Hindu Dharma: Brahmacaryasrama
The upanayana of a boy is performed when he is old enough to understand things and chant the mantras. During this ceremony he is asked to go begging for alms. "Bhiksacaryam cara", he is told. "Badham", he replies( "I will do so"). So, before his upanayana, the child must know enough Sanskrit to understand what is meant by "Bhicksacaryam cara". When he starts learning at the age of five he will have a basic knowledge of Sanskrit by the time he is eight years old, the age fixed for the upanayana samskara.
The world will stand to gain if eight-year-old children wear the sacred thread, have sufficient knowledge of Sanskrit and chant the Gayatri mantra. Today things have so changed that Godlessness is thrust into tender minds.
Upa=near; nayana=to take or lead(a child). Near whom or what is (the child) taken? Near the guru. That is what upanayana means. Who is a guru? One who has mastered the Vedas. There is one guru during the brahmacaryasrama (student-bachelorhood) and another during the last asrama of sannyasa. The first guru is learned in the Vedas, Vedangas and so on while the second is one who has forsaken all including the Vedas. In the first asrama you acquire vidya; in the last asrama you realise jnana. .
Upanayana is initiation into the brahmacaryasrama while "samavartana" is the completion of this stage of life. "Samavartana" means "return". To repeat, from the upanayana to the samavartana is student-bachelorhood or the brahmacaryasrama. Samavartana thus denotes returning home on completing one's study of the Vedic discipline in the gurukula.
Upanayana is the "purvanga" of student-bachelorhood. Any "anga" must have something that gives its distinctive character. This is called "angi". Thus for the anga called upanayana the angi is brahmacarya. The word "Brahma" has six different meanings. In the tern "Brahmacarya" it means the Vedas. An entire asrama or stage in life is set apart for the study of the Vedas: this is brahmacarya. The minimum period for student-bachelorhood is twelve years which is the time taken to master the Vedas.
"Brahma" also means Visnu as well as Siva. The word, in addition, is also used to denote a Brahmin, tapas or austerities and the Paramatman. When you say Brahma with a long "a" at the end (Brahma) it means the Creator.
At mealtime we do "parisecana", that is we sprinkle water over our food, say, rice. It is the anga for the meal. The rice must be eaten o1nly after it has ceremonially been made a prasada of Isvara. This is the purpose of the parisecana. Is it not foolish to refuse the food after it has been made a prasada of Isvara. Not to learn the Vedas after one has had the upanayana is akin to refusing to eat the food placed before one after one has done the paricesana. In this sense the majority of people who have had their upanayana must be called foolish.
There are four "vratas" between the purvanga called the upanayana and the uttaranga called the samavartana. These are prajapatya, saumya, agneya, and vaisvadeva [see following para].
There are certain rules to be followed to master a mantra. The Vedas are replete with mantras that help you to go forward spiritually and find release from worldly existence. "Brahmacarya" may be described as the total discipline required to master the Vedas. There are also rules meant for the study of each part of these scriptures. Each Veda has four "kandas", each associated with a great sage. Brahmayajna is performed in honour of them. For each kanda there is also a separate vrata. During student-bachelorhood when a kanda is studied its vrata must also be observed. The kandas are prajapatya, saumya, agneya and vaisvadeva. After completing the four kandas the pupil will have his samavartana with the permission of his guru.
The four vratas mentioned above are for students of the Krsna-Yajurveda. For students of the Rgveda there are the Mahanamni, Maha, Upanisad and Godana vratas. Thus each Veda has its own vratas. I mentioned those for the Krsna-yajurveda first since it is widely followed [in the South].
Samavartana is also called "snana" and one who has gone through it is a "snataka". Everybody must learn his own Veda [the Veda that is his by birth] and other subjects in addition. When we perform upakarma we must start learning a new part of the Vedas. Later, at the time of utsarjana, it must be discontinued and the study of the Vedangas taken up. The Vedas, to repeat, must be studied during the six months roughly of Daksinayana, from the south of Sravana to Taisya. The next six months must be devoted to the Vedangas.
To master the mantras the student must strictly observe the rules pertaining to the brahmacaraya and to the particular part of the Veda that is being studied. Nowadays we do not observe anything, we do not even learn the Vedas or a part thereof. Before the wedding ceremony, we perform a rite called "vrata": in one hour we go through a number of samskaras without understanding what we are doing and why we are doing them. Perhaps, I find myself giving this discourse because so much at least survives of the Vedic tradition.
The importance of the upanayana ceremony lies in this: it makes a person fit to receive instruction in the Vedas and spread their divine power throughout the world. Parents must realise this fact and perform their son's upanayana at the right time.
"Dvi-ja" ("iru-pirappalan" in Tamil) is the name given to a Brahmin, Ksatriya or Vaisya. They merit the second birth only when they become qualified to learn the Vedas. Such a birth is meant, as mentioned earlier, to spread the divine power all over the world, and it is through the upanayana ceremony that they become qualified for it. Performing this ceremony at the right time is the responsibility of the parents. At present, in matters like this, no regard is paid to the canons. In contrast, in the old days, people had faith in the scriptures and acted according to their dictates.
The Sastras and Popular Custom
It is to be regretted that, while the rules and injunctions of the dharmasastras are conveniently disregarded, certain popular customs prevalent in this part or that part of the country are being followed as if they had sastric validity. For instance, the belief has gained ground that the upanayana of a son must not be performed if he has an elder sister yet to be married. Another belief is that three brahmacarins must not stay together in a family at the same time. The upanayana of boys is delayed on this pretext. It is not right to go against the dharmasastras in preference to such popular customs and disregard the upper age limit fixed by them for the upanayana samskara. The customs mentioned above must have originated as a matter of convenience or for some sentimental reason. Popular practices may be followed so long as they are not contrary to the dictates of the dharmasastras.
Let us quote here again what Apastamba says concluding his dharmasastra: "What I have dealt with so far does not exhaust all the rules. There are still many more. These must have evolved according to the custom of the family or the region concerned and may be known from women and members of the fourth varna..." We must, however, remember that Apastamba does not want us to go against the dharmasastras.
The upanayana samskara must not be postponed on any pretext whatsoever. Sometimes the marriage of a girl is delayed because the parents do not have enough money to meet all the wedding expenses. This is also not justified and is against the sastras. I will speak about it later when I deal with the vivaha(marriage) samskara. There is a lot of "show" in our weddings and this has come to be accepted as inevitable. Even if we, for our part, do not like any lavish display at weddings we yield to the wishes of the groom's people. The marriage of a girl is delayed until her parents manage to raise the money to celebrate it in a big way. It is also held up because a suitable groom does not turn up. Then there is the problem of the groom's people giving approval to the alliance.
There are no such reasons for the "thread ceremony" to be delayed nor is there is any compulsion to make it expensive. It is not like a marriage in which we have to take into consideration the views and wishes of the groom's people. So there can be no valid excuse for failure to perform the upanayana of a son at the right time. The delay is unforgivable on any count.
Basic to the Vedic Tradition
When a child falls ill the parents take special care of it. How wrong would it be to neglect a sick child? If there is anything worse it is not to perform the upanayana of one's son at the proper age and fail to impart him the Gayatri mantra. This rite is for his Atmic uplift as well as for the good of the world. It is sheer vanity that the "thread ceremony" is nowadays performed like a mini-wedding. This is one reason why it gets postponed since the parents have to find enough money to "celebrate" it on a lavish scale. Delaying this samskara for such reasons must be condemned in the severest terms possible.
