Upaakarma Kaamokaarsheet Expiation Homa Ritual is for All
(Compilation for a discourse by N.R. Srinivasan, Brentwood TN, USA, August 2014)
Upaakarma is conducted once a year during the Sraavana or Dhaniṣṭhaa Nakṣatra of the Hindu calendar month of Sraavana. Male Brahmins as well as twice born Dwijas ritually change their sacred thread accompanied by relevant Srauta rituals—offering oblations to the sages (Navkaanda rishi tarpana and homa) whom Hindus believe composed the Vedic mantras. At present this is only confined to Brahmin male boys and adults, some Vaisya communities and Saurashtra communities as mandated by religious heads (Mathaadhipatis). The day is celebrated as Sraavana Poornima in other parts of India, which usually occurs the day after the Sravana nakṣatra, which also marks the Onam festival of Kerala. We have discussed at length about Sraavana Poornima Rituals and Celebrations in August 2013. Different sects as well as different followers of Vedas observe Upaakarma on different days. The present discourse confines to Kamokaarsheet Japa and Homa connected with Upaakarma rituals.
Puranas have their story to tell about the importance of this day. Upaakarma is usually held on the full moon day of the month of Sravana. On this day Lord Vishnu took the form of a horse headed human incarnation 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". Lord Vishnu created Lord Brahma and taught him the all eternal Vedas. Lord Brahma once paraded that he was the only entity that had the knowledge of the all eternal and holy Vedas after mastering the Vedas. Lord Vishnu in order to teach a lesson to Brahma 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 Vedas from theft and prayed to Lord Vishnu to restore Vedas to him. Lord Vishnu took the form of Hayagriva or Hayavadana and restored the eternal Vedas to humanity thus curbing the pride of Brahma. Therefore the day of Upaakarma is also celebrated as Hayagriva’s Birthday. Upaakarma ritual is observed on this day to commemorate the restoration of Vedas retrieved from the demons Madhu and Kaitabha.
In this incarnation, the head is of a horse while the rest of the body is of a human, possessing four hands. This incarnation is worshipped by those who are keen on acquiring proficiency in knowledge—both secular and spiritual. He is said to be the benefactor of even Dakshinaamoorti, Brihaspati and Vyaasa, known for their profound knowledge.
“Jnaanaanandamayam devam nirmala sphatikaakritim
Aadhaaram sarva vidyaanaam Hayagrievam upaasmahe”-- (Vedaanta Desika)
“We meditate upon Lord Hayagrieva, who is the personification of knowledge and bliss, whose form is like a flawless crystal and who is the support of all branches of learning”.
In earlier days, the study of the Vedas was practiced during the period of Tamil calendar months of Aaavani to Thai (from mid-August to mid-January). Therefore one is supposed to perform an “utsarjanam” ceremony, a closing ceremony of the learning of the Vedas for the academic year. Just like Upaakarma (beginning) ceremony in Aaavani, this Utsarjana (closing) ceremony was observed in Thai. The period between Januarys to Augusts was then devoted to the learning of other branches of the Sanaatana Dharma Saasstras (scriptures). Thus a cycle of Upaakarma and Utsarjana with regard to Vedic studies was established. However, this method took 12 or more years to learn just one Veda. Slowly this practice was given up as impractical and Vedic studies continued throughout the year.
Therefore, the first thing to do before the Upaakarma ceremony is to do atonement (Praayaschittam) for having studied the Veda during the prohibited period. Specifically, one atones for not having performed the Utsarjana (closing ceremony) in the month of Thai. For this they resorted to the Vedic mantras from MNU. That may be the reason why Upaakarma begins with the “Kaamoekaarsheet Japam”. The Sankalpa (religious resolution) of Upaakarma includes: “to atone for not doing utsarjana” (adhyayana utsarjanaakaarana prayaschittartham…) and the Sankalpa continues as “…ashtoettara sahasra sankhyayaa kaamoekaarsheet manyurakarsheet mahaamantra Japam karishye” (I will now recite 1008 times the grand mantra of Kaamoekarsheet for not having performed the Vedic studies). On this day, a Praayaschittam (expiation) 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. I do not know who conceived this prohibition period for studying Vedas and why? Taittareeya Upanishad in its Sikshaavalli does not talk about this.
