedic scripts.
Yagnopaveetham is changed on this day to convey a message that Vedic scripts cannot be studied or learned without Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony).
Dating of Upakarma
While Upakarma is generally observed on full moon day of Sravana Masam, but in practice it is based on the Vedic division or branch one belongs to. We all know that Vedas were conveniently bifurcated into four divisions’ viz. Rig Veda, Yajurveda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda. Since ancient days people have started adopting one of these four divisions according to their lineage for performing sacred rituals. Upakarma which is also one of the Vedic rituals is observed by people as per the branch of Veda they belong to as per their lineage. Reference to these we find in texts like Dharma Sindhu, Nirnaya Sindhu, and Dharma Shastra Darpana. As per these texts performing of Upakarma is based on coincidence of certain elements of Almanac. Accordingly,
Rig Veda Upakarma falls on the day of Sravana Star in Sravana Masam
Yajur Veda Upakarma falls on the Full Moon day in Sravana Masam
Sama Veda Upakarma falls on the day of Hastha Star in Bhadrapada Masam
If there is a coincidence of eclipse or transit of Sun (Sankramana), Adhika masam (Mala masam) on the day of Upakarma the timing for performing will change accordingly. For more details please refer to the respective texts/follow your respective religious Almanac. Above rules are applicable for the first timers as well as for the subsequent Upakarma.
Upakarma for the first timers (Exception)
For the first timers (for those who are newly inducted into Upanayana) as per Dharma Sindhu, Upakarma should not be performed if there is coincidence of Guru or Sukra Moudyami (Guru or Sukraastha), Brihaspathi (Jupiter) transiting Simha Raasi (Leo sign) and during Adhikamasam.
What is to be done on this day?
After holy bath, one has to wear a new Yagnopaveetha (both married and unmarried) with proper sankalpa and invocation.
Perform Gayathri Japa (according to one’s capacity, at least #108). At temples and Mutts where this event is performed collectively, Homa is also performed. As a symbolic commencement of study of Vedas one can recite Purusha Sooktha and Sri Vishnu Sahasra Nama Sthothram on this day.
Thus, Upakarma is not just simply a festival to celebrate and enjoy. It is an occasion to make us remember the significance of Yagnopaveetham and Gayathri Manthra that has been initiated at the time of Upanayanam and to rededicate ourselves to the spiritual path. Hindu Dharma is so strong that even after millions of years the traditions started by our great Rishis and saints followed by our forefathers is still alive even today.
Yagnopaveetham – Paramam Pavithram
Om! Gam! Ganapathaye! Namaha!
Om! Sri Raghavendraya Namaha!
Om! Namo! Bhagavathe! Vasudevaya!
Om! Ham! Hanumathe Sri Rama Doothaya Namaha!
Yagnopaveetham – Paramam Pavithram
! Yagnopaveetham paramam pavithram
Aayushyamagryam prathimuncha shubram
Yagnopaveetham balamasthu thejah!!
Above sloka describes the sanctity, spirituality, and sacredness of Yagnopaveetham and its benefits. It says that Yagnopaveetham is “the best among those that purify, the one that has emerged along with the Brahma (Prajapathi) at the time of creation, that which bestows life and prominence, the one that is sacred clean and unsoiled, and the one which confers on to the wearer both knowledge and power.
What is Yagnopaveetham?
Yagnopaveetham is the triple stranded sacrificial strand of thread joined by a knot called Brahmagranthi that is worn by those initiated into the Gayathri recital. Yagnopaveetham is a Sanskrit word. Yagna means the homa or sacred ritual and upaveetham means a covering. Yagnopaveetham means a sacred covering on the body without which a Yagna or a sacred ritual cannot be performed. It is called as Brahmasuthram. In Telugu it is called as Jandhyam, in Tamil it is called Poonal, while in Kannada it is called as Janivara. In English it is called as sacred thread. Yagno-pavita means ‘thread of sacrifice’ that symbolizes the sacrifice of ego, anger & selfishness.
Who should wear Yagnopaveetham?
In olden days both men and women used to wear Yagnopaveetham. But nowadays only men who are eligible and initiated into Gayathri Manthra wear it. Among the Varnas, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya who is a dwija can wear Yagnopaveetham. They should start wearing from the day they are initiated into Gayathri Manthra which generally happens through a ceremony called Upanayanam.
How many Yagnopaveethas one should wear?
It is said that Brahmachari (unmarried person) should wear only one Yagnopaveetham that has three strands. A Grihastha (married person) should wear two such Yagnopaveethas. It is in practice to wear three Yagnopaveethas by a Grihastha, the third one that acts as an Uttareeyam (upper dhothi).
What should be its length?
When you wear it, the length of the Yagnopaveetham should come up to the navel level and it should be neither above nor below the navel. It is said that if it is below the navel it will lead to the loss of penance power and if it is above the navel it is Ayuksheenam (reduction in longevity).
How to wear it?
Yagnopaveetha Dhaarana Vidhi
1. Face the East or North direction
2. Perform Aachamanam
3. Ganapathi dhyanam
! Suklambaradharam Vishnum SasiVarnam ChathurBhujam,
Prasanna Vadanam Dhyayeth Sarva Vignopa Santhaye!!