We in the Matha are ready to do anything [to help parents to perform the upanayana of their children at the proper age]. We arrange "mass upanayana" ceremonies. A number of other religious organisations also have similar arrangements. The Gayatri is common to all. Mass upanayana is conducted for boys belonging to boys belonging to different denominations, Smarta, Vaisnava, Madhva, etc, and is being done fairly satisfactorily. This practice must grow with more and more participants.
Well-to-do parents think that such mass ceremonies are meant for people without means. But, at the same time, they do not perform the upanayana of their children on their own at the right time. In this samskara the importance of which is hard to exaggerate, there is no question of some being able to spend more on it than some others or some being able to afford the expense more than others. Money or property has nothing to do with it. It is sad that in upanayana rite considerations that are not relevant to it are brought in with the result that the samskara that is at the heart of the Vedic tradition is emptied of all its meaning.
It is the duty of parents to make sure that, after they are invested with the sacred thread their sons chant the Gayatri everyday without fail. Some boys discontinue chanting this mantra the very first day after the upanayana ceremony. Parents must see to it that they don't. They must also make sure that the children perform the sandhyavandana without being distracted by cricket matches, cinema, party meetings, etc. I am not sure how far my urging is going to help, considering nowadays that parents nowadays are themselves more interested in clubs, films, meetings and the races than in matters concerning the Self. If there is any realisation on their part that their own lives have been lived in vain, they may perhaps want their children to do better. But will the boys listen to them? In all likelihood they will turn back to tell their parents: "why do you ask us to perform sandhyavandana and recite the Gayatri? What about you?"
In this unfortunate situation, if I am wasting your time by speaking about such matters, it is because I have a duty to remind you of your responsibility with regard to your children's Atmic advancement.
I do not know whether you will do what I ask you to do, nor do I know how you will do it. I will have to carry out the duty imposed on me by the Matha. The Matha bids me to see it that the upanayana of children is performed when they are of the right age, all those children who are entitled to learn the Vedas. Further, the Matha also bids me to see to it that, once the boys are invested with the sacred thread, they perform the sandhyavandana without fail everyday and that they learn to chant the Vedas at least one hour a day.
Qualities of a Brahmacarin
The celibate-student must perform samidadhana every day, beg for his food and take no salt. If he is a Brahmin he must keep a staff(danda) or palasa, if he is a ksatriya a staff of asvattha. The vaisya brahmacarin has a staff of udumbara. The staff helps the student to retain his learning. It is similar to the lightening conductor or the aerial and is scientifically valid as to "fix" these hymns. That is why it should be kept-to safeguard the treasure called the Vedas that the student has acquired. The brahmacarin must wear the skin of the black antelope(krsnajina) and must not wear any upper cloth. There are rules the electrician has to observe for his safety: he must stand on a rubber plank or wear rubber gloves during work. Similarly there are rules prescribed by our great men of the past to protect the Atmic electricity, the Atmic energy.
Today we perform upakarma as a one-day ceremony without keeping up the study of the Vedas. We do not go through the utsarjana at all. For our failure to do it we mutter a mantra in expiation, the mantra called "Kamokarsit"which says, " I did not sin. Kama(desire) did it. Anger did it. . . " There is no need to repeat this mantra if we perform the utsarjana.
Brahmacarya implies adherence to a number of rules with regard to food, the performance of rites and the observance of vratas. If a brahmacarin makes any mistake in chanting the Vedas, in matter of tone or enunciation, he must do penance for the same on upakarma day. On this occasion he eats no more than a few sesame seeds; otherwise he fasts the whole day; and on the following day he offers 1,008 sticks of the palasa in the sacred fire chanting the Gayatri. He should do this every year. Nowadays brahmacarins perform this rite only on the day following the first upakarma following the upanayana. Actually this a rite all Brahmins are expected to perform, though we find today householders doing only Gayatri-japa. When you merely mutter the mantra you feel sleepy and you may go wrong in the japa. But such will not be the case if you also perform a homa as you chant the Gayatri. Sticks offered in the fire must be those of palasa, if not of the asvattha; darbha grass may be used if the other two are not available.
At mealtime the student can have his fill. The only restriction is that he must not give free rein to his appetite. He must beg for his food for such a practice makes him humble. The sastras do not require him to fast. The student must be nourished properly during his growing years. But he must, at the same time, learn to develop sattvic qualities and there must be nothing rude or rough about him. It is by serving his guru that these qualities are inculcated in him.
During the twelve years in the gurukula the student must learn his recension of the Vedas and also the caturdasa-vidya. On completion of his stay in the gurukula he performs the samavartana, returns home and marries.
Naisthika Brahmacarya and Family Life
In the past, some students continued to reside with their guru without performing the samavartana. Even after his passing, they remained brahmacarins and remained so all their life.
Our dharma takes into account the natural urges of man. The general rule is that, on his return home from the gurukula, the student must marry and settle down. It is difficult to go against the natural urges. But going along with nature does not mean being swept away in the flow of urges. After all the goal of all our efforts is reaching the other shore-that is release from the worldly existence. The householder must lead a life of dharma with his wife. But later he must become a forest recluse first and then, renouncing everything, a sannyasin. This path to asceticism through stages is based on the fact that curbing the natural instincts is likely to be harmful. A person who decides in his youth to become a naisthika brahmacarin(lifelong student-bachelor)may later succumb to his natural passions. This would be an offence against the asrama code of conduct and therefore sinful. As a householder he is not guilty of any offence if he goes by his natural urges within the constraints of dharma.
There are exceptions to any rule. Those who have firmness and maturity of mind and strength of character obtained from the samskaras preformed in an earlier birth may become lifelong brahmacarins. We have the example of Samarta Ramadasa who lived more than 300 years ago. It was he who inspired Sivaji to uphold our dharma against the onslaught of Islam. Ramadasa, the naisthika brahmacarin, personified one aspect of Hanuman.
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada was an incarnation of Paramesvara and his mission was re-establishment of the Vedic dharma. He went directly from the brahmacarya to the ascetic stage of life. His disciples too, with the exception of Suresvaracarya, did the same. Sankara gave initiation into sannyasa to Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Totaka. In the Sankara Matha also brahmacarins are initiated into sannyasa because, according to the rule, only such sannyasins can occupy the Pitha. All this points to the fact that everybody need not become a householder before donning the ascetic's garb. But it must be conceded that only a few will have the wisdom and mellowness necessary to skip two asramas (that of the householder and the forest recluse) to take to sannyasa. Naisthika brahmacarins do not have to perform the following samskaras: marriage, the five mahayajnas, the seven pakayajnas, the seven haviryajnas and the seven somayajnas. Their antah-karana must be sufficiently pure even without going through these rituals. So they are exceptional cases.
Dahana-kriya(cremation)is the last samskara according to the sastras. It is argued, on the basis of this, that they (the sastras)do not enjoin all, even the aged, to take to sannyasa. If everybody were to live through all the asramas (that of bachelor-student, householder, forest recluse and ascetic) there would truly be no question of the cremation rite for anybody. Are not sannyasins their attaining siddhi, instead of being consigned to the flames? If we believe that asceticism is only for the mature, and not even for the aged among the rest, the above argument cannot be said to be wrong.
