Kapitel 2

Anhang C: The sacred thread / von Alice Margaret Stevenson (Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson)

Herausgegeben von: Alois Payer

Zitierweise / cite as:

Stevenson, Alice Margaret (Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson) <1875-1957>: The sacred thread. -- (Manusmṛti 2, Anhang C). -- Fassung vom 2008-10-11. -- URL:   

Erstmals publiziert als:

Stevenson, Alice Margaret (Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson) <1875-1957>: The Rites of the twice-born / Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson. -- London [u.a.] : Oxford Univ. Press, 1920. -- XXIV, 474 S. -- (The religious quest of India ; 7). -- S. 27 - 45. -- Online: -- Zugriff am 2009-10-10. --  "Evidence reported by alyson-wieczorek for item ritesoftwiceborn00steviala on March 2, 2007: no visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1920."

Erstmals hier publiziert: 2008-10-11


Anlass: Lehrveranstaltung HS 2008

©opyright: "Evidence reported by alyson-wieczorek for item ritesoftwiceborn00steviala on March 2, 2007: no visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1920."

Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Sanskrit  von Tüpfli's Global Village Library

Falls Sie die diakritischen Zeichen nicht dargestellt bekommen, installieren Sie eine Schrift mit Diakritika wie z.B. Tahoma.


WE now come to the most important epoch in the life of a Brāhman, his investiture with the sacred thread, Upanayana. Until this takes place the boy is only a Śūdra, and it is this ceremony which makes him a Brāhman and gives him his place in the ranks of the Twice-born.

Brāhman gentlemen are more particular that the thread-giving and the marriage ceremonies should be performed exactly according to their Scriptures than in the case of any other ceremonies, and the writer is especially indebted for her account of this rite to the learned Śāstri who spent days working over this important subject with her.

The thread-giving and marriage are the two great events in a Brāhman's life, but though the wedding costs more, the other is the more important, and no Brāhman can be married till he has received the sacred thread.

The age at which it is received does not necessarily coincide with physical puberty, for if a father hopes that his son is going to become a great religious teacher, he may arrange for the ceremony to take place in the fifth year from the boy's conception (this was done, it is believed, in the case of the first Śaṅkarācārya) ; but as a rule it takes place in the eighth year [S. 28] from conception for a Brāhman, the eleventh for a Rājput, and the twelfth for a Vaiśya. If, however, it cannot be performed in those years, special purifications will have to be undergone, and the ceremony postponed till the sixteenth year for a Brāhman, the twenty-second for a Rājput, and the twenty-fourth for a Vaiśya. If the postponement be any longer than that, it is looked on as a very grievous sin indeed.

These rules, it will be noticed, allow for the members of all three of the great sections of ancient Indian society receiving the sacred thread.

Nowadays, however, in Gujarāt and Kāṭhiāwār at least, the ceremony is practically confined to Brāhmans, Lohāṇā, and Bhātiā.1

1 The student from other parts of India would find it an interesting topic for conversation to discover who receive the sacred thread.

The actual day on which so great a rite can take place has to be carefully selected. First, it can only be begun on one of four days, either a Monday, a Wednesday, a Thursday, or a Friday, and these days must fall within the bright moonlit half of the month. The month has to be either Māgha, Phālguna, Caitra, or Vaiśākha ; Jyeṣṭha is sometimes added to the list of permissible months, but not if the candidate be the eldest son (i. e. the Jyeṣṭha of his family), for the rite may not take place in his name month.

Invitations are sent out ten or twelve days before the ceremony, and to show that the great change is about to take place which shall raise him from a low-caste man to the status of a Twice-born and allow him to perform the religious duties from which he has hitherto been debarred, the boy is decorated with a gold necklace of special shape.

A Brāhman girl is not usually given the sacred thread nowadays:2 she must be content to remain a Śūdra all her life ; but this being so, it is difficult to see how her Twice-born husband avoids contracting defilement by marrying her. In the old days, the Brāhmans say, girls were always invested with [S. 29]

2 In the family of one at least of the ruling chiefs in Kāṭhiāwār girls are given the sacred thread.

this symbol of regeneration : for instance, Gārgī, the famous woman philosopher, who defeated the great Yājñavalkya in argument, always wore the sacred thread. Indeed there are some neat arguments ready to hand for future leaders of the Woman's Movement amongst Brāhmans.

