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Beliefs and practices
There is essentially no 'Initiation' ceremony in Hinduism. The nearest one is the coming of age ceremony. In Hinduism young male members of the Brahmin and Kshatriya caste may perform a coming of age ceremony, however as the caste system has been disregarded and was not part of Hinduism, through birth as such, various members of other "castes" also perform this ceremony. The Upanayana commonly known as Janoy, or the Thread Ceremony. The Janoy, a three cotton threads/strings (approximately two arm lengths) rolled together represented the 'milky way', the wearer taking the role of 'Prajapati', the creative principle. It symbolises a New birth/ new eyes (Upa = Higher/new; Nayan = Eyes/birth) as a student. It does not resemble baptism: the New Birth signifies the change in knowledge level and entry into a new stage in life. Hence, from this day onward he belongs to the Guru, who takes the place of mother and father in nurturing and training young male.
The Upanayana is akin to Bar Mitzvah in Jewish culture. It is very similar to the Navjote ceremony of Zoroastrianism. This ceremony was performed before the boy went up to the Guru's ashram (school). In a ceremony administered by a priest, a young boy usually shaves his hair off as a measure of austerity (or just some portions, as deemed appropriate) and a coir string Janoy is hung from around his left shoulder to his right waist line for Brahmins and from right shoulders to left waistline by Kshatriyas. The ceremony varies from region to community, and includes reading from the Vedas and special mantras and shlokas. For Brahmin boy, he has to remember the Gayatri Mantra. The boy also swears to obey his Guru and also takes oaths to confirm that he will not take intoxicants, speak the Truth, serve the Guru, and to stay celibate through education.
While young females (prepubescent until married) do not have a similar ritual passage as young males, they follow annual Monsoon Austerity Ritual of Purification by not eating cooked food for one or two weeks, depending on age of child. This is known as "Goryo or Goriyo". During this period they cultivate from seeds of paddy, wheat and mung beans in a small pottery, to which they are asked by mother to guard and nurture.
Rites of initiation exist for the other castes, but differ from region to region. In Telugu society, for example, pre-teen females have an voneelu ceremony, in which the girl wears a ghagra choli or langa voni or half-sari (depending on what she likes) while friends and relatives bless her, and then changes into a sari - symbolising the transition from girlhood to womanhood. Traditional South Indian jewellery (which is also considered Hindu due to its religious artwork) is also worn. Telugu boys have a similar ceremony called a Panchalu ceremony when they are 14-15, during which they wear a formal gold-bordered pancha.
Another initiation ceremony that has nearly died out, but is still practised among more conservative Hindu households, is when the girl has her first theetu (menstrual period (in this context)). The ceremony is generally carried out only by women.
Theetu is generally taken as being in an un-clean state. A thirteen day theetu period follows after a family member dies or for anyone returning from a funeral pyre (for men as well as women), and a two day theetu for when a woman has her menstrual period i.e. if a girl starts menstruating on Wednesday, then she has theetu from the time she starts menstruating i.e. that whole day followed by theetu for Thursday as well as Friday. On Saturday the girl wakes up in the morning, has a hair-wash as well as a bath in water mixed with turmeric(an antiseptic). Even if the girl has minor blood loss on Saturday she is still not considered as theetu.
During this particular theetu, an individual must not have physical contact with anyone that is not a family member, nor enter the kitchen, prayer room, or temple. Traditional Hindu women generally keep their hair braided, but women who are "theetu" usually leave their hair unbraided.
Some reasons for observing theetu were that a woman was in a particularly weakened state having lost so much blood. Exertions, through requiring her to visit the temple or host guests at home, were thus conveniently avoided. However, these practices are less necessary as progress has made the monthly cycle more inconvenient than a health risk.