550 AD - 1399

Embracing Knowledge: Sacred Thread and Women

American Institute of Indian Studies

The sacred thread is a marker of Wisdom and Knowledge but associated to men. However, here are women who are seen wearing them. 

Sacred thread is an important marker of knowledge, especially Vedic knowledge. As symbol of initiation of young Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya into studentship this ceremony is in practice till date.

Initially meant for boys & girls, later it was limited to boys. The ceremony marks the second birth of the child in the world of knowledge. thus onwards children are called 'dwij' meaning twice born.

Sacred thread is cotton, handmade 3 strings tied in a loop. Worn on the left side shoulder it crosses body onto right side of the torso. The three stands of thread represents Rig, Yajur and Sam Veda.

The knot in the sacred thread is called Brahma-Granthi. Granthi literally translated into a knot. This is generally a set of three knots each for God Brhama, Vishnu and Mahesh.

Shiva are often represented wearing naga as his sacred thread instead of the cotton threads. This Ganesha panel from Sindhudurga in Maharastra is shown wearing naga-janeu like his father God Shiva.

In the Vedic era girls too underwent Yajnopaveet sanskar and received knowledge of Vedas from great seers and saints in the Brahmacharya ashram. Later Manu-Smriti limited it only to boys.

Fierce female goddesses like Mahisasurmardini is often depicted wearing sacred thread to indicate her strength and knowledge at par with male gods. A stone relief of Durga from Andhra Pradesh.

Female scholars like Gargi and Lopmudra are known to have undergone Upanayan Sanskar. Maitreyi, Visvavara, Apala, Indrani, Urvashi, Ghosha, and Sachi are also well known scholars in Indian history.

Chusath Yogini Temple, Madhya Pradesh

Incarnations of Parvati as Meenakshi & Ganga are often represented wearing janeu along with their all other ornaments. This could simply imply their knowledge and wisdom at par with other male gods.

There are references of women wearing their janeu around their neck like necklace instead of on their shoulder and torso unlike their male counter parts.

According to Vedas Grihashta/ married men are allowed to wear two sacred threads, one for themselves and another for their wife. It could have been in practice for women who had no formal education.

Manu-Smriti states- domestic duties for women are her yajnas and serving one's husband is like living in house of teachers and receiving spiritual training, thus making education for women avoidable.

Revival of sacred thread ceremony has become a marker of right to education for women. In recent past news of group and individual Upanayan Sanskar for young girls have been reported.

Centre for Art and Archaeology, American Institute of Indian Studies
Credits: Story

Image Source : American Institute of Indian Studies
Street View: Courtesy Archaeological Survey of India
Curator : Meenakshi J.

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