Once the invitations are out, preparations for the ceremony are begun.

A booth is set up resting on four posts, but in addition to these a fifth post, called the Māṇikyastambha, is erected. This is quite small, but very important, as it is supposed to represent Brahmā the Creator ; and close beside it a bamboo post is always placed.

Then Gaṇeśa (Gaṇapati) is worshipped, the god who removes obstacles, and who is always placated at the beginning of any great ceremony. This god is accordingly invoked and seated, his feet are bathed, and he is offered a spoonful of water mixed with rice and a sip of pure water to make him holy. The god is bathed, first with pure water, and then with the five nectars (curds, milk, clarified butter, sugar, and honey), and afterwards with pure water once more, and a sip of pure water is again given him. Clothes are brought for him, and he is dressed, invested with the sacred thread, and decorated with the auspicious red mark on his forehead. Then follow the offerings ; and rice, flowers and sacred grass, together with a mixture of three scented and coloured powders, are given to him. Lights are waved round him, incense burnt in front of him, fruit and areca-nut and pice [1/64 Rupee] are given him, he is solemnly circumambulated, and finally draft, the ceremonial waving of lights, is performed.1

1 This full worship of Gaṇeśa or any other idol consists of sixteen different parts, certain acts that seem to us separate being counted in together, and vice versa.

As soon as this is done, the priest guards against the coming of evil spirits by throwing oil seeds to each of the four corners of the booth.

Then, as at the hair-cutting, the fifteen divine mother-goddesses are installed and worshipped, and the seven other [S. 30] goddesses1 are each worshipped by a line of clarified butter ; four Brāhmans are called in, and each is asked to recite a hymn of blessing from a different Veda.

1 Namely, Śrī, Lakṣmī, Dhṛti, Medhā, Puṣṭi, Śraddkā, and Sarasvatī, called the Ghṛtamātṛkā.

The night before the actual ceremony the boy's body is smeared all over with a yellow substance (pīthī). His father's sister gives him a special piece of yellow cloth, and a silver ring is fixed in the uncut top-knot of his hair.

After that he is commanded to spend the whole night in absolute silence.

In the morning the father and mother take the child to the booth, where the sacrificial fire is burning in the altar. (To light this fire a burning piece of charcoal had been brought from the house in a covered bronze vessel.) The mother takes her seat at the right of the father, as this is an auspicious function.2

2 At inauspicious rites, such as funerals, she sits on her husband's left.

The child is then shaved : if the ceremonial hair-cutting, already described, has been performed, he is simply shaved in the ordinary way by the barber, but sometimes to lessen expense the hair-cutting rite is not performed till now, just before the thread is given.

After the shaving is over, the boy is bathed, the yellow powder being rubbed off, and his body washed with warm water.

Rather a sad little ceremony follows. Some sweet food is brought, such as rice, sugar, and clarified butter, all mixed on one plate, and for the last time in their lives mother and son eat together ; however proud the mother is that her boy is a man and a Twice-born, it gives her rather a heartache to realize that from now on the boy will always eat with the men of the household. In all castes the men of a household dine together first, allowing the ladies to take their places when they have finished and withdrawn. (An English bride sometimes gives a terrible shock to servants unaccustomed to [S. 31] English ways, if, finding her husband delayed, she starts a meal without him.)

The boy then feasts with other young boys, who must all be celibate and not yet invested with the sacred thread.1

1 In Gujarat, boys who have not yet received the sacred thread are known as Baṭu, or Baṭuka.

After the feast is over, the boy is decked with jewels and seated to the west of the sacred fire and to the right of the priest who is his guru or preceptor. The guru tells the lad to say after him : 'I wish to enter the Brahmacarya state', and then, 'Let me become a Brahmacārī'.

