Upanayana is a ritual in which a young boy is invested with a sacred thread, called Janai or Janeu to symbolize the transference of spiritual knowledge.
The hallmark of having gone through the Upanayana ceremony is the wearing of the Janai on the body. The thread is circular, being tied end-to-end (only one knot is permissible). It is normally supported on the left shoulder and wrapped around the body, so that it falls underneath the right arm. The length of the thread is generally 96 times the breadth of four fingers of a man, which is believed to be equal to his height.
The sacred thread is to be worn for the rest of one’s life after the ceremony has been performed. A new thread is worn and the old thread is discarded every year. This change-over ceremony is held on a specific date calculated as per the Hindu lunar calendar, on the day of Janai Poornima.
During the ritual, red, white and yellow markings are made around a fire for protection and as an elaborate place setting. Offerings of fruit, money, cloth and rice are made. Two Brahmin priests are required to perform the complex rituals of the ceremony. Most of a boy’s head is shaved (except the top part). Although the ritual is conducted just before adolescence, there are some societies that perform it prior to the boy’s marriage.
The boys are then given a secret mantra, which they are not to share with anyone. This mantra comes from the holy Hindu book, the Ved. They say if the boys repeat the mantra every day they will be protected from misfortune.