Recently I was going through some textbooks of short stories on the discrimination in society on the basis of caste, gender, race, and religion. I was really shocked to know the kind of tortures & inhuman treatment that was meted out to people belonging to the (socially constructed and so-called) lower castes, females & blacks in the past. I would have never known about the extent and intensity of their agonies, pains & hardships, had I not been introduced to the accounts of their experiences through these books. I realized how Shudras (dalits, people from so-called lower castes) & Blacks were supposed to live the life of slaves and/as untouchables and how females were denied even the basic human rights & were exploited under the pretext of social or religious norms/customs. Fortunately, with changing times, these saddening and redundant practices & social customs have also diminished to a large extent but even today we come across, in one way or the other, few horrific incidents which proves that the ghost of caste system & gender inequality still lingers on and continues to ruin the lives of many(so-called) lower castes & females, especially in small towns & rural areas. I was wondering if we will ever be able to live in a harmonious world, unfettered by such inequalities!!
Last week, I planned to undergo the ceremony of Upanayan Sanskaar (Yagyopaveet; Thread Ceremony of Hindus). I was under the impression that this ceremony was limited to the Brahmins only (so-called the ‘Higher Castes’ in Hindus) and in some rare cases, vaishyas & kshatriyas could also get this ceremony done. Shudras were outrightly banned from undergoing Upanayan Ceremony which traditionally signified a new birth in the Spiritual world towards the higher knowledge of the Self. People who undergo this ceremony are more popularly referred to as being ‘twice-born’ or ‘Dwija’. Attainment of such Spiritual knowledge was strictly forbidden for “Shudras” (Dalits or the so-called ‘lower castes’ in Hindus). Also having been raised in a liberal yet patriarchal society, I grew up believing that “Upanayanam” (the thread ceremony) is only for males. On questioning the limitation of this tradition to males, I was showered with innumerable but all too mythical and pseudo sensible reasons, advocating its validity. If I may correctly recall, I also happened to come across an explanation as weird as this-
“A boy’s upanayana must be performed when he is seven years old. A girl must be married at the same age. If a boy is to be initiated into brahmacarya before his mind is disturbed by kama, a girl is to be married before she feels the carnal urge. She must also accept her husband as her guru. According to sastras, the guru must be looked upon as Isvara. In the same way, a child bride must think of her husband as both guru and Isvara and dedicate herself wholeheartedly to him”.
As a matter of fact, many modern age websites are not only flooded with such other ridiculous statements but can also be found advocating them as a valid explanation for questions like why Upanayanam should be denied to girls and why should she accept her husband as her Guru or God or even, why at all should she get married at such a tender age.
Fortunately, I happened to participate in a group Upanayan Ceremony (Yagyopaveet or the Thread ceremony) organized by “The Art of Living”- an organization, founded by the global humanitarian Guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji. This course was different and not like any other Upanayanam .I was extremely happy to be a part of it, more so, because it went far beyond the conventions, breaking the barrier of differences which we still hold on to, falsely believing it to be a reasonable legacy. I was not only surprised but also overwhelmed to know that the group of people who were planning to have their “Upanayan Sanskaar” consisted more of women than men. Two of the main organizers themselves were women. I was overjoyed as I saw this utopian thing happening in this ceremony. But hold on! There was something more to elevate my consciousness. I realized that the participants hailed from different castes & segments of the society. There were Brahmins, Vaishyas, and Kshatriyas & there were Shudras too. Nobody was asked about their castes or religion as a pre requisite for getting this ceremony done.
I underwent the sanskaar along with other participants. The Process was phenomenal and the sandhya vandan & agni karya (rituals in the upanayanam), which was taught while the ceremony, took me to another level of consciousness. While the ceremony, we were also given an option to change and adopt the “Gotra” of our Gurudev, meaning from that moment onwards, we could all, upon our discretion, be socially equal as per the Hindu caste system. What an opportunity to be the change we want to see in the society- I thought to myself.
I really found this change as a revolutionary move in the history of Hinduism. It meant that divine is not for a particular but for all. The spiritual / highest knowledge is for everyone who chooses to walk the path of knowing the self. No bar of Caste, Gender, Religion or Race can restrain anyone from attaining spiritual knowledge. There exists no criteria expect for the willingness to evolve. It only welcomes love & Joy to blossom eternally in such a beautiful society.
There was so much to learn from our teacher Swami Onkarananda ji who beautifully explained us about the magnanimity of “Upanayanam” , “Sandhya vandan” , “Gayatri Mantra” & “Agni Karya”. He also eliminated the doubts regarding denial to females or dalits (shudhras) of this sanskaar. We were told how in the middle ages, the text & verses present in the Holy Books of Hindus had been misinterpreted by mistake or for personal benefits in some instances. He explained that Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji is a firm believer of equality among all genders, castes & segments of the society & this is the reason why he has opened the gates of knowledge for everyone despite all criticisms. I was also surprised and amazed to know that followers of Christianity, Islam, Judaism & many other religions have also undergone this sanskaara, that too without changing their faith, or converting their religion .
I was awestruck with my entire “Upanayanam” experience & was so much in gratitude for my Guru H.H.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji who is continually working towards the creation of a Healthy, Stress-free & Violence free society. A society where differences are meant to be celebrated and not to divide people.
Today, on the occasion of Guru Poornima, Tears of gratitude rolled down my cheeks when I realized His subtle but very remarkable step towards the elimination of such unfair practices existing among various segments of the society. He has initiated nothing less than a peaceful revolution against Caste, Gender & Racial discrimination through such ceremonies, courses, preaching & through the wave of love which he has created. I feel grateful & proud to have Him as my Guru. I am nobody to offer Him any gift on the blissful occasion of Guru Poornima but still, I bow down to my master & make a promise that I will try to walk on the path shown by Him & make this world a better place for everyone.