Why do Brahmins wear a white thread (Janaeu) around their body? What is its significance?



Hindu Santana Dharma is marked by 16 rites of passages called “Sanskars” (Sanskrit: संस्कार saṃskāra). They are namely :
  1. Grabhaadhan: Conception
    1. Punsavana: Fetus protection
    2. Simanta: Protection of the pregnant Mother
    3. Jaat-Karmaa(Shasthi): Natal rite for development of child’s intellect
    4. Naamkarma: Naming the Child
    5. Nishkramana: Taking the child outdoors
    6. Annaprashana: Giving the child solid food.
    7. Mundan or Choula: Hair cutting.
    8. Karnavedh: Ear piercing
    9. Yagyopaveet: Sacred thread
    10. Vedarambh: Study of Vedas and Scriptures
    11. Samaavartana: Completing education
    12. Vivaah: Marriage
    13. Sarvasanskaar: Preparing for Renouncing
    14. Sanyas (Awasthadhyan): Renouncing
    15. Antyeshti: Last rite, or funeral rites

The sacred white thread called Janaeu or Yagyopaveet ( (Sanskrit: यज्ञोपवीतम्,yajñopavītam ) is a thin consecrated cord, composed of distinct cotton strands, donned during the “Upanayan Sanskar” ( Sanskrit: उपनयनम्, upanayanam)- the 10th sanskar of santana Hindu Dharma. The word “Upanayan”symbolises , ‘the sacred vision’ or ‘new vision’, the vision to see things in a proper way & to discern ‘wrong’ & ‘right’ .
The three strands symbolize
  1. Acharya (Guru)
  2. Maatha/ Pitha (Parents)
  3. Forefathers/ ancestral root (Pithru)
It is worn on the body to symbolize that one should never forget the above three.
Only after yagnopaveetham is done, a Bhramachari can perfom Sandhayandhanam and recite Gayathri Manta. It is called as Brahmmopadesam. This will be whispered in the ear by the boy’s father in the presence of Guru. A yagyopaveet has three vritas (threads). Every thread has three cords twining it and one knot. The word “yagvopaveet” is made up of “yagya”+ “up”+”paveet”. “Yagyo vai Shreshthatam karma”. Not the best but the best of best action is called “yagya”. ‘Up’ means ‘near’. ‘veet’ means obtained, spread, desired, cherished.
Thus, Yagyopaveet is worn with a desire to do the best. It always kindles in one a strong motivation to follow the very pious and sacred of ideals. Knot indiates the pledge. Wearing yagyopaveet means a pledge to go doing the best always.
The length of the Yajñopavītam is generally 96 times the breadth of four fingers of a man, which is believed to be equal to his height. Each of the four fingers represents one of the four states that the soul of a man experiences: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and knowledge of the absolute.
The thread is donned upon with the recitation of the following mantra:
“Shraut smaart vihit nitya-karmaa anushthaan sadaachar yogyataa siddhyaartham, Brahm-tejas abhivrittyaartham, yagyopaveet dhaaranam karishye.”
Wearing vagyopaveet is a holy sadhana. Sādhanā (Sanskrit: साधना) literally “a means of accomplishing something”, is an ego transcending spiritual practice. Therefore, yagvopaveet is worn starting from left shoulder, passing over the heart and goes backwards on the right ending in a knot.
Left shoulder is the base for carrying the load of life with tolerance. Heart is the point of determination and faith. Back is a symbol of commitment, Thus yagvyyopaveet represents the sadhana of the purest of pure with determination, courage, faith, commitment and a spirit of toleration.
” Sa suryasya rashmibhih parivyat tantum tanvanas trivritam yatha vide
Nayannritasya prashisho baviyaseeh patir janinam up yate niskkritam.”



