History of Janai: The story of ‘the sacred thread’ of Hindu men


All Hindus across Nepal celebrate the Janai Purnima festival on the full moon day of Shrawan every year.Janai, often translated as a sacred thread, is a thread that has a high religious and cultural significance among Hindus male.

janai has three, six or nine strands a strand has the three smallest units, let’s say fibres. Therefore, a basic unit of the janai has nine fibres. “In every fibre, there lie all Hindu deities.  Omkar that symbolises all the god and goddesses and the divine power in the first, Agni (the Fire God) in the second, Naag (the Serpent God) also considered the preserver of water resources in the third, Soma (the Moon) considered as of flora in the fourth, Pitri (forefathers) who are the guides and protectors in the fifth, Prajapati referring to the creator of the world in the sixth, Vayu or Maruta (the Air God) in the seventh, Surya (the Sun) in the eighth, and Vishwadev in the ninth fibre,“Therefore, there is a religious belief that these gods and goddesses living in the purified janai bestow the wearer the power and strength that lies within the gods.”

Each of the three fibres is threefold and made one strand that counts the total of three strands, symbolising the holy Trimurti: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Maheshwar (the destroyer).” Some even consider these three strands are symbolic of body, speech, and mind, and believe the one who adorns this holy thread gains complete control over their body, speech, and mind.

According to religious books ,men from Bramhin, Kshetriya and Vaishya varna wear a janai after a ritual called Bratabandha (Upanayana).In Sanskirt, a janai is called ‘Yagyopabita’. Professor Pokharel explains, “Yagya refers to any kind of worship, offering, devotion, or oblation. And, ‘Upabita’ means something that has to be worn while performing yagyas. Such a thread that is made holy by chanting Vedic mantras.” It is believed that these mantras established several Hindu gods and goddesses in the threads.As per Pokharel, in the Satya Yug and Treta Yug, the janai used to be of gold and during the Dwapar Yug, it used to be of silver. Coming to the final Kali Yug, it is now made up of cotton. The thread for a Brahmin consists of six thinner strands whereas, for Kshetriyas, it is three. However, some add three additional strands as a substitute to the uttariya, an upper garment, that is considered mandatory for Hindu men while performing any yagyas.

It is not only the Janai Purnima when the wearers change their janai. In the Hindu scriptures, it is mentioned that the janai should be changed in the interval of four months, before doing any yagya, or after the completion of an ‘impure’ period caused by birth or death in the close family.

In the scared Smriti (Puranas), Brahma is credited for the creation of this thread; that is why it got its other name, called Brahmasutra.

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