Hindu dharma explains sixteen samskaras to be done in a lifetime of a person. From the time the ‘Atma’ takes shelter in its ‘Sadhana shareera’ the samskaras starts. So only ‘Seemanthonayana’ Samskara is performed when we are still in mother’s womb. literal meaning of samskara is ‘act/ritual done well’.
Today even though the forms and practices have undergone many changes these samskaras are still followed. Let us see the significance of Upanayana samskara and Upakarma.
The word ‘upanayana’ consists of two parts – ‘upa’ and ‘nayana’. The literal meaning of course is ‘taking an individual nearer’.
The explanation of the word goes as
Guro sameepe nayanam – ‘taking the student near the teacher’.
upanayana is the process of taking the child towards knowledge. Irrespective of the variations, it is the initiation of the adhyatmik development of the child, specifically through vedic learning.
Through mother atma takes birth in ‘sadhana shareera’ – a vehicle for worldly achievement. The process of upanayana gives cause to the adhyatmik achievement of the soul. It initiates the process of refinement of ‘antahkarana’ – the spiritual body. The upanayana therefore leads to the birth of the ‘adhyatmika shareera’. Hence it is referred as a second birth.
The varna system was based on occupation, hence without any discrimination this samskara has been explained to all the four varnas.
From our Vedic era itself Upanayana was never for any specific caste. anyone who wants to get started with education would go through this ceremony. Even Shudras had the rights. The Sanatkumara Samhita tells us about Tantric Upanayana for Shudras. Even in our Varahapurana it tells in details about Shudra Upanayana. In Mahabharata, Chapter 131 in the Uma Maheshwar conversation, the Lord tells his consort parvathi,
“Shudro Paye AgamasampannoDweejo Bhavati Samskrataha”. Meaning – “By adhering to the agama, a shudra also becomes a Brahmin.”
Being in the guidance of guru and thus achieving the purushartha were common to all.
What are Upakarma and Utsargana ?
Upakarma means beginning or arambha, that is to begin the study of the Veda. For example, Yajur Upakarma means to begin the study of the Yajur Veda.
Why begin study of the Vedas on this particular day?
The day Upakarma is observed is the auspicious day when Narayana took the avatara of Hayagriva. Hayagriva as we all know restored the Vedas to Brahma, he is hence also regarded as God of Knowledge.
why Upakarma observed every year?
In the not too distant past, Veda Adhyayanam was performed only during the period from mid-August to mid-January. And Utsarjana karma was performed. In simple words it is giving up of the learning of Veda for rest of the year. The period between January to August was then devoted to learning other branches of our shastras.
Thus the cycle of Upakarma and Utsarjana with regard to Vedic studies was established. However, this method took 12 or more years to learn just one veda. Slowly this became impractical and Vedic studies continued throughout the year.
Therefore, the first thing to do before the Upakarma is to do a Prayashchitta for having learned Vedas during the prohibited period. And chant Vishnu’s sahasranama are chanted.
This signifies that only almighty can relieve us of burdens from our bad deeds. By remembering his name, we are surrendering to him, to guide our jeevathma to attain salvation by becoming one with him.
The main purpose of the Upakarma function is to offer prayers and express our gratitude to those rishis who gave us the Vedas — the rishis through whom the Vedic mantras were revealed. These rishis are known as “kaanda rishis”.
What does this signify?
Upakarma signifies that learning is a continuous process. The very principle of Hindu dharma emphasizes on the attainment of knowledge about oneself which in turn will lead the Atma to Moksha.
Upakarma and Guru purnima are ‘teacher’ s day’ of vedic time. The gurus were remembered and paid respects for guiding everyone to the path of dharma.
Upakarma also signifies detachment from the past, the changing of Yajnopavita is symbolism of vedic teaching, to shed the past filled with mistakes and to take a resolution to walk in the path of dharma.
Dr Sindhu Prashanth