The view that cremation rite applies only to those who die too young to become sannyasins is unfounded. Indeed not only those who die prematurely but also the old are to be cremated [if they do not become sannyasins]. So the inference is that sastras do accept aged people also not taking to sannyasa.
A person who has the light of knowledge in him and is free from passion must live in the forest giving up family responsibilities and performing only Vedic rites. He must leave his children and property behind and take only his wife with him to the forest. The wife, however, is not meant for carnal pleasure but is a partner in the conduct of rites involving the sacred fire-sacrifices, aupasana, etc. This is the meaning of vanaprastha. A person qualifies for this stage of life when he is mature enough to leave home and hearth, children and relatives. Later he gives up the Vedic karma itself and turns his mind exclusively to the quest of the Self. This is the time when he enters the sannyasasrama.
The man who has thus separated himself from his wife and given up Vedic works is initiated into sannyasa by his guru. He must constantly meditate on the Paramatman and experience the Truth as an inward reality. Also, he must have the realisation that, "That Truth am I, all else is false play. "Then he is by himself, beyond his body and mind, as the Ultimate Truth. This is moksa, liberation. Such a man will continue to dwell in his body until the fruits of his past karma are exhausted. But he will not be affected by such karma as a sannyasin who has inward realisation. From the point of view of the outside world he may still dwell in his body; but even in this state he is liberated. He is now a "jivanmukta". When the body perishes he becomes a "videhamukta"(liberated without the body). And he himself is now the unconditioned Ultimate Truth.
He who becomes a sannyasin without having lived as a householder and he who becomes a sannyasin after doing so, performing all the forty samskaras and acquiring all the eight Atmic qualities, becomes alike the Ultimate Truth.
What is the fate of the man who does not become an ascetic but who keeps performing, until his death, all the samskaras and cultivates the eight Atmic qualities? He is cremated on his death, is he not? After all, the majority of people belong to this category. What happens to such people after their death?
Sankara does not state that they will dissolve in Ultimate Reality. They do not have the intense urge, the burning desire, to grasp the Brahman, abandoning everything. If they have the all-consuming desire for the Truth, no force can hold them back from their quest. It is because they do not possess such a desire that they do not obtain non-dualistic release. However, they have faith in the sastras and perform works according to them and contribute to the well-being of the mankind and they are also thereby rendered pure inwardly. So, though they are not united with the Paramatman, they go to the presence of Isvara, Isvara who is the Paramatman with attributes(Saguna Brahman)and is behind the affairs of the world.
This is called "Hiranyagarbha-sthana" and it is the same as Brahmaloka. In this there is no inseparable dissolution in the Paramatman, but the man who attains it remains in bliss "experiencing" Isvara. Such a state is also to be described as moksa. There is nothing wanting, there is no sorrow, and there is the presence of the Lord. What more is wanted? This state is reached by those who perform all the samskaras even though they do not become ascetics.
But one day Isvara(the Saguna Brahman)will put a stop to the activities of all worlds and dissolve them in the great deluge(maha-pralaya). He will now become the Nirguna Brahman, the Paramatman without any attributes. At this time all those who reside by his side will unite with the Paramatman as the Paramatman, that is non-dualistic liberation.
In the great deluge all creatures-even those who have not performed any of the prescribed rituals, creatures like worms, reptiles and so on also -will merge with the Paramatman. Then what is special about the one who unites with the Supreme Being after having performed all the samskaras? When the Paramatman, as the Isvara with attributes, creates the worlds again those who do not perform the samskaras will be born again according to the karma of their past lives. Only those who have properly gone through the samskaras and been rendered pure will be inseparably united with the Brahman.
I have come far from the subject of upanayana. I had sought an answer to the following questions: "Can a person remain a brahmacarin all his life? Can a brahmacarin become a sannyasin without going through the stage of the householder? ''
Upanayana : When to Perform It ?A Brahmin child's upanayana must be performed when he is eight years old from conception, that is when he is seven years and two months old from birth. A Ksatriya's is to be performed at the age of twelve. Krsna Paramatman who belonged to the clan of Yadus (Yadavas) was invested with the sacred thread at that age. The corresponding age for a Vaisya is sixteen.
According to the sastras, the lower limit of Brahmin youngsters is eight years and the upper limit is sixteen which means a grace of eight years. It is sinful in the not to have performed upanaya of a Brahmin boy before his passing the upper age limit.
Uttarayana is the right period to perform upanayana- from the Tamil month Tai to Ani. when the sun journeys northwards. While this is the right time for marriages also, the season of spring(Chittirai to Vaikasi)is considered particularly auspicious. For upanayana the month specially favoured is Masi. Upanayana and marriage are not favoured during Daksinayana(from the Tamil month Adi to the end of Margazhi).
Nowadays, for various reasons, the upanayana and marriage ceremonies are delayed for as long as possible and celebrated in any month other than Margazhi. The results are there for you to see. But one must be happy perhaps that a function called marriage is still performed somehow. So long as people perform it, let them perform it at any time. If we take this attitude, marriages may be permitted in any season as a desperate step. But upanayana is a different matter. It should never be permitted in Daksinayana. If it is for some reason celebrated during this period, I would ask for its performance again in Uttarayana. Money is the main problem in conducting an upanayana or a marriage. Parents postpone the upanayana because they want to perform it at the same time as the marriage of their daughter so as to minimise the expenses.
The upanayana is sometimes performed when the boy is only five years old. This is called "kamyopanayana", "Kamya" meaning in persuance of desire. Such early upanayana is all right if you want the child to develop inwardly at an early age. But seven years is the proper age for the child to be invested with sacred thread because by now he would have learned enough Sanskrit to chant the mantras clearly. Nowadays, the "thread ceremony" is conducted together with the marriage, that is when the "boy" is 30 or 35 years old. So to suggest that the upanayana needs to be performed only when the child is seven years old - and not at five - would be taken as a joke. Joke or no joke, it [the delay in performing the upanayana] should make you uneasy deep within if you have some concern for the vedic dharma.
Adi Sankara's upanayana, it is believed, was performed when he was five years old. If the child is extraordinarily intelligent and can articulate words properly, his upanayana may be performed at five years
Models to Follow
It often occurs to me that two divine children demonstrate their purpose of descent to the earth through their very upanayana samskara. One of the two is Sankara who gave new life to the Vedic religion and the other is Jnanasambhandhar. The Tamil Periyapuranam mentions that Jnanasambhandhar's upanayana was performed when he was a small child. From the fact that he calls himself "Nanmarai Jnanasambandhan" we know that he was conversant with all the four vedas. Both the Acarya and Jnanasambandhar had to listen only once to grasp their lessons: that is why they were called "ekasantagrahins". So they could learn the vedas in one or two years. Indeed, there was no need to teach them, for they were capable of learning everything on their own. The one (Sankara) was an incarnation of Siva and the other of Subrahmanya. If they had accomplished their respective missions only after their upanayana had been performed and after they had received instruction in Gayatri, it was only to show ordinary people like us the importance of that samskara.
