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Among Hindus, there are sixteen rituals (sanskaras) to be performed from the pre-natal to the post death period. These sanskaras are essential for man’s physical, mental and spiritual development. Their method, mantras and other details have been prescribed by Rishi Katyayana for the entire Hindu Community. In Kashmir, however, we follow these with some modifications as prescribed by Rishi Logaksha. Yagnopavit is one of the most important religious rites of Hindus. The ceremony is also called Upanayana, which means to bring (the pupil) near the teacher for initiation. In ancient times, the Upanayana ceremony was conducted for both boys and girls. It was a custom in Hindu tradition that when a child went to school (Gurukul or boarding-school in those days) to obtain education from his teacher, the first ritual done by his teacher was Yagnopavit sanskar. This meant that the child has obtained the right to education and performing rituals like Yagna, described as the noblest of deeds. The sacred thread or Janue is a symbol of purity and is a constant reminder to the person wearing it to follow the principles of a spiritual life. A Yagna or Havan is performed where offerings are made through Agni or fire to all the Gods and Goddesses who are invoked to bless the boy. Ancient Hindu texts specified an age for the Upanayana ceremony based on the caste. For Brahmins it is supposed to be eight. In some regions of modern India the ceremony is often conducted as an immediate precursor to wedding instead of during adolescence.

Yagnopavit is a joint word made of two fragments - Yagna and Upvitam. Yagna means a sacrificial ceremony and Upvitam means sacred thread. Therefore, Yagnopavit is a ceremony where sacrifices are pledged and a sacred thread is worn as a reminder of that pledge. Upanayana is also a joint word made from Upa and Nayan. Upanayana means first step towards the guidance to knowledge which includes spiritual knowledge. Yagnopavit is symbolic of the initiation of a person into performing his threefold-duties to the household, the devtas and to his pitras (deceased elders). The three strands of Yagnopavit represent the manifestation of Brahman as Srishti, Sthithi and Vinasha. The knot in the middle, the Brahmagand, represents the formless-Brahman, the pure form of energy which pervades all. The strands also illustrate the fact that everything in the universe emerge from, and then merge back with Brahman.

In Kashmir we also call Yagnopavit as ‘Mekhala’, which is that rope that is tied round the waist of the child at the time of the ceremony and later takes the form of a thread worn round the waist called the ‘Aatpan’ (with the advent of underwear, it is not used anymore). Mekhala also means a circular shape or boundary reminding us of the limits within which to function and which are not to be transgressed. The Yagnopavit ceremony used to be one of the most exalted functions in the life of a Brahmin, particularly a Kashmiri Brahmin. It used to be one of the most important instruments for inculcating and imparting discipline, values of life and the principles of right conduct. But due to major changes in the social and economic factors its importance in the course of time has significantly dwindled. In recent times it has lost its vitality and sublimity and is now reduced to a ‘social play’.

To perform a Yagnopavit outside India, the first step is to determine the proper date and time (mahurat). Unlike celebrating birthdays and weddings on a weekend, at our convenience, we have to do it on the prescribed day. In the absence of a Kashmiri Guruji, we have to find a Guruji who can be close to our needs, and my personal preference is a South Indian Brahman. Then we get a list of all the items needed for the Yagna. A Kashmiri Mekhala has three aspects: social, ritualistic and religious. Mehndi-raat, also celebrated during weddings, is purely a social event conducted in the evening. Besides application of Mehndi and a vegetarian feast, there is traditional song and dance till the early hours of morning. Isbundh (a seed that gives a fragrant smoke) is burnt in Kangris at all the functions.

The next day is Devgoan. A small havan is performed to invite Gods, Goddesses and deities to be present and seek their blessings for the Yagnopavit. The boy’s head used to be clean shaved leaving the Choti or Chogh, but nowadays he may just get a haircut. He is bathed (kani-shran) with a mixture of yogurt, milk, honey in water, and dressed in new clothes. Married ladies from the immediate family (excluding girls married into other families) wear Taek-taal and Nariwon, most likely to identify them among the crowd (it is like the organizers of a function wearing badges), besides wearing new sarees. A kind of ‘Kichdi’ called Vár with walnuts and Munga-vaer are prepared and highly sought after. In Kashmir, the Pooja and Havan for Yagnopavit used to start in the evening of Devgoan and continue the whole of next day. A certain mantra was recited 10,000 times. Outside of Kashmir, this step is often abbreviated and the entire process takes only 2-3 hours. For the Yagnopavit ceremony the boy wears a saffron colored cotton dress with a cap and carries a willow (can be substituted) twig as a staff. Elder of the family keeps a fast and performs the Havan. One of the traditions used to be having the boy and the presiding elder drink a concoction containing cow’s urine. This practice is also largely discontinued. Throughout the day relatives and friends give alms (Abheedh) after the boy makes a request to them. The alms giving is now a symbolic act reminiscent of ancient institution of obtaining voluntary contributions made for the sustenance of the Guru's Ashram in which the initiated students used to study. The Pooja culminates in the evening with Puran-Ahuti. The boy wears new clothes, provided by his maternal family and is carried by his maternal uncle to the center of a Vyug (Rangoli - circle made from different colored flour or lime) while the ladies sing and dance around him. There are also fireworks. Next, the boy with some members of the family, visit a temple. The function culminates with Prashad in the form a simple vegetarian dinner. Most people celebrate Koshal-huum by inviting their relatives and friends for a non-vegetarian meal the following day. On his marriage the boy gets three more strands on behalf of his wife to make it a six stranded Janeu.

*Dr. Ashok Raina was born in Srinagar and came to the US in 1970. After working in the area of insect behavior and physiology for over 40 years and in three continents, he retired from the US Department of Agriculture in 2008 and currently lives with his wife Santosh, in Maryland.

He has published over 170 scientific papers and is internationally recognized for his work on insects. Now he would much like to spend time in reading, writing (not related to insects) and travel. His primary interest is in exploring links between science and Hindu religion.
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i wish to thank Mr Raina for making us all, particularly young aware of this sacred ceremony. i request the author to emphasize the importance and the resultant benefits of wearing this thread, so that the children initiated in this ritual get motivated and practice what is needed on daily basis. he must devise simpler kriya to be done on daily bases. otherwise in the name of yagnyupavit we are only making mockery of this great and useful result oriented activity.
Added By chaman kishen kaul
is it necessary to take out janue while in toilet. .
Added By sanjay kachroo
is it necessary to wear out janue at which ear while in toilet
Added By sanjay kachroo
is it necessary to wear out janue at which ear while in toilet
Added By sanjay kachroo
No need to remove the sacred thread in the toilet,but as old practice is to put it on to the right ear.Please know that in the olden days people use to go outside for the nature calls and to prevent the Janue not to get soiled in the mud,dust etc it is hung to the right ear.Further, the ears represent the waters of Ganga,thus very sacred. PERI
Added By Subbarao Peri
My guru ji gave me 6 string thread. He must be an idiot then. Can you please enlighten us what are the important things to do regularly after the ceremony. I head read some information about the things that one should perform after wearing the sacred thread but they are very exhaustive. Almost impossible to follow living in a western society. Can you please mention some essentials to follow on a daily routine.
Added By Amit Koul
I want to talk in perso to Dr.Ashok raina regarding insect biochemistry plz send me his email address
Added By Anjali Dhar