Samooham  Samskaras

The word Samskara in Sanskrit means refining, purifying. We all know that any material directly obtained from natural resources are refined or cleaned before putting to use. This means that the naturally occurring defects or impurities are removed and the material is improved by adding better qualities to make them fit for use. It is the same concept for human beings also. Every person should be useful to the society and this calls for eliminating the negative tendencies and adding good qualities in a person. This is achieved by the various samskaras from conception stage itself.

The samsk?ra are a series of sacraments, sacrifices and rituals that serve as rites of passage and mark the various stages of the human life and to signify entry to a particular Ashrama. All human beings, especially the Dvija or twice-born(the brahmins) are required to perform a number of sacrifices with oblations for gods, ancestors and guardians in accordance with the Vedic dictums for a Dharmic or righteous life. Basically all these rituals are of the nature of purification, and they remove sins (p?pa) and/or bestow good qualities (gunas).

The word Samskaras (Sanskrit: ??????? sa?sk?ra) signifies "cultural heritage and upbringing" in modern speech.

Most Vedic rituals consist of Homa - fire sacrifices of elaborate and intrinsic designs and complex methodology, accompanied by recitation of Vedas by qualified Priests in honor of a particular Demigod or god, fire offerings of various ingredients, gifts to be given in charity, presence of elders for blessings, amidst sanctified sacrificial grounds, sacred herbs and good omens. Each important milestone of a Human life is to be celebrated by undertaking a particular Samskara wherein the significance of that milestone is ritualistically conveyed.


Shodasa Sanskaras

Most of the Brahmins used to follow complex rituals in connection with major events in their lives, such as pregnancy, childbirth, education, marriage, and death. Although, the number of major samskaras fluctuates between 12 and 18 in the Grhya Sutras, later, it became 16  in number  generally known as "Shodasa Samskaras". They are

01  Garbhadhanam

02  Pumsavanam

03  Seemanatonnayanam

04  Jathakarmam

05  Namakaranam

06  Nishkramanam

07  Annaprashanam

08  Chudakaranam

09  Karnavedham

10  Vidyarambham

11  Upanayanam

12  Praishartham

13  Keshantam and Ritusuddhi

14  Samavartanam

15  Vivaham

16  Anthyeshti



Garbhadhanam (Garbh?dh?nam - literally, gifting the womb), is the act of conception. This is the first sacrament which followed immediately on every matrimonial union. There are a number of rites performed before conception. The act of first sexual intercourse or insemination is known as nishekam. (Garbhdhanasamskaram is cited in Manusmrti, 2.27).

The different Grhyasutras differ in their point of view, whether the garbhadhana is to be performed only once, during the first conception, or every time the woman conceives. In the first case it is considered as a kshetra-samskara (once the kshetra, or 'field', has been purified, it remains pure), and in the second case as a garbha-samskara (every time the garbha, or 'womb' conceives, it needs to be purified).



Pumsavanam (pu?savanam - literally, engendering a male issue) is a ritual conducted in the third month of pregnancy. If it is the first pregnancy, it can be in the fourth month also. The pregnant woman is made to inhale a herbal concoction  accompanied by  chants of Vedic manthras. pumsavana  practice differs in different Grhyasutras, and can be extended up to the eight month of pregnancy, according to some. Some grhyasutras also give a later date for pregnancies after the first (which might be related to the fact that the signs of pregnancy are less prominent during the first few months, if the woman has already given birth once).



Seemantonnayanam (Seemantonnayanam - literally, parting the hair) sacrament is performed in the fourth or fifth month of a woman's first pregnancy. Seemantonnayana is conducted for the protection of the mother at the critical period of gestation. This samskara is performed to invoke protection of both the mother and unborn child from demons and spirits that might want to cause harm to the mother and child, as well as to ensure good health, success and prosperity for the unborn child.

Fragrant oil is poured on the head of pregnant woman. A line of parting is drawn three times through her hair from the forehead upwards with three stalks of 'Kusha' grass bound together. The Pranava mantram Aum and the sacred words called Vyahritis (Bhur, Bhuvah, Svah) are chanted during each operation. If the child is still-born, this has to be repeated during the next pregnancy.



Jathakarman (J?thakarmam - literally, natal rites) is meant for the development of the intellect of the child. This ritual is conducted on the 11th or 12th day after the birth of the child.  A few drops of  of a  mixture of ghee and honey is given to the new born infant using a gold ring. This rite symbolises good fortune. (Cited in Manusmrti 2.27)



Namakaranam (N?makara?am - literally, naming) ceremony is performed to name the child. It is performed on the 12th day after birth.



