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Thread ceremony or Upanayana as its known worldwide is a sacred rite of passage ritual for all Hindus. The sacred thread or Janeu is worn by Hindu boys following a series of rituals and steps. It is performed when a Hindu boy is growing up. Originally, it marked the point when Hindu boys started their formal education. However, little do people know that there is the provision of conducting this ritual much later when a man plans to enter into marriage.
1. What is the meaning of thread ceremony?
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Usually, castes like Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas hold a threading ceremony for the groom before his wedding. The ceremony is also called Yagnopavitra. During this ceremony, the groom is offered three strands of sacred thread, each representing three vows, namely - the vow to respect knowledge, the vow to his parents, and the promise to respect the society in which he lives.
2. When is Thread Ceremony performed?
Traditionally, the ritual of Upanayanam or sacred thread ceremony is performed when a Hindu boy attains seven years of age. Upanayana ritual symbolises the end of an era in a boy’s life and the initiation into another. With this ceremony, a boy leaves his childhood, proceeds to become a man, and follows the path of getting knowledge. But, in modern times, this ritual can be conducted when a man gets married. For Hindu men to get married, the thread ceremony is a prerequisite. Therefore, before a Hindu groom weds, he has to undergo Upanayana. Usually, this ritual takes place a few days before the wedding.
3. How is thread ceremony performed in the North?
Upanayana is performed in a series of steps that are listed below:
A) The worship of Lord Ganesha
The parents of the groom perform the puja for Lord Ganesha a day before the ceremony. In a Brahmin family, the groom and his mother eat food from the same leaf plate. This is done on the day of the Upanayana.
B) The wearing of the sacred thread
The groom is then made to wear the sacred thread or Yajnopavita by the Acharya or the head priest. This is done amidst chanting of Vedic mantras.
C) The issue of vows
once the groom has circumambulated the fire, the priest issues him a set of vows or promises that he must keep throughout his life. These are Achamana or the sipping of water along with mantras before any ritual, controlling speech, abstaining from day naps.
D) Offering fuel sticks to the sacred fire
Now, the groom offers fuel sticks to the already prepared sacred fire accompanied by chanting of Vedic mantras.
E) Begging for food
This is the last step in the Upanayana ceremony. The groom begs for food from his mother and other old ladies of his household. The food received has to be offered to the guru first.
4. How is thread ceremony performed in the South?
In a South Indian wedding, the thread ceremony is known as Vrutham. It is an important ritual for a groom. Vrutham takes place at the house of the groom. It is conducted early in the morning on the day prior to the wedding. This ceremony marks the end of the Brahmacharya stage of the groom and the start of a new phase - Grihastha. It is only after this thread ceremony that a man can get married. The groom first asks for his father’s permission to proceed to the next phase of his life. The father is considered as the guru or Acharya. A puja is conducted when a thread is tied around the groom’s wrist. This thread is smeared with turmeric and is considered sacred. The ceremony is also conducted for the bride at her place. This is done to protect the groom and his bride from evil spirits.
5. The Symbolic Meaning of the Three Sacred Threads
The sacred threads are also known as Janeu in India. These strands are not ordinary strands of threads. Rather, these have a deeper symbolical meaning associated with them. There are typically three debts that a man can never forget in his lifetime. These are namely:
- Man’s debt to his guru or teacher.
- Man’s debt to his parents.
- Man’s debt to the scholars.
These strands also symbolise three Indian goddesses - Parvati, Saraswati and Lakshmi. During the sacred thread ceremony, the groom is made to wear these strands that signify the importance of three virtues that will govern him for the rest of his life. These are the strength (Parvati), knowledge (Saraswati) and wealth (Lakshmi). It is believed that a man becomes complete only when he has the blessings of these supreme goddesses. Hinduism has many sacred rituals of which the Thread Ceremony is considered one of the most important rites of passage rituals in a Hindu man’s life. It is significant in every Hindu family.
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