Samskaras literally mean “impression” and also “to refine or purify”. The purpose in life is to understand who we really are and fully blossom in love. As human beings, we go through several phases in this journey of life - childhood, education, youth, professional life, marriage, parenthood etc. Almost all cultures and traditions mark and celebrate these stages in the journey of life. Our ancient Vedic tradition identifies sixteen such important events to be marked and celebrated in one’s life - these are called Shodasha Samskraras.
Life is celebration. Celebration brings everyone together, creates enthusiasm, uplifts the spirit, brings joy and harmony in the society. Samskraras in the Vedic tradition are celebrated by specific ceremonies which involve rituals, Homas, chanting of mantras, use of specific herbs, fruits, flowers, grains etc., obtaining blessings of elders and family. The Samskara ceremonies bring positive impressions in the mind, bring fulfillment, success and harmony in every stage of life. Samskaras strengthen the individual, protect the body and mind. The Shodasha Samskaras also have deeper spiritual significance and are best performed by qualified pandits under the guidance of a spiritual master.
Shodasha Samskaras identifies Samskaras - rituals that begin before the birth of the individual and continue till the end of the lifespan. The Samskaras are based on ancient texts - Manu Smriti and Grihya Sutras. A brief introduction to each of the Samskaras is presented here.
1 - GARBHADHANAM
Performed to bring love and harmony between the newly weds
2 - PUMSAVANAM
This is celebrated in the third or fourth month of pregnancy, typically after the pregnancy begins to show but before the baby begins to move in the womb.
3 - SEEMANTONAYANAM
The third of the 16 saṃskāras in the ancient texts of Hinduism. It is observed in the last trimester of pregnancy to wish for safe delivery and is similar to a baby shower
4 - JATAKARMA
Performed to welcome the newborn child into the world reminding it of its divine nature on this journey of life
5 - NAMAKARNAM
Ancient vaidic ceremony for naming the child and is usually performed on 11th day after birth with poojās, chanting and singing
6 - NISHKRAMANA
First outing of the child where it is shown good and auspicious symbols. This is usually done after the first month the child is born.
7 - ANNAPRASHANAM
Performed in the sixth month, the child is fed solid food for the first time.
8 - CHUDAKARMA
Also known as Mundan Ceremony. It symbolizes cleansing, renewal and new growth and marks a new phase of life for the child. Mantras are chanted as the child is given blessings of long life, prosperity and fame.
9 - KARNAVEDHAN
Neurologists in the west have done research linking the earlobes to two hemispheres of the brain. Piercing ears is believed to help in developing intelligence and enhancing immunity against respiratory infections.
10 - VIDYARAMBHAM
Vidya means knowledge and ārambha is beginning.The child is introduced to the world of alphabets.
11 - UPANAYANAM
It means being closer to the Guru or Divine. It symbolizes spiritual rebirth and moving into the Brahmacharya stage of life. The child is initiated into the most sacred Gayatri mantra in the Brahmopadesham ceremony.
12 - VEDARAMBHA
Means ‘beginning of learning Vedas’ and is performed on an auspicious date after the Upanayanam. The sacred fire is lit and the student takes a vow to be dedicated to serving his Guru and his family, living a life of discipline.
13 - KESHANT
It is performed in the sixteenth year for boys. An auspicious day is selected and worship of Lord Ganesha and family deities performed. Godāna (gifting a cow) is part of the ceremony where the student gifts a cow to his Guru.
14 - SAMAVARTAN
Samāvartana is the Vedic Samskārā which marks the end of student life and the beginning of a householder’s life. The student offers Guru Dakshina to his Guru.
15 - VIVAHA
Vivaha is a commitment to care and share with one another as husband and wife. The saptapadi or seven sacred vows are an important part of the wedding ceremony. These vows are guidelines for the couple to have a happy married life.
16 - ANTYESHTI
Antyeshti is the final Samskārā in the soul’s journey on this earth. In the Vedic tradition, the body cremated accompanied by rituals and chanting of mantras.