Avani Avittam or Upakarma

Upākarma “Beginning” (Sanskrit: उपाकर्म) and also called Āvaṇi Aviṭṭam (Tamil: ஆவணி அவிட்டம்), is a Vedic ritual still practiced by modern Hindus of the Brahmin caste. ~ wikipedia

This is the most important ritual observed by the men in the Brahmin Community. Avani Avittam is also known as Upakarma or Yaghnopaveetha Dharana, is the ceremony of changing the scared thread (Poonal). Every year, the festival of Avani Avittam falls on the full moon day of the month of Hindu calendar month of Sravan (August-September). The next day is Gayathri Jappam, where the Gayathri Mantra is chanted 1008 times.

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I enjoy observing these rituals. I woke up early before sunrise to help my mom-in-law in the kitchen to prepare the breakfast for the working men. These prayers are performed before sunrise.

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It is a custom that young men, at the ages of 5 to 17, to do their Upanayana. Upanayana is the initiation ritual by which initiates are invested with a sacred thread, to symbolize the transference of spiritual knowledge. My brothers got this this Upanayana done at the ages of 9 and 15. Only on odd numbers (age wise) can this be done.

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The strands of the sacred thread have symbolic meaning that varies by community and region. The sacred thread has three strands. A bachelor wears only one sacred thread; a married man wears two of them making it six strands. If the man has married and has fathered a child, he wears three, which makes nine strands.

Three debts

The three strands sometimes symbolize three debts that must never be forgotten:

  • the debt to one’s teachers (गुरु ऋण, guru rin), i.e., those who have taught the wearer;
  • the debt to one’s parents and ancestors (पितृ ऋण, pitr rin), i.e., those who have nurtured the wearer and made possible his existence;
  • the debt to the sages/scholars (ऋषि ऋण, rishi rin), i.e., those who discovered knowledge, both spiritual and secular, over the ages, which now enriches the wearer’s life.

The three strands may symbolize:

  • Devi Gayathri (गायत्री, Goddess of mind)
  • Devi Saraswathi (सरस्वती, Goddess of word)
  • Devi Savithri (सवित्री, Goddess of deed

In some versions, the debt to the sages is replaced with debt to God (देव ऋण, dev rin). Upon marriage, sometimes the number of strands increases to six, because the man is expected to assume the debts of his wife as well.

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What was on the breakfast menu today:

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Pongal is a popular rice dish in Tamil Nadu. Pongal is unique to Tamil cuisine, pong means ” boil over” or “spill over”. There are two varieties of pongal, namely, sakarai pongal (sweet pongal) and ven pongal (white pongal). The unqualified word pongal usually refers to spicy pongal, and is a common breakfast food in several parts of India. The pongal is made in earthenware pots with a wood fire.

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Sambaar is a vegetable stew or chowder based on a broth made with tamarind and pigeon peas and is very popular in the cooking of southern regions of India, especially in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andra Pradesh. Each state in South India prepares it with a typical variation, adapted to its taste and environment.

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My yummy plate of the combo dish…

Upakarma is usually held on the full moon day of the month of Sravana. The significance of this day is that Lord Vishnu took the form of a horse and restored the veda that was stolen from Lord Brahma by the demons Madhu and Kaithaba. As lord Vishnu took the form of a horse, this incarnation is called Hayagriva or “horse-head”. After lord Vishnu and lord Brahma, he taught Brahma the all eternal Vedas. Once lord Brahma had mastered the Vedas, he was filled with pride that he was the only entity that had the knowledge of the all eternal and holy Vedas. Lord Vishnu thought otherwise and created demons Madhu and Kabitha from two water drops on the lotus that he mounts. He then instructed them to steal the Vedas from Lord Brahma and hid it. Thus, Lord Brahma was in a fix that he was not able to save the holy and all eternal Vedas from theft and prayed to Lord Vishnu to do the needy. Lord Vishnu took the form of Hayagriva or Hayavadana and restored the all pervading Veda to safety, thus curbing the pride of Brahma. So the day of upakarma is also celebrated as Hayagriva utpatti. As the Vedas were restored on this day, Upakarma is performed on this day to mark a new beginning. ~ wikipedia

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Any prayers or rituals start off by a mantra to Lord Ganesha (the remover of obstacles).

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A fresh pair of poonul (white thread) is ready to be worn.

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These rituals are usually done by the Temple tank or by a river. This day is also auspicious as the Brahmins offer libations of water to their ancestors to whom they owe their birth and to the great Rishis to whom they are highly indebted for spiritual knowledge and the Vedas themselves.

Procedures to Avani avittam

The procedure of upakarma varies from state to state. However there are two main procedures one followed in the old Carnatic Region and other in the Dravida region.

Carnatic Region procedure is followed in Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, Odisha and parts of Maharashtra. According to the Rig Veda Upakarma, first they start with Punyahvaachana followed Saptarshi Pooja, Utsarjana Homa and later by Upakarmaanga Saptarshi pooja, tarpana and homa.

In Yajur Veda Upakarma of Karnataka region, the procedure begins with Punyahavaachana, Pahi Trayodasha Homa, utsarjana and then Upakarma. Here they worship nava (nine) Kaanda Rishis who were the pioneers in the veda. Distinct feature of Karnataka’s Upakarma is rishi pooja in detail, and utsarjana. The Dravida version of the same does not have them. After Yagnyopavitadhaaranana, new Yagnyopavita (the sacred thread) is worn and later Veda Aarambham is done. Following the same will be Viraja Homa and Brahma Yagna. In the first year of Upakarma, Nandi is also performed. Bachelors or Brahmacharis will perform Agni Kaarya or Samhida Daanam. The prasadam of the day is specially made Satvada hittu made out of all fruits (banana, guava, grapes, custard apple, apple, dry fruits), milk, ghee, til, jaggery, cucumber and rice flour. This is said to be very good for the rishis who are considered to be old and don’t have teeth. Hence this preparation. Also this is done jointly by men who come for the ceremony.

The procedure for the dravida yajurveda upakarma is as follows.

  • First the Rishi Tharpanam (offering prayers to the ancient Rishis) is read out.
  • Brahmin bachelors perform ‘Samitha Daanam’ and ‘kamo karshith japam’ after Mahasankalpam.
  • Thereafter, Kaanda Rishi tharpanam is performed with the help of family priest or elders.
  • As per the rituals, all the male members should have a light meal at night.
  • Next day after an early bath, ‘Gayathri Japam’ is done by everyone. Thereafter, Appam & Idli are served. We had Pongal and Sambaar.
  • Green Gram, Dhal or Kondai Kadalai Sundal are offered as Neivedhyam for the Homam (Fire ritual).
  • The Homam is performed either in the house or in temples and the Arti is performed after everyone returns home.
  • Neivedhyam – Payasam, Vadai, Gingely seeds, Rice. The other items that are served on this day are Curd Pachadi, Kosumalli Curry, Koottu, Pitlay, buttermilk, soup, rasam, dhal and chips, appalams (papad).

Happy Avani Avittam to all the Brahmin men out there!!!

Prad 🙂

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6 comments

  1. My son, he is 12 years old, kept asking me the story behind poonul changing so I told him to read your blog. I myself didn’t know the story until I read your blog. Lovely story and blog you have here. I’ll follow it from now on. Please keep me posted on your new blogs. Thank you.

  2. Hello Pradeepa mohan,

    Are you into journalism? I really enjoyed reading your blog. It gave so much of information on our rituals. I see you have written many other containing our traditions. We need more blogs like these to keep our rich tradition in the loop. I have shared your blog with many of my colleagues at work. We will keep in touch.

    Thanks
    Sridhar

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