Avani Avittam, or Upakarma, as it is known in many regions, is one of the very significant rituals related with the Brahmin community and is celebrated mainly in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Here, Avittam is one of the 27 nakshatras or stars. This day holds great importance for the Rig, Yajur, and Sama Vedic Brahmins as on this day the sacred thread which is worn by the Brahmin men is changed. It is generally a community observance and is held on the banks of a river or a pond. It falls in the Tamil month of Avani, on the full moon day of the Hindu calendar. On this auspicious day, a mahasankalpam or a vow is taken for propitiation of all the sins committed in the past year. The Brahmins take a holy dip and then wear a new sanctified thread known as yajnopavit or janeyu. On the next day of Avani Avittam, gayatri japa sankalmpam is held, which in other parts of South India, known as Upakarma. Upakarma means the beginning and on this day the Yajur Brahmins commence to read the Yajur Veda for the next six months. The day is considered very significant and auspicious because according to the Indian mythology, on this day Lord Vishnu was incarnated as Lord Hayagriva, the divine being of knowledge and the one who restored the Vedas to Brahma. Thus, on this auspicious day, Brahmins offer libations of water to their ancestors to whom they owe their birth and also to the great Rishis to whom they are highly grateful for the complete spiritual knowledge and the Vedas.
The Celebration Procedure
The first step is known as prayaschita, a prayer to atone the sins. It translates to, "For the removal of all my sins and thereby to secure a divine blessing and for qualifying myself to perform the essential duties of Brahmins as prescribed in the Vedas and Smritis and adopted by the really good in their conduct I put on this Yajnopavit." After wearing the thread another mantra is recited which translates to "I put on the sacred thread which is highly pure, is inseparable from God, is capable of prolonging life and is the foremost in the accomplishment of a Brahmana. May, such pure Yajnopavit bring strength and dignity!" Also, at the time of removing the old thread, the mantra is recited which means "I throw away the broken dirty old thread, may the new one bring on long life and Brahmin's brilliance."
On this festive day, Brahmin boys are given the sacred thread or yajnopavit or janeyu. Also, it is considered that the third eye, known as the eye of wisdom, opens on this day. Firstly, the rishi tharpanam (offering prayers to the ancient Rishis) is read out. Then, the Brahmin bachelors perform samitha daanam and kamo karshith japam after the mahasankalpam. After this, kaanda rishi tharpanam is performed with the support of family priest or senior people. According to the customs, all the male members should take a light meal at night. After an early bath on the next day, gayatri japam sankalmpam is read out by everyone. The Sama Vedic Brahmins perform this ritual the day after Shravana Amavasi.
Avani Avittam/Upakarma in 2012: Thursday, 2nd August
Gayatri Japa Sankalmpam in 2012: Friday, 3rd August
Avani Avittam/Upakarma festival is celebrated in the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa and Maharashtra. Go through the article to know in detail about Avanti Avittam/Upakarma.