True facts on Upanayana among Hindus.

Just a day or two back I saw a discussion on Facebook on Indian caste system. It’s very true that caste system in India is still prevalent and quite rigid at many places, especially in interior rural areas. Lot of it is due to illiteracy and possibly proper education system in our rural sector might help in eradicating this menace from our society.

But what took my attention was some discussion on Upanayana or thread ceremony, as followed among followers of Hindu philosophy of life. Some sweeping generalized comments were made which is not really 100% true. Yes I agree Upanayana these days is taken as a birth right for people belonging to few selected castes but it’s also untrue that others are not getting. Things are changing and doing so for past many years.

Let us first know the science behind Upanayana. It is a scientifically proven fact that a vein passing through the ear regulates the flow of urine. Applying pressure and acupuncture principle on different points in our ears, is a medically acclaimed remedy for many of our urinary troubles. Therefore, when one wears the sacred thread around the ear, a pressure is created at points which in turn help the urinary system to regulate the urine flow, thus keeping his urinary system, bladder, etc. healthy and free of problems. Lot many of these scientific practices have been attached to God so that we get to perform them correctly. To explain them all to people in details the science behind it is not always possible. A layman might not get the point and never follow.

When it comes to girls, if this scientific theory is taken into consideration, Upanayana really is not needed. The multiple ear piercing and wearing the ear-rings are already helping in creating the pressure. Also there was a tradition by Indian women to wear ear-rings which had a chain going around ear lobe, this is more like applying similar pressure as done by boys with a janeyu.

Is there really a caste or gender barrier when it comes to Upanayana? No, this practice is for everyone. Even girls! It is with time that changes happened and the practice got limited to maybe 1-2 castes. But does that mean it is not happening in India as being projected by few while slamming? Again that’s a wrong fact.

Women priests

Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya

I read an article sometime back telling about a village in Bihar where girls, irrespective of caste go through Upanayana ceremony. LINK HERE. Not just this, there are schools now who are training women as priests and these women all go through Upanayana. Sunitee Gadgil, a priest from Pune herself got janeyu and became a priest more than 10 years back. And currently she herself initiated more girls. There is an institution for women Dyanprabodhini in Pune who are training women as priests IRRESPECTIVE of what caste they belong to. (LINK HERE) Have you all ever heard about Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya in Mehmoorganj? This school for past more than 40years is imparting Vedic knowledge besides training girls as priests. These girls, many of whom, go through Upanayana ceremony. Quoting the Pricipal of the college from THIS LINK – “…the college principal teaches the students that anyone who can read and understand the Vedas are also entitled to wear the janev (sacred thread).” Besides these let me tell about few temples which have women priests, all of whom got initiated with the sacred thread. The Shakti temple right next to Dharmaya temple in Bangalore has a women priest. Many remote temples in Kerela are served by women priests through generations. There is a place near Chennai which has the Adi Para Shakti temple. Again that has women priest. Ongur in Trichy is served again by women priests.

Now let us come to the next point that only Brahmins are given this thread. Again this is not the complete truth. I agree that is the most prevalent one, but let us not get into generalizing it. From our Vedic era itself Upanayana was never for any specific caste. It was taken that anyone who wants to get started with education would go through this ceremony. Even Shudras had the rights. The Sanatkumara Samhita tells us about Tantric Upanayana for Shudras. Even in our Varahapurana it tells in details about Shudra Upanayana. In Mahabharata, Chapter 131 in the Uma Maheshwar conversation, the Lord tells his consort “Shudro Paye AgamasampannoDweejo Bhavati Samskrataha”. Meaning – “By adhering to the agama scriptures (in other words getting initiated through pancharatric system), a shudra also becomes a Brahmin.”

And interestingly it is followed even today. Shaivites even today do initiate Shudras as priests. These people get Upanayana initiation and become priests. In the Lingaraja temple at Bhuvaneshwar the worship is done by both upanayanaBrahmins and Shudra priests. (LINK HERE) The Durga temple in Dhoopchandi, UP (near Varanasi) does not follow the tradition of Brahmin by birth priests. It is the boatmen of that area who go through thread ceremony, learn vedic mantras and become the priests. ISKON also initiate people and they follow the Pancharatrik system. The thread ceremony done by ISKON never look into the caste of the seeker. Many other Vaishnavite organisation also follow the same. They follow Upanayana process as explained by Sanatana Goswami. He was Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s disciple and he explained about all such process in his book Hari Bhakti Vilasa. Gaudiya Math people follow this system and when they perform thread ceremony, never do they ask for your caste.

