After tying the mekhalā, the boy was invested with the yajñopavīta (sacred thread). While the yajñopavīta as a ‘sacred thread’ was largely unknown in ancient times, it became the focus of the upanayana saṃskāra in later years. In later times, the young vaṭu was given the yajñopavīta and made to recite the well-known mantra, “The yajñopavīt
The Right Age for Conducting Upanayana
There are several varying rules and prescriptions about the age of the boy who is to undergo the upanayana (the boy is referred to as the ‘vaṭu’). What is interesting to note is that the age was counted from conception. From the earliest times we see in ancient India the notion that the age of a child must be counted.
Most of our ancient thinkers were of the opinion that only the male members of the brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, and vaiśya varṇas were eligible to study the Vedas. And since the upanayana saṃskāra was primarily meant as an entry to the study of the Vedas, it was not applicable to women of all varṇas and to śūdras.
It was in the Sūtra period that the upanayana saṃskāra seems to have been fully established. Most of the details of the ceremony are laid out in the gṛhya-sūtras. The Dharma-sūtras and Smṛtis have nothing new to say about the ritualistic aspects apart from what has already been said earlier; they primarily develop the social side of the saṃskāra. It was also perhaps during this period that the Upanayana became compulsory for men from the first three varṇas.
Upanayana in the Saṃhitās
Before we embark on a study of our traditional literature—what we call śruti and smṛti—with our modern conception of history, seeking the absolute chronology of a certain treatise and the relative chronologies of a set of treatises, we must acquaint ourselves with both the Indian conception of history as well as the traditional accounts of our history.
The word ‘upanayana’ means ‘leading closer’ or ‘taking nearer.’ It could mean ‘leading closer to wisdom’ or ‘taking near the ācārya for the sake of learning.’ Another meaning of the word ‘upanayana’ is ‘additional eye’ or ‘the eye of knowledge.’ It is variously called ‘upayana,’ ‘brahmopadeśa,’ ‘upānaya,’ ‘mauñjī-bandhana,’ and ‘baṭu-karaṇa,’ ‘vrata-bandha.’[
The word ‘saṃskāra’ has no single-word equivalent in English; it has many meanings including ‘refinement,’ ‘cultivation,’ ‘perfection,’ ‘embellishment,’ ‘consecration,’ ‘education,’ ‘positive transformation,’ ‘effect of past deeds,’ etc. In general, it refers to ‘doing something well’ or ‘improving upon something while removing what is undesirable.’
Every society will have its own view of what is a significant event in the life of a person living in that geographical region and in that period in time. What remains true for all time and for all people is the fact that our life spreads from before our physical birth all the way to the future after our physical death.