Up to this time, the child, if under five, has very likely been quite naked, or if not more than eight, may just have worn a tiny piece of cloth ; but from now on he must never be naked, but will wear a loin-cloth even when bathing. So as these words are said, two pieces of yellow cloth are handed to the boy, one to wear and one to tie later on to his bamboo, and a piece of yellow string with which to tie it, and appropriate mantras are recited. Then, whilst more mantras are said, a string made of muñja grass2 is tied round the child's waist. In this string as many knots are made as there have been Pravara amongst his ancestors.

2 Saccharum Munja [Saccharum bengalense Retz.], a kind of rush.

To possess Pravara is a great heritage, for they are saintly men who through their holiness won the great reward of being allowed to see Brahmā. (A Brāhman readily understands the splendour of our Lord's promise : 'The pure in heart shall see God'.)

Everything about the sacred cord is symbolic : its length is ninety-six times the breadth of the four fingers of a man, the reason given being that a man's height is ninety-six times the breadth of one finger ; whilst each of his four fingers represents one of the four states his soul experiences from time to time, namely, the three states of waking, of dreaming, and of dreamless sleep, and also the 'fourth' state, that of the Absolute Brahma. [S. 32]

The cord must be threefold, because there are three qualities out of which our bodies are compounded : reality, passion, darkness.1

1 Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, or 'Brightness, Twilight, and Darkness' as some paṇḍits prefer to translate the words.

The twist of the thread must be upward, so that the good quality may predominate, and so the wearer may rise to great spiritual heights.

The threefold thread must be twisted three times, lest the bad quality, the darkness, should strive to gain ascendancy and pull the soul down.

The whole cord is tied together by a knot called Brahmagranthi which has three parts, representing Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva, and in addition to this, extra knots are made in the cord to represent the various Pravara to be found in the particular gotra or lineage of the candidate.

The actual thread is just ordinary cotton, but it must have been spun by a Brāhman virgin and twisted by a Brāhman.

In the old days it is believed that the Brāhmans wore cotton cords, the Kṣatriya woollen, and the Vaiśya linen ; nowadays all who wear the sacred threads wear them made of cotton, but the colours vary, for the Brāhmans wear white, the Kṣatriya red, and the Vaiśya yellow, to correspond, it is said, with the colours of the mind of the wearers.

After marriage a Brāhman wears two threads, his own and also his wife's, which is regarded as an additional proof that all Brāhman girls originally wore their own threads.

A Brāhman, after marriage, must also always, when possible, wear the scarf of ceremony, but whilst performing religious ceremonies, at which he can only wear a loin-cloth, he puts on an extra thread to compensate for the absence of the scarf.

However, when a boy is given the thread, he is, of course, only given one, and the candidate actually puts this on himself.

The preceptor repeats an appropriate mantra, asking for strength and long life and illumination for the boy, who meanwhile [S. 3] faces the sun, holding the sacred thread by the thumb and little finger of each hand, in such a way that it passes in front of the three middle fingers, the left hand being higher than the right.

As the preceptor finishes the mantra, the boy slips the thread over his own head.

Hereafter, he must always wear the sacred cord. During auspicious ceremonies, such as weddings and propitious sacrifices, he wears it hanging from the left shoulder (in this position it is called the Upavītī) ; when performing inauspicious rites, such as funeral ceremonies, he suspends it from his right shoulder, when it is called Prācināvītī, and when answering the calls of nature, it is worn round the neck, or, according to others, round the right ear, and called Nivītī.

If the thread should break, the wearer is supposed to remain immovable, without breathing or speaking, till a fresh thread is brought to him. In every Brāhman household there are always two or three spare threads, and no Brāhman should travel without an extra one. If the accident to the thread, however, happens in the jungle, the wearer should tie his scarf after the fashion of the sacred thread, first repeating the famous gāyatrī mantra. When a new thread is put on, the gāyatrī is always repeated.

The donning of the sacred thread is followed by the gift of a deerskin. If a whole antelope skin can be given, so much the better ; but, as a rule, in these degenerate days, only a small piece of deerskin is provided, which is threaded on a string and then put round the boy's neck. Whilst this is being done, no sacred verse is recited, but the gift is made in absolute silence.

