Janai: The Story of the “Sacred Thread” of Some Hindu Men

Almost all Hindus in Nepal celebrate the Janai Purnima festival on the full moon day of Shrawan every year, but many of them do not know the essence of ‘janai’, the sacred thread that gave the festival its name.

So here we have a detail of what a janai is and why it is important in Hindu culture.

What is a janaï?

Janai, often translated as a sacred thread, is a thread that has great religious and cultural significance among Hindu boys and men.

File: A man wears a janai on Janai Purnima’s day.

According to religious texts and people who have studied it, the men of Bramhin, Kshetriya and Vaishya varna (hierarchical group) receive the honor of wearing a janai in a ritual called Bratabandha (Upanayana).

Rishi Ram Pokharel, a leading scholar of Sanskrit literature in the country, says this yarn is normally worn diagonally, from the left shoulder to the right waist, crossing the chest. In Sansskirt, a janai is called “Yagyopabita”. Professor Pokharel explains, “Yagya refers to any type of worship, offering, devotion or oblation. And, ‘Upabita’ means something that must be worn when performing yagyas. Such a thread which is made holy by chanting Vedic mantras. These mantras are believed to have established several Hindu gods and goddesses in the threads.

According to Pokharel, in Satya Yug and Treta Yug the janai was gold and during Dwapar Yug it was silver. Coming to the final Kali Yug, it is now made of cotton. The thread for a Brahmin consists of six thinner strands while for kshetriyas it is three. However, some add three more strands as a replacement for the uttariya, an upper garment, considered obligatory for Hindu men when performing yagyas.

Why is it worn?

File: A man prays while wearing a janai on Janai Purnima day in Kathmandu.

It is believed that after adorning a janai, all gods and goddesses enter and remain in their body, mind and soul and make their life holy and meaningful.

As the janai is given to them during Bratabandha, it constantly reminds the wearer that they are bound by certain vows and rules, ensuring that they always follow their conduct and the lessons taught by their gurus.

This thread is also believed to confer knowledge, power, prosperity, and wisdom on the wearer. Therefore, the one who adorns a janai must always be conscientious, loyal, respectful and truthful and be disciplined.

Not only that, but it is also said that janai motivates the wearer to do good deeds and be in pure character. Wearing a janai is believed to confer longevity and visibility. Likewise, it is also believed that worshiping janai will protect the holder from negative thoughts and energy throughout his life.

Pokharel explains while a janai has three, six or nine strands (as described above), one strand has the three smallest units, say fibers. Therefore, a basic unit of janai has nine fibers. “In each fiber are all the Hindu deities. Omkar who symbolizes all gods and goddesses and divine power in the first, Agni (the God of Fire) in the second, Naag (the Serpent God) considered also as the conservator of water resources in the third, Soma (the Moon ) considered as flora in the fourth, Pitri (ancestors) who are the guides and protectors in the fifth, Prajapati referring to the creator of the world in the sixth, Vayu or Maruta (the God of Air) in the seventh, Surya (the Sun) in the eighth and Vishwadev in the ninth fiber, “says Pokharel,” Therefore, there is a religious belief that these gods and goddesses living in the purified janai confer on the wearer the power and strength that reside in the gods.

“Further, each of the three fibers is triple and makes a strand which counts the total of three strands, symbolizing holy Trimurti: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the keeper) and Maheshwar (the destroyer).” Some even consider these three strands to be symbolic of body, speech and spirit, and believe that whoever adorns this sacred thread acquires full control over his body, speech and mind.

It is not just the Janai Purnima when the carriers change janai. In the Hindu scriptures it is mentioned that the janai should be changed in the interval of four months, before doing any yagya, or after the end of an “unclean” period caused by birth or death in the close family. .

In the fearful Smriti (Puranas), Brahma is credited for creating this thread; that is why he got his other name, called Brahmasutra, according to Pokharel.

Exclusive to upper caste men?

Students at a school teaching Hindu rituals perform their Janai Purnima rituals.

Although the practice of wearing a janai is limited to Brahmins, Kshetriyas and Vaishyas today, an expert in religion and culture, Basudev Krishna Shastri, explains: “Everyone, including all men and women , has the right to this. It is only after having adorned the janai that one is considered eligible to perform the 16 rites of human life (sanskars).

He claims that all people, including men and women of all castes, had the tradition of wearing a janai in the past. To justify, Shastri explains, “Until this day, while performing yagyas or pujas, be it Durga Puja or Swasthani Puja or Laxmi Puja, we (Hindus) also offer yagyopabita (janai) to the goddesses. Symbolically offering a janai to female deities during a yagya means that they adorn the janai.

Recounting one of the sections of a Hindi book, Vedic Vangmay mein Nari (meaning Women in Vedic Literature) by Dr Sushma Shukla, Shastri briefs, “In the Sahitya Sutra (Literature Sutra), Griha Sutra (text which includes information regarding Vedic domestic rituals) and in other scriptures as well it is mentioned that a woman should wear a janai when performing any yagyas. Also, he reads that those women who adorn a yagyopabita are respectful and beautiful. For him, the potey worn by modern women is also a symbol of janai.

Later, this practice disappeared in today’s world because people found it very difficult to be in a strict discipline to follow after wearing a janai, says Shastri.

Gradually people nowadays even Brahmin and Kshetriya men have ceased to adorn the janai because one is bound by a vow and rules after wearing it and people find it very difficult and little. practice to do so.

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