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Discussions specifically related with the various aspects of practice of bhakti-sadhana in Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Gaudiya ritual culture - brahmin threads -

Madan Gopal - Mon, 05 Jul 2004 20:53:49 +0530
I was wondering if someone could tell me where the brahmin thread comes from, and what is its purpose. I have heard different things over the years from tantrik origins to "string to the eyelids"! Also, why does one chant "on" it, holding it? Does anybody have some insight on this?

Also, what about the sikha? If Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not keep one, when did it start manifesting on the head of the Gaudiya's, and why?
Keshava - Tue, 06 Jul 2004 02:03:25 +0530
Upavitam or sacred thread seems to be a hang over from the age of sacrifices. When performing sacrifice or for that matter any puja one uses the right hand. This is for ritual cleanliness purposes and I am sure people know whay the right hand is used for things rather than the left.

The sastric prescription is to wear two pieces of cloth, while preforming puja or yajna. So the upper cloth was normally drapped over the left shoulder exposing the right shoulder and arm. This made it easier to offer oblations with the right arm as it was not caught up with the upper cloth. Later this simply became a upper cloth in name only and the sacred thread is the remnants of that sacrificial upper cloth.

The interesting thing is that nowadays a brahmin wears one Upavita (set of three strings tied in a special brahma granthi knot) for himself, if he is married he wears another set also for his wife and some wear a third set as a chaddar or upper covering cloth to cover the other one or two sets. Even after doing all this most brahmins again wear a cloth anga vastram chaddar over the lot of them when performing rituals.

See how complex things can get.

We all used to laugh when we would do upakarma once a year. Upakarma is when the sacred thread is ritually changed once a year and the Vedas are symbolically given up and then taken back. It is a ceremony all brahmins (dvijas) are supposed to do and is done on differnt dates according to the Veda that one belongs to. Anyway I used to always go do upakarma at a friends house in Udipi whenever I was there. All the brahmins from the neighborhood would gather at this one pandits house (my friend) in the course of the puja they do puja to the new brahmin threads. Well, one of the things offered to the new brahmin threads IS a brahmin thread. When this happens people think that it is pretty funny. However it is part of the ritual.

(I did not mean that the thread can be changed only once a year. Naturally it is changed when need be, if it gets dirty, or broken or defiled. But it MUST be changed on that date every year as well. This is like the brahmin recharging his brahma tejas batteries and is accompanied the next day by at least 1000 gayatri japas)

Note that there are actually differnt ways to wear the sutra. Upaviti (over left shoulder and under right arm) used for ceremonies worshipping Devas.

Niviti (around the neck) when performing ceremonies involving Rsis or human beings, or for sleeping, having sex, passing urine and/or stool, doing yoga, etc. All activities that have to do with human beings.

And Pracinaviti (over the right shoulder and under the left arm, reverse of normal) when inauspicious ceremonies are performed like funerals and sraddhas that deal with pitris or vastu puja that deals with bhutas, etc.

As to your question about holding the thread. This seems to be a particular Bengali tradition. In other parts of India the tread is not held either while doing gayatri japa nor when doing acamana or whatever.

With regard to the sikha. According to the sastras there are two prerequisites for performing Yajna. Sikha and Sutra. Sikha and sacred thread. Since Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not need to perform yajna (sa sanyasi ca yogi ca na niragni na cakriya Sannyasis light no fire and perform no work BG) there was no need for him to have either.

In fact most sannyasis do not have either sikha or sutra. The exception to this is the Tridandi Sannyasis of the Sri Vaisnava sampradaya who have both and the sannyasis of GM and ISKCON because their sannyasa is modeled after that of the Sri Vaisnavas.

By the way there are differnt places for the sikha and also differnt numbers of sikhas that can be on one persons head. This was to distinguish between difernt communities of brahmins. Nowadays you see only two type of sikha. The regular kind at the top back of the head and the so called purva sikha common amongst the nambudris of kerala, the saivites of chidambaram, and the Sri Vaisnava followers and descendants of Nathamuni. It comes out the top of the head and falls forward and to the right side.

Madan Gopal - Tue, 06 Jul 2004 03:16:52 +0530
QUOTE(Keshava @ Jul 5 2004, 04:33 PM)
purva sikha common amongst the nambudris of kerala, the saivites of chidambaram, and the Sri Vaisnava followers and descendants of Nathamuni. It comes out the top of the head and falls forward and to the right side.

Is this why Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi in the movie has that funky mohawk sikha?! I always wondered...

wow thanks for all that info. You are Gaura-Keshava right? Among the thousands of puja's you have done you installed our Gaura-Nitai deities (Apurva/Kamalini's deities) in '85 or so. Thanks!

Sometimes I have doubts about how super complicated Gaudiya's are supposed to be in regard to puja, what to speak of westerners. I have often contemplated what is the point of wearing the brahmin thread in America or any western country for that matter? How many of these rituals are intrinsic to the Gaudiya culture and how many are adopted from other sampradaya's like you say of the sannyasa rituals?

Where did the puja standards like what we see today in an ISKCON temple come from? Was this all layed out by BSST in his establishment of an institution? How much are these rituals similar to the pre-BSST gaudiya culture or the present traditional lines?

Someone like Madhava maybe has to answer this, is the process of personal deity worship (a lot or a little) different in your line than GM/ISKCON?

Oh yeah, this upakarma day for Gaudiya's is Balarama purnima right?