[Advaita-l] Upanayana

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun Feb 1 07:57:12 CST 2015

On Sat, 31 Jan 2015, Sunil Bhattacharjya wrote:

> Namaste,
> If I can share the discussions I have the following understanding.
> The boy should be 7 years old (i.e., he he is past his 7th birthday).
> Alternatively he should be 7 years and 3 months old (i.e., he is past 8
> years from the time of conception).

>From my reading of the sUtra and its commentaries, it seems that the 
period of pregnancy should be taken as a whole year even though it is 
actually 9 months.

> In exceptional cases the time can be
> relaxed to 5 years, as was the case of Adi Shankaracharya. The upper limit
> of age is 11 years and after that upanayana can be performed only by doing
> prayachhitta.

According to dharmashastras, the proper times are (either from birth or 
conception)  8 to 16 years for a Brahmana.  11 to 22 years for a Rajanya 
(I.e. Kshatriya) and 12 to 24 years for a Vaishya.  These numbers are 
significant because there are 8 aksharas in each pada of gayatri chhanda, 
11 aksharas in each pada of trishtubha chhanda, and 12 aksharas in each 
pada of jagati chhanda.  However in actual practice it is done anytime 
before marriage and often combined with the marriage ceremony itself 
especially amongst the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas (and sadly, backward or 
miserly Brahmanas.)  In one extreme case I saw a boy go through Upanayana, 
Samavartana, and marriage in quick succession spending a grand total of 
half an hour in brahmacharya ashrama!  Surely this is not what our Rshis 

However there is atleast one example of a late upanayana within shruti 
itself.  In Chhandogyopanishad 6.1, Shvetaketu, the grandson of Aruna is 
twelve years old when his father (Uddalaka Aruni) chides him:

"Shvetaketu, take up Brahmacharya.  For there is none in our family dear 
one, who has not learned the Veda and is merely a Brahmabandhu."

Shankaracharya glosses the fathers speech as:

"Well Shvetaketu find a guru, fit for your family, go to him and live as a 
Brahmachari.  Because it is shameful that one born in our family should 
not know the Veda and should be a Brahmabandhu--i.e. someone who only 
calls Brahmanas his relatives and does not himself behave like a 

So it seems that even if such things happened they were considered 
unseemly.  If one does not undergo upanayana at all, one is considered a 
patitasavitrika and should make amends as soon as possible.  After three 
(some say four) generations of this one is considered a vratya and has 
lost dvija status.  Supposedly there is a yajna called vratyastoma the 
perfermance of which was a sort of Vedic "ghar wapsi" for vratyas. 
However realistically people who have gone several generations with even a 
basic rite like upanayana are probably assimilated to some other culture 
for good.


> As regards the Gayatri japa, what I understand is that 1,000 (1,008) japas
> is for purification of this birth and another 1,000 (1,008) japas for
> purification of the past birth. Gayatri japa of 100,000 times is, of course,
> very special. It issaid that Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya succeeded in his
> efforts to establish the Benares Hindu University, only after he did 100,000
> times Gayatri japa on the bank of Ganga.

No that is the tantric rite of purashcharana which can be done with 
Gayatri or other mantras for gaining various siddhis or as a prayaschitta. 
It is unrelated to the subject at hand.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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