I was born into a Hindu Brahmin family and in December of 2006 I traveled to Chennai to attend my cousin’s sacred thread ceremony. What follows are excerpts from a little speech I gave for the ceremony explaining the significance of the event. My dear friend and mentor, the late Ramchandra Gandhi was the inspiration behind most of this! 

Good morning, my name is Meena. I’m Roshan’s cousin and a student of Indian philosophy and I’m going to talk a little about the symbolism behind the thread ceremony. Growing up in a town with a large Jewish population I would jokingly refer to the thread ceremony as the Brahmin Bar Mitzvah because like the Bar Mitzvah it is a rite of passage.   It wasn’t until a few years ago when I began to study Indian philosophy that I understood the deep beauty and significance of the thread ceremony known in sanskrit as upanayanam and poonal in tamil. So what is this thread ceremony all about? What does upanayanam mean? Well, in Sanskrit upa means near and nayanam means eye so this ceremony refers to bringing the ultimate Truth in sight. The beauty of Sanskrit is that so much can be said with so few words. The real purpose of the thread ceremony is to teach the secret of life through sacred mantras that express the nature of Truth or Ultimate Reality. So what is Truth in Hindu thought? Now, this is a pretty deep philosophical question to be tackling on a Friday morning and it can be answered in a variety of ways but for the purpose of our understanding today I will draw upon on school of Hindu Tradition advaita vedanta. Expounded by the adi sankaracarya and enlightened beings like Ramana Maharshi advaita vedanta is the profound philosophy of nonduality. Literally, advaita means non dual and vedanta means the end of knowledge, anta meaning end and ved from the rooot vid meaning knowledge. So with the end of knowledge we get the beginning of wisdom which is non dual, non divisive in nature. The foundation of this nondual philosophy is based on sacred texts known as the Upanishads which literally means sitting down near because this is how these teachings were originally taught, through oral transmission. Philosopher mystics of the Upanishads identify Brahman, the world soul, with Atman, the inner essence of the human being also known as what we call as individual’s or the human soul. Now Truth is expressed as Nirguna Brahman which means formless and attributeless. Advaita or nondual philosophy considers Brahman to be without any form, qualities, or attributes. So the purpose of this upanayam ceremony is not to separate Rishan out from the rest as a Brahmin but rather reinforces the nonseparation, nondual nature of existence. To be a Brahmin is to be a complete expression of Brahman which in Upanishadic thought refers to the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all things in this universe.This recognition of nonseparation and attempt to live in nonduality is what it means to be living in the expression of Brahman, to be a Brahmin and this is the purpose of today’s ceremony. Thus the thread Roshan receives today is a constant reminder of the fact “I am also you, I am also this tree, I am everything and nothing.” How beautiful!  So Upanayanam not only means the insightful eye or the directly seeing eye but also being brought close to these teachings which are the foundation of Hindu thought, Brahman(the nature of reality), Sat (Truth) or Tat (That which is) because nayanam is also rooted in neeta or being brought close. In the Hindu tradition life is divided into 4 stages: that of the student, the householder, the retired person and the ascetic. The Sacred Thread Ceremony signifies a young person’s formal entrance into the first stage of life, that of the student. Traditionally, the ceremony used to be performed for both boys and girls but culture is dynamic and nowadays mostly boys have the ceremony done. It should be noted that there is ample reference to the thread ceremony of women in our ancient texts and in Pune there has been a revival of the tradition of having girls partake in the thread ceremony. But gender and the evolution of culture aside we must not forget the deep symbolism and expression of nonduality this ceremony represents. In Hindu tradition important ideas are expressed in trinity’s—body, speech and mind, brahma, Vishnu, siva. The sacred thread consists of three strings, each representing various qualities or gunas. Some contend that the threads represent, Satya (Truth) Rajas (action) and Tamas (inertia).  Others believe it represents the three letters of AUM, the sacred sound from which everything and nothing is from and is. Om has the same root at omnipresent and omnipotent. Sri Aurobindo’s translation of the Mandukya Upanisad reads ”Om is this imperishable Word, Om is the universe, and this is the exposition of Om. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that  is, all that will be, is OM. Likewise all else that may exist .beyond the bounds of Time, that too is Om. All this Universe is the Eternal Brahman, this Self is the Eternal, and the Self is fourfold.”The intertwined self Transcending threads is the individuals armor, much like a bow is worn over one’s shoulder the poonal protects the Self from being confused with the ego.  The egos’ baptism in Self-awareness. 

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