So you see it is a wrong fact that in India ONLY Brahmins (boys) are going through Uapanayana and becoming priests. I agree this ceremony is done more among Brahmins. But to slam and say that is the only thing happening in India is wrong. People’s perspectives are changing. Society is not the same as being projected by many. The practice and thought process that janeyu is ONLY for Brahmin is prevalent in our society. But to say that is the sole thought process is wrong. I even chatted with three priests known to me. And all of three said they have no issues if someone from other caste comes forward for Upanayana. What I could gather from discussion with these priests is that because people of other caste also take it Upanayana is for Brahmins, they never come forward. One even chuckled and said this also saves them from another round of financial expense.

Criticising a system or race or religion without full knowledge is easy. But, to make such general sweeping charges while demeaning a system is very wrong in my opinion. It is always better to get facts right before making such general charges. It is the wrong mindset that needs to be changed and that cannot be done by criticism alone. That can be done by getting knowledge about the true state of affairs and showing people the changes that are happening. Criticism for the sole reason to criticize and that too with half knowledge is not the solution. Show the world how society is changing so that more would come forward and embrace the same. And this is the reason today for this post of mine!!! Hope this can change the century old mindset of many and also remove wrong concepts from the mind of others and we can get a better world to live in.





13 thoughts on “True facts on Upanayana among Hindus.

  1. Thanks for the post. Frankly even I had the wrong facts with me. Gauriya math giving poite to non brahmins, I knew as I saw it happening in Kalighat. That it is happening at other places too, very good sign for our society.


  2. Nice of you to bring to notice the points. Most of us are probably unaware of them. I for one always knew it was for brahmins boys. The women angle is a new one for me. Thank you so much!

    Do be here, missed your articles last many days.


  3. Excellent article. On my trekking thru Uttarakhand village I met a sadhak. Forgot the exact name. People of village called him swamiji. He had a small ashram n he had students from all caste from the villages around. They pursued spiritual studies. And here I saw 1st time irrespective of caste barrier the boys had janeu n practicing jaap.

    I agree to the fact our society do have to get rid of the caste menace. It is rampant but that we are not evolving is false. I have seen girl priest in Kerela. Our shastras have many such example, and many intellectuals are now changing the society.

    Let us take the cue n project the better side, together am sure we can bring in the change.


  4. Only yesterday I was having discussion with someone on the subject………and I was so wrong on the woman poite part. Woman priest I know do exist. So woman poite also happens! In kolkata there is a durga puja which is done by a woman priest. Shudra poite also I am confident can be done if the priest is true……not one of business mind. Every small change even by a small group can help changing our system to better.


  5. At the outset, I will say it’s a really heartneing article. Also, you dont have to say ‘others’, it’s me, and you can say it. ‘Girls don’t need to have upnayan because their ears get pierced earlier’ would suggest Upanayan is all about ‘nerves’. Then why do boys need it? Let them have their ears pierced too and be done with it. Truth is, it’s a falacy, and your article itself goes on to agree and prove that girls CAN and have upanayan and that Upanayan is not just about a ‘nerve’ in the ear. It’s simpy a small part of a bigger picture, of gaining knowledge and graduating to adulthood. And this is precisely the kind of language that harms the history of these kind of practices.

    I have never been against the ceremony. It’s a beautiful ceremony, and deserving of a place in coming of age part in children. My only contention is that it should be available to everyone as you say it used to be. The operating phrase being ‘it used to be’. I am sure there are cases of people other than brahmins having this ceremony, as you have mentioned. But today’s society by and large is based on discrimination and rigidifying the caste system in the name of shastras, and just as you have proven, in the wrong way. I am against the way it’s practiced today. And justified by hiding behind half baked knowledge.

    Interestingly, I spoke with a friend here yesterday with same age children and asked if they would consider initiating their kids into Upanayan. The reply was …. Shock. Redicule. Idea that I am weird to even suggest that anyone other than brahmins can do it, and of course I am totally wrong in even suggesting it. Followed by – they don’t want to at all give thread ceremony even if they can because they don’t want their children to become ‘brahmins’.

