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What I have been able to find about the rituals and meanings of Poonal/Upanayanam:

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anusham

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What is the meaning, tradition and significance of what we Tamilians call Poonal. So I had checked into it and here is what I am able to find out: Additional informations and corrections are welcome.

At first in the the language Samskrtam referred in English as Sanskrit( meaning- sams=together, krt= do, conveys the meaning put together), word for POONAL is: Yagnopaveetham; it is referred to as Jandhyam in Telugu, Janivra in Kannada and Janeev in Hindi.

The meaning of Yagnopaveetham is yagna=sacred or sacrifice, upaveetham=covering. The implied meaning may be a sacred cover which one has to wear before sacred rituals.
The Upanayanam upa=near, nayanam=sight or eye(near sight) is the ceremony representing the rite-of-passage ritual, where the boys at around age eight years age(in some tradition, it is at seven years age) where the concept of Brahman is introduced into the boy and also marks the beginning of their spiritual education.

In Brahmins the ceremony is traditionally at eight years age and in Kshatriyas at thirteen years age and in Vaishyas at seveteen years of age. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are referred to as Dwijas(or Dvijas meaning dwi=twice derived from dwaitha, ja=born) or twice born; once from their mother’s womb and again during Upanayanam when the Gayatri Mantra is learned by him.
Now, according to some appendix of the Manusmriti, girls were allowed to study Vedas in another kalpa(yuga of creation), and therefore some Arya Samaj sects do perform Upanayanam for girls also. But most Hindus do not accept the appendix of the Manusmriti, because no Hindu Canonical(meaning= according to religious law) text allows this ceremony for girls in this Kalpa and therefore do not perform it for girls.

During the ceremony the boy is taught the secret through Brahmopadesm(natue of Brahman the Ultimate Reality or Sat is revealed to him) which is the Gayatri Mantra. The boy then becomes qualified for to become a student of Brahmacharya as prescribed in the Manusmriti

Now the Yagnopaveetham or the thread : It is circular, tied end to end , total length of the three strands measures ninety-six times the breadth of four fingers(excluding the thumb) of the wearer, then folded thrice and tied into one knot. The four fingers represent the four stages of existence namely, wakeful, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and Turiya which is knowledge of the Absolute or Ultimate Reality(which is what the Omkara or Pranava mantram of Oum represents; O for wakeful, U for dreaming, M for dreamless sleep and the last is invisible unheard(silent) letter representing Turiya). One can get to know the full meaning of Oum in the Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharva Veda

There are two representations each of the three strands

Goddess Gayatri---------representing the mind
Goddess Saraswathi----representing the word
Goddess Savitri---------representing the deed
These remind the wearer to be pure in thought, word and deed.

The second representation of each strand is Brahma for creation, Vishnu for preservation and Shiva for destruction.
(Srishti, Sthithi and Vinasa)

Another opinion exists that these three strands also remind and represent the debt owed by the wearer to his Guru, parents and society.

The knot represents the formless Brahman the Absolute entity that pervades all. Thus the three threads again is a reminder that everything and the universe emerge from and merge with Brahman.

In this context let me state the Poorna Mantram, also known as Shanti Mantram which is the invocatory to the Brihadaranyhaka Upanishad(great forest of knowledge- Brihad= great/mighty, aranyka=forest of, Upa=near, ni=down, shad=sit; upanishad literally translate as near down sit in those ancient days the pupil sat next to the teacher/Guru for learning, so Upanishad means a treatise of knowledge ) and also of the Ishavasya Upanishad which is part of the Yajur Veda. This Mantram can be translated in two ways as below:

In Brihdaranyaka Upanishad:
Åum purnam adah, purnam idam, purnaath purnam udacyate;
purrnaasya purnaam aadaaya purnamam evavasisyate.
Aum šaantih! Saantih! Saantih!
That is Full; this is full. From the Full does the Full proceed.
After the coming of the Full from the full, the Full alone remains.
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!


