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16 Sacraments (16 Sanskar)

1. Garbhadhana

We can call it the conception ceremony. There are certain Do’s and Don’ts during the ‘Ritu’ period of the woman, which are of great psychological significance. The propitious day and time are fixed astrologically for Garbhadhana and the ritual follows a set pattern. The Mantras uttered in this Samskaras are essentially prayers offered to God to help the bride conceive a good son. The Mantras make use of occasional metaphors of joint action. They can be freely translated thus:

"May we produce strong and long-lived sons as fire is produced by friction; may he be well behaved. I am part of God and I shall produce good sons to liberate my ancestors. May we beget shining, wealthy children. May we donate liberally to the needy and attain moksha. May God make you fit for conception. Let the evil spirit flee from you. Let your child be free from defects like lameness, deafness etc. Be you like the divine Kamadhenu etc."

Procreation is a compulsory duty enjoined on the Hindu to repay his ancestral debt, except when either or both the partners are functionally unfit.

2. Pumsavana

This ceremony is performed in the second, third and the fourth month of pregnancy. The meaning and object of this ceremony is to "quicken a male child" in the woman. The Punsavana is performed on a day of male Nakshatra. During this ritual, a few drops of the juice of the Banyan stem are put into the right nostril of the pregnant lady to inhale it, with a prayer for the birth of a son or a worthy child. According to Susruta, the great Ayurvedic writer, the juice of the Banyan tree has all the properties of relieving trouble during pregnancy.

Sanctified thread is tied to the left wrist of the lady by way of protection. The mantras, freely rendered, pray: ""May God Isana fulfil our wishes; Dhata bless the world with children and wealth. May He bless this household too with children. May the immortals live in this house. May Agni bless me with sons. May Indra bless me with children. May I have handsome children."

3. Simantonnayana

The third in the series of pre-natal Samskaras, this is performed during the period between the fifth and the eighth months of pregnancy. The specific materials used during this Samskara, that are for the lady only, are, the quill of a porcupine, an ear of ripe paddy and some Udumbara leaves. The deity invoked is Rika, the presiding deity of the full-moon. Their implications are: that the pregnancy should be fruitful; the child should be endowed with sharp and penetrating intellect (like the sharp quill of the porcupine). The child should be beautiful like the full-moon. The gist of the Mantra is: "I beseech the goddess Raka. May she make this ceremony blameless. May my son be endowed with sharp intellect."

Music, especially on the veena, is indicated to be played on this occasion. This increases the mother’s suckling power besides conferring other psychological benefits. Ladies are asked to sing: "Be a mother of heroic sons" thus creating a heroic atmosphere. The mother fasts and keeps silent after the ceremony till night time when the stars become visible. At the close of the ceremony she touches a male calf, symbolising a son.

4. Jatakarma

The persons concerned sprinkle water on the woman that is giving birth to a child. This is the authority from Paraskar Grihya Sutra and thus the same has been written in the Ashvalayana, Gobhiliya and Shaunakiya Grihya Sutra.

At the time when delivery is going to take place, the sprinkling of water on the body of the pregnant woman should be done with the Mantras from the Yajurveda and from other sources. The ceremony proper should be performed (unless prevented by death in close family circles) before the umbilical cord of the child is severed. The father looks at the face of the newly born infant and this at once redeems his debt to his ancestors. Thereafter he must immediately bathe in cold water with his clothes on. Actually, he must jump into a river or a lake so as to cause the splashing waters to rise in the air as high as a palm tree. He is then enjoined to perform dana, dharma etc. (charity and other good deeds) as the merits earned by him at that time are of immense benefit.

The father then touches the tongue of the infant with a drop of honey touched by a gold ring, uttering Mantras. This action endows the child with Medha or intelligence. Susruta praises honey’s properties in this respect. A name is also given to the child, in secret, lest his enemies should practice black magic on the child with that name. Then the father utters a prayer for long life in the ear of the infant. Other Brahmins (priests) too bless the child with long life by breathing the breath of life upon the infant. The father prays to Mother Earth "May we live a hundred years." By another hymn that says: "Be a stone; be an axe (unto enemies); be the imperishable gold." The father prays that the child be endowed with strength, valour and fame. After severing the umbilical cord, the child is handed over to the mother to suckle when the husband prays to the water-god to protect the mother too.

5. Namakarana Samskara (Naming the child)

This is a simple ceremony in which the child is given a name. According to Asvalayana, the names of boys should have an even number of syllables. A two-syllable name will bring material prosperity and fame and a four syllable name will bring religious fame.

