In Hinduism, ‘Sacred Thread Ceremony’ ie ‘Upanayan’ is the ritual by which initiates are invested with a sacred thread, to symbolize the transference of spiritual knowledge.
"Sacred thread" (यज्ञोपवीतम्) is a thin, consecrated cord, composed of distinct cotton strands, worn to symbolize the permission given to the wearer to perform ‘sandhya vandanam’ & recite Gayatri Mantra.
The ceremony is in varying formats across Hindu communities and is also called by varying names, including ‘Vratbandh’, ‘Munj’, etc.
The sacred thread has three strands. A bachelor wears only one sacred thread. The three strands sometimes symbolize three debts (ऋण) that must never be forgotten:
- the debt to one's teachers or masters (गुरुऋण) i.e. those who have taught the child
- the debt to one's parents and ancestors (पितृऋण) i.e. those who have nurtured the child and made possible his bringing up
- the debt to the sages and / or scholars (ऋषिऋण) i.e. those whosoever discovered the knowledge , which in turn enriches the child’s life
The three strands symbolize :
Maa Parvati (Goddess of strength), Maa Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) & Maa Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge)
'Upanayan' (meaning - "leading closer" to the ‘Brahma’) is a version of the sacred thread ceremony which initiates the boy into the study of ‘Brahman’ or the Vedas. The word ‘Brahman’ is the ancient word for Vedas.
The ceremony is performed when the boy is seven years old. During the ritual, the boy is taught the secrets of life through ‘Brahmopadesham’ (revealing the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality) or the Gayatri Mantra.
The ‘Yadnyopavitam’ is circular, being tied end-to-end. It is normally supported on the left shoulder and wrapped around the body, falling underneath the right arm. It has only one knot. The length of the ‘Yadnyopavitam’ is generally 96 times the breadth of four fingers of a man, which is believed to be equal to his height. Each of the fingers represents one of the four states that the soul of a man experiences: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and knowledge of the absolute.
The sacred ‘Yadnyopavitam’ reminds a ‘Brahmachari ' to lead a regulated life with purity in his thought & deed. This ‘yadnyopavitam’ also represents the debt that is owed to the master, parents and society.
The knot represent the formless Brahman, the pure form of energy which pervades all. The three strands of ‘Yadnyopavitam’ again represent the manifestation of Brahman as Srishti, Sthiti and Vinash.