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Upākarma "Beginning" (Sanskrit: उपाकर्म), also called Āvaṇi Aviṭṭam (Tamil: ஆவணி அவிட்டம்) and Janivārada Huṇṇime (Kannada: ಜನಿವಾರದ ಹುಣ್ಣಿಮೆ),Gamha Purnima (Oriya: ଗହ୍ମା ପୂର୍ଣିମା), is a Vedic ritual still practiced by modern Hindus of the Brahmin caste. This ritual is also practiced by the Arya Vysya community, who carry out the daily Sandhyavandanam.
Upākarma is conducted once a year during the shravana or Dhaniṣṭhā nakṣatra of the Hindu calendrical month Śrāvana, when Brahmins ritually change their upanayana thread accompanied by relevant śrauta rituals, making śrāddha offerings to the rishis, whom Hindus believe composed the Vedic hymns.1 The day, also called Śrāvana Pūrnima "Full Moon of Śrāvana"1 in other parts of India, usually occurs the day after the Śravana nákṣatra, which also marks the Onam festival of Kerala.
Brahmins belonging to the Samaveda do not perform upakarma rituals or change their thread on this day but rather on Bhādrapada tritiya, the third day of the month Bhādrapada with Hastaa nakshatra. Shukla Yajurvedic Brahmins of North India and Odisha do upakarma the previous day if the full moon spans two days.
Different sects of people have different dates on which upakarma is performed. Traditional learners of Yajurveda observe the Yajur upakarma in the month of Shraavana (August–September), on the full moon day;2 more particularly, Yajur upakarma is held on the full-moon day that comes before the new-moon day of the month of Sravana (Avani). Rig Vedic Upakarma is observed on the day in/on sukla paksha Shravan month which has Shravana nakshatra.Rig Vedic Brahmins change the sacred thread on that day, irrespective of whether it is a full-moon day (purnima) or not. Shukla Yajurvedic bramhins of North India and Odisha do upaakarma on the previous day if Purnima spans two days (shukla chaturdashi yukta Purnima). Sama Vedic Upakarma is observed on the day after Shravan Amavasya, Hastha nakshatra such that they do the Gayatri japam on Ganesh Chaturti.1
According to Nirnaya Sindhu following conditions should be taken care for deciding the date of upakarma
- Rigveda Upakarma:Should be done on the day in shraavana where shravana is the star and spans at least from sunrise to mid day.But not in Uttara Ashadha if present during sunrise.
- Samaveda Upakarma: Should be done on hasta nakshatra on bhadrapada shuklapaksha
- Krishna Yajurveda: i.e. Taittiriyas & Maitrayanis should do on shravistha, dhanistha,(avittam in Tamil),on shraavana month,whether it falls on purnima yukta Pratipada (Pratipat)during sunrise (Telugu- paadyami) or prathama.
- Shukla Yajurveda: i.e. Vajasaneyi Kanvas and Madhyandinas do in purnima day if purnima is present up to evening.But if punima and pratipada both are present on next day(para viddha) they should do on previous day when chaturdashi stays in day and then purnima comes after mid day(purva viddha).Under no condition they should do/avoid doing in krishna paksha pratipat or broadly speaking they should finish upakarma before approach of krishna paksha.but they postpone upakarma to the next day if purnima is having Uttara Ashadha nakshatra.
- Atharva Veda: They do on the day when purnima lasts during sunrise.(udaya vyapini tithi)
- If there occurs Eclipse and sankranti when sun enters Leo (masa pirrapu/avani 1st in Tamil) during purnima,the people having upakrama for that day should be finished prior to punima when hasta nakshatra is available(generally shravana shukla Panchami/shashti.and for samaveda,if there is sankramana(purattasi 1st) to kanya in bhadrapada then shraavana month's hasta should be considered.
- If shraavana suddha Panchami(hasta) day is having sankramana/sankranti and purnima is having eclipse then upakarma is postponed to Samaveda upakarma day,i'e. bhadrapada hasta nakshatra but only Vajasaneyi Shukla Yajurveda people can do upakarma on the Panchami(hasta) having simha sankramana and avoid upakarma on purnima having eclipse.
- No one should do upakarma on a day having uttarashadha nakshatra or a lunar eclipse
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 Kaitabha. As lord Vishnu took the form of a horse, this incarnation is called Hayagriva or "horse-head". After lord Vishnu created 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 Kaitabha from two water drops on the lotus that he mounts. He then instructed them to steal the Vedas from Lord Brahma and hide 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,.1 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.
The learning of the Vedas begins in the month of Shravan with a Upakarma and is temporarily terminated in Makaram with an Utsarjana ritual, to be restarted in the next Shravan. However, it was found that six months in a year results in a very long period to complete the study of Vedas. In order to overcome this difficulty, Brahmins started skipping the Utsajana ritual and studied Vedas through all the months of the year.
On this day, a Prayachittam is performed on two counts - to pardon the sin of learning Vedas in the prohibited period of the year and a general request to pardon all the sins committed by them during the year. Homams are held and Poonal, the sacred thread, is changed on this day.3 More details:4
The first step is a 'prayashchita', A prayer to atone the sins. It says, "For the removal of all my sins and thereby to secure a divine blessing and for qualifying myself to perform the essential duties of Brahmanas as prescribed in the vedas and smritis and adopted by the really good in their conduct I put on this Yagnopavita (the sacred thread, called poonool in Malayalam and Tamil)".
Then a new Yagnopavita is worn. When the thread is worn another mantra is recited which means -"I put on the sacred thread which is highly pure, is inseparable from God, is capable of prolonging life and is the foremost in the accomplishment of a Brahmana. May such pure Yagnopavita bring strength and dignity."
While removing the old thread, the mantra means -"I remove with respect, the old broken thread by wear and tear, may the new one bring on long life and Brahmana's brilliance."
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, Andhra 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.
- 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, Vada, 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.
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.