A Study of The Socio-Religious Ceremony of Upanayana (An Old Book)

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With this, the book Bharati Barua discusses the Hindu initiation ceremony of the educational sacrament - Upanayana. A detailed and well-researched account, she covers various aspects of the ceremony, including - the origin and meaning, preparations that go behind it, the rituals, educational discipline ethics, and so on. 

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Item Code: NAF830
Author: Bharati Barua
Language: English
Edition: 1994
ISBN: 8185094772
Pages: 184
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 260 gm
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Book Description

About The Book

This book is my Ph. D. thesis. I have done a critical analysis on the Upanayana Samskara, special emphasis has been given on the social and religious impact. There is sixteen samskaras in the Hindu Concept. Each and every samskara is important in the different s’ ages of human life. Upanayana samskara is most valuable. The main object of performing the ritual is to start a new life of a student. Without performing Upanayana ceremony nobody can start a brahmacari life. It has an educational value. I have discussed in details all aspects of student life and found out its consequences and importance. This book will give the moral support and disciplined life of young generation in the present society.


About The Author

Dr. Bharati barua, born in Guwahati in the prestigious Barua family in Assam. She obtained her B.A. Degree from Gauhati University and obtained M.A. Degree in Ancient Indian History and Culture from Vishwa Bharati University, Santiniketan in 1968. She was doing both research work in History and LL.B. Course in Gauhati University and obtained LL. B. Degree in 1973. Then she joined Gauhati University as a Lecturer in the Department of History in 1977. Since then she is invariably involved in the Department in the various activities. She is associated with quite a number of historical institutions most prestigious are Indian History congress, Assam Research Society (Kamrup Anusandhan Samity), North East India History Association, Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies Centre, Anjenari, Nasik and Indian Numismatic society, Nagpur. She writes lots of research articles published in national and local journals. Now she is preparing his next book “The History of pragjyotishpur. At present she is a Reader and Head of the Department of History in Gauhati University”.



Each age has been producing its own thinkers. The philosophers of the Enlightenment Tradition had the benefit of two important principles that emerged late in the mediaeval period. One of the principles facilitating the transition to the Enlightenment was that the ruler was a representative of the people with a constitutionally-defined or limited sphere of power. The other was that a political community consisted not of the private rights as such of all individuals but of the rights of a representative assembly. The intellectuals of the age of Enlightenment placed Reason on a high pedestal, inspired as they were by the scientific achievements of the preceding centuries. The men of the Enlightenment firmly believed that the mind could comprehend the Universe and subordinate it to human needs. A new concept of the universe based on the universal applicability of natural laws took its birth leading to the task of Ushering in a new world based on reason and truth. Truth was to be the central goal of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. But their Truth was not based on revelation, tradition or authority; it was to be founded on reason and observation. The thinkers of the Enlightenment Tradition succeeded in creating an original form of philosophic thought. But, then, insofar as content was concerned, they had to be dependent upon the treasure-trove of thoughts of the preceding centuries. Looked at from this stand- point, modem thought has many things to learn from ancient thought traditions which are relevant even today. The quintessence of Rg. Vedic thought is brought home to us with its confident assertion: Truth is one, the learned may describe it variously (ekam sat, vipralt bahudha badanti).

