Hinduism is made up of many religious practices; among these are public and domestic rites, purifications in sacred waters of rivers, visiting temples where worship and recitation of Vedic mantras are practiced.
Sanskaras (Samskaras) are sacraments, sacrifices, and rituals that serve as transitional rites and record various stages of the life of the Hindus. All people should perform a series of sacrifices with offerings to gods, ancestors, and guardians following the Vedic sayings about dharma and righteous life. In a broad sense, the term sanskara denotes an action of a ritual nature aimed at improving a person or object.
These are rituals performed throughout the life cycle of a Hindu, that is, from birth to death, where it is believed that the karma that a child brings at birth is from his previous life, so he needs to be released and Cleaned off of those bad behaviors and transform the bad actions of past life into virtues.
Altogether 16 different rituals are practiced in Hinduism, established in the ancient holy books of Hinduism. Currently, it depends on the region, caste, or family traditions to define the ritual to be carried out.
Each of these sanskaras, also known as shodasha samskaras, is briefly explained below.
1. Samskara Garbhaadaan or Fertilization Ritual
This ritual is carried out between a married couple to procreate a healthy, prosperous, and cultured child. This first sanskara is performed immediately after each marriage and is part of Garbh Sanskar. The act of first intercourse or fertilization is known as a niche.
According to the ritual, if the wife wishes to procreate a child with the ideal characteristics, as brave as Abhimanyu, as devout as Dhruva, as spiritual as King Janaka, or as generous as Karna, she should take a bath on the 4th day after the menstrual period to be chaste, then she must pay her respects to her elders and gurus and later join her husband at an auspicious hour. If fertilization occurs during the third phase of the night, for example, between 1200 am and 300 am, the born child will be a devotee of God and an upright and honest person.
2. Pumsavan Sanskar
This ritual aims to procreate a male child and ensure that he is born healthy, beautiful, and intelligent, ensuring that the entire pregnancy period is normal and without the presence of problems. It is designed to ensure the birth of a boy. It is performed in the third month of pregnancy. If this is the first pregnancy, then it can occur in the fourth month.
The importance of Pumsavan Sanskar lies in the belief that in this period, apart from beginning to develop the limbs and the brain of the baby, their mental traits also begin to develop. It is believed that the parents’ mind has a great influence on the characteristics of the fetus, which is why this ritual is carried out since, according to the scriptures, this ritual makes the child develop physically and mentally strong.
3. Seemantonnayan Samskaar
This ritual is to purify the mother’s womb, raise her morale and help her only to have good and pure thoughts since it will be the child that comes in the womb who will absorb all these thoughts. It is a ceremony performed in the fourth month of the woman’s pregnancy, and the husband combs his wife’s hair and expresses to her that he will not abandon her. This is the propitious moment to discuss with the mother the good actions to keep her happy and that these noble thoughts impact the unborn child.
4. Jaatkarm Sanskar
This ritual is carried out when the baby is born but before the umbilical cord is cut to ask for his health, wealth, fame, energy, knowledge, and long life. The father welcomes and blesses the newborn child and feeds it with a little butter and honey. By cutting the umbilical cord, the father performs a Yagya (ceremony with the presence of fire), whispers 9 mantras in one of the child’s ears, and asks for his fame, energy, knowledge, health, and wealth, and long life after this begins the ritual of the mother feeding her baby at her breast, praising the Gods and Goddesses.
5. Naamkaran Sanskar
This ceremony gives the baby the new name, bless it, and wish it a long life of fame and glory. It is usually done on the tenth day of birth. In some regions, this ceremony is done 101 days after birth, and in other places, one year after the child is born.
Naamkaran consists of giving honey and ghee to the child while whispering wise words in his ear. Then the prayer is made to the Sun, where the child is asked to be as bright as the Sun. Respect is also paid to Mother Earth. Then the child’s head is placed towards the North and the feet towards the South. Gifts are exchanged, and the child is given a new name.
6. Nishkraman Sanskar
Nishkraman means to take the child out of the house. This ceremony takes place on an auspicious day, especially when both parents attend a pilgrimage. This ritual is believed to aid in good health and long life.