    So basically, by and large, you wear have upanayan only if you want to become brahmin or become a priest, or become a sanyasi. And it has got nothing to do with gaining knowledge. That’s what 1.19 billion people of Indian know and think.

    Can it be changed? I am sure. Maybe in another 1000 years. But it will be heartening. Till then, small changes will make the difference. Like this all girls school. Like the father in the article who went against the norm and initiated his grils and started the tradition. Like brahmins not claiming the upanayan ceremony like some kind of ‘bragging-right-badge-of-being-better-than-rest-tucch-pranis’.

    Like I would have loved to have a girl who I could have initiated into this ceremony. Or belong to another caste and then initiate my boys. Looking forward to a time when it will not be a bastian or preserve of few boys in the society simply by virtue of their birth. It’s time we upper caste people started to make some changes. My contribution would be not to initiate my sons into this ceremony unless I have same age children from other castes of all genders openly participating in it. Without reserve and conditions. If Hindu dharma is not a religion and is a way of life, then it should be a way of life for everyone. Period.


    • Firstly, you agree to the fact that you made a wrong statement that “Everyone” feel upanayana is for only Brahmins and did that with full knowledge of half facts just to prove your point! Isn’t that exactly is the fact which lead to degeneration of our social custums? People lacked proper knowledge and they were fed wrong ones. So please do follow the truth. Fact is now there is a section in our society who are taking the correct path and its not as you said “Everyone”. And the points I gave are only those which are in public domain. Who knows, there could be many.

      You prove your point with one example of your friend. What about so many others who are following the other path? Don’t they matter? You cannot throw them all out of the window just to prove your point. I never said all you said was wrong. Majority definitely feel as you said but there is the other side too. I wanted to show you and others this part so that we can take these examples to spread the word. I don’t support mere criticism, criticism should always be supported with action.

      As for Upanayana is only to become Brahmin, why not? And I can see very well that you here are taking Brahmin as caste just as your friend. Brahmin is a state where a specific knowledge is gained. If majority take it as caste so should you, then your basic logic of removing caste system gets ruined. And what’s wrong if Upanayana is made as a rule to be followed to gain some specific knowledge. Don’t we go through 100s of rules during college admission? So if Upanayana is a rule which our Vedas put forth for this specific knowledge, what’s the harm especially when there is no caste barrier?

      You made a point and I proved you wrong. 😉 Now just for the sake of debate you want to carry on, do so. I would only say, spread the word. If one friend could not be convinced carry on with others. Don’t put forth that as example and start slamming the whole system. They’ll be forced to think and this thinking can bring in the change among few. This is the one of the way we can contribute to betterment of our society.


      • Bhaskar, I didn’t say ‘everyone’. I said ‘by and large’. There is a difference. Big time. The word ‘Everyone’ has been used precisely twice in the above argument of mine, both times to reiterate that this is something that should be available to all. Go back, read again. I am raising voice against the practice of hereditary ‘Upanayan’. Does it mean it’s how the majority thinks? No. Are there exceptions like me? Sure. What’s the percentage? If you were to poll today, right here, how many would agree with me (especially those who are uppercaste themselves) that ‘Upanayan’ or ‘janehu’ is for everyone? “Other side’ has always existed, in every field. Unfortunately, exceptions don’t make a rule.

        In Sikh religion, a follower can gain the highest form of respect by becoming ‘Amritdhari’. It’s based on individual effort, and is not hereditary. In my world ‘Upanayan’ would be something similar. It would not be something that one dons right before marriage to prove they are upper caste – a practice widely followed in North. That would mean a child who gets Upanayan, would become a ‘brahmin’ – as in one who can start getting versed in the vedas, but his son will not. If brahminism is simply gaining of higer knowledge, then it would not become hereditary. It would not matter if the child is a boy, a girl, a shudra (who are exclusively excluded) and vaishya. There would not be ‘unwanted’ children as the differences between families would dissolve, as anyone will be able to become a brahmin, but it would not be a birth right.


        • “Sahana upanayana is coming of age ceremony only for Brahmins. If we are to really address the caste issue in world history text books, it would have to also address why only certain kids in a society are deserving of a coming of age ceremony that in no uncertain terms places them at the top tier of hierarchy in a social structure by virtue of birth….”

