Hindu Coming of Age The Sacred Thread Ceremony or “Upanayana”.
Coming of age- Becoming an adult. When a boy reaches a stage where he is considered to be mature enough to mark his becoming an adult, the Sacred Thread Ceremony is performed. Traditionally, this used to be celebrated when a boy left home to go and live with his Guru or spiritual advisor. Nowadays it happens when the boy reaches puberty. This is now less of a serious ceremony and more an opportunity for celebrations. A booth is often built in front of the house and its posts decorated with trees and flowers. Invitations are sent to friends and relatives and feasts are held on the days leading up to the thread day.
On the day of the giving of the thread, pipers and drummers start playing on their instruments and the water clock is set up. The exact age when a boy is considered to be old enough to perform this ceremony differs depending on the Caste that he belongs to, but it is normally sometime between the ages of 7 to 15. It is seen as the time when a boy is becoming more independent of his mother. In preparation for the ceremony, the boy’s head is shaved and he is presented to the Gods of his household. He and his father normally make an offering. Presents are given to the boy and his parents. Mother and boy are bathed and anointed together. This is the last time a boy is spoon fed by his mother, so he will often sit in her lap and she will symbolically feed him from a spoon to represent this.
The boy will sit on the Guru’s left hand side and will promise to obey all orders that he is given. His hands are then covered with a cloth and there is beating of drums and shells being blown. The Guru whispers into the right ear of the boy words that he must not repeat to anyone else.
The boy will then beg from his mother and other ladies at the ceremony and he will be given tokens of wheat, rice, sweets or a small amount of silver and gold money. He passes these to his Guru.
At the end of this ceremony, the boy will be given his sacred thread. This is a thread consisting of three parts and wound together. It is worn across the boy’s shoulder and is usually worn for life. It is made of cotton. It is given so that the good which is in the boy may remain and that he may receive spiritual blessings. In some Hindu societies, a man may not be allowed to marry until he has received his sacred thread.
The boy is blessed by the Hindu teacher or priest and in the blessing, the community ask for long life, strength and intelligence for the boy. This is a boy wearing his sacred thread. He is also wearing a girdle of munja grass A boy or man who wears the sacred thread should be pure in thought, word and deed. A new thread is worn and the old one discarded every new year. This happens on a specific date of the calendar. Further threads might be added if the man gets married or studies further.
The final part of the ceremony is when the boy takes off the girdle, puts on new clothes, a pair of shoes and an umbrella and pretends to set off on a journey. The priest or uncle of the boy tries to persuade him to stay by promising him the hand of his daughter in marriage so he stays!
What does the ceremony mean? The boy should now have control over his thoughts, words and deeds. He is given a staff to help him to have control over himself and a yellow cloth called a Kaupina representing that he has a new start into adulthood. He should lead a pure life and should study the Hindu scriptures.