Then the candidate is presented with a staff, which must be of such a height as to touch the root of the sacred top-knot1 in the case of a Brāhman, the forehead if the boy be a Kṣatriya, and the lips for a Vaiśya. Similarly, the wood changes according to the caste, for a Brāhman must have a stick of [S. 34] Palāśa (Butea frondosa [Butea monosperma (Linn.) Kuntze]) a Kṣatriya of Bilva (Aegle marmelos), and a Vaiśya of Udumbara (Ficus glomerata [Ficus racemosa L.]).

1 For local differences, see Bombay Gazetteer, vol. ix, p. 39.

After receiving the staff, the boys sits on a stool facing west, and the preceptor, who sits facing east, takes water into his joined hands and pours it into the boy's joined hands.

It is always important to notice how the hands are joined when water is ceremonially offered from them. If the little fingers are placed side by side, and the two hands held flat, and the water poured out over the tips of all the fingers, it is a libation to the gods ; if the hands are joined with the fingertips and wrists touching, and the water poured, as it were, through a funnel made of the hands, that is an offering to living human beings ; but if the hands are held flat with little fingers touching, and the water is spilt from near the base of the right thumb with that thumb pointing downwards, it is an inauspicious offering to the dead.

The preceptor next tells the boy to look at the sun, and as the child does so, he himself repeats appropriate verses. Whilst looking at the sun, the lad offers a coco-nut. Some offering must be made, since the sun, a physician, a king, a preceptor and an astrologer can never, according to the Scriptures, be saluted with empty hands.

The guru then puts his right hand on the right side of the boy and, alternately touching the boy's shoulder and his own breast, says : 'I take your heart into my vow. Let your heart follow mine. Carry out with an undivided mind what I say to you. May Bṛhaspati confide you to me.'

This is followed by the giving of a new name, when the preceptor takes the right hand of the boy into his own and asks him his old name. The guru gives him a new name, which is only uttered at the time of this particular ceremony, and then promptly forgotten, the old one alone being used.

Not one of the writer's friends, Brāhman, or former Brāhmans who had become Christian, could remember the special name that they had been given at this ceremony.

The teacher next asks : 'Whose disciple are you ?' [S. 35]

'Your Honour's', the boy replies.

'You are my disciple', the preceptor assents, 'and your new name is so and so.'

'I now entrust you', the guru continues, 'to Prajāpati and to Savitā, to the gods of water, herbs, sky and earth, to all the gods and all the demons, to protect you from every kind of evil.'

The boy then walks round the fire, either once or thrice, always, of course, with his right side to it, as this is an auspicious occasion. Thereupon, the guru offers clarified butter nine times to the fire.

A set of commandments bearing on the duties of his new estate follows, and the preceptor tells him to walk as a true Brāhman ; to each commandment the boy gives his assent.

'You are a celibate ', says the guru.

'Very well', replies the boy.

'You must sip water before beginning your meals, and at the end.'

'Very well', says the boy again.

'You must not sleep by day' (in a hot country, like India, over-indulgence in this habit is a real temptation to sloth).

'Very well.'

'Don't talk too much.'

'Very well.'

'You must bring sacrificial wood' (samidh).1

1 Samidh is the material for the sacred fire ; it must consist of nine pieces of different kinds of specified wood, and none other than wood from these nine trees can ever be brought. Each separate piece must be as thick as the lad's teeth, half a span in width, and free from decay.

'I will bring it ', says the child.

Then the guru adds : 'You must take a sip of water' ; and the boys says 'I will'.

Next follows the teaching of the most famous of all mantras, the gāyatrī, to the child.

This verse we shall have to study more in detail when we come to the daily duties of the Brāhman ; here we need only notice that the verse itself is impersonated, and the Brāhmans [S. 36] think of it now as a lovely young girl. The repetition of it cleanses from all sin, but no woman and no person of low caste may ever hear its life-giving syllables. The father of the child has the first right to teach this to his little son, but if he has failed to do so, the priest imparts it.

