upanayana is the equivalent of a Christian Confirmation or Jewish Bar Mitzvah. It is a coming of age ceremony and in Hinduism it is usually performed for adolescent boys. The ceremony is sometimes called a “thread ceremony” because one of its important features is the investiture of a “sacred thread” that is placed over the shoulder of the boy.
The word upanayana comes from the sanskrit root “ni” which means “to lead” and so the upanayana is the “leading or coming closer,” which means the boy is becoming a man and taking on adult responsibilities, and is also coming closer to the spiritual side of life, to the guru, and ultimately to God.
The upanayana is the spiritual birth that comes from the father or guru. During the Upanayana ceremony the boy is given the ancient gayatri mantra which includes the investiture of the sacred thread. The mantra is whispered into the ear of the boy while the ladies hold a cloth over the father, guru and boy for privacy. There may be few variations according to family tradition.