Upanayana Sanskara (Yagno Pavit Ceremony): The Sacred Thread Ceremony


Upanayana or yagno pavit (sacred thread ceremony): This is essentially an initiation ritual that marks the transition of a child from the infantile stage of play to the serious stage of study and sadhana. The child is initiated into the study of the sacred Vedas. The upanayana sanskara typically takes place around the eighth year of a child’s life; however, some receive it as early as five and some as late as twelve. To many, it is regarded as one of the most important sanskaras of childhood. In fact, It is considered such an essential sanskara that most traditions concede that, however late it may be, the sanskara should still be performed.

It is said that the sacred thread ceremony marks a new life. The child, traditionally, leaves the family home at this young age to go and live with the Guru at the Guru’s ashram or in a gurukul. Upa means “near to” and Nayan means “to take (him) to,” so upanayana is the sanskara of taking the child near to the teacher.

At the sacred thread ceremony, the child enters the brahmacharya stage of his life – a time of celibacy and complete immersion in his studies and spiritual growth. The three strings of the janoi denote the three gunas – sattva (reality), rajas (passion), and tamas (darkness). Their significance is that the wearer must be above the three gunas, must transcend the bondage of the three qualities of life. They also remind the wearer that he has three debts in life: to the seers, saints & rishis, to his ancestors and to God. The three strings are tied in a knot which is called the brahmagranthi and it symbolizes the united trinity of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Sustainer) and Shiva (the Destroyer).

The sacred thread ceremony is performed here at Parmarth Niketan quite frequently, and people come from all over the world to have this important sanskara performed on the holy banks of Mother Ganga. The ceremony is conducted and overseen by trained priests, acharyas and rishikumars, and the final, sacred Gayatri mantra is whispered into the child’s ear by Pujya Swamiji.