In Ishavasya Upanishad:
Om purnamadah purnamidam purnaat purnamudachyate
purnasya purnaamadaya purnameva vashishyate


purnamadah: 'That is complete.'
purnamidam: 'This is complete.'
purnamadah purnamidam 'That is complete, this is complete'.
purnat purna mudachyate - 'From that completeness comes this completeness'
purnasya purnamadaya - If we take away this completeness from that completeness'
purnameva vashishyate: 'Only completeness remains.'

purnamadah purnamidam, the beginning is the Supreme Reality.
Described in the Upanishad as the Supreme Brahman, Para Brahman, The Ultimate Truth.
"That Supreme Reality is Complete'. It is
purna, It is always full, complete and self-existing,
Permanent, The Supreme Reality remains when everything else perishes.
That Supreme Reality which knows no darkness but only effulgence.
Free of impurities and imperfections. It is complete and full.

What then is Supreme Brahman?

Purnamidam: 'This is also Complete.'
'That Supreme Truth is complete' and 'This is complete'
The Supreme Truth is not outside of yourself "All this is Brahman. All is Truth."
But, The Truth is veiled. You remove the veil, and all differences disappear .
Then "This Brahman ' becomes no different from 'That Brahman.'

The above concept is also implied and reiterated in another way by Krishna : Bhagvat Gita, chapter II verse 20: Na jayate mrtyate va kadacin, nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah, ajo nitya sasvato yam purano, na hanyate hanyamane sarire; meaning: neither is this(the embodied self) born nor does it die at any time, nor having been, becoming, will ever not to be, unborn, eternal, perpetual, primeval,it is not killed when the body is killed This again confirms the completeness of the Brahmin with the corollary that there is none other that is real than the Brahmin.

Now the wearing of the thread is three ways:

1. Upavitam, here the thread goes over the left shoulder and under the right arm(Referred as Valam or right sided in Tamil) is for rites performed to Gods or for happy/glorious occasions, also called Savya.

2. Nivitam, here the thread is worn around the neck like a garland and is to be worn this way during Rishi Tharpana(offering to saints), answering calls of nature and during sexual intercourse also called Latyayana

3. Prachinavitam, here the thread goes over the right shoulder and under the left arm(Referred as Edam or left in Tamil) is for performing rites to spirits and during death rituals also called Apsavya.

Now what do you recite when you wear the thread for the first time or subsequent changes:
Yagnopaveetham paramam pavithram
Prajapatheryasahajam purasthad
Aayushyamagryam prathimuncha shubram
Yagnopaveetham balamasthu thejah!!

Above sloka describes the sanctity, spirituality, and sacredness of Yagnopaveetham and its benefits. It says that Yagnopaveetham is "the best among those that purify, the one that has emerged along with the Brahma (Prajapathi) at the time of creation, that which bestows life and prominence, the one that is sacred clean and unsoiled, and the one which confers on to the wearer both knowledge and power
When to Change the Yagnopaveetham?
When once, a person starts wearing Yagnopaveetham generally it should not be removed and it should be worn always (24 hours and 365 days). It is like a woman wearing a Mangala Suthra for ever. But in practice it is not possible to wear the same Yagnopaveetham permanently. Due to wear and tear, it may get soiled or worn out or gets broken and needs to be changed. One should not wear a broken or worn out Yagnopaveetham. Apart from this it should be changed under the following circumstances.

  • On the day of Upakarma that falls in Sravana Masam once in a year,
  • Whenever there is Jataasoucham or Mruthaasoucham (birth/death in the family)
  • Whenever one visits the Cremation Ground, or touches a Corpse,
  • Whenever one happen to touch a woman during her monthly periods.
  • Whenever there is a need to change Yagnopaveetham it should not be removed recklessly. It should be changed first and then the worn out to be removed as per the laid down procedure.


Technicalities of Yagnopaveetham:
Colour:
As per the scripts it is said that the sacred thread should be white in colour for Brahmins, red in colour for Kshatriyas and yellow in colour for Vysyas. But in practice we find people using Yagnopaveetham which is white in colour.