The names of girls should have an odd number of syllables and end in "I" or "aa". They should be easy to pronounce, pleasing to the ear and auspicious. They should not suggest awkward suggestions. By traditions, names are chosen after the Nakshatras of birth (letters are allocated to the signs of the zodiac). Some people name their children after the ancestors.The practice of naming children after favourite deities began from the Puranic times. The rise of the Bhakti (devotion) movement made this practice generally popular. By naming children after gods, we are deemed to gain several opportunities for uttering God’s name whenever we call the child.

The Namakarana Samskar is performed, normally on the tenth or twelfth day after birth. If there are inconveniences then it is taken to the end of the first year.After preliminaries, the parents give the offerings to gods and feel the breath of the child symbolising the awakening of its consciousness and utters in its ear three times: "Your name is …..". The Brahmins and elders are asked to follow, calling the child by that name and blessing it.

6. Niskramana Samskara

The infant is taken out of the house into the climate of fresh air and sunshine.
The time of Niskramana. Two dates are mentioned.
The first date is the third lunar date of the third full-moon fortnight from the birth date of the child.
The second date is the birth Tithi (date) of the child in the fourth month from the date of birth.

The procedure: In the morning, after sunrise, the infant is bathed and dressed. The mother of the child brings the child in Yajnashala (place of Sacred Fire Ceremony), approaching from the right side of her husband faces her husband and gives the child into the hands of her husband, keeping the head of the child in the north direction and the child’s face and chest facing upwards. The mother then walks clockwise from behind her husband and takes her seat on the left side of her husband keeping her face eastward. The same ceremony and the same Mantras are used as for Jatakarma Samskaras.

Thereafter the father of the child gives the child to the mother, keeping the child’s head in the north direction and the feet in the south direction. Keeping silence, the husband touches the head of his wife. The child is then taken out in the sun with the following Mantra from the Yajurveda. This Mantra is recited on behalf of the infant child. "Om Tatchakshurdevahitam Purustaatshukramuccharat. Pashyema Sharadah Shatam Jeevema Sharadah Shatam Shrunuyaam Shradah Shatam Pra Bravaam Sharadha Shatamadeenaahaa syaama Sharadah Shatam Bhooyashcha Sharadah Shataat." O Benefactor of devotees! I concentrate on Thy pure energy. Grant me perfect health. May my eyes, ears, tongue and the other organs function in a strong and healthy way for a hundred years. May I not become helpless and dependent during this time. Grant me a hundred years of joyous life free from disease.

After exposing the child to the sun and fresh air, the child is brought back into the Yajnashala where people bless the child with the following sentence: "Tvam Jeeva Sharadah Shatam Vardhamaanah." May you be endowed with health and strength and live a life of hundred years.

7. Annaprashana Smaskara

This is the ceremony for the first feeding of cooked rice. The object of this ceremony is to pray to the gods with Vedic Mantras to bless the child with good digestive powers, good thoughts and talents. It is performed when the child is six months old which is the weaning time. Susruta commends this weaning time as best for both the mother and the child.

Offerings are made to the goddess of speech and vigour. Prayers are offered so that the child’s senses have their full gratification and live a happy and contented life. The father feeds a little of the sweet food anointed with gold to the child with Mantras that say he feeds the child with food that may ensure a healthy life to the child and prevent ill-health.

Apart from the efficacy or otherwise of this ceremony, its observance creates in all concerned an awareness of the cumulative needs of the child at that age in a scientific and tender manner. Its systematic observance therefore ensures the results expected especially when fortified by Mantras.

8. Chudakarma

This ceremony of the first tonsure is to be performed in the third year of the male child. . Also it initiates the maintenance of a ‘Sikha’ (tuft of hair on the head) as a religious necessity after that age. According to Susruta, a tuft of hair on the head protects a vital part on the head. Susruta and Charaka confirm that removing the hair, excess nails etc., contribute to strength, vigour, longevity, purity and beauty of the individual.

An auspicious day is selected for the ceremony. A porcupine quill, Darbha grass, and a dummy razor are the specific materials used by the father for symbolically cutting the child’s hair first. The gist of the Mantra used in this particular ceremony is: "May the child live long beyond a hundred years. May his eye sight remain unimpaired. May he become prosperous and wealthy so that he can feed (and cater to the needs of others) liberally. May his digestion be perfect. Let him become a Varchasvi (prominent).
This ceremony should be performed in the third year or in the 1st year from the date of the child’s birth. The dates for this ceremony should be chosen during the northern solstice and during the bright fortnight of the moon’s phase.