There was a poet called Ramabadhra Dikshita who spoke about himself thus" Before Gayatri came to me, Sarasvati was already there with me." Before he was eight years old the usual age for imparting the Gayatri mantra, he had began to compose poems. Jnanasambandar too sang his composition "Todudaya ceviyan" when he was only three years old. He had already been performing miracles. But even so he had his upanayana ceremony performed and was taught the Gayatri Mantra. If he did so it was to show the world that he was able to accomplish his great mission in life only by upholding the Vedic dharma. He has opened our eyes to the significance of the upanayana samskara and the Gayatri Mantra.
Why Early UpanayanaLet us leave aside the question of child being inspired by Sarasvati before he is imbued with Gayatri. The more important thing is that before Kama takes hold of a boy he must be inspired by Gayatri. That is why the age of upanayana is fixed at eight. When one is possessed by Kama one would be dragged away from one's ideal, that of acquiring the power of mantras. Even the power already acquired would be destroyed. That is the upanayana ceremony is performed early so that the boy is helped to become perfect by constant repetition of Gayatri Mantra. After 16, he will not be able to do the same. If he somehow ascends one span spirituality, he will the next moment descend by one cubit. That is why the upanayana samaskara must performed early.
We do not take such samaskaras seriously nowadays. We do things to no purpose, and at the same time we do not have the courage to give up such rites altogether. So we go through them "somehow " for a false sense of satisfaction. Far better it would be, instead, to have the courage to be an atheist. The atheist at least has some convictions, so it seems to me.
If the Gayatri mantra is learned in childhood itself it would be retained like a nail driven into a tender tree. Gayatri imparts in great measure mental strength, lustre and health. It will increase the child's power of concentration, sharpen his intelligence, make him physically strong. Later in life, when he feels the urge of Kama, Gayatri will prevent him from being dragged downward and be a protective shield for his body and intelligence. When one learns to meditate on the Gayatri in childhood itself, it would be a great help, as one grows up, in not wasting one's seed, in acquiring Brahmic lustre and qualities like studiousness, humility, devotion to God and interest in matters of the Self.
Parents nowadays deny their children the opportunity of being afforded such great benefits and for no reason.
A student spends the years of his gurukulavasa in Gayatri-japa; study of the Vedas and the Vedangas, begging for his food, serving his guru, observing various religious vows. When he completes his education thus, he will have become a young man ready for his samavartana. Later he must go to Kasi and, on his return home, take a wife. He is called a "snataka" between his samavartana and his return from his journey to Kasi. Samavartana is equivalent to today's convocation ceremony. In present-day marriages there is a farcical procedure called "Kasi-yatra"
Marriage is one of the forty samskaras.
Domestic Life and the Carnal Desire
Great men have spoken in the past about the evil done by the carnal desire. Remarkably enough, our Vedic dharma has turned the same into an instrument for the purification of the Self by means of samskara and by imparting to it an element of propriety. It is not easy for an ordinary man to go to the forest and live as a recluse there or become a sannyasin. To become mellow, he has to go through all the rough and tumble of life, experience all the joys and sorrows of his worldly existence. In the years of tenderness he must taste bitter, in boyhood or student-bachelorhood he must taste astringent, as an unripe fruit [in youth] he must taste sour and as a mellow fruit [in old age] he must taste sweet. Ordinary people must go through all these stages so as to become mellow finally and to be filled with sweetness. What has not ripened naturally, or by itself, cannot be ripened forcibly. In this context one is reminded of the words of Ramalingaswamigal who speaks of a "prematurely ripe and withered fruit dropping". The sages know that such would be the result if a man were forced into maturity by going against nature. The duties of marriage and the life of a householder are intended to make a person mellow naturally. Besides are there not many beings that are to be born again as a consequence of their past karma? How can they be reborn in the absence of the samskara called marriage?
The householder has to continue to chant the Vedas he was taught as a brahmacarin. He has also to teach these scriptures, perform a number of sacrifices and rites like aupasana and sandhyavandana. At present the conduct of sacrifices has become rare and not many learn the Vedas. But the tradition of sandhyavandana and Gayatri-japa is still followed though only to a very small extent. I will now speak about the Gayatri mantra.
Whoever sings is protected, " that is "Gayatri". "Gayantam trayate yasmat Gayatri' tyabhidhiyate."
"Sings" is not used here in the sense of singing a song. It means intoning or chanting (the mantra) with affection and devotion. People who chant the Gayatri in this manner are protected. While speaking about this mantra the Vedas use these words : "Gayatrim Chandasam mata". "Chandas" means the Vedas. So Gayatri is the mother of all Vedic mantras (that is the Vedas proclaim them so). It has twenty-four aksaras (letters or syllables) and three feet, each foot of eight syllables. That is why the mantra is called "Tripada Gayatri". Each foot is the essence of a Veda. Thus Gayatri is the essence of Rgveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda. The Atharvaveda has its own Gayatri. To receive instruction in it you must have a second upanayana.
Says the Manusmriti: "Tribhya eva tu Vedebyhah padam padamaduduham". It means that each pada of Gayatri is taken from one of the (three) Vedas. We have forsaken all else that is Vedic. What will be our fate if we give up the Gayatri mantra also?
Gayatri-japa is essential to all rites performed according to the sastras.
The Brahmin must keep his Body Pure
The Brahmin must keep his body chaste so that its impurities do not detract from the power of the mantras he chants. "Deho devalaya prokto jivah prokto sanatanah. " (The body is a temple. The life enshrined in it is the eternal Lord. ) You do not enter the precincts of a temple if you are unclean. Nothing impure should be taken in there. To carry meat, tobacco, etc, to a temple is to defile it. According to the Agama sastras you must not go to a temple if you are not physically and spiritually clean.
The temple called the body - it enshrines the power of mantras - must not be defiled by an impurity. There is a difference between the home and the temple. In the home it is not necessary to observe such strict rules of cleanliness as in the temple. Some corner, some place, in the house is meant for the evacuation of bodily impurities, to wash the mouth, to segregate during their periods. (In the flat system it its not possible to live according to the sastras). In the temple there is no such arrangement as in a house.
Wherever we live we require houses as well as temples. In the same way our body must serve as a house and as a temple for Atmic work. The Brahmin's body is to be cared for like a temple since it is meant to preserve the Vedic mantras and no impure material is to be taken in. It is the duty of the Brahmin to protect the power of the mantras, the mantras that create universal well-being. That is why there are more restrictions in his life than in that of others. The Brahmin must refrain from all such acts and practices as make him unclean. Nor should he be tempted by the sort of pleasures that others enjoy with the body.
The Brahmin's body is not meant to experience sensual enjoyment but to preserve the Vedas for the good of mankind. It is for this purpose that he has to perform rites like upanayana. He has to care for his body only with the object of preserving the Vedic mantras and through them of protecting all creatures. Others may have comfortable occupations that bring in much money but that should be no cause for the Brahmin to feel tempted. He ought to think of his livelihood only after he has carried out his duties. In the past when he was loyal to his Brahminic dharma the ruler as well as society gave him land and money to sustain himself. Now conditions have changed and Brahmin today has to make some effort to earn his money. But he must on no account try to amass wealth nor must he adopt unsastric means to earn money. Indeed he must live in poverty. It is only when he does not seek pleasure and practices self-denial that the light of Atmic knowledge will shrine in him. This light will make the world live. The Brahmin must not go abroad in search of fortune, giving up the customs and practices he is heir to. His fundamental duty is to preserve the Vedic mantras and follow his own dharma. Earning money is secondary to him.