          This was your comment. I leave it upon you to now decide what it means.


  6. Minnie, it’s not true to say “So basically, by and large, you wear have upanayan only if you want to become brahmin or become a priest, or become a sanyasi. And it has got nothing to do with gaining knowledge. That’s what 1.19 billion people of Indian know and think.”.

    How do you know what 1.19 billion people think? If I ask all the people I know closely in Bangalore they will all perhaps tell me more about upanayana that I do not know.

    Fact is, we think the entire world believes what we believe or we survey a small sample and think the whole world thinks that way.

    There’s a lot more digging we need to do to get to the truth. Like learning to read texts in Sanskrit for instance. Also Bhaskar, Hindus are not a race…you need to correct your headline.

    What I know about upanayana is that it is a coming-of-age ceremony where deep spiritual thoughts and philosophy are passed on from one generation to the next. In the early Vedic Age, there is evidence that women and girls were taking part in the ceremony. At some point of time, the roles of women and men got highly differentiated and codified as society became more complex. A nomadic society became agricultural and then gradually more and more occupations were added. Upanayan became a men-only ceremony and slowly became an upper-caste only ceremony.

    We need to delve deeper into the history of rituals and understand why they were developed. Then we need to retrieve them from the unpleasant or unfair changes they were subjected to. I am glad to know that Bihar has taken a lead here.

    I have been thinking of doing a coming of age ceremony for my daughter too, after she finishes high school. It will not be an upanayan ceremony but it will be inspired by it. I want to get as many of the elders she knows and respects to pass on some spiritual knowledge to her. Let me see how to make it happen.


  7. Sahana, putting our head into the sand will not make the reality go away. I am sure you have friends who know more about the ceremony. You also must know numerous people who don’t know about it around the world. Pick up the phone and ask – “what do you know about upnayan” – and come back and tell me what you learnt. It’s a challenge if you can find even 1% people in India, let alone the world, who would not use the ‘Upanaya’ and ‘Brahmin’ in the same sentence. History becomes pretty irrelevant when a relevant cultural practice from thousands of years ago is used as a tool of power play.

    No one is arguing that we need to learn more. However, today we as a society worldwide go by what is prevalent today, and shape our thought process and life according to that, and not what was prevalant 5000 years ago.

    Where do you start the research? Internet? If you do, either one comes across articles like this one that Bhaskar has written (beautifully done by the way), or this one:

    How do you balance?


    • Clicked submit before I finished…sorry about that….

      But as I was saying….the research itself can lead to erroneous conclusions mainly because things have been convulated to such an extent that even coming to a consensus can be very difficult. While we know that caste system was based on skill set, it got codified into discriminationatory practices.

      As you said ‘At some point of time, the roles of women and men got highly differentiated and codified as society became more complex.”

      Unfortunately, our foremost book of dharma, Bhagwat Gita, is not above it either.

      adharmabhibhavat krishna pradusyanti kula-striyah
      strisu dustasu varsneya jayate varna-sankarah

      The translation by Swami Prabhupada goes on to say: Good population…….depends on the chastity and faithfulness of women. As children are prone to be misled, women are very prone to degradation. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultry. According to Chnakya Pandita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy’.

      This quote is from one of the most widely read translations of Bhagwad Gita, by the founder of ISKCON. with this kind of wisdom floating around for all to read and comprehend, discrimination is not going anywhere anytime soon.

      I love the fact that you are considering something like that for your daughter. I would love to initiate my kids to something like that as well. Something that gives them all the knowledge, without the badge of being superior.


  8. Beautiful article, even I had no knowledge about any of the two. I too took it only brahmins had the right to thread ceremony. This knowledge for others can change the thinking of many.

    Personally don’t think we can say for sure how many really want to make a status quo. Besides these organisations & people there could be lot many who might be thinking on the same line and want the change to happen. We cannot come to conclusion from handful that they feel only brahmins can get it. This knowledge can get many think otherwise. If so many of us can change our thought process after this new knowledge, there could be many others. Mighty chance they are simply keeping quiet. A sample from few 100s cannot give any conclusive result.

    Happy and feel warmth to see change is happening. I am definitely gonna share this information, and starting it with my own family members.


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