The boy sits to the north of the sacred fire, facing the west, and the guru sits opposite with his face to the east. The child bows to his preceptor, crossing his hands (the hands are always crossed when bowing to a priest), and with his right hand touches the guru's right foot, and with his left, the left foot of the guru. Then, for a moment or two, he and his preceptor look steadily at each other.

It is so important that no one should overhear the sound of the sacred verse, that the heads of both guru and child are now covered with a silk shawl about five yards long. Sometimes at this point the boy worships Sarasvatī, the goddess of learning, represented by a book of the Vedas or the mystic symbol Svastika (the cross with the bent arms). In every case the priest bends forward and murmurs the sacred words into the boy's right ear. Slightly varying translations are given of the mantra ; the version which the present writer's paṇḍits preferred runs: 'Let us meditate on the most excellent light of the Creator (or of the sun) ; may He guide our intellects '.

The Brāhmans like to draw attention to the plural number of 'us' and 'our', and compare it with the great Christian prayer 'Our Father', pointing out that both presuppose a social, not an individualistic, worship.

No lover of Oxford can fail to notice the striking resemblance between this, the great prayer of the learned class in India and the noble motto of the ancient English university: 'The Lord is my Illumination'.

So sacred is the gāyatrī that the right ear of the child, once he has heard it, becomes holy for life and can save the sacred thread itself from contamination if that be wound over it.

The verse must first be taught in separate words without [S. 37] the changes that come from the coalescence of words in a Sanskrit sentence ; next, it must be taught with the appropriate stops that belong to the metre, and only after this is it taught as a whole. It generally takes a child three days to learn it perfectly.

When the gāyatrī has been imparted, the boy offers some of the nine specified kinds of wood to the fire. He takes each piece in his right hand, dips it in clarified butter, and puts it in the flames, repeating the appropriate verse.

A line of water is then made round the fire, and the boy stretches out his hand to the flames, pulls it back, and presses it to his heart, saying: 'May Agni protect me and give me help ; may Sarasvatī give me intellect, and the Sun give me light'.

The lad is now considered ceremonially pure, no longer of low caste, but a Twice-born Brāhman, and so he touches his own head, eyes, nostrils, hands, arms, limbs, and the different parts of his body to purify them also.

The third finger of the right hand is considered by the Hindus to be the most auspicious- finger;1 and it is with the third finger that the boy touches some of the ashes of the sacred fire and puts them on his forehead, his throat, his right shoulder, and his heart. Next, he bows to the preceptor, repeating as he bows his own new name and his family name, and, what is more astonishing, his preceptor's name. (According to the Scripture a man should never mention his own name, a guru's name, a miser's name, or the name of his eldest son, or of his wife. This seems to be the only time that a disciple ever does mention his guru's name.)

1 It is interesting to notice that the first, the index finger, is the inauspicious finger, and is the one used at death ceremonies. Hindus have exactly the same objection that we have to pointing at any one with the first finger. This is doubtless one of our many common family traditions.

Then his teacher blesses him and wishes him a long life, and the boy bows to him and to all his elders and betters who are present. [S. 38]

Abb.: Eine Varietät von Laḍḍū
[Bildquelle: Maria Krüger. -- -- Zugriff am 2008-10-11. -- Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 (Namensnennung, Share alike)]

The lad next asks alms for his preceptor, a symbolic survival of the duties which in the old days a disciple owed to his teacher. He goes to his mother and to half a dozen or a dozen of the women who are present, and who he knows will not refuse him, and begs from them, and they give him the round tennis-ball-like sweets (laḍḍu) so beloved of Brāhmans, compounded of wheat-flour, sugar, and clarified butter. He submissively places all he receives at the feet of his guru.

The boy should keep silence throughout the whole of these days, an interesting injunction which seems common to initiation ceremonies.

In the evening the lad can proudly put his new-found powers and privileges into execution by performing for the first time in his life the evening worship, Sandhyā, which he must never afterwards omit, and this brings the ceremonies of the second day to a close.

The lad, as we have seen, has been passing through various stages on his road to the status of complete manhood. First, he was, as it were, a Śūdra, a person of low caste, then he was called a Baṭu till he actually received the sacred thread ; now he has become a man of high caste, but he is a celibate (Brahmacārī), and will remain in statu pupillari, until the third day's ceremonies fit him for the marriage state.

