Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi festival is celebrated as Avani Avittam in Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Maharashtra and Orissa. On this day Brahmins offer water (libation) to their ancestors to whom they owe their birth and to the great Rishis to whom they are highly indebted for spiritual knowledge and the Vedas themselves.
Avani Avittam is an important ritual associated with the Brahmin community in the world. The day is of great significance to Rig, Yajur, Sama Vedic Brahmins. On the next day, Gayatri Japa Sankalpam is observed. In other parts of South India, the observance is known as Upakarma (meaning the beginning).
Ritual of Avani Avittam
On this day, the sacred thread worn by Brahmins is changed and it is usually a community observance and takes place on the banks of a pond or a river. Avani is the name of the Tamil month and Avittam is one of the 27 nakshatras or stars. On this day, a Mahasankalpam or a vow is taken for atonement of all our sins in the past year. The Brahmins take a holy dip and wear a new holy thread called Yajnopavit or Janeyu.
As a first step, ‘prayashchita’ (a prayer to atone the sins) is performed. It says, “For the removal of all my sins and thereby to secure a divine blessing, and for qualifying myself to perform the essential duties of Brahmanas as prescribed in the vedas and smritis, and adopted by the really good in their conduct, I put on this Yajnopavit”.
Another mantra is recited while wearing the thread, which means -”I put on this sacred thread which is highly pure, is inseparable from God, is capable of prolonging life and is foremost in the accomplishment of a Brahmin. May such pure Yajnopavit bring strength and dignity upon me”.
While removing the old thread, the mantra means -”I throw away the broken dirty old thread, may the new one bring on long life and Brahmana’s brilliance.
Significance of Upakarmam
Upakarmam literally means “the beginning”. On this day the Yajurvedi brahmins begin to read Yajur Veda for next six months. The day is auspicious because as per Indian mythology Lord Vishnu incarnated as Lord Hayagriva on this day. Lord Hayagriva is the lord of knowledge, the one who restored the Vedas to Brahma.
Procedure followed on the day
First the Rishi Tharpanam (offering prayers to the ancient Rishis) is read out. Brahmin bachelors perform ‘Samitha Danam” and ‘kamo karshith japam’ after Mahasankalpam. Thereafter,Kaanda Rishi Tharpanam is performed with the help of family priest or elders. As per the rituals, all the male members should have a light meal at night.
Next day after an early bath, ‘Gayathri Japam’ is read out by everyone. Gayatri Japam Sankalpam is noted for the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra for 1008 or 108 times. Sama Vedi Brahmins perform the ritual the day after Shravan Amavasya.