Daṇḍa – The Staff 
The ācārya gave a daṇḍa (staff, stick) to the student, who accepted it by reciting the verse: “My daṇḍa fell down to the ground and I pick it up, for the sake of long life, to adhere to the path of brahman, and to begin student-hood.” The daṇḍa represented control over the mind, speech, and body.
Since the life of a student was envisaged as a grand yajña, it was prescribed that the boy must hold the daṇḍa by reciting a verse typically recited when taking the staff at the time of starting an elaborate yajña.
The student was seen as a traveller on the long, lonely road to knowledge and the daṇḍa was a symbol for the traveller; while accepting it, the boy prayed that he would reach his destination safely after his long and arduous journey came to an end.
The daṇḍa was also seen as a symbol of a watchman who was armed with the staff and entrusted with the duty of protecting the Vedas.
There is divergence in opinions about which wood was to be used to make the daṇḍa; different trees (and different lengths of the staff) are prescribed for boys of different varṇas. It is noteworthy that the elegance of the daṇḍa was also considered. The daṇḍa was to be unbroken, unscratched, and with bark. It was to be straight, without any scratches, fine-looking, not causing uneasiness, and not burnt by fire.
The daṇḍa had practical uses. It was useful for support, for tending the cattle of the guru, for self-defence while travelling at night, for guidance while entering a lake or a river. It also perhaps added to the self-confidence of the boy.
Añjalipūraṇa and the Sight of the Sun
Before the ācārya took the student under his wing, some symbolic actions were undertaken. The ācārya, with joined hands, filled the student’s (joined) hands with water while reciting the words, “O waters!” This symbolized purification that was necessary before the Sāvitrī-mantra-upadeśa. The ācārya then made the student look at the sun while reciting a mantra. The life of a student was to be disciplined and the Sun was a symbol of ṛta (cosmic order that governs the universe). The sun, who is a witness to all actions and the lord of time and action, was to be worshipped properly. The sun was to inspire discipline in the boy.
Touching the Heart
The ācārya touches the heart of the brahmacārī, reaching over his right shoulder with the words, “I take your heart into my will…” This emphasized the relationship between the teacher and student, which was sacred, not rapacious; friendly, not formal. Unless there was complete harmony between teacher and student, how could the learning progress? Devotion on the part of the student, sympathy on the part of the teacher, and affection from both sides – all are necessary for the student’s educational progress, and consequently for maintaining the ecosystem of knowledge, which was held sacred our ancients.
Aśmārohaṇa – Mounting the Stone
After the homa, the boy was made to mount a stone to the north of the agni with his right foot. As he mounted the stone, he recited the words, “Tread this stone! Be firm like a stone! Trample the foes, turn away the enemies!” The student was commanded to be steadfast in his studies. The stone was a symbol of strength. The purpose of the aśmārohaṇa was to make the student strong in body, courageous in mind, and determined in character.
The Teacher Accepts the Student
The ācārya holds the right hand of the brahmacārī and asks his name.
The student replies, “I am Rāghava, O teacher!”
The teacher asks whose student he is.
The student replies, “Your student!”
The teacher corrects his answer and says, “You are Indra’s student. Agni is your teacher. And I am your teacher, O Rāghava!”
With these words, the teacher accepts the boy as his student. In a broad sense, this can be compared with the modern practice of school interviews.
The guru was not to become conceited that he alone was responsible for the education and protection of the brahmacārī. He therefore recited the mantra, “I give you in charge to Prajāpati! I give you in charge to Savitṛ! To the heaven and earth, I give you in charge! To all beings I give you in charge so that I may be free from harm!” This act is known as the paridāna.
To be continued…
Thanks to Pradeep Chakravarthy for getting me to write this essay. Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. Koti Sreekrishna, who have always supported and encouraged me, were kind enough to go through the essay and give their detailed feedback. Shashi Kiran B N, a young scholar-poet went through the essay and offered valuable suggestions. Yet another scholar-poet, Arjun Bharadwaj, helped me with getting some of the reference books needed for this essay. My heartfelt gratitude to all of them.
Achari, Sri Rama Ramanuja. Saṁskāras: The Hindu Sacraments. Srimatham, 2015 <http://www.srimatham.com/uploads/5/5/4/9/5549439/hindu_samskaras.pdf>
Devuḍu. Mahādarśana. Bangalore: Devuḍu Pratiṣṭhāna, 2009
H H Sri Rangapriya Swami’s lecture on the Gāyatrī mantra
Harshananda, Swami. Upanayana: Sandhyāvandana and Gāyatrīmantrajapa. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math.