In modern times the three days' ceremonies are often all performed on one day, but supposing that they are spread over three, on this, the evening of the second day, the boy will have to live as becomes a disciple, that is to say, he must observe silence ; in strictly orthodox homes he must sleep on the floor ; he must avoid any food that has salt in it ; he should worship the fire and his guru, begging alms for his preceptor, but begging only from worthy houses, and not eating any of the food given till he has shown it to his superior and obtained his permission ; he must tell no lies, and eat no food that has been taken off the fire more than three hours, lest life should have been formed in it, and so he might be guilty of taking life ; he should cleanse his teeth with speed, not dawdling or [S. 39] spending an hour over that refreshing part of his toilet ; nor must he during his hours of discipleship do anything befitting a gay young bachelor rather than a novice, to whom all 'swank' is forbidden, such as displaying an umbrella, wearing shoes, marking his forehead, using flowers or saffron or scent, swimming in deep water, dancing, gambling, or singing.

Of course all these, rules date from the time when the period of discipleship was not merely a thing of a few hours.

The beginning of the third day finds him still in the position of a pupil. He pours clarified butter nine times into the sacred fire, and then begins the study of the Vedas. This is shortened and symbolized by the preceptor reciting a few verses from the Vedas, which the boy repeats after him, and whilst doing so, the lad again offers clarified butter to the fire.

Now follows an all-important bath ( Vṛddhi Snāna). The water for it is fetched by eight 'lucky' women in eight new water-pots. In the water they put grains of rice and of red powder made of turmeric and alum, and flowers.

This is poured over the boy, who thereby ceases to be any longer a student vowed to celibacy (Brahmacārī), but becomes an eligible parti, fit to entertain thoughts of marriage.

He is now termed a Snātaka, and his waistband of muñja grass is untied, and appropriate mantras are repeated ; new clothes are brought, which he dons, being careful to take off the little cloth as he puts on the bigger loin-cloth, since no Brāhman may wear two loin-cloths.1

1 But though no Brāhman may wear two, he must always wear one piece of cloth, tied at the four corners ; so that even under modern European trousers ancient India still lurks, in the form of a small loincloth.

The boy then eats a little food, consisting generally of curds and red oil-seeds (black oil-seeds are so intimately associated with funerals and death ceremonies that they could never be used at an auspicious moment like this). As long as the boy was a Brahmacārī, one particular toothpick was for ever denied him, but now he cleans his teeth with a piece of [S. 40] Udumbara wood [Ficus racemosa L.], the length of which should be the breadth of twelve fingers for a Brāhman, ten for a Kṣatriya, and eight for a Vaiśya.

He then bathes again in the ordinary way, his forehead is marked with saffron and sandal-wood, and he puts on the clothes provided by his maternal uncle. These clothes are brought in procession by male relatives and servants from the uncle's house, carried on brass and wicker trays, and as these trays may not be sent back empty, coco-nuts, areca-nuts, a few annas [1/16 Rupee], or even presents of clothes are put on them. The same uncle has at this time also to give presents of clothes to the boy's mother and his brothers and sisters.

Before the boy puts on his new coat, he gives away the pieces of antelope skin which had been tied round his neck, and as soon as he is dressed, he gives away another symbol of his studenthood, the staff.

Here again there comes another touching ceremony, when for the last time his mother can treat her son as a little child. When a man in a state of great good fortune wishes to avoid attracting the influences of the evil eye, he puts a lemon somewhere in his clothing, but a little child is safeguarded by lampblack, and so now, to mark the boy's transition, his mother steps forward and, for the last time, guards against the ill fortune his new clothes and general good luck might bring him by marking his eyelashes with lamp-black and making a smudge of it near his right ear. Henceforth, however dearly she may love him, the mother's love cannot protect him, she can only hope that he and his friends will not be careless about putting a lime in his turban or taking other grown-up precautions.

Whilst he was a Brahmacāri, the lad could never look in a mirror, but now he is presented with that prime necessity for a marriageable young man, and, for the first time in his life, he carries an umbrella, and, of course, puts on shoes.