Nishkramanam (Ni?kr?ma?am - literally, first outing) is taking the child outside the house for the first time. The child is usually taken out into the open only in the fourth month after birth. The  child is taken to a temple during the first outing.



 Annaprashanam (Annapr??anam - literally, feeding food) ritual, which takes place when a child is six months old, is the first time the child eats solid food, in India, rice. A few grains of rice mixed with ghee are fed to the infant. This is an important ritual among all sections of Hindus. (Cited in Manusmriti 2.34)



Chudakaranam (C???kara?am - literally, arrangement of the hair tuft), also known as choulam or mundana (literally, tonsure) is the ceremony of cutting child's hair for first time. In the child's third or fifth year, the head is shaved, leaving behind a small tuft of hair. (Cited in Mn.2.27,35)



Karnavedham (Kar?avedham - literally, ear-piercing) is piercing the ears. This is done with a particular thorn. Butter is applied to the wound. It is applicable to both male and female children.



Vidyarambham (Vidy?ra?bham or Akshararambham - literally, commencement of studies) is done either when the child attains three or five years. On the tongue of the child the letters "Hari Sri Ganapataye Namah Avignamastu" and all the alphabets are written with a piece of gold. The child is made to write the same letters from "Hari Sri" onwards with its index finger on raw rice in a bell metal vessel and the child is made to utter each word when it is written. Either the father of the child or an eminent teacher officiates at this ritual. (Citation Mn.2.69)



Upanayanam (Upanayanam) is the ceremony of wearing the sacred thread called Yajñopaveetam. When male child attains eight years, the wearing of the sacred thread Yajñopavita, is ceremoniously done. It is taking the child to the teacher for initiation of formal education. Along with the sacred thread, the hide of the antelope called Krishnajinam is also worn by the boy. The upanayanam ceremony is followed by brahmopadesham - teaching Gayatri mantra to the boy. (Cited in Manusmrti 2.27)



Praishartham or Vedarambham) is the learning of Vedas and Upanishads in‘Gurukulam’ or ‘P??ha??la’. In the beginning of each academic period there is a ceremony called Upakarma and at the end of each academic period there is another ceremony called Upasarjanam. ( Mn.2.71)


Keshantam and Ritusuddhi

Keshantam (Ke??ntam - literally, getting rid of hairs) is the first shave. It is ceremoniously performed for a boy at his age of 16. (Citation: Mn.2.65)

Ritusuddhi is a ceremony associated with a girl's first menstruation.



 Samavarthanam (Sam?varthanam -literally, graduation) is the ceremony associated with the end of formal education of Vedas in ‘Gurukula’ or ‘P??ha??la’. This ceremony marks the end of studenthood. This also marks the end of Brahmacharyaasrama of life. (Citation: Mn.3.4)



 Vivaham (Viv?ham - Marriage) (Citation: Mn.3.4). The Ritual of marriage which is also known as Udvaham.



 Anthyeshti (Anthye??i - literally, last rites), sometimes referred to as Antim Sanskar, are the rituals associated with funeral. This samskara is not mentioned in the lists of samskaras in most of the grhyasutras and other texts that speak about samskaras. The details and procedures of this rite are given in separate texts, dealing only with this topic. The reason for leaving this rite out is that it is not considered as a pure and auspicious rite, and it should therefore not be mentioned along with the other, pure, samskaras.


Controversy in the total number of samskaras

Since ancient times there has remained a dispute between experts on the total number of samskara that exist. As written in Gautamsmriti 8.8 there are 40 of them, Maharshi Agnirane directed 25 of them, but according to the Puranas, 12 or 16 of them are main and necessary. These ceremonies are enjoined on the first three (twice-born) castes in Manusmrthi and Grihya Sutras (Grihya Sutras) (esp. P?raskar). Some list 42 samskaras, i.e. the 16 listed above plus the 21 compulsory Yajnas, plus the 5 panchamahayajnas.

Vidy?rambha, Ved?rambha and Antye?ti are not enumerated as separate samsk?ras in ancient texts like Manusmrithi or Grihya Sutra (P?raskar). To this list may be added Kar?avedham too, which reduces the list of most essential sansk?ras to 12 only.

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