Should you wear the sacred thread? Who can wear it?

“Udayji, you have written many articles against caste system and pointed out that caste system has nothing to do with Sanatan Dhama. I am a …. caste young man. Can I wear sacred thread (Poonool)?” – a question from Aranyak Kumar from Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

If you take human history in the earth, among all accessories that human race (all over the world) wore, the only surviving, existing external wear for the last 10,000 years should be the sacred thread. In other words, only ritual that remained for 10,000 years is wearing the sacred thread.

The thread is known as Yajnopaveetham, Yajnasoothram, Janeu or Poonool. It was worn around the trunk of their body over the left shoulder and under the right arm, and represents clothing. Remember that, except the thread people didn’t wear anything in the upper part of body.

During Vedic period, everyone, irrespective of sex (yes, that’s important – both men and women), race, creed or caste was wearing this thread.

The rational side of Poonool is a silent declaration – I am ready for my Karma, based on my Dharma (duty, responsibility, right and privilege together). It all started when the first civilized human appeared in the earth.

So, those who want their children to learn knowledge (Vedas) conducted an initiation ceremony (Upanayana) – putting sacred thread on them. “Yes, my boy/girl can now go to school (gurukulam) to learn”. Similarly, all professionals – carpenter, blacksmith, goldsmith, soldiers, and administrators – made sure that their children underwent the initiation ceremony.

Based on profession (Varna) and character (Asana), there were four broader horizontal divisions in the society. Traditionally, the ceremony was performed by most of the people to mark the point at which male children began their formal education.

However, when you do strenuous or hard physical work or labour, there are practical difficulties in wearing the thread. Also, the initiation ceremony was not required for unskilled labour. Hence people in those professions – called Sudras – were exempted from wearing Janeu. For, all others professions – broadly classified as Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vysyas – wearing Janeu was a must. However, some Sudras used to wear it after marriage.

An unmarried person (Brahmachari) should wear only one Janeu that has three strands. The three strands represent (1) parental ancestors (2) wisdom and (3) those who enlighten us.
A married person (Grihastha) should wear two such Janeu. Why? A woman also required to wear Janeu. When did women stop wearing Janeu? We don’t know for sure.

Probably, during foreign invasions, the male-chauvinistic culture came to India and women are sidelined. Or there have been some practical reasons for women not to wear it.
However, according to Sanatan Dharma the husband and wife were considered as one entity and unmarried women were a rarity in ancient Hindu families. The husband had to bring his wife for all rituals with Janeu worn around her. Presently the Janeu worn by the husband was considered to represent that of the wife too.

Now, about its religious meaning: Yajnopaveetham = Yajna + Upaveetham. Yajña is the sevent avatar of Vishnu (representative image of the cosmic consciourness called Brahmam), as per Bhagavatam. As Yajna, Vishnu is the embodiment of the Hindu sacrifice ritual or Yana. Upaveetham meaning covering. Since Vishnu is always dwelling inside the heart you are covering it with sacred threat.

Everything you do is on behalf of Vishnu. So you don’t have any ego, you are totally surrendered to the cosmic consciousness and you are humble. With this simple awareness, anybody can wear a sacred thread. If you don’t value it and do not understand the meaning of it, then what’s the purpose of wearing a Janeu?

Udaylal Pai
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