Harshananda, Swami. A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. Volume 3. R-Z. Bangalore: Ramakrishna Math, 2008
Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. Vol. II, Part I. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1941
Pandey, Rajbali. Hindu Saṁskāras: Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments. New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1969
Ṛgvedasaṃhitā. Vol. 17. Ed. Rao, H. P. Venkata. Mysore: Sri Jayachamarajendra Vedaratnamala, 1948-62
Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s seven-part lecture series in Kannada titled Ṣoḍaśa-saṃskāragaḻu at Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) in December 2005
The Sixteen Samskaras <http://cincinnatitemple.com/articles/SixteenSamskaras.pdf>
 HDS, pp. 279-80 and HS, pp. 134-35
 Taṃ pratigṛhṇāti yo me daṇḍaḥ parāpatadvaihāyaso’dhibhūmyāṃ tamahaṃ punarādada āyuṣe brahmaṇe brahmavarcasāyeti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.2.12
 Dīrghasatraṃ vā eṣa upaiti brahmacaryamupaiti – quoted by Harihara on Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.2.13
 Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.11
 Varāha-gṛhya-sūtra, Chapter 6
 Apīḍitā yūpavakrāḥ saśalkāḥ. – Gautama-dharma-sūtra 1.1.24
 Ṛjavaste tu sarve syuravraṇāḥ saumyadarśanāḥ. Anudvegakarā nṝṇāṃ satvaco’nagnidūṣitāḥ. – Manu-smṛti 2.47
 Daṇḍājinopavītāni mekhalāṃ caiva dhārayet. – Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.29
Aparārka’s commentary on this line is: “Tatra daṇḍasya kāryanavalambanaṃ gavādinivāraṇaṃ tamovagāhanamapsu praveśanamityādi”
 HS, pp. 135-36
 Śucitvasiddhaye tasya sāvitrīgrahaṇo guruḥ. Abhimantrya yathāvāri siñcatyeva tadañjalau. – Āśvalāyana quoted in Vīra-mitrodaya Saṃskāraprakāśa, Vol. 1, p. 426
 Athainaṃ sūryamudīkṣayati taccakṣuriti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.2.15
 Karmasākṣiṇamādityaṃ tarpayettaṃ yathoktavat. Sarvavratānāṃ bhagavān sūryo’dhipatirīśvaraḥ. – Āśvalāyana quoted in Vīra-mitrodaya Saṃskāraprakāśa, Vol. 1, p. 427
 HS, p. 136
 Athāsya dakṣiṇāṃ samadhi hṛdayamālabhate. Mama vrate te hṛdayaṃ dadhāmi. Mama cittamanucittaṃ te astu mama vācamekamanā juṣasva bṛhaspatiṣṭvā niyunaktu mahyamiti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.2.16
 HDS, p. 285 and HS, pp. 136-37
 See Āpastamba-gṛhya-sūtra 10.9, Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.23.12, Baudhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.5.10, Khādira-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4, and Bhāradvāja-gṛhya-sūtra 1.8
 Abhidakṣiṇamānīyāgneḥ paścāt ehyaśmānamātiṣṭhāśmeva tvaṃ sthiro bhava... – Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.12
 Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.12-13
 See Bhāradvāja-gṛhya-sūtra 1.8
 HDS, p. 285 and HS, p. 137
 Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.3 and Kāṭhaka-gṛhya-sūtra 41.10
 Dadhikrāvṇo akāriṣam – Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 4.39.6 (Also Taittirīya-saṃhitā 188.8.131.52)
 See Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.2, Bhāradvāja-gṛhya-sūtra 1.7, Āpastamba-gṛhya-sūtra 11.1-4, Āpastamba-mantra-pāṭha 2.3.27-30, Baudhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.5.25 (quoting Śāṭyāyanaka), Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.4-5, and Khādira-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4.12
 As discussed earlier, Indra was the first teacher and Agni was second. The guru emphasises the point that he is a teacher only after Indra and Agni, perhaps to emphasize the role of the deities as well as help him stay grounded
 Asāvahaṃ bho. Iti pratyāha. Āthainamāha kasya brahmacāryasīti. Bhavata ityucyamāna indrasya. Brahmacāryasyagnirācāryastavāhamācāryastavāsāviti. Athainaṃ bhūtebhyaḥ paridadāti prajāpataye tvā paridadāmi devāya tvā savitre paridadāmyadbhyastvauṣadhībhyaḥ paridadāmi dyāvāpṛthivībhyāṃ tvā paridadāmi viśvebhyastvā devebhyaḥ paridadāmi sarvebhyastvā bhūtebhyaḥ paridadāmyariṣṭyā iti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.2.18-23
In a sense, the teacher is also requesting the various deities like Prajāpati (creator), Savitṛ (sun), Dyāvāpṛthivī (heaven and earth), etc. to protect the student