Quality:
As per the scripts it is said that the Yagnopaveetham should be made up of cotton for Brahmins, silk for Kshatriyas and linen for Vysyas. But in practice we find people using Yagnopaveethams made from cotton.

Composition:
Yagnopaveetham Navathanthu Nirmitham. It is said that Yagnopaveetham is made up of nine layers of woven cotton thread spun by a virgin girl and twisted by a Brahmin reciting Gayathri manthra on an auspicious day. The length of the thread used for making Yagnopaveetham as per the scripts should be 96 breadths of four fingers measured by ones own hand. Thickness of the thread should be of a mustard seed size. Nowadays we don't find such observations being followed in the making of Yagnopaveethams.

Arithmetic of number 96
It is said that Gayathri Manthra has 24 letters and when it is added together from four Vedas it becomes 96 (24x4) that gives the power or eligibility to the Dwija to perform Yagna or Yagas and to recite Gayathri Manthra. Four fingers represent the four states of the soul a man experiences from time to time (waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and absolute Brahmanhood)

There is another arithmetic to this number, that is human body comprises of 25 elements, made up of three Gunas (Satwa, Rajo, Tamo). We have 16 thithis in the calendar, 27 Stars in the Almanac, 4 Vedas, 6 Ruthus in three Seasons (summer, winter and monsoon), and 12 months. When all these are added together (25+3+16+27+4+6 +3+12) it comes to 96. It is said that human life rotates around these elements.

Significance of Nine layers:
It is said that nine layers represent nine devathas who are the presiding deities of Yagnopaveetham. They are Pranavam (Omkara), Agni, Anantha (Naga); Moon (Soma), Pithru Devathas, Prajapathi, Vayu, Sun (Surya), and all other Devathas. It is said that before wearing the Yagnopaveetham one should offer prayer to all these nine deities.

Brahma Granthi:
As per the scripts it is prescribed that the Yagnopaveetham should have knots equivalent to the number of Pravaras in one’s Gothra. But in practice we find only one knot for the Yagnopaveetham. The knot with which the three strands are tied together is called Brahma Granthi that signifies the ParaBrahma (Pranavam) who is sakala Veda Swaroopa. There are many interpretations about the three strands of Yagnopaveetham.

It symbolizes the three trinal Lords (Brahma Vishnu, Maheswara) when tied together it becomes Para Brahma, three worlds (Bhu, Bhuvar, Suvar), three feminine energies (Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga), and three tatwas or qualities (Satwa, Rajo, Tamo). It is also interpreted as three strands representing Ida, Pingala and Sushumna nadi, through which the kundalini energy manifests as prana and consciousness. The three strands also indicate that one who wears it should have a triple control over his mind speech and body (thought, word and deed)

Dwija
Dwija mean twice born. There is no difference between one child and another at the time of birth. All are born out of the mother's womb only. This is the first stage of life (Shudra). The second stage is getting the upadesa of Gayathri at the time of Upanayanam, when the boy becomes a Dwija or twice-born. He is then purified. The third stage is Vipra, when one has mastered the study of the Vedas. The fourth stage is Brahmana when he actually realizes the Brahman through the knowledge of the Self. One becomes a Brahmana not by birth but only when one realizes the Supreme Brahman. One becomes a Brahmana by action and not by birth.

Why should one wear a Yagnopaveetham?
This would increase longevity of the person who wears, gives physical and mental strength through the worship of Sun God using Gayathri Mantra for which one would have been initiated during his Upanayanam. By wearing Yagnopaveetham one gets purified both externally and internally. By wearing one gets eligibility to perform spiritual and sacred rituals (Sroutha/Smartha Karmas) as prescribed in Vedas for his Varna. Sacred rituals performed by wearing Yagnopaveetham give good results.
Vinayagnopaveethenaa Bhojanam Kurthe Dwijam
Ajamoothrapureershena Rethassevanamevacha!!
It is said that one should not attend to nature calls, eating food, participate in sensual pleasures without Yagnopaveetham. It is a prerequisite for learning Veda and also for marriage.