“One who wears the three threads for gaining knowledge, shines with brightness like the rays of the sun, wearing yagyopaveet and spreading it over his body. He carries along the new and fine instruments of learning, becomes the master where knowledge is being created and attains expertise and salvation for himself.”
As has accurately been pointed out in the aforementioned answer, the three threads of Yajyopavit (holy thread) signify the three rins(debts) that must never be forgotten:
the debt to one’s teachers (गुरु ऋण, guru rin), i.e. those who have taught the wearer;
the debt to one’s parents and ancestors (पितृ ऋण, pitr rin), i.e. those who have nurtured the wearer and made possible his existence;
the debt to the sages/scholars (ऋषि ऋण, rishi rin), i.e. those who discovered knowledge, both spiritual and secular, over the ages, which now enriches the wearer’s life.
In some versions, the debt to the sages is replaced with debt to God (देव ऋण, dev rin). Upon marriage, sometimes the number of strands increases to six, because the man is expected to assume the debts of his wife as well.
In brief, Yagyopaveet indicates that the child is qualified to perform all the traditional vedic rites including Pitra Kriya & Tarpan for his forefathers.
In addition the three strands also called Kaayaa Dand, Vaag Dand, and Mano Dand – also represent control over body, speech and mind.
The threads are also said to stand for the Holy Trinity of Hindu Dharma-
me scholars also consider the three threads to be emblematic of the three Gun – Sat, Raj, and Tam which can very succinctly be described as below:
Thus vagyopaveet inspires the wearer to break the bondage of these three gunas of Maya(Illusion) and lead a sinless life devoid of any fear or temptations for carnal pleasures by immersing oneself in the endless flow of holy determinations and actions.
“Ud attamam Varun! Paisham asmad avadhamam vi madhyamam shrattay.
Atha vayam Aditya! Vrate tavanagaso aditaye syam.”
“O Moon! O Sun! Make loose, open, break open all our bondages, topmost, middle ones and the lowermost, so that we remain innocent, free from all kinds of sins and live according to your rules on this earth, integrated land, all over the globe.”
Moreover after the Upnayan sanskar( sacred thread ceremony) does the person’s real life as a Brahmin begins for he undergoes “dwijatva” or rebirth. Hence Brahmins have also been referred to as the twice borns. During the ceremony, one takes the vow to follow Yama Niyam (the path of ethical discipline) and hence treads on the footsteps of dignified spiritual life- the very embellishment of Brahminism and takes the pledge to devote oneself towards the comprehensive knowledge( Samyak gyan) of the three realities of this universe:
Atma- Soul
Brahma- Creator
Bhut( Prakrit)- Nature
Traditionally, the wearing of the sacred thread for the first time and the ceremony itself also signified the “Vidya Arambh Sanskar”- one’s entry into Brahmacharya ashram i.e. embarkment upon the path of formal education as well as spiritual elevation. In ancient times it was the day when Brahmin children used to leave their homes and entered the auspices of their gurukul (the abode of guru- one’s educator, mentor and guide).



Most importantly the wearing of Vagyopaveet marked ones initiation of the Gayatri Mantra ( the most revered of all Vedic hymns) which was whispered for the first time in the child’s ear during the ceremony. Consequently some allude the 3 strands of yagyopaveet with the three parts of the gayatri mantra. Excluding the former part ॐ भूर्भुवः॒ स्वः (Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ), also known as the mahāvyāhṛti(“great utterance”) in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (2.11.1-8), the gayatri mantra consists of the following three parts:
तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑ण्यं । tát savitúr váreṇ(is)yaṃ
भ॒र्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि। bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
।धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त्॥ dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt
A literal translation of the Gayatri verse proper can be given as:
“May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the god:
So may he stimulate our prayers.”
—The Hymns of the Rigveda (1896), Ralph T. H. Griffith
Thus, we see that the Yagyopaveet carries immense significance in the life of a Brahmin. Yagya denotes the pristine elevation and hence every wearer of “Shubhra vagyopaveet” embraces the path of pious radiance by actualizing the following pledges in his life:
  1. May my total life pass in perforamnce of yagyas!
  2. May each one of my pranas pass with yagyas!
  3. May my sight be one of yagya!
  4. May my ears’ hearing be of yagya!
  5. May my voice be of yagya!
    6.May my mind be of yagya!
  6. May my soul be of yagya!
  7. May my bright-superior intelligence be of yagya!
  8. May my life be of yagya!

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