Yajnyopaveeta and Yajnya
– Sudhir Anand
Yajnyopaveeta Ceremony is usually described as an initiation ceremony where a Hindu child or young adult begins one’s spiritual learning with a teacher and starts to wear a thin consecrated cord. The cord is composed of three cotton strands which symbolize three debts that one must never forget. The first debt is to one’s teachers (guru or deva rin), those who have taught and given knowledge and virtuous values to the wearer. The second debt is to one’s parents and family (pitri rin), those who have nurtured the wearer at home. The third debt is to sages and scholars (rishi rin), those who have given us scriptures, knowledge and wisdom over the ages, which now enlighten and enrich everybody’s life in the society. The yajyopaveeta is also called Janeu and by other names in various regions of India. While this understanding is important, the significance of Yajnyopaveeta is much deeper as described below.
A person who wears Yajnyopaveeta makes a commitment to do Yajnya in life. One may then ask, What is Yajna (also spelled Yagya)? Yajna is performing virtuous karmas at all three levels: thoughts, words and deeds as well as helping others achieve the same goal. The Yajnyopaveeta is sacred only because it reminds us that we must at all times perform yajnya in life, otherwise it is just a cord containing three cotton strands. The Yajnyopaveeta is worn on the left shoulder and directed to the right waist. Along the way, as Yajnyopaveeta crosses the chest it passes in front of the heart, symbolically indicating that the resolutions that accompany this thread are taken seriously with a caring, loving and kind heart and a resolute mind for success.
Yajya by most lay persons in Indian culture is usually thought of as performing a fire ceremony by lighting fire in the Hawan Kund and chanting select mantras, however, the fire ceremony is a very limited part of the Yajya and called Havan, Homa or Agnihotra. True Yajya as stated earlier is virtuous conduct in all aspects of life and spreading the same message to others. The physical fire lighted during the ceremony is a reminder that we should kindle and enlighten our soul i.e. our inner spiritual self. Also just as the physical fire in Havan Kund by burning ghee and samagri (mixture of fragrant and medicinal herbs and incense) purifies and brightens the surrounding environment, similarly we should first purify and enlighten ourselves by doing virtuous deeds, and then do selfless deeds as a service for the community as well as make the community a better and more virtous place for all.
The true yajnya as per the Vedas, Brahman Granths, Upanishads and Geeta is the virtuous conduct of life’s journey so that it gets closer to God and eventually attains God realization. Shatpat Brahman states that Yajya wai shreshtamam karma i.e. virtuous karmas i.e. yajnya are the most important thing in life. In Geeta, Yogeshwar Krishna says the following to Arjuna about yajnya: Shreyan dravyamayad yajnyat jnanayajnah parmatapa (Gita 4:33). Paramtapa (O! Arjuna) jnanayajnah (knowledge, educating others, virtuous conduct) is shreyan (superior to) dravyamayad yajnat (the yajnas performed with physical materials). Contrary to the correct view stated above, many Hindus have the blind faith that the ritul of sitting before the holy fire (agni) and putting oblations into the fire would please God and fulfill most desires of the worshipper. God is Omniscient and cannot be fooled. He is not deceived by the bribes of empty rituals unless the yajnya is accompanied by improvement in the conduct of life. Such yajnyas only purify the ambient environment depending upon the incense and herbs burnt but not much more.
The root word for yajnya is yaj which according to Sanskrit dictionary has three meanings:
- Devpuja which means honoring devas i.e. the word Deva means those persons who are always doing good for mankind and the universe. They are the embodiment of virtue or dharma. They are generous selfless persons; they give to others without expecting anything in return. People such as they deserve honor and respect and are considered godly or saintly persons. Depending upon the context besides generous noble persons, father, mother, respected elders and physical entities such as space, fire, air, water and earth because of their helpfulness to mankind are also called deva. In many Veda mantras, God is also called Deva because God is always giving to all beings without even their asking, God is the Giver to all givers.
- Sangatikaran which means keeping company of virtuous noble persons and reading scriptures that promote truth. Organized group religious activities and ceremonies in Vedic Dharma (and Hindu religion) are called Satsang. This Sanskrit word literally means the company or gathering of truth seekers and truth followers. This gathering can be at a temple, some other place of worship or a person’s home as long as the purpose is to promote God, truth and dharma. We learn from each other and are likely to follow the habits and customs of the company we keep. It is at a Satsang where one is likely to hear an inspiring sermon, find a guru or meet a peer devotee. In his simple, yet descriptive words, Kabir said the following about Satsang:
The company of the good and wise is like fragrance emanating from a perfumery, Wisdom comes like the fragrance, whether one is a perfume buyer or a passerby.