Significance of wearing Yagnopaveetham
The Vedic link that the child lost when the umbilical cord is cut is re-established in the form of Yagnopaveetham. In other words, Yagnopaveetham serves as an umbilical cord that connects him, not just his immediate parents, not just the three generations but the entire tree of generations and the Rishi on whose root the whole tree flourished. The three strands remind the wearer that he has to pay off the three debts (Rinas) he owes to the ancient seers, ancestors, and to the Gods (Rishi Rina, Pithru Rina, and Daiva Rina).
Yagnopaveetham is not a mere symbol to identify a community. One who wears a Yagnopaveetham may not necessarily be a Brahman and one who does not wear a Yagnopaveetham may not be a non-Brahmin either. Yagnopaveetham has the sanctity of its own and one has to qualify himself for wearing it, not by birth alone but also by practice. He alone is a Brahmin who does his Nithya Karmas, follows the path of Sanatana Dharma and remains free from ego, avarice, anger and pride.

What is the use of a Yagnopaveetham for the one whom the world knows as a Brahmin? Yagnopaveetham is not something that is worn for the world to know. It is for the realization of Brahman within. But one who has thrown away his Yagnopaveetham but has led a life of truth is nobler compared to the one who wears his Yagnopaveetham but does nothing to justify it. Yagnopaveetham is a passport to obtain Vedic education. Yagnopaveetham is the mark of formal entry into Brahminhood. It gives the power and authority to pursue his spiritual path.
Festival related to Yagnopaveetham:
Every year in the month of Sravana Masam which generally comes in the month of August during rainy season on the Full Moon day a festival related to Yagnopaveetham is celebrated called Upakarma. Some times it could fall on a day prior to or after the Full Moon day. In Tamil it is called as Avani Avittam. It is not just simply a festival to celebrate and enjoy. It is an occasion to make us remember the significance of Yagnopaveetham and Gayathri Manthra that has been initiated at the time of Upanayanam and rededicate ourselves to the spiritual path. On this day all those who have been initiated into the concept of Upanayanam change their Yagnopaveetham and wear a new one.

UPAKARMA

Upakarma is a Vedic ritual celebrated every year generally on the full Moon day of the Lunar Month Sravana that falls during August–September months of English calendar which also coincides with the monsoon season. Upakarma is referred to as Avani Avittam in Tamil, Jandhyala Punnama in Telugu, and Janivarada Habba in Kannada. This day also coincides with two other important events viz. Raakhi (Raksha Bandhan) and Hayagreeva Jayanthi (Supreme Lord of knowledge and wisdom).

What is Upakarma?

Upakarma is a Sanskrit word (Upa + Karma). Literally Upa means before and Karma means an action. Upakarma means an action performed before beginning the Vedic studies. Upa also refers to nearness or close touch with Upanishads (Vedas). In simple terms Upakarma refers to changing of sacred (Holy) thread called Yagnopaveetham on this day by the three varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vysyas).
Upakarma in Sanskrit also means the beginning or Aarambha. It is beginning of the study of Vedas and Upanishads. In ancient days study of Vedas and Upanishads was compulsory especially for Brahmins. One will get the eligibility to study Vedas and Upanishads only after getting properly inducted into Gayathri Manthra through a process of Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony). To commemorate this, even today, the day is observed as Upakarma by symbolically changing the sacred thread and performing certain rituals that marks the beginning of study of Vedas.



Yagnopaveetham is changed on this day to convey a message that Vedic scripts cannot be studied or learned without Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony).

Dating of Upakarma



Rig Veda Upakarma falls on the day of Sravana Star in Sravana Masam

Yajur Veda Upakarma falls on the Full Moon day in Sravana Masam

Sama Veda Upakarma falls on the day of Hastha Star in Bhadrapada Masam
 
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