9. Karnavedha

Piercing the ears in the third or fifth year
"Karnavedho Varshe Triteeye Panchame Vaa." The piercing of the child’s ear should be done in the third or the fifth year (from the date of birth.) An experienced physician who is a specialist and who has studied the treatise of Charaka and of Sushruta is invited to this ceremony. In the morning, after bathing and getting the child dressed with clothes and ornaments, the mother brings the child to the Yajnashala. A Havan ceremony (Sacred Fire Ceremony) is performed with Mantras from the Samanya Prakarana.

"Vakshyanti Veda ganeeganti Karnam Priyam Sakhaayam Parishasvajaanaa Yoshevaa Shing Kte Vitataadhi Dhanvatrjyaa eeyam samane paarayanti." This bow string strained on the bow whispers like a woman, and protects us in the combat, as a wife fain to speak, offering advice, embraces her affectionate, praiseworthy husband. The physician then inserts thin wire like objects in the freshly pierced ears to prevent the holes from closing up. The physician then applies healing ointments to the ears.

10. Upanayana

The thread giving ceremony is performed in the eighth, eleventh and twelfth years of the male child calculated from the date of conception, for the first three Varnas (Brahman eighth year, Kshatriya eleventh year and Vaisya twelfth year) respectively. Etymologically, the word Upanayana means taking the child to the teacher or to Gayatri Mantra, according to some.

This ceremony gives the child a second birth (Dwija), as it were, where the Guru (teacher) becomes his father and Gayatri becomes his mother. The investiture with the Sacred thread entitles the child to study the Vedas and participate in Vedic functions. In essence, the child commences his journey on the road to spiritual life. This is contrasted with a life of eating, sleeping and procreating, which kinds of life animals also live. The Gurukula (Boarding school) type of education seeks to mould the child for an ideal life.

Gayatri is the most powerful of the Mantras. Initiation into it is described as ‘Brahmopadesa’. It leads to the realisation of Brahman (the Supreme Reality). Along with this Mantra the Guru imparts his Shakti (power) too to the child; hence the Guru and the disciple are insulated by means of silken clothes at the time of the initiation.

The materials used in this ceremony are full of mystical significance. The Yajnopavita or the holy Thread consists of three folds, symbolising the three Gunas – Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. It reminds one of the threefold debt one owes to one’s manes (ancestors), Rishis (Seers who realised spiritual wisdom), and gods. The three threads also reminds one of the three letters of Pranava- AUM – as also Brahma, Vishnu and Siva (Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer).

11. Vedarambha

To observe the disciplines and to commence and undertake the studies of the Vedas and their branches (systems and limbs known as ‘Sangopanga’) – is called Vedarambha.

In the morning, the student, after bathing and wearing clean clothes, sits to the west of the Yajnavedi (Havankund), keeping his face eastward. The Acharya begins the ceremony with Achaman Mantra (sipping of water) and Angasparsha Mantra (touching various organs with water) followed by Ishwar Upasana (prayer), Svatsivachan, Santikarana. The Havan ceremony (Sacred fire ceremony) is then commenced. The student participates in the Yajna and offers ahutis (oblations). During the Havan ceremony, before the Purnahuti, Vishesh Mantras (Mantras used for Vedarambha ) are used.

Father’s advice to his son
The father of the celibate student then gives general information regarding the life of a Brahmacharin (celibate student) and preaches the code of conduct. [Scriptural sources Gobhil Grihyasutra, Ashvalayans Grihyasutra, Paraskar Grihyasutra] You realise that you are a Brahmachari (celibate) from today. You must always sip a little clean (pure) water and say your food prayer before taking meals. Always keep away from evil acts and do all pious and righteous acts. You do not ever sleep in day time. Remaining under the guidance and control of your Acharya, you will always with perseverance learn the Vedas with all their limbs and sub-limbs. Always follow the rules of Dharma (righteousness) under your Acharya. You do not ever do anything of Adharma (unrighteous), even if such request be made by your Acharya even (to do anything of adharma). You must abstain from anger. Always speak the truth (do not tell a lie.) Always keep away from the eight kinds of acts of passion.

12. Samavartana

Speak the truth. Practise Dharma (religious duties; righteousness and ritualistic worship). Do not neglect the study of the Vedas. Having brought to the teacher the gift desired by him, (enter the householder’s life and see that) the line of progeny is not cut off. Do not swerve from the truth. Do not swerve from Dharma. Do not neglect (personal) welfare. Do not neglect prosperity (refers to righteous actions by which wealth is earned). Do not neglect the study and teaching of Vedas.