Nishkraman usually takes place in the fourth month of a child’s life when their sensory organs have fully developed so that the child can cope with the natural environment, heat, and air. Because according to Hindu beliefs, man is composed of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. The father of the child asks that the blessings of these five substances be granted to his son for his health and well-being.
7. Annaprasana Sanskar
Annaprashana ritual is performed at 6 or 7 months after the child is born. It is believed that the child has acquired infection in its stomach during its gestation through its mother’s womb. It is also believed that the digestive system becomes active during this period due to the growth of teeth; therefore, the child’s stomach is ready to receive solid food.
During the Annaprashana ceremony, the child is given food made from ghee (clarified butter) or mixed with yogurt and honey. Mantras are recited, and food is offered to the Gods.
8. Choodaakarma (mundan) Sanskar
This ritual is carried out between the end of the first year of age or before completing the third year of life of the child. It consists of shaving the child’s head for the first time. According to Hindu beliefs, if a child’s hair is cut before his first year of birth, this could harm his health.
Some families perform Choodaakarma or Mundan between the age of 5 to 7 years. It is often held in a temple or pilgrimage site due to the serenity of the atmosphere in these places. It is believed that impure thoughts fade when cutting hair and pure and virtuous thoughts enter your brain.
This ceremony is performed when the child is 6 to 16 months old or between 3 to 5 years of age. It consists of piercing the child’s ears. Through this ritual, it is believed that femininity (in the case of girls) or masculinity (in the case of boys) is conferred. According to beliefs, the sun’s rays enter the child’s body through the holes in both earlobes and infuse it with energy. After this ritual, the girls can wear jewelry.
Karnavedh ceremony is also credited with helping to protect against diseases as well as the acupuncture system. In some cases, holes are made in the nose to wear jewelry.
10. Upanayana or Yagyopaveet (sacred thread)
According to Manu, the first birth of a child takes place in the mother’s womb, and the second birth takes place in the Yajnopaaveet ritual. When the child is born, it is believed that he carries the karma (good and bad deeds) of his previous births. With the help of this ritual, you can shake off the bad deeds and retain only the good ones.
Upanayana is known as the second birth of the child. The Yagyopaveet is a sacred white cord. Its meaning is that the person who uses it carries on his shoulders the responsibility to understand and follow the laws of everything human, natural, and divine to obtain the grace of God.
11. Vedaarambh Sanskar
12. Samavartanam Sanskar
It is a continuation of the previous rituals. It is carried out so that the student is aware of his divine powers. By completing the rituals mentioned above, the student achieves great mental power. He becomes more humble, kind, generous, and responsible towards his duties, the service to society, and the nation’s good. The performance of this ritual is the beginning of your consecration or preparation for a religious ceremony. By completing it, you can begin your married life.
13. Paanigrahan (Vivaah) Sanskar
According to Hindu dharma, there was no ritual equivalent to marriage at the time of man’s creation. There were no rules to determine who people married. Anyone could have sex with whomever they wanted and procreate. There was no way to know the identity of the father. In this way, mothers were considered greatly important, and children were recognized through the mother’s name.
Paanigrahan or Vivaah system prevailed during the Vedic period until the sages who dwelt on the top of the mountains began to oppose it strongly. They considered such relationships to be bestial, and in this way, the laws of marriage are born. It consists of the performance of various rites at the time of marriage, which depend on the traditions and customs of each class, region, or language.
This sanskara is performed at the age of 50 to celebrate the departure from the stage of the head of the family to the stage of Vanaprastha when the person begins to participate in spiritual activities.
This sanskara is performed after Vanaprastha. After fulfilling all the duties and family responsibilities, it is now time for him to detach himself from worldly duties and renounce the world, therefore living by meditating and relying on alms.
This ritual is the last in a person’s life since it is performed at their funeral. The act of placing fire on or around the body of a person is called Paanigrahan. This ritual is also known as Agniparigrah Sanskar. According to the scriptures, the dead body is dedicated to fire after the death of a human being.
So, these are the total 16 sanskaras that take place in the life of Hindus.(Last Updated On: March 10, 2022)