01 August, 2021

To Unknot The Yajnopaveeta

The sacred thread is rich in history and many-faceted in its meanings

A Brahmin and his son perform the ceremony of changing the sacred thread, c. 1946
Photograph by Getty Images
To Unknot The Yajnopaveeta

Between conception and cremation, a Hindu was to have his lifespan punctuated by a total of 16 major samskaras (‘rites of passage’ or ‘initiation ceremonies’) out of which the upanayana samskara is one of the few that still survive in practice. It was primarily meant as an enabler for the study of the Vedas and performance of Vedic sacrifices. Therefore, it is available only to male members from the first three tiers of classical Hindu society, namely, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas, who can be approximately (if somewhat inaccurately) understood as the intellector class, the warrior class, and the mercantile class respectively. However, there are clear statements in Hindu religious literature to the effect that ‘in earlier times’, the initiation was extended to fem­ales also from these classes, and there are hints pointing to the ceremony being inclusive enough to cover members from the fourth class as well. However, it is unambiguous that males from the first three classes are entitled to upanayana. It is the...

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