Upa:karma means beginning. Upa:karma is the ritual performed that signifies the starting of the Vedic education or vedic classes every year for the student. The ritual starts with reciting of a mantra that asks for forgiveness for not performing the utsarjana function and any mistakes during the learning of Vedas. This is followed by the main Upa:karna function. The main purpose of the Upakarma function is to offer prayers and express our gratitude to those rishis who gave us the Vedas — the rishis through whom the Vedic mantras were revealed. Check notes for further information
The learning of the Vedas happened from the beginning of the month of Shravana and continued for 6 months. It ended with a utsarjana function. The rest of the 6 months was devoted to learning of other shastras. The the cycle of Upakarma and Utsarjana was established. However 6 months was not enough to learn the Vedas and it took 12 or more years to learn just one veda. Hence the Vedic studies continued through out the year but the Upa:karma ritual carried on. There are different Vedas and there are different rishis for every Veda. Each one is expected to worship the rishi who belongs to their branch of the Veda (Yajur, Rk, Sa:ma etc). During the upakarma men also change their sacred thread that they wear.
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