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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rituals and Practices - 3

Other rituals

In his book on Gita Rahasya (Vol II Page 919),Tilak says that the Bhagavatha religion considered animal sacrifice as objectionable. Therefore this was replaced by sacrifice of wealth (hence the word thannamama). Later still other ways of obtaining moksha such as prayer (japa), austerities (vratha), pilgrimage (yatra) to sacred temples and rivers were prescribed. These were meant for those (women and specific castes) that were excluded from performing yagnas and homas and for those who do not have the means and as a means of getting rid of sins (prayaschitta).


Pilgrimage to rivers (Theertha yatra) such as Ganges and Kauveri is particularly common in India. The word theertha means “that which enables a man to cross an obstacle (a river)”. The river seems to have symbolic meaning at several levels.
1.The water comes from the sea and merges into the sea.
2.The water of the river is not different from that of the ocean and indicates flow of life.
3. Rivers contribute to prosperity. They also cause calamity.
4. The banks keep changing. Yet the unity of appearance is maintained.

Upaakarma and upanayanam

Sacred thread is a symbol worn primarily by the Brahmin men. Others belonging to Vaishya caste also wear the sacred thread. Women do not. There is a special ceremony when a young boy is vested with these threads at which time he gets his initiation into special daily japas. These japas are performed three times a day (at sunrise, middle of the day and at sunset).

What is the symbolism behind these threads (sutra)? Why are there three threads? The answers together with the mantra specific to wearing the threads are seen in a small Upanishad called the Brahmopanishad.

The word sutra means a thread. The word also denotes the unmanifested essence, the Absolute behind the entire universe. This Absolute holds together the Universe just as a thread holds together a string of pearls (thread as a support for the pearls). Thread is also what a cloth is made of (thread as inherent in a cloth). The Absolute spews out this universe, out of itself and takes it back into Itself, just as a spider weaves its thread out of itself. These symbolic ideas seem to be the basis for the use of threads or sutras.

Why the three threads? The sacred thread is called thrivit sutra, three strands. These three may represent the three gunas of the primordial prakriti from which all of this universe evolved, according to Samkhya philosophy. The three gunas are sattva (peaceful,tranquil), rajas(active) and tamas(ignorant,dull).

These three threads may also stand for thejas (fire), aapa (water) and anna (food). The three threads are tied into a knot which is placed on the left side in front of the heart where the prana or the vital force or the Divine Light resides.

The following is the mantra to be uttered while wearing the thread.
Yagnopaveetham paramam pavithram
Prajaapatheh yatsahaja, purasthaath
AAyushyam argyam prathimuncha shubram
Yagnopaveetham balamasthi thejah.

The exact meaning of this mantra is: “In the heart, the Devas live, the Pranas are present; in the heart, Supreme Light and the Immanent Cause with threefold constituents and the mahat reside. Let this sacrificial thread which is supremely sacred, which becomes manifest of yore with Prajapathi (the first created being), which embodies longevity, eminence and purity bring strength to you”.


Sipping three spoonfuls of water before and at the end of taking food is called aachamanyam. The origin of this practice may be traced to a passage in Chandogya Upanishad V.2.1. In this passage Prajapathi says that all food or anna (anna in sanskrit means that which is eaten; ath is to eat) is for the sake of Prana, the vital force. Then, “food” (anna) asks: “what is my garment?” Prajapathi says “water is your garment” (AApah ithi vaasah). Therefore people take water before and after food. (Yethath ashishyanthah purasthaath uparishtaath)


The practice of touching various parts of the body while uttering specific mantras is called nyasa. This routine owes its origin probably to the tantric system. During daily practice of sandhyavandanam (morning and evening ablution) and maadhyanhikam (ablution at noon) you will see the performer touch various parts of his body uttering the name of several deities. These names are Kesava, Narayana, Maadhava, Govinda, Vishnu,Madhusudhana, Trivikrama,Vaamana,Sridhara, Hrishikesa,Padmanabha and Damodara.

According to the Visishtadvaita, the Supreme Brahman abides in a four-fold form (vyuha) as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. Paramapurushan, Parabrahman possess six divine qualities. What are those Divine qualities? They are: knowledge, strength, lordship, virility, potency and splendor.

Sri Vasudeva possesses all six of these qualities of the Supreme Brahman. From Him evolve Kesava,Narayana and Madhava; they are hypostatization of these six Divine qualities, two in each.

Sankarshana possesses knowledge and strength and from him evolve Govinda, Vishnu,Madhusudhana responsible for creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe.

Pradyumna possesses lordship and virility and from Him evolve Trivikrama, Vaamana, Sridhara to protect individual souls.

Aniruddha represents potency and splendor, rules over individuation and helps liberate the individual. From Him evolve Hrishikesa, Padmanabha and Damodara.

This is also the basis of the presiding deities of the 12 months.

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