Do not neglect your duties to the gods and the Manes. Treat your mother as god (Matru Devo Bhava). Treat your father as god (Pitru Devo Bhava). Treat your teacher as god (Aacharya Devo Bhava). Treat your guest as god (Atithi Devo Bhava). Whatever deeds are faultless, these are to be performed- not others. Whatever good works have been performed by us, those should be performed by you- not others.

Those Brahmins who are superior to us- you should comfort them by giving them seats. Whatever is to be given should be given with faith, not without faith- according to one’s means, with modesty, with fear (of the scriptures or of sin), with sympathy.

Now, if there arises in your mind any doubt concerning conduct, you should conduct yourself in such matters as Brahmins would conduct themselves- Brahmins who are competent to judge, who (of their own accord) are devoted to good deeds, and are not urged to their performance by others, and who are not too severe, but are lovers of Dharma. Now, with regard to persons spoken against, you should conduct yourself in such a way as Brahmins would conduct themselves- Brahmins who are competent to judge, who (of their own accord) are devoted to good deeds and that are not urged to their performance by others, and who are not too severe, but are lovers of Dharma. This is the rule. This is the teaching. This is the secret wisdom of the Vedas. This is the command of God.

13. Vivaha

Samskaras in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) are specific rituals and sacraments that awaken, strengthen, nourish and refine the mind. The samskaras done with sincerity and knowledge will provide both materialistic and spiritual prosperities. The various samskaras to be performed at various stages of human life are given by Rishis (Sages) in Shastras (Vedic scriptures). There are about forty samskaras. However, in these times, sixteen samskaras are popularly known.
These samskaras include various stages of human life, such as starting from the stage of Embryo, development in Womb, Birth, Naming, Feeding of solid food, Hair cutting, initiation into Vedic studies, Graduation and Wedding etc. Among these samaksaras, Vivaha is a very important from all perspectives namely physical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual.

Main Steps in the Wedding Ceremony
1. Vighneswara/Vishvaksena Pooja : This pooja is carried out to seek the blessings of the Lord Vighneswara (Ganesha), remover of obstacles or Lord Vishvaksena, the Chief Commander of Lord Vishnu. The prayers include seeking protection of the Lord from any type of obstacles to the ceremonies.

2. Vara Pooja : In this step, the Bridegroom and his party is invited with respect and offered gifts from the Bride’s parents.

3. Madhu Parka : In this step, the bride’s parents offer the Madhu Parka (mixture of honey and yogurt ) for the bridegroom to eat.

4. Pratisara Bandha (Raksha Bandhan) : In this step, a sacred turmeric color thread is tied to Bridegroom’s right hand by his father and then the Bridegroom ties to the left hand of the Bride. This signifies the blessed determination to begin the ceremonies.

5. Kashiyatra : In this step, the Bridegroom expresses interest in visiting the holy place of Kashi (Benares), the seat of higher learning. At this time, the Bride’s father offers his daughter and asks the Bridegroom to take her with him so that they can advance in knowledge together.

6. Sambandha Malike : The Bridegroom agreeing to the offer of Bride’s father comes back to the marriage hall. At this coming back, the Bride and Bridegroom exchanges garlands three times. The exchange begins with Bride’s first garlanding the Bridegroom. A veil is placed between the bride and bridegroom before the garland exchange begins.

7. Kanya daana : In this step, the Bride’s father gives his daughter to the Bridegroom. Here the family background details (gotra pravara) of both Bride and Bridegroom are narrated. In this step, the bridegroom promises the Bride’s father that he will not transgress the guidelines of dharma (duty), artha (wealth) and kama (desire).

8. Mangalya Dharana : In this step, a sacred turmeric colored thread with a religious pendent is tied by the Bridegroom around the neck of Bride. This tying of thread signifies the long term bonding of married life.

9. Panigrahana : In this step, the Bridegroom holds the right hand of the Bride and with sacred fire as witness thanks the Gods for blessing the Bride with various energies. The cloths of the bride and bridegroom are also tied.

10. Saptapadi : Here, the Bridegroom brings the Bride and asks her to keep her right foot on seven heaps (one at a time) of rice. At each step, a mantra is recited. The seven mantras mean -
May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide food.
· May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide strength.
· May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide energy to do noble actions
· May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide happiness in life
· May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide wealth
· May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide favorable environment
· May Lord Vishnu guide and help provide sacred services (yajnas).

After these seven steps, the Bridegroom makes assertions to the Bride, such as “you are my friend. We will always be friends to each other. May we be united together in thoughts, speech and actions. I represent heaven, you represent earth. I represent meaning, you represent speech. We will understand each other and be happy together”

11. Pradhana Homa: In this homa, through the sacred fire, the Bridegroom and Bride offer various sacred materials to divinities seeking their blessings.

