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Upanayanam -significance

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Upanayanam is the Samaskara or the ceremonial rite in which the young Brahmin boy is invested with the sacred thread and initiated into the Gayathri – the Holiest of all mantras in the legacy of the Rishis.
After the Upanayanam is performed, the boy or the Vatu – as the young Brahmachari is called, becomes eligible to study the Vedas. As this Samaskara signifies a spiritual rebirth as it were, the boy becomes a Dvija or a “Twice Born” after the Upanayanam is performed. Etymologically speaking, the word means, taking (NAYANAM) near (UPA). In the ancient days when the scripturally ordained modes of conduct were strictly followed, the father took his son near the Gayathri Mantra, and there after near a Guru and left him under his care and tutelage soon after the Upanayanam was performed. The Guru took him near the Vedas (i.e.taught him to chant them in the traditional way) which in turn ultimately took him near God. Thus, the ceremony opens for the young Brahmachari, a succession of gates, leading to the ultimate goal of human existence – the realisation of God. In the scheme of the four ashramas prescribed for the individual, the UpanayanamCeremony signifies the boy’s entry into the ashrama namely Brahmacharya.
The Investiture
 Ideally, this Samaskarais to be performed when the boy is just past seven. In any case, the investiture with the sacred thread should not be delayed beyond the sixteenth year. Before the onset of adolescence, and before the dormant primordial biological urges in an individual surface, he must be initiated into the Gayathri. 
The Gayathri Mantra
Literally, Gayathri means which protects him who chants it. She is the mother of all the mantras, and when chanted with devotion and single pointed concentration and purity, takes the chanter to the ultimate bliss – the knowledge of the Supreme Truth, called the Brahman. The Gayathri is a mantra praying for divine guidance to inspire and illumine the intellect so that the Jiva may know his real self – the Atman. Universal in its approach, it does not seek any personal benefit for the chanter. The venerable Bhisma, while extolling the greatness of the Gayathri from his bed of arrows declares – Where the Gayathri is chanted, ultimately deaths, involving the performance of obsequies for children by their elders will not occur.Thus it is a prayer for universal welfare which the brahmin must perform as a sacred trust enjoined on him. 
Method to perform the Gayathri Mantra
The Gayathri, must be chanted in the prescribed manner, thrice a day, as a part of the religious duty called the Sandhyavandanam, ordained for all brahmins. The Sandhyavandanam is an excellent daily exercise in quitening the mind and rendering it fit for meditation on the highest truth epitomized by the Gayathri. Because of its great importance as a spiritual practice, the sastras have proclaimed its primacy of place in unequivocal terms, to the extent that no exceptions are provided. It has to be definitely performed thrice daily, throughout one’s life. All the good things a brahmin may do are of no avail, if he fails to perform his Sandhyavandanam and Gayathri Japa regularly. The scriptures are unanimous on this point. The immense benefit accruing from regular and assiduous practice of the Sandhyavandanam and chanting of the Gayathri, is something that each individual can corroborate by his own experience. 
The Sacred Thread
The sacred thread with which the Vatu is invested on the holy occasion of Upanayanam, may be compared to an electric circuit. Even as any leakage point in an electric circuit will result in a drain of precious electrical energy, any object, like key or coin, tied to the sacred thread, serve as leakage points through which the carefully garnered spiritual power of the Gayathri is frittered away. The sacred thread must therefore be kept free from association with any other object. 
Bhikshakaranam
In the days to yore, the brahmachari went out into the streets to beg for alms from various houses – Bhikshakaranam. This is being done symbolically today. While it may be very difficult to practice Bhikshakaranam daily in today’s conditions, we would do well at least keep in mind the spirit underlying the Bhikshakaranam and try to imbibe the virtues it inculcates. The practice of Bhikshakaranam will induce humility and quell the ego – it will root out all difference of high and low, wealthy and poor, as every brahmachari, regardless of his family’s standing, has to practice it. Above all, it will enable the young Vatu to overcome the craving of the tongue, and induce the restraint of the senses so very necessary for properly imbibing the Vedic Knowledge.  The various lofty truths explained above are only illustrative, but by no means exhaustive of the innumerable nuggets of wisdom that lie embedded in our scriptures. It is for us to practice these observances in our daily life to the extent possible and direct measure, ennoble our lives.  May the Divine Vedic Mother in her quintessential form as Gayathri bless us and inspire us to rediscover our extraordinary rich Vedic legacy, on the occasion of the Upanayanam 


The Vedas

An insight into its origion and significance


Rigveda
The Rigveda Samhita is the oldest extant Indic text. It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books (Sanskrit: mandalas).[38] The hymns are dedicated as greatness and glories on various Gods.The books were composed by poets from different priestly groups over a period of several centuries, commonly dated to the period of roughly the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE (the early Vedic period) in thePunjab(Sapta Sindhu) region of the Indian subcontinent. There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the Rigveda and the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the Andronovo culture; the earliest horse-drawn chariots were found at Andronovo sites in the Sintashta-Petrovka cultural area near theUral Mountainsand date to ca. 2000 BCE 
Rig Veda manuscripts have been selected for inscription in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” Register 2007.[42]


Yajurveda
The Yajurveda Samhita consists of archaic prose mantras and also in part of verses borrowed and adapted from the Rigveda. Its purpose was practical, in that each mantra must accompany an action in sacrifice but, unlike the Samaveda, it was compiled to apply to all sacrificial rites, not merely the Somayajna. There are two major groups of recensions of this Veda, known as the “Black” (Krishna) and “White” (Shukla) Yajurveda (Krishna and Shukla Yajurveda respectively). While White Yajurveda separates the Samhita from its Brahmana (the Shatapatha Brahmana), the Black Yajurveda intersperses the Samhita with Brahmana commentary. Of the Black Yajurveda four major recensions survive (Maitrayani, Katha, Kapisthala-Katha, Taittiriya).