‘Kaamoekaarsheet’ in Sanskrit means ‘those acts that are out of desire’. ‘Manyurakaarsheet’ means “those acts that are committed out of anger”. The general practice of uttering ‘namoh namah’ after this mantra appears to be not appropriate as this Japam is done with a sense of contrition according to some. However if one goes back to the full Mantra as given in Mahanarayana Upanishad it will be clear why adding “Namoh Namah” is stipulated. Some- times it is not advisable to resort to word-by-word meaning of mantras. Also full Mantra chanting makes sense and enhances spiritual value which runs as follows:
“Kamoe-akarsheen namoh namah | Kamo-akarsheet-kaamah karoti naaham karomi kaamah kartaa naaham kartaa kaamah kaarayitaa naaham kaarayitaa eshaa te kaama kaamaaya swaahaa ||
Manyu-rakaarsheer-nnamo namah | manyu-rakaarsheen-manyuh karoti naaham karomi manyuh karta naaham kartaa manyuh kaarayitaa naaham kaarayitaa eshaa te manyoe manyave Swaaha || (61—62, Mantrapushpam, Narayanopanishad, Ramakrishna Math).
The translation of the mantras runs as follows:
Salutations are to the Gods. Desire performed the act. Desire did the act. Desire is doing the act, not I (Self). Desire is the agent not I. Desire causes the doer to act not I. O Desire, fascinating in form, let this oblation be offered to thee, Hail!
Salutations are to the Gods. Anger performed the act. Anger did the act. Anger is doing the act; not I. Anger is the agent; not I. Anger causes the doer to act; not I. O Anger, let this oblation be offered to thee. Hail!
We do not have the authority to alter the mantras of Vedas for our convenience or condense them. It is therefore essential we chant the full mantra 108 or 1008 times as per convenience. Since the word Swaahaa comes at the end of these mantras, these are mantras meant for Homa (sacrifice) for annual self-atonement like the one we recite in daily prayers for self-atonement (prayaschittaa)—“Sooryascha maamanyuscha…..paapebhyo rakshantaam” and “Agnischa maamanyuscha….paapebhyo rakshantam”. Unfortunately Sandhyavandana mantras are also made exclusive to Brahmin males only where the dwijas pray for atonement of their sins committed during the day. Does it mean others do not commit sins or they do not need atonement every day?
Lord Narayana, to whom this apology is submitted, is sure to bear the acts of our omissions and commissions with regard to Saastras.
Kamokaarsheet Mantras appear in the Andhra version of Mahanarayana Upanishad (MNU) in section 61 and 62. Prior to them section 61 contains a mantra as follows:
“Yadvo devaaschakrima jihvayaa guru manaso vaa prayutee devahedanam | araavaa yoe noe abhi ducchunaayate tasmin tadenoe vasavoe nidhetana swaahaa ||
O Gods, O Vasus, that serious god-offending sin which we committed by our tongues, by our understanding, and by our actions, place that in those who come near and act in an evil way towards us (provoke us). Hail (Swaahaa)!
This is a Homa mantra for self-purification as it ends with the sacrificial term “Swaha” a term used in offering oblations to fire. The next two mantras described above as Kamokarsheet manyurakarsheet mantras only elaborate what is mentioned in section 61. Therefore the above mantras are all meant for Homa which are also employed for Japa (repeated recitation) during Upakarma. Probably Grihyasutras later adopted these Vedic mantras condensing them while prescribing Upaakarma ritual procedures. It is therefore advisable to use the full Vedic mantras instead of condensing them to hurry up the Japas. Their full version is convenient for Japa and is not too long. It is therefore fitting and proper to chant kamokarsheet manyurakarsheet mantras contained in sections 61 and 62 in full as given above and not what is given in Upaakarma ritual manuals.
