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.
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 Brahmins 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.