If the Brahmin keeps always burning the fire of mantras always burning in him, there will be universal welfare. He must be able to help people in trouble with his mantric power and he is in vain indeed if he turns away a man who seeks his help, excusing himself thus: "I do the same things that you do. I possess only such power as you have."
Today the fire of mantric power has been put out (or it is perhaps like dying embers). The body of Brahmin has been subjected to undesirable changes and impure substances have found a place in it. But may be a spark of the old fire still gives off a dim light. It must be made to burn brighter. One day it may become a blaze. This spark is Gayatri. It has been handed down to us through the ages.
Gayatri and Sandhyavandana
If the Gayatri has not been chanted for three generations in the family of a Brahmin, its members lose caste (they cease to be Brahmins). The quarter where such Brahmins live cannot be called an "agrahara". It is perhaps not yet three generations since Brahmins gave up the Gayatri. So they still may be called Brahmins.
In the same way if the Brahmin family has not performed sacrifices for three generations its members will be called "Durbrahmanas", degenerate Brahmins. Even though degenerate the label "Brahmin" sticks to them. There are prayascittas (expiatory rites) by means of which the corrupted Brahmins will be remade true Brahmins. But there is no such hope for a Brahmin in whose family Gayatri has not been chanted for three generations. A member of such a family ceases altogether to be a Brahmin and cannot be made one again. He is just a "Brahmana- bandhu", a kin or a friend of Brahmins. The same rule applies to Ksatriyas and Vaisyas with regard to the Gayatri mantra; they become "ksatriya-bandhus" and "Vaisya-bandhus" respectively.
The spark I mentioned earlier must be built into a fire. The spark by itself does not serve any purpose. But it has in it the potential to grow into a bright flame or a radiant fire.
At least on Sundays, all those who wear the sacred thread must do Gayatri japa a thousand times. They must not eat unclean food, goto unclean places and must atone for lapses in ritual observances and in maintaining ritual purity. Henceforth they must take every care to see that their body is kept chaste and fit for it to absorb mantric power.
Even in times of misfortune the Gayatri must be muttered at least ten times at dawn, midday and dusk. These are hours of tranquility. At dawn all creatures including human beings rise and the mind is serene now. At dusk all must be restful after a day's hard work: that is also a time of calm. At noon the sun is at its height and people are at home and relaxed and their mind is calm. During these hours we must meditate on Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvati. In the morning the dominant presence is that of Visnu, at noon that of Brahma and at sundown of Siva. So we must meditate on Gayatri in the morning as Visnu personified, at noon as Brahma personified and at dusk as Siva personified.
Gayatri contains in itself the spirit and energy of all Vedic mantras. Indeed it imparts power to other mantras. Without Gayatri-japa, the chanting of all other mantras would be futile. We find hypnotism useful in many ways and we talk of "hypnotic power". Gayatri is the hypnotic means of liberating ourselves from worldly existence as well as of controlling desire and realising the goal of birth. We must keep blowing on the spark that is the Gayatri and must take up the Gayatri-japa as vrata. The spark will not be extinguished if we do not take to unsastric ways of life and if we do not make our body unchaste.
Gayatri-japa and "arghya" (offering libation) are the most important rites of sandhyavandana. The other parts of this rites are "angas" (limbs). The least a sick or weak person must do us to offer arghya and mutter the Gayatri ten times. "Oh only these two are important aren't they? So that's all we do, offer arghya and mutter the Gayatri ten times a day. " If this be our attitude in due course we are likely to give up even these that are vital to sandhyavandyana. A learned man remarked in jest about the people who perform arghya and mutter Gayatri only ten times thus applying to themselves the rule meant for the weak and the unfortunate: "They will always remain weak and be victims of some calamity or other". Sandhyavandana must be performed properly during right hours. During the Mahabharata war, when water was not readily available, the warriors give arghya at the right time with dust as substitute.
Arghya must be offered before sunrise at noon and at sunset. Once there was a man called Idaikattu Siddha who grazed cattle. He said: "Kanamar konamar kandu kodu adugan pohutu par. " "Kanamal/r" means before you see the sun rise and "konamal/r" means when the sun is overhead and "kandu" is when you see the sun before sunset. These are the three times when you ought to offer arghya. "adu" means "niradu", bathe in the Ganga. "kan" here means "visit Setu" or have " have darsana of Setu". "Pohutu par"- by bathing in the Ganga and by visiting Setu your sins will be washed away. Here is mentioned the custom of going to Kasi, collecting Ganga water there and going to (Setu) Ramesvaram to perform the abhiseka of Ramanathasvamin there.
Only by the intense repetition of Gayatri shall we be able to master all the Vedic mantras. This japa of Gayatri and arghya must be performed everyday without fail. At least once in our lifetime we must bathe in Ganga and go on pilgrimage to Setu.
If a man has a high fever, people looking after him must pour into his mouth the water with which sandhyavandana has been performed. Today it seems all of us are suffering all the time from high fever! When you run a high temperature you have to take medicine; similarly Gayatri is essential to the self and its japa must not be given up at any time. It is more essential to your inner being than medicine is to your body. Sandyavandana must be performed without fail everyday. Gayatri-japa can be practised by all of us without much effort and without spending any money. All that you require is water. Sandyavandana is indeed an easy means to ensure your well being. So long as there is life in you, you must perform it.
Gayatri must be worshiped as a mother. The Lord appers in many forms to bestow his grace and compassion on his devotees Mother loves us more than anybody else. We know no fear before her and talk to her freely. Of all the forms in which Bhagavan manifests himself that form in which he is revealed as mother is most liked by us. The Vedas proclaim Gayatri to be such a mother.
This mantra is to be repeated only by men. Women benefit from the men performing the japa. Similarly when the three varnas practise gayatri-japa all other jatis enjoy the benefit flowing from it. We may cease to perform a rite if the fruits yielded by them are enjoyed exclusively by us. But we cannot do so if others also share in them. Those entitled to Gayatri mantra are to regard themselves as trustees who have to mutter it on behalf of others like women and the fourth varna who are not entitled to it. If they fail in their duty of trustees, it means they are committing an irremediable offence.
The mantras are numerous. Before we start chanting any of them, we say why we are doing so, mention the "fruit" that will yield. The benefit we derive from the Gayatri mantra is the cleansing of the mind (cittasuddhi). Even other mantras have this ultimate purpose, but cittasuuddhi is the direct result of Gayatri-japa.
Even in these days it is not difficult to perform sandhyavandana both at dawn and dusk. Office goers and other workers may not be at home during midday. They may perform the madhyahnika (the midday vandana) 2 hours 24 minutes after sunrise that is called "sangava kala".
We must never miss the daily sandhyavadana unless we find it absolutely impossible to perform. When we fall ill, in our helplessness we ask others for water or kanji in the same way, we must ask our relative or friend to perform sandhyavandana on our behalf.
Let us all pray to God that he will have mercy upon us so that the fire of mantras is never extinguished in us and that it will keep burning brighter and brighter.