Samaveda
The Samaveda Samhita (from sāman, the term for a melody applied to metrical hymn or song of praise[43]) consists of 1549 stanzas, taken almost entirely (except for 78 stanzas) from the Rigveda.[26] Like the Rigvedic stanzas in the Yajurveda, the Samans have been changed and adapted for use in singing. Some of the Rigvedic verses are repeated more than once. Including repetitions, there are a total of 1875 verses numbered in the Samaveda recension translated by Griffith.[44] Two major recensions remain today, the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya and the Jaiminiya. Its purpose was liturgical, as the repertoire of the udgātṛ or “singer” priests who took part in the sacrifice.


Atharvaveda
The Artharvaveda Samhita is the text ‘belonging to the Atharvan and Angirasa poets. It has 760 hymns, and about 160 of the hymns are in common with the Rigveda.[45] Most of the verses are metrical, but some sections are in prose.[45] It was compiled around 900 BCE, although some of its material may go back to the time of the Rigveda,[46] and some parts of the Atharva-Veda are older than the Rig-Veda[45] though not in linguistic form. The Atharvaveda is preserved in two recensions, the Paippalāda and Śaunaka.[45] According to Apte it had nine schools (shakhas).[47] The Paippalada text, which exists in a Kashmir and an Orissa version, is longer than the Saunaka one; it is only partially printed in its two versions and remains largely untranslated. Unlike the other three Vedas, the Atharvanaveda has less connection with sacrifice.[48][49] Its first part consists chiefly of spells and incantations, concerned with protection against demons and disaster, spells for the healing of diseases, for long life and for various desires or aims in life.[45][50] The second part of the text contains speculative and philosophical hymns.[51] The Atharvaveda is a comparatively late extension of the “Three Vedas” connected to priestly sacrifice to a canon of “Four Vedas”. This may be connected to an extension of the sacrificial rite from involving three types of priest to the inclusion of the Brahman overseeing the ritual.[52] The Atharvaveda is concerned with the material world or world of man and in this respect differs from the other three vedas. Atharvaveda also sanctions the use of force, in particular circumstances and similarly this point is a departure from the three other vedas.

Srimad Bhagavad Gita

The art of living


The Gita consists of eighteen chapters in total and is the dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna:

1. Arjun-Visada Yoga: Arjuna requests Krishnato move his chariot between the two armies. When Arjuna sees his relatives on the opposing army side of the Kurus, he loses morale and decides not to fight.
2. Sankhya Yoga:: After asking Krishna for help, Arjuna is instructed that only the body may be killed, as he was worried if it would become a sin to kill people (including his gurus and relatives), while the eternal self is immortal. Krishna appeals to Arjuna that, as a kshatriya, his duty is to uphold the path of dharma through warfare. Krishna told Arjun the three principles, namely Dharma, Atman and the Sharira(Body).
3. Karma Yoga: Arjuna asks why he should engage in fighting if knowledge is more important than action. Krishna stresses to Arjuna that performing his duties / karma for the greater good, but without attachment to results, is the appropriate course of action. Lord Krishna emphasises that righteous action outweighs knowledge.
4. Karma -Sanyasa Yoga: Sri Krishna reveals that he has lived through many births, always teaching Yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious and stresses the importance of accepting a guru.
5. Dnyan-Karma-Sanyasa Yoga: Arjuna asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act (“renunciation or discipline of action”[20]). Krishna answers that both ways may be beneficent, but that acting in Karma Yoga is superior.
6. Atmasanyam Yoga: Krishna describes the correct posture for meditation and the process of how to achieve Samādhi.
7. Dnyana-Vijnana Yoga: Krishna teaches the path of spiritual knowledge (Jnana Yoga).
8. Aksara-Brahma Yoga:Krishna defines the terms brahman, adhyatma, karma, atman, adhibhuta and adhidaiva and explains how one can remember him at the time of death and attain his supreme abode.
9. Raja-Vidya-Raja-Guhya Yoga:Krishna explains panentheism, “all beings are in me” as a way of remembering him in all circumstances.
10. Vibhuti-Vistara-Yoga: Krishna describes how he is the ultimate source of all material and spiritual worlds. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have also done so.
11. Visvarupa-Darsana Yoga: On Arjuna’s request, Krishna grants him a special vision that displays his “universal form” (Viśvarūpa), a theophany of a being facing every way and emitting the radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.
12. Bhakti Yoga: Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti Yoga).
13. Ksetra-Ksetrajna Vibhaga Yoga:Krishna describes nature (prakrti), the enjoyer (purusha) and consciousness.
14. Gunatraya-Vibhaga Yoga:Krishna explains the three modes (gunas) of material nature.
15. Purusottama Yoga:Krishna describes a symbolic tree (representing material existence), its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth.Krishnaexplains that this tree should be felled with the “axe of detachment”, after which one can go beyond to his supreme abode.
16. Daivasura-Sampad-Vibhaga Yoga: Krishna tells of the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He counsels that to attain the supreme destination one must give up lust, anger and greed, discern between right and wrong action by discernment through Buddhi and evidence from scripture and thus act correctly.
17. Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga Yoga:Krishna tells of three divisions of faith and the thoughts, deeds and even eating habits corresponding to the three gunas.
18. Moksha-Sanyasa Yoga: In conclusion,Krishna asks Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender unto him. He describes this as the ultimate perfection of life.