- Daan which means donating for worthy causes. In the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures there is much emphasis on being generous and giving to others (Rig Veda 1:29:4; Rig Veda 10:117:6; Atharva Veda 3:24:5; and 20:74:4). In Sanskrit, giving (charity) is called daan (or danum), and it is usually grouped into three categories called tana, mana and dhana. Tana is giving in the form of bodily or physical service. Mana is giving at mental or word level and dhana is monetary or material giving. All three types of giving are praiseworthy and noble, and depending upon the circumstances, one may be more important than the others. The most difficult form though, is selfless (volunteer) service at the physical level. An example would be to tend to the physical needs of an invalid person unknown to you or to bring food to the hungry. The next level of selfless giving is to provide mental support, such as counselling or encouraging someone, giving a lecture or writing a book to inspire others or promote virtue. The last level is donating money or gifts to charitable organizations so that others can take care of people’s needs is the easiest of the three types of donations, even though in most societies, it receives the most recognition. A few caveats about giving (charity) include: Give only to deserving people or causes in a selfless manner with no desire for fame or recognition. And, donations of ill gotten money to atone for one’s sins in not virtuous.
Vedas place great emphasis not only on being generous, but also on working together with other persons for the welfare of all human beings. Most of the prayers in the Vedas are for “us” rather than for “me”, with great deal of emphasis on being generous and sharing with others, this allows one to receive God’s blessing. While one should make all possible effort in making personal physical, mental and spiritual progress in life, one should never be completely satisfied in one’s personal progress only, but should also make an effort for the physical, mental and spiritual well being of the society at large. The last sukta (hymn) of Rig Veda has four mantras, in which God instructs human beings to think, discuss and work together for the betterment of mankind. One Veda mantra from this hymn states the following:
Sam gachachhadhvam sam vadadhvam sam vo manamsi janatam.
Deva bhagam yatha poorvay samjanana uapasatay. (Rig Veda 10: 191: 2)
God’s Message to human beings, listen!
(Sam gachachhadhvam) May you move ahead together, united to do good deeds, (sam vadadhvam) may you speak with one united voice, (sam vo manamsi janatam) may your minds and thoughts be united for pursuit of truth and common good. (yatha poorvay deva Just as in the past sages and generous people (samjanana) united in thoughts, words and actions that are based on truth (bhagam uapasatay) have worshipped God and pursued fulfillment of worthy personal and societal goals.
This Veda mantra is a message from God to all human beings and states that, just as in the past deva i.e. sages and generous persons united in thoughts, words and deeds (that are based on truth), have worshipped God and pursued fulfillment of worthy personal and societal goals, so should you. May all of you move ahead united to do good deeds for others, may all of you speak with one united voice, and may all of your minds and thoughts be united for pursuit of truth and common good.
Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati in his books describes five types of yajnyas one must do.
- Brahma Yajnya is a daily individual (personal) meditation called Eeswar-Stuti-Prarthana-Upasana, Sandhya or Sandhya Yog-Upasana.
- Deva Yajya i.e. Havan or Agnihotra is a group activity including family and others as described earlier.
- Pitri Yajya is serving with devotion one’s living mother, father and family elders.
- Balivaishvadeva Yajya is offering food and taking care of helpless human beings and other beings e.g. animals, birds who are dependent on us.
- Atithi Yajya is honoring and serving learned virtuous guests who visit us.
As stated earlier, the ultimate purpose of all yajyas in life as per the Vedas and related scriptures is attainment of God realization. You may ask how does Yajnyopaveeta cord ties in with that? In Sanskrit the word sootra has many meanings, it can mean a thread, string, cord, root or integral rules etc. while the Veda mantras are in the form of a poetry which has a profound meaning, all six Darshanas including Yoga Darshanam are in the form of sootras. The word sootra in English is usually translated as aphorisms which means ‘a terse saying embodying a general truth; i.e. a short sentence with a deep meaning.’ Therefore, the most important thing to remember is that while the Yajnyopaveeta has three strings symbolizing three debts as stated in the first paragraph, in reality Yajnyopaveeta is only one cord which symbolically reminds the wearer that he/she with his/her heart and soul must always stay connected with Omnipresent God just like a foetus is connected to his/her mother with an umbilical cord for nourishment. God as described in the following Veda mantra is called sootram sootrasya i.e.the root source of all true knowledge (also see Arya Samaj’s First Principle) and the definition of a truly learned person is one who intricately knows God.
Yo vidyat sootram vitatam yasmin otah praja emha.
