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Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 05 Dec 2019

     

Can You please explain the significance of the practices related to the holy thread ceremony?

Shri Sai Ram Kiran asked: During the holy thread ceremony, why is the young boy’s head shaven except for a small portion of hair on the head? Also, why are the boy’s ears pierced for wearing ear-rings? What is the significance of the holy thread consisting of three strands?

Swami replied: O Learned and Devoted Servants of God! The holy thread ceremony of a young boy is known as upanayanam and it marks the beginning of the boy’s education. After this ritual, the boy is supposed to go and live with the teacher and learn knowledge. At the teacher’s place, he is not to expect comfort. Every day, he is expected to take a cold water bath over the head. If he has hair on the head, he might easily catch a cold. At the same time, the head should not be completely shaven either because only saints (monks) are supposed to shave their head completely. So, some hair at the top of the head is left growing. It usually grows somewhat long, hanging behind the head and is known as the śikhā. It stands for the rest of the hair that was shaven for practical reasons. The śikhā is usually never shaven, except on certain occasions. One such occasion is when a person visits a certain temple and offers all his hair to the deity. The complete shaving of one’s head at such temples, indicates that the person has almost become a saint. It indicates the detachment from worldly bonds as a result of one’s devotion. The ear-piercing to wear earrings increases nervous activity in the ears, which enables patient hearing of the knowledge given by God.

The three strands of the holy thread represent nature (prakṛti), consisting of the three fundamental qualities, sattvam (awareness), rajas (inert energy) and tamas (inert matter). It also represents the human body, which too, consists of the same three components. It means that you should learn knowledge from a human preacher and that finally, you should only worship the human form of God. You are advised to hold the three holy threads and recite the hymn related to the spiritual preacher (Tat savituḥ…pracodayāt). The essence of the hymn is that the preacher may enlighten your intellect. It means that you should surrender to the human spiritual preacher.

Girls and children of parents belonging to the fourth caste (śūdras) are not supposed to do this ritual. This is good, especially for girls, since they do not have to face the inconvenience of having to shave their heads and have a cold water bath every day. Neither girls nor the children of the fourth caste lose anything as a result of not doing this ritual. This is because, the real meaning of upanayanam is not some specific ritual, but getting close to God. Similarly, the gāyatri, which is to be performed by the boy thrice each day after this ritual, does not mean the recitation of a specific hymn. It means worshipping God through devotional songs. So, in this actual sense, nobody is forbidden from the real upanayanam and the real gāyatri. No one is forbidden from walking on the spiritual path. In fact, all girls and the children of the fourth caste have an advantage, because owing to their exclusion from the traditional ritual, they practice upanayanam and gāyatri in the actual sense!

 
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