Saayana, brilliant commentator of Vijayanagara Samrajya has gone deep into the meaning of these Vedic mantras which clearly indicates these mantras are meant for all and not restricted to Dwijas restricting too males alone and tailor made to Upaakarma rituals. Desire is personified as a deity in Vedas. Nasadeeyasookta announces that Kaama or God’s will in the form of desire to create the world existed at a time when this universe did not come into being. Yadyaddi kurute jantuh tattat kaamasya cheshtitam || says Manusmriti II.4--whatever activity is found in a creature it is all due to the movement of desire. Bhagavadgeetaa says Desire, Aversion, Pleasure, Pain, Body, Intelligence and Patience constitute Kshetra or field of the divine (Kshetrajna)—Icchaa dveshah sukham dukham sanghaataschetanaa dhritih | etat kshetram samaasena savikaaramudaahritam ||
Spiritual codes declare that the five universal elements and resident deities and one’s own heart witness the thoughts and actions of a man even though they are concealed from others. Worshipper here is represented as offering repeated obeisance to the gods who witness the inside of all men and arraign them to the bar of divine justice. He pleads not guilty and deposes that he, the Self in man, did not do any act or it is an agent. Desire, charming to all in appearance, is the agent that did acts and doing them. Therefore, in order to propitiate the Deity of Desire, so that the worshiper may be left in his pure nature, as a resent of all the withdrawal of all harmful desires, an oblation is offered into the consecrated fire. You therefore see why it is necessary to chant mantra in full and not just “Kamokarsheet namo namah”. We worship Lord Ganesha as Lord of Obstacles, Vighneswara based on similar thoughts to remove all obstacles coming in our way. Saayana says that Kaama in this context means Iswara-kaama or the desire of the Lord. Hence we pay our obeisance. Lakshmi was born along with Alakshmi from the Ocean of Milk and Hindus propitiate both.
According to Saayan Manyu is not rage in the negative value sense but rage towards the internal and external enemy. Vedas often refer to manyu as longing fervor and not anger or rage in the negative sense. In Taittareeya Brahmana manyu is eulogized as Bhaga and Varuna and also supplicated not to damage penance by intrusion. Here Manyu appears with Kaama or desire. It is therefore anger personified. Obstructed desire is source of anger. Thus anger is another trait of the physical and psychological equipment of man from which his true Self stands aloof. Therefore the mantra says Anger is responsible and not the Self in him.
It is worth recalling here following slokas from Bhagavadgeetaa chapter II:
Krodhaad bhavati sammohah sammohaatsmritivibhramah |
Smritirbhrmsaad buddhinaaso buddhinaasaat pranasyati || 63 ||
Tasmaadyasya mahaabaaho nigriheetaani sarvasah |
Indriyaaneenindriyaarthe abhyastasya prajnaa pratishthitaa || 68 ||
From attachment arises desire, from desire results anger, from anger results delusion, from delusion results confusion of memory, from confusion of memory results destruction of Intelligence and from destruction of intelligence he perishes. Therefore, mighty armed one, he whose senses are well controlled from their objects has steady wisdom.
Kaama esha krodha esha rajogunasamudbhavah |
Anicchinnapi vaarshneya balaadiva niyojitah | |3-36||
Evam buddheh param buddhvaa samstabhyaatmanaatmanaa |
Jahi satrum mahaabaaho kaamaroopam duraasadam || 3 _43 ||
This is desire, this is anger, born as the constituent of nature called Rajas—of inordinate appetite and most sinful. Know it to be an enemy here. Thus knowing that which is beyond the intellect, and controlling the self (mind), kill, O mighty Arjuna, the enemy in the form of desire, which is difficult to conquer.
Please therefore understand the full meaning of the Veda Mantras Kamokarsheet and Manyyurkarsheet and chant them fully at least 108 times if not 1008 times on Upaakarma day at least. You can chant and meditate daily also. It is also fitting and proper to perform these expiation Homas like Viraja Homas as prescribed in MNU for the benefit all drawn from different traditions and not make it restrictive to Male Brahmins or Dwijas (twice born) only. To them also it makes no sense to-day to observe this ritual as prescribed in Grihyasootras as practically no Dwija who claims his status by birth, studies Vedas in modern life barring insignificant few. This should be easily implementable for Hindu Americans who celebrate Mother’s day, Father’s Day and January 1 as special religious events day which are not mentioned in Grihyasootras. This is more logical approach for Hindus in India too where narrow minded and conservative religious authorities often bend Veda mantras to their self-assertions and interpretations without going deep into their meaning explained by enlightened Vedic scholars. If you dispassionately look at Sandhyavandana mantras made exclusive to Male Dwijas they are all from Vedas adopted by Dwijas and mandated by Grihyasuitras and orthodoxy denying the others the opportunity of Nityakarmas as mandated by Vedas. Is it not strange that our American Hindu Temples prescribe investiture of sacred thread to a bridegroom of Western culture where the bride is a Hindu indu HBrahmin by birth? It is worth earmarking a day for observing expiation Kamokarsheet ritual for all just to bring home the importance of atonement for the sins accumulated in daily acts.
