Brahmacāri-dharmāḥ – Rules and Regulations of Student-hood
After the brahmacārī goes around the fire altar and makes offerings into it, the ācārya holds him and lays out the rules of student-hood by reciting the verse, “You are a student. Take water. Maintain silence. Put the samidh in the agni…” The teacher declares to the student, “Sip water. Water is, doubtless, the divine nectar of immortality! Sip the divine nectar! Do your work. Work, doubtless, means vigour. Be vigorous! Put the samidh in the agni. Light your mind with the fire of knowledge, with sacred lustre! Do not sleep, do not die!”
There are certain rules and observances prescribed for all brahmacārīs – some are prescribed for the short-term while others are to be observed all through student-hood. For instance, certain foods are forbidden for the first three days following the upanayana or even the first year; however, the brahmacārī is expected to sleep on the ground and work for his teacher throughout his student-hood.
Sāvitryupadeśa – Teaching the Sacred Gāyatrī Mantra
The guru taught the sacred Gāyatrī mantra to the brahmacārī a year, or six months, or twenty-four days, or twelve days, or three days after the upanayana, or on the day of the upanayana itself if the boy was old enough to pronounce it correctly.
As mentioned earlier, the teacher sat facing the east with the agni to his right and the brahmacārī sat facing the guru. The student requested the teacher to recite the verse sacred to Savitṛ. Then the teacher, looking at the face of the pupil, taught him one pāda (line) at a time, then two pādas, and finally the whole verse at once.
The sacred Gāyatrī mantra—Tat saviturvareṇyaṃ. Bhargo devasya dhīmahi. Dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt.—is the verse Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 3.62.10. It occurs in other Vedas as well. It is a prayer to the sun. The teaching of this mantra marked the second, spiritual birth of the child.
The Gāyatrī mantra, a six-thousand-year-old verse recited by millions of Hindus every day, was revealed to the great ṛṣi Viśvāmitra. He is the seer of most of the poems in the third book of the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā.
This verse is called the Gāyatrī mantra since it is composed in the poetic meter called Gāyatrī. A verse written in this poetic meter has three lines, and each line has eight syllables. It is interesting to note that the origin of the word ‘gāyatrī’ is ‘gāyantaṃ trāyate iti gāyatrī’ – ‘Gāyatrī is that which protects the person who recites it.’ Therefore, although there are thousands of verses composed in the Gāyatrī meter, when we say ‘Gāyatrī mantra,’ it specifically denotes this verse:
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt
In Sanskrit, every word has several meanings. So it’s important for us to understand the context in which a certain word is used. Let us take a look at what each word in this mantra means:
tat = that
savituḥ = the sun; literally ‘one who permits,’ ‘one who stimulates,’ ‘one who vivifies’
vareṇyam = best, excellent, worthy of the highest respect
bhargaḥ = light, lustre, radiance
devasya = of god, of the lord, of the deity
dhīmahi = (we) meditate, (we) contemplate
dhiyaḥ = intellect, wisdom, mind, consciousness
yaḥ = the one who, he who
naḥ = to us, for us
pracodayāt = (may he) inspire, motivate, stimulate, empower
The first line has only seven syllables instead of eight: tat-sa-vi-tu-rva-re-ṇyam; therefore while recitation, we add the syllable om in the beginning or we say tat-sa-vi-tu-rva-re-ṇi-yam.
Let us try to arrange this in the form of a sentence. One who (yaḥ) may stimulate (pracodayāt) our (naḥ) mind (dhiyaḥ) – we meditate (dhīmahi) on that (tat) excellent (vareṇyaṃ) radiance (bhargaḥ) of the lord (devasya), the sun (savituḥ).
A simple English translation would give us:
We meditate on
the wonderful radiance of the sun god
May he stimulate our mind
The same Gāyatrī mantra also appears in the Yajurveda but with an additional line in the beginning:
om = the single-syllable word that represents brahman, the Supreme Being
bhūḥ = earth
bhuvaḥ = atmosphere
suvaḥ = sky, heaven
With this line, we bring our awareness to the three spheres of existence, thus connecting with something bigger than our tiny selves.
The Gāyatrī mantra, in essence, is a prayer to the Supreme, in the form of the sun, which stimulates our mind and empowers us. Just like the sun wakes us up every morning, we pray that the Supreme light wakes up our intellect. It is indeed a prayer for internal strength.
Homa – Worshipping Agni, the Sacred Fire
After the brahmacārī was taught the Gāyatrī mantra, the rite of first lighting the agni and offering samidh into it was performed. The sacred fire was the symbol of life and light. The student wiped his hand on the ground around the agni with the verse, “Agni, O glorious one, make me glorious! O Agni, just as you are glorious, O glorious one, fill me with glory! O Agni, you are the preserver of the treasure of the yajña for the deities; similarly, may I become the preserver of the treasure of the Vedas for men.”
As he offers the samidh to the agni, the brahmacārī recites, “I have brought samidh for Agni, I have brought a piece of wood to the great Jātavedas! O Agni, just as you are invigorated by the wood, I am invigorated by life, insight, brilliance, offspring, cattle, sacred lustre… May I be full of insight, never forgetting what I have learnt; may I become full of splendour and lustre; may I become the enjoyer of food. Svāha!”