4. Do Pranayamam
Evam guna Visheshana Visistayaam Subha Thithau,
Mama Shroutha smartha vidhi vihitha nithya karma sadachara anushtana yogyathasiddhyartham (Jaata/Mruthaasoucha janita prayaschittartham) Brahma Tejobhivrudhyartham Yagnopaveetha dharanam karishye.
New Yagnopaveetham should be purified with water and turmeric powder,
Invoke the presiding deities of Yagnopaveetham, Goddess Gayathri & Sun God
Yagnopaveetham – Ithi manthrasya
Parabrahma Rishih(Touch forehead)
Trushtup chandah (touch below nose)
Paramathma devatha (touch the chest)
Yagnopaveetha dhaarane viniyogah,
Wear Yagnopaveetham one by one reciting the following manthra. While wearing Yagnopaveetham it should be held by both hands, the knot in the Yagnopaveetham being held above by the right hand facing upwards.
Yagnopaveetha dharana Manthra
! Yagnopaveetham paramam pavithram
Aayushyamagryam prathimuncha shubram
Yagnopaveetham balamasthu thejah!!
In case of Brahmachari only one Yagnopaveetham is prescribed. Grihastha should wear a second one after reciting the sankalpa as,
(Mama Grihasthasrama Yogyatha Siddhyartham dwiteeya Yagnopaveetha dhaaranam karishye) and reciting the above manthra.
Similarly Grihastha should wear a third one with the sankalpa as, (Mama Uttareeyartham) and then recite once again the above manthra. Yagnopaveethams should be worn one by one as said above and every time Aachamanam should be performed and Gayathri should be recited.
Remove the old Yagnopaveetham from below the navel by reciting the following sloka,
Yagnopaveetha Visarjana Manthra
! Upaveetham Bhinna thanthum jeernam kasmala dooshitham,
Visrujaami jale Brahman varcho dheergayurasthu mey!
Old Yagnopaveetham should be dropped into water or on a Tree and should not be thrown into a garbage.
Perform Aachamanam again, Recite Gayathri Manthra as per ones capacity (10/100/1000)
Posture of Yagnopaveetham
Generally we find three postures of wearing of Yagnopaveetham. One is Upavita where the yagnopavita is worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm. This posture is used for performing auspicious ceremonies and sacred rituals related to Gods. This is called Savya position. The second one is Praachinavita where, the Yagnopavita is worn above the right shoulder and under the left arm. This position is used while performing sacred rites to the Forefathers (Pitru Karya). This is called Apasavya position. When the yagnopavita is worn around the neck and over the chest in maalakara (like a garland) and is held with both thumbs in the region of the heart and above the naval, it is Nivita. This form is used during Rishi tarpana, sexual intercourse, answering nature calls, carrying a corpse etc.
We would have observed Brahmins tie tightly their Yagnopaveetham to the right ear/left ear while attending nature calls. While it is to protect the sacred thread becoming soiled during the course of attending nature calls, there is also a health element involved in it. It is said that important nerves connecting the excretory system pass through right/left ear. When pressure is applied it helps in regulating the functioning of excretory organs perhaps the concept of Acupressure.
When to Change the Yagnopaveetham?
When once, a person starts wearing Yagnopaveetham generally it should not be removed and it should be worn always (24 hours and 365 days). It is like a woman wearing a Mangala Suthra for ever. But in practice it is not possible to wear the same Yagnopaveetham permanently. Due to wear and tear, it may get soiled or worn out or gets broken and needs to be changed. One should not wear a broken or worn out Yagnopaveetham. Apart from this it should be changed under the following circumstances.
On the day of Upakarma that falls in Sravana Masam once in a year, Whenever there is Jataasoucham or Mruthaasoucham (birth/death in the family) Whenever one visits the Cremation Ground, or touches a Corpse, Whenever one happen to touch a woman during her monthly periods. Whenever there is a need to change Yagnopaveetham it should not be removed recklessly. It should be changed first and then the worn out to be removed as per the laid down procedure.
Technicalities of Yagnopaveetham
As per the scripts it is said that the sacred thread should be white in colour for Brahmins, red in colour for Kshatriyas and yellow in colour for Vysyas. But in practice we find people using Yagnopaveetham which is white in colour.
As per the scripts it is said that the Yagnopaveetham should be made up of cotton for Brahmins, silk for Kshatriyas and linen for Vysyas. But in practice we find people using Yagnopaveethams made from cotton.
Yagnopaveetham Navathanthu Nirmitham. It is said that Yagnopaveetham is made up of nine layers of woven cotton thread spun by a virgin girl and twisted by a Brahmin reciting Gayathri manthra on an auspicious day. The length of the thread used for making Yagnopaveetham as per the scripts should be 96 breadths of four fingers measured by ones own hand. Thickness of the thread should be of a mustard seed size. Nowadays we don’t find such observations being followed in the making of Yagnopaveethams.
