PROLOGUE ON UPAAKARMA RITES
(Discourse by N.R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN.)
Upaakarma Ritual is for those who have undergone Upanayan Samskaara. Upaakarma Day marks the day for commencing the term for studying Vedas. Utsarjana is the cessation of such studies and commencing the study of Vedaangas. Ancient sages taught both Paravidya (spiritual education) and Apara Vidya (secular education) in their Gurukula. The two rites are now performed on the same day since the majority of those who perform them do not know their significance. Rigvedins, Yajurvedins and Saamavedins have different days for Upakarma. It is a regional holiday in most part of Southern States in India. Rakshabhandan also coincides with Yajur Upakarma and therefore North India also observes Rakshabhandan honoring sisters on this day and it is a Holiday there too.
In ancient days Upakarma rite was also performed by Kshatriya and Vaisya boys who had undergone Upanayana Samskaara as well as girls who had undergone Upanayana too. Now-a-days this rite is solely observed by Brahmin community who claim their Varna as their birth-right. In Kerala in some Namboodri Brahmin families girls still undergo Upanayana ceremony. I witnessed one such ceremony in USA too. While Brahmin community goes through this ceremony elaborately, they have completely neglected follow up study of Vedas (adhyaana) which is the most essential part of this ceremony. Merely going through the Upanayana ceremony is meaningless. Some of the Brahmins think that Upanayana is a formality that has to be completed to get married under Hindu Marriage Rites. Even in inter-racial marriages the bridegroom even if he is not a Hindu is invested with holy thread with Brahmopadesam by the priest who conducts the ceremony prior to actual marriage ceremony. It has also become a practice to conduct mass Upanayanams and mass Upakarmas by all sorts of priests. Satya Sai Baba though not a Brahmin by birth has been conducting Upanayana ceremonies to Brahmin boys at his Ashram though not to the liking of orthodox Brahmins and Saiva and Vaishanva religious heads. Many Azhvars and Nayanmars who are not Brahmins by birth have undergone these ceremonies and were high profile scholars in Vedas. ISKCON Krishna Consciousness group do not accept the Upanayana Samskaara done by Hindu priests and not followed by study of Vedas. They admit anyone to their group after a fresh Upanayana ceremony by their spiritual head. Thus the Upanayana ceremony is not restricted to Brahmins only who claim their Varna due to birth and sex. Of late we have American Gurus like Velansamy, Vamadeva Saatri and other Westerners who are deep rooted Vedic Scholars and who have also undergone Upanayana Ceremony.
Today Brahmin Varna or more appropriately Brahmin community are the first degree violators of Varnashrama Dharma. I specifically mention Brahmin Varna because there is innumerable number of Castes or Jatis within this community. It is therefore necessary for them to wake up, study Vedas and propagate them and practice Vedic Dhramas suitably adapted to modern needs and serve the society if they are still serious to hold on to their titles. The other three Varnas have consolidated themselves under one group calling themselves as Non-Brahmins but at the same time isolated themselves from rest of the Hindu Lower Society which has considerable representation. Here too they are not paying attention to the spiritual progress thinking that Vedic study is not meant for them. This is far from truth if we go deep into Vedas. It is clear that all should concentrate on self purification and meditation on Brahman as ordained in Vedas. It is not the privilege of any one class. It is universal.
Today a good number of Westerners are studying Vedas, practicing Yoga and meditation, fed up with their own faith based religions and in search of spiritual progress. Some of them are renowned Vedic Scholars. Even in the past Western world produced great many Vedic scholars who propagated the Message of Vedas. They left behind vast research material of theirs and translation of Vedas into English and other foreign languages which are often referred by all of us and quoted authoritatively. It may be a surprise for all of you that the first recording by HMV Gramaphone Company was the first Vedic Mantra of Rigveda:
"Agnimeele purohitam| yajnasya deva mritvijam | Hotaara(ga)m ratnadhaatamam| Harih Om ||"
As migrant Hindus we do not have the necessary atmosphere or proper people to guide us. That should not stop us from giving it a try. As I have said before we may not be able to study all the Vedas and understand them. But the essence of the Vedas is contained in the ritualistic mantras and Sooktas (a group of Vedic mantras well spoken) that priests chant during worship and rituals which we sometimes try to chant without understanding them. It should also be understood that the priest is only guiding the performer and all the merits and lapses of these rituals are the responsibility of the performer alone. If we can allocate a regular time everyday and study them it would help us a lot in our spiritual pursuit. Probably an hour or even less in the evenings should be adequate. Our Sunday school should motivate young minds to concentrate on these and first try to teach them how to chant with correct intonation. Then their meaning can be explained. Then all can spend some time together on meditation. Parents also can do this with their children at home. I have seen some people who follow Swami Narayana cult do in the evening Pooja and Aarati as a family worship. We could follow their example.
You are already conversant with Purushasookta, Narayansookta and Mantrapushpa used during Sunday Pooja. These are from Vedas. These have been adequately explained in the past. Other Sooktas and Mantras are now ready for distribution with proper meaning and explanation. They will be circulated periodically for your benefit. A beginning has to be made. A program can be drawn to sit with knowledgeable people to get the initial guidance. We can build up a core to help the Sunday school and practice the study of Vedas to a limited extent with proper understanding which will take us through the spiritual path. You should not forget we are fortunate that we live in an IT World. We have Wikipedia Gurus, You-Tube Gurus, Google Gurus, Baidu Gurus and various Tele Gurus who are ready to help us and confuse us too. We have to pick up the right source with proper guidance. Others who are not living here and are in my mailing list should give a serious thought as to how to go about it.
We are all worried about our children and future generations moving away from our Eternal Tradition. Instead of worrying we should start working on it to preserve the Vedic culture and guide to evolve spiritually along with our material progress. It is our duty to bring up children with moral guidance. In that Vedic studies with proper explanation will be more convincing than asking them to blindly follow religious practices, though they try to include many Vedic Mantras mechanically. We cannot convince our children by parrot chanting. This is particularly important for immigrant Hindus as our children grow up in a society of multicultural society and multi religious atmosphere and we cannot force them or dictate them. They are often more intelligent than us too. In this universal approach of Vedic studies will be appealing, appropriate and helpful. They will also be not attracted to faith based religions surrounding them and will not be influenced by them or mislead by them. Vedic approach will be as convincing as science if properly explained. Some of us have missed the bus. That does not mean we should give up hope. We should make a beginning. We are all successful as Hindu migrants materially. What is the use of gaining the whole world when we can't find our own soul (Jeevaataman) and redeem it from the surrounding clouds which we call Trigunas in Vedic Language?
Surprisingly Aryasamajists and Meemaamsakas amongst Hindus conduct Agnihotram (Fire sacrifice) employing some of these Vedic Mantras and others in their daily ritual at homes. This is aimed at self purification, dedication to Brahman and to express one's gratitude to sages who are our forefathers as we have learnt from our Gotras. They don't believe in idol worship and temple rituals though these are means for spiritual conversion and evolution as we mature.
Solomon, the wise, said that every individual within him has divinely implanted sense of a purpose. For those who struggle to resolve a loss of a purpose the answer is to nurture their spiritual core. We should strengthen our spiritual core to improve wellness. There is a spiritual aspect at the foundation of every human being, and like any other dimension in individual life, it too needs attention. So, whenever an individual senses a pull from his or her spiritual dimension, that individual then should respond with a God-centered pursuit that feeds human core just as it is human to respond to physical urge, like how one would respond to a natural instinct thirst by drinking water. One needs to develop physical core as well as spiritual core for well being and for a peaceful world.