There is much in Vedic India's educational thought to turn to when the need has been increasingly felt for value-orientation in our educational system. The RgVeda mentions the simple but important ceremony of upanayana and the concept of brahmacharin as essential preconditions for a student. Ceremonies became more complex and elaborate with the crystallization of the caste system, as from the later Vedic times. But the traditions remained, upanayana on a restricted basis while that of samavartana (graduation) has survived in the modern secular society in the form of university convocations. At the end of an ancient samavartana when a brahmacharin was to return to normal life, some of the Master's final admonitions-cum-adjurations to the brahmacharin were: 'Speak the truth. He dries up from his root who speaks untruth'; 'Follow Dharma or Righteousness. There is nothing higher than Dharma'; One is not to cut oneself from Truth. One is not to cut oneself away from Dharma. One is not to cut oneself away from Good Actions'; 'Do only those deeds which are not blame- worthy, do not do other deeds'; 'Follow only those deeds of ours which: are good, and not other ones' (English renderings of texts in Sanskrit as made by Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji). Can value education be taught? It is the function of teaching to teach. But, at the same time, it is a part of ancient India's educational thought that certain essential values have got to be cultivated by the learner, and that among these the learner is to be enabled to discover by means of self-cultivation and self-development all that is intended to be learnt. The upanayana rite helped shape the mind of the young learner. Rabindranath Tagore was initiated into the rite at the age of 12, in 1873. The poet gave a brief account of the impact it made on, him in his Jivan-smriti (1912). In his scholarly brochure. 'A Shortened Arya Hindu Vedic Wedding and Initiation Ritual' (Calcutta, 1976), Prof. Suniti Kumar Chatterji gave extensive coverage of it, besides making a textual study of the ritual.

RgVedic education principally concerned itself with oral transmission of the sacred texts by the teacher to his/her pupil, it being noted that in the early Vedic period women were admitted on a footing of equality with men to full religious rites and educational facilities. Upanayana was considered to provide the right to entry' for a young student desirous of learning. The Atharva- veda and the Shatpatha Brahmana give details of the spiritual significance of this initiation ceremony. It was in the post-Vedic period (600-300 B.C.) that rituals concerned with education came to be elaborated. In theory, all the three upper castes (Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) were entitled to receive education. But in reality, education in course of time was substantially monopolised by the brahmanas until the situation came to be remedied in Buddhist educational centres. The crystallisation of the caste system was manifest in the field of education in the post-Vedic period. After upanayana, the minimum age of entry to education was 8 for brahmanas, 11 for kshatriyas, and 12 for vaishyas ; the maximum age limit was 16 for a brahmana, 22 fori a kshatriya, and 24 for a vaishya. Apart from upanayana age, there were different semesters caste-wise. Thus, spring was the time for performance of the upanayana for a brahmana, summer for a kshatriya, and autumn for a vaishya. The Vedic initiation, upanayana, was permissible for girls as well in the early ages, but this went out of existence with the coming of Manurajya. The Manusmriti held that girls' upanayana should be performed without the recitation of Vedic incantations; further, it was held that it was the marriage ritual of: girls which corresponded to the upanayana rite of boys. Be that as it might be, the upanayana ceremony opened the gates of studentship in ancient India under the guidance of an acharya. The subjects taught had profound educational value.

Dr. (Ms.) Bharati Barua's scholarly work unfolds for us a vivid tapestry of the upanayana samskara prevalent in our ancient past with all its comprehensiveness. It is a fully documented study based on authoritative texts she has used as an aid to her study. Besides discussing the upanayana discipline in all its details in a series of chapters, she has succeeded in making a thoughtful study of the educational discipline of the initiate. The ethics of the ceremony as she has analysed highlighting the social and moral value thereof should prove relevant to the current debate on value-orientation in the educational system. There is always scope, after the' Enlightenment and Radical traditions thereafter up to the present, to interpret ancient ideas progressively to suit the needs of our society. I commend Miss Barua's work to the attention of the academia and the interested general readers.



The ancient Hindus developed a science of life which centred round their beliefs and practices. They evolved a system of samskaras (sacraments), from conception to death, to mark .every important epoch in the life of an individual. The main object of the samsKaras was to create conditions for the development of an integrated personality of an individual who could adjust himself with all the stages of the pervading world with human as well as superhuman forces. The Samskaras regulated the social customs and religious performances. They showed the path of social and religious obligations, maintaining the intellectual and cultural level of the ancient Hindus. T.hey developed, refined and purified the human life, raised the personality of an individual and imparted sanctity and importance to his body. They were intended to shower material prosperity and fulfil the spiritual aspiration of a man and ultimately to prepare him for a transcendental life which was the goal fixed for life by the Hindus. The SamsKaras were thus the expression of their beliefs, sentiments, aspirations, hopes and fears.