Arithmetic of number “96”
It is said that Gayathri Manthra has 24 letters and when it is added together from four Vedas it becomes 96 (24×4) that gives the power or eligibility to the Dwija to perform Yagna or Yagas and to recite Gayathri Manthra. Four fingers represent the four states of the soul a man experiences from time to time (waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and absolute Brahmanhood)
There is another arithmetic to this number, that is human body comprises of 25 elements, made up of three Gunas (Satwa, Rajo, Tamo). We have 16 thithis in the calendar, 27 Stars in the Almanac, 4 Vedas, 6 Ruthus in three Seasons (summer, winter and monsoon), and 12 months. When all these are added together (25+3+16+27+4+6 +3+12) it comes to 96. It is said that human life rotates around these elements.
Significance of Nine layers:
It is said that nine layers represent nine devathas who are the presiding deities of Yagnopaveetham. They are Pranavam (Omkara), Agni, Anantha (Naga); Moon (Soma), Pithru Devathas, Prajapathi, Vayu, Sun (Surya), and all other Devathas. It is said that before wearing the Yagnopaveetham one should offer prayer to all these nine deities.
As per the scripts it is prescribed that the Yagnopaveetham should have knots equivalent to the number of Pravaras in one’s Gothra. But in practice we find only one knot for the Yagnopaveetham. The knot with which the three strands are tied together is called Brahma Granthi that signifies the ParaBrahma (Pranavam) who is sakala Veda Swaroopa. There are many interpretations about the three strands of Yagnopaveetham.
It symbolizes the three trinal Lords (Brahma Vishnu, Maheswara) when tied together it becomes Para Brahma, three worlds (Bhu, Bhuvar, Suvar), three feminine energies (Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga), and three tatwas or qualities (Satwa, Rajo, Tamo). It is also interpreted as three strands representing Ida, Pingala and Sushumna nadi, through which the kundalini energy manifests as prana and consciousness. The three strands also indicate that one who wears it should have a triple control over his mind speech and body (thought, word and deed)
Dwija mean twice born. There is no difference between one child and another at the time of birth. All are born out of the mother’s womb only. This is the first stage of life (Shudra). The second stage is getting the upadesa of Gayathri at the time of Upanayanam, when the boy becomes a Dwija or twice-born. He is then purified. The third stage is Vipra, when one has mastered the study of the Vedas. The fourth stage is Brahmana when he actually realizes the Brahman through the knowledge of the Self. One becomes a Brahmana not by birth but only when one realizes the Supreme Brahman. One becomes a Brahmana by action and not by birth.
Why should one wear a Yagnopaveetham?
This would increase longevity of the person who wears, gives physical and mental strength through the worship of Sun God using Gayathri Mantra for which one would have been initiated during his Upanayanam. By wearing Yagnopaveetham one gets purified both externally and internally. By wearing one gets eligibility to perform spiritual and sacred rituals (Sroutha/Smartha Karmas) as prescribed in Vedas for his Varna. Sacred rituals performed by wearing Yagnopaveetham give good results.
!Vinayagnopaveethenaa Bhojanam Kurthe Dwijam
It is said that one should not attend to nature calls, eating food, participate in sensual pleasures without Yagnopaveetham. It is a prerequisite for learning Veda and also for marriage.
Significance of wearing Yagnopaveetham
The Vedic link that the child lost when the umbilical cord is cut is re-established in the form of Yagnopaveetham. In other words, Yagnopaveetham serves as an umbilical cord that connects him, not just his immediate parents, not just the three generations but the entire tree of generations and the Rishi on whose root the whole tree flourished. The three strands remind the wearer that he has to pay off the three debts (Rinas) he owes to the ancient seers, ancestors, and to the Gods (Rishi Rina, Pithru Rina, and Daiva Rina).
Yagnopaveetham is not a mere symbol to identify a community. One who wears a Yagnopaveetham may not necessarily be a Brahman and one who does not wear a Yagnopaveetham may not be a non-Brahmin either. Yagnopaveetham has the sanctity of its own and one has to qualify himself for wearing it, not by birth alone but also by practice. He alone is a Brahmin who does his Nithya Karmas, follows the path of Sanatana Dharma and remains free from ego, avarice, anger and pride.
What is the use of a Yagnopaveetham for the one whom the world knows as a Brahmin? Yagnopaveetham is not something that is worn for the world to know. It is for the realization of Brahman within. But one who has thrown away his Yagnopaveetham but has led a life of truth is nobler compared to the one who wears his Yagnopaveetham but does nothing to justify it. Yagnopaveetham is a passport to obtain Vedic education. Yagnopaveetham is the mark of formal entry into Brahminhood. It gives the power and authority to pursue his spiritual path.
Festival related to Yagnopaveetham
Every year in the month of Sravana Masam which generally comes in the month of August during rainy season on the Full Moon day a festival related to Yagnopaveetham is celebrated called Upakarma. Some times it could fall on a day prior to or after the Full Moon day. In Tamil it is called as Avani Avittam. It is not just simply a festival to celebrate and enjoy. It is an occasion to make us remember the significance of Yagnopaveetham and Gayathri Manthra that has been initiated at the time of Upanayanam and rededicate ourselves to the spiritual path. On this day all those who have been initiated into the concept of Upanayanam change their Yagnopaveetham and wear a new one.