Epilogue on Kamokarsheet-Manyurakarsheet Expiation Ritual
Upakarma Ritual begins with Sankalpa (religious resolution) and Kamokarsheeth Japa for atonement of those desires and anger which results in greed and hatred. Sections 61-62 of Andhra Version of Mahanarayana Upanishad contains Kamokaarsheet-Manyurakarsheet mantras which are Homa mantras intended for all as expiation mantras atoning for desire and anger which lead to greed, jealousy and hatred. There are also other expiation mantras included in this Upanishad. In fact the expiation mantras contained in our daily prayers of Sandhyavandana are also from this Upanishad intended for all.
These mantras contained in Upanishads have been tailor made to suit the needs of Upanayana Samskara and Upakarma ritual and made restrictive for the exclusive use of Brahmin boys and male adults by birth who are made to enter Braahamchrya and Grihastasrama Dharmas with suitable introductory Sankalpas (religious resolution). Hindu religious monasteries (Maths) and orthodoxy prohibit even Brahmin girls as well as married woman and widows from reciting Gayatree Mantra, Om, Kamokarsheet mantras as well as Sandhyavandana mantras in Hindu religious practices in India which is not the intention of Vedas. Probably these restrictions are of later origin and dictated by Grihyasootras due to large scale misuse and abuse of these mantras. In Ramayana, neither Rama undergoes sacred thread investiture ceremony nor Sita Mangalya Dhaarana in the elaborate description of Seetaa Kalyaana which shows these practices are of later origin, and not based on citation from Vedas.
It is unfortunate that Grihya sootras simply add the words Namo namah to the heading Kamokarsheet manyurakarsheet to make it a mantra for repeated chanting—Japa mantra (Kamokarsheet manyurakarsheet namo namah) keeping one wondering why we pay our obeisance to desire and anger? Word by word translation of this makes no sense to the devoted and inquiring mind. It therefore makes sense to chant the full mantra given in MNU with understanding 108 times at least if not 1008 times. These mantras are also not too long to repeat fully once a year that too on a day declared as a holiday by Government of India as well as State governments if one is religious.
In the mantras of this ritual both Desire (Kama) and Anger (Manyu) are raised to the status of Gods and worshiped to atone for them. Even gods cannot operate without these qualities and sometimes need them. The Creation started with a desire as learnt from Nasadeeya sookta. You will therefore find in Hindu practice Ganesha is worshiped as Vighnaraja, Lord of Obstacles to remove all obstacles. Parvati created Ganesha to obstruct the path of even Siva if he is an intruder in her personal routines and so insisted on his name being retained as Vighnaraja though Siva called him Gajanana, Elephant headed. Vighnaraja takes back all our harmful desires so that we are not affected when he is pleased. He is therefore worshiped as Lord of Obstacles to get rid of obstacles that come on our way. Along with Laksahmi Alakshmi was born and worshiped. With our prayers we turn Kama to Iswara-kama (Lord’s desire) that will not result In Iswar-manyu (Lord’s rage) and sure to end as Iswara-anugraha or Lord's blessings.
Therefore lot of time has been spent on preparing a discourse as above giving the full mantra from MNU and explaining its deeper meaning based on the comments by learned Scholars like Saayana and Ranga Ramanuja. MNU is glorified as Yajniki Upanishad (Upanishad of Yajnas and Homas ) because of its abundance in Vedic Mantras though Sankara did not live long to give an elaborate critical review of this Upanishad being preoccupied apart from casual reference. Kamokarsheet –Manyurakarsheet Mantras are essentially Mantras for Vedic sacrifices as they end with words Swaahaa repeatedly.
It may not be possible for Hindus in India who seek conservative and parrot-trained priestly guidance to perform Upaakarma ritual, to change the conventional practices. American Hindus can certainly change the trend making it equally applicable to all traditions and making it Vedic sacrifice on Upaakarma Day as per the intent of full original Veda Mantras explained in this text. It is encouraging to note American Hindus have successfully modified American Holidays of Mother’s day, Father’s day and January 1 to make them Special Religious Events Day in Hindu Temples. I do hope in due course they will add Labor Day as Viswakarma Day, Guru Poornima day as Teacher’s day, Makara Sankranti as New year’s day for all instead January 1 and Vasanta Ritu Day for Valentine Day which would be pleasing all Hindus drawn from different traditions. These have been discussed at length in my discourses under suitable headings.
1) Swami Vimalananda, Mahanarayana Upanishad, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
2) Swami Vireswarananda, Bhagavad-gita, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
3) Srinivasan Nadipuram, Sraavan Poornima Festivals, <nrsrini.blogspot.com> August 2013
[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganeha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further. These lectures are posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]