Generally sixteen sacraments (sodasa samskaras) have been recognised by the ancient authorities, viz., garbhadhana (conception), Pumsavana (quickening a male child), Simantonnayana (hair parting), Jatakarma (birth ceremonies), namakarana (name-giving), niskramana (first outing), annaprasana (first feeding), Cudakarana (tonsure), Karnavedha (boring of the cars), Vidyarambha (learning of alphabet), Upanayana (in- vestiture with sacred thread), Vedarambha (beginning of the study of the Veda), Kesanta (shaving of head)or godana (gift of a cow), Samavartana (returning home from the house of the acarya), Vivaha (marriage) and antyesti (last rites). The upanayana samskara had a great educational value which brought the life to the intellectual light of knowledge and learning. It demarcated one stage of life with another. It meant the crossing of the bar of the childhood and entering studentship under the care and guidance of an acarya (preceptor). It was the sacrament of a person desirous of learning. It was a bodily samskara full of religious significance. It meant a life of perfect and stern discipline. When initiated, the life of an individual was one of brahmachary a (celibacy) and dedication.

Its aim was to make a student a successful scholar and a full-fledged man, fit to share the responsibility of the world. Thus the upanayana samskara had a distinctive role to play in training an individual and preparing him for the life which lay ahead. The samskara, though still in vogue in the society, is losing its importance, for its value, social and moral, is not understood by a majority of the people and particularly by the younger generation which mocks at it because of the' growing and ever expanding climate in the country that all for which India stood in the past is obsolete and the younger generation is to be guided by a new norm of life. But the tragedy is that the valuable institutions and practices of the past are discarded without evolving better norms of life. The society has thus come to a cross-road where it stands confused without any light to guide it. It is, therefore, necessary that a thorough study of the ancient institutions and practices be made to derive home their real value and awaken the drifting and floating mass of the youngsters without any ethical rudder. If the real value of the upanayana samskara is understood, it will have salutary effect upon the society. As there is no independent work on the subject, an attempt has been made in the following pages to recount the cultural value of the upanayana samskara and bring forth its importance as conceived by the ancients.

The oldest manuals of the Hindu samskaras are the Grhyasutras and the Dharmasastras. The Grhyasutras deal with the domestic rites which the house- holders were required to perform in their individual capacity. They discuss and develop the socio-religious aspects of the samskaras of that age. The Dharma- sutras are closely connected with the Grhyasutras, though they are concerned principally with the rules and regulations about the conduct of men as a member of the Hindu community and do not describe the ritual of any kind.

In the Dharmasastras the Hindu institutions like the upanayana found their expression according to the views of the authors. A study of the upanayana samskara in ancient India will not be complete without a thorough investigation of the rules laid down in the Sutras and the Dharmasastras. In addition to the principal works, I have examined closely the commentaries on the Sutras and the Dharmasastras to make my study more meaningful.

I have divided the whole study under seven Chapters: (i) The origin and meaning of the upanayana samskara ; (ii) The preparation for the initiation ceremony; (iii) The ritual of the ceremony; (iv) The educational discipline of the initiate; (v) The end of the formal studentship; (vi) The ethics of the sams- kara, and (vii) Conclusion.

These chapters will bring out in detail the meaning, importance, purpose and value of the ceremony in one's life. The details of the ritual explain the stages in the performance of the ceremony and indicate its bearing upon the life of the initiate as conceived by the ancient authorities.

In conclusion, I offer my respectful thanks to Dr. V. B. Mishra, Professor of History, Gauhati University (Assam), without whose ungrudging help and guidance this work would have never been completed.




  Preface xvii
  The System of Transliteration xxi
  List of Abbreviations xxiii
Chapter One The Origin And Meaning Of The Upanayana Samskara. 1-12
Chapter Two The Preparation For The Initiation Ceremony 13-36
Chapter Three The Ritual Of The Ceremony 37-59
Chapter Four The Educational Discipline Of The Initiate 60-115
Chapter Five The End Of The Formal Student - Ship 116-127
Chapter Six The Ethics Of The Samskara 128-131
Chapter Seven Conclusion 132-133
  Bibliography 134-150
  Index 151

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