Other Aspects of Sandhyavandana
"Astra" and "Sastra" are terms used in Dhanurveda (military science) to denote two types of weapons. Knife, arrow, spear, club and so on-real weapons-come under the term "sastra". "Astra" is what is energised by a mantra into a weapon. If you discharge just a darbha or a blade of grass chanting or muttering the appropriate mantra it will be turned into a weapon. Sastras are also discharged similarly with mantras. If you hurl something at a object or person muttering the mantra proper to it, the object or person will be destroyed when hit.
The twice-born (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) have the duty of discharging "Astras" every day to destroy asuras or the evil forces besieging mankind. Does not "Astra" mean that which is discharged, thrown or hurled? What is the "Astra" which is to be thrown or discharged [by the twice - born]? We throw water so as to drive away or destroy the demons or evil forces that have taken hold of the minds of people. This water, the astra, is the same as the libation offered during sandhiyavandana. We must keep this purpose in mind when we offer arghya : "May sinfulness and falsehood be annihilated. May the sun of knowledge shine brightly. May those obstacles that keep the sun of knowledge dim in us to be demolished. "Whatever you do or do not do, you must perform this arghya thrice a day. Do it somehow " holding your breath"
When a person does a job earnestly and whole-heartedly, we say that he does it "holding his breath". As a matter of fact sandhyavandana is to be performed holding one's breath. If we do this all the evil forces will be destroyed. Nowadays all we do is to hold our nose with our fingers. The sastras do not say, "Nasikam ayamya", but say, "Pranam ayamya. " It means, instead of merely holding the nose, control the vital breath, the prana itself or the life force.
All work must be done with one-pointedness. There must be such one-pointedness of the mind to turn water into a weapon(astra). The breath is controlled for this purpose. You will ask: "How is it that if you control your breath the mind will be still? " We see that when the mind is still the breath also stops. When our wonder is aroused, when we are grief-stricken or when we are overjoyed, the mind becomes one-pointed. We exclaim "Ha" and the breath stops for a moment. But soon we breathe fast. We do not stop breathing with any effort on our part-the stopping is involuntary. The mind stops when it is enwrapped or absorbed in something. Then we heave a sigh-take a long breath-making up for the momentary stoppage of breathing. We learn from this that, when breathing momentarily stops, the mind becomes one-pointed. This is the reason why the breath is controlled when arghya, libation, is offered.
If we practice pranayama we will train ourselves to have mental concentration. This is important to yoga. Practicing pranayama for long is difficult and it must be done under the guidance of a guru. In sandhyavandana we do it only ten times. For some rites it is performed three times as a preliminary step. If we had practiced pranayama regularly from the time of our upanayana we should have become yogisvaras by now. What we do we must do properly. When we practice pranayama as a part of sandhyavandana we must stop our breath for 30 seconds or so, not more. When the vital breath stops, the mind will become still. If the arghya is offered in this state the evil forces will be truly be driven away. The water that we pour or throw when our mind is still will turn a weapon to destroy all evil.
After employing the arghya weapon against the evil forces, we must perform Gayathri-japa. Pranayama we must do according to our ability, holding the breath for a while, then realising it: this process may be repeated without controlling the breath for too long a time. All the steps in sandhyavandana- samkalpa, marjana, arghya-pradana, japa, stotra, abhivandana-have for their purpose the blessings of Isvara: this is stated in the samkalpa that we make at first. From beginning to end sandhyavandana is dedicated to Paramesvara and pranayama is an important part of it.
According to the sastras even the sick must do pranayama three times a day. This means that breath-control is not such as to cause trouble or discomfort. Indeed it could mean a cure for the illness and a prescription for long life.
Rsayo dirgha-sandhyatvad dirghamayuravapnuyuh
Prajnam yasasca kirtim ca brahmavarcasameva ca
- Manusmrti, 4. 94
In abhivadana we mention the name of the sage from whom we are descended. It is our duty to observe Vedic rituals at least for the fact that we belong to the gotra of that sage. After him there have been so many rsis in the line. We use the terms "trayarseyam", "pancarseyam", "ekarseyam", meaning that, in the gotras concerned, there were three sages, fives sages, one sage. . . They must have lived long and secured knowledge, fame, Brahmic lustre and spiritual eminence by performing sandhyavandana. This is what the Manusmrti stanza means.
By our neglect we should not sever the thread, the tradition, handed down to us uninterruptedly. We must perform sandhyavandana as an offering to Paramesvara and must do so understanding its meaning and with faith and devotion. There must be one-pointedness in it and no mantra must be left out.
We sin with our mind, speech and body. I told you that these sins must be washed away by performing rites with the same mind, speech and body. In sandhyavandana we mutter the mantras with our mouth and, even as we repeat the Gayatri, we meditate on it with our mind and in such rites as marjana (sprinkling of water) we acquire bodily purity. Sandhyavandana is karmayoga, bhaktiyoga and jnanayoga combined [it unites the three paths of karma, devotion and knowledge].
What about Women ?
I said that the twice-born must perform sandhyavandana with the well-being of women and other jatis in mind. I also explained why all samskaras are not prescribed for the fourth varna. Now we must consider the question of women, why they do not have such rituals and samskaras.
Even though we perform the punyaha-vacana and namakarana of newborn girls and celebrate their first birthday, we do not conduct their caula and upanayana nor the other samskaras or vows laid down for brahmacarins. Of course, they have the marriage samskara. But in other rites like sacrifices the main part is that of the husband, though she (the wife) has to be by his side. In aupasana alone does a woman have a part in making oblations in the sacred fire.
Why is it so?
The rites performed before a child is born are intended for the birth of a male child (niseka, pumsavana, simanta). Does it mean, as present-day reformers and women's libbers say, that Hindu women were downgraded and kept in darkness?
What reason did I mention for the fourth varna not having to perform many of the samskaras? That these were not necessary considering their vocations and the fact that they can work for the welfare of the world without the physical and mental benefits to be derived from the samskaras. If they also spend their time in Vedic learning and in sacrifices, what will happen to their duties? So most of the samskaras are not necessary for them. They reach the desire goal without these rites by carrying out their duties. "Svakarmana tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati manavah", so says the Gita. I have spoken to you about this earlier.
Just as society is divided according to occupations and the samskaras are correspondingly different, so too there are differences between men and women in domestic life. Running a household means different types of work, cooking, keeping the house clean, bringing up the children, etc. By nature women can do these chores better than men. If they also take an active part in rituals, what will happen to such work? Each by serving her husband and by looking after her household becomes inwardly pure.
In truth three is no disparity between men and women, nor are women discriminated against as present-day reformers allege. Work is divided for the proper maintenance not only of the home but the nation on the whole; and care has been taken not to have any duplication. There is no intention of lowering the status of any section in this division of labour.
The body, in the case of certain people, is meant to preserve the mantras and there are samskaras which have the purpose of making it worthy of the same. Why should the same rituals be prescribed for those who do not have such tasks to carry out? Glassware to be sent by railway parcel is specially taken care of since it is fragile. Even greater care is taken in dispatching kerosene or petrol. If the same precautions are not taken in transporting other goods, does it mean that they are poorly thought of? Astronauts are kept in isolation before being sent up in space and after their return. Mantras have their own radiation that is even more powerful than what is found in space. If you appreciate this fact, you will understand why Brahmins are separated from the rest and special samskaras prescribed for them.
