Upakarma in Sanskrit means the beginning. It is a vedic ritual mostly practiced by the Brahmins in the southern part of India. The Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas also perform this ritual.
Upakarma is observed once every year during the Shravana month. It is the auspicious day when the Brahmins change their Yajnapavit or their Upanayana thread accompanied by the chanting of the mantras or the Srauta rituals. This is followed by the entire Rig, Yajur and the Sama vedic Brahmins.
The next day of this observance is noted as Gayatri Japa Sankalpam. The Upakarma is conducted as mentioned earlier in the Shravana month as per traditional Hindu calendar under the Dhanistha or the Avittam nakshatra. This is also known as Avani Avittam in Tamil Nadu. In 2019, the day for the Rigveda Upakarma is August 14th, a Wednesday.
- Rituals of Rigveda Upakarma or Avani Avittam
On the day of the Rigveda Upakarma or the Avani Avittam, the old Yahnapavit or the sacred Upnayana thread is changed. This observance is mostly a community affair and conducted near a pond or a river. A Mahasankalpam or a great vow is taken to atone for the sins of the past year and wear a new Yajnapavit.
The first step of this ritual is prayaschitta or an act of atoning for ones sin. After the Prayaschitta the Yajnapavit is worn and a mantra is recited for this meaning that one is putting this new thread on which is nearer to God and discarding the older one. Before the Mahasankalpam, the following acts are observed – Vigneswara Puja, Sankalpa Punyavachanam, the Agni Mukham, the Veda Vyasa puja, the Pradhana Ahya Hutaya, the Pradhana Charu Homa,the Veda Arambh and the Homa sesha or the end of the puja or the rituals.
The old thread should be thrown away, mentally chanting the Lord to bless the devotee and the observer with a longer life and the brilliance of the Brahmanas.
- Procedure of Rigveda Upakarma or Avani Avittam
At the outset the Rishi Tharpanam or prayers to the ancient sages is carried out. Then the Brahmans carry out Samitha Daanam, Kamo karshith Japam and Mahasankalpam. Then with the help of a priest or an elder the Kaanda Rishi Tharpanam is done. The Brahmans then take a holy bath and wear the new Yajnapavit.
Next day they should rise early, have a cleansing bath and the Gayatri Mantra should be read out 1008 or 108 times.
- Significance of Rigveda Upakarma or Avani Avittam
As Upakarma means the beginning, this is the beginning for the Brahman boys. On this day the Yajur vedi Brahmans begin reading the Yajur Veda for the next 6 months. Similarly the Rig Vedi Brahmans also start reading the Rig Veda from this day. The day is considered to be extremely auspicious because Lord Vishnu was incarnated on this day as Hayagriva to restore the Vedas to Lord Brahma.