We have seen that he gave up his student's staff; instead of that, he is given a green bamboo to use on the entertaining [S. 41] little symbolic drama in which he is about to play his part; and to this bamboo is tied the yellow piece of cloth which he had worn before he put on the bigger loin-cloth.

The comedy of going on pilgrimage to Benares is now enacted with appropriate staging.

The boy makes as though he were about to start on a long journey, and, as provision for the way, he takes in his hand a ball of sweet-stuff tied in a piece of cloth.

Sometimes a copy of the Vedas is also wrapped in cloth and tied to his bamboo, and, with this bundle on his right shoulder, he leaves the house as though 'off to Philadelphia in the morning ', and starts out, accompanied by his relatives and friends playing on various instruments.

The preceptor makes seven lines of water across the road to represent the seven oceans ; when the boy comes to these, he worships them, offers flowers, nuts, and seven pice [1/64 Rupee], and marks them with the auspicious red mark. The teacher asks him if he is quite determined to go to Kāśī (Benares), and warns him metaphorically of the dangers and difficulties that he will have to overcome, assuring him that there are seven oceans (i.e. great rivers) in the way.

When he insists that, in spite of every obstacle, he really is determined on going, the guru tells him to run. But the ever-watchful maternal uncle has already gone on ahead, and is lying in wait for the lad, and he now catches him, takes him up in his arms, and either seats him on a horse, or else carries him back home.

In some other parts of India the drama varies a little, and the uncle, instead of actually carrying the boy home by main force, endeavours by bribes to beguile him from his purpose. First, he offers him five rupees, which the lad refuses ; then a gold ring, which is also declined ; but finally he promises to marry him to his own daughter if only he will give up the project, and this often the boy accepts.1 [S. 42]

1 In Kāṭhiāwār not even in fun would a Brāhman maternal uncle offer to marry his daughter to his nephew, for this would be playing with incest, so abhorrent to them is the very idea of such cousins marrying, though it is permissible in certain other districts. Sins differ geographically in India as elsewhere, and the Brāhmans themselves have a caustic little proverb on the same subject which runs :

'In the Deccan Brāhmans marry the daughters of their maternal uncles,
In the East they eat fish,
In the North they eat meat,
In the West they drink water drawn up from the well in a leathern bucket.'

Showing that in each of the four corners of India the Brāhmans do something which the strictly orthodox elsewhere would  consider defiling and caste-breaking.

However, this bringing home of the lad by his uncle, in whatever way it is done, is the modern symbolic form of the ancient Vedic Samāvartana, the return home of the student.

The boy is now a full Brāhman, and accordingly inherits the six privileges of a Brāhman:1

  1. studying the Vedas,

  2. teaching them,

  3. performing sacrifices for his own benefit,

  4. performing them for the benefit of others,

  5. receiving alms,

  6.  and also giving alms.

1 Of these privileges, a Kṣatriya has three : studying, sacrificing for his own benefit, and giving alms.

Certain Brāhmans, however, will not make use of some of these privileges, which they consider derogatory ; for instance, a Nāgara will never act as a priest, or receive alms, a Nāgara Brāhman2 will only consent to officiate as priest for Nāgara, and will only receive alms from them. An Audīca or a Sārasvata Brāhman, however, can officiate as priest and receive alms without loss of dignity.

2 For the sake of those who do not know India it may be as well to explain that a Nāgara is of even higher standing than a Nāgara Brāhman.

As a full Brāhman, too, the boy will daily perform the religious worship we shall describe later (ch. X).

After his return from his interrupted journey to Benares, the goddesses, &c., are dismissed. A little rice is given to them to send them away happy to their homes, and they are requested to return on another auspicious occasion.

Before the ceremony began, the wife of the Sun Rannā Devī (or, as she is popularly called, Randela Mātā) was probably installed ; she is generally represented by a picture stuck on [S. 43] a coco-nut, in front of which a lamp fed with clarified butter is burnt. Now that the ceremonies are over, she too if present is dismissed, the coco-nut is taken away and given to a Brāhman, but the little lamp is never put out, but allowed to go out of itself.