The body of a Brahmin (male) is involved in the nurturing of mantras. So from the time of conception itself it is to be made pure through samskaras like pumsavana, simanta and so on. There are samskaras with the same objective also after the boy child is born.
The vocations have to be properly divided for the welfare of mankind. If everybody paid attention to this fact, instead of talking of rights, it would be realised that the sastras have not discriminated against women or any of the jatis.
The High Status of Our Women
Those who complain that women have no right to perform sacrifices on their own must remember that men too have no right to the same without a wife. If they know this truth they would not make the allegation that Hindu sastras look down upon women. A man can perform sacrifices only with his wife. He does them for the well-being of all mankind and for his own inner purity. It is for this purpose that, after the samavartana following the completion of his student-bachelorhood, he goes through the samskara called marriage.
Marriage or vivaha is known as "saha-dharma-carini-samprayoga". It means (roughly) union with a wife together with whom a man practises dharma. The clear implication is that carnal pleasure is not its chief purpose, but the pursuit of dharma. The sastras do not ask a man to pursue dharma all by himself but require him to take a helpmate for it. The wife is called "dharma-patni", "saha-dharma-carini", thus underlining her connection with dharma, and not with kama or sensual pleasure. Here is proof of the high esteem in which the sastras hold women.
The celibate-student and the ascetic alike follow the dharma of their respective asramas (stages of life) not in association with anyone else. The householder has to conduct the karma as well as the dharma of domestic life with his wife as a companion, such being the rule laid down in the sastras. The dharma of domestic life is their common property. Only a householder with a wife may perform sacrifices, not student-bachelors and ascetics. If the wife were meant only for sensual gratification, would the dharmasastras have insisted that a man cannot perform sacrifices after her death? Women's libbers, who note that a woman cannot perform a sacrifice on her own, must also recognise that fact that the husband loses the right for the same without the wife and this is according to the Vedas themselves. ("Patnivatasya agnihotram bhavati". ) A great man lamented thus at the time of his wife's death: "You have taken away all my sacrifices as well as other rituals. "
Our sastras have thus given a high place to women in the matter of duties and works
Hindu Dharma: Marriage
For the Practise of Dharma
Dharma, artha, kama and moksa are the four purusarthas, the four aims of life. The first of them, dharma, is a lifelong objective. The pursuit of artha (material welfare) and kama (desire, love) must be given up at a certain stage in a man's life. But so long as such a pursuit lasts, it must be based on dharma. When a man renounces the world and becomes an ascetic, he transcends dharma, but he does not go contrary to it nor speak against it. Indeed, his life is governed by the dharma of sannyasa.
I have alreAdy spoken about Purvamimamsa (karmakanda) and Uttaramimamsa (jnanakanda). The Purvamimamsa-sutra opens with "Athato dharmajignasa", meaning "starting the inquiry into Dharma". The "Uttaramimamsa-sutra" (or Bramhasutra), on the other hand, starts with "Athato Bramhajignasa", "meaning"starting the inquiry into the Brahman".
When you inquire into the Brahmin and meditate on it you are not conscious of the Dharma. Dharma is for the dualistic world of karma. Since the phenomenal world does not exist in non-dualistic jnana there is no consideration of dharma in it. But this does not mean that[non-dualistic jnana]is contrary or opposed to dharma; and all that is meant is that it goes beyond dharma. Bhagwan declares in theGita: "Sarvadharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja" (Forsaking all dharmas come to me alone for refuge). Are we to construe that the Lord asks us to go to him for refuge as perpetrators of adharma? The true meaning of the words of the Lord is this: "Give up all inquiry into dharma and adharma. Go beyond them and comprehend the Object that is the source of both". What is sought is an inward experience. The actions performed by the jnanins who have their inner realisation will naturally be in conformity with the dharma. The doings of the high-souled ascetics may not be consciously based on dharma, but, nevertheless, they would be nothing but dharmic.
All told, dharma is always a part of man's life. When he reaches a high spiritual state, he may not be conscious of it, but dharma will abide him and will keep shining as a light in all that he does.
The pursuit of the second of the four aims of life, artha, must be based on dharma. The same applies to the third aim, that of kama. Kalidasa expresses the same thought in his Raghuvamsam when he speaks in praise of Dilipa: "Abhyarthakamau tasyastam dharma eva manisinah" (With Dilipa, the wise, even artha and kama were of the nature of dharma). The householder's stage of life commences with marriage. In it both material well-being and desire have their source in dharma. The student-bachelor and the ascetic are not concerned with the acquisition of wealth or carnal pleasure. The householder's stage of life, or, grhasthasrama, is a bridge between the two and in it both are permitted [within the bounds of dharma]
A man needs money and material goods to live in this world. As for kama or carnal desire, it is needed so that children may be born according to their past karma. Until we have lived out our karma we too will have to be in this world. In this way if we want to give a "chance" to others, we have to earn money and experience kama so that they [these others] may be born again. We need householders to feed sannyasins who have given up karma. It would not be practical for all people in this world to become ascetics. The sastras extol householders as the backbone of the society since they live, or are expected to live, according to the dictates of the dharma and fulfil the requirements of student-bachelors and ascetics.
After completing one's student-bachelorhood and acquiring learning and good qualities, one must marry so as to perform religious rites and live a life guided by dharma. Marriage is included among the forty samskaras, which fact shows that it is a sacred rite that sanctifies life. Just as upanayana is preliminary(purvanga)to the student-bachelor's stage of life, marriage is preliminary to that of the householder. Its purpose is disciplining the senses and the basis for the performance of various duties.
The householder's life is not to be taken to mean merely the enjoyment of sensual pleasure along with the carrying out of duties that mean good to the world. The fact is that the sastras have formulated this stage of life in such a way as to make kama itself instinct with dharma. "Dharma" means essentially bringing everything within certain limits, under a certain discipline and decorum. Kama must be inspired by dharma, that is one must bridle one's passions in one's conjugal life, so that, step by step, the carnal urge will lose its keenness and eventually one will gain mellowness to graduate to sannyasa. That stage, though, comes later. But at first, even now, in the householder's stage of life, the passions have to be curbed, little by little, but not forcibly. In the gurukula the celibate-student is brought under strict discipline. That saves him from being swept away by animal passion.
Though we talk of animal passion, we must note that animals mate only during a particular season. They have the sexual urge only when the female of the species is ready for pregnancy. Man is baser in such matters. Brahmacarya helps to control the carnal urge as it first shows up. Then, in the householder's life, since kama is made subservient to dharma, the passions are kept under check.
What is the sastric method to control the carnal urge? From the day of a women's period there should be no intercourse for four days. Then it is permitted for twelve days. Again there should be no intercourse until the women has her next period. Even during the twelve days mentioned above the couple should not meet during the new moon, on days conjoined by certain asterisms, etc., If such rules are followed the couple will remain healthy mentally as well as physically
Upanayana for Girls
If brahmacarya prepares boys [or young men] to live according to dharma, what about girls? A girl has neither Upanayana nor Brahmacaryasrama. Should not a woman's mind also be disciplined like a man's. If you echo the criticism of reformers and say that injustice has been done to woman by denying them the Brahmacaryasrama and Upanayana, my answer is "No".