Bhikṣā – Begging for Alms
The brahmacārī had to then go around begging for alms, which was called bhikṣā. This was a ceremony that indicated the start of his student career during which the chief means of his maintenance was by seeking alms.
On the day of the Upanayana, he begged only from those who would not refuse, like his mother and his other relatives. While seeking alms, the boy typically said the words, “O lady, give me alms!” The brahmacārī was introduced to the idea that he was living at the mercy of the society and should remember to perform his duties as a responsible citizen once he becomes a gṛhastha.
After giving the daṇḍa to the brahmacārī, the ācārya gives him a bowl for collecting alms and tells him, “Go out for alms.” Let him beg of his mother first, then in other families who are generously disposed. He brings the food to his ācārya and announces to him, “These are the alms” and then the ācārya accepts it with the words “These are good alms!”
The food obtained by begging was seen as pure. The brahmacārī was to eat food collected from several houses and was not to take food at a single person’s house, except when he was invited to a śrāddha-bhojana (lunch given in honour of the ancestors).
Tri-rātra-vrata – Three-day-continence
After the upanayana was concluded, the brahmacārī had to observe three days of continence known as the tri-rātra-vrata. These constraints might be imposed on the student for a period of twelve days or even a year. This was just the beginning of a life of discipline and rigour. Saline food was forbidden as were meat and wine. He wasn’t allowed to sleep during the day and had to sleep on the ground at night.
Medhājanana – Generation of Intelligence
On the fourth day after the upanayana, the medhājanana was conducted. This was a ceremony that was supposed to make the student’s mind capable of studying the Vedas. It was a prayer for divine help in sharpening the intellect and improving the memory.
The teacher makes the student sprinkle water thrice from the left to the right with a pot of water around about a palāśa tree (or around a bunch of kuśa grass if there is no palāśa) and makes him recite the mantra “O glorious one, you are glorious! As you, O glorious one, are glorious, similarly, O glorious one, fill me with glory! You are the preserver of the treasure of yajña for the deities; similarly may I become the preserver of the treasure of Vedas among men!”
An ancient teacher says, “The goddess born of the sun, the preserver of this world, herself is Medhā! One who wishes for success in learning should worship her with a view to stimulate talent.”
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, p. 304 and HS, p. 137
 ...brahmacāryasyapośāna karma kuru mā divā suṣupthā vācaṃ yaccha samidhamādhehyapośāneti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.3.2
 See Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa 12.5.4
 HDS, pp. 300-2 and HS, pp. 137-38
 Athā’smai sāvitrīmamanvāhottarato’gneḥ pratyaṅmukhāyopaviṣṭāyopasannāya samīkṣamāṇāya samīkṣitāya. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.3.3
 ...tatrāsya mātā sāvitrī pitā tvācārya ucyate. – Manu-smṛti 2.170
 HS, p. 138
 Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4.1-8
 Pāṇinā’gniṃ parisamūhati agne suśravaḥ suśravasaṃ mā kuru yathā tvamagne suśravaḥ suśravā asyevaṃ māṃ suśravaḥ sauśravasaṃ kuru yathā tvamagne devānāṃ yajñasya nidhipā asyevamahaṃ manuṣyāṇāṃ vedasya nidhipo bhūyāsamiti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4.2
 Pradakṣiṇamagniṃ paryukṣyottiṣṭhantsamidhamādadhāti agnaye samidhamahārṣa bṛhate jātavedase. Yathā tvamagne samidhā samidhyasa evamahamāyuṣā medhayā varccasā prajayā paśubhirbrahmavarcasena samindhe jīvaputro mamācāryo medhāvyahamasā-nyanirākāriṣṇuryaśasvī tejasvī brahmavarcasyannādo bhūyāsaṃ svāheti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4.3
 HDS, pp. 308-11 and HS, p. 139
 Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.7-8
 The Baudhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.5.47-53 says that a brāhmaṇa student should beg with the words ‘bhavati bhikṣāṃ dehi,’ a kṣatriya with the words ‘bhikṣāṃ bhavati dehi,’ and a vaiśya with the words ‘dehi bhikṣāṃ bhavati’
 Hiraṇyakeśi-gṛhya-sūtra (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 30, p. 157)
 Manu-smṛti 2.189, Baudhāyana-dharma-sūtra 1.5.56 and Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.187
 Manu-smṛti 2.188-89 and Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.32
 HS, p. 139
 Ata ūrdhvamakṣāra alavaṇa āśī brahmacāryadaḥ śāyī trirātraṃ dvādaśarātraṃ saṃvatsarma vā. – Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.19
 HDS, pp. 305-6 and HS, p. 140
 See Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.18-19 and Bhāradvāja-gṛhya-sūtra 1.10
 Dr. Kane explains that suśravāḥ has two meanings – ‘glorious’ and ‘one who hears well’ (i.e. who learns the Veda well by hearing it from the guru). This occurs in Āpastamba-mantra-pāṭha 2.5.1 also (but in Āpastamba-gṛhya-sūtra 11.14 it is the mantra for taking the daṇḍa)
 Yā sāvitrī jagaddhātrī saiva medhā svarūpiṇī. Mevā prasiddhaye pūjyā vidyāsiddhimabhīpsitā. – Śaunaka quoted in Vīra-mitrodaya Saṃskāraprakāśa, Vol. 1, p. 440