12. Ashmarohana : In this step, the Bridegroom asks the Bride to keep her right foot on a stone and recites a mantra that means “ we need to be strong like this stone to face challenges and difficulties that we encounter in our life “

13. Lajahoma : In this homa, the Bride’s brother offers puffed rice to the sacred fire. This is to wish good health and life for the Bridegroom. Then the Bridegroom and Bride go clockwise around the sacred fire.

14. Showing the Arundhati Star: In this step, the Bride groom shows the Arundhati star to bride with the prayer that she be blessed to become like Arundhati, wife of Sage Vasishta. Among the seven wives of seven sages, Arundhati is the foremost. Hence her blessings with the blessings of all others are sought.

15. Conclusion : The Bridegroom and Bride perform some concluding rituals and they offer prostration to the sacred fire, the Gods and all elders and seek their blessings.

14. Vanaprastha

Undergoing the purificatory rite in respect of bearing matted locks, after having gone through the rite of regeneration and performed for some time the rites in respect of the sacred fire and studied the Vedas, one should with cleansed soul and senses under restraint, having first carefully performed all the duties of the mode called Garhasthya, proceed, with or without his wife, to the woods for adoption of the mode called Vanaprastha. Having studies the scriptures called Aranyakas, having drawn up his vital fluid and having retired from all worldly affairs, the virtuous recluse may then attain to absorption with the eternal Soul knowing no decay.

These are the indications of Munis that have drawn up their vital fluid. A learned Brahmana, O king, should first practise and perform them. The Brahmana, O king, that is desirous of emancipation, it is well known, is competent to adopt the Bhaikshya mode after having gone through the mode called Brahmacharya. Sleeping at that place (in the course of the wanderings) where evening overtakes him, without desire of bettering his situation, without a home, subsisting on whatever food is obtained (in charity), given to contemplation, practising self restraint, with the senses under control, without desire, regarding all creatures equally, without enjoyments, without dislike to anything, the Brahmana possessed of learning, by adopting this mode of life, attains to absorption with the eternal Soul that knows no decay.

15. Sannyasa

This samskara is performed after Vanaprastha.
This Self is not attained by one devoid of strength, nor through delusion, nor through knowledge unassociated with monasticism. But the Self of that knower, who strives through these means, enters into the abode that is Brahman.

Having attained this, the seers become contented with their knowledge, established in the Self, freed from attachment, and composed. Having realised the all-pervasive One everywhere, these discriminating people, ever merged in contemplation, enter into the All.

Those to whom the entity presented by the Vedantic knowledge has become fully ascertained, and who endeavour assiduously with the help of the Yoga of monasticism, become pure in mind. At the supreme moment of final departure all of them become identified with the supreme Immortality in the worlds that are Brahman, and they become freed on every side.

16. Antyesthi

This is the final samskara performed after death by his or her descendents.
Anta literally means 'end', and eshti is 'wish, desire, seeking to go towards'. Antyeshti, or the funeral rites, is the last samskara performed for an individual. It probably originated from the need to dispose off the body in a befittingly humane manner. This practical requirement later developed into a religious belief. It is believed that one conquers the earth through the samskaras after birth and heaven through the samskaras after death. Because of the belief in the existence of a soul, death signifies the end only of one birth, and preparations must be made for a safe journey to the next world. Food and other articles believed to be necessary on this journey are also provided to the dead.

To this end, antyeshti serves to dispose of the body, equips the soul with what it needs for its journey to Yamaloka (see Moksha), and frees the soul's earthly survivors from the pollution caused by death. It is believed that until this ritual is performed, the soul is not sent on to the next world and remains on earth, where it flits about restlessly as a ghost (see Bhuta, Preta, Pishacha). The early pastoral nomads probably just left their dead behind where they fell and moved on. This evolved into burial by the Vedic period. By the end of the Vedic age, the concept of sacrifices was fully established .

At this time, the funeral itself came to be regarded as a sacrifice. Cremation eclipsed burial, since the soul of the corpse was now regarded as a sacrificial offering to the gods which would be conveyed to them by their messenger Agni, the god of fire. Fire was also believed to cleanse the souls of the dead. Funeral rites differ marginally across the country, but most beliefs and practices are alike. A man's eldest son or any other male relative performs his rites. A woman's husband, eldest son or brother performs her ceremony. When a person's death seems inevitable, he is made to lie with his head towards the south, since this is the direction Yama is believed to come from. Vedic mantra or verses from the Ramayana or Bhagavad Gita are recited to him.