What Is Rites of Passage?

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Rites of passage describe the ceremonies that are associated with certain transitional moments in an individual’s life (Cunningham 74). In Hinduism there are samskaras. These are Hindu rites of passage.

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They are not just formalities or ceremonies to celebrate periods of transition in a Hindu individual’s life. They serve to purify the soul at critical junctions in life’s journey, (Rites of Passage). The word samskara means mental impression, these ceremonies create a positive feeling about moving from one phase of life into the next. There are various samskaras all throughout the different stages of life (Rites of Passage). One of these samskaras is called upanayana. This rite of passage is the beginning of the acceptance of a student by a guru. It marks an individual’s entrance to a school in Hinduism (Rites of Passage).

        The age varies, while it is usually children between the ages of eight and sixteen years of age (Upanayana: a Hindu Rite of Passage), another source says the ceremony can be performed between the ages of five and twenty-four (Britannica). This is because the three upper classes of the Hindu caste system, Brahmans which are priests and teachers, Kshatriyas who are warriors and rulers, and Vaishyas known as merchants and tradesmen, have different educational requirements (Britannica). During this event the child, usually a boy but can be a girl, is given a sacred thread called janeu. They must wear this thread for the rest of their life (Upanayana: a Hindu Rite of Passage). The thread has a loop made of three knotted and twisted strands of cotton cord. The knots are symbolical. The thread is replaced regularly so that the wearer can have it throughout their life time. It is normally worn over the left shoulder and diagonally across the hip. This shows the wearer is divija or twice born. The second birth having taken place when the guru shared the knowledge of the Gayati mantra to the student and wearer of the thread (Britannica).

The person going through upanayana is taught the secret of life through brahmopadesam or revealing the nature of Brahman, the ultimate reality. This is otherwise known as the Gayatri mantra (Upanayana: a Hindu Rite of Passage). The ceremony ends when the student kindles the sacrificial fire and pleads for alms. This represents his dependence on others during his brahmacharin period (as a child he cannot fully depend on himself yet) (Britannica). Upanayana itself means taking somebody near knowledge. This expresses the simplest meaning for what the ceremony is all about.

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