Men marry after their Upanayana and student-bachelorhood. Now for women marriage itself is Upanayana. Just as a boy dedicates himself to his guru, a girl must dedicate herself to her husband from her childhood until the start of their conjugal life and beyond. The Manusmriti says: "Strinam upanayanam-sthane vivaham Manurabravit" (Manu says that for women marriage is in place of upanayana). If you ask for an external sign of this like sacred thread worn by the men, we may at once point to the married woman's mangalasutra.
I said that "Upanayana" means "taking near", taking a boy near his guru for his brahmacaryasrama. A woman's guru is her husband. Being joined to him in wedlock is her upanayana.
According to the sastras, a boy's upanayana must be performed when he is seven years old. A girl must be married at the same age. If a boy is to be initiated into brahmacarya before his mind is disturbed by kama, a girl is to be married before she feels the carnal urge. She must also accept her husband as her guru. According to sastras, the guru must be looked upon as Isvara. In the same way a child bride must think of her husband as both guru and Isvara and dedicate herself whole-heartedly to him. She will be able adopt such an attitude only when she is married very young. Later she might start to reason about things, ask questions and develop egoistic feelings.
Laying oneself at the feet of the guru or Isvara -- in short surrender --- is the best means of liberating oneself. This concept of surrender is proclaimed in the carma sloka of the gita, surrender to Isvara, guru or husband: once you surrender to an individual or deity you no longer own any thing. Isvara will give you his grace through the one to whom you surrender.
According to the system devised by sages, a boy is made to surrender to his guru at the time of his upanayana ceremony, while a girl does the same to her husband at the time of her marriage.
It is not that the girl is considered inferior and asked to surrender to a man, that is her husband. The boy too is asked to surrender as a child to the guru. It is the view of the sastras that the age at which the girl is married and surrenders to her husband must be the same as that at which the boy surrenders to the guru.
Talking of the husband and the wife, the question whether the one is superior to the other or inferior is of no consequence. Equally unimportant is the question of rights and status. If this is realised surrender will be seen to be of the utmost importance. We must appreciate the fact that it is in keeping with this view that the concept of upanayana has taken shape in the case of boy's and marriage in the case of girls.
The Age of Marriage and the Law
We saw that it would be best to perform a boy's upanayana when he is seven years old. A girl must be married about the same age so that she too will develop the attitude of surrender. But you will ask :" Is it possible these days? Will it not be against the law? "
It would not be right on my part to ask you to disobey the law. Those who rule us today themselves resorted to civil disobedience once. They justified their action thus: "Some people have enacted what are called laws. But we won't let them come in the way of our freedom." Why do I ask you not to defy the law that stipulates the minimum age for the bride? Not because people are not spirited enough to rise in protest against it, not because they are not ready to go to gaol or even die instead of accepting a law that has brought down the marriage samskara with its high ideal of Atmic well-being to the mundane level. I ask you not to disobey the law because the attitude of defiance, if extended to other matter, will jeopardise discipline and order in society itself. We must, however, keep impressing upon the government the sastric view with regard to the age at which a girl ought to be married.
But it is not the government alone that has gone against the sastras. More than 90 per cent of our people do not respect the sastric view. The few conversant with the scriptures must keep enlightening the rest about this view. Without going against the law they must resolve themselves to do their best, in a peaceful manner, to restore a worthy custom, no matter whether it takes a hundred years or even more to yield results. Why, even if we do not live to see the results, even if it takes a thousand years, we must sow the seeds now. Nothing will be achieved without effort. The tree does not grow if the seed is not sown.
We must, in a persuasive manner, keep impressing upon the government and the public that the Dharmasastra itself is a great legal code.
Controversy about Age of Marriage
At the turn of the century, extremely influential people, among Hindus themselves, demanded the abolition of child marriage and advocated that girls ought to be married only after they attain puberty. They held meetings and passed resolutions against child marriages. Not that they were wanting in faith in the Vedas, most of them; indeed they claimed that their view had support in the scriptures themselves. Among them were distinguished men like M. Rangacaryar, Sivaswami Ayyar, Sundaramayyar and Krsnasvami Ayyar. Then there was the Rt Hon'ble Srinivasa Sastri who was particularly vehement in his criticism of the system of child marriage.
Vaisnavas and Smartas learned in the sastras held meeting at Kancipuram and Tiruvaiyuaru respectively and put forward the view that, according to the Vedas, girls in the past were married after they had attained puberty. They found an explanation for the origin of the custom of child marriages. Their view was this : After the advent of Islam in India, Hindu girls were abducted and dishonoured in large numbers. Girls already married were spared, they claimed. That is how the now custom of child marriage came into practise. The reformers now argued that we must go back to what they thought was the original Vedic practice and put an end to the uncivilized custom of pre-puberty marriages.
They cited their own evidence from the sastras in support of their view. One piece of evidence they presented was drawn from the Vedas themselves, that is the mantras chanted during the marriage rite. The other was from the Manusmriti which is respected by all as the foremost among the dharmasastras.
What do the marriage mantras say? Before answering the question I must tell you another matter. Each part of our body has a deity associated with it. ("adhidevata" or tutelary deity). The sun god with the eye, Indra with the hand and so on - thus there are divine forces inwardly associated with us. Apart from this, during different stages of our life various deities hold sway over us. Thus, a girl is under the sway of Soma (the moon god) from birth until the time she is old enough to wear clothes herself. (The dhoti or vesti that men wear is called "soman". ) Then, until the girl has her menarche, she is under a gandharva. Thereafter, for three years, she is under Agni. When she is under the moon god as a little child she is cool like moonlight. Gandharvas are playful and beautiful, so when a girl is under the gandharva she is particularly attractive. Under Agni she has the fire that kindle kama. This is a worldly interpretation of how certain deities have hold over a girl. But let that be.
What is the meaning of the Vedic mantras quoted by the reformers in support of their view? The mantras are chanted by the groom addressing the bride: "At first Soma had hold on you; then the gandharva became your guardian; thirdly Agni became your master. I, as a human being, have come as the fourth to hold sway over you. Soma passed you on to the gandharva and the gandharva to Agni. Agni has now given you over to me."
Are we not to construe from the Vedic mantras, which are chanted at the marriage ceremony, that at the time of the wedding the girl has already had her menarche, three years after being under the guardianship of Agni? The reformers maintain that their argument against child marriage is not contrary to the sastras. The marriage custom, according to them, changed after the Muslim invasion and they want the original practice restored. No sanatani, they argue, can cite any authority better than the Vedas.
The reformers also quote a stanza form the Manusmriti in support of their argument :
Trini varsanyudikseta kumari rtumati sati
Urdhavam tu kaladetasmadvindeta sadrsam patim
The sloka means: "A girl who has come of age must wait for three years for a groom to come seeking her hand. If no such groom turns up, she may herself go looking for a groom." Here too it is post-puberty marriage that is indicated. Not only that. Manu's code of conduct, it is argued, is "modern" in that it permits a girl to look for a husband herself without any need for her elders to do so. After Manu, the reformers contend, the orthodox Vedic scholars changed everything and made the marriage custom barbarous.
"In the light of these Vedic mantras and the dharmasastra quoted, are not the reformers right? What is your answer, Svamiji?" I will give my answer.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)