The boy is still called a Snātaka, and there are certain rules that he is expected to observe. He should not play or sing, but may listen to religious songs. If possible, he should never be absent from home for a night. He should never look down into deep water, such as a well or a big river, or look at his own reflection in water. Nor should he even climb a tree to get fruit. He must not walk along a highway or a lane in the evening, and he is forbidden to leap down from high cliffs or jump over deep pits. He must guard his lips and never speak unworthily, and night and morning he must look with admiration at the red glow of the sun. Though it is permitted on special occasions, as we have seen, yet as a rule a Snātaka should avoid all luxury and display, not holding up an umbrella even if it is raining, nor chewing areca-nut, nor adorning himself with flowers, nor wearing coloured clothes. (This last is an interesting parallel to the 'subfusc hue' insisted on for undergraduates by university rules in the ancient English universities.) He must never make fun of a woman, or spit towards the sun, and should avoid temptation by keeping away as much as possible from persons of low caste and from women. At night he should always have a light when he dines lest he should injure any living thing in the dark,1 and (despite Dubois's remarks2) he is ordered always to tell the truth.

1 If the light goes out, he must stop eating, for in the darkness food is no longer fit for human consumption, but only for ghosts. If any one persists in eating in the dark, he will undoubtedly become a cat in his next birth.

2 Dubois, Manners and Customs, p. 171.

There are three classes of Snātaka :

  1. the first ( Vidyā Snātaka), who are more particular about studying the Vedas than keeping these and other minute rules of conduct that are laid [S. 44] down for them ;

  2. others ( Vrata Snātaka), who keep every possible rule ;

  3. and a third class, the best of all (Vidyā Vrata Snātaka), who keep all the rules and who also study the Vedas.

The boy is now somewhat in the position of an English undergraduate (would that custom prescribed for him the same interest in athletics!), but he has arrived at man's estate. No longer can he dine with the women, but he must eat with the men and sleep in the men's part of the house.

As a matter of fact nowadays the ordinary Brāhman boy does not study the Vedas with the assiduity that was intended, neither does he keep the sumptuary rules ; according to his detractors, he has invented a fourth class of Snātaka that neglects both Scriptures and rules.

Still the Brāhmans have behind them a magnificent tradition of study and self-discipline, and whatever changes the future may hold in store for them, their friends can only hope that the education of their boys may develop more and more along the lines, laid down in ancient days, of sound learning, self-control, and humility, since, for the East as for the West, Francis Bacon's great words still hold : Regnum Scientiae ut regnum Caeli non nisi sub persona infantis intratur.

The next Vedic rite also marks the boy's progress towards manhood. According to the Scriptures, when a boy is first shaved, a cow should be given to a Brāhman, but in modern times this gift is hardly ever made. The writer's friends, for instance, had never known it to be done. When the hair appears on a boy's chin, the family barber is called in a barber, like a washerman, has a lien on a house and charges a turban for shaving the son. Of course the chin only is shaved, since the moustache is only shaved off as a sign of mourning.1 A barber, it will be noticed, is called in, for as a rule (even [S. 45] amongst native Christians) an Indian does not shave himself.2

1 If a senior relative on the father's side die, a man would get his moustache shaved off, but he would not sacrifice it for any one on his mother's side, save his mother herself; in the same way, if any of his wife's relatives die, it would be only for her mother or her father that he would shave his moustache.

2 Whilst discussing the subject of shaving we may notice that one class of Brāhmans, the Agnihotrī (see ch. v), have their heads shaved, all but the sacred top-knot, twice a month, on new moon and full moon days. A Brāhman of this class at the time of his wedding brings fire from his father-in-law's house and worships it daily in the company of his wife, but if his wife die, he may not worship it until after he has married again ; so during the time he is a widower he never has his head shaved.


A Nāgara would not cut his own hair, shave, or pare his own nails, and though some other classes of Brāhmans do at least cut their nails, the very orthodox amongst them will not do so.

In any case they see that the hair and nail clippings are carefully taken outside the house and thrown away at some distance.