Upanayana – More Ritualistic Aspects

This article is part 13 of 15 in the series Upanayana

Brahmacāri-dharmāḥ – Rules and Regulations of Student-hood[1]

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…”[2] 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!”[3]

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[4]

The guru taught the sacred Gāyatrī mantra to the brahmacārī[5] 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 mantraTat 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.[6]

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:

tat saviturvareṇyam

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:

oṃ bhūrbhuvassuvaḥ

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[7]

After the brahmacārī was taught the Gāyatrī mantra, the rite of first lighting the agni and offering samidh into it was performed.[8] 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.”[9]

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!”[10]

Bhikṣā – Begging for Alms[11]

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[12], like his mother and his other relatives. While seeking alms, the boy typically said the words, “O lady, give me alms!”[13] 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!”[14]

The food obtained by begging was seen as pure.[15] 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).[16]

Tri-rātra-vrata – Three-day-continence[17]

After the upanayana was concluded, the brahmacārī had to observe three days of continence known as the tri-rātra-vrata.[18] 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[19]

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.[20]

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!”[21]

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.”[22]

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. Saskāras: 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 Saskāras: 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>



[1] HDS, p. 304 and HS, p. 137

[2] ...brahmacāryasyapośāna karma kuru mā divā suṣupthā vācaṃ yaccha samidhamādhehyapośāneti. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.3.2

[3] See Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa 12.5.4

[4] HDS, pp. 300-2 and HS, pp. 137-38

[5] Athā’smai sāvitrīmamanvāhottarato’gneḥ pratyaṅmukhāyopaviṣṭāyopasannāya samīkṣamāṇāya samīkṣitāya. – Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.3.3

[6] ...tatrāsya mātā sāvitrī pitā tvācārya ucyate. – Manu-smṛti 2.170

[7] HS, p. 138

[8] Pāraskara-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4.1-8

[9] 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 

[10] 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 

[11] HDS, pp. 308-11 and HS, p. 139

[12] Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.7-8

[13] 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

[14] Hiraṇyakeśi-gṛhya-sūtra (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 30, p. 157)

[15] Manu-smṛti 2.189, Baudhāyana-dharma-sūtra 1.5.56 and Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.187

[16] Manu-smṛti 2.188-89 and Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.32

[17] HS, p. 139

[18] Ata ūrdhvamakṣāra alavaṇa āśī brahmacāryadaḥ śāyī trirātraṃ dvādaśarātraṃ saṃvatsarma vā. – Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.19

[19] HDS, pp. 305-6 and HS, p. 140

[20] See Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 1.22.18-19 and Bhāradvāja-gṛhya-sūtra 1.10

[21] 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)

[22] Yā sāvitrī jagaddhātrī saiva medhā svarūpiṇī. Mevā prasiddhaye pūjyā vidyāsiddhimabhīpsitā. – Śaunaka quoted in Vīra-mitrodaya  Saṃskāraprakāśa, Vol. 1, p. 440



Hari is an author, translator, editor, designer, and violinist with a deep interest in philosophy, education pedagogy, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited some forty books, mostly related to Indian culture.

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சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...