Sootram sootrasya yo vidyat sa vidyat brahmanam mahat. (Atharva Veda 10: 8: 37)
(Yo) That person is learned (vidyat) who learns and know (vitatam sootram) the root/integral rules or ultimate particles/strings (yasmin) by which (otah praja emha) all created things in the universe are thoroughly made up of.
(yo) That person however is truly learned (vidyat) who learns and comes to know (Sootram sootrasya) the root source of the above described root rules for ultimate particles/strings because (sa) he/she (vidyat) knows (brahmanam mahat) God who is the Greatest in the universe.
The ceremony in which the Yajnyopaveetam is given to a child is also called Upanayanam which means (Upa+Nayanam) connecting the soul of the child with that of the teacher and God and opening the spiritual eye by imparting knowledge to see the world in its true reality. After an Upanayanam ceremony and learning the child is also called dvija i.e. twice born. Although, orthodox Hindu Brahmins forbid girls and women from reading and learning the Vedas or wearing Yajnyopaveetam, beginning with Maharshi Swami Dayanand Ji, Arya Samaj has promoted both the learning of the Vedas and wearing the Yajnyopaveetam for girls and women just like boys and men.
You may finally ask what are the benefits of wearing a Yajyopaveeta and becoming a dvija? The rewards according to the Vedas are as follows:
Stuta maya varda vedmata prachodyantam pavmani dvijanam
Ayum pranam prajam pashum kirtim dravinam brahmvarchasvam.
Mahayam datva vrajat brahmlokam.
(Stuta maya varda vedmata) I have learnt Vedas with a great degree of respect for them (like I would honor my mother) and adopted the message of the Veda mantras in my life because they give boons (dvijanam) to twice born, i.e. those who learn and practice the message of the Vedas in their lives, (prachodyantam pavmani) they become inspired and their thoughts and actions become pure and virtuous.
The rewards of living according to the messages of the Vedas are the following seven items which together constitute true prosperity:
(Ayum) Long life, (pranam) vitality, strength, (prajam) virtuous family and progeny, (pashum) animal wealth for milk and agriculture, (kirtim) fame, (dravinam) wealth and prosperity, (brahmvarchasvam) spiritual enlightenment. (Mahayam datva) Finally God says that do not become attached to or lost in these rewards, I gave them to you, give them back to me by sharing with others, (vrajat brahmlokam) so you may acquire moksha i.e. very prolonged bliss.
Ceremonial and Pledge Mantras for Wearing a Yajnyopaveeta
Om Yajnyopaveetam paramam pavitram prajapateryatsahjam purastat.
Ayushyamagryam pratimunch shubram yajnyopaveetam balamastu tejah.
Yajnyopaveetamasi yajnyasya tva yajnyopaveetenopanahyami.
Yajnyopaveeta is sacred because God who is the Master of all (and has existed before everything else) inspires us that we should wear Yajnyopaveeta to remind ourselves of performing yajnya i.e. in our lives. In this manner, by performing virtuous deeds we should aim at a long life full of prosperity, benevolence, strength and radiance. I wear this Yajnyopaveeta which is worth adopting and make a commitment to perform Yajnya in life i.e. having noble thoughts, words and deeds as well as spreading the same message to others.
Om Agnay vratpatay vratam charishyami tat shakayam tanmay radhyatam.
Idamaham anritat satyam upaimi. (Yajur Veda 1:5).
(Agnay) Our Ultimate Leader, Supreme Light that enlightens us, (vratpatay) Judge and the Master Keeper of all vows, (vratam) as I take a solemn vow, (charishyami) please bless me so that, (tat shakayam) I may fulfill my vow (tanmay) and that my vow (radhyatam) may be successful. (Idam aham) with Thy blessing I now pledge (anritat) to reject all falsehood (satyam upaimi) and adhere to truth for the rest of my life.
Dear God You are Our Ultimate Leader, Supreme Light that enlightens us, and the Master Keeper of vowsbecause all creation abides by Your universal rules. Even God follows His own rules and does not break them to pease devotees. We on the other hand due to our fears, laziness or other defects often break our vows. Dear God, give me Your blessing so that by Your Grace I may be successful in fulfilling my pledge to always uphold the truth and to avoid falsehood in all aspects of my life.
Om Punantu maa devajanaah punantu manasaa dhiyah.
Punantu vishvaa bhootaani jaatvedah puneehi maa.
Dear God, You and the learned noble persons present here may direct and inspire my mind and intellect so that I may do good and virtuous deeds in life. O Almighty! You know the deeds of all beings, please give me Your blessings, enlightenment and love, as well as help me to become a virtuous person.
– Los Anjils, U.S.A.