[Advaita-l] Was Yjnopavita really a thread in ancient times?

sidha at omkarananda-ashram.org sidha at omkarananda-ashram.org
Fri Feb 11 06:00:54 CST 2005

Was Yjnopavita really a thread in ancient times?

The answer seems to be "NO".
Some places in the Veda suggest that it was only a cloth worn in a
particular way, but, indeed worn very similar to the way a thread is worn
now a days, i.e. above the left shoulder and below the left shoulder.
Taittiriya Brahmana 3-10-9-12 mentions a story. Here I'm following
Sayana's commentary on the Mantra.

"A Rishi called Devabhaaga Gautama, who had heard the Vedas, worshiped
Saavitra Agni, the fire (Tejas, radiance) in the Sun, (through meditating
upon it and realizing that it is his own self---commentary of Sayana).
Then a hidden voice said to him, "all is known to Gautama because he knows
this Saavitra Agni (the radiance of the Sun)". Gautama asked, "whose voice
is this?" The voice answered, "I'm the radiance of the Sun. I'm the
highest abode of all the Devas, i.e. all the Devas reside in me. I bear
the most secret/mystical splendour/light (Guhya Tejas well known in the
Vedanta---Sayana). After hearing this, Rishi Gautama, after making (his
cloth into) a Yjnopavita (sayana says, he made his own cloth into
Yajnopavita, i.e. wore it on his left shoulder) he fell down to the ground
and said, "namo namah". The voice said, "O Gautama! Don't fear, you have
attained my state".

Just for your kind information this is the splendour of the Sun which is
meditated upon also in the famous Gayatri Mantra (savitur bhargh -- the
Splendour of the Sun).

This is a very clear indication that he made his own cloth into a
Yajnopavita, means he wore it in a way as it should worn in a Yajna, while
worshipping Deva.
However, one can't get a better description of a Yajnopavita, than the one
given in Taittiriya Aranyaka 2-1-1. ---ajinaM vAso vA dakShiNata upavIya
dakShiNaM bAhumuddharate avadhatte savyamiti yajNopavItametadeva viparItam
prAcInAvItaM saMvItaM mAnuSham....
After wearing a cloth or deer-skin the right hand should come out and the
left hand should be within it, this is called Yajnopavita. Opposite to
this is called "prAcInAvita", and just worn on both shoulders (like people
wear a shawl) is called "Samvita", which is mAnuSha, i.e. all human wear
Yajnopavita was not worn all the time, as is very clear from the above
story from the Brahmana, where it is clearly mentioned that Gautama put on
the Yajnopavita when he decided to bow down to the Savitra Agni.
While describing the method to practice the recitation of the Veda, the
Taittiriya Aranyaka clearly mentions, one should recite the Vedas after
having worn the cloth from the right-side, as described above. "dakShiNata
upavIya" 2-11-1. This also makes it clear that Yajnopavita was a
sacrificial dressing, a particular way of wrapping the body with common
cloth, and it was only worn that way when worshiping.

The Samvita is called nivIta and yajnopavIta is called just upavIta in the
Krishna Yjurveda (Taittiriya Samhita). It says, 2-5-11-1, "nivIta should
be worn when worshiping humans (i.e. the Rishis), prAcInAvIta should be
worn when worshiping Pitara and upavIta should be worn when worshiping
Deva". This is the only place where Sayana says that a Yajnopavita can be
made out of a BrahmaSutra or a cloth. But, since while describing
Yajnopavita in Taittiriya Aranyaka a BrahmaSutra hasn't been mentioned, I
highly object such a baseless comment by Sayana. By base I mean "a Vedic
proof", there might be endless proofs in the DharmaShastras, but non from
the Veda itself. This shows very clearly that Such a BrahmaSutra didn't
exist in the Vedic Time, otherwise why was it not included in the List
given in the Taittiriya Aranyaka and Sayana also hasn't mentioned anything
there. The literal meaning of the term Upavita also just means "a cloth
that is wrapped around".
"tato devaa yajnopavItino bhUtvA" (Shatapatha Brahmana 2-4-2-1) also
clearly shows that Yajnopavita was not always worn. I think the Manusha
way, i.e. just wrapping around an Anga Vastra above both shoulders was the
common way. Shatapatha Brahmana 2-6-1-12 clearly mentions that "after
becoming a Yajnopaviti (a person wearing a Yajnopavita) he takes the ghee
(to put it into the fire".
So the conclusion is that the practice of wearing a BrahmaSutra, as the
Brahamanas do it today, always, didn't exist in the Vedic, Brahmana and
Aranyaka period.
Such an Upavita has been mentioned only in the ManuSmriti 2-44. But where
has it been mentioned in the Veda? And if such a sacred thread didn't
exist in Vedic times, I'm sure that the way of Upanayana that was
performed in the Vedic times, would have been very different from the
present form!
How funny it is today that Upanayana is nothing more than sacred thread
ceremony, even though Upanayana means to take the child to the master to
study the Vedas. It had nothing to do with sacred thread ceremony, and yet
today people do sacred thread ceremony and say they have performed
Upanayana. They never even go to a teacher to study any Mantra. Cannot
even recite the Gayatri Mantra. Worse is even that sacred thread ceremony
is being done just few moments prior to marriage, and when I tried to tell
how funny this is to some people in Delhi, they became angry and said,
"this is their tradition (?????????) and who am I to challenge it". This
is exactly what happens to me with some other issues also. I hope you
don't the same for my present article.
These are the facts, what should I do?
Why am I telling you all this, because I want to know the truth. Please
help me if you feel I'm wrong